Monday July 9, 2012

There was a feeling of déjà vu the other morning as our cruise-ship tied up in Rotterdam. This was the third time we been in this busy port – and it was now our turn to bid “Tot ziens!” (“goodbye” in Dutch) to the ms Rotterdam and its friendly crew. With our hats on our heads and our bags under our arms, we climbed aboard a waiting coach and headed for the nearby city of Amsterdam (and hour-and-a-bit-away) and the Convent Hotel – our accommodation for the next two nights.

Our Mad Midlife Kiwis spent the afternoon exploring, then got together for a typically Dutch dinner at a downtown restaurant with the untypically un-Dutch name of Humphreys.

Amsterdam– built across 70 islands and connected by 1000 bridges – is renowned for its dykes, canals, bridges, houseboats, windmills, cheeses and bikes. (They don’t have car-parks – they have bike-parks!) And we spent the next day (Sunday) enjoying this remarkable city and its surrounds … watching clog-makers make clogs in 13th-century dyke-village of Zaanse Schans … watching cheese-makers make cheese (and gobbled up the samples) in knock-your-socks-off Edam, one of the best-preserved old villages on the former Zuiderzee … and watching windmills make wind (?) as we motored across the famous canal-laced polder landscape.

We lunched in the picture-perfect fishing villageof Volendam (that picture spoiled slightly by rain)… took a small-boat ride to another picture-perfect village, Marken … then drove back into the city for a leisurely canal-cruise aboard a glass-covered boat. We decided not to join the 2-3-hour-long queues into the World War 2 hiding-place (now a museum) of teenager Anne Frank (her oh-so-moving diary rates second-only to the Bible in print-numbers and translations). And we wrapped up the day with our final Farewell Dinner – at a Dutch/Indonesian restaurant.

All good things come to an end … and, sadly, our Grand Baltic Adventure was pretty much over. And if you’d been at the hotel the following morning (Monday) you would have seen our intrepid Kiwis hugging each other, farewelling each other, and heading in different directions – some to further travel in Europe or the UK, the rest of us to Singapore and (eventually) home.

Yes, I know. We say this at the end of every Midlife Madness adventure – but it’s true! We’ve had a BALL! We’ve seen so much, done so much, learned so much, gained so much and laughed so much that we don’t know where to put it all!

We’ll never forget our lovely long weeks in Scandinavia …Russia… the Norwegian Fjords. And we’ll never forget each other …



The show aint over till the fat lady sings – or, in this case, till the little yellow ducky quacks. And three more prizes were claimed in these final days:

The Pyjama-Party Award was won by Derek – who forgot to leave some clothes out of his main bag on the last night of the cruise. That bag was taken at midnight by the crew for disembarkation, and Derek arrived inAmsterdam with no socks on his feet and still wearing his nightshirt!

The Leave-The-Packing-To-The-Men Award was taken home by Bruce – who had the opposite problem. Having urged his wife, several times, to check all cupboard and drawers in their cabin and make sure everything was packed properly, Bruce discovered the following morning that he’d left three shirts still hanging in his wardrobe!

The Locked-Out-&-Homeless Award was won by Allan – who returned from a very-early-morning walk on the streets of Amsterdam to find the hotel front-door firmly locked. Unable to raise anyone, Allan had no option but to sit outside like a vagrant for a lengthy period of time, until staff arrived to let him in!


  • Come Feb/Mar next year, we’re cruising around the bottom end of SOUTH AMERICA – a fabulous journey that includes the rounding of Cape Horn … a day in the Falkland Islands (weather permitting) … the awesome, thundering Iguazu Falls … and the spectacular Lost City of the Incas: Machu Picchu. Call Roger (Lion World Travel) on 0800 277 477 – or email – to request an InfoPack and register your early-booking.
  • We also have places left on next year’s RHINE & DANUBE Cruise (June). If your ‘bucket-list’ includes destinations like Amsterdam, Cologne, the castles of the Rhine Valley, Nuremburg, Vienna and Budapest… decide now that you’re going to join us. Call Roger (Lion World Travel) on 0800 277 477 – or email – and tell him: “YES, I WANT TO COME!”

Yours bloggedly – JOHN



Thursday July 5, 2012

Talk about lucky! We’ve already had one “as-good-as-it-gets” day this week – in Geiranger, remember? And today, we had another. True! The weather was perfect, the fjords were glassy-green, the landscapes were once again STUNNING … and, as the sightseeing unfolded, it was hard to know where to point your camera next!

(A warning to all friends and family-members: You do realise, don’t you, that you’re gonna have to watch several zillion photos when we all get back? So please pretend to be interested!)

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Dwarfed by more sheer mountains and more crashing waterfalls, Eidfjord wins first prize as the most beautiful town among many in this western part of Norway. Located on a narrow neck of land between the Hardangerfjord and the Eidfjordvatnet (a large, deep lake), and ringed by charming farmlets perched on mountain ledges, Eidfjord is simply magnificent.

There’s been a settlement here forever. Stone Age hunters used to follow migrating reindeer to put steaks on their table – and (although we never laid eyes on either a Stone Age hunter or a reindeer) Europe’s largest herds apparently still inhabit the grassy slopes and mountain ledges around here.

We Kiwis chugged ashore in one of the ship’s tenders. Then our tour-guide-for-the-day (a knowledgeable Scottish lady who has lived in these parts for 40 years) took us around the misty coastline, across the fjord on a car-ferry, then up steep, windy roads past gushing rivers, grassy meadows, mirror-lakes and painted villages to the impressive city of Voss. From here, seated comfortably aboard an alpine train, we enjoyed a spectacular rail journey across the Hardanger Mountain Plateau – with nonstop vistas of snowy slopes and mountain lakes, and even the occasional glacier thrown in for good measure.

We derailed in the resort-town of Geilo (where another sumptuous lunch was awaiting us in a posh hotel) – then hopped onto another coach for the return journey down the other side of the plateau, through countless long tunnels and with an en-route stop at the take-your-breath-away Voringsfossen Waterfall, plunging forever into an impossibly deep gorge.

As the Rotterdam up-anchored and set sail (once again) for its namesake-port in Holland, our Mad Midlifers sat down to yet another four-course feast – with an after-dinner musical in the Showroom-At-Sea.

(Oh, this lifestyle’s gonna be soooooo hard to give up …)


We’ve been too busy having fun to catch many Mad Midlifers in the middle of embarrassing moments, but a couple more little rubber duckies were given out this morning:

The Conservation Award was won by Judith – who discovered, to her surprise, that the rest of us had been receiving fresh towels in our cabins as often as we wanted, simply by leaving the wet ones on the floor. Judith and Allen, by faithfully hanging theirs up each morning, had sent their cabin-boy the message that all was well – and had, thereby been using the same towels for the past 15 days!

The Hurry-We’re-Early Award was accorded to Robyn – who, worried that she and I might be late for our appointment at the Pinnacle Grill this evening, made me interrupt my blogging, shut down my laptop, put on my bib-and-tucker, and follow her obediently to the restaurant … where we discovered we were actually an hour early!


Our floating hotel keeps its bow pointed south and steams full-speed-ahead back through the North Sea to theNetherlands. We don’t want to think about it yet, but the end is regrettably nigh – and our grand Baltic adventure will soon be winding down …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN



Wednesday July 4, 2012

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Today began with everyone wearing striking Viking helmets. Well, not quite everyone. In fact, only me. And the rest of my loyal Kiwis (including my ever-loving wife) were too embarrassed to be seen near me in public – until Sandra came to my rescue!

Our ship had docked this morning in another stunning Norwegian city, Alesund – built across two islands at the mouth of the Stor Fjord, and known far and wide for its beautiful architecture, especially its fairytale turrets, spires and ornamentation. I kid you not, from up on the Mt Aksla scenic viewpoint, the town looked for all the world like Legoland.

We then drove out through some of the world’s longest sub-marine tunnels to the charming fishing villageof Alnes on the island of Godoy, where we stretched our legs and photographed the local lighthouse … before venturing on to another island, Giske, where we paid a quick visit to a 900-year-old church.

(Giske, by the way, is birthplace of the famous Viking King ‘Gangerolv’, who conquered Normandy in 911 – and became the ancestor of William the Conqueror, sire to the English Royal Family. Just thought you ought to know.)


We spend our final day in Norway bussing and training through forested canyons and snowy landscapes of the Hardanger Mountain Plateau

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Tuesday July 3, 2012

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On every tour there are days when you’re tempted to think, “Hey, this is as good as it gets!” And today was most definitely one of those. For starters, the weather was perfect – blue skies, bright sunshine, and (by the time the afternoon rolled around) taker-your-jacket-off HOT! But even more perfect still was the scenery.

Glorious deep-green Geirangerfjord is truly one of Norway’s most impressive sights. And surrounding its picture-perfect town is an alpine-like landscape of impossibly-high peaks, gushing streams and waterfalls, mirror lakes, cosy farmlets and panoramic views-to-die-for.

The oohing and aahing began while we ate breakfast, as the Rotterdam made its way slowly through the steeply-sided fjord. Then the anchor was dropped, the lifeboats were lowered, and we Kiwis rode to shore – where a coach was waiting to take us up an ever-winding, ever-climbing road.

We were busy counting the zig-zaggy hairpin bends when, suddenly, at 1000 metres above sea-level, we found ourselves in the middle of a summer ski field, with blinding white snow almost everywhere we looked.

We continued driving along the shores of a still-frozen glacial lake (Djupvatn) and up this even steeper, heart-stopping road to the summit of Mt Dalsnibba, now 1500 metres above sea level.

Oh, boy!

There’s no way words (or photos) can describe the feast-for-sore-eyes that awaited us up there on top of the world. We were quite simply gob-smacked by 360-degree views of endless snowy peaks dropping down to miniature valleys, rivers and roads far, far below us. And way, way off in the distance we could see the cruise-ships (including the Rotterdam) that were anchored in Geirangerfjord.

As if that wasn’t more than enough for one day, we then motored back down through the Geiranger township to another zig-zaggy mountainside route – the Eagle Road – that took us along the shores of a stunning glassy lake, and up along more green, green valleys tucked between more snow-splattered peaks. We arrived, finally, at Herdalsetra,Norway’s largest, still-in-use summer mountain farm, where we were treated to an introductory chat, a chance to photograph the grassy, flowery rooftops, and a tasty sampling of goat cheese and caramels.

Oh, one more glorious highlight: after up-anchoring later this afternoon, we found ourselves cruising up-close to the famous De Syv Sostre (Seven Sisters) Falls.

Count on it: this is one day 25 Mad Midlifers will never forget!


We drop in on a fairytale town famous for its turrets, spires, ornamentation and under-sea tunnels. This grand Baltic adventure aint over yet, folks, so don’t change channels …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.