AURORA R005 ARTIC/BALTIC CRUSIE June-July 2010
June 17th. Living in a part of the Country with no rail links and an unreliable bus service for the 25 mile journey to Peterborough to catch our pre booked (via the Internet) train is always a chore in itself. Then it was a cab from Kings Cross instead of the tube due to our train arriving 20 minutes late due to a points failure at Huntingdon and we had just 40 minutes remaining to get to Waterloo for our next train. I'm glad I don't live in London anymore, the traffic was horrendous and we reached Waterloo with just 10 minuets to spare.
Now you will understand why we always arrive the day prior to joining our ship. Arriving midday on the 17th June, we dropped off our baggage at our regular Novotel and walked back to the station to catch the free Ferry bus with stops on the way getting off close to the Ferry pier. We walked up a way to the Titanic Museum, a trip we always said we would do but never did. It was most interesting listening to tales of life on the liner and the sinking from recorded voices of the survivors.
It was a very hot day so a little refreshment was called for in a little Pub on the main road. Then it was back to the area of our Hotel where we naughtily eat in an adjoining hotel after going through their extensive and more interesting menu.
Friday June 18th we booked a cab to the ship and joined the rather long queue eventually joining the ship. Having travelled on Aurora previously we knew the way to the stern and the self service Orangery for a snack before later joining many others on the prom deck for the sail away. Amusingly, having done this many times, I always heard the band (some said was a recording) But this time there they were on the quay side in their smart red uniforms. So with the strains of 'We are Sailing' the ship gradually pulled away from the dock. We were on our way.
Unpacking and everything ship shape. Our Cabin Steward made himself known. He left with a small shopping list for our later travel comforts? Joining us on the trip this time was my Step Son and His wife who were celebrating their 2nd Wedding anniversary having been married on the Ventura in June 2008 which was also our first cruise. So this trip was really special. We rang their cabin to get their reaction to the Special pre ordered presentation package we had ordered for them. We also had the same welcome package. You should try this. But I wont spoil the surprise.
All four of us went down to Dinner to discover who our table companions were to find just a single couple on our table for 8. What a friendly couple they were. It was in the Alexandria Restaurant where we were to experience the first of our problems. There was steak on the menu as their is most evenings. four of us had it and all four sent it back as being too tough. We had noticed when queuing to join the ship a large number of new and very young crew members joining the ship. (I discovered later there were 80) We were to experience a very slow service from the three waiters dealing with I think four tables. We always went for the first sitting at 6.30 and on those first evenings we were still finishing coffee at 7.50. But you shrug it off as to the staff feeling their feet.
June 19th. I'm an early riser and at 5.30 in the morning I wandered the ship taking photographs I missed taking on our last trip in her. The only other body I saw was a teenaged lad wandering as I was. What I enjoy most about this ship is being able to get out on the stern and be able to walk from side to side to taking in the views. Both my wife and I watched our approach into Cobh in Southern Ireland, our first port of call. It seems our arrival coincided with a local all Emergency Organisations rescue exercise that made our visit more interesting. Having docked close to the railway station which was also the Titanic Museum since Cobh was the last port of departure of the Titanic. The museum also displayed quite dramatically how the first immigrants had to travel to the new World and also details of the Lusitania sinking in WW1. Cobh is a quaint little Town and a pint in Kelly's bar where sitting outside it cooled us down a little.
June 20th we arrived in the port of Dublin. If you lay in you would have missed the vast array of shipping in the port as we slowly slipped in. A shuttle bus took us into the Town where we caught the hop on hop off bus that went right around the City. The drivers commentary during the trip kept a smile on my face for he seemed to be promoting Guinness he called the 'Black Stuff' as though he couldn't wait to get his hands on a glass. We had already booked a visit to the Guinness brewery. At the Guinness Brewery it became an interesting lone tour (There were a number of large groups around) that gradually found us climbing higher and higher until we reached the tasting bar. Now I have never tasted Guinness in my life, so my wife talked me into a taster. The barman pulled a face when I said it tasted like a bitter. Still we had tokens for a free pint of the black stuff in the large circular bar on the roof. In fact we were the first there so it gave me plenty of opportunity to take photographs of the surrounding City through the complete glass surround. Leaving we waited for the next bus and dropped off by the river with the intention of getting on one of the river tours. Unfortunately P & O had booked them all. A good walk around the main shops before re joining the shuttle for our return to the ship.
June 21-23 were our three sea days as we headed for Greenland. There is always something or an event on the ship to stop you getting bored. Taking your money is one of them? Still we attended a talk about Windows 7 that was free, the following talks would cost you a little cash. All the bars and most open areas of the ship have some type of musical entertainment, after all this was supposed to be a music festival. Then their are quizzes and Bingo if you like that sort of thing. We enjoyed the in house movies on the TV with a glass of the hard stuff in one's hand. One morning we had breakfast delivered to our cabin thus avoiding the bun fight in the Orangery. But we always used to go up early anyway thus avoiding the crush. Once we dropped in at 10am for a coffee and the place was heaving. We didn't do that again.
Amazingly those three sea days passed quite quickly. I used to amuses those I got into conversation with that during those three days we didn't see another ship or aeroplane pointing out that had we been in lifeboats how long would it be before we were rescued? Obviously modern technology would have solved that problem.
June 24th. We saw our first Icebergs on the starboard side in the early hours. We learnt later that the ship took on an Ice pilot in Dublin. I never understood why as Icebergs show on radar. Our arrival at Qaqortoq meant our first trip ashore in the ships tender. Docking at a floating dock hardly 20 feet square was an experience in its self. A town without a single tree but an interesting array of building's. The building colours donated those that were private/Occupational and those that were Government. Red for private, Blue for Government and Yellow for Hospital. All very confusing but very colourful. The museum there was fascinating giving you some idea of the cultures and life styles of the population. I have never seen so many 4X4's in such a small Town. I should mention the Midges on Greenland. They fly into your face and eyes so you were continually waving to keep them at bay. I think this resulted in many returning to ship after just half an hour on shore.
We joined the long queue for the tender where we spent the next hour and a half as only one Tender at a time could dock to take returning passengers back to the ship. Still it was interesting chatting to those with us.
June 25th We anchored at Greenland's Capitol Nuuk. Again it was a tender ride to shore. We were just 150 miles below the Artic circle. Another interesting Town with plenty to see. Some of the shops were full of tempting goods, but it was a case of how do I get it home? Again the museum here was most interesting as was the landscape generally. The longest queue ever waiting for a tender was almost a quarter of a mile long. Thank God the weather was sunny and warm. It took us almost 2 hours to get the tender back to the ship. We learnt later that the Captain was surprised at the numbers wanting to go ashore.
I think it was Veal on the menu that evening. All six of us sent it back. It was unbelievably tough and the service we received had not improved. Our waiters seem to be afraid to talk.
June 26-27 were two sea days on our journey to Reykjavik in Iceland, the first day was in a force 8 gale that gave me and one other passenger an opportunity to photograph from the prom deck, deck 7 (with difficulty) the sea at its best. Soaked with spray we switched positions once before calling it a day. Up in the Orangery in the evenings they hold theme nights in respect of the type of food they would serve that evening. It was a formal night and all four of us went up for the Chinese evening. I have never ever tasted ribs so tender in my life, I had eight together with rice and the likes. The entertainer Richard Digance was performing that evening but he sure got his audience involved with his trunk song. A great evening. On the 2nd sea day we four dined in the Pennant Restaurant that involved a supplement. Wow what a difference. An excellent meal with a staff that included the manager who were so attentive it took us back a little. I should mention that a lunch in Cafe Bordeaux is also an experience. This becomes the Marco Pierre White Restaurant in the evenings that also involved a supplement.
June 28 we berthed at Reykjavik where we had an 8.30 tour booked. 'The Golden Circle' was a most interesting and memorable tour that included lunch. Walking was involved that took us through 2,000 year old lava fields completely void of trees due to the heat in the soil. The amazing Gullfoss waterfall is a sight I will never forget. One soon discovered how residences are heated and where their hot water comes from. Standing so close to the Geyser 'Strokkur' that shot a fountain of water 75 feet into the air with tremendous force. I recommend this tour.
June 29 we docked at Akureyri in North Iceland. Here we were booked on the 'Jewels of the North' tour that was more exciting than the previous days. Godafoss Waterfall and our walk over the thermal fields around cauldrons of bubbling sulphur smelling grey mud. After refreshments we visited a local power station that brings home how they harness all this volcanic activity. Another tour I recommend.
June 30th saw us on our way to Alesund in Norway. Although some passengers had seen whales, we were rather disappointed at not seeing any. It always amused me that on some of the sea days a sort of car boot set up around the Atrium selling clothing and Jewellery that attracted the ladies on the ship. That evening we took up the free portrait offer that was taken in Andersons bar, one of our favourite haunts in the evenings.
July1st we arrived at Alesund. It was also my birthday and we had already booked a special evening in the Pennant Grill. This was a really pretty Town that had previously burnt down in 1904 and was rebuilt in art Nouveau style. We joined the motorised street train for the ride up to Mount Aksala where we got a great view across the whole town. I made a note on our return of the many buildings I would like to photograph when next we visit. The surprise of the evening was the cake my wife presented who had secretly ordered it. It was brought to me by the Manager. Then I was surrounded by the staff for their rendition of 'Happy Birthday' a ships tradition. I fear that I was a little under the affects of Gin and wine but still it was most enjoyable.
July 2nd saw us up early to take in the splendour of sailing into Geiranger Fjord. We were not alone on the stern that morning. The scenery was breathtaking. Anchored within this Fjord and surrounded by mountains was to be our third Tender trip ashore. But this time two tenders at a time to a firm dock. We were booked on the Geiranger Fjord Centre tour that included a coach journey up steep hairpins with a stop to look back at our now tiny ship and take in our surroundings before moving onto the centre which was in pleasant surroundings with an interesting Marine museum. The sail away to the strains of Holst's Planet suite (I think) was both memorable and most impressive.
July 3 We approached Bergen. Aurora turned around at the entrance to the docking area and we backed in and docked closely followed by Fred Olson's ship 'Breamar'. Nothing has changed since our last visit in 2008. Here we had booked for the Vintage Railway trip. But that's all it was, a ride in a train with no rolling stock or other railway features to photograph and no shop. Not recommended.
We got the coach driver to drop us off at the market place where we caught a strange looking red bus from the market place that took us to the Cable Car station. It cost us £25 each that also included the Aquarium that we didn't take up. The view from Mount Ulriken at 2,109 feet was amazing. But I found the changing levels of rough ground difficult to negotiate. Returning to Bergen we walked around the market place that was a real eye opener and again the temptation to buy had to be deal with. The very special sail away was to celebrate Aurora's 10th Anniversary. An opportunity for the entertainment staff to do crazy things but it was fun.
July 4th in the early hours we backed into Stavanger. Vast changes since our last visit. The volley Ball stadium has been completed and the old Town looked like a building site. But a very early 8.15 catamaran trip to Lysefjord & Pulpit Rock. Up on the open deck with a few other hardy soles we headed for the Fjord. What an experience that was, you have to do this trip just for the scenery. Inside it is very spacious if you are not happy with the elements. Waffles, Jam and cream awaited us at the end of the Fjord then it was a return, this time inside. Plenty of time for a walk around the lake and listen to the American Jazz band in the Bandstand celebrating their independence day. Then down to the Old Town to full fill a promise I made in 2008. Then back to the ship. For a Sunday Stavanger was heaving with people. There was a match at the Volley Ball stadium where thump, thump music blared out all afternoon.
July 5th our very last sea day and time to reflect on the whole 18 days. The weather had been perfect. Hot and sunny. We know we will return. A final meal in the Pennant Grill where we exchanged tales and passed our gratuities to the staff there. The only disappointment was our experience in the Alexandra Restaurant we hope was just a one off. Everything else was perfect as we have come to expect from P & O and the Aurora.