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The Saga Ruby 2012
Fjordland Vistas Cruise Part 3

Map Embarkation and Dover The days at sea  from Dover to Bergen Bergen Flam Skjolden Stavanger The days at sea  from Stravanger to Dover
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Saturday 7 July. Bergen

This morning we arrived in Bergen, moored in Skoltegrunnskaien close to Hakonshallen. Silver Whisper followed us into Bergen, and moored at the next berth. We looked at all her neat identical modern balconies and were glad we were on a proper classic ship.

We could see it was walking distance to the Old Town and the Bryggen but the weather was bad and we caught the shuttle bus. This went past the Bryggen and the Fish Market and stopped near the bandstand with a view of Lille Lungegardvann. It was as far beyond the Bryggen as we had been at the berth, and it was still raining. The area was interesting with Museums and churches and we walked up to the Theatre before going back to the formal gardens and the fountain. It was Saturday and we expected the shops to close in the afternoon so we had decided we must go out, even though it was raining.

The market stalls were busy and when we checked they said that they were open all day. We bought some local delicacies, three salamis and smoked meat, and as the weather improved we wandered around the Old Town. It looked too bad to take the Floibanen railway to the top of the hill, which had been our original plan. However we spoke to others on the ship later and they said the weather was OK and the views were good and worthwhile later in the afternoon. We had gone out too early. We did not need any souvenirs, we had enough from previous trips, but we bought some metal lures which we will use for sea fishing in New Zealand next year. At only 10 krone each they were a bargain. Pauline also spotted a bag for fishing rods, at 299 krone, but when it was shown to us we saw that it had an open end whereas we wanted something which was closed. We also found a shop selling local CDs and finally obtained the 2-CD set by Sissel - the best from 1986 to 2006. She is a well-known Norwegian solo singer, although the first songs we heard were when she joined the 3 Tenors for one of their famous Christmas Concerts. The Bryggen had begun to fill with tour groups so we walked back through the park around Rosenkrantztarnet and Hakonshallen before dropping down to the waterfront and returning to the ship for lunch.

We went out again in the afternoon as the Oster arrived. We had last seen her in Stavanger in 2008 when there was a festival at the same time as the QE2 was there for her final visit. D/S Oster was built in 1908 and when we saw her last in Stavanger she was celebrating her 100th anniversary. She was built as an all year passenger and freight ship for the small places along the nearby Osterfjord, and apart from a break between 1940 and 1956 she served on this route until 1964. By that time Oster was the only coal-powered steamer left along the Norwegian coast. After 1964 she was converted into a freight ship and served as this until she was bought back by enthusiasts in 1996 and restored to her original splendour by 2005. She now has an oil powered steam engine and some modern navigation gear. Today in Bergen she disembarked passengers and then a large group, dressed as if celebrating a wedding, got on board. There are obviously no problems with using old ships in Norway and we were pleased to see her again.

Tonight we had dinner in The View. It was less courses than in the main restaurant, and we only had to choose our starters (foie gras and scallops) and main courses (duck and lamb). The meal began with two spoons each – the ameuse gueles while we waited for our food to be cooked. Our choice of Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel went well with both main courses. Pete reckoned his duck breasts were some of the best he had ever had, certainly outside of France, pink tender and succulent. Pauline thought her excellent medium rare lamb was better. We were both very happy, and the meal was included in the standard price – there was no supplement to pay. Afterwards we had a sample from the cheese chariot before our desserts. There are some advantages in having meals which are plated because it enables the chef to decorate the plate. The finale were little cloth towels which had been dried and stood on end and then expanded when watered. Fortunately no-one tried to eat them and our neighbour brought the house down when he said “ I could do with some of that magic water for later tonight”

Sunday 8 July. Flaom

Forty five miles north of Bergen is the entry to the Sognefjord, and our next two ports of Flaom and Skjolden. We had visited Flaom several times before and knew that we wanted to do some walking and catch the train, but did not want to commit to the trip until we saw the weather. The return train journey is 360 krone each (over 40 pounds) and it is not something to do if there are no views. Equally hiking is no fun in the rain either. We went out at 10.00 to see which trains were available and booked a ticket on the 12.20 to go to Hareina. It is only a short journey from Flam and is the second station, Lunden being the first stop. Many people walk up there or hire bicycles but Pauline didn't want to walk too far and decided to take the train one way and then walk back, downhill. There are many walks in the area and a popular walk from Hareina is to walk 8 kms to Indrelid, Ryo and Gudmedalen. It is classed as a category 3 walk, taking 2.5 hours each way, and climbing to 800 metres above sea level. Our choice was only category 1 and was going to take about 2 hours in total. Perfect.

We had time to spare so went into the Flaom station with its souvenirs and small museum. The museum is very interesting and it is possible to spend a lot of time looking at all the old photographs as well as reading about the history of the building of the railway. The souvenirs are good quality and we saw the same box of blue glass Christmas decorations which we bought in 2008 in Longyearbyen. They were designed in Norway but sadly made in China.

Our train arrived and we explained to the conductor that we wanted to get off at Hareina. Most passengers go all the way to Myrdal. We were instructed to get into the first carriage, and when we reached our station there were two train staff to help open the door for us. Hareina is the station closest to the Flaom church which is in the centre of Flaom village alongside the Flaom river. The original name for the lower part of the valley, where Flaom station is today, is Fretheim. The main part of the church was built in 1670, although the porch was built in 1680/81 and the tiles were put on the roof in 1697. The church is open in the daytime and is well worth a visit. The walls in the nave are richly decorated with landscapes, animals and buildings, probably made by a painter from Bergen between 1702 and 1704. As church art these paintings are unique, although similar decorations have been found in old private houses in Bergen. The decorations made in the choir depicting vines are older and probably made in the 1680s by another painter. Flaom church has three bells. The largest dates back to approximately 1500 and might have been in both the old stave church at Flaom and the church at Fretheim which was destroyed by a storm in 1669. The other two bells were made in 1864 and 1992 and are the ones currently in use. This information is all extracted from a pamphlet purchased for 20 krone at the church.

We walked by the railway line and the river until we reached Lunden station, some 1.5 kms from Flaom church. Here we had a choice – whether to take the short road route along the railway, or the longer route through the fields and closer to the famous Brekkefossen waterfall. We had seen the waterfall from the train earlier, and it was very pretty and all the wet weather had given it a flow of water. The weather was good so we chose the scenic route. We walked past a new watermill, hidden by the river and with a traditional grassed roof. It was open, but not grinding. On a previous trip we had walked across to the Brekkefossen waterfall. The path was category 3 and well marked with red signs but after the recent rains the difficult scramble over piles of loose rocks would need care. We had the wrong footwear and made the obvious decision.

Back at Saga Ruby at 14.30 we had missed lunch but coffee and ice-creams satisfied us until it was time for afternoon tea in the Ballroom. Outside the Saga Ruby was a port building which also offered Free Internet. Unlike modern cruise ships, the Saga Ruby does not have Wifi although there is a computer room with fixed terminals for Internet access with a swipe card reader to charge to your on-board account. We could see the crew were taking advantage of the Free Internet on offer, and many use Skype to keep in touch with their families back home. While Pete went out with the computer Pauline went around the shops, and eventually returned with a small piece of local goat cheese from the Coop and a nice Dale ladies jumper. She already has two old Dale cardigans but this was so pretty, and such a bargain at less than £40. There is a shop which is an Outlet Store in Flaom and has oddments which are old designs or odd sizes so there can be good bargains. Pete was persuaded to go out and look in case there was anything which was his size and which he liked, but the most attractive colours were all in gigantic sizes. Prices in Norway can be expensive. The full price for Dale jumpers in this years colours is around 2000 krone (over £220). Alcohol is deliberately expensive and it is illegal for anyone to take alcohol from the ship to the shore. As an example, there is a brewery in Flaom which sells its own beers and it was 90 krone (just over £10) for a half litre glass of beer.

Having originally planned to stay at Flaom until 0300 next morning, Captain Krys decide to leave at 19.00 as this would mean we had a good cruise from Flaom to Skjolden along the Sognefjord in the evening. The Sognefjord stretches 126 miles from its mouth some 45 miles north of Bergen, to Skjolden. Everywhere we saw precipitous hills with spectacular waterfalls. We passed under a power line which has a span of 4597 metres and is the second largest span of power lines in the world. The weather gradually improved and we had dinner and then stood outside as the glorious scenery went by. Eventually it got too cold and we settled into the Britannia Lounge where there was still a good view forward. By 23.00 we were too tired to stay awake; Saga Ruby docked quietly at Skjolden at 23.30. Sunset was 22.57 so it was still light.

Monday 9 July. Skjolden

After a restful night berthed at the new Cruise Terminal we wondered when the Queen Elizabeth would arrive. There was only space for one ship at the berth so she was going to have to anchor as the new schedule had us arriving first. The cruise terminal was built in 2010 and before that time ships anchored in the centre of the fjord and their tenders took passengers into town. We heard music and the local brass band was playing to welcome us. We could see the village in the distance and there was the option of a shuttle bus, or walking. It was not far and we passed the Skjolden Resort with its 10 beautiful holiday homes, 32 apartments and hotel with 55 rooms at the waters edge. Skjolden is a small community with one general shop and a surprisingly large community centre, with information office, souvenir shop, large swimming pool, climbing wall, shooting range, library and coffee shop. Skjolden is a centre for hiking and walking, and there are good fishing lakes in the area too.

We asked about the Queen Elizabeth and were told that the original plans had been to have the two ships together but that had changed and the Queen Elizabeth would be coming later. Skjolden is a very beautiful place but another 2000 tourists would overwhelm the area and we hope large cruise ships do not change the local commercialism. At present there is a mixture of camping and resort accommodation, and the emphasis is on outdoor sports. There is one easy walk up towards Bolstad to the Sengaberget viewpoint, which continues to a hut in the middle of the forest. We looked down onto the peaceful fjord and wished we had brought a picnic. Down below the llamas were grazing in their field waiting for tourists to take them walking.

From here we descended to visit the Nymoen Leirplass camping ground and it is very similar to New Zealand with a mixture of 13 wooden cabins and spaces for tents, caravans and campervans. The prices are reasonable too compared with the UK. The path back to Saga Ruby for lunch took us through the Eide Farm which has a cafe and farm animals.

The main road to Skjolden is on the north side of the fjord, and passes through tunnels to reach the next main town at Sogndal, 54 kms away. The tour buses had arrived from that direction. At Solvorn there is a ferry to Ornes on the south side and the famous stave church at Urnes. We asked about visiting it by public transport or taxi but the estimate for a taxi was 1000 krones (£110) for a trip of about 30 kms. It makes UK taxi fares seem good value. There are buses but the journey needs to begin early as it depends on going to Solvorn and catching the ferry. The tour buses went directly along the south side and those we met who took the trip said that the road was very narrow with few passing places. The journey sounded exciting. We left Skjolden at 15.00 so had the chance to see the road as we cruised along the fjord. There was very little traffic and at times it was difficult to see the road, except for the occasional houses along it. The ferries between Solvorn and Ornes were easy to spot, and then the spire of the dark brown wooden stave church was glimpsed in the village.

We have seen other stave churches in Norway but this is the only stave church which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stave churches constitute one of the most elaborate types of wood construction which are typical of Northern Europe prior to the Middle Ages. Christianity was introduced into Norway during the reign of King Olav (1016-1030). The churches are built on the classical basilica plan, but entirely of wood. The roof frames were lined with boards and the roof itself covered with shingles in accordance with construction techniques which are widespread in Scandinavian countries. The stave church at Urnes was built around 1130 and there is evidence of a previous stave church on the site. In the 17th century the nave of the church was extended and other changes were made, including a font (1640) a wooden canopy above the altar (1665) and a pulpit (1693-95). Windows were added in the 18th century. Next time we will definitely take a tour to visit it.

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