Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Food, drink, entertainment - what’s not to love?

A SEVEN-night cruise to the snow-capped mountains of Norway on board P&O’s majestic 116,000-tonne Ventura represented the biggest leap of faith of my entire holiday life.

We’d never been cruising before and I’d been seriously worried that a week confined to a ship, albeit a luxury one, with only occasional trips ashore might not really be for me.

So there were a few misgivings in the back of my mind as we sailed out of chilly Southampton and past the Isle of Wight before heading towards Viking country.

Fog shrouded much of our voyage which enabled us to focus on the ship, our beautifully compact and comfortable cabin and the sort of high quality food and service that proved to be the best I’ve enjoyed on any holiday.

Alcohol prices were only slightly above English pub prices while a lively welcome show in the Arena theatre set the entertainment scene although four women sat at a table amused me even more with their whispered discussion of mutual gall bladder operations!

There were more than 3,000 passengers on board but more than 1,300 staff to look after us as we chose between 12 places to eat and 16 places to drink while the first full day on board alone had 86 separate attractions, shows, displays, events or activities.

Our second full day saw us dock at the 13th-century Hanseatic city of Bergen built on the site of an original Viking settlement nestling among magnificent mountain scenery.

This World Heritage site scorched its way into our holiday good books with temperatures of 28C (82F), a far cry from England’s teeth-chattering summer season, so we walked across the city centre to board a funicular for a spectacular ride up to a mountain viewpoint above Bergen.

There we had the city laid out below us, its waters like a sheet of deep blue glass beneath a lovely blue sky. Wonderful, exhilarating, impressive and we couldn’t get enough of it, even trekking back into the forests further up the mountain where we dutifully obeyed signs saying: “Don’t feed the Trolls!”

Back on board for a quick lunch and then out into Bergen again to explore the fish market and ancient wooden buildings on streets surfaced with planks. We even went to a Christmas shop and a museum showing the origins of the city which also contained a section on shoes for which the city was famous.

Evening delighted with a local speciality dish of fish and prawns before we stumbled in to friends from Weymouth after which recollection became blurred by chat and gin and tonics.

The next morning we were up early to see Ventura glide in to Olden at the southern end of the beautiful Nordfjord where we hopped on a local excursion bus to see a stunning scenery mix of lakes and mountains, rivers and bridges culminating in views of a glacier above lake waters so still they were like a mirror.

We later walked by carpets of spring flowers and visited a church before returning famished to the ship where we wolfed down another local speciality, a dish based on smoked pork.

Next day it rained non-stop from the moment we got up until we went to bed, a miserable day spent at Molde. We took our excursion guide’s word that it was surrounded by 216 snow-capped peaks because mist and cloud was so bad we couldn’t see one of them.

Add to that a soggy walk down from a mountain viewpoint through dripping forests to an open air museum of ancient wooden buildings which turned out to only be half open because the Norwegian tourist season was still three weeks away and you’ll appreciate our day didn’t live long in the memory. Even Molde’s cathedral couldn’t inspire and we gladly gave up the struggle in favour of dry clothes and a hot meal back on board.

Our final port of call was Stavanger, regarded as the Cradle of the Vikings, with its striking array of 200-year-old white wooden houses, 12th century cathedral, markets and craft stalls.

We opted for a coach trip through the countryside which provided a breathtaking panorama of lakes and sun-drenched mountains and moraines – debris ground out by glaciers – as well as picturesque village communities and even an area of giant boulders.

There was time to explore Byrkjedalstunet, a site which includes a candle factory, local art and crafts and old wooden buildings, before a final drive through the mountains and on through rich farmland back to the ship.

During that we heard about how moose were quite a problem in Norway including one tale of a bull becoming disorientated in Stavanger. It apparently saw its reflection in a large glass door, charged what it thought was a rival and ended up in an old people’s home!

Back in Stavanger we managed an hour exploring the harbourside area, stalls and a central lake walk before returning to Ventura for the voyage home.

Our holiday booked through Thomas Cook in St Mary Street cost just £399 and we were so impressed with our first cruise that we are already looking at another in 2015.

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