Saturday, 11 August 2012

Lady Byron's Musings: Baltic Treasures Cruise - Arcadia

Lady Byron's Musings: Baltic Treasures Cruise - Arcadia: Bruges - 18th July 2012 I didn't know what to expect from Bruges if I'm being perfectly honest but what greeted us was a beautiful med...

Baltic Treasures Cruise - Arcadia

Bruges - 18th July 2012

I didn't know what to expect from Bruges if I'm being perfectly honest but what greeted us was a beautiful medieval town adorned with cobbled streets and beautiful canals that at one time were the life line of the city and that now flow through the heart of the historic town offering scenic boat trips.

Our Lady of the Potteries
Once we had parked our coach we took a walk through a delightful park in which a former monastery nestles away amongst the leafy trees. One of the most striking buildings en route was Our Lady of the Potteries, it was built as a hospital and is now a rest home for the elderly.  We headed towards our meeting point on the Walplein, a busy and lively square lined with cafes, shops and chocolatiers. From there we were left to explore Bruges by ourselves.

The first stop we made was the Markt, the main square in Bruges, where on the eastern side lies the Belfry, the iconic tower stands 272 feet and if you are fit enough you can climb the 366 steps to the top which affords spectacular views over the city. We didnt tackle the steps but we did sit in the courtyard and enjoyed the beautiful peeling of the bells which lasted for about half an hour.

The Belfort Tower
Bruges is a very characterful town and the heritage is around every corner and one of the best ways to soak up the atmosphere is to enjoy one the horse drawn carriage rides, it took about 25 minutes for us to travel round the town, we were pulled by the beautiful Varney and were treated to a guided tour by the driver. The noise of the horses hooves and the carriage wheels clattering over the cobbled streets easily transport you back to medieval times and the signs of centuries of horse drawn carts can still be seen on some of the narrow streets were the wheel marks can still be seen on the cobbles.

Provincial Government Building
Following our trip on Varney we sat in one of the many cafes that line the Markt, here, we indulged in a traditional Belgian snack of waffles. Steeped with whipped cream and doused in warm chocolate sauce this was a tasty way of getting to know Bruges. Lining the square, along with the Belfry, is the Provincial Government Building.  It is a beautiful building built in the neo-Gothic style but despite its appearance it was in fact built in the 19th Century when Belgium became a constitutional monarchy and was split into nine provinces.

A trip to Belgium is not complete without a visit to one of the many chocolatiers. They line the streets, one shop after another, and the smells waft into the street and entice you inside. Once inside, it is a chocoholics paradise with row upon row of truffles, pralines and solid blocks lining the shelves and filling the huge glass jars on counter tops.

We leisurely made our way back towards to Walplien to meet our escort. En route we came across a shop selling famous Belgian lace. Inside beautiful lace objects covered the shop from floor to ceiling. Many pieces were of such intricate work that it is hard not to marvel at the workmanship that goes in to creating such beautiful objects. We passed many churches along the way, including the 13th/14th century Church of Our Lady.

Bruges is definitely a city I would advise anyone to visit, it is beautiful, charismatic and  pleasant and is on my list of return to places.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


From Olden we headed for our last port of call, Bergen, Norway's second largest city, it was bathed in a warm sunshine glow as we disembarked.

We took a coach and went for a drive around the city, our first destination was the funicular train which took you high above the city. From the top you were able to see for miles around, in one direction out to sea, and in the other over the Norwegian countryside. Our time there was peaceful and relaxing but despite this being a large city in Norway it is comparatively small to those back home.

View over Bergen with our ship Arcadia in the distance
From the hill top we descended back down in the train to our waiting coach. From here we went for a drive around the city. The most famous sight we took in was the Bryggen, a Hanseatic wharf which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is a symbol of Norway's trading empire of the 14th Century. The Bryggen is a brightly coloured set of wooden buildings that line the quayside, a quayside that is now home to many a luxury cruise ship but it was not to difficult to imagine the sea going vessels of yesteryear.

We continued further around the city, passing the theatre, The National Scene, which is home to a 3.5 metre statue of playwright Henrik Ibsen. From there we headed down into the modern part of town full of well known high street chains and coffee shops.

Bergen is a lush vibrant city which makes you feel welcome and offers many cultural delights. It is a city that I will visit again, as this was our last port of call and the weather was warm the ship's pool was calling and therefore Bergen did not get the attention it deserved from me.

We set sail from Bergen and headed home to Southampton. All in all this cruise was an eye opening experience for me. It made me realise that there is a big big world on my doorstep that is waiting to be discovered.

My cruise highlights have to be the isolation and delight of Olden, the impressive Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim and the visit in to the Arctic Circle to the North Cape for the Midnight Sun.

Norway surpassed all my expectations and is a country I shall visit again. Next year in fact when I visit Oslo on my Baltic Cruise. Until then Happy travelling and Bon Voyage!

Saturday, 27 August 2011


As we docked along side the sleepy village of Olden, a light rain dusted the balcony. The air was crisp and all around us was calm and sleepy. That was until the locals spotted the 80,000 tonne ship parked on their doorsteps as all the houses along the dockside suddenly reivented themselves as tourist shops, selling your average Norwegian gifts, viking helemts, troll mugs etc.

Olden looked a very uninspiring place, all the excursions were based outside of the village and since we hadn't booked on one we thought we would disembark and take a short stroll around the village. To our delight, when we arrived on the quayside there was a small road train ready to ferry passengers off around the surrounding areas. We trundled off at walking pace, passed the petrol station and then a small convenience store I was at this point not feeling very optomistic. However, if ever there was a moment that taught me to be patient it was this, we travelled passed the greenest grass I had ever seen, passed some of the highest mountains I had ever witnessed, all with trickiling waterfalls tumbling down their sides.

Our first stop was beside a lake, the water was as still as a mill pond, the surface almost looking like glass. literally two minutes down the road we enjoyed the complete opposite of that, standing over the gushing white rapids of the flowing river that had just fallen down the side of the mountain, water so fresh you could drink it.

Our last stop was a delighful little wooden chuch, built in 1759. It is not in use anymore as a newer brick built church was constructed in 1934. The feel inside was one of serenity and calm. It felt like the parishoners had just left and were to return at any moment.
Olden 'Old' Church
Interior of the chuch
I don't really have much to say on Olden as there is isn't really anything there so I thought I would let my pictures do the talking. Needless to say Olden was my trip highlight, It was definately the surprise package of the cruise and is a truly inspiring place. It makes you feel a very small person in a very big world, it felt a million miles away from home but I loved the isolation, I would have been quite happy for the ship to sail away without me and for me to live the most peaceful and undisturbed existance possible.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Blog interupted

Ladies and gentlemen, I interupt my Norwegian travels to bring you the astonishing news that I, yes little old me, have been nominated for the stylish blogger award. This nomination comes from a very dear friend of mine and an excellent writer, Mrs G Lee. Gill has been ever so encouraging, supportive and an inspiration to me over the past four years that I have known her. So to be even thought of as worthy of a mention on her wonderful blog is an honour in itself.

Now then there is a catch, I have to tell you all 10 things about me that you don't already know and pray that a) you don't disown me and b) you don't contact the local constabulary. So here goes....

1. I once got hit on the back of the head with a chip at Deepdale. It put me into shock and I missed the rest of the match.

2. When I was little I was frightened of dogs, now I love them and have one of my own

3. I don't eat vegetables

4. I am developing an unhealthy obsession with cruise ships (think along the lines of a train spotter)

5. I have a duster in the shape of an elephant in my car called Ellie

6. My car is called Gabby

7. A man dressed as a bear caused me to throw up whilst on holiday ( I was 3 )

8. I once fell over running for a bus, the driver stopped the bus, got off to help me. All I could say was 'go on without me' (such a martyr)

9. I was walking down Deansgate in Manchester when a gust of wind blew a man's flat cap off his head and into my face, it got stuck on my lip gloss and I walked into a lamppost. (stop laughing)

10. I stole a milk bottle from Ryan Giggs' house.

There we have it, my deepest darkest secrets for all the world to see.

I hope you still love me!

Saturday, 13 August 2011


The Nidaros Cathedral (West Wall)
From Tromso we headed for Trondheim, Norway's third largest city and home to the impressive Nidaros Cathedral. Built on the site of the final resting place of St.Olav, the patron St. of Norway, the Nidaros is an excellent example of medieval architecture which is said to have taken it's inspiration from both Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. As you turn the corner from the northern side of the building you enter a square, as you turn to look up at the western facade of the cathedral you are greeted with a truly magnificent sight, with a statue of each Saint placed in it's own niche along the western wall, the building is immense and towers over you. The intricate detail of the sculpture and the stunning rose window are both awe inspiring. Inside the cathedral is just as equally as impressive as the exterior with the most beautiful stained glass windows letting in streams of red and blue light which bathe the interior in a colourful glow.

Next door to the Nidaros Cathedral is the Arch Bishop's Palace. It is here that the Norwegian Royal Regalia is housed. Trondheim has played host to many of the Coronations of Norway's monarchs, sharing the honour with both Bergen and Oslo, however, in 1814 it was decided that Trondheim was to be the permanent venue for the Coronation but it didn't last long as nowadays no coronation actually takes place, only the benediction blessing now forms the ceremony as it is seen that the Coronation holds no legal significance, this blessing service is still held in Trondheim.
Stiftsgarden Royal Palace
Despite the glamour of the Crown Jewels and royal ceremonies, Trondheim has so much more to offer than the Nidaros Cathedral. It is a beautiful city, with impressive buildings such as the wooden Stiftsgarden Royal Palace, home to the Norwegian Royal Family when they visit. We also visited the university which specialises in Science and Technology in Norway. With new developments being built on the quayside, the old and the traditional sit very well side by side.

A trip to the Nidaros Cathedral was one of the main reasons we chose this cruise and it did not let us down. I felt a true connection with the history of Norway in Trondheim, more than I did on any other stage of this cruise. It may be a little off the beaten track with regards to the bigger cities of Bergen and Oslo but Trondheim is well worth  going that little further north to uncover this true Norwegian gem.
Panoramic view of Trondheim

Thursday, 4 August 2011


After the tranquillity of the North Cape, our next stop, Tromso was altogether different. Situated in North-West Norway, Tromso is a bustling little town situated on a sheltered island in the Norwegian Sea. Many of Tromso's landmarks could be seen from on deck of Arcadia, including the impressive Arctic Cathedral, a magnificent white building were the walls stretch up high in to the bright blue sky as if pointing towards heaven. Our other destination on our tour for the day was the Polaria Centre, like the Arctic Cathedral, this building is built in all white and resembled a set of ice blocks that have tumbled down and stacked on top of each other, like ice block dominos.

The Polaria Centre
We disembarked and boarded our coach on the quayside and headed firstly for the Polaria Centre, this was the closest I was going to get to any polar bears or puffins on this cruise so I was quite excited. The centre is a wonderful resource for anyone who is interested in polar life. There was a short video to watch all about the wildlife and how they live and survive in the harsh winter climate. You are then guided through an exhibition complete with life size models of all the animals featured in the video, I have to say, coming face to face with a life sized polar bear was definitely an experience! We left the model animals behind and went into see some seals being fed their lunch, they had two seals at the centre that day and they both got equal attention from both the handlers and the crowd, they were a hit! The Polaria Centre was interesting if not very big. It gave a great insight into life just further north of our previous destination, but I would say it was one definitely for the kids.

The Arctic Cathedral
So, back on the coach we made our way through the town, it was by far the busiest place we had visited on the trip so far. It has a lively town centre, plenty of shops and places to eat. Our next stop was the Arctic Cathedral, perched upon a hill, I had high hopes for this building, from the pictures I had seen in the brochure it looked like a magnificent building, but one that needed a bright sunny day in order for it to gleam and sparkle. Unfortunately we didn't have the bright blue sky but surprisingly  it still impressed. Unlike any other cathedral I had visited before this was modern, crisp and sleek. The interior was very plain and simple but it did, however, boast a beautiful stained glass window and an exquisite organ. It was lovely and peaceful inside, despite its town centre location. From the outside it's pointy exterior resembled triangles all stacked one against another with their sharp tips seeming to reach high into the sky, trying to pierce the heavens above. From the top of the hill you get a great panoramic view of Tromso, with its ski jumps and ski lifts its winter life is never to far from your mind. When the snow comes, Tromso is a town that closes down for the winter and reawakens when the first sign of spring appears.

On the whole, I liked Tromso, it's not a huge place but the people were very friendly, it was very clean and is somewhere I would recommend people visit if doing a Fjords cruise. It can be so tempting at times to stay on board ship when the port of call does not look that interesting but so many wonderful treasures, like the Arctic Cathedral can be missed that way.

My next port of call, Trondheim, had a different cathedral altogether. Based on Westminster Abbey, the Nidaros Cathedral was to be one of my trip highlights.