Voyage to the land of the trolls


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Norway, to be precise, aboard the P&O ship Azura.

Friday

Arrived in Southampton after an overnight stay in a not very nice Travelodge. 
We left the car just outside the port, and were bussed in on a coach with no air conditioning on an extremely hot day!
The paperwork said we could get on the ship at 3pm but everybody advised us to take no notice of that, so we got to Ocean Terminal just after midday.  A bit of queuing and we were onboard.  It was a very smooth process and much more civilised than an airport.  As we got on we were welcomed and directed to the buffet on deck 15.  Ship very impressive, as was our cabin on E deck.  An outside one with a part restricted view and much nicer than the Travelodge!
 
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The view from our “restricted view” outside cabin…hardly restricted at all!
 
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Got captured by a girl from Oasis which is a quiet, spa part of the ship.   She insisted on showing us around and we were too polite to tell her we just weren’t interested!  For well over £200 all you got was a bathrobe, slippers and access to loungers in a fenced off part of the ship. Treatments cost extra!  We knew you could get in the adults only pool for free, but she seemed reluctant to confirm it.  We finally managed to get away, and explored the rest of the ship before settling on the lido deck to enjoy the views of Southampton. 
Three other cruise ships in port today, Oceana and Aurora from P&O and Fred Olsen’s Balmoral currently featuring in ‘The Cruise’ on tv at the moment
 
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Then we were off, the ship hardly moving at all as it edged away from the shore towards the Isle of Wight.
Discovered the Planet Bar where we had 2 bottles of beer each.  Added to the drinks we foolishly bought in the buffet, due to not knowing what to do yet,  the on board account was racking up quickly!
 
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We liked it here!

An announcement was made that the muster drill was about to begin.  This involved us going back to our cabin, collecting our lifejackets and waiting in the room till the alarm went. We then had to go to the nearest meeting place and watch a demonstration on how to put on your life jacket.  A bit like an airline one but more time consuming!  
Back to the room to finish unpacking then time to start thinking about dinner.  We discovered a nice Italian restaurant on deck 15 and managed to get a table for two by the window.  This was to be the best dining experience of the week, but more about dining later.
After dinner we checked out a couple of the bars, with the Planet Bar on deck 18 becoming our favourite.  We liked Malabar, too.  Just had a beer and a mocktail tonight, trying to pace ourselves.
Got back the cabin to discover chocolates on our pillows…a nice touch.
 
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Saturday
A day at sea, so plenty of time to look around the ship and get suckered into buying a 6 bottle wine package.  D very quickly decided the lido deck wasn’t for him, preferring the peace and quiet of the promenade deck instead, a great place to sit and read or listen to music or just look out to sea.
 
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A word about the buffet breakfast…busy.  A bunfight, it has been called, and it is a bit of a free for all.  We soon realised that the best time for breakfast was around 7am, so no lying in for us on this holiday.  We were intending to get up early anyway, so that we could enjoy the scenery as the ship navigated the fjords.  Not today though, we forgot to put our watches forward!

J went to a cookery demonstration with the speciality restaurant chefs while D wandered around. The smell was so lovely, it resulted in us booking a table for the Indian restaurant Sindhu for the following evening.

Went for a look at the atrium, where Lasso Lisa from Birkenhead was in full swing with her line dancing class.  We didn't fancy that at all, although was fun to watch the beginners. We set off for the prom deck for a read as J had found a good book in the library.
Whales spotted on the port side of the ship!  We were on the starboard side and by the time we raced there, they were gone

by 12 we were hungry again, so headed back to the buffet. We found a good seat as only the late risers for breakfast were there. Had a cup of tea and a cake…then another cake – they were quite small cakes!  Didn't feel like lunch after that.
Not much to see today…just the sea and the occasional ship or oil rig. Stayed on the prom deck relaxing
 
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Then the first of two formal nights…don’t we look comfortable and relaxed in our black tie clothes!
 
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As it was formal night we decided to go to the main restaurant, which means it is time for a moan about freedom dining!  Freedom dining is supposed to mean you can choose when to eat and who with, so we joined a queue at the door and asked for a table for two.  A 45 minute wait, or you can join a table for eight?  We chose to wait, only to be shown to a table for two that was inches away from other tables on either side, in fact a whole row of them.  We (well, D) think a table for two should mean that you don’t have to talk or listen to other people!
 
All in all, not a great dining experience, although the food was very nice.  We only returned to the main restaurant once more, on the second formal night.  Reading reviews of this cruise, it seems queues were unusual, and could be due to the fact the 2nd show of the evening is now on very late, meaning a lot of people in the fixed dining restaurants were opting for the freedom dining instead so they could see the earlier show.
 
A couple more drinks after dinner, during which time we discovered Frankie Gliksman, cocktail pianist.  What a great act, a highlight of the whole cruise for D, so much so we bought his cd later in the week.  Also a very good singer Jessica Lloyd.  She found out a couple had got married a few hours earlier and invited them up for their first dance.  Also caught a bit of comedian Josh Daniels who was quite funny.
 
Sunday

Bergen.

Up early, for a much quieter breakfast and to watch the ship enter the port.
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No organised trip today, the plan being to take the railway to the top of Mount Floyen and then do a 7km walk before getting the railway back.  A good plan, but no map to follow, just some written instructions…what could go wrong! We were dropped off in Bergen and told the last shuttle back to the ship was 4pm
 
Nice view of Bergen from the top of the mountain.
 
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And so we set off on our walk, a very pleasant walk until we got lost!  We followed the path and only got a bit worried as we started to descend…and descend…and descend!  Eventually it became obvious that we had gone wrong somewhere along the way and we decided to retrace our steps…uphill.  We could have retraced our steps all the way and we might just have made it back in time, but luckily we had our GPS with us and the co-ordinates for a geocache we had been intending to get later, and used it to navigate our way back.  A very steep climb back up the hill, but a nice view from the top.
 
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We had hoped to have some time to look around Bergen town centre, but we were very dishevelled and it was starting to rain, so we headed back to the ship with time to spare.  Could have been much worse, we really thought we were going to miss the boat, literally, at one point.
Back on board it was semi formal night, so a suit and tie for D and a black dress for J.  No pic of D this time, not sure why!
 
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Dinner in Sindhu, an extra charge Indian restaurant, but well worth it.  An excellent table for two, great service and great food.  Not at all rushed, with plenty of time between courses…all seven of them!
 

Monday

Andalsnes.
A much more picturesque approach than the approach to Bergen. We were enjoying the view when a woman came up and asked could she take our picture. We thought she was a bit odd and wanted to use her camera, but seems she saw us there and thought we’d like one taken with the nice scenery.
 
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A organised trip today, so no chance of getting lost, the outward journey by coach and back on a train.  Along the way a stop at the troll wall, a sheer expanse of rock, said to have been formed by trolls.  Our tour guide…a Croatian lady!  Haven’t seen many Norwegians yet. Got off the coach at Bjorli station to board the train.  The station was used in the last Harry Potter film apparently.
 
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Back on board for lunch, then time for a look around Andalsnes, which is a small town with a population of around 3,000.  The best pic of the ship was to be from here.

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Nice views leaving Andalsnes as well.
 
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Casual night tonight, so we just headed for the buffet, which was as busy as usual! Unfortunately the theme was Indian so curry 2 nights in a row!
Thar she blows…whales sighted off the starboard bow, and we managed to get a pic, although not as spectacular as we thought it would be.

Discovered Brodies, an English pub place with a casino and gambling machines.  You get free nibbles with your beer which we approved of! 

2 bottles of wine gone, 4 to go in 3 nights - not sure we are up to it!
 
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Tuesday

Olden.

Another picturesque approach, following another ship in.

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Olden is smaller than Andalsnes and we were lucky to be able to moor alongside.  P&Os’ smallest ship Adonia had to disembark passengers by tenders.

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Another organised trip, this time to the Briskdal glacier, a highlight of the whole cruise.  A very popular trip with 6 coaches laid on.  The journey took about an hour, with a photo stop, then a mile and a half walk each way to the glacier with a spectacular waterfall on the way.  Our tour guide today…Patrick Poland from the Netherlands, so still not much contact with native Norwegians.
 
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Plenty of time to look around Olden in the afternoon.  Olden has a population of around 1,500 and was completely dominated by the ship.  Must be good for local businesses, though.

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Back about 1.30 time to eat again! Buffet quiet as most people on trips or in the town. A toot of the horn to Adonia then off we went. 


More spectacular views as we headed out to sea, especially so as the weather closed in.  D spent a lot of time on the highest part of the ship taking pics.

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Second formal night, so we decided to dine in the main restaurant, but later this time, thinking we would get a better table.  We were told over 50 couples were waiting for a table for 2 so a very long wait.  Turned out to be about half an hour and as soon as we sat down the people on either side left, which would have been good if the waiters hadn’t been bustling around resetting tables and generally getting in the way.  It wasn't long before the whole area was empty apart from one other table, so the 50 couple excuse was probably just a ploy to clear that side.  Still a much better dining experience than the first formal night.  Posed for a formal pic.
 
Afterwards we went a bit mad and started drinking cocktails (not mocktails) in various bars until it all got too much for one of us!
 
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A real bow tie or a clip on?  Both for D…a clip on one to wear and a real one to change into for the 007 look later in the evening! Staggered to bed after 1am!
 
Wednesday
 
Stavanger.
 
We got up a bit later than usual a bit hungover and missed most of the approach to Stavanger, the largest town on our itinery.  No trips today, we just wandered around the town, had a look in a church and a drink in a bar.
 
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The old town was the highlight, with lots of old, white buildings contrasting nicely with the rest of Stavanger.

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The Great British sailaway party, delayed by 2 hours due to a technical problem.  We generally kept well way from the lido deck as the ship left port but thought we would catch this one. 

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Semi formal night, and we tried to get back into the Italian restaurant for dinner but didn’t fancy waiting so went to the Glass House for fish and chips instead. Very good value with just a £4.95 cover charge.

Tonight is when the foolishness of the wine package hit home.  When we bought it we were told it could be used in any restaurant, but when we tried to get into the Italian restaurant we were told we have to go and get the wine ourselves and carry it around until our table was ready! and in the Glass House they complained and made us wait about 15 minutes.  Really it is just for use in the main restaurant, but we weren’t told this when we bought it.  D tore up the remaining vouchers in disgust!
Anyway, the fish and chips was very nice and we had a really nice meal despite the wine problem.

Thursday

At sea. 

A very relaxing day, a lot of it spent on the promenade deck.
Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner in the buffet…and more cakes!
A spectacular sunset, which we watched from the Planet Bar sipping Corona beer with wedges of lime, followed by Frankie Gliksman in the Blue Bar, then a early night.

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Friday

Disembarked around 8.30 and got home mid afternoon after a long, tiring drive.  Straight to Asda to purchase gin and elderflower cordial to recreate one of our favourite cocktails Elderflower Collins!

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