Sunday, 24 September 2017

Underneath the The Queensferry Crossing #9 Cruise Diary

Cruising GreenlandIceland and Norway #9

Continuing my cruise diary...

Victorian built Forth Railway Bridge
Sunday 3rd September

It seemed all too soon for the cruise to be over but I awoke knowing that The Black Watch was cruising into the River Forth estuary, Scotland.

My husband was desperate to take a video of the ship sailing under all three bridges that straddle the River forth. I was less inclined to go down to the deck below at 5.40 a.m. to get a better view but was happy to throw on a fleece and take some shots from our tiny balcony.
Directly under the Forth Railway Bridge

It was quite magical to be out in the pre-dawn, just as the first tinges of purplish red were lighting the sky. I slipped out onto the balcony at just the right time since The Black Watch was almost under the Victorian Forth Railway Bridge.

It only took minutes to sail under that then on to the Forth Bridge and then under the brand new Queensferry Crossing. Stunning since it was also the beginning of a day that promised to have some sunshine, something lacking from our days at sea and at our destination ports.

Our timing was a little bit off on Sunday the 3rd September for being able to drive northwards over the newest Queensferry Crossing on our journey home. This was because the bridge had been open for only a very short time to traffic the week before and then closed again. It would be a few days till it officially opened to traffic on a permanent basis. From the 6th of Sept the bridge was destined to become a motorway crossing with the existing Forth Road Bridge becoming available to pedestrians, cyclists and used as a local transport corridor.
Approaching the Forth Bridge (opened 1964)

BUT...Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd September were designated days when pedestrians could have the amazing 'once in a lifetime' opportunity of walking across the bridge. The new Queensferry Crossing bridge was not built with a pedestrian lane. Once permanently opened, the bridge is only constructed to take vehicular traffic northwards on the M90 motorway. It’s the longest three tower cable stayed bridge in the world at 1.7 miles and the largest to have cables which cross mid-span, providing extra strength and stiffness to the bridge. It rises as high as 48 double-decker buses stacked on top of each other.

Looking back to both the Forth Bridge and the Forth Railway Bridge- courtesy Alan Jardine

The above photo is so much better than mine!

The bridge was built to improve congestion into and around the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh but also because the existing Forth Road Bridge (opened 1964) has been dogged with structural issue caused by a much heavier volume of traffic during it’s approx. 50 year lifetime, the use being much greater than was anticipated back in the early 1960s when it was conceived. 

As we sailed under the bridge just after dawn it was too early for the special  ‘once in a lifetime’ pedestrian access so the bridge was eerily quiet.
Queensferry Crossing taken from my balcony on The Black Watch
(structure to left is The Black Watch tender for ship to shore transfers)

The new Queensferry Crossing is a beautifully stylish bridge that twinkles in the early sunlight, a majestic shape that blends in rather than being intrusive given the very different styles of the Victorian Railway Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge.
Looking back to Forth Bridge and Queensferry Crossing - courtesy of Alan Jardine

Our cruise was at an end when we docked smoothly at Rosyth around 7 a.m. By approx. 10.30 a.m. we had disembarked The Black Watch and were headed back into Edinburgh by taxi over the Forth Road Bridge. By this time we could see some pedestrians having fun making their historic crossing of the new Queensferry Bridge.

Looking back to view all 3 crossing over the River Forth- courtesy of Alan Jardine

p.s I found out later that my nephew and his family were among the few thousand lucky people who managed to get the well prized tickets to make that pedestrian crossing. It’s an event that I think my great-nieces will remember for the rest of their lives.

All credit goes to the organisers of that pedestrian access because it seemed to be a very well run event with buses ready and waiting, ‘hop on hop off’style,  to transport the pedestrians back to the other side if they only wanted to walk across one-way.

All kudos goes to The Scottish Government and the Scottish National Party administration for their historic achievement! 


Saturday, 23 September 2017

#Loen Skylift! #Mount Hoven #8 Cruise Diary

Cruising Greenland, Iceland and Norway #8

Continuing my cruise diary...

Friday 1st September

Sailing to our next port at Olden, Norway, meant cruising along a very long fjord. I’m sure we were told our route was along one of the longest fjords in Norway. Entering the first part near Maloy we cruised along the sea opening to Nordfjord > to Innvikfjorden and >along to Olden at the head of the fjord. The end of the fjord doesn’t culminate in one bay, it’s actually like there are ‘2 heads of the loch’ with Olden to the south and the town of Loen to the north.

Most of the sail was done overnight but I was awake to see the ship make its slow way to the harbour at Olden. The views to either side were fantastic and it was easy to believe that the cruise along it would have been stupendous in daylight.

We booked the Loen Skylift—a short cable car trip—for our Olden trip knowing it came the day after the long trip at Alesund and because it was yet another method of travel to view the panoramic sights of Norway from on high. 

Loen Skylift, Norway
Travelling to the mountain tops by coach would have meant another long day so the cable car was an excellent way to do it in a few minutes. The coach ride from the harbour to the cable car stop at Loen was quick mainly due to the tunnel connections between the fjord ends.

Loen Skylift, Norway
The Loen Skylift was the most amazing cable car ride I’ve eve had so far and I’ve taken a lot of rides in many different kinds of cable cars. The Loen Skylift  claims to be one of the steepest cable car rides on the globe. 

Brand new, the engineers had to create a new type of ‘lifting mechanism’ because nothing that existed was capable of coping with the slope of Mount Hoven. The ride takes about five minutes and up to a height of 1011 metres (3316 feet). A comparison might be going straight to the top of Liathach (Carn Eige, Torridon, Scotland) or Snowdon in Wales.  

It was the smoothest, the most silent and incredible ride I’ve experienced and so close to the surface of the mountain near the top that someone tall with a long stretch could have put their hand out of the top ventilation window and touched the rock wall. That may be the tiniest exaggeration but only the tiniest! There was no lurch over the sections of the cable just a beautiful glide to the top.

Unfortunately, it was very misty with light intermittent rain. That meant the view from the top of Mount Hoven was seriously restricted when we exited the cable car at around 10 a.m. It wasn’t as cold as I expected but my ski jacket was perfect for taking a wander on the top of Mount Hoven. However, the wind was so shrill I didn’t linger on the pathways. Because the mist was so low the cliff edges were difficult to see and the top pathways close to the restaurant had no perimeter edging (that I could detect).

I loved the huge horseshoe at the summit and wondered if it was good luck for those who had taken the opportunity to ride to the top by the cable car or…was it good luck for a safe cable car ride back down!  I have since found out that the horseshoe is there because ‘Hoven’ means hoof. The mountain is named Hoven because Sleipner, the horse belonging to Odin in Norse Mythology is said to have kicked one of its hooves into the mountain at Loen and left the characteristic hole that lies at the peak.

The two cars of the lift are named Hugin and Munin. In Norse Mythology they were a pair of ravens who flew daily over Midgard (human world) and Asgard (the gods' world) watching what was happening and listening to what was said. On the approach of dusk they returned to Odin's shoulder and whispered their findings. In this way Odin was credited with being the most knowledgeable and wisest god. We travelled on Hugin both ways.  

This site gives information on the official opening ceremony of the cable car in May 2017.

We lingered in the restaurant drinking excellent coffee and ‘Norwegian’ doughnuts for an hour or so in the hope that the mist would clear and we’d get a better view. It thinned a little but we gave up and went back down since the prognosis by the informed staff was that it might be 2 p.m. before it properly cleared. On a good day I’m sure it has to be absolutely stunning. The whole trip for us cost around £50 each but we still reckoned it was worth it to have experienced the brand new ride!

I loved the way the surroundings of the building at the top were exposed to reveal the rocks that the builders had had to excavate to prepare the flat foundations. 

The striations of the rocks were impressive perhaps showing up even more in the damp mist than they would on a fine day. Sadly the neat little outside cafe area was deserted though it's easy to see why.

I made a short video of the ride back down but it's apparently too large a file to be shown here. However, I did manage to post it to Facebook from the ship while it was still in port at Olden so you might be able to catch it HERE , scrolll down to find a post of the 1st September. 

We saw a little more of Olden on our coach tour back to the ship. It was too late for lunch on board so we opted to eat in a cafĂ© near the harbour. Olden beer, made just a few yards along the road at the craft brewery, was too tempting not to try. Being late for lunchtime the only hot food left was ‘pizza’ – not a traditional Norwegian dish like we’d thought to try but it was freshly made pepperoni style and was delicious with the Olden brew.

Regardless of the intermittent rain and mist, it was a lovely day but our cruise holiday @Fred.Olsen The Black Watch was almost over. Only a day and a half sail left to reach our destination at Rosyth.

Look out for my next and last cruise diary!


Thursday, 21 September 2017

Rauma Railway & Trollstigen Mountains #7 Cruise Diary

Cruising Greenland, Iceland and Norway #7

Continuing my cruise diary...

Thursday 31st August, 2017

Alesund, Norway
By the time we reached the coast of Norway the weather had slightly improved. It was still showery to start with but very much better than the gales of the previous days at sea. Our approach into the fjords of Norway near Alesund was very early in the morning so, being a slugabed, I missed the views. My first sight was of the apartment buildings by the harbour in Alesund.

The tour we had booked was entitled Rauma Railway & Trollstigen Mountains expected to last 8 hours. Everything went according to plan on this tour and we set off by coach along the very pretty route along the Storfjord and into the equally stunning Romsdalsfjord valley. Thankfully any rain was light,  the day mostly dry and even at times a little bit sunny!
near Trollveggan

Our stop at the Trollveggen picnic area was short but the views were stupendous. The mountain tops around are quite spectacularly jagged, Trollveggen being Europe’s tallest vertical, overhanging rock face at 1000 metres high. The thought of climbing up and abseiling down is quite alarming but paragliding (or whatever) from it (now banned by law) was a story I wasn't sure I wanted to hear. 

The tour continued by coach along beautiful valleys to the railway station at Bjorli where we picked up the next Rauma Train (The coach driver’s timing was excellent because we had no more than a 5-10 minute wait which considering the bending single track route we had just driven on was very skilled driving!). The Rauma Railway is a regular train so we struggled to get seats for the approximately 1 hour train ride. The train carriage was very comfortable if not designed to take loads of luggage which must cause some difficulty during the winter months since the area around Bjorli is a busy ski-centre. One other thing to note about the train was the large vending machine between carriage sections which sold drinks and snacks- useful since the train passengers might have come from a lot further away than us.

The Rauma river meanders around the valley floor so attractively with pretty little bridges across it and in some parts it's a stunning green colour. I wanted to come home with some amazing images but ...sadly my view was restricted from the train as I avoided getting shots of the woman opposite and my photographic skills are just not that good.

Rauma River

The ride from Bjorli to Andalsnes was beautiful and gave me a different perspective from the coach ride to Bjorli as the train sometimes crossed the Rauma River. It was very relaxing on the train though photos were hard to take since the speed was probably around 60 or 70 mph in parts.

Our lunch venue in the town of Andalsnes was very efficient the main course a local dish that resembled a meat loaf. The mushroom and stilton soup to start with was very creamy and tasty!
Norwegian Mountaineering Centre, Andalsnes, Norway 
The image above of the Mountaineering Centre was just one of the modern archetectural styled buildings we'd seen on our cruise. I think it looks a bit like a whale from this perspective but it was an incredibly designed building which made a huge impact on the senses.

Back on the coach we journeyed back to Alesund via a slightly different route and passed through many long tunnels which, for the locals, have cut out long sails around the fjords.

Along the  Rauma Road from the Rauma Railway. 

On the way back to Alesund
The tour gave me a really good flavour of the mountainous interior around the area of Alesund, Norway. It was a great way of demonstrating how the road builders, and those who laid the Rauma train track, coped with cutting through the bare rock to shave off a lot of distance and time along the route. None of those measures diminished the grandeur of the valleys we passed through or the fjords we bent around.  

Map indicating the location of a couple of the many tunnels we went through.

I've so many lovely photos but can't include them all here. When I can make more time I'll make new Pinterest boards. 

The Cruise Diary so far: