Friday 30 July 2010

Norwegian Honeymoon

Martin and I started our honeymoon with a night ahead in Southampton. Not much to note apart from the interesting old town walls. On our way down the next day we did run into the start of the Asian festival, which looks like it could have been interesting in full swing.

2-hour check in procedure, which I think is a new record. You arrive, dump luggage at set points, get a letter and colour. Then after waiting ages, you head up for the proper check in part which was fairly standard apart from losing my passport (standard for cruise ships however) which just felt wrong (and annoying as they didn't even get it stamped once!). Security check, then on board!! Our stateroom was on Panama Deck of the Ventura ( Spent the next wee while running all over the place exploring our massive ship, to then scored a sweet spot to watch our departure from the dock. Champagne to celebrate the start of our honeymoon and the good times began. Great food was a constant on the ship, as was the entertainment. To add to the good start of the honeymoon, I actually won a reflexology foot massage treatment, 1 hour after departure. 

Sea Day:
There isn't much to talk about on sea days. Just relaxing, food, reading, sauna's, entertainment, more food, relaxing. Its great.

( This town was very cute. Lovely old fishing village with far too many houses packed into a tiny area. And had a lot of history to go with it. We went to the main museum of the town and learnt alot of about it all focused around the church at first and the wharf. And after fires they rebuilt, another fire they rebuilt and so on. After the museum we decided rather than taking the funicular up we should hike up Mt. Floien. Took us about 1.25 hours. The view was worth it from the top, but after walking back down I was absolutely dead. Bought some Norwegian slippers and Martin ate some whale (horrible)! This was the best day for weather and the view on the way out through the fjords was great.

This was my fav. stop of the journey ( It is situated at the end of Aurlandsfjord, which is part of Sognefjord - which is the wolrds longest and deepest fjord (every branch of the main fjord has its own name). The mistiness caused by the light rain gave the area a very magical feeling. Our first thing of the day was to do a short hike (although steep) up to the local waterfall, which thanks to the previous dry weather and the rain that had arrived with us was quite impressive. Got great views up the valley from this point and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Got the tender (boat) back for a quick lunch before heading off on our cruise tour. First part of it was a bus ride to this hotel on the side of a cliff. Had to go through very long tunnels (11km) to get there, and then down the scariest road ever (so many hairpins), Stalheimskleiva road, which is also the steepest in Norway. After getting down the bottom, we eventually ended up at our destination and hopped aboard the cruise ship which would take us through the narrowest fjords in the world (a lot of in the worlds in this area). Nærøyfjord ( was a beauty, reminded me of Fiordland in NZ but the rocks were more akin to Southern China in the River Li area. The sides of the fjords had a lot more trees and wild goats forage there (crazy!). Saw some seals, and an old Viking burial mound - cool! Lots of wee villages along the way, and we got absolutely soaked and frozen on the front but it had great views there. Another wonderful night on board the ship - good food and entertainment.

Another interesting stop. Today we did things the cheaper way and caught the local bus to the Briksdal glacier (18 pounds rather than 96 to do it with the cruise). The area of the glacier was very nice but the actual glacier itself was lacking in the size and lustre I am used to being a NZer ( But it was very cool as this glacier belonged to the largest ice field in EU and you could see it running along the tops of the mountains. The walk up to the glacier was spectacular as we had to go right by the massive waterfall, which with all the rain of late was extremely large. The mist rain produced from the thundering falls was enough to drench the side of your body exposed to it. Nice forest and birds tweeting around, with some alpine flowers thrown in just added to the appeal of the place. 

Not my fav. place of the trip but still quite nice. We explored the old town of Stavenger which didn't take too long. All but a few of the houses here are painted white and they all conform to the same style and design, so it has a very interesting effect (like coronation st, but with houses actually apart and different sizes). Saw the cathedral and lake, then over to the old customs house. Once we were finished with downtown, we headed to the canning museum which is my main and only recommendation for this place. The museum isn't too expensive and has a lot of authentic machinery and you even get to interact with it, and its actually in an old canning museum. We were lucky that we arrived on a Thursday so got to see sardines being smoked in the old smoke houses/closets and have a taste of them. Enjoyed my reflexology session immensely after we were back on board.

The last day =(
Our last day was a sea day, so once again relaxing and enjoying ourselves. Ate too much all day, and finally tried out the pools (not really our thing with 3000 people aboard), and more sauna's.

Entering Aurlandsfjord


Friday 23 July 2010

A Scottish Epic

The day after the wedding:

Sadly Geoff, Anne-lore, Jess and Kieran had to head back to their ports of call so they couldn't join us on our day trip. The weather had continued to be bad from the previous day, but we headed out anyway. First stop on the journey was Loch Shiel, more formally know, as Hogwarts Lake. My sneaky plan for the timing worked well and we actually got to see the hogwarts express go along the Harry Potter bridge.
From here we continued on through the Morar region, which is home of Scotland's deepest Loch. Saw the train again throughout the journey to Mallaig ( I was hoping the weather might have been better so we could have see the hills of Skye but this wasn' t the case. Had a very nice lunch just before the train arrived the entire town was full. More photos of the train before heading back. Had a nice afternoon relaxing at the hotel, before we headed off for dinner at a local seafood restaurant Martin and I had found on our last journey here. The seafood was very good, nice and fresh. Everything was either from Loch Leven, or from nearby Lochs, so tasty tasty. A great end to the evening.

Off we go!!:

After saying a very sad good bye to our remaining guests and Martins parents, with my family we headed off north towards the Isle of Skye. Our first stop along the road was at Loch Lochy. A very pretty loch even in bad weather. Saw the famous castle of Eilean Donan (see james bond films) on route to Kyle of Lochash. Here we stopped a did a cruise tour on a glass bottom boat. Saw lots of seals (and babies!) and jellyfish. Once back inside of the loch the glass bottom showed a very interesting world of different seaweeds, and crabs.
Once we were back on the way we headed straight to Dunvegan. Arrived early evening, so with Andrew and Dad we did the 1 hour walking trip through the different environments of Dunvegan. The local church has the highest pew in Scotland, after that through the local forest, then up top for a walk along the moors. Here we could see the Dunvegan rock which the locals erected using stone age methods. At the end of the trek was a ruined church which is home of the MacLeods clan and has 7 of the clan chiefs buried there. Was a very interesting site.

Trip to middle of nowhere:
Left early the next day taking the scenic route through the top of Skye. This road is amazing with the low cloud we had it was very pretty and had wild flowers springing up everywhere.Storr is a region of NE Skye that is famous for its dinosaur remains and massive pinnacles of rock (also used in the movie Stardust). Had a nice stop in Portree before carrying on south back over the Skye Bridge. Stopped at one of the few working kilt weavers mill in Lochcarron, where we actually got to see them making kilts. Lots more scenic driving as we headed through the "most scenic mountain route in Scotland" on our way to Camusnagual which is beside Loch Little Broom. Nice hostel here, which had great views of a hillside filled with boulders and the Loch.

Up to Tongue:
First stop was Ullapool. Nice seaside town. We got to see the ferry coming in for the Isle of Lewis and park up, it was interesting as the wind was so strong, and the turn they had take, made the ship go on a very odd lean. Glad my car wasn't on there. Next stop was the ruined MacLeod/Mackintosh castle beside Loch Assynt. Straight onto Durness, where the boys thought it would be good fun to go for a swim. I was kinda keen til the sand started to eat my face, so wasn't going to expose the whole body to that. Durness/Sango beach ( is supposed to be one of the best in Scotland.

Onto Smoo Cave which has been inhabited for over 1000 years and used for various purposes from living to smelting. Sadly the tour wasn't running this time around either, so still only got to do the first part of the cave. Headed to Tongue and found our B&B for the night.

Using the local guide book did an archaeological tour of the area which was quite fascinating. Started off with cup markings, which are like cup holders ground into a boulders - apparently they had religious significance. Then saw the very sparse remains for a highland clearance village. Next was a very impressive Iron Age fort. This was quite an undertaking moving the large quantity of stone so far from source. Then, beside an old highland house ruin, on the foreshore of the Loch Tongue was a Bronze Age long house foundations. Very exciting. And to finish it was was the remains of the old ferry crossing.

Did a day trip out to Dunscanbury Head (near John O'Groats) which was a known Puffin ( breeding ground, in the hopes that we would find some, and we did. A single and a pair with their nest =). But that was not at first. We hiked down onto the other cliff area nearby and explored the rocky beach. Saw some seals and hundreds of seagulls that were nesting on the cliffs there. Got absolutely soaked during a downpour just as we found the puffins (which were right by where we parked the car, Murphy's law). Brilliant day.

Nessie Hunting:
From Tongue we headed down to Lochend, at the northern tip of Loch Ness and settled for a two day stop. First day we really explored Inverness a bit more. The next day Andrew, Martin and myself headed down to the main harbour of Loch Ness and got ourselves on a proper Nessie tour, lead by an actual Nessie hunter. Didn't see any signs of a dinosaur/monster/thingie, but enjoyed the trip out and meeting someone that had devoted 38 years to hunting for this mysterious/mythical creature. Awesome. Bit more of Inverness that night.

Aberdeen via Pictish Trail:
Along the route from Inverness to Aberdeeen are a great many Pictish ruins. The Picts were a prehistoric society that were one of the founding tribes that combined to form the Scottish People that we know ( We stopped in Burgshead which was a massive Picitsh fort (believed to be a Palace) which had a large collection of Pictish stones - which are now in national museum in Edinburgh. Couldn't get
into the well this time as the person wasn't home that has the key. Onto Elgin where we walked around the old cathedral where Pictish stones have been found within the crumbling ruins. Along a different route we saw the Pink pictish stone that was made from pink granite. We arrived into Aberdeen and walked around the city. It was actually quite depressing for me as it was so grey. All the buildings were grey, seriously only signs added colour to the streets.

On route to edinburgh we drove through the scenic Cairngorms National park. Edinburgh is just as interesting as always. It was nice to show the family around, and to be reminded of Dunedin. The castle was all fitted out for the Tattoo event, and the streets swarmed with tourists, which was a huge change from everywhere we had been for the last week or so. Our travelodge was right down town, so the next morning it made it easy to go to the National Museum and have one final wander around town. After Edinburgh it was the sad point of having to say good bye to my parents and brother. We dropped them off at Rosyth harbour as they headed off on their cruise. That night we stayed in Saltburn-by-the-sea, which had a nice pier and is a cute wee town near Whitby.