7 Jul 2018

Midsummer in Norway and the Scottish Isles Aboard M/S Serenissima 21 June to 3 July 2018,Compiled by: Brian Seenan

 Midsummer in Norway and the Scottish Isles
Aboard M/S Serenissima
21 June to 3 July 2018
Thursday 21 June 2018, Aberdeen.
A stiff breeze was blowing as we boarded M/S Serenissima in Aberdeen, but a glass of bubbly and afternoon tea soon distracted us from the weather – an excellent way to get in the mood for a cruise.
Our First Officer, Duje Mic, provided the mandatory Safety Briefing and everyone was issued with a lifejacket at the muster stations. Emma, our Expedition Leader, welcomed everyone aboard and introduced her team of three South Africans, three Scots and Ian, from Kodiac Island in Alaska.
The breeze was freshening as we left the harbour and we caught sight of the new wind farm being constructed off the coast. This is the wind farm that is upsetting President Trump, as it is visible from his luxury golf course, north of Aberdeen.
The swell picked up as we headed out into The North Sea. Nobody was concerned until some wine glasses started to tip over at the end of dinner. That was a signal for most of us to get an early night. The captain altered course to minimise roll and we settled down for a lumpy night at sea.

Friday 22 June 2018, Kirkwall, Orkney
A calm but misty morning greeted us as we passed the Isle of Shapinsay, on the approaches to Kirkwall.
This morning we will be taking three buses to visit Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar. Having reduced speed to compensate for the high winds, we arrived a bit behind schedule. The guided tour of St Magnus Cathedral was dropped as we had plenty of time to visit the cathedral during free time in the afternoon.
At Skara Brae we saw that a highly organised civilization was operating here over 3,000 years ago. The remains provide enough detail to fuel our imagination as to how life was lived, so long ago. The level of craftsmanship and attention to detail in the construction is astonishing.
The Ring of Brodgar showed that life and social structures were sophisticated – a huge number of people had to be released from the job of securing food to be able to build this incredible structure. Just digging out the ditch would have been a mo
numental task, with just bones and stones as tools - this site pre-dates the Iron Age. The orientation and pinpoint accuracy of the ring shows there was detailed knowledge of seasons and lunar cycles. There was expertise to transport massive slabs of rock for miles across country. Neolithic Orkney is breathtaking.
After lunch we had time to relax and stretch our legs around Kirkwall. St Magnus Cathedral was the place to visit, amid rehearsals for a concert that was taking place in the evening. We had a chance to sample Orkney’s renowned ice cream, but with the chill in the air, a wee dram of Scapa or Highland Park was possibly a more appealing option
If St Magnus Cathedral was being constructed today, it would be acclaimed for its grandeur, architecture and scale, never mind being conceived and built centuries ago. The local people wouldn’t have seen such a structure before, never mind know what to make of it as it rose up in front of them.
Captain Étien Bonačić welcomed us aboard Serenissima with a cocktail party. He promised to keep us safe on our voyage and promised that the next part of our trip, heading north to Shetland, would be more comfortable than last night.
Saturday 23 June 2018, Lerwick, Shetland
Around 7am we docked in Lerwick, meaning “muddy bay” from the Old Norse Leirvik. Lerwick welcomed us with heavy rain, but we weren’t going to be put off by that. After the ship was cleared, we joined our buses and headed off for the historic tour to Jarlshof.
On the edge of Lerwick we passed the well-preserved Clickimin Broch. Like all brochs, it’s function and role is still broadly debated; was it a dwelling, a fortress, a storage facility? Experts have answers, but they are all different!
Through the mist we caught a glimpse of Mousa Broch across the Mousa Sound.
Continuing south, we stopped above Spiggie Beach, looking out towards Foula. The beach is a safe haven for seals. From our high vantage point we got great views of seals basking on the sand.
We reached the ancient settlement of Jarlshof, which was uncovered after a violent storm in 1897. A cold wind whistled around the ruins and a light rain added to the feel of mystery and ages past as we explored the ancient site, which dates back before the Bronze and Early Iron Ages.
After an hour exploring Jarlshof we boarded the coaches and headed back to Lerwick. The rain lifted on the way back, leaving us free to explore the town without getting soaked.
The town was unusually quiet, possibly drawing breath from too many huge cruise ships. The Shetland Museum proved very popular with its vivid record of life in Lerwick and the surrounding area, and its attachment to the sea.
We set sail for Norway with mist hanging around the ship, the occasional gannet and fulmar passed by to check us out, as guillemots desperately tried to get into the air ahead of us.
Sunday 24 June 2018, Haugesund, Norway
A last minute change to where we would pick up our pilot added an extra 30 Nm to our journey, but it allowed us to cruise northwards in the channel towards Haugesund.
Some of us spent the time touring the engine room. It proved what the captain had spoken about. Serenissima’s engine is a one-off. Goodness knows how many sea miles it has covered.
Colin kept us amused with his talk “Norway – Is it really just Waterfalls and Vikings?” while an official cleared the ship into Norway.
We berthed at the new facility to receive cruise ships in Haugesund, a town which grew up around the narrow, safe passage that ships have used for centuries as the “North Way” which led to the name Norway.
After another excellent lunch with a highlight of superbly presented roast flank (remember, it is Sunday) we prepared to visit the homeland of the Viking Kings on Karmøy island, opposite Haugesund.
The site at Avaldsnes was, for centuries, the centre of Viking civilization in Norway. It is shrouded in myth and legend, blood and gore, commerce and love.
The walk to the Viking Village was tricky underfoot as it dropped down towards the sea. The village reconstructs life in Viking days. The long house had an elegant shingle roof and a welcome fire, which had some of us dosing off as we listened to the local guide, clad in Viking dress. The reindeer covers on the bed were equally tempting. Outside, the outhouses showed the variety of forms that buildings might have taken. The boathouse, like an inverted boat itself, was a particularly splendid interpretation of how buildings might have looked with boat building skills being used on land.
The Nordvegen history Centre is an interesting mix of modern architecture housing a story of ancient history. Exploring myth and recorded history, a film tells the tale of how the Norwegian lands were brought together under Harald Fiarhair. Piecing it together wasn’t very easy, as few of us know much about Norwegian mythology. The exhibits after the film expanded the convoluted tale.
St Olav’s Church, the symbol of the unification of Norway, has sat prominently on this site since 1250AD and is still very much in use today. It is a hefty, solid structure and looks as if it will be here for centuries to come. The obelisk outside, named “The Sewing Needle of the Virgin Mary”, has become part of local mythology. A saga says “The day of Judgement will come when the stone comes in contact with the church wall.” Stories are told that part of the obelisk has been hewn away, to lessen the chances.
Back in Haugesund, a few of us strolled along the pedestrian shopping street, virtually deserted, as is usual on a Sunday. Had we been here 24 hours earlier, we would have contended with a throng of folks and kids doing their shopping before preparing for a family Sunday. Norwegians like their leisure time and shopping is low priority; it cannot compete with ski-ing, boating or generally getting outdoors.
Monday 25 June 2018, Hardangerfjord, Norway
We arrived in the early hours and dropped anchor off Rosendal, on Hardangerfjord, the third largest fjord in Norway.
The focus of the morning is a walk from Sunndal to Lake Bondhus, sitting below a retreating glacier. Coaches took us into Maurangerfjord, an arm off the main fjord, passing the Langfoss waterfall which cascades over and under the road. In winter, the amount of water is substantially reduced as it is locked up as ice. The road around the waterfall is covered in a sheet of solid ice; no wonder Norwegians use studded tyres.
The weather was perfect for a walk, with a light breeze to keep us cool. The lake was idyllic but the glacier was hidden by low cloud. Huge boulders were strewn down the whole valley, some still very angular having been plucked off the valley walls and not transported far by the glacier. The elusive glacier is a tiny remnant of the massive glacier that would have carved the valley; that ice would have been about 3Km deep.
After the walk we returned to Sunndal and tucked into mjølkekake, potato cakes and waffles laced with strawberry compote and cream. Cruising is hard work.
After lunch, a Zodiac shuttle service took us ashore to meet Ian who took a party to the Barony Gardens. An unexpected entrance fee put paid to the visit, but some guests used their cunning to circumvent payment and enjoyed the garden.
Another group joined Brian in the Steinenparken where an eclectic mix of rocks awaited us. The brainchild of two artists, the visit is more sculptural than geological.
Many of the rocks were transported by glaciation to this site. Others were imported as exhibits for the park from as far afield as China.
The revelation of the visit was the effect of polishing rocks. A dull and boring boulder on the outside presents spectacular surfaces and facets on the inside, when polished. Each piece was unique and some samples were rare.
It was a insight into what lies at our feet, if viewed differently. The spectacular surfaces we saw would be more popular if it wasn’t for the expense of cutting and polishing rock with diamond-encrusted saws and buffs.
Tuesday 26 June 2018, Bergen, Norway
At around 7am we docked in Bergen, “the gateway to the Fjords”. After the ship was cleared, we joined our buses for a tour of the city.
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city. It doesn’t feel like a big city; it’s more a collection of discrete pockets, with houses and roads hugging the fjord, spilling over hillocks and creeping up the surrounding slopes.
Troldhaugen is the home of Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg. We visited his house and gardens. We were treated to a private recital of his music overlooking the water. The atmosphere gave us an appreciation of the inspiration he must have felt to compose his music.
After enjoying some free time we returned to Bergen’s city centre for a guided walk through the Hanseatic Quarters and the Bryggen, which was destroyed in a fire in the 18th century.
Around lunchtime, the remaining clouds burned off and we felt the heat of the sun for the first time. It was perfect for a walk along the harbour, back around the Hanseatic Quarter and into the fish market. The market is usually busy, but with two large cruise ships in town, the buzz was amplified. Traders were vying for business, selling fresh fish and serving delicious fish, crab, lobster and mussels.
In the late afternoon Brian gave a talk on the “elusive” geology of Norway. He showed how the simple geological map of Norway hides an enormous complexity with ancient rocks buckled, folded and uplifted to reach Himalayan heights. Even the best geological brains can’t explain why there is virtually no trace of 400 Million years of geological activity after the mountain building
period or why the tops of Norway’s mountains are flat. At least everyone agrees that glaciation produced the stunning scenery we are enjoying.
Wednesday 27 June 2018, Flåm, Norway
The highlight of the day is a spectacular train ride from Flåm to Vatnahalsen.
After dropping anchor at the head of Aurlandsfjord, a branch of the Sognefjord, we had a short Zodiac transfer to Flåm and the train station. The train left exactly on time and we started up the steep inclines into the valley.
Narrow waterfalls cascaded down the rock faces to join the main river, which has been deviated through conduits to pass under the rail tracks instead of building bridges. The track follows a winding route, clinging to the valley edge and tunneling into the rock where the walls are too sheer. The track even carves a U-turn inside one tunnel.
We were lucky with the weather. Rain and low clouds are normal in this area but we had cloudless skies and warm sunshine, which picked out the trees, the odd farmhouse and made the rock walls glisten.
At Vatnahalsen, we left the train for a walk, to enjoy the broad views and to tuck into the local hotel’s famed waffles. We discovered what makes them so popular; they are served with an incredible raspberry compote. Topped off with cream, they are irresistible.
Returning to the waterfall, the haunting melodies and dance of the Huldre aimed to seduce our male passengers. They were reminded of their station in life by watchful wives or they were checking for a tail, which Huldre keep carefully hidden. Their tails maintain their beauty … then fall off when they marry!
The sunny weather was perfect for an afternoon stroll around Flåm.
We lifted the anchor and headed for Nærøyfjord, a narrow finger of Sognefjord. The benefit of being in a small ship became clear as the big ship that was in Flåm fell away behind us. Big cruise ships can’t navigate the Nærøyfjord.
The views were breathtaking, with ever bend in the fjord revealing rugged cliffs, vast peaks and cascading waterfalls. Tiny patches of pasture clung to the base where scree had fallen. The fjord narrowed and narrowed and we wondered if we might get through.
We anchored at the head of Nærøyfjord. The mountains marking the end of the fjord towered above us, streaked with waterfalls that thinned to mist as they fell.
The day finished with a BBQ served on the Aft Deck, allowing incredible views as we ate. The beef, chicken, lamb and pork were cooked to perfection, but the banana poached in rum, sugar and butter was to die for!

Thursday 28 June 2018, Nærøyfjord, Sognefjord, Balestrand, Norway
A short Zodiac ride took us to the town of Gudvangen where a village replicating Viking life has been built in the last year. People of Viking heritage, or with a passion for their way of life, have come from around the world to the village, living the old ways.
Two guides spun stories of life in the past as we walked through the village, which still has the fresh smell of newly cut wood. We tried axe throwing and archery and chatted to some of the “inhabitants”, like the bone carver who comes from North West England, or the Spanish girl who claims she was taken to the village as a slave!
This was possibly a unique chance to see this venture before it becomes commercialised and crowded, which is almost inevitable given its quality.
We headed back down Nærøyfjord and once again soaked up the grandeur of the fjord and its surroundings. We rejoined Sognefjord where Brian pointed out areas of interest.
With last minute phone calls to check if the church and museum could be opened, Emma secured a late afternoon visit to Balestrand on the north shore of the fjord. A leisurely stroll around the town and along the front, by the hotel, was enough for guests who wanted to make sure we got back before the kick-off of the England- Belgium football match at 20.00hrs. Let’s not mention the score!
Friday 29 June 2018, Bygstad and Dalsfjorden, Norway
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we berthed at Bygstad. Our buses climbed out of the valley and joined the main road from Kistiansand to Trondheim. Parts of this route still need a ferry, as completing the road would cost a fortune. Our route will be a loop through Førde, Viksdalen and Sande before returning to Bygstad, taking in a few of the area’s 28 waterfalls.
Førde is the commercial centre of the area and a shopper’s paradise; its centre is teeming with shops. The shipyard dominates west of the town while very large, and expensive, houses are being built east of the town.
At Sunnfjord Museum we got a glimpse life in the 1800s. Some of the buildings date back as far as the 1500s. We were free to explore the site while guides, stationed at specific buildings, explained their role and function. The overhang cuts in the wooden foundations and the gap between the steps and the door to stop mice getting in, were ingenious. The schoolhouse was charming and you could imagine what it was like when school was in. It was still in use in 1959. Three old, but still seaworthy boats were stored under the boathouse.
We stopped for a quick walk and photo stop at the Huldefossen waterfall.
The scenery was stunning as we climbed to a viewpoint high above the spectacular Haukdalsvatnet Lake where we had another photo stop.
The silver bridge over Likholefossen (Literally - Dead Man Cave Waterfall) let us see the power of the water passing underneath. The flow was less than usual due to low rainfall; what would it be like when the river is swollen?
At the Edal Farm we met the charming Henning and his wife Marit who is the 13th generation of the same family on the farm. After a light lunch of open sandwiches and apple cake, Henning stood on a chair and regaled us with stories of life on the farm. It was delightful.
The road followed the River Gaular towards Viksdalvatnet where we stopped to visit the wooden church of Hestad, before returning to the ship.
We left Dalsfjorden in glorious sunshine and Brian pointed out places of interest, particularly Laukelandsfossen, a 135m high waterfall, which we passed by closely, and the 532metre span of the Dalsfjordbrua bridge.
Cruising doesn’t get much better than this!
Saturday 30 June 2018, Runde and Ålesund, Norway
We arrived at Runde at 06.30am and faced a cold wind as we watched the birds swoop off the ledges on vertical cliffs to forage.
Gannets were the most plentiful, along with common gulls, puffins, guillemots and razorbills. A second pass of the cliffs was followed by a hasty retreat to the warmth of the Venice Restaurant and breakfast.
Three groups struggled through the hordes from the Carnival ship and set off to see Ålesund.
The devastating fire of 1904, which wiped out Ålesund was the catalyst for the Art-Nouveau-style rebuilding that took place. The lack of work in the building trade in Norway, at that time, was a saviour for Ålesund. Men from as far afield as Oslo came in search of work, accepting low rates of pay. The gap between what the insurance paid and the actual cost, which was borne by individuals, was as low as possible.
The Timemachine presentation in the Swan Pharmacy provided a clear and lightly amusing overview of events before and after the fire.
A warning that the beer at the top of the Kniven viewpoint was the most expensive in Ålesund was an adequate deterrent to taking on its 418 step climb.
With not a cloud in the sky, we slipped our berth at 13.00hrs and set sail for Brønnøysund, 267 nautical miles to the north.
After the football, Pierre gave his talk “Viking Ships: A Thousand Year Love affair for Sailors”.
Sunday 1 July 2018, Brønnøysund, Torghatten, Vega Island, Norway
A short deviation, requested by our pilot, added to our sail time to Brønnøysund. We took buses to Torghatten and the hiking group headed up the trail, discovering that the climb was steep but firm underfoot. It wasn’t long until we reached the edge of the spectacular hole in the mountain; it was worth every step. The views through the hole and beyond, and back over the trail were stunning
Brian tried to fob us off with the idea that ice and water had eroded a local weakness in the granite, creating the huge hole. Pierre’s version of events was much more credible – a knight troll spying and chasing a (possibly naked) young maiden, decided to kill her if he couldn’t have her for himself. His arrow pierced a king’s hat that was thrown into the path of the knight’s deadly arrow just as the sun rose and they all turned to stone - perfectly logical, reasonable and somehow compelling.
A separate group explored the local flora with Ian, a much more genteel activity and completely troll-free.
We retuned to the ship to enjoy sushi and an oriental-inspired lunch.
Serenissima repositioned to Vega Island and anchored a long way out. The zodiacs took us down the shallow channel to the hamlet of Nes. Some
passengers sampled the innovative use of seaweeds, gathered and dried on other islands. A local favourite of caviar in white chocolate was generally regarded as an acquired taste.
Other activities included a visit to the eider museum, a look in the World Heritage Centre, a walk along the foreshore and tea and coffee with lefse or waffles; a surprising choice for such a tiny locale.
Captain Étien Bonačić hosted a Farewell Cocktail Party in the Andrea Lounge. Emma thanked him and his crew for guiding us safely through the voyage and he, in turn, thanked Emma and her team for looking after our guests.
During dinner we passed by the Seven Sisters, a spectacular range of peaks on the Alsten Island. Later on we marked the crossing of the Arctic Circle with an impromptu party on the observation deck, Emma’s team wearing an eclectic mix of Santa, Elf and Donkey costumes as they were all she could find!!!
After midnight the moon came up and sat over the mountains and a large glacier, pastel-pale in the low arctic sunlight.
Monday 2 July 2018, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Thick mist hid the islands from us, but the sun broke through as we approached Reine, uncovering a magical view that was emphatically Lofoten.
A busy day is scheduled with a visit to Nusfjord, a charming fishing hamlet that has UNESCO World Heritage status. As in Riene, we will see wooden racks for drying fish, which is mainly exported.
A visit to the glassblower’s studio is scheduled as well as a visit to the Viking Museum at Borg to enjoy a lunch of lamb stew.
The last leg of our tour will be a scenic drive to Svolvær where Serenissima will be waiting to take us to Tromsø, our final destination, but not before we slip into the stunning Trollfjord.
Tomorrow we sadly say farewell, but reading this log reminds us how much we have done in such a short time. It has been a great pleasure looking after you. Emma and her expedition team hope you have had an awesome and memorable time.
We look forward to seeing you again, aboard Serenissima or any of Noble Caledonia’s ships.
Bon Voyage!!!
PS We enjoyed excellent weather for most of the cruise. As passengers
are responsible for the weather, you should congratulate
yourselves for
doing such a great job!

10 May 2018

The Garden in May

1 May 2018

May Day around Carlux

Welcome to Carlux!

This is the Modern Art version, i.e. no subject too banal.
Somebody broke la Croix de Branel ..

 A golden Acacia at the centre of the maze, Les Jardin de Cadiot.
 Bee hives.

Even the weeds are colourful.

11 Feb 2018

Along Clarence Drive Sunday morning with a stiff breeze.

27 Jan 2018

Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden; Worcester; RSA

Views from the Shale Trail

Aloe, aloe, what 'ave we 'ere then?

Quiver tree bark
Rusty shale....

7 Dec 2017

 Still no sun but the rain was quite light when we started and soon gave way to mist.  It's good to have someone in red for scale in landscape photos.

 Although the scenery looks uniformly green at a distance,up close there is a great variety of colour: various  shades of green, grey,blue, and sparkling wild flowers everywhere.

6 Dec 2017

 The green,green hills of Natal surround the Cathedral Peak Hotel.  We're waiting for the sun.