Norwegian Rhapsody

Flowers, Fjords and Fantasy
June 2018 proved once again that, come hail or shine, Norway near fails to deliver. I should add, however, that we were off to a great start with a trio of Scottish gems before heading across the North Sea on the beautiful expedition vessel "Island Sky". This was chartered by the exclusive and superbly run Australian company Botanica World Discoveries.[/i I never thought I would find a company to replace the much missed Voyages of Discovery, but in truth this seems to fit the bill and more besides, combining my two passions of art and gardens, to say nothing of travel - and utterly delightful passengers from down under - a match made in heaven! And as for the ship, the pretty little Island Sky, she was even smaller than Voyager and Minerva, but with a personality and pluck out of all proportion to her diminutive size. It was an extra bonus to find myself in the company of so many ex VOD crew, who had lost absolutely nothing of their Filippino charm and eagerness to please. How they cosseted and cheered up one's day with their humour and genuine warm heartedness!
But I digress.... from the moment we left Edinburgh I knew we were on to a winner: a splendidly bekilted Scottish guide filled us in on lots of Scottish detail as we made our way via Crathes castle and Dundee to Aberdeen, the "granite city", with its wealth of magnificent Victorian architecture. It was a glorious day and the gardens at Crathes were at their very best. I was thrilled to discover a wonderfully restored glass house that I would have longed to own! What a great start!
Then came two calls in Caithness: first the exquisite Castle of Mey, so lovingly restored by the Queen Mother and still bearing her regal stamp from gardens to sitting room. Fascinating also was to finally get to visit the charming town of Lerwick, proudly displaying some Scottish baronial architecture and original Victorian ironwork so rarely seen in England, along with some film locations from the popular detective series "Shetland"
After a short hop across the North Sea, a whole raft of ports both familiar and unfamiliar beckoned, each with its own special highlight. For me however, three stood out:
Stavanger, where we took a ferry in pouring rain to the magical garden of Flor & Fjaere, a fantastic creation over many years that has transformed a barren rocky island to an eye-popping kaleidoscope of colour and tumbling waterfalls. Even though it was raining we were all entranced by the effects of mass bedding, rock and water, to say nothing of the delicious Norwegian pancakes, raspberry jam and sour cream!
Secondly, the artist's village of Balestrand on the Sognefjord, where the weather was glorious and where we ended our tour at the wonderful Kviknes hotel, full of more than 100 originals from the 19th Century, including several blockbusters by Hans Gude, Hans Dahl and Alfred Heaton Cooper, artist I had referred to in my lecture on Norwegian art. I was thrilled to find on the harbour the original Swiss-style chalet built by the latter before establishing himself in Grasmere in the Lake District, England, and which I had long admired from a painting in my book received for my 21st birthday many moons ago!
Lastly, the mysterious and distant Lofoten islands, which soared and towered out of a drizzly sky at every turn, giving life and breath to the ancient Norse myths we had heard so much about.
To this I must add the magical violin recital at Ole Bull's house in Bergen, the moving paintings of Edvard Munch at the Kode museum, and the spectacular walk to Torghatten, the island with a gigantic hole in its soaring central peak. Then there was the fascinating tour of the Ringve musical instrument museum in Trondheim, the regular debriefs on board by the Island Sky environmental team of Marine biologist, archaeologist, geologist and ornithologist to say nothing of some fact-packed lectures on horticulture by our very own Botanica lecturer, Dr. Toby Musgrave - what he doesn't know about plants isn't worth knowing!
Not unsurprisingly however, the biggest buzz came not from the majestic peaks, the museum masterpieces or the flowers of the fjords, but from the camaraderie and full on fun that came out of my three on board watercolour sessions. These were taken up by a record breaking 31/74 passengers...all of whom lost themselves in a few hours of creativity that did as much for the soul as the landscapes we were sailing by. I always say, People make Places...never more true than on this cruise where my Antipodean friends were both delighted and a delight to be with, from beginning to end. Now I can't wait to visit their part of the world in 2020, having been regularly regaled by tales of equally majestic scenery, inhabited, I understand, by some unusual and even alarming creatures!