Northern Lights Cruise with Saga – Chapter 5

Ice ice baby

Andalsnes. A difficult name to pronounce even if sober. Day 5 another day another dollar, well Norwegian Kroner. We opened our curtains onto a stunning winter day. Photographs will never do full justice to the natural beauty surrounding our floating hotel. A cloudless sky and the early morning light is breathtaking. The sun shone bright. How lucky are we? 

Andalsnes The sheer beauty overwhelms the senses. A seamless coupling of sea and mountains. Andalsnes has wild and dramatic nature as its backdrop. The water temperature varies from frozen to very frozen. Snow-capped peaks reflect in the almost glass-like stillness. On high an occasional tree bursts through the icing sugar white covered mountains reminding me of a candle on a birthday cake. 

A recent survey has Norway as the most content country in the world. And no wonder! Annual salary three times that of the UK, a country so rich and so protective and supportive of its people. And with all this beauty it almost feels like heaven. 

My first thought on seeing the first snow on the trip. Shouting from boat deck at the top of my voice “Ayana, want to build a snow cat?”. 

The town is home to about 5000 perfectly situated at the mouth of the Rauma River world famous for its salmon. It has many nicknames. ‘Peak capital of Norway’, ‘Alpine town on the fjord’ and ‘The village between mountains and fjords’. None are very elegant but they are descriptive. Though they could probably apply to many other places on this coastal route. 

Andalsnes It was time to get suited and booted and togged up for our day on land. Thermal vest and gloves and hat all essential. And thermal long johns too. My granddad Joseph always wore them in the garden and would never leave home without them. As I approach my more reflective years I can see that he was right, as granddads always are. Long johns – they are the future. 

Saga Pearl II’s matching red army resplendent in their thermal jackets were easy to spot around town, contrasting with the white back drop. One of the passengers decided to forsake the jacket for a full length fur coat and hat. Vanity fur maybe? 

The frosty air pummelled our faces, the breeze blowing away all cobwebs. The crunch of crisp snow underfoot was exhilarating. Incomplete removal of recent snow fall left some roads and pavements very slippy. A good reason to cling onto loved ones, though you shouldn’t need a reason to hold hands. 

On the quayside next to our ship was an intriguing looking uncoupled train carriage. It is in fact a chapel train and the only one in the whole of Norway. A place for worship and quiet contemplation and for eating packets of crisps  as the English couple were doing when I stuck my head around the door. They stopped as soon as they saw me, guilty expressions in evidence. 

Our trip today was on the world famous Rauma railway. Lonely Planet says it is Europe’s most scenic train journey. It’s very good, in fact it is excellent but I am not sure it deserves top billing. Opened in 1924 it took 12 years to build and has some extra ordinary feats of engineering on route. 

Andalsnes The train was modern and clean and our guide spoke perfect English. Large picture windows framed the magnificent landscape which unfolded as we journeyed up the Romsdalen valley hugging the river below. The highlight of the trip was seeing Trollveggen. It is Europe’s highest perpendicular mountain wall. 1000 metre of sheer vertical  precipice with a total drop of 1800 metres from the top to the valley floor.

We journeyed past famous peaks – The Bishop, The King and naturally The Queen too. Many of the peaks are named after trolls. Surprisingly we didn’t see any – because they hide away during the day. They turn to stone when caught in the sunlight.

The ride superb through the winter wonderland. Frozen rivers and waterfalls captured in time. Snow everywhere. Our trip to Bjorli took almost an hour.

It is a small village high up in the mountains. Snow was everywhere and so high – almost the height of the coach waiting to drive us down the valley. It is a ski resort for 6 months of the year due to the stable snow conditions. Easy to predict with reliable perfect powder snow. A spectacular location and oh so chilly. Thank goodness for my long johns. 

Most of the passengers went on the rail trip. A smaller group took a 3 hour leisurely coach tour of the Romsdal valley ending up at Rodven stave church, parts of which date back to the 13th century. They returned to the ship again through the valley stopping to look at Trollveggen, one of the world’s most formidable climbs. The wintry landscape adding to the moment. 

Andalsnes Stave churches are dotted around Norway. Built around 800 years ago by skilled craftsmen using techniques inherited from Viking boat builders. They have stood the test of time. Historians believe these wonderful structures were prefabricated to enable quick construction on site. It is thought that over 2000 were built but only a handful now survive. 

Babs and I had a walk around the town. The pure mountain air almost making us high. It must be a great tonic for asthmatics. I did my usual thing when on holiday and popped into the local pharmacy. The prices were astonishingly high and we must all be thankful for our own health service back in the UK. 

At 4.15 pm we were having afternoon tea and cakes in the Discovery Lounge with Stuart playing the piano. All very British and lovely and gentle. We sat with Joanne and Philip from near Beverley who both looked much more relaxed than when we met on the second day. They had just sold their market garden company  after three years of trying. Supplying fruit and veg to local hotels, shops, farm shops and other catering outlets. I suppose you could say that their salad days are over.

The job had taken its toll and both had dark shadows under their eyes making them look exhausted. By day 5 they were looking and feeling much better and both were now firm fans of Saga Pearl II. The only growth that Phil was interested in now was that of his bank balance. 

Back to our cabin to practice a few dance steps for later in the evening. And a long soak in a very hot bath. 

Dinner is the highlight of the evening. Dress code is smart casual. Ladies can wear a casual evening dress or trousers whilst the men should be smart and wear an open-necked shirt and smart casual trousers. No jeans or shorts! Saga Pearl II fine dining Most people behave and conform to the rules. But there is always one or two who don’t. Most people made an effort.  One guy wore the same shirt and trousers for 8 days of the cruise – I know because I counted. He looked as though he had just come from his allotment – allotment chic? Another guy dressed as though he was going to climb the south face of Everest rather than go to dinner. 

Six courses and complimentary wine. Food so beautiful to look at that it seems a sin to eat it. But eat it we did and it was gorgeous as always. Ordering two desserts was becoming a bit of a habit which I knew I should break but hey when in Rome/Norway.  

The evening show was a tribute to the magnificent songs of Neil Diamond who is one of our favourites. His music has been the soundtrack to our lives – his many great  songs appearing at many magic moments in our happy relationship. 

Thirty minutes into the show Captain Nick’s voice suddenly interrupted the song and dance. “Ladies and gents the Northern Lights are now to be seen on our port side”.

The Northern Lights Well I have never ever seen old folks move so fast. Casting aside walking sticks and disabilities they rushed out of the room. “Out of the way young man”.  Charge of the OAP brigade. A DHSS rep on board would have had a field day. In future no need to shout abandon ship – just yell Northern Lights. 

We got on deck to see a narrow green ribbon stretching away from the ship. The famous Aurora Borealis was actually here right in front of us. It was so low and close that we felt as though we could reach out and touch and embrace it. We stood speechless in the frozen air as it danced across the sky. Suddenly it changed direction and size and the famous rippling curtains opened and closed across the dark sky. Mesmerising and tearful too. And for the next four nights they appeared for us performing ever more acrobatic moves. Cajoling us to follow them as we sped along this wondrous coast. 

We were all so immensely happy to have seen them. It was a honour to catch a glimpse – so many people travel to see them and never ever do. Our mission complete . You never forget your first sighting of the ‘lights’. Saturday 4th March 2017. Even better with the melodies of Mr Diamond swirling around my head.  A beautiful noise and an even more beautiful surreal night. 

We all slept well that night.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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