Cruising on Britannia to Norway

Saturday 14th August 2016
It’s all going fairly well so far. Yesterday we drove down to Southampton, stopping at a nice National Trust property on the way, called ‘Hatchlands!’, where we hoped they’d enjoy running around for a while! We’ve been trying to tire the girls during the day so that they can get back to normal sleep patterns, but even last night they were still buzzing long after they’d normally be starting to flop!

Yesterday was a bit tiring, what with the journey, waiting to park the car, waiting to check in and dashing about to get ready for the lifeboat drill. Gill had booked us up for ‘Freedom Dining’, which means that we can go the restaurant when we like and don’t have to share our table with others. That saves us having to go through explanatory chat about who we are and where we come from ;o)

We can see what her parents mean about Mali not eating a lot. The trick seems to be not to panic too much, but rather concentrate on things that she likes, even if that means she has odd-looking meals!

Our cabin was smaller than we’ve been used to, and the girls’ bed folded down from the ceiling, leaving us in the beds beneath very little headspace. So, this morning, Gill got us moved to a more suitable cabin, with one large double bed and a big sofa that will convert into another double for the girls.

Last night they were both still hyper when we tried to get them to sleep. What worked in the end was me reading them a long Noggin The Nog story in a fairly boring voice. Ana went to sleep suddenly, half way through the story and Mali was ready for ‘lights out’ when I finished. They slept well all night – phew! :o)

Sunday 15th August 2016
Sea Day

We should have put our clocks forward an hour last night but didn’t see the note in our cabin, so by the time we arrived at the restaurant it was already 9.30am and it had closed. This was probably just as well, because we went instead to the buffet restaurant where the girls could pick and choose. Mali actually had quite a good meal of sausage, fried potatoes and fruit!
Straight after breakfast we had to pack and move to the better cabin, which also meant that we had to get new key cards for us all and the girls’ wristbands had to be changed to record the new muster station. So, while Gill took charge of the move I took the girls to reception for the new cards and then up to the Surfers’ Club. Neither of them were too keen, but Mali was prepared to give it a go. In the event they wandered off happily enough to join a session building a Viking boat. When we went back an hour later they were totally engrossed in a competition with a dozen or more other 5-8 year olds.

After lunch we took them to the theatre for a show by ‘The Ministry Of Science’, an educational group whose services Gill said can be bought in by schools for their pupils. They quickly developed a good rapport with their audience and were quickly successful at conveying their excitement at scientific developments in science in the last 500 years. I’ve already put on Facebook the details of the really fun parts :o)

Mali and Ana shrank away when the two presenters went into the audience looking for volunteers, and yet when it was suggested that children could nominate their adults to go on stage both of them jumped up and desperately pointed at me. Hypocrites! ;o)

It was formal night tonight, so it was baths and hair washing all round and then getting into posh clothes ready for the Captain’s Reception at 6pm. As usual, Mali wore a lovely dress like Nanny, and Ana wore her waistcoat and bow tie, just like Army Bear and me! After a photo with the Captain we went straight to dinner. Ana was ecstatic when she found that lobster was on the adult menu, and that’s what she ordered. Mali chose grilled chicken and chips, but only ate part of it. Ana, predictably, polished off her half lobster fairly quickly!

After the meal we went to the evening show in the theatre. The entertainer was a singer called Phil Brown, who had appeared in several West End musicals like The Lion King and who was billed as having, ‘a voice like liquid chocolate’. He was a great singer with an engaging personality and the girls really enjoyed the songs that they knew.

They’re now shaking off the jet lag, with Ana saying before the end of the show that she was tired and wanted to go back to the cabin. In the event, they both came alive again when we got there, and it took stories from both Nanny and Dad-Dad to settle them down!

Tuesday 17th August 2016

Another late start because the girls woke late. In fact, they both complained like mad when we opened the curtains at well after 8am!

The scenery, outside our window was gorgeous, with a blue-green fjord, lush green fields and tall, tree-covered mountains, some still snow-capped. Half of the valley in which Olden sits was in shadow because, even in summer, the sun doesn’t rise high enough until late morning. You’d imagine that part of that valley gets no sun at all for months on end during the winter.

After breakfast we left the ship to see what there was to do. Olden’s a tiny place – population 500 according to Wikipedia, and there are over 4,300 passengers on Britannia! – so there’s not a lot going on. We queued for the ’Glacier Sightseeing’ open-top bus tour that travelled for 25 minutes up the valley through beautiful scenery, stopped for ten minutes for photos of a distant glacier beyond a lake surrounded by mountainous peaks, and then returned to Olden.

We left the bus at the village centre that was a ten minute walk short of the ship and had a browse in a souvenir shop. By now Ana, having walked nowhere, was asking to  be carried, which was a bit cheeky because this morning she was demanding to walk to the top of the nearby mountains!

Back on the ship we had lunch and then took the girls to the pool. The sun was still quite hot, but even though they enjoyed splashing about it wasn’t long until Mali was feeling cold, so we returned to the cabin for the rest of the afternoon.

At 6.30pm we went to the day’s Ministry of Science demonstration. This one covered friction, with an interesting demonstration. Two thick books rather like telephone directories, had had their pages interleaved so that each page lay between two pages of the other book. Hooks and ropes had been fixed to the spine of each, and the youngsters were then challenged to pull them apart, tug-of-war style. Of course, they couldn’t, because of the friction of each of them against the pages of the others. A team of adults was recruited to have a go, and, as before, the cheeky girls urged me to go, so I did, to make a point ;o)

At the end of the show, each child was given a piece of paper and asked to write down the scientific idea that they would most like to see become reality. I’m not sure that most of the younger ones truly understood the question, but Mali did. Very rapidly she not only wrote down her idea but also sketched it in great detail; a ‘Movie Computer’ that would not only show every movie ever made but would also create new ones. Ana was stuck and anxious, so, since the week’s theme has been renewable energy, I suggested a boat pulled by seagulls.

The two presenters went in turn to each child, asking them to explain their idea, starting with the 9-12 group. They did pretty well to draw some science from some of the wackier ideas! Each child was asked to come to the front to explain their idea, and of course Mali and Ana froze, but I managed to get Mali to the front by promising to stay with her. She spoke in the smallest possible voice, but the female presenter told her it was a fabulous idea. Mali seemed quite ‘up’ when she got back to her seat. Ana wouldn’t budge, so the presenter came to her :o)

After dinner we went to see a woman doing Adele’s songs. She was quite good, but we arrived too late to get seats, so after a couple of numbers, including Gill’s favourite, we left. We tried an alternative; a pianist playing film theme tunes, but Ana was restless so I took her back to the cabin and managed to get her to sleep just before Gill and Mali arrived, having really enjoyed it. In fact, the lady sitting behind them complimented Mali on being such a good listener.

Wednesday 18th August 2016

Like Olden, Andalsnes sits at the end of a long fjord, surrounded by mountains. When we opened the curtains this morning we once again had lovely views from our window.
Today we had the only organised excursion of our cruise; a train journey! Britannia had berthed right in town next to the railway line. Half of the passengers taking the excursion boarded the train straight away and the rest of us got on to a fleet of coaches. At the end of the journey everyone would swap over, meaning that we went up the mountains by road and returned by train.

For the lower part of the journey the mountains were steep and jagged, showing that they had stood above the glaciers of the Ice Age and further up they had been rounded by glaciation. Everywhere we looked we could see waterfalls cascading down steep cliffs and hills. Our tour guide said that in winter they freeze solid into enormous icicles.
Germany invaded Norway in 1940, whereupon the Royal Family escaped to Sweden and then England via Andalsnes, taking with them the nation’s gold reserves to keep in out of Nazi hands. The Germans got wind of this and bombarded the town, causing considerable damage, but couldn’t prevent the escape.

On the journey eastwards toward the Swedish border the landscape grew bleaker and more isolated, with abandoned farm buildings. However, higher up there is excellent terrain for winter sports, where there are many holiday homes. Here heavy snowfalls are pretty much guaranteed. The winter snow usually starts to fall in the middle of September, but this year there was a really early fall, just two weeks ago!

There is only so much interest that small children can take in the wonders of the natural world around them and Mali and Ana are better than many, but by the time we returned to Andalsnes on the train they were a bit weary of it all. However, Mali has asked us both which our favourite place has  been and says that hers has been Olden. While we were there yesterday she asked several times, ‘Why is Norway so beautiful?’, so the country has clearly made a deep impression on her.

After lunch back on the ship Gill took the girls to a quiet splash area, and later we all sat in the sun for a while until it was time for today’s Ministry of Science session at 4pm. This was another good one – making Candy Floss. The presenters explained how sugar is rapidly heated, melts and then is forced through small holes emerging as fine strands that immediately harden on contact with the air. Everyone got a chance to make their own, and, as usual, the girls cowered and refused. However, I persuaded Mali to go up with me for support, and she made a fine go of it. On her return she generously gave her stick of Candy Floss to her sister.

At dinner, we were by chance seated at the very same table that we’d sat at two nights ago, with the same waiter. On the previous occasion the waiter had accidentally splashed me with water, and I'd joked that maybe I should splash him back in revenge. Ana was very excited as soon as she realised that this was Dad-Dad’s chance to get his own back on that 'naughty waiter'. Every time he wandered past she’d shout, ‘Here he is, Dad-Dad! Do it now!’ :o)

We had time to kill before tonight’s show so reviewed the latest photos we’d had taken. Having the deal that gives us unlimited photos is excellent, because we’ll order them all, good or bad! The show started at 8.30pm, but at 8.05pm we’d run out of things to do so decided to go in early. To our amazement the place was already two thirds full, so we were only just in time.
As I write we’re back in our cabin and both girls have had stories and gone to sleep without any fuss :o)

Friday 19th August 2016
Sea Day

It can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to find things to occupy two active girls on a day at sea, but there was lots going on all day for children.

At 11am there was a reprise of the Ministry of Science’s first big show, including exploding balloons and all the other fun stuff. After lunch it was ‘Boomwhackers’. These are hollow plastic tubes of varying lengths and colours that each make a sound when bashed on a hard surface. There were music sheets for a range of songs, such as Three Blind Mice and Old MacDonald – after some practice we managed a passable tune by sharing out the tubes and working together.

At 2pm there were juggling lessons for adults and children, so Gill took some time off for packing. Sarah and I went on a ten week course about 20 years ago and I managed to master the simple ‘cascade’, but it became clear that you need to keep practising - use it or lose it! The girls didn’t get very far, but they seemed to enjoy the session amongst quite a few other children. However, by the halfway point it became clear that they were losing interest, so we joined Nanny in the cabin.

At 3pm there was a talent show for children in the various age groups in the Kids’ Club, which Gill took them to. They seemed to enjoy it, probably because they knew that there was no chance of them having to take part!

Even at dinner it was clear that Ana was wilting. We got to the theatre early and she made it through about half of the show before conking out. However, we all stayed until the end. Back in the cabin, the girls carried on watching ‘Song of the Sea’, a film that they had started before dinner. Although they found it a little scary at times (they both have very vivid imaginations!) they watched until the end. Luckily, we needed to put our clocks back an hour to UK time, so they got an extra hour’s sleep that they wouldn’t otherwise have had ;o)

This morning we had to vacate our cabin by 8am and have breakfast in time for a 9.30am disembarkation. Britannia has had to berth at a different terminal than the one planned, due to ‘adverse weather conditions’. It’s been pouring with rain, which is ironic since we had none at all during all of our time away!

Now for the drive home and cuddles with Daddy!