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|Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 2008
The Land of the Midnight Sun - Overview
We chose this cruise from Southampton because it was going to the far north, to Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen. It was a special cruise because it would be the last time that QE2 went to Spitsbergen and it was also the first and last time she would be visiting Gravdal in the Norwegian Lofoten Islands. Pete had visited Longyearbyen on business many years earlier and Pauline had regretted not joining him on that trip; this would be a chance to see the fantastic scenery above the Arctic Circle and enjoy the Land of the Midnight Sun. With global warming the icebergs should have melted, and the sea ice around Longyearbyen disappeared.
We had visited Norway once before - in 2004 also on QE2 we had gone to the North Cape. Unfortunately the weather then had been damp and visibility poor. We had not seen the sun at midnight, and certainly not seen it set towards the horizon and then rise above. We hoped that we would be luckier in 2008 and get some good photographs..
A further bonus was that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would be visiting QE2 for lunch in Southampton on 2 June. It was the 55th anniversary of her coronation, and she had chosen that day to make her final visit to QE2. We set off from home early, hoping to embark early and catch a glimpse of the Queen on board. Having deposited our luggage we found the check-in desks were not open, but we had already glimpsed the Queen’s standard flying from the mast. This only occurred when she was on board, and there were a few expensive black limousines parked in front of the ship. We went outside to take a photograph, and at that point QE2’s whistle sounded. It is a very distinctive sound, and was sounded to indicate that the Queen was on the bridge and was the signal for Queen Mary 2, berthed nearby, to sound her own whistle in return.
At 1200 we joined the long line for check-in. There is a faster system for Cunard Diamond card holders, but first we had to wait outside with everyone else until we got to the reception desk and could then take the accelerated check-in. Diamond is the highest level of Cunard passenger, and is awarded for 15 voyages or 150 days at sea. We now have 376 days, of which over 300 are on QE2. With the Queen on board we did not expect any passengers to be able to embark, but we were wrong. Having picked up our priority boarding cards and settled into the comfortable seats in the embarkation lounge, at 1300 we were invited to go on board. QE2 always has staff to greet passengers as they arrive, and we were greeted by several of our favourite waiters, one of whom was easily persuaded to show us how to find our cabin. We were on 5 Deck in the middle of the ship and in a cabin which was arranged for three people, so there was more space than usual and Pauline quickly took over two of the three wardrobes for her dresses. The Hotel Manager had sent us a nice vase of fresh flowers and there was a chilled bottle of sparkling wine from the Cunard World Club ready to drink. Later we found there was a bottle of Champagne too, also a gift from the Hotel Manager. It was nice to be back home on QE2.
We knew that Captain Ian McNaught would be Master of QE2 for our cruise, and we were looking forward to seeing him again. We knew from the card in our room that we had been allocated our usual table for two by the window at late sitting in the Mauretania restaurant, and we noticed that Phil who had been Assistant Maitre d’ there had moved to the Caronia restaurant. It is normal for staff to move around so they get to experience a variety of different responsibilities but we were sad to lose Phil who we fist met on our previous cruise to Norway in 2004 when he had joined QE2 as a waiter. We saw from the list that Phil’s replacement as Assistant Maitre d’ was Kruno, who we had also known for many years and who had also started his career on QE2 as a trainee waiter. We were sure we were going to be well looked after, by old friends.
Lunch is not available in the formal restaurants on embarkation day so our next stop was at the Lido where a self-service hot lunch was ready. On embarkation day there always seems to be a carvery with an enormous gammon, which we like, as well as the usual smoked salmon and lots of salads and hot vegetables. It is an excellent idea to have something for those people who have been travelling since early morning. Meanwhile the Queen was having her lunch in the Caronia restaurant, with hundreds of invited special guests, and we joined a handful of people with cameras outside waiting to see her leave. One of the memorable photographs taken before lunch was of the Queen and those QE2 Captains still alive, some twelve in total. The Queen was supposed to leave shortly after 1400, but seemed to be enjoying herself and left late. It was only a few steps from the main entrance to the restaurant to the lift and Pete captured a glimpse of her lilac coat on video but Pauline’s photograph was a blur. On her way out through the QEII Cruise Terminal she was presented with 55 red roses, one for each year of her reign. It was a nice idea. We hoped to see Lady Thatcher leave too, accompanied by her daughter Carol, but somehow missed her, although we saw them both in the far distance at lunch. We did however manage to greet Carol Marlow, the President and Managing Director of Cunard Line, as she hurried through the ship. We settled into the Queen’s Room for afternoon tea. Regular Cunarders always start their cruise with lunch in the Lido followed by afternoon tea, whereas new passengers have more problems finding the Queen’s Room.
The final task before sailing is always the passenger lifeboat drill. From our cabin we had to report to the Caronia restaurant on the port side, together with our lifejackets. It is important that everyone finds their lifejacket and then manages to find their allocated muster station. In addition, it is a formal safety requirement. En route we bumped into three people who we last met in September 2007 on the QE2 cruise to the Mediterranean. It is nice to chat with other regulars. We had just completed the drill when it was announced that QE2 was about to depart, and on this occasion QM2 left first and after much exchange of whistles, QE2 followed. The Port of Southampton celebrated our departure with water canons and we wished we had brought our cameras up onto the open decks. Our suitcases finally arrived and the next few hours were spent putting everything away.
By 2030 we were ready for dinner and had a very pleasant and relaxed meal, disappointed only by the lack of wine waiter service and the eventual discovery that our favourite wine, NZ Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, had sold out. At the end of the meal we were asked whether we would like to join 4 other people on the Captain’s Table. This was an unexpected invitation and we were speechless for a few moments, which was wrongly interpreted as reluctance. So it was explained to us that the Captain and his senior staff would host the Captain’s Table on formal evenings, and for the other days we had the choice of staying at the table or going back to our little table for two. We explained that we would very much like to join the Captain’s Table.
Travelling from Southampton to Norway, the next day is always spent at sea, and we started the day as usual by going to the gym before breakfast. In the afternoon Pauline went to the watercolour class, which was taught by Lucy Foley. It was Lucy who originally inspired her to paint when she attended classes on the QE2 in 2001, so it was an emotional reunion for them both. Lucy had brought her son, Tom, with her to act as teaching assistant. He is usually a University professor in USA.
Being at sea, it was also the first of two formal evenings when the Captain hosts a series of cocktail parties and takes the opportunity to shake hands with everyone. At the Captain’s Table are host was the Staff Captain as Captain McNaught was host a table in one of the other restaurants. To our surprise we found that we were already acquainted with three of the other 4 people on our table, having met them on the QE2 in 2007 and then bumped into them earlier at the emergency drill. After two bottles of white wine, followed by one of red wine, everyone chatted together as if we had been friends for many years. The menu for this evening, described as the Captain’s Gala Dinner, is always excellent, with a lobster starter followed by a rare steak and finally a Grand Marnier soufflé. It was going to be an excellent cruise.
Our first port was Bergen, on 4 June. We had visited Bergen in 2004 and decided to opt out of the organised excursions. The shuttle bus from the International Cruise Terminal took us to the centre of town and it was only a short walk to the station for the funicular railway which went to the top of Mount Floyen. The railway had been built in 1908 and had just celebrated its 90th birthday on 15 January. Queues were already long so we decided to wait in line. It was not going to get better during the morning.
There were three cruise ships in port and many people seemed to want to go walking at the top of the hill, and admire the views. It was a superb day. Having collected a map of the various walking tracks we spent a happy morning exploring, walking to the Skomakerdiket Lake where people were swimming, then to the Regnhytten and the Bjornebu with its surprising bear statue before retracing our steps. We descended just as the first guided tour from the QE2 arrived.
Bergen is a pretty town with the old restored timbered warehouses along the Bryggen, a major trading centre in Hanseatic times. The eleven old buildings are carefully preserved and were designated a World Heritage Site in 1980 by UNESCO. Pauline did a watercolour painting of the houses in 2004.
At the end of the Bryggen is the 13th century Haakon’s Hall and the 16th century Rosenkrantz Tower. There are many museums in the area, perfect for when the weather is wet, but today was sunny. We visited an exhibition of new wooden stick sculptures in the gardens, and it was alongside these gardens that the other two smaller cruise ships were moored. We wandered back through the various souvenir shops, admiring the soft leather items made from Moose. We resisted the souvenirs, although Pauline spent some time browsing jewellery made from the local pink stone, Thulite or Thulitt. We lingered in the open-air fish market, purchasing a small portion of smoked fish to take back to eat; we were going to be too late for lunch but hoped to catch afternoon tea. The fresh and smoked fish in Norway is famous, especially the smoked salmon, and there were other delicacies too. An oriental chap was purchasing a lump of what seemed to be smoked whale meat. It was certainly an unusual colour and texture, similar to venison, and very expensive. Hunting and fishing locally includes trapping foxes and there were racks of the expensive white animal skins in the market, alongside typical Norwegian woollen jumpers.
Overwhelmed with tourist shops we set off to find the modern Grieghallen concert hall, which are guide book said was worth viewing. It meant we had a pleasant stroll through the Town Park with its pretty bandstand, purchased as a kit and assembled on site in the late 19th century. We walked around the edge of Lille Lungegårdsvann (the lake, "Lille" means little, "vann" means water / lake), and passed the Art Museum, until confronted by the austere side view of the Grieghallen. We instantly disliked the building. Perhaps it is nicer inside, and the acoustics are good. Having completed our wanderings we were glad to go back to the QE2 and enjoy the sailaway with a bottle of cold sparkling wine.
Cruising overnight, we arrived in Trondheim early on 5 June. We had previously visited Trondheim in 2004 but had spent the day then walking around the town centre. This visit we decided to see something of the local area and booked an organised tour which took us by coach through the countryside south of Trondheim to visit the old Lokken Mine, and then take a short ride on a narrow gauge railway. It was a good choice of excursion because the scenery was very pretty, and we drove along the edge of several beautiful lakes with their weekend holiday homes. We passed several farms including one with a bridge across the road.
On arrival at Lokken we were given an interesting brochure about the Orkla Industrimuseum, of which the following is a summary. The ore at Lokken was first discovered in 1652, initially copper and then sulphur, and finally zinc and silver. Industrial-scale mining began in the 20th century. The Orkla Mining Company was founded then, the precursor of the present Orkla Group. The Orkla Industrimuseum comprises the Old Mine, the Thamshavn Railway and the Information Centre.
We were all dressed in light plastic raincoats so that we did not mark our clothing while walking through the mine. After a short welcome and introduction the group walked in a long line behind the guide through the workings until we reached the largest room, the Fagerli Hall. There the older members could rest while a violinist played music, so we could appreciate the acoustics. It was a pity there was no technical information from our guide. However, we managed to find a lot of interesting facts from the volunteer allocated to follow the group and make sure no-one became lost. He explained that the corridors had been flooded, and this accounted for the line on the walls. He pointed out the white sulphur marks on the walls. There were some items of machinery, and tracks and wagons for moving rocks, but no information about them.
The Thamshaven Railway was constructed to carry cuprous pyrite ore from the Lokken Mines. There is a small railway museum at Lokken station which we would have liked to visit; unfortunately there is never enough time when on an organised tour. When the railway opened in 1908 it was Norway’s first electrical railway. Trains carried passengers and ore until 1974. In 1983 the first museum train started moving, comprising, as now, an engine and two original vintage 1908 wooden carriages. They have been splendidly restored and maintained, and look excellent in the year of the 100th birthday. It is now the world’s oldest alternating-current-powered railway.
We managed to find a corner of the platform at the back of the final coach, together with two others. We all had cameras. It was quite cosy but everyone got an excellent view of the track behind, and the passing countryside. It was much better than sitting inside, although the windows there would open for photos. The guard came to check we were OK; presumably he noticed there were 4 people missing from his head count. The journey from Lokken to Bardshaug took just one hour, passing through Svorkmo and Fannrem. Each of the station buildings had a turf roof, which must be cosy in the winter. For part of the journey we followed the road, and we glimpsed our coach as it worked its way to Bardshaug. Everyone we saw by the side of the track was friendly and waved. Close to Bardshaug we joined the river, obviously a good place for fishing.
Bardshaug is a small town, with the historic Bardshaug Herregard Hotel. We passed the hotel as we left by coach and just managed to get a photo. There was then a further hour by bus through the gentle green countryside before we arrived back at Trondheim.
We were able to get off the coach in the town instead of going directly back to the ship. This meant we could also visit the main sights on foot, although we only had time to look at buildings from the outside. We started with the Nidaros Cathedral then continued towards the River Nid to admire the old red drawbridge. The weather remained perfect for photography and we strolled along the old waterfront, admiring more warehouses before turning way towards the Market Square. Refreshed by an expensive ‘Magnum’ ice-cream from a stall outside the Var Frue church, Pauline found time to browse other stalls and purchased a pair of earrings made of the Thullit stone which also incorporated the rose symbol of Trondheim.
We were close to the pickup point for the QE2 shuttle bus, with some spare time, so walked towards the old Fish Market. The building had vanished and had been replaced with modern apartments. There were only a few fishing boats, selling their fresh fish, and the unique red funnel of QE2 in the background. We turned back and the sun was smiling on the StiftsGarden with its pretty pastel yellow façade. It is Scandinavia’s largest wooden mansion, and is the Royal Family’s official residence in Trondheim. On our previous visit we were able to look inside, but it was not open until later in June. After one final check that we needed no more souvenirs we boarded the bus and went back home to QE2.