We have begun the third segment of our 5 cruise adventure. From our hotel in Rotterdam we walked across a long bridge to the cruise terminal where the Caribbean Princess was ready for us to board. The ship did not arrive until noon at this port and was not departing until 10 PM. This is the first time we had ever began a cruise after the original cruise departure port which was Southampton for this sailing. We elected to board the cruise in Rotterdam (Day 2 of this cruise) because of the much shorter distance in getting to Rotterdam from Amsterdam versus having to travel all the way to Southampton. In order to board a ship later in the cruise itinerary you must get permission from the cruise line to do this and your travel documentation (boarding pass) must match the city you are actually departing from. You also agree to the take on the risk that you must pay for your transportation to a later port to board the cruise if for some reason the ship is not able to make it to Rotterdam. As it turned out, everything went smoothly and it was nice to board the ship with only 16 other people boarding at the same time. We would certainly consider doing this again if the situation warranted it.
After having a relaxing day at sea we arrived at the port of Bergen, Norway. This was once again a new port for us but we had been given some hints on what to do here by the travel guide we used in our previous cruise when we were in Oslo, Norway. He had suggested doing this city on our own and using the funicular to go to the top of the mountain nearby and walk down. This is exactly what we did and boy did we have a beautiful day to do this. We had talked to a few locals who told us this was the nicest day all summer and it had rained 30 days straight prior to our arrival. Once again we were very lucky with the weather. We walked around Bergen first visiting the Bryggen district which was created by the Hanseatic League traders back in the 1300’s after the city was captured from the Vikings. The Hanseatic League was a very organized group of German merchants who created a series of very colorful and uniquely styled houses along the harbor of Bergen where they performed their business. From there we walked through the Fish Market admiring all the fresh seafood. We walked around the city center visiting a few of the key buildings down town and the city park which primarily consisted of a large pond with a very unique gazebo. We saw a few more churches in the area and then headed over to the funicular.
The funicular ride was very similar to others that we have ridden around Europe. It is basically a small “train” with just a few cars that is designed to take people up a very steep slope. When we got up to the top of the mountain we had some great views of the city below. There were several hiking paths at the top and we walked a few of them until our time ran out. We saw a few nice lakes and some lighted paths that were marked for cross country skiing. The walk down the mountain was also enjoyable with some unique views along the way. It was very steep going downhill. When we got down to the bottom we had a little extra time before we needed to board the ship and decided to have a beer and a cider while we tried to make a few phone calls. We then boarded the ship and headed to Flam, our next stop.
Flam is located at the end of the Sognefjorden which is a very long fjord with several other smaller fjords branching out from it. We actually traveled 127 miles each way down this fjord to get to Flam and back. Along the way are gorgeous views of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, farms and small towns. We have been to fjords in Alaska and South America but nothing as breathtaking as the fjords in this area. For those of you who don’t know what a fjord is, it is basically a very deep valley between two mountains that is filled with water on the bottom. The valley or gorge was created by glaciers thousands of years ago and the water in the bottom is from the glaciers melting. Next year we are taking another cruise that just does the Norwegian fjords and we will be back to Flam again. We had originally planned to do the local train here which is supposed to be very interesting with the steep slopes, many waterfalls and frequent tunnels. We elected to do a boat tour when we began to get a little worried about train ticket availability with all the cruise people. It turned out that wasn’t a problem but we felt we made a better decision doing the boat tour any way.
Once again we had our lucky charm on again for weather. It was originally supposed to be a rainy day and then the forecast started to say it might only be cloudy and then we actually got some sun that peaked out every now and then with not one drop of rain. Our boat tour went down the Naeroyfjord which is a Unesco Heritage site. The views along this fjord were so much better than what we saw with the ship that we were certainly glad we decided to do this instead. There were so many waterfalls along the way you couldn’t even count them all. Some of these waterfalls had free fall drops of hundreds of feet. Almost all of the waterfalls were over a thousand feet tall. It is amazing to think of all the water that is on top of these mountains that has to make its way back down to the fjords. It was really interesting to see the houses along the steep hill sides and the farming that could be accomplished in this type of area. We eventually made it to Gudvangen where we got off the boat and took a shuttle bus back to Flam. It is interesting to note that the boat was going on to Bergen where we had been yesterday.
When we got back to Flam we took a few of the hiking trails around the area just to get a few more different views of this spectacular country. One of our walks went down the coast line of one of the fjords and gave use an up close look at the very clear water. We got to see one of the waterfalls very close also. It was a pleasant area to walk and we look forward to coming back to this port again. Maybe we will try the train next time!
Lerwick is located in the Shetland Islands (home of the Shetland ponies) at the Northern Tip of the UK. It is part of Scotland and is composed of 100 separate islands. We had no real plans for this port visit and had very low expectations. We were very surprised at what we found. The town itself was small but there were a few nice shops to visit and a fortress to walk through. The City Hall was truly a remarkable building and the overall architecture was very appealing. We walked outside the city found so many picturesque views along our walk. There was even a small little golf course along the way. There were cliffs and rock outcroppings in addition to a cemetery on the side of a hill that was graded at different levels for the various grave sites. We met a few local people who were very friendly along the way and one person told us to keep our eyes open for seals in this one particular area. We walked much further than anyone else on our boat and did eventually spot one seal swimming in the water. As we continued to walk a little further we came upon a little corral with three Shetland ponies inside who were begging us to take their pictures. We hadn’t expected to see any of these horses because we were told they were well outside the city when we had asked at the tourist center. We also saw some sheep and many very pretty country side homes and farms. It was an extremely pleasant walk and far exceeded our expectations. This would be a nice place for someone to rent a car a drive around the country side.
Greg & Sharon