The prime reason that we booked our cruise to Norway was to see the Northern Lights and, after the excitement of seeing them on just the 4th night of our trip, we were able to settle in, sit back and relax to enjoy the scenery whilst sailing from port to port. We were also keen to learn about the history of the remaining places on our itinerary as well as explore the ship further. We had the ideal opportunity as we spent a few days at sea on our way to Tromso, our next stop.
The Cunard Queen Elizabeth is a spectacular ship and I was amazed by the decor. So many decks, so much to do; so much choice from dining to entertainment, relaxing to wellbeing. Everyone is catered for. I discovered the extensive library, the shopping mall, art gallery, casino and countless bars. The photography desk, Garden Room, quizzes held 3 or 4 times a day, and the traditional English Pub. Boredom was my main fear when booking a cruise, I needn’t have worried!
As we travelled North, the seas were intermittently choppy and at times the upper decks were closed and the swimming pool became a Tsunami; rightly cordoned off from use. Having done a DNA analysis as part of my family tree tracing I understand that I am 20% Norwegian/Icelandic and it occurred to me how brave the Viking explorers/marauders were setting sail from their homeland not knowing if they would fall off the edge, find the land of their dreams or sail home disappointed.
On our approach to Tromso, we sailed through the fjords but the weather was not in our favour; cloudy and dull with 1″ of snow on the upper decks making walking around the ship quite treacherous although some amongst us were sure-footed enough to start a snowball fight and build a small snowman! We had an early breakfast and, when we had docked (on time as always) we went down to Deck 1 ready for our coach tour of Tromso. Looking at the weather forecast, we were pleased that we had booked the coach trip instead of walking around the city and looked forward to a couple of hours snug and warm whilst being shown the highlights of this Arctic Capital.
After 2 days and 3 nights at sea, we have survived the euphoria of Sail Away, the Black and White Gala evening (which we avoided) and the disturbing consequences of opening our balcony door at the same time as the Stateroom door, to arrive at our first port of call, Alesund.
Alesund is known as the Art Nouveau town and walking around it is clear why. The consistent architectural style of the buildings came about due to the fire which devasted the town in 1904. Buildings made mostly of wood were susceptible to fire and, along with a prevailing wind which helped to fan the flames, the town was destroyed leaving 10,000 people without their home.
Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany helped to rebuild the town in the Art Nouveau style prevalent at the time and as the building was completed between 1904-1907 the Art Nouveau style dominated. Even the drain covers reflect the Art Nouveau period!
After lunch and a crafty afternoon snooze I went up to the photography desk for guidance on how to set up my cameras to photograph the Northern Lights. Before I watched John Maclean’s invaluable talk onboard about the Northern Lights, how they are formed, when they appear and how to photograph them successfully I thought it was a case of “point-and-shoot”. How wrong could I be?!
To understand how to take successful photographs of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), you need to get to grips with some of the science. It sounds daunting but its actually very interesting and helps to get the best out of your cameras.
Roxy, the amazing photo desk manager gave a comprehensive understanding of our camera functionality; f-stops; aperture settings; shutter-speed and ISOs all came together in a fail-safe way to get that once-in-a-lifetime photo. Before leaving the session, Roxy helped me to set up my cameras ready in case I should spot the elusive Lights; My fuji; Canon and i-phone were now on full alert and I wasn’t going to change the settings until I saw the Lights!
Earlier that day the Captain confirmed that we had sailed into the Arctic Circle and the chances of seeing the Northern Lights were increasing the further we travelled north.
Seeing the Northern Lights has been the Number 2 would-like experience on my Bucket List for some time and I was hoping to arrange a visit to Iceland or one of the Northern-most parts of Scandanavia next year to celebrate my next “big” birthday. After an evening out with the Hubster and Pooch I came across an online advert for a 12-night cruise on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth calling at various ports in Norway travelling up into the Arctic Circle with the aim of “finding” the Northern Lights. The cost was very tempting and, feeling that this could be the moment with all my stars aligned (together with the effect of several glasses of wine), I booked it!
I booked it on Friday evening with the departure date the following Friday- I had just 6 days to get our paperwork in order which, when taking the weekend out of the equation, reduced it to just 4 working days. I have never been on a cruise before and have always avoided them on the basis that I would be bored. I needn’t have worried (another story) but with holidays just starting to take off again after the COVID19 Pandemic, the amount of paperwork required to be completed before we set foot onboard was daunting. Luckily, our passports were valid for travel and, having had lots of medical tests last year, I was already registered with the NHS to access my up to date Corona Virus immunisation status. I knew therefore how to get Hubster registered quickly although, when I applied for his certificate of immunisation the message popped up “…..it could take up to 10 days to hit your account.”
We hadn’t got 10 days! As it happens, it appeared within 48 hours so stress levels were reduced considerably. We also had other forms to complete for both Cunard and the UK Government so when we left for our holiday the following Friday I had a portfolio full of paperwork to hand over.
If only it was that easy…….we still had the last and perhaps most worrying hurdle to overcome, a real-time COVID19 test taken at the port with results sent through to our mobiles within 40 minutes. Would our 3 hour drive down to Southampton be a wasted journey? I couldn’t bear to have got everything sorted within one week from booking only to test positive for COVID and sent home.
Thankfully we both tested negative and were allowed to park our car, unload our bags and get onboard. It was a big relief.
The on-boarding process was very efficient and it wasn’t long before we were shown to our Stateroom (don’t call it a cabin) and we could get ready for “Sail-Away.” Who knew that leaving port was called “Sail-Away”?- and that it is celebrated across the ship ( never call it a boat).
After Sail-Away and watching the harbour lights of Southampton fade into the evening we needed to get ready for our first evening meal onboard-in the Britannia restaurant and so we went to change into our smart casual, jacket and tie outfits whilst enjoying our complimentary bottle of fizz.