The call of the fjords

Round the bend: Yes, us, but also the ships on the fjords

Huldra is beckoning me from the cliffside to join her in the woods. She’s shameless, Huldra. Can’t she see I’m here with the wife?

And persistent. Huldra stands here in the same spot every day at the Kjosfossen Waterfall on the Flam-Myrdal train route, serenading those who have ventured into her mountains.

But don’t you be taken in, there is a sting in the tale, she’s only wearing that floaty dress to hider her witch’s rump.

It would be all too easy to follow the seductive Huldra blindly into the Norwegian hinterland though, its fjords are alluring, its peoples steeped in myth, magic and mysteries.

Watch too where you step, those stones may well be trolls who have transformed themselves into rocks rather than risk being burnt by the sun, though not much chance of the in the Land of Rain.

Trolled again!

I’m sure one tripped me up on our first day off ship in Norway as I climbed down through the forest above Geiranger and I slid on my fleshy part. Scream? Not then, but later in the Fishmarket when they brought me the bill for two beers (20 euro).

Best get back on board the MSC Presiosa methinks where I’ve an all-inclusive package and the beer, wine and cocktails are flowing.

I’m on a seven-night cruise of the Norwegian fjords, departing in Kiel, Germany, and stopping off in Copenhagen for the day with port calls at Geiranger, Bergen, Flam, and two full days at sea.

Anf for this week I will channel my inner Viking, drinking, feasting and dancing.

The Vikings are all there on the first night of course, the crew in their horned helmets and Norse robes, cajoling us onto one of the many dance floors on board.

Today’s ships are very different beasts than their forbears… for the Vikings and their friends on their longboats life on the ocean wave was certainly no pleasure cruise.

They had to wrestle strong winds through the fjords with no more buttress than their sails which must have seemed like mere hankies in the vast waterscape.

My precious: The MSC Preziosa and The Boss in Geiranger

The winds blew them to Normandy with a detour to Britain and Ireland where they found it even wetter here, and as far south as Italy.

Our cruise is, of course, heading in an opposite northerly direction to the one they took, we are venturing to their land and our ship is populated with a rich mix of Continental Europeans.

We are Italians,. Germans, French, Dutch, Swiss, Spanish and Bulgaria. And there’s Sarah and I and a spattering of Irish… we come across Gerry and Breid from Killarney who meet in Bergen. They fled the country for this cruise, rather than be forced to endure watching Dublin win another All-Ireland.

Bergen, our third stop, is situated between the longest fjord Sogneford to the north, the Strusshamn fjord and Hardangerfjord in the south and is Norway’s second city and birthplace of landscape artist JC Dahl.

Dahl did more than anyone to promote the fjords to the wider world and bring cruise travel to Norway in the 19th century.

The father of the fjords: JC Dahl

You can admire Dahl’s paintings and Edvard Munch’s too in the excellent KODE museum as well as humorous drawings of trolls.

The trolls, of course, have had something of an image rebrand in recent years by animators DreamWorks and are now celebrated by little people (and big) as the happiest creature in the world though our own leprechauns may well have a court case pending on that one.

As should the good people of Bergen Town whom DreamWorks chose as the Trolls’ arch-enemies and painted as the most miserable specimens, and cannibals to boot.

At this point though I feel I have to redress a popular misconception. There is no record of any Bergen native ever tucking into a troll., everyone we met was quick to point out!

And why would they when thy have the fruits of the fjords before them which are all laid ou there in the harbourside fishmarket.

Norway to go: The fisherman’s diet

And on the buffets and the restaurants on the Preziosa too. This being an Italian cruise company though pasta and pizza, gelato and tiramisu are popular and there’s a reason why these are the first stations in the food hall and why the queues are so long.

It’s worth being patient though if you’re stuck behind Ravenous from Rimini or Famished from Firenze, the chefs roll and flip the dough on the spot so the station is always being replenished, as you will be with pizza ai fungi (mushrooms), con prosciutto (with ham), con formaggio (cheese), con salami (er, salami) or con the Dana special (all kinds of everything).

There are more stations here than on Iarnrod Eirann but I never could get past the pizza one to sample the fish, burger, oriental or any of the other offerings. Or maybe I just couldn’t move after all that cheese.

If you just want to dump your tray down at the nearest table rather than queue again at the bar (and who could blame you?) just press your buzzer and a crew member will bring a glass of beer of wine to your table.

There are various drinks packages on board but we found the $25-a-day deal kept us more than happy.

You might well feel a pang of guilt at the point at how much you’ve put away, and remember this is your second meal of the day after your big breakfast. But you can always sweat it out in the gym which look out onto the fjords.

Or why not join your fellow shipmates in one of th four swimming pools, or the hot tubs?

You can even whizz down the big chute that will bring you out over the side of the ship (don’t worry, you’ll be in a tube).

Or why not wall the circumference of the deck, or dance it off at night, albeit after another refuelling stop for dinner.

We ate at L’arabesque on th first four nights, my pick the squid ink tortellini pasta starter, stuffed with salmon in sparkling wine followed by the bistecca, ahed down with Canti bianco wine. Your true soaked himself in the stuff.

And then on the final two night at the La Palmeraie on the 15th floor with panoramic views of the North Sea where the chef agreed with me that the Bouillabaisse, the Piedmont’s Beef Tagliata nd the tiramisu were indeed special, accompanied, of course, with Prosecco, Tuscan regale wine and limoncello sweetener.

For entertainment, the George Clooney lookalike you see here, belting out Chuck Berry in Karaoke Hour in the Green Sax bar, made quite a stir. Due Overmoon, a keyboardist, and his female accompaniment, who performed there every evening were pretty good too.

The Preziosa has nightly shows in the 1,6000-seater Platinum Theatrebetween two dinner sittings which means there’s a performance for everyone in the audience on board… and plenty to spare.

Dancers and acrobats with stomachs like washboards reform gravity-defying gets to popular theatre pieces such as The Mask and Asterix and Cleopatra while, of course, this being an Italian cruise company there’s opera too.

The best show of all though is the one the Norse gods put on.

We see it on the morning we arrive in Geirange from our balcony in our cabin and from the 16th and top deck, and when we leave, and again in Bergen.

And we take the memory of the fjords with us on the last morning when we sail out of Flam, wooden lodges of every hue, nestled into coves, clouds so low you can almost touch them.

We gather excitedly on the top deck in the bracing rain to gulp in up and gaze on inlet after inlet and Dahl’s cobalt blue, blue sea.

Birds navigate us through the fjords, we each of us training our necks. Us to to capture them for celluloid for prints for lounge walls, the gulls to catch morsels from our morning buffet… or maybe not?

Maybe it’s the heady air, or beery head, but my feathered friends get me thinking… are they gulls at all, or are they actually shape shifters, spying on us and carrying tales back to that alluring Huldra?

TRAVEL FACTS

GETTING THERE

Sail to the beautiful Norwegian fjords onboard the sister ship MSC Meraviglia from $949pp based on two people sharing a balcony cabin on a cruise only basis.

SAMPLE DEAL

Depart from Kiel on the September 7 on the seven-night cruise ad visit Copenhagen, Geiranger, Flam and Stavanger before returning to Kiel, Germany.

STAT ATTACK: Passengers: 4,500, four pools, seven restaurants,
120 metre water slide, 18 decks, 1,751 cabins, 12 hot tubs, 12 bars and lounges

…. AND PROBABLY THE BEST CRUISE STOP OFF!

Who’s to say if he once was an ugly duckling but the world flock to Copenhagen now because of Hans Christian Andersen?

I meet an old university pal off my cruise ship, not by The Little Mermaid which is some way out from Copenhagen’s main square, but by Andersen’s statue.

Once upon a time we…

No, you don’t want to read our story but Andersen’s and Copenhagen’s which are, of course, so richly entwined.

Andersen was an only child, schooled in Elsinore, yes that Elsinore made famous for a certain prince, but it ws in the sophisticated capital of Denmark that he made his life as first an actor and then a prolific writer of salutary children’s and adult books.

He took up residence in Nyhavn which is the hip hub of Copenhagen today and a magnet for tourists.

You can’t help feeling his fairytale world all around you in Copenhagen’s chocolate box buildings. Probably because you’re in the Tivoli Gardens, opened in 1843 and the world’s second oldest operating amusement park, and the inspiration for Disneyland.

The best view you can get of Copenhagen is from the 80m swing-carousel Star Flyer, one of an abundance of thrill rides in the park.

Twirling around with only air, the park and Tom and Sarah below I feel like one of Hans’s characters.

And there in the distance is my ship to whisk me off to a far-away land. And my little mermaid wants a swim,

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