Voyage of discovery

After years of insisting cruises weren’t for people like him, David Overend finds his sea legs in Norway.

Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers; old people cruise; old people and people in wheelchairs and people with lots of money.

It took me a long time, many years, to get over these preconceptions. Finally, I stopped reading newspapers, and my wife managed to drag my arm so far up my back that I had to agree to a holiday –on a cruise ship.

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By the time the bruising to the shoulder had subsided to just a constant ache, we were in Amsterdam, the port from where said cruise – to the Norwegian fjords – would set sail. Hey ho, it’s a sailor’s life for me.

I don’t know what I had imagined, but within a few minutes of embarking (see, already a technical nautical term) the scales had been removed from my eyes. Yes, there were quite a lot of elderly people, quite a few in wheelchairs and certainly some people who looked to be cash-happy.

But they were just a small minority of the 2,000 or so passengers preparing to spend a week of their lives in a floating five-star hotel heading for the Norwegian fjords.

And the Celebrity Constellation is certainly five-star – weighing in at 91,000 tonnes and almost 1,000ft in length, this is one big boat dedicated to providing everything to make a trip to the land of the midnight sun an exceptional and unforgettable experience where there is one crew member for every two passengers.

If you like, you can stay onboard the whole trip, just eating yourself silly (the food is fantastic and available whenever you want it) exercising yourself stupid in the gym (with views to die for) working out more literally in the library, or taking one of the many organised (and potentially expensive) trips starting at the bottom of the gang-plank. Of course, you could always do your own thing and simply step ashore to explore.

Which we did on one occasion. But more about that later.

But wherever you go, and whatever you do, that giant five-star hotel goes with you.

So, we’re off. From Amsterdam, out through giant lock gates and into the North Sea. First stop, after a full day at sea learning the ropes and navigating the numerous decks of the Constellation, is Stavanger, a pretty little town enjoying glorious sunshine and a bitter wind. This is Norway; you can’t have everything.

Overnight, the boat slips silently and quickly into the Norway of the mountains, the fjords and the picture postcard memories – Olden, basically a tiny spot on the map. But what a spot – the sun has decided to add heat to the equation and this time it’s a day to wander in T-shirts and shorts, to stand, mesmerised, by the snow-painted peaks.

Olden is a tiny community tucked away at the head of a fjord – farms, a couple of churches, a few shops and scenery guaranteed to keep a Canon or Nikon working overtime.

We shunned the organised tour and plumped to wander – walking through meadows of flowers , turning corners to stop, gobsmacked, by views created by a greater being than Photoshop. If anything, Olden was THE memory of Norway.

And I, with red beard and Nordic features, felt quite at home. I quickly submerged the instinct to do a bit of pillaging.

Constellation sailed away again, this time to reveal the wet, the very wet town of Molde. And this time we paid for a trip to see the sights, including Second World War gun emplacements, courtesy of the Third Reich who moved in after the Nazi-backed coup of a certain Mr Quisling.

Norway’s part in that conflict is, to say the least, disturbing. If you want to know more, read about it on the internet.

In the afternoon, the cloud lifted, the rain stopped, and my wife and I (sounds royal, but we’re not) visited what we considered the most interesting spot in Molde – the small, but perfectly proportioned football stadium.

The lovely lady in the shop at Molde steuea amphitheatre – the ground where Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær has transformed a side to become the champions of Norway – said we could step through the door and enter the magical world of professional soccer in Norway. After taking plenty of pictures of a rabid Huddersfield Town fan (my wife) at the side of the pitch, we headed back onboard to yet another evening of fine food and first-class entertainment courtesy of some of the best professional singers and dancers known to the cruise ship industry (and, believe me, they are truly excellent).

Geiraneger came next. This is the Norwegian fjord of all Norwegian fjords. Everyone goes there, but despite the traffic (Norway doesn’t have that many roads, but the one(s) here are packed, normally with motor homes from Germany) it is a mind-blowing area of scenic splendour.

It rained. It fogged. But it was still stunningly beautiful. But as one cruise afficianado said: “When you’ve seen one waterfall...” and the fjords here are full of them.

Alesund was also rather pretty, but in a different way. So, too, was Skjoden, and Bergen – bigger and brasher (if you can say that of anything Norwegian) was well worth a visit, even though the clag returned.

Want to try a slice of whale meat? Bergen’s wonderful fish market is the place to go. And then, the final port of call before Amsterdam once more appeared on the horizon.

Oslo, the capital, the classiest city in Norway. The sun shone again; in fact, it was almost tropical, and Oslo basked. Understandable. Oslo is ranked number one in terms of quality of life among European large cities. It is chic, has parks and gardens, grand buildings, a royal palace, arts and entertainments – and it’s walkable. It deserves more than to be just a stop-off point on a cruise-ship itinerary. Oslo demands to be a place to visit in its own right. There could be a city break looming.

Then it was back to Amsterdam, Leeds-Bradford and home. Plenty of photographs, a taste for fine cuisine and a yearning for more cruising. It isn’t cheap, but go with the right company and you get what you pay for.

Getting there

David Overend sailed with Celebrity Cruises, which offers a large range of itineraries, including cruises across Europe, the Caribbean, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand. For more details call 0844 493 2043 or visit www.celebritycruises.co.uk.

For more details about destinations in Norway go to www.visitnorway.com/uk