The Old Fogies go to Bergen in Norway

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Of all the ports we visited on our cruise, there was only one that we had visited before. We had a few days in Bergen around 14 years ago and had thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Back on our first visit we had taken the train up to Myrdal and down to Flam which is considered one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world. From Flam we took a fast cat ferry along the Sognefjord before coming back to Bergen.

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On this visit we were going to concentrate on the city itself and consider any of the changes that had taken place since we were last there. Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway with population of around 420,000 inhabitants. It served as Norway’s capital in the 13th century, and from the end of the 13th century became a an important city of the Hanseatic League. Its wooden houses may look picturesque but Bergen has suffered catastrophic fires throughout its history.

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We assembled on deck from early morning and enjoyed the stunning but rather precarious journey into Bergen. Houses and small homesteads dotted the islands surrounding the opening to the port.

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Bergen was a popular stopping off point for cruise ships back in our first visit, however it was only the odd one or two, as we approached the port there were at least four in port already.

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Because there was many ships in, we knew from past experience that the queues for the Fløibanen funicular which runs from the city centre to Mount Fløyen would be long and because we had already been up there, we decided to give it a miss.

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The panoramic views from the top of the mount are great in good weather but in overcast conditions the visibility is quite poor. A few miles out of town is the Ulriksbanen aerial tramway which runs to Mount Ulriken.

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Our main memories from our previous trip was the old Bryggen warehouses which are a World Heritage Site and the interesting market that included stalls selling whale meat and furs from a variety of animals. It did at the time seem that Bergen was on the edge of wilderness and very unusual.

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As we walked down to the Bryggen warehouse, we were surprised at the sheer number of people and made a detour to the market. The market still had a few stalls selling a variety of meats including whale, moose and reindeer but they were all packaged for visitors not for locals. The variety of stalls was limited to food outlets and Norway souvenirs.

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We were both a little disappointed with these changes, so decided to walk along the other side of the dock to the less commercial side and where we had stayed on our last visit. One of favourite places to sit on the last visit was a small promontory which had a large totem pole which was a gift of friendship from the city of Seattle on the city’s 900th anniversary in 1970. Mrs Nice come into her own with her directions and we sat and enjoyed a drink and a bite to eat.

After our enjoyable picnic, we began to walk back via a few sights, the first attraction was Bergen Aquarium, we did not have time to go inside but looked inside the Aquarium shop that had a comical large penguin and polar bear. Mrs Nice was taken by a fluffy white seal soft toy, ‘the girls would love these’ she said. Knowing it would be foolish to argue we bought the toys and moved on.

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We walked past some old wooden houses leading to the water and the Nykirken church before finding our way to the cultural centre of Bergen, Two internationally renowned composers who came from Bergen are Edvard Grieg and Ole Bull.

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There is a number of Grieg statues around including near the Logen theatre, there is also quite strange statue of Henrik Ibsen one of Norway’s most famous playwrights. New since our last visit was the Kode art galleries which are near the bandstand and small water feature. Crossing over near to the Bryggen, we went past the Hanseatic Museum which documents the city’s Hanseatic heritage.

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The Bryggen warehouses are geared towards the tourist market and draws customers in with strange little northern scenes or lifesize stuffed animals like polar bears, moose and reindeer. Mrs Nice noticed that one shop was having closing down sale and said let’s see if there are any bargains, I raised my eyebrows to show my disapproval but stumbled into the shop. I had to admit the prices were not outrageously expensive and even saw a bargain for myself. Mrs Nice tried on a multicoloured woollen coat which looked expensive, it Ok it’s half price she smiled. So there it was, one of the biggest surprises in a trip to Norway, we actually bagged ourselves a bargain each.

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Making our way back to the ship, we made a slight detour to two very old stone buildings, the Hakonshallen and Rosenkranz Tower, both reminders of the city’s Viking and Norse past.

Returning to Bergen left us with mixed emotions, we both believed that it had lost some of its naïve charm and catered more for the boatloads of visitors rather than for locals. It is a victim of its own success and is one of the most visited cruise ports in the world. However it still is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe amongst some of the most dramatic scenery.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

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The Old Fogies go to Honningsvåg in Norway

 

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We had finally reached the northern edges of the European coast and was now in the Barents sea, enjoying the spectacular Norwegian coastline. Our last stop before Russia was the small city of Honningsvåg .

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Honningsvåg is the northernmost city in Norway. It is very unusual because legislation effective in 1997 states that a Norwegian city/town must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but Honningsvåg was declared a city in 1996, thus exempt from this legislation, so it is also one of the smallest cities in Norway.

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In reality it is a small fishing village which is famous as the dropping off point for visitors who want visit North Cape which is a tourist attraction on the northern tip of the European mainland. It’s claim to fame is that it is the northernmost point in Europe but the reality is that it is not, that title goes to nearby Knivskjellodden.

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However that has not stopped busloads of visitors from taking the ride from Honningsvåg and the North Cape attraction organisers to charge visitors £19 to enter the complex. If it had been the northernmost point, we may have decided to join the tourist crush, however it isn’t so we decided to investigate this charming little fishing city.

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When we get off the boat, we are surprised to see a life size statue of a St Bernard Dog, reading the information board gave us some information about this remarkable animal. The dog was called Bamse and he was the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War and a symbol of Norwegian freedom during the war. In its early days, the dog was a well known character in pre-war Honningsvåg before joining its owner on Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel. When the Germans overran Norway, the vessel and Bamse moved to Scotland stationed in Montrose and Dundee. Bamse became a celebrity to the local Scottish population and often rounded up the Norwegian sailors from the local pub and escorted them back to his boat. When Bamse died in 1944, he was buried with full military honours. Hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, schoolchildren and people from Montrose and Dundee attended his funeral.

In 2006, a larger than life sized bronze statue of Bamse, made by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot was unveiled in Montrose. A copy of that statue was commissioned and in 2009 with hundreds in attendance, the statue was unveiled on Honningsvåg harbour.

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When we entered Honningsvåg it was teeming with birdlife over the cliffs and on the waterfront and when we set out to walk through the town it was only the sound of birds that you could here.

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We slowly made our way past the closed shops to the small Honningsvåg church on the hill, built in 1885, it was one of only twelve churches in Northern Norway that escaped destruction by the Germans in the Second World War. As we sat on a small bench within the small cemetery attached to the church, even the sound of the birds had disappeared.

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The silence was deafening and quite eerie as we looked at the small but beautifully formed gravestones. How many souls beneath our feet had been born and lived their entire lives in this northern outpost ?

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As we walked quietly passed the small wooden buildings, we began to notice that the local population displayed their sense of humour with interesting little figures dotted here and there.

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There was dressed little trolls, stone people and dolls in a little window box. Many of the gardens have flowers or colourful furniture, even the main street had an interesting selection of plants in wellington boots.

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Honnigsvag certainly had a quirky quality that added to its picturesque setting and has we made our way to the harbour we could see it was a working port.

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There were plenty of small to medium size boats which are used to fish the rich fertile waters of the Arctic Circle. Honningsvåg is considered one of the busiest fishing ports in Norway.

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The waters are remarkably clear and Mrs Nice was quite excited by all the starfish in the harbour.

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Honningsvåg does have a few other attractions including a small NordKapp museum and Icebar with gift shop where a massive husky stood guard. But we were content to get away from the crowds and take a little piece of downtime enjoying the (city) and the wonderful scenery.

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Whilst enjoying the late summer sunshine, we noticed the arrival of one of the Hurtigruten coastal ships, these ships have been a familiar sight on our travels up the Norwegian coast and Honningsvåg is one of the main stops before Kirkenes in the north.

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Honningsvåg may be seen as a gateway to North Cape but possesses a charm all of its own. The local population take a lot of pride in their houses and town and display a quirky sense of humour which no doubt brighten up the cold winter days.

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It is a place to enjoy the birdlife and scenery in a peaceful setting without too many distractions.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Tromsø in Norway


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Our arrival in Tromsø was even more spectacular than our arrival in Trondheim with stunning scenery and passing under the bridge,  we were now well inside of the Arctic Circle and Tromsø is one of the major northern cities.

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Like many places in the far north, Tromsø was occupied by the Vikings in the 7–8th Centuries but there is evidence that people lived here over 10,000 years ago. This area has also been the home of the Sami for centuries.

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Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII and gained in importance due to fishing and hunting for furs. By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated. Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fridtjof Nansen often recruited their crews in the city.

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When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served briefly as the seat of the Norwegian government. In nearby Tromsøy island, the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by the RAF off the Tromsøy island in 1944, killing close to 1,000 German sailors.

The population of Tromsø municipality today is around 70,000 and despite its location it is an increasingly popular place to live with plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to cater for the locals and a lively student population. 

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We arrived fairly early in the morning and the deserted streets gave us the opportunity to explore before the city comes to life. Like Trondheim, Tromsø has lots of picturesque wooden buildings and has one of the largest wooden cathedrals in Norway. Interesting travel fact, the city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789.

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Talking of cathedrals, we were anxious to visit the Arctic Cathedral which involved crossing over the river. The Arctic cathedral is a major landmark of the city and is easily seen from many vantage points in the city. From a distance it does not look that large, however when you get closer you begin to understand its scale.

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Mrs Nice mentioned that it does look a little like Sydney Opera House and you could see some similarities. Unfortunately the cathedral was not open but peering through the window, you could see the magnificent stain glass window and the simple layout of the church. Whilst on this side of the river, you can go to the Fjellheisen cable car that will take to the top of Mount Storsteinen. With limited time we decided to decline this attraction to explore the main city.

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 The centre of the city is located around the large wooden Lutheran cathedral and the statue of Amundsen with the cultural centre close by. The main square was set up for a concert, Tromso has produced a number of famous rock stars and has a number of festivals throughout the year.

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The quiet start to the day was now gone and locals began to fill the main shopping areas mingling with visitors. For a small place, Tromso seemed to have large number of hotels in the centre which is perhaps an indication of its popularity.

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Up the hill slightly is the wooden Catholic cathedral which was built at the same time as the Lutheran one which was probably part of a battle for the local souls in the 19th century. The cathedral was a bit of a surprise inside being blue and white with little of the ornamentation you associate with Catholic churches. There was also a series of symbols on the ceilings that was rather unusual.

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 Deciding it was time for a break we headed for the northernmost branch of Burger King, we are not usually great fans of burger joints, however after the rather rich food of the ship we thought it was a pleasant change. Obviously fast food means something different up in the frozen north because it 20 mins for our meals to be produced.

 How much was that? I asked Mrs Nice, don’t ask she replied before I saw the bill for around £16. Coming from London we are used to expensive food and drink but Norway takes it to a different level, if you ever come to Norway be aware of the high price of particularly everything.

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One location I was looking forward to seeing was Olhallen which is the city’s oldest pubs and one of most famous pubs in Norway and is attached to one of the northernmost breweries in the world. After a walk along the Storgata, we found the pub which is attached to the famous Mack Brewery established in 1872.

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Mrs Nice went inside to get a drink as i found a table outside, suddenly Mrs Nice appeared and said you must come inside, there is a polar bear in here. Intrigued, I followed her in the pub and there was indeed a life-size (around nine feet) stuffed polar bear. Looking around the inside of the very attractive and interesting pub we decided to find a seat and enjoy the ambience. Mrs Nice came back with two halves of Mack’s Pilsner and we settled down to enjoy our drink. It was obvious to the various languages being spoken and photographs being taken that the pub is a bit of pilgrimage for beer drinkers and it certainly does not disappoint with lovely wooden fittings and plenty of pictures and other paraphernalia on the wall.

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Our next stop was the nearby Polaria museum in the most unusual shaped building; it looks like a row of books toppling over. Nearby was the historic sealing vessel MS Polstjerna.  We visited a number of arctic type museums when we were in Bergen and Oslo some years ago, so did not feel the need to reminded that the Arctic is a cold and hostile place.

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On the other side of the city, we had seen the Polar Museum which was in an attractive old building with a number of items outside.

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By now, the city was really coming alive with buskers on the main streets and plenty of shopping activity, it was nice to see that many of the shops were local not global luxury brands, although the prices were probably have been roughly the same.

 Although Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle it seems to be thriving with lots of places to eat and drink, hotels, shops and cultural events. On a bright summer’s day, everyone was enjoying the sunshine, however it might be a different story in the winter with the cold polar days, although strangely the city does not suffer from extreme cold associated with this latitude very often due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands

 

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On the day of our arrival into Orkney waters, there was a mist over the hills but it quickly became clear that the various islands that make up the Orkneys are sparsely populated with small areas of buildings and large areas given over to farming.

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Our destination was the Orkney capital, Kirkwall which is by far the largest town in the islands. The Kirkwall’s skyline is dominated by the St Magnus Cathedral known as ‘The Light of the North’. Orkney’s ancient capital can be traced back to Norse times in the 11th century when it was called Kirkjuvagr. For centuries, Orkney was under Norwegian jurisdiction, before becoming part of Scotland in the 15th century.

Although Orkney may seem remote to the rest of Europe, people have been living here for at least 10,000 years. In recent times, archaeologists have found ceremonial stone circles, tombs, prehistoric villages and many other ancient monuments.

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 A shuttle bus took us on a short ride from the Liner terminal to Kirkwall and we began to explore some of the narrow streets in the town. One of the streets took us to the harbour which is still very much a working harbour with fishing boats, small boats and ferries.

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The waterfront has a small number of hotels, bars and restaurants, behind the waterfront is a number of small shopping streets. Orkney’s shopping streets are refreshingly free from the usual high street names and celebrates the island’s creative community with local jewellery, arts, crafts and contemporary fashion shops.

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 It was still relatively early with most of the shops and attractions closed, so we decided to take a small detour out of town to an area that is famous with its scenery and its part in British and German Naval history.

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Taking the road out of town, we then joined the Crantit Trail which took us through some of the scenic countryside full of sheep, cows, horses and wildlife. After around 40 minutes walking we found ourselves at Scapa beach overlooking the famous Scapa Flow.

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Scapa Flow is a wonderful large natural harbour surrounded by islands, it was from here in 1916 that  Admiral Sir John Jellicoe led the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet to the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval engagement of the First World War. Scapa Flow was home to the British Home Fleet during both World Wars, it was also here in 1918 that the German High Seas Fleet was interned after the Armistice and then was scuttled in 1919.

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Not far from the beach was where a German U-boat in 1939 launched a torpedo attack on HMS Royal Oak with the loss of 833 crew. Near the beach there are a number of memorials to this tragedy and are a grim reminder that the idyllic scene in front of us was not always so.

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Also near to the beach is the Scapa Distillery which produces a single malt whisky, less known than the nearby Highland Park Distillery, the Scapa Distillery was founded in 1885.

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After a very short stay, we decided to take the local bus back into Kirkwall. A trip on the local bus is always a good way to see areas a bit off the tourist trail and an opportunity to chat with the locals.

Back in town, the quiet morning had given way to a bustling town centre as locals and visitors were mingling in the shopping streets and at the attractions.

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St Magnus Cathedral is probably  Kirkwall’s ‘must see’ attraction. It is the most northerly cathedral in Britain and was started in 1137 at a time when Orkney was ruled by the Vikings. A stone minster was founded by Earl Rognvald in memory of his uncle St Magnus who was martyred on the island of Egilsay. Inside it is a fascinating mix of museum and cathedral with a leaflet that points out some of the key artefacts.

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Equally interesting is the Orkney museum which is set in an large old building called Tankerness House, it tells the story of the Orkney’s from Neolithic times up to the present day.

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In the town centre is the large stone Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces which provide a reminder of Orkney’s importance in the medieval times.

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In many ways Kirkwall for centuries has been an important transport hub and still is, bus routes go across mainland Orkney and the port for ferries to Aberdeen, Shetland and the North Isles. Kirkwall Airport, with links to Scotland, Shetland and in the summer months Norway, is only three miles from the town.

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In the short time we were in Kirkwall, we managed to enjoy some of its fascinating history and could understand that it was an important place in many ways because of its unique landscape. Even the shops were quite quirky which made a change from the often sterile high streets in the UK.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go Cruising

 

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Before we took the grandchildren to Lalandia, Mr Curmudgeon had in his words ‘found an expedition for us to go on’, as you are aware I am always worried when Mr Curmudgeon says something like that.

‘Okay’ I say, ‘what is it then’?

‘It is a cruise’ he piped up.  I looked at him because we had always said we would never cruise again after our last P and O cruise where we did not really enjoy our life on the ocean wave.  Having saw my expression he continued, ‘It is not like the last one, this one is more of an adventure into the Arctic Circle’, he proclaimed.  ‘It is for 17 days, and it goes to northern Norway and northern Russia, it will be fantastic’ he says gleefully.

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Having given me the details he looked expectantly for my nod, so he could book it, ‘it is really good value’ he says, to make me decide in its favour. Having agreed, we booked the holiday it is with Cruise and Maritime Voyages on their ship, the Marco Polo.

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Arriving back from Lalandia on Friday, we give the grandchildren back and we have Saturday to prepare for our cruise!  Sunday dawns bright and clear, and we start packing, luckily, we are taking different clothing on the cruise as I suspect it will be quite cool in the Arctic Circle and we will need our thermals.

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Having packed and cleaned up, I do so hate coming back to an untidy house, we are now travelling to Tilbury docks.  We take the DLR to Limehouse and catch the C2C train direct to Tilbury Town.  It is quite a pleasant journey passing Lakeside shopping centre, going through Grays and finally reaching Tilbury, it doesn’t look to salubrious, no taxi rank so I phone for a taxi and we wait for it to arrive to take us to the London International Cruise Terminal.

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When we arrive at the Cruise Terminal, our cases are taken from the taxi by a nice young man who then points us in the direction of where we need to go.  Luckily for us, there are not many people waiting about, so having completed our medical questionnaire, we proceed to check in.  Getting our shore passes, and then registering our passports we proceed on to the ship.  I have got to say that the checking in process was excellent, and although the terminal building looked a bit run down on the outside, inside it was quite pleasant.

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Having checked in, embarked (that is the correct word) and located our cabin, I was most surprised to find that our suitcases, were already there.  This was quite unexpected as I thought it would be like P and O where we had to wait about 2 hours for our cases to arrive.  Jose our cabin steward introduced himself and we all shook hands.  Jose is from Goa and was very friendly and helpful explaining the way the cabin stewards worked.  I cannot say I was too impressed with the cabin, it was small and had port holes rather than a window, but on the plus side it had good storage and we were able to stow away all our clothing successfully.

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Jose had told us that lunch was being served in the Marco Polo restaurant, so we went aloft to find the way and eat a little before our dinner tonight in the Wardolf restaurant.  After a spot of lunch, we wandered around the ship or is it boat, I always get confused, to locate everything.

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The Marco Polo was built in the 1960’s so it is not one of the blocks of flats on sea type of cruise ship, it has more character and is all the better for it.  Quite small in comparison with the P and O liner we went on, I immediately thought this will be okay, even at first glance the passengers seemed less precious and looked like a more diverse mix of people.

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Eventually the ropes are released and the Marco Polo glides into the Thames Estuary and we are off on our great ‘expedition’.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

 

The Old Fogies go to the Auckland Domain

Auckland is an unusual place for parks with many parks being built on volcanic cones,  Auckland Domain is Auckland’s oldest and largest park in the city.

Walking past the tennis centre and bowling greens into the park gives the impression of an English park, however this thought is soon dismissed as you make your way past a large number of exotic and extraordinary trees.

The park is built on the crater of the Pukekawa volcano which is one of the oldest in the Auckland volcanic field and was an important site for the Māori who named it Pukekawa which means ‘hill of bitter memories’. The Europeans bought the land and it was set aside as a public reserve in 1843.

Auckland Domain was set out in the Victorian era like a British park with cricket pitches and the park was landscaped with formal gardens.

Walking around the park, the exotic trees from abroad augment the many New Zealand species to create a strange hybrid of English and native New Zealand landscape.  

The Wintergarden complex was established after World War I and consists of: two display glasshouses, one containing temperate plants and the other containing tropical plants with a formal courtyard with a pond in the centre.

Gradually we walked uphill till we reached the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Cenotaph. The large museum building was opened in 1929 and hold a number of Māori performances as well as extensive objects from the history of New Zealand.

The Museum and the Cenotaph sits prominently on the crater rim which gives extensive views of the surrounding area. We sat here from some time enjoying the views and trying to understand some of the unusual typography of Auckland. It is really only when you sit high above the city that you can spot the volcanic cones that are dotted around the landscape.

Auckland Domain is a fascinating place to visit, whilst it does have some similarities to British parks, the trees in particular remind you that you are in a very different environment.

The park is a wonderful place to wander around, the unusual landscape offers a number of novel experiences with strange tree formations creating an otherworldly impression. We could see why New Zealand was the ideal place to film the Lord of the Rings saga.   

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.