Hurtigruten Norway

From Norway to Greece

Our adventure in Norway ended in Bergen. The new adventure would begin in Athens, Greece 2 days later. Our last day in Bergen was very wet… not unusual for Bergen we were told, in fact quite normal. It is didn’t deter us from riding on the cable car up to the top of a mountain and looking down on a toytown Bergen through the mist and raindrops. The best way to see Bergen, whether it is rainy or sunny.

The following day we travelled to Greece. An investigation of the flights, flight times and our need to be in Greece by a deadline, meant that the best way to go was from Bergen to London and London to Athens. 
It is over 40 years since we were last in Greece. Then we were young backpackers, exploring a part of the world we had fallen in love with while living in Melbourne and discovering wonderful Greek food and making Greek friends. We spent our last dollars on Corfu, in Athens and then travelling up to Thessalonika, in glorious summer sunshine. We discovered loukamades, watched our first Greek wedding and were thrown a parcel of Greek almonds we later learned was a bombonniere, swam from a pristine beach in Corfu and explored an unfenced Acropolis. 
The Greece of 2015 is very different. Freeways, large hotels, English signs, English speaking in shops and wherever we go intense traffic. 40 years ago the traffic was chaotic and noisy, but nothing like it is now. 
After checking in to our hotel in the heart of the city, we set off into the Plaka to find a Greek taverna. And we did. Daphne’s is a delightful restaurant nestliing into a ruin, with vine and bougainvillea covered courtyards and attentive waiters. I asked for retsina, to the surprise of the waiter, but it was not available, however everything else was.
We dined on a grilled eggplant salad, dolmades, grilled calamari and spinakopita, with two glasses of excellent Greek wine. We followed with a plate of Greek sweets, galactoboureko, kataifi and balaclava, Greek coffees and a glass of mastica. An excellent re-introduction to Greece! 

Back to Trondheim and Kristiansunde

Our journey south takes in the same towns we visited on the way north at different times of the day. This time we visited Trondheim in the morning and though the wind was icy, the sun shone and we took advantage of the two and half hour stop to take another walk in the town. 

As we depart Trondheim we sail past Monk Island. Now a holiday island with a beach frequented by the locals in the summer months, it is a former place of execution and home to a Benecdictine monastery. 
After lunch we stop at Kristiansunde – and the sun comes out. The fjords are mystical in the sleet and mist, in the sun they are magical. 
Tomorrow is our last day. We must pack our bags, then we will sail through the tight waters of the 
Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway. On our journey north we sailed this passage of thousands of islands at night.
It has been an amazing trip, we feel we have only just started to learn about the Norwegian fjords, I am sure we will return.

Packing for a trip to the Norwegian fjords

Before we left on our trip I read as much as I could about what clothing to pack for an Arctic trip – remembering our journey was at the beginning of Spring, so we knew the weather would be cold. 

Now while it is fresh in my mind here is what we found useful:

* a goretex or similar rain coat with hood
* a down parka that folds up into a small packet
* a polartec
* at least 2 woollen jumpers
* at least 2 woollen thermal tops
* at least 2 woollen thermal pants
* overpants
* waterproof over pants
* boots – mine were after ski boots with fur lining that I bought on sale, my partners were bog boots – woollen lined wellington boots that he found to be fabulous
* socks – at least 4 pairs of woollen so you can wear 2 pairs at once
* outer gloves – ski gloves, we found one pair to be enough
* inner gloves – woollen – they make all the difference when it is very cold and were ideal when we were riding the sleds or out on the fishing boat.
* a warm woollen hat
* a warm scarf
* ski goggles – ideal on the dog sleds and when out in sleet.
We also took hand and foot warmers which we never used. We used plenty of moisturizer with factor 15″ but didn’t find any need for sun screen. 

Travelling south from Harstad and a close encounter with the white-tailed eagles.

As we sail south we take a different route to the journey north. On Day 9 we sailed through the Risoyrenna, a 4.5 km long man-built channel opened in 1922 by the King. then into the region of Vesteralen. The weather continues to be very cold and sleet is normal, which adds to the beauty of this spectacular scener. I hope that one day we will be able to return in the summer and discover more about this exciting country.

At Stokmarnes we have half an hour to explore the Hurtigruten museum. From the early days in 1893 when the first ship the Vesteraalen sailed between Trondheim and Hammerfest, with only a chart and a compass to navigate the treacherous rocky waters, Hurtigruten has grown to a fleet of 12 ships plying the route with passengers and freight and providing a lifeline for many communities.
In the middle of the afternoon we entered Raftsundet a narrow fjord, and while the Kong Harald motored along, a fishing boat pulled alongside and a group of us boarded for an excursion to find the white-tailed eagles. With snug overalls over our already snug cold-weather gear, we bounced along in the bow of the fishing boat, while crew threw raw fish to the seagulls. The gulls were noisy in their appreciation and this activity attracted the attention of the eagles who glided down from the mountain tops, circled the boat and swooped for the whole fish thrown by the crew. About a dozen eagles enjoyed their afternoon meal in this way and we were able to attempt to take photos of the birds. I say attempt because taking wildlife photos is a real skill. 
Svolvaer was our next port of call and a stroll to a nearby pub and a glass of a warming liquid warmed us again before we boarded Kong Harald in time for dinner.

The northernmost town, Kirkenes and returning south

As we travel north snow, sleet and rain are the usual weather pattern, and the spectacular mountains of the fjords are covered with snow and leafless birth trees. 

The ship moves northward passing the Sami church at Finnjerka, and by next morning we have reached Kirkenes, very close to the Russian border and the furthest point of our journey.
Kirkenes has a population of 5000 and is very close to the border with Russia. We chose not to take the bus to the Russian border but rather to walk into town and up the hill behind to the Border Museum. Situated on the edge of a frozen lake this museum is small, but very well organised, and presents the story of Kirkene’s history, the close relationship with their near neighbours and the Sami people, who still live as they have for hundreds of years in the area. It also shows in excellent displays, dioramas and relics, the story of the invasion of Kirkenes by the Germans in World War II beginning with a blitzkreig. The resilience and strength of the people, despite the Germans burning the town to the ground in their retreat, is shown graphically and was absolutely fascinating.
We departed Kirkenes at lunchtime and sailed to Vardo, Norway’s easternmost town. Here we had just 20 minutes to walk up the hill to the Vardohus fortress, which is situated on a strategic, and though it has never been used in battle has a long history and is used for ceremonial occasions. 
By the next day we were well on our way south, passing during the day the towns and settlements we had passed at night time on the journey north. 
Hammerfest was our morning stop. Hammerfest is 70 deg north and 39.6 deg. east. Despite the sleet we walked up the hill to get a good view of the town, and spent barely 5 minutes in the Polar Bear Society, which was a pity as there was large stuffed polar bear and many birds and animals of the region on display. The aim of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society is to preserve Hammerfest’s history and tradition of fishing and hunting. 
We sail on from Hammerfest with our next stop where we alight being Tromso, at midnight. A concert has been organised in the Tromso cathedral and many of the passengers board buses for the short journey to the church. 
Three musicians, a pianist/organist, a flugelhorn player and a bass/baritone presented a concert of Norwegian music beginning with a haunting piece by Robert Franzten based on a Sami joik. There followed folk tunes, a romantic song by Edvard Grieg – Jeg eisker dig and Sinding’s ‘Rustle of Spring’ and endingwith ‘Amazing Grace’. Back on the bus and the Kong Harald sailed around 1.30am.

2,000 km from the North Pole

Today we continued our journey north. We had passed the North Cape and today was an opportunity to take a bus journey to the northernmost point of Europe. We took the opportunity to explore Honnigsvag, a town with a strong fish aroma from the huge racks of drying fish along the waterfront. 

Tonight’s buffet was a magnificent spread of seafood. King crab, mussels, prawns, local coal fish, redfish and cod tongues. In the afternoon there had been a demonstration of how the cod are prepared for drying and how the cheeks and neck muscles, known as cod tongues are removed from the cod’s head. These are then fried in bread crumbs and served with a butter sauce. Rich and tasty. 

A husky sled ride

Today, day 5, we headed for Tromso, Norway’s largest town with around 75,000 inhabitants, unofficially known as the capital of the Arctic. There were stops at Risoyhamn, Harstad and Finnsnes as we made our way to the sound of Gisund. Along the way we passed under the Gisund bridge which connects Norway’s second largest island Senja with the mainland. As well as the Hurtigruten ferry service, which provides a lifeline to the communities along the fjords, Norway is criss-crossed with roads, local ferries and amazingly long tunnels. 

We arrived in Tromso after another excellent buffet lunch. The food on board is always good and frequently includes local delicacies. 
We boarded the buses for an excursion to a dog sledding centre. It was cold and sleeting as we drove through the township, including one of those long tunnels, arriving at the huskies’ home in about 30 minutes. With it’s main purpose as a tourist attraction this centre is extremely well set up. We were split into groups and our group went to meet the huskies. Paired in kennels the dogs live in the open and are serious pack animals. As they waited for the first sledders to leave they howled and barked, calling to each other. But they are also very friendly and were happy to be greeted and patted. This centre breeds huskies and does not sell them.
Then a trip into a yurt for cup of warm coffee and home-made chocolate cake before visiting the puppies, who are now about 4 months old. They don’t like the rain so had to be enticed out of their kennels with a little food, but once out were happy to be cuddled and played with.
Finally we changed into super warm overalls, donned our snow goggles and climbed into the sleds. Each sled had two passengers and a driver and was drawn by 10 dogs. They were raring to go and headed into the wildernes at a steady pace. It was magical. The landscape was white and crisp and though the snow was melting we were able to glide along, with the occasional bump, at a steady pace. The dogs know the route and follow the sled in front, occasionally one trying to overtake the other, but being kept in line by the drivers and a simple, effective brake system. We were snug in our sled sitting on reindeer skins with a warm blanket across our knees. 
This excursion is a highlight for us! We simply loved it.
We returned for the evening meal and the Kong Harald headed towards Skjerboy and the open stretch of sea called Loppa. 

Across the Arctic Circle and up to Raftsundet

As we crossed the Arctic Circle King Neptune and his very large feet appeared on the upper deck! We gathered around to hear about his ceremonial welcome to the northernmost part of the world and were invited to be ‘christened’ with a cup of ice! In return we received a certificate and a cup of hot raspberry tea. 

By lunchtime we had reached Bodo. Here there was a choice of an excursion to Saltstraumen or a Safari in zodiacs to the place where the incoming and outgoing tides meet in a very narrow channel, forming a huge whirlpool. We chose the zodiacs and zoomed out the harbour and across the bay, passing Puffin Island, but not close enough to see any puffins, and into the narrow fiords formed by earthquake action thousands of years ago, that created rocks like mille-feuille pastry with cream in between.
Tightly sandwiched in the zodiacs and rugged up in regulation insulated overalls, it was an exhilirating ride.
In the evening we took a stroller in Svolvaer to the Magic Ice Bar, just next to the wharf, where drinks are served from an ice bar surrounded by ice sculptures of sea creatures, ice thrones, men at work and all manner of other creatures. Then a welcome mug of fish soup on the deck as we entered the strait of Raftsundet, before hitting the sack. 

Trondheim to Rorvik, Day 3

The day greeted us with heavy rain… we were not to know how cold it was until we headed off into the city of Trondheim. The boat had docked early in the morning while we were asleep and would be there for 3 hours. Trondheim is Norway’s third largest city with a population of over 175,000 – and also one of the most significant in Viking history having been founded in 997 by King Olav Trigvasson. 

We set out to walk into the city centre – about 20 minutes away. This is not a walk for the faint hearted in driving icy rain, but we made our way to the old part of town, the maritime museum and the famous Nidaros Cathedral which is built over the grave of Olav, who has become a saint!
Back at the Kong Harald we were glad of a bowl of warming tomato and noodle soup and a hot lunch. We were not able to take photos of Trondheim in the driving rain… so here is one from the tourist board of what it would have looked in the sunshine.
The afternoon was spent on board as we cruised down the fiords. At around 4.00 pm we began crossing Folda, a stretch of open sea, which was very beautiful in the sunshine. Then we took a shortcut through the Afjord-Stokkoy channels, as the wind had dropped. These are small channels through the islands which made it easy to watch for bird life close at hand as we cruised close to the hard brown rock walls, and the little hamlets along the water’s edge. Our last stop of the day was a quick unload of goods at Rorvik. 

From Maloy to Kristiansund, Day 2

The difference between the ships in the Hurtigruten line and a cruise ship is very simple – the Hurtigruten ships are working boats. And work they do. The Kong Harald has a huge hold packed with all manner of goods, that are offloaded at the ports we dock at – and goods are also taken on. First port of call today was Maloy, one of the biggest fishing ports in Norway, at 7.15. Just 15 minutes and we are away, then about half an hour later we begin the crossing of the Stadhavet, an open stretch of sea that takes 2 hours to cross. The swell is quite large and the boat chugs iway through solid waves, making crew and passengers walk as if they are very much under the weather. Some are, but not us!
The ship docked at some ports for barely 10 mins, such as Heroy-Bolandet in the first photo and reached Alesund at midday. A small town of around 440,000, it is know for the Art Nouveau architecture in the main part of town, which was the result of a huge re-build after a fire in 1904. 
Kong Harald moored right in the heart of town which made it easy to explore and we walked from the shopping mall pictured, through the Art Nouveau heart and into the shanty-still area on the other side of the bay. A sunny afternoon well-spent working up an appetite for the first of our local dinners which was roasted salted lamb, slow roasted, and a delicious raspberry crumble.