As rain drizzled down I caught a glimpse of my abode for the next eleven nights. I clutched my camera for a picture, as I’d spent many days contemplating how I would cope in a ‘closet’ at sea. Hurtigruten did waive the single supplement on this particular journey and the necessity to find the ‘best deals’ were mandatory within my vocabulary.
So what had attracted me to embark on a journey considered by many as a once in a life-time experience? I guess the fact I could enjoy being a traveller on a working ship whereby mail and cargo is delivered each day and its daily routine seemed rewarding in a humbling way.
Upon checking-in at Hurtigruten’s modern terminal in Bergen, I was handed my cabin’s key and offered my dining options. Dinner each night had two sittings both of which were a three-course sit-down affair. All cuisine being regional produce selected carefully by the Head Chef on each voyage was fresh and delectable. Each evening’s menu was displayed with aplomb on a podium outside the restaurant’s doors awaiting passenger’s entry. Although reindeer steak and fish mostly ruled the carte du jour, salmon was the predominant contender at breakfast, lunch and dinner – thought to be cheaper in Norway than any other meat and plentiful. No one complained.
The daily breakfast buffet presented a token brown cheese – obviously a Norwegian favourite along with brackish caviar, divine eggs, devilish fatty sausages; all of which just added to the already increasing cholesterol quagmire in my veins. Oh well I thought; it was for only 12 days and 11 nights. After all I am on holiday which qualifies me for such an obsessive intake of calories and walking onshore everyday; not just once but several times which gave me some reprieve as the ship pulled into the many ports as it loaded and off loaded its cargo and mail to Norway’s inhabitants. That is of course, if we can manage lifting our laden bodies up off our sedentary chairs near large outward-looking glass windows of which we seem to acclimatise too easily to, all the while watching the fork lifts busy as bees trying to ensure the ship departed on time. If you did not make it back it time after being ashore, then it was a case of you finding your own way to the next port to board.
At lunchtime the peculiar pale Norwegian cloudberries would appear, topped with heavy cream and were by far the most intriguing fruit on display. It’s a seasonal popcorn look-a-like with the added texture of mulberries but, without the dreaded tainted crimson dribbling unexpectedly onto your blouse. The flavour of this little starlet is as unique in itself as Norway is to the rest of the world.
After almost continual eating, many of the onshore excursions had been pre-booked and arrangements were made with ground operators to facilitate. Being mid-season we were not lucky enough to encounter the dog sleigh rides as an option but there were plenty of opportunities to visit other local fascinating surroundings and fascinating activities.
On our second day, many locals were only in transit and disembarked at Trondheim – here the ship freed up much space for the ongoing starry-eyed passengers. Being a major port, the time allowed was sufficient to walk to the downtown ‘wooden’ city centre. A visit to Nidaros Cathedral, with ts flying-buttress stylised gothic architecture, exudes eerie darkness and a turbulent past. Even with sufficient lighting, there’s an expectation of cloaked shadowy figures about to appear mysteriously before your unbelieving eyes. It left me eyeing off the nearest exits.
On day three, a competition was held to predict the time Nordnorge would cross the Arctic Circle the following morning. Our Cruise Director told us a story of a passenger who on a previous trip made GPS calculations, incorporating departure times and wind directions, only to be pipped by Granny who had picked the exact time based on her granddaughter’s birth date.
And what did the winner receive for their effort? They were christened by ‘visiting’ King Neptune that morning with a chalice of cold water – poured straight down the back of their collar… I was glad I didn’t win – even though a fancy bottle of liqueur was presented as a memento to warm up there afterwards.
On day four, a visit to Tromso’s iceberg inspired Tromsdalen, known as the Arctic Cathedral is a angel-sent acoustically and offers a welcoming midnight Mass to packed audiences and followers. And then after, if you were feeling benevolent at the next port, there is Hammerfest with its Polar Bear Society whereby you can become a member to help preserve these magnificent snow-camouflaged bears. Entry to the exhibition is free to ship guests but a donation is encouraged.
Pushing along to Honningsvag, a shore excursion to North Cape which is the area the Norwegian Sea and part of the Atlantic Ocean meets at the Barents Sea. Being part of the Arctic Ocean, it gave us an unruly and wild greeting upon arrival. However the North Cape Museum once inside is much warmer and receptive and where you can send yourself a memorable postcard home from the northernmost point in Europe.
On day seven, Kirkenes was our turnaround point and three hours was permitted for it to showcase its historical significance and heady past. Although not as vibrant as some of the other ports, admittedly a trip to the Russian border revealed soldiers who obligingly had their photograph taken with tourists. This is where east meets west amicably.
Homeward bound, the already enchanted journey was becoming even more spectacular as what we’d seen as barren isolated land forms previously, were now being sprinkled and dusted with light snow. I felt sad for those who had left us here after only six nights.
That night the hostess for our ritualistic dinner in the evening divulged it was ideal weather conditions for those in pursuit of the Northern Lights. The prickly sleet coupled with dust particles and strong wind had all the ingredients of this sort-after magnetic light show. Satisfied I finished off my last spoonful of Yoghurt Pannacotta with marinated cherries and moseyed out. Suddenly one of our fellow passengers Barry who’d been out on deck was frantic as he’d caught sight of the long-awaited iridescent lights and beckoned to all. As I raced outside onto the deck my skirt and hair flew upwards and all was out of control. Whoosh! I tried hard to contain my floozy-like behaviour but it was to no avail.
The wind blustered from the south and as it was the direction we were heading, it was full on but exhilarating in a way I would never imagined I could embrace. Absolutely freezing cold, I had to race off momentarily to find a coat, scarf and beret to ensure I enjoyed seeing an image I may never see again.
At first sighting, I could see why this phenomenon was so magical to so many and if you weren’t aware of Aurora Borealis and what the heavenly skies were flaunting at the time, mesmerised you’d have thought the Angels had been sent to fetch you. And you’d have accepted graciously and willingly without hesitation … It was truly spectacular.
I thought about my earlier claustrophobic concerns, but all was quelled by the fact I could undertake all the activities on land or just hop off the ship and walk around as I wished within a given timeframe – this was just the outlet I needed. And besides, cabins are just for sleeping in aren’t they?
Eventually the lights faded and the kindred elation could not be dampened for days afterwards. We would simply return to our viewing posts to relax and discuss. In fact, had the journey been any more relaxing we all may have slipped into a coma and simply dreamt about the lights.