|08/06/2012||Newcastle, England||Wet city|
|09/06/2012||Kirkwall, Scotland||Scapa Flow & Italian Chapel||Overcast|
|10/06/2012||Bergen, Norway||Wharf & Theta Museum||Glorious day!|
|11/06/2012||Geiranger, Norway||Dale Farm||Tasty cheeses|
|13/06/2012||Bodø, Norway||Aviation Museum & City Tour||Tequila Twins!|
|14/06/2012||Tromsø, Norway||City Panoramic & Cathedrals||Confusion|
|15/06/2012||Alta, Norway||Cold wind|
|17/06/2012||Murmansk, Russia||City Highlights & MSCo Museum||Moving service in sunshine|
|19/06/2012||Solovetsky, Russia||Great Solovetsky Island||Stunning fortified monastery|
|20/06/2012||Archanagel, Russia||Malye Korely Museum & City Tour||Churches, windmills & farm houses|
|22/06/2012||Honningsvåg, Norway||Midnight sun!|
|24/06/2012||Svolvær, Norway||Henningsvært & Gallery||Sunny scenery!|
|26/06/2012||Stavanger, Norway||A Glimpse of the Past||Waffles, cream & jam|
|28/06/2012||Dover, UK||Only two hours back to Harlow!|
This was another five star cruise on one of my favourite ships. I drove down to Dover and parked in the old railway terminus. On the first sea day I led the first of seven line dance classes. I wasn't needed as a tour escort in the first port of call, so I took the shuttle bus into Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my first visit there in over 25 years. That evening saw the Captain's welcome cocktail party.
In Kirkwall, Orkney I escorted the Scapa Flow and Italian Chapel tour for the first time. I was the tour escort on the Wharf and Theta Museum walk on a glorious afternoon in Bergen after walking around the peninsula taking photographs in the morning. In Geiranger we couldn't get to the summer farm in the mountains because of the late-lying snow, so had to make do with the winter farm in the valley. The goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses were all very tasty! In the afternoon I did the shore walk to photograph the cruise ships dotted along the fjord. We were anchored in the majestic fjord alongside another of my favourite ships the all suite, all inclusive Seabourn Sojourn.
On the next sea day I gave the first of five well-received illustrated port talks on Tromsø, Alta, Honningsvåg, Svolvær and Stavanger. The day included the singles lunch and the newcomers cocktail party as well as another line dance class. I was an escort on the Aviation Museum & City tour in Bodø on a first visit to that city. In the afternoon I walked around the town taking more photographs. That evening the lovely Welsh singer Maria Lyn dressed my colleague and I up as Mexicans to accompany one of her songs as the Tequila Twins!
In Tromsø I did the City Panoramic and Cathedrals tour. There was confusion over admission charges at the Arctic cathedral and the wooden city one was locked as usual. I went back into the city in the afternoon by which time the wooden cathedral was open for the first time on any of my visits there. That evening we all watched the Oscar winning performance of Meryl Streep in the film the Iron Lady.
No tour in Alta so I took the shuttle bus into town only to find that the Tourist Information Office had moved two miles away. So I trooped off to find an unmanned booth in a hotel foyer! In the afternoon I headed off in the other direction to the bridge over the Alta river and the huge ski jumps on the ridge.
On the next sea day I led a Social Foxtrot ballroom dance class, before attending an Arctic Convoys memorial service on the aft deck. In the first Russian port of Murmansk I did the City Highlights and Murmansk Shipping Company (MSCo) museum tour which culminated in a moving service at the huge war memorial on the hilltop in the sunshine.
At the Solovetsky Islands we were surrounded by a mystical white mist on the surface of the White Sea. The staff captain carefully navigated the tender into the little harbour. The fortified monastery was undoubtedly the highpoint of the entire cruise! The Gulag and Naval museums were however disappointing.
In Archangel I did the all day tour to the open air museum of period churches, farmhouses and windmills. I enjoyed the Russian lunch of borscht, fish and vegetables. We watched the Archangel feature film thriller starring Daniel Craig, but it was not possible to spot any of the sights. On the next sea day my colleague Peter led the waltz class. In the evening one of the dancers, Betty-Anne, invited some us into her suite for champagne aperitifs.
No tour in Honningsvåg so I walked around town in both the morning and afternoon. I also spent a free hour on the internet in the library there. The sail away party outside the Sundowners bar was suprisingly well attended and thankfully the midnight sun illuminated the North Cape magnificently.
The next sea day was the busiest of the cruise with two port talks in the morning and two dance classes in the afternoon. Unfortunately the Social Rumba class clashed with an audience with the 90 year old motorsport commentator Murray Walker. In the evening four of the dancing ladies invited us to a champagne dinner party in the main dining room.
In Svolvær, the capital of the Lofoten Islands, I went on the Henningsvær tour. This was to the charming fishing village dubbed the Venice of the Lofoten Islands. In Stavanger I escorted the glimpse into the past tour to the authentic farm museum. One hundred years ago life in Norway and Russia was very similar, how different from today!
On the last sea day I gave my "Story of the North Sea" talk. After the talk, when a smartly dressed gentleman gave me a House of Lords diary, I imagined meeting another distinguished parliamentarian as I had done on the Titanic Mini cruise. It transpires that author Kevin Cahill is a special adviser to Professor the Lord Laird of Artigarvan! The morning ended with the final line dance class.
Last off the ship at 9:40 am, I drove to my brother's place in Harlow to visit my father's new home in sheltered accommodation nearby. The next day we all went to continue clearing out my father's old bungalow before finally returning home the next day.
One dancer later wrote: "I didn't have a chance to thank you for your courtesy, kindness and patience which added so much to my enjoyment of the cruise - so, thank you very much."
Another dancer also wrote: "A huge thank you for all you did to make the Arctic Convoys cruise so memorable and enjoyable. I had the most fantastic time - all the dancing being the undoubted highlight. I very much appreciate all the time and patience you spent in trying to improve my dancing and I certainly feel a lot more confident now, especially with Latin American. You are the most generous person in terms of making your partner feel like a real dancer. I learned a lot from the two ballroom classes, the line dancing I adored, I thoroughly enjoyed your lectures and your company throughout the cruise."