Monday, 26 May 2014

Cruising in Norway

By the end of Monday I was beginning to wonder if I had told each class the same pertinent information. Everyone managed to construct the cushion top in the lesson then they worked on the quilting and embroidery in the “Sit and Stitch” free time sessions. I was delighted at how good their “quilts” looked. They were all subtly different and the hand-dyed fabrics that Ani Catt had sent were just perfect for an Aurora Borealis inspired project. My pupils seemed to enjoy how this class was very laid back and that many of my words and explanations ended with an “-ish” suffix. 

In the evening we moored up at a jetty in a deep fjord by the tiny village of Skjolden. We had a wander around and were amazed to see what looked like standing stones being used to hold up fences. The scenery was stunning - Norway is like a much bigger and older version of Scotland. There was still a lot of snow on the jagged mountains and the glaciers on their tops had begun to melt, producing impressive waterfalls. When Angela from Traplet tried to take some late afternoon photos on her iPad, she kept getting a subtle green or pink glow in the sky which I would like to think may have been a hint of the Northern Lights. 

The next morning Judi, Angela and I decided to have a lazy start. After wandering around the enormous Windjammer Cafe without the faintest idea of what to chose for breakfast, we enjoyed spectacular views from the top deck of the picturesque village of Flam which looked like it could have been made from Lego. The excursion to the funicular railway was full so we got last minute tickets on a bus trip to a mountain viewpoint. The hairpin bends were incredibly tight and the bus drove perilously close to the edge of a sheer drop several thousand feet below. The water in the 1700 metre deep fjord was crystal clear. It was easy to imagine a fleet of Viking longships gliding along on their way to a raid or battle. I made myself a salted herring rye-bread sandwich for lunch. I confess that this was not the most delicious snack I have ever had so a beer from the Viking brewery went down really well afterwards. 

After a quilting quiz and another gourmet dinner, Stuart Hillard from the “Great British Sewing Bee” gave a very amusing talk in the evening all about his baptism of fire into the world of competitive dress-making on television. We joined the keen students in the sewing room for an hour or two then went back on deck to watch a glorious sunset. The sun turned into a glowing red ball before disappearing behind some granite rocks on the horizon. The sea was flat calm and shimmered with reflections of the pink sky. Even after sundown at almost 11pm, it was not fully dark. 

Wednesday morning was a little damp and the first glimpse of a slightly tacky row of souvenir shops was not so inspiring. However, we booked a trip on a red “Hop-on-Hop-Off” bus with a local guide called Ott. As we left the main village behind, we discovered that we were in a beautiful glacial valley. The minerals in the melt water from the glacier turn the water in the lakes below a deep turquoise colour. Ott gave an interesting commentary about past and present Norwegian rural life, describing the way the farmers used to move seasonally to their summer-houses on the higher slopes with their goats. He also described how some farms and villages had been utterly destroyed by hurricanes, avalanches and even a 70 metre tsunami when a massive granite cliff broke off into the fjord below. 

Pam Holland gave an inspiring talk about her life and quilting during the evening. She takes fantastic photographs on her textile related travels all over the world and I have never seen such an engrossing Powerpoint presentation that used page-turning images, text and music. 
Another late evening sewing session followed Pam’s talk and I finished off the beading on my brown leather skin for the autumn totem. I found that I did not really have any “spare” time to waste on sorting photos or learning how to use EQ7 as I was really enjoying spending time giving a little guidance to any students who asked my opinion about their choice of stitches on the Northern Lights projects. 

By the next morning we had arrived in the town of Alesund. I spent most of the day hopping on and off a red bus, stopping at interesting destinations. The audio commentary was informative and I learned that a severe fire had broken out in 1905, destroying most of the wooden buildings, whereafter much of the town was rebuilt in an Art-Nouveau style. From a high viewpoint even the cruise-ship looked tiny in the harbour. There was an outdoor museum that had an extensive collection of rebuilt or reconstructed wooden buildings from school houses to livestock huts. A jetty and a large boat shed housed a selection of old fishing boats and a pretty impressive, recently built longship that smelled of pitch. Back in the old town I visited a couple of quaint shops including one that sold traditional costumes and folk jewellery that many Norwegians wear on their National Day. 

Most of the entertainment on offer on board such as a Queen Tribute Band and a casino was not really my “cup of tea” but that evening we all marvelled at a professional ice-skating show with skaters whirling around despite choppy sea conditions. Later, Jim West of “Sew Many Places” hosted an exciting game of Quilt Bingo and awarded one lucky quilter the top prize of a trip to Tuscany next spring. The view from the top deck was pretty misty but quite by chance we caught fleeting glimpses of a school of whales as the ship left the rocky coast behind. I wished I had not left my binoculars at home!

Our final shore visit was to the oil city of Stavanger where I set off on an organised tour of an iron-age farm where we were met by a Viking lady farmer who led the party into a turf roofed long-house and explained all about how she could light fires using a flint and lye-soaked fungus. Apparently, it could take up to two years to spin enough sheep’s wool to make a new dress. If I had been a lady Viking I may have been rather frustrated at how long this process would take;) In the market square I bought Fenella a Nordic cardigan in itchy, warm wool but I did not find any amber or silver jewellery for myself. We waved goodbye to tiny people on the quayside and the ship sounded its almighty fog-horn in salute as it will be the last visit that Independence of the Seas makes to Norway.

On the final morning Judi and I could not miss a demonstration on “Towel Art”. The towel sculptures of animals were so bizarrely hilarious that we would enter our cabin and just double-up with helpless laughter. I thought that the penguin looked more like a Jedi and I still don’t know if it was a towelling seal or an aardvark that was sitting on our sofa wearing a pair of specs.

Enthusiastic quilters beavered away trying to finish off all four of their projects and we even inspired Angela, who had never even sewed on a button in her life to buy some fabric. She sat with Pfaff representative, Joy and quilted lines on her fabric then I guided her through the process of making one of my “Wee Bags”. She was delighted that she had made such a useful item and other quilters requested an extra mini class since they had almost run out of things to make. The wee bags are perfect for running up in around an hour so a few more were constructed before the machines all had to be packed away. There was a final, impressive “Show & Tell” where we got to see items that the quilters had brought from home or created in the classes. At the cocktail party Jim announced that he was planning a future cruise to France/Spain or Houston followed by the Caribbean. The students were all very complimentary about their tutors and I felt that we had made a new bunch of quilting friends. It was a busy week with incredible scenery, many laughs, far too much food and countless trips up and down in glass elevators. It really was an incredible experience.

On Sunday I disembarked early and decided to catch a train into central London, hoping to see the Viking Exhibition at the British Museum. As I struggled on the Tube with two suitcases, I remembered why I used to use a rucksack when travelling. Unfortunately, I was denied entry to the museum with my luggage. I tried several hotel concierges nearby but they refused to be paid to look after my bags for an hour. I could have taken it to the left luggage department at King’s Cross Station but I worried that I would be rushed for time so I miserably decided to stop trailing my stuff around and sat and sulked at an outdoor cafe in Bloomsbury, watching the world go by. An enormous croissant and coffee soon cheered me up as I caught up with a week’s worth of emails and contemplated returning to everyday life without “staff” and sequins. 

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