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Norway cruises

I have always wanted to see Norway’s fjords, so the opportunity to take a cruise there was too good to pass.  A quick search of the web at http://imaginecruising.co.uk/norway/ showed me the many options available.  I was particularly interested in a cruise to the northern lights.  It is possible to see the northern lights throughout Norway but for the best view it is recommended that you go above the Arctic Circle.  So that is what I did.  The experience is one I will never forget.

Standing on the deck of a cruise ship watching those luminous green lights illuminating the night sky, my first thought was is this for real?  The northern lights seem so other worldly and combined with the majesty and quiet of the fjords, it is a holiday like no other.

From researching my trip beforehand, I found that a number of different cruise companies operate Norway cruises, so there is an itinerary to suit everyone’s interests.

Before my Norway holiday was finished, I had the opportunity to explore the city of Bergen, which is a World Heritage Site.  A particular highlight for me was the funicular railway, which affords magnificent views over the bay from its mountain-top destination.

I found travelling to Norway to be very convenient indeed.  Cruise operators from the U.K. give travelers the opportunity to depart from Dover or Southampton ports.  I departed from and arrived back in Dover.  It was fantastic to experience life at sea even before I got to Norway and its magnificent scenery.

Holidaying when retired.

Now that I am retired, I have more time to spend travelling.  Open the newspapers or search the internet and there is no shortage of options for holidays for retirees and older people, but a lot of them seem to involve coach tours or cruises.  There is a category of older people who want to do something a bit more active when they are on holidays.  Growing old is not like it used to be.  I should know.  Older people are maintaining the types of fitness levels that previous generations would have marvelled at.

Bearing this in mind, I have found in my searches online a number of different options older people have in terms of activity holidays.  I have read about holidays that combine dancing workshops with social dances in the evening, suitable for novices and the more experienced alike. In a sense, such holidays are cashing in on the phenomenon begun by the Strictly Come Dancing television show, but sure why not?  These holidays are meeting a demand and dancing is a great way for people of any age to get some exercise and socialise at the same time.  I must dust down my dancing shoes.

I have also read online about the increase in over-65s taking skiing holidays.  Apparently, some modern types of skis are shorter and easier to use, making them more suitable for older people.  Of course, skiing is a strenuous form of exercise so I would not recommend that anyone, least of all older people, hit the slopes without getting a check-up at their doctor first.  Those joints do stiffen up as you age, so it is probably best to take it easy when starting out on the skiing slope.  Having said that, us ‘oldies’ tend to know our limits, unlike these younger ones.  I have read that cross-country skiing is a gentler form of exercise compared to being on the slopes, provided, again, that the person in question has a reasonable level of fitness.  Not surprisingly, more serious injuries are rarer with cross-country skiing, which might be of additional assurance for older readers considering a skiing holiday.  I might even try it myself.  Now to tell my sure-to-be sceptical family.

Travelling to Belgium

I recently took the decision to make a flying visit to Belgium. I’d never been there before and my main motivation was to have a look round the war memorials and museums in the area. I am quite interested in history, so was looking forward to it, although I didn’t really know what to expect.

The good thing about visiting Belgium was that I could avoid flying. I could easily hop on a train from Yorkshire, stop off in London and then get a train from St Pancras, through the Channel Tunnel, directly to Brussels.

So I packed my suitcase and headed off on my adventure. It felt a little strange to be travelling to Brussels from our tiny train station out in the middle of the countryside!

When I got to Brussels, it was raining. Everything was a bit grey and drizzly, but it didn’t dampen my spirits. I had a nice meal and checked into my hotel for the night. I was going to explore the war memorials the next day.

The following day will probably stay with me forever. Seeing rows and rows of simple white crosses stretching as far as they eye can see was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I hadn’t expected it to be as emotional as it was, to be honest. Seeing all those crosses – each one a father, brother, or husband – really brought home the horror of war and the sheer number of people who bravely went to fight for us that never came home.

Then, there were the poppies. Peeking out from the ground to offer hope that we can at least learn something from the horrible events that took place in the fields where I stood.

I felt a little subdued in the evening, but was glad I’d visited. I think it’s somewhere everyone should travel to at least once in their lives.

I spent my last day in Belgium exploring Brussels, before catching the train home the next morning. I decided to stay in London overnight and have a look around to break up the trip back.

I’d wanted to come down for the Olympics, but hadn’t managed to find time. After a brisk tour of all the sights it was fair to say I was exhausted, so I headed back to my hotel for an early night.

I stayed at the Jesmond Dene, which was comfortable, spacious and stylish. As I packed up to leave the next morning, I wished I’d booked an extra night to relax there.

I arrived home the next day to my cottage after a nice nap on the train. I’d had a really enjoyable – if a little emotional – trip and would heartily recommend it to anyone else.

Flying into the 21st century

Whenever I travel on a plane, I find myself in desperate need of distraction. Alcohol is usually my best bet, but it’s probably not a solution on a long-term basis! I hate flying, but view it as a necessary evil. I don’t let my fear stop me from doing what I want to and travelling to new places.

On long haul flights, I can simply watch the terrible movies or try to get some sleep. It’s the short ones with the budget airlines that I struggle with. There are no TVs in the seats on cheap flights and there’s no point trying to drift off, because the travelling time isn’t long enough.

My son recently came up with an idea that I hope will be the solution – buy a tablet. I’ve not really kept up with technology over the last few years and I’m amazed how far things have come. Using the tablet, I can watch full length films wherever and whenever I fancy – whether that’s in bed, on the bus or 30,000 feet in the air!

I bought one and my son loaded it up with a library’s worth of books for me to read, as well. Paper’s great, but you can’t read off it in the dark like I can with my tablet! As you can probably tell, I’m chuffed to bits with my purchase.

I’ve managed to resist playing games on it yet, but my son tells me I’d love Angry Birds. I may have to give it a go at some point.

I’m half tempted to book a holiday right now, just to see how much more enjoyable flying is now I’ve got a tablet. Unfortunately, the tech didn’t come cheap, so I’ll have to save the pennies up for a while before globetrotting again.

Pack the suitcase – we’re going to North Kor...

I love travelling and I’ve been to loads of exotic places in my time. I’ve sunned myself on long, pristine beaches in Australia; I’ve hiked across spectacular rugged landscapes in Iceland; and I’ve seen nature’s wild beasts roaming their territories in Kenya.

Despite having visited all these countries, there’s one place I’ve never been to that fascinates me: North Korea.

That may sound like quite an odd choice for a relaxing holiday – and it probably is. However, something about visiting the place for myself really appeals.

I have recently read a few books about North Korea and found myself spellbound. We know so little about what people commonly refer to as ‘the most isolated country in the world’ and these books offered me a sneaky peek behind the curtain.

This is the country that built the world’s biggest flagpole on the South Korean border in a ludicrous game of one-upmanship; constructs gigantic, futuristic hotels in the middle of slums; and bombards its population with so much Orwellian propaganda that they worship their leaders like Gods.

Tourist visits to the country are heavily controlled and visitors are only allowed to explore certain areas on ‘guided’ tours. Apparently, these tours drive along lavish looking streets that are pure façade, hiding the country’s real problems behind an image of prosperity.

I was also amazed to learn that the world’s biggest sports stadium is located in North Korea; the venue holds an astounding 150,000 people! Each year they hold a massive event called the Arirang Festival, in which gymnasts put on a spectacular show of noise, colour and symbolism in the packed stadium. They’ve only recently allowed foreigners to attend and I’d love to see it.

So much of North Korea is shrouded in mystery and confusion. While a visit to the country is unlikely to solve many of these mysteries, and may even be unpleasant and disturbing at times, a trip there is something that would be completely unique.

It might be a tough sell to the wife and kids, but one day I hope to visit.

Travelling

I love travelling to foreign destinations, especially the ones where I can lose myself in their architecture, monuments and naturally, art museums, but I have to admit to a fear of flying.

It’s only a little fear, one that manifests itself only in a slight dampness in the palm of the hand grimly clutching the gin and tonic. A single gin and tonic is compulsory on a short flight, increasing in direct proportion to the length of the journey. If the flight is smooth, then I almost kid myself that I’m enjoying the experience; if there’s turbulence and I mean even the slightest minor rattle, then the alcohol intake will have to be sufficient to prevent the release of hormones that would otherwise trigger an embarrassing panic attack.

The handsome husband informs me, condescendingly, that I’m displaying an illogical fear. There’s only one in a million trillion or some similar, statistical chance that I’m going to be killed in a plane crash. Look at the thousands of flights zooming around the world everyday.

But to my mind, if there is even the vaguest statistic that anticipates the likelihood of a plane crash, then my fear is not illogical; logically, it can happen.

And things weren’t helped last week when I flew back from Paris. I’d spent a couple of days there at the opening of a friend’s art exhibition. It wasn’t in the Louvre, not this time at least, but in a lovely little back street in the 10th Arrondissement of Canal St-Martin and Goncourt.

On my return flight I found myself seated next to a young man whose key objective, it seemed, was to terrify me. Did I know that if there was a terrorist on board the most effective way to deal with him or her was to chop them in the back of the knees as the passed down the aisle? No, I hadn’t known that. Did I also know that the reason passengers have to adopt the ‘brace position’ is to protect the teeth in order that their bodies can be identified from dental records?  No, I didn’t know that either.

I ordered a second gin and tonic; the short flight from Paris would normally only be one drink. I felt the need for another.

The plane heads towards its destination while this prophet of doom continues to regale me with possible disasters and their possible solutions.

About an hour from Paris, there was a slight shudder and the ‘Fasten Seat Belt’ light came on. A member of the cabin crew drew our attention to the light.

Halfway through my second gin and tonic, I felt as if I was floating up in the sky without the benefit of an aircraft. I felt quite relaxed.

It took me a few minutes to realise that the young man next to me was displaying signs of extreme anxiety. He was gripping the arms of the seat and breathing quite rapidly. I found myself telling him, ‘It’s OK, the chances of us crashing are a million trillion to one…’