Hurtigruten is a daily passenger and freight shipping service along Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. This voyage was on MS Nordnorge Jan-Feb 2012
Hurtigruten Cruise notes ..North bound voyage.
Day 1. January 23rd. We arrived in snowy Bergen just before 4pm after a picturesque 3 hour drive that took in tunnels stretching under fjords and mountains and two ferry rides. It snowed much of the way and the kids and Prue (my sister) had had well and truly enough by the time we made the port area. We boarded MS Nordnorge while Thomas (my brother in law) went off to dump the car and made our way to deck 4... A common share area of the boat. There we discovered the cafe, play room for Sophie and Sebastian (my sisters children) and other facilities. We connected to the Nordnorge's wi-fi but the signal is weak and unreliable. We got into our rooms which were clean and comfortable , although the TV had been removed from my twin. As nice as the twin is, I wouldnt want to be sharing such a small space with someone else. The Vega Suit which the Pfeiffers (my sisters family)have would be lovely if it wasn't cluttered with baby paraphernalia. Dinner was a buffet tonight and the food was very good. The beef fillets and marinated salmon were very tasty and the dessert selection large. The ship seemed quiet and not very full at that point although a bus load of zealous Japanese created a stir before departure at 10.30pm. We discovered the panorama bar up on deck 7 and their ten dollar beers once the kids were put down.
Day 2. Early rise, crystal clear skies as we started to go through the fjords. There were some good photo opps up on the open sun deck. Breakfast buffet is available until 10 am.There is plenty to choose from, although you wouldn't want to be a vegetarian at any of the meal times. The coffee in undrinkable.
The Nordnorge made a two hour stop in Alesund in the early afternoon. A small, charming university town that had been wiped out by fire in 1904 and rebuilt in glorious five-story art nouveau . We had an average coffee in a cafe after exploring the hilly streets and central canal. Thomas and i climbed to the towns summit and took in the cemetery. Sophie cracked the shits.
Conditions were excellent all day and into the night. Still only around a mild zero degree Celsius and the skies quite clear. Aurora forecasts were favourable due to solar activity 24 hours earlier. Our first chance to see the Northern lights beckoned. They announced that the lights were visible initially at around 7pm. At that point they were relatively faint in the early evening, visible only really through camera lense at the very front of the boat. We retreated for a while to have dinner, and that was an adventure as well.
Dinner was now a set course arrangement and we were put in the second sitting unbeknown to us. That wouldnt take place until 830pm which didn't suit Prue with the children. She joined the hoards of those wishing to complain and won us an early sitting for the remainder of the trip, and a table by the window. I actually wouldn't have minded the late sitting because i'm not used to eating carte blanche three times a day. My uncle at home would love it. There were some heated scenes at the front desk before it all settled down. Then Sophie threw another tantrum and was bundled off to bed with Sebastian . She generally eats nothing except junk anyhow, kind of like my father. Sebastian consumes everything on the table. In fact the only thing he spat out so far was the caviar.
The Northern lights started to reappear slowly as we approached some frozen dump called Kristiansund. They crept up on the starboard horizon over the far reaches of the town through slight cloud cover and at first only mildly. But later they intensified and they swirled and danced on both sides of the boat from 11pm after we departed Kristiansund until well into the morning. They were strongly green even to the naked eye. The wind dropped off late at night making photography easier. By then the port side horizon was engulfed by Aurora. Everyone seemed very happy about seeing the lights so well on only day 2. Thomas went to bed at 2am.. I probably lasted on deck until 3am and was among the last to leave. Prue had probably lasted until 1 am and being on deck in the cold probably didn't do her any good, she hasn't been well at all since I've been in Norway.
Day 3 Slept in a little after the previous nights late spectacle. After breakfast we all got off at Trondheim. Its Norway's third largest city and the place where Sebastian was operated on only a year before. It was very cold but skies were still clear. The port area was a fairly long and treacherous walk away from down town made difficult by the ice under foot along many of the roads and pavements. We eventually found a coffee house that served good pastries but average espresso. We visited a mall of shops to stock up on Tubourg and lip balm on the way back to the boat. By afternoon the wind had picked up, particularly on the open sea. The kids were happy enough in the playroom until Sebastian belted Sophie with something hard which triggered another seismic eruption. Thomas managed to post three photos on his Facebook page of the previous nights Aurora spectacle before the Internet caved in.
The night was fairly uneventful with the Arctic winds restricting everyone to indoors. However Thomas and i did board another Hurtigruten ship briefly that we had docked next to in port. It was an older vessel from 1957 which would make its final voyage in just a few weeks time. It was very small and without the comforts we had on the modern ship, but somehow quaint. Back on board our boat, we stayed in the warmth of the panarama bar to watch us dock at another couple of blizzardous ports. It was too cold to get off to look around. The three of us resorted to the box red wine that Thomas had brought aboard and plenty of whiskey. The view outside the windows at the ports was generally of a frozen tin shed and a loading crane with a dock worker standing next to it scratching his arse. ..I don't think we missed much.
Day 4 Jan 26th, Australia Day .. But not much to remind us of that here other than what was on the Facebook newsfeed. We hit the Arctic Circle at 7.05am. Magnificent morning on deck again. The prolonged sunrise which takes place over hours makes the fjord horizons glow and colours the sky vivid orange, pink and greens. I hopped off briefly at a frosty little port where the boat docked for ten minutes so I could take a photo looking back at the boat. An English couple got talking to me after I took a photo for them and in doing so I burnt precious time. The boat horn sounded when I was still 400 meters away. Luckily fresh snow under foot rather than ice meant that I could run. There were Japanese who had been in the Shell shop buying junk who were also running. I overtook them and we all made it back. Lucky as Prue and Thomas didn't know I'd left the boat being early morning. The Hurtigruten always leaves on time and it will leave without you, as we're often reminded.
At mid morning up on deck 7 the crew held a ceremonial baptism for those entering the Arctic Circle for the first time. The ships captain , who Prue doesn't like, and some idiot dressed as King Neptune hold floor. They award a prize for the passenger who correctly guessed the time we passed into the Arctic circle. Then they have the ceremony. Thomas and I participated in the ritual involving the ships captain pouring ice water over you with a ladel and then drinking some shit-awful tasting shot of sour schnapps. Sophie cried through much of it after King Neptune frightened her. After the schnapps and ice water I nearly cried too.
Another hefty buffet lunch after which Prue and I got off at Bodo, Norway's windiest city. Sebastian and the tempestuous Sophie slept with Thomas. There wasn't all the much to take in through the iced up little streets but we found a gem of a coffee shop/deli. Prue had a second lunch... A grazers buffet which showcased food from a famous Norwegian cheese farm. The coffee was the best we'd had since Starvanger ( from Thomas' machine). The staff were friendly and informative, even if they were on the camp side of things. We even brought a take-out coffee back to the Hurtigruten for an appreciative Thomas. When the Nordnorge tried to depart, violent arctic winds blew the boat against the docks hard and it took twenty minutes or more to get out of port. The hole ship shook and the vibrations caused wine glasses to slide off tables as those operating at the helm tried to force the ship against the gale. There was a certificate posted on the door of my room on return which certified my crossing into the Arctic Circle.
That night the sky was partly clear and a mild showing of Northern lights unravelled. However the high winds meant even tripods were blown over. The winds burnt any skin you left exposed to it and in the early evening it was very tough to stay out on deck. Toward midnight we made it to Lofoten islands where the wind subsided. We were all out on deck scoping for Northern lights when we came to a place called Trollfjordnert. Here another ceremony of sorts took place that I didn't really understand. We arrived at the entrance of of this place ... It's apparently a 4 kilometer long fjord that is more like a narrow passage with enormous mountains walling it in on both sides and often forming wonderous formations that would be silhouetted by the skyline. It's meant to be spectacular and Norwegians pay big dollars to go through it in private boats, but of course our boat is too large to pass through it . So taking us to the entrance but no further is like presenting us with a menu that has Megan Gale on it and then putting Sharon Osbourne on our plates. The ceremony consists of shining spotlights that illuminate the otherwise well hidden entrance and playing some lame indigenous Nordic music. Whatever.
We got into port at a place called Svolvaer at maybe 930pm. Thomas and I went looking for some action. The only bar open that we came across was hosting its weekly trivia night. It wasn't what I was expecting. The room was chock full of very serious players of all ages. It was entirely conducted in Norwegian but we got the gist. Nobody went to get drinks while questions were being asked or cheated with their phones like back home. Thomas and I enjoyed a large handle of Arctic Larger each from a local brewer called Mack and contemplated stealing the beer glasses while the Norwegian locals scratched their heads trying to identify an Olivia Newton John song. The open fire was magic and the black n white stills adorning the timber walls of old fishing villages from eras past were brilliant.
Day 5. This was the first day where the sun wasnt sighted at all. It stayed hidden behind the mountainous fjords. But the wind had gone now and it was another beautiful clear morning. More mountains and islands to be snapped along the icy seascapes . We made it as far as Tromso, Norway's jewel of the North. Only time for a quick look around town because Thomas and I were going on the dog sledding excursion. Prue continued into town to shop with the kids while we boarded a bus that took us 25 Kms somewhere to the North East of the city. We saw reindeer from the bus window along the way. When we arrived there were hundreds of huskies sitting on boxes to which they were chained. They were noisy and the place stunk of pungent dog... Always a favorite fragrance of mine. But once divided into groups and dispatched to the sleds it all picked up. Some chick called Sarah packed myself and Thomas into a two man sled with reindeer blankets over us and we took off in convoy onto the frozen tundra , pulled along by the strength and alacrity of seven barking huskies. Wasn't as cold or rough as I thought. In fact it was pretty smooth. We maintained a pretty good clip considering the big Bavarian brother in law was aboard. Once again the skies were very clear and the views of Tromso from above were excellent. And so were the white capped mountains with the moon rising over them. We had coffee and cakes afterwards in a big fire warmed tee-pee. Thomas mentioned he wanted to beat up the annoying Dutch man that we always seem to come across on this trip wherever we go. He's loud and generally annoyingly over assertive and is traveling with someone who must be his mother or looks like it. Maybe I'll join Thomas.
Back on the boat that night 170 new passengers had filled up the Nordnorge with mostly English package tourists. Dinner was crowded. We were served a pretty tough variety of fish. You can generally avoid fish if you want to but this time no dice. I was too hungry to leave it and washed down with box wine it was acceptable. The Japanese were doing cart wheels over it of course. Fish is like sex to them. The English contingent were pushing it round their plates a bit. Sophie ate nothing as usual before cracking the shits, just for a change.
After dinner the lights popped up for some good strong formations that seemed to circle the boat for over an hours duration. They were easily visible with the naked eye this time. Photographing the lights is extremely difficult. To start with you're on a moving object and of course the lights are moving. The lights on deck are turned off for viewing so that the Aurora light in the sky is more easily seen but of course then you can't find the buttons on your camera easily, especially with gloves on. If you want to alter ISO, apechure and shutter speed whilst manually focusing in the dark you need to know your camera really well. Then there are the Japanese crowding the decks and trying to take pictures with their flashes turned on fucking up your own shots constantly. When it comes to the lights Thomas is probably equipped for better shots than myself. Even though his Nikon doesn't have the depth of colour of a Canon by his own admission , he has a sturdier tripod with a good remote. His images look sharper normally. Late that night we stopped at Skjervoy but there wasn't enough time to go bar hopping. We had beers in the Panarama lounge and watched the waves pound the side of the ship. Prue looked tired and sick.
Day 6. Starting to sleep in more as the mornings get darker. We are at over 70 degrees of Northern latitude now. Breakfast was crowded this morning. Thomas was sick and didn't make it. The Mexican beans served were brilliant on toast. Sophie ate half a roll. Sebastian ate half a farm. We had tea outside the playroom for Sophie's benefit afterwards and then geared up for the North Cape excursion.
All these extras generally cost about $150 or so. This one was to the Northern most point of Europe's mainland. It was worth every cent. The buses drive in convoy behind a snow plough to about 350 metres up a coastal cliff face. Again the weather was rare. The setting sun at 2pm was superb over the starkness of the rocky coastline and ocean below. There were frozen lakes which mirrored the colorful skyline along the way also. The tour guide spoke well in English although she prattled on about weather patterns a bit much.
Dinner this evening was open buffet and they amped up the seafood stakes for the benefit of the departing Japanese who were spending their last night on board . Red King crab, lobster, chili prawns and oysters were all for the picking as well as sirloin steak. Thomas came good in time for the feast. After dinner the aurora turned on a belter of a display. The lights danced all around and at times with real intensity. We grabbed some once in a lifetime shots between the two cameras but in honesty you could just stand there and watch it without a camera tonight, it was that close, that clear and totally otherworldly. Really looking forward to getting the shots all on a big screen when I get home. We quit the open deck only due to the threat of contracting frost bite in our trigger fingers. The seas got rough just before bed time and we're really rocking around now.
Day 7. The final leg of the Northbound journey. We headed into a very misty sea. You couldn't see very far beyond the boat. It was minus 15-18 c outside the whole time. I Went out on deck to quickly snap a passing island and when I got back in my hair had frozen as it had been partly wet with shower water. We made Kirkenes after breakfast. Lots of people disembarking. The Pfeiffers went on excursion to the ice hotel, I decided to explore on foot. Despite the temperature I'd certainly felt colder before as there was no wind at all. So it was nice enough walking through the fresh snow in the streets. There wasn't much to do as everything was closed being Sunday. Took more photos, went to another cemetery and returned to the iced up looking Nordnorge.
The boat seems very quiet now as we begin the Southward journey. Lunch wasn't even a third full. Roast chicken was a welcome addition. Tonight we believe we are eating reindeer for the first time. I won't cry if Aurora doesn't appear tonight as I'm running short of flash card space until I find a camera shop.
Hurtigruten Southward journey
Day 7 cont. a fairly lazy Sunday on the boat in the end. None of the ports we stopped at were worth getting dressed up and hopping off for... Scratchy fishing villages where anything of interest was too far from the dock and being Sunday all bars were shut. Prue inquired as to when the captains next change over is as this one doesn't allow tours of the bridge, something she is keen on doing. Thomas went out on deck to briefly photograph a mild Aurora display but the moon was very bright last night which means its impact is diminished.
Day 8. Monday morning so shops should be open by the time we get to Hammerfest.. Officially the worlds most Northern town, depending on how you define the word 'town'. We missed doing it on the way up as we passed through at 3 or 4 am.
We climbed up to the church which is at the towns summit and overlooks the harbour. Sophie and Prue then climbed up to a gazebo built in honour of composer Ole Olsen who was born in Hammerfest. On the way back to the docks I dropped into the Ancient Polar Bear Society to look for any worthy merch.
We finally get to sample reindeer at dinner. Thomas broke into a rendition of Rudolph which agitated Prue. As a meal I'm unsure about it. It was a small entree serve and was heavily glazed in some kind of berry jello and also served with cream cheese. As Thomas said it should've been left to stand on its own and served in just an olive oil or something simple.
That evening as we approached Tromso the lights came out for the most spectacular of all showings yet. For hours they loomed in every direction. We took tons of photos but for once cameras took a back seat to just watching Aurora raw. They shrouded the boat in an eerie concentrated form directly above us. I now understand why the Vikings feared them because without scientific explanation you'd have thought extra terrestrials had arrived to abduct us all. At one point it actually looked like Aurora was only 30 feet above our heads and approaching. It was beyond all logic.
Later that night having what seemed like celebratory beers, some of the staff who'd worked on the boat for years said they'd never seen the lights do that before. Loads more people got off the boat at Tromso including our favourite waitress. It's a pretty lonely ship now, I'd say a third capacity at most.
Day 9 . Big sleep in after lots of beers with Thomas the night before. For the first time on this trip we awake to an overcast sky. At breakfast there was lots of discussion about the events of the previous evening. At meal times there is an American lady called Julie who is a United flight stewardess from Chicago. She sits at a table near us for each meal and is always nice to the children. She has brought her father on the voyage. She explained that during WW2 her father was posted at New Finland and there he used to see the Northern Lights on duty every evening. But he'd not seen them ever since so it was his wish to come and see the lights again and that's what brought them on the trip to begin with. She had to pull him away from the tv to the see the lights last night. But after he got up on deck he apparently teared up.
I got off the boat at a few of the brief stop places.. Harstad, Risoyhamn, Sortland. Nothing kind of places really and generally nothing open either... No more than frigid fishing villages. But we passed through Risoyrenna which is a 3 mile long man made canal which was opened by King Haakon VII in 1922. We also saw the Norwegian coast guard ships docked at the end of the canal. Back in Kirkenes we heard that some Russian fishermen were taken into custody by the Coast Guard for breaching Norwegian waters. The king crab is big dollars to them here. We took in the Hurtigruten museum at Stockmarknes which was mildly interesting but Sophie's fuse was getting short by then.
At 6pm we docked at Svolvaer, the location of our favorite little bar on the Northward journey. We trudged through the layer of fresh snow for a revisit. Pre-dinner pizza and beers by the fire. Actually that's the first time it's snowed hard all voyage...That's how lucky we've been the last 9 days with the weather. The boat is rocking on the open sea swells pretty dramatically tonight.
Day 10. We leave the Arctic Circle early on. The skies have cleared a lot. Departing the Arctic incurs more ceremony (Norwegians seem to love them). This one involves each person swallowing a table spoon of castor oil - I don't know why. You get to keep the silver spoon that it is served to you on. The spoon is shaped like a fish and engraved with the words 'I did the Arctic'. The oil is vulgar tasting. We bought a fresh box of wine at Sandnessjoen- 360 krono (fuck). Enough to get us through the rest of the voyage though. On the way out of Sandnessjoen we pass the Seven Sisters mountain range. It was worth braving the cold wind on deck to snap it all.
Even though it isn't our final night, many passengers will disembark at Trondheim the next morning and so the evening meal is referred to as a 'farewell dinner '. More speeches and Norwegian songs and stuff.. Blah. Sophie enjoys it all though and the pepper corn beef followed by ice cream cake is all good. We get stuck in conversation with another table at dinner and burnt too much time because we should've got off at Rorvik and hit one of the near by pubs which look cosy and inviting. Next time. Good session in the Panarama bar afterwards anyway.
Day 11. The Nordnorge spent most of the morning in port at Trondheim. We didn't try to do anything with it though as the port is a little way out of town and it's really hard pushing the stroller up icy assents. It's really cold and overcast. We all got off at Kristiansund for a walk in the fresh snow but no one served espresso which was disappointing. At Molde Thomas and I found a great cheese and wine bar called Syd. Prue missed out here, she'd have really dug it. It had a very cultured cheese selection and the place filled up with young people just in the time we were there. Last night on board the boat. Plenty of wine after dinner.
Day 12. Bags had to be ready by 9am and room vacated by 10am this morning, even though we don't reach Bergen until 2.30pm. We will be able to have lunch before we leave. Thomas will then duck off to get the car back ASAP so we can hit the road while there is still some daylight. Looks like there will be lots of snow throughout the 3 hour journey home , so the sooner we start the better.
We drove home in mainly hard driven snow fall and got to Stavanger to find a foot of snow had fallen. The house was freezing.