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|Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 2008
The Land of the Midnight Sun - Part 2
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On 12 June there were two destinations, first Hellesylt and then Geiranger. QE2 always anchors first off Hellesylt for an hour to allow a number of organised overland full-day tours to depart. These hardy people have to be early risers because they have to report for tenders at 0700. Later in June there is a hiking tour, but our visit was too early and the roads across the mountain were not open. Indeed, one of the tour buses was late returning due to another bus having problems in the winter conditions and blocking the road.
We were not alone. There was one other cruise ship already at anchor at Hellesylt, the MSC Opera, and she followed us to Geiranger where the Thomson Celebration was already anchored. There were local ferries as well. It was crowded. We had made a gamble on the weather, which was a correct guess. The weather was dismal, misty and wet. An overland day trip from Hellesylt to Geiranger would have been a disappointment. But it was perfect for the short journey by water from Hellesylt to Geiranger, sitting in the Queen’s Room and watching the scenery pass by. Wet weather shows the waterfalls at their best, and the Bridal Veil Falls, followed by the Seven Sisters and the Suitor, were all flowing well. The commentary by the Norwegian expert Arne Sagmo meant that we had advance warning and could rush outside with a camera at the key moments.
Even rain cannot dilute the spectacular scenery. The Geirangerfjord is a famous tourist destination and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Geiranger is a very small tourist town, with several hotels and lots of camping sites. It has a few souvenir shops, a very pretty wooden octagon church, and lots of potential for walking. We had a quick early lunch and as soon as the tenders were ready we went ashore. QE2 dominated, facing outwards with her stern rope tied firmly to shore at the head of the fjord. Up the hill from the town there is a scenic viewpoint at Flydalsjuvet, and good views from the top of Mount Dalsnibba. We visited both in 2004. Both are too far to hike on foot, and in the distance we could see all the tour buses at Flydalsjuvet. Some that passed us were labelled P&O and we wondered which of their fleet was moored at Hellesylt. We had very nice views of QE2 from outside the church, and from the waterfront, and were satisfied. When it rained, as was inevitable, we had only a short walk for our tender.
The following morning, 13 June, we were over an hour late arriving at Stavanger due to delays in reaching the pilot station on departure from Geiranger. This was an extra challenge because our berth at Stavanger was close to the town, and also next door to P&O Oceana who was already moored. This reduced the space available for turning, and so QE2 had to turn outside the harbour and be towed in backwards. It all added to the delay and we were over an hour late. We were not impressed with our first impression of Oceana as she towered above us, with her rows of little balconies.
We had been to Stavanger before and had not booked any excursions. It is a nice town, easy to walk around, with a beautiful cathedral, several interesting museums, 173 historic wooden buildings in the Old Town, and lots of shops. It is also European Capital of Culture 2008. We started our walk by visiting the 12th century cathedral, and admired its ornate baroque interior added in the 1660s. We hurried through the cobbled streets towards the modern Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which we reached just as it began to rain. We had been there before, so only spent a few minutes in their souvenir shop until the rain reduced. We could see the QE2 red funnel, so walked back along the quay until we came upon the Oceana.
A trip boat excursion was just leaving, so we enquired about bookings and prices for next time. There are daily sightseeing tours by boat along the Lysefjord to see the famous Pulpit Rock and booking direct on the quayside in Norway is NOK 340, about £34 or $67. We were too late for a trip but made an advance reservation on the 1200 boat for our next visit; if QE2 arrives on time then we can move the reservation forward to the 1030 boat. Apparently QE2 is the only cruise ship due then, so there will be no problem finding a seat. We mentioned that it will be her last visit to Stavanger and hopefully that message will find its way into the local celebrations.
We went back on board for lunch, mainly because it was a mixed grill in the restaurants and we know that is always excellent. Then we went out again to visit the Old Town and the Canning Museum. The weather was improving and the old white wooden houses were very attractive in the bright sunshine with their flowers. Unfortunately there were hundreds of other people all walking around so taking photos without people was difficult. We learned that the Oceana was hoping to depart at 1730, at the same time as we left. The original plan had been for the two ships to depart together. We knew that our departure was delayed by an hour, so they would be leaving alone. We joked that they needed the extra hour to get to Southampton because they are much slower.
Because of our 1830 departure time there were not many people on deck at 1730 as the Oceana prepared to depart. All their passengers had been given union jack flags to wave, and there were home made banners saying Farewell to QE2. P&O have a tradition of a sailaway party, but this was something special. Even in their bridge there was a large wooden hand which was waved as the ship moved away. The whole experience was like The Last Night of the Proms, with lots of loud emotional British music: Rule Britannia, Jerusalem etc. They all waved and cheered. So did we. They sounded her whistle. QE2 replied. If this is an indication of the emotional storm when QE2 finally leaves for Dubai then it is going to be very difficult.
Although it was not a formal evening, tonight was Captain McNaught’s Farewell Dinner and included the choice between the classic dishes of Roasted Duckling or Beef Wellington. There would be the traditional parade of the baked Alaska, and just as we had recovered from all the food it would be the Gala Midnight Buffet with all the ice carvings and special artistic displays of food. We had been told that our table would be hosted by the Staff Captain.
After the emotional departure of Oceana, followed by our own, we cheered ourselves by dressing up to attend cocktails in the Wardroom. It is a special treat to be invited into the Wardroom, and we had explained that we might therefore be late for dinner. It is not very tactful to keep the table and the Staff Captain waiting without good reason. He would usually have been at the Wardroom too, but was not able to be there. Our invitation had come from Jeff, whom we had known for some time. He and Joy would be leaving QE2 to go to Dubai to make arrangements for her arrival, and to deal with all the shore side technical requirements. We said that we would keep in contact with them by email.
We were not too late in dinner, and settled back to enjoy the wonderful food and the compulsory baked Alaska dessert. The white and red wine flowed, and the conversation flowed with it. We all had an excellent evening, and the sun was just setting as we left the dining room. Oh dear! We were last again. Having fetched a camera we then went to the Lido to take pictures of the Gala Midnight Buffet. We could not resist sampling some of the food, so it was late when we eventually finished. Getting up to go to the gym in the morning was not very appealing.
Overnight we received confirmation that there was space in the baggage room for one suitcase and one bag, so we were pleased that we did not need to take everything back home before our next cruise. It also meant that we could take the early option and carry our one suitcase off the ship, and come home by train. It still occupied most of the last day on board before Pauline was finally satisfied that the two suitcases and the bag were packed, and she had made a full list of what was remaining behind.
We arrived in Southampton on time and had barely time to grab a quick continental breakfast in the Lido before those who we embarking self-help were invited to leave. The journey home by train was easy and we were back in the house before we would usually have been off the ship.
It had been a marvellous cruise, and we would have been happy if it had been our very last cruise on QE2. However we still have one more trip to look forward too, although it is unlikely that the combination of itinerary, weather, and people will be as special. All credit to Captain McNaught and all his officers and crew who made this visit to the Land of the Midnight Sun so wonderful.
| Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
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