Anticipation Builds...

Hello and welcome to our Hurtigruten trip along the coast of Norway. We made this trip in September 2012 and during the course of the 12 day journey, I wrote a journal talking about our experiences on board as we travelled from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again.

These posts reflect our personal journey, what we saw, who we met and what we did each day. We, being me, Angela and my husband Andy. If you want to know about the cabins and the food and how it all works on board, this is not the blog for you. It does not focus on the practical elements. But follow the link to and I'm sure you'll find everything you need to know there. 

We made a very last minute decision to take the trip and in fact secured the very last cabin - cabin 658 right at the back of the boat. The benefits of this were two fold.  Firstly it was a mere skip and a jump to the hot tub, which we luxuriated in every day bar one . And secondly, we were very quickly and easily able to get up on to the top deck, so when the Northern Lights decided to grace us with their presence we were straight on it! More of that later.
This trip was on our bucket list for ages and seems to be on the bucket list of many others we told about our voyage. And like all travel, it was a time to discover new places, new people and new experiences. I hope you will enjoy reading the posts and I'd love to hear your comments and for you to share your own experiences of this voyage on here.

See you on board - Bon Voyage!

Bergen and arriving on Board the Norge Norge

Friday 21st September - Day 1

After a day of start-stop travel, we arrive at the Hurtigruten Terminal in Bergen to board the ship. We are travelling on the NordNorge – a boat holding about 600 people. After a short briefing we get the keys to our cabin and board the ship. We are like small children arriving at a play park – where shall we head first? What ride shall we go on next? We get the keys to our cabin and naturally head there first and do the sensible thing of unpacking and getting sorted, knowing then we are free for the remainder of the evening to explore the ship.

Our cabin is compact and yet somehow spacious, with ample space for coats and sweaters and cold weather clothing. There are two single beds, one pulls down from the wall and the other is a sofa bed. Romantic it isn’t, but that probably isn’t the reason that you’re on this trip.

And then onto exploring the ship. There is the panoramic lounge – which does what it says on the tin. Windows on each side provide fabulous views of the entire journey without having to leave the comfort of your chair. There’s also the library and additional seating on decks 4 and 7, again all with windows and views. Hurtigruten certainly know that you want to be able to see out at all times. Then there are the outside decks, the hot tub, the restaurant and cafĂ© to investigate. We spend most of our first evening eating, sussing out how everything is going to work and eyeing up and down our fellow passengers, wondering who will be making the full return journey or who will be leaving us part way.

We leave Bergen at 8 pm and a huge moon hangs in a clear sky celebrating the start of our voyage.

Floro to Molde with a stop off in Alesund

Saturday 22nd September - Day 2

We awake to pink fluffy clouds, which disperse after a couple of hours leaving beautiful blue skies and sunshine. It is a warmer day than we have experienced for most of our own English summer. Up on deck, passengers are like sunflowers, moving their chairs to face the sun and make the most of the brightness and warmth.

We are advised that we will sail into Hjorundfjorden this morning. This is the very first time that Hurtigruten have made this trip and as a result we are treated like local celebrities. A helicopter flies above and around the boat taking footage of our trip and in many of the small hamlets and villages that we pass, locals gather to wave Norwegian flags at us, children jumping up and down and clapping their hands in excitement as this big ship passes through.

On route we discover that many of these tiny places have no road access. They can be reached only by boat. I think about what life must be like – no overnight Amazon deliveries, no local shop, no cappuccinos and of course you have to hope that you always get on with your neighbours. We learn that men lost their lives trying to save goats from an avalanche, children are taken to boarding school by boat and yet bizarrely one tiny enclave that looks like it only has two or three houses now hosts a regular blues and music festival that attracts thousands of visitors each year. It's all a bit surreal, but fascinating nonetheless. 

Many of our fellow travellers decide to take the excursion at Urke and the coaches are lined up at the quay. We decide to remain on the boat and have trouble making decisions on whether to read a book, take photographs or sit on deck. In the end, we do all three and then finally I am overcome with it all and I go back to the cabin to nap. My only concern is that I'll miss some fabulous scenery while I have my eyes shut!

When I wake we are nearing Alesund, a picturesque art-nouveau town. It was destroyed by fire in 1904 and rebuilt. Kaiser Willheim loved to holiday in this area and at the news of the fire sent help to the town, by shipping liners and boats from the German navy which moored at the docks. The local men from Alesund lived on the boats while they rebuilt the buildings in art-nouveau style.
We disembark and take a long walk through the town, strolling through the highly decorated buildings and admiring the boats in the harbour. The art nouveau centre in town is well worth a visit. It's well done, informative and fun and they serve great cake. We know this as we visited it last time we were in Alesund, but this time we are visiting after 5.00 pm and sadly pretty much everything is closed. 

Back on the boat, we jump in the hot tub. It’s bath water temperature inside the tub, but certainly not out of it and it’s a strange juxta-position talking to people in coats and scarves while we are in bathing suites and Andy is bare-chested. We wave goodbye to Alesund from the hot tub and head further North.

Over dinner that night, we reflect that today has been just perfect. If it happened to be our last day here, we would be happy. But then again, we don’t yet know what tomorrow will bring.

Trondheim to Rorvik

Sunday 23rd September - Day 3

This morning we awake just before we arrive in Trondheim. I have no expectations and we are charmed by the delights of this beautiful city. It is the third largest in Norway. We are blessed with another absolutely glorious day and more blue skies and sunshine. A short ten minute stroll from the boat and we find ourselves in wide shop lined avenues, selling stylish Norwegian goods.

I tell my husband that I’m sure I was Scandinavian in a past life as I love the window displays and feel an affinity for the warm browns and copper tones of the clothing layered on the models, scarves draped decoratively over shoulders and lace up cosy waterproof boots to keep out the snow when it falls. Interspersed amongst the clothes shops, we find shops selling cups, saucers and large jugs for flowers in Farrow and Ball hues and heavy fluffy blankets that I can easily imagine throwing over my shoulders on a cold Winter's night. We are saved from ourselves by it being a Sunday and nothing being open but I am sad about not being able to shop among the loveliness and vow to return here for a couple of days when the town is open and our bank accounts are healthy.

We walk down to the cathedral and enter through grey padded doors, probably insulated that way to keep in the warmth. As we swing open the doors we are greeted by the sound of angelic voices as a local choir of Norwegian girls rehearse for a future performance. Their sweet, young and pure voices make the hairs stand up on the back of our necks as their voices echo around the giant arches and columns of the cathedral. It is warm and welcoming in here, unlike some of the churches I have visited in the UK. The stained glass windows are also darker, making the religious visions somehow more dramatic.

Leaving the cathedral, we follow a path down to the river and cross a bright red and decorative bridge to the old town. We wander down narrow streets, with rickety clapperboard houses, some in pastel shades and others in brighter oranges and browns. As we approach 11 am, the town’s population begins to gather. We pass women with babies in buggies, energetic runners and slightly hung-over looking young Norwegians. The cafes in the old town burst into life and as the weather is unexpectedly glorious for the time of year, people take seats outside and sip cappuccinos chatting to one another in the sunshine.

My latte comes topped with a tiny milk heart, tables have heathers displayed in pots and hanging over the chairs is a blanket to put over your knees in case the temperature should suddenly dip. This is what I love about Norway; things are done with style and with an appreciation of the ever-changing weather. They know it will be cold and live their life accordingly. As the saying goes, “there is no such thing as bad weather in Norway, just bad clothing”. I decide that Trondheim is my new favourite place and a definite must-return-to destination.

Later back on the boat we pass through the narrow sound of Stokksundet. We stand on deck and watch the ever more beautiful scenery unfold in front of us.

Bronnoysund to Svolvaer including Bodo

Monday 24th September - Day 4

We wake this morning to an announcement that we will be crossing the Arctic Circle. It is almost 7 am and we quickly throw on some clothes and head on deck. We are two of only a few people who have come to mark the occasion with a photograph or two, most preferring to say in the warmth of their beds or the ship. A globe on a small island marks the spot and it suddenly feels like we are in new territory. The weather is misty, but has it’s own beauty. The mist hangs over the mountains and the light reminds me of an episode of Wallender.

As we progress further North today, we travel past the dark jagged wall of mountains that mark the Loften Islands. This continues for 100 km and seems impenetrable as the pointed caps rise up on either side of us. It’s a dramatic part of the trip with a stop over in Bodo (pronounced Buddha – which I like) during the afternoon.

We disembark for a walk around Bodo. There’s not much to see here. It has a modern town centre and pre-war architecture particularly reflected in the church and clock tower. However, we do find a shop selling traditional hand-crafted goods from Norway and are torn between gorgeous weighty blankets, brightly coloured scarves or hand-knitted cable socks. We remember that we have a luggage limit on our return flight and so decide on a hand-cut Christmas decoration depicting reindeer in the snow. I tell the shop assistant that we shall proudly display it this Christmas and will think back warmly on our trip to Bodo. And we do.

The shops here tell you a lot about the town and the weather. There are several craft shops, a couple of wool shops, a bookshop and two shops selling musical instruments. I can only assume that during cold, dark winter nights people gather for craft evenings, knitting circles and to play music together. That may be quite a romantic view of life, but it’s the one I choose to take away with me.

Back on board, I head to the library. It seems a regular crowd is forming here. Three highly competitive American women are playing a game that looks and sounds a lot like dominoes, a German man sits writing at a table while his wife, secretly snoozing, pretends to read a magazine and an American gentleman who reminds me a little of the crazy Professor from Back to the Future (sorry Tom) is trying to send emails. There is a little excitement when one of the women makes some sort of illegal move in the game, but this is soon forgotten when a Dutch man interrupts and invites them to play cards with him. Once again, I feel tired and so I return to my cabin for a sleep. 

My husband wakes me a little later to tell me that I will be sorry to miss the sunset going down over the mountains and he is right. It is magnificent. After more photo-taking we once again jump in the hot tub and it is noticeable colder on our cheeks and noses. But then again we are in the Arctic Circle now!
After dinner, we retire to the panoramic lounge, luckily securing a front seat and I think that perhaps we are set here for the night, but we don’t realise that Hurtigruten has more in store for us this evening. At 11 pm we enter the Trollfjord, which is a very narrow piece of water with mountains rising up to 1000 metres high on either side. The gap through is at times only 100 metres wide and with the spotlights from the ship illuminating our way, it looks like you could reach overboard and touch the surface of the mountains. We keep an eye out for Trolls, but they must be sleeping and we make up jokes about trolls to keep us entertained. There is a real camaraderie on deck as passengers mill about in padded jackets and hats drinking troll soup to keep warm. As the fjord is a dead end, the Captain has to turn the ship round. I’m glad he’s doing it and not me. Eventually, everyone disappears off to bed, apart from Andy and I. We look up at the sky filled with hope of seeing the Northern Lights, but it seems tonight will not be the night as we can make out only a few stars in the otherwise cloudy sky. Oh well, perhaps tomorrow night.

Harstad to Skjervoy including Tromso

Tuesday 25th September - Day 5

On day 5, we wake up in Harstad and once again it is a spectacular day. The sky is completely clear and blue and the sunshine is glorious. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the trip so far in my opinion. We sit on deck and take in Autumn as she parades her copper, golds and vibrant reds in the trees on the sides of the mountain. White houses dot here and there amongst the mountains and powerful snow-capped peaks show off their grandness in the background.

In the afternoon, we arrive in Tromso. We head along the brightly coloured pier to the Polar museum and are regaled with tales of bravery and heroism of the polar explorers. Afterwards we head into the town and again wander the shops in search of lovely things.

The shops predominantly line one main avenue, but there is plenty to see and coffees to be had in the relatively short time that we are ashore. Tromso cathedral sits over the bridge in another part of town. We don’t make it here this time, but will return on our way back for what will be one of the most spectacular events on our voyage.

After dinner, we go up on deck – this time to the front of the ship and watch as we pull into one of the tiny ports on route. This is a working ferry after all. We watch as a fork-lift driver busily drives back and forth taking cargo off the ship for the local people. Three or four people leave the ship here pulling suitcases behind them. And then a car speeds into the port in a Starsky and Hutch style. The driver and passenger look frightened that they will not make it. They are unaware that we have arrived early. They pull all sorts of luggage out of the car including a child's buggy and for some reason a single wooden chair. The chair is not wrapped in any way and begs the question - why? We will never find out as it is loaded into the cargo hold. At the last minute and almost like they'd forgotten in the rush to get everything on board, they go back to the car for - yes their baby. It’s all part of regular Hurtigruten life as people jump on and off this ferry along the coast of Norway.

Havoysund - Mehamn

Wednesday 26th September - Day 6

The landscape today has changed dramatically, as has the weather. It is a grey day, with overhead cloud coverage although remarkably mild. The Autumn colours have disappeared and too the snow capped mountains. The scenery is barren and somehow fits with the weather.

The staff on board announce that we have arrived in Finnmark, which is the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. Only 78,000 people live here and you can understand why when they advise that temperatures can drop as low as minus 64 in Winter and there is no light during the Winter other than the moon, the snow and the Northern Lights.
Today we reach the North Cape and many of our fellow travellers take the excursion. We get off the board at a small town called Honningsvag. The harbour area is filled with fishing boats and the usual clapper board houses. We head out of town into a more residential area. We meet an inquisitive dog straining at his lead outside, keen to meet someone new. This town looks a little forgotten – old boating engines lay on the side of the road, a bit like someone thought they’d come back for them but forgot or couldn’t be bothered. The town has some shops meeting the needs of the townsfolk but it feels isolated and I have great admiration for the people who live here as I know that I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it.

We do meet Chris in the main street wearing a tee-shirt saying Long Way Up and standing by two BMW touring bikes. We stand and chat with him, interested in his journey. He tells us that he has been on the road for five and a half months and has driven from South Africa to North Cape. He and his female riding companion were hoping to make it to Oktoberfest but don’t believe they’ll get there in time so will be shipping the bikes back home. I’d love to stop and talk for longer, sit and have a coffee and hear more about their journey, their experiences and the people they’ve met along the way, but like many others you meet on this journey, you get a snapshop of their life and know that you’ll never see them again. He asks if we are from the boat and we tell him yes. He sums up cruising in his South African accent stating cruises seem to be filled with “Newly-weds, over-feds and the nearly deads.” We tell him we fit into the middle category - well we hope so anyway.

Later back on the boat, we are advised that we will pass the Hurtigruten sister ship Nordcapp and that there is a competition we can all take part in. The competition consists of seeing how many passengers each ship can get on board and how much noise we can make as we pass each other.  At 10.30 pm we head up on board and are handed giant red pompoms to wave. People are in a festive mood and the crew have set up music. We pass the other boat and are close enough to see the other passengers waving and cheering. It’s a lovely experience and somehow the shared nature of being on this journey makes it even more special. After the boat passes, we pull into a tiny port and with Abba's Dancing Queen playing loudly from the deck, the fork-lift truck driver there still continues unloading cargo, impervious to what’s going on above. The music and celebrations continue as we leave this tiny town and it is strange and yet moving to see people dancing in their winter jackets and hats. We laugh and hold each other tighter during Angels by Robbie Williams and Eskild our on-board Tour Leader shouts out – song for kissing, song for kissing.