Thursday 28 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage in the World - the Hurtiguten Coastal Voyage Part 3

Day 5

The morning was spent relaxing and admiring the beautiful views of snowy mountains as they passed by, I love the relaxed way of life of the ship that by now we were well into.  In the afternoon I went to a lecture about Norwegian explorers of the Arctic and Antarctic. It was dark by time the ship docked in Tromsø. Tromsø is a place I have always wanted to visit, the setting is so beautiful. But unfortunately as it was dark I couldn't see that.

Kitted up for Whale Watching
Marian and I were booked on a whale watching trip in nearby Vestfjord - yes I know that sounds weird to do at night, but the boats are fitted with spotlights so you can see the whales if they are around. We got a bus to a small village and went into a small place where we changed into survival suits all ready for the trip. We got on the small boat and off we went. There were drinks provided plus lovely cinnamon cakes and biscuits.

After a while I went to join some others who had gone onto the viewing deck. To do so I had to squeeze up a steep flights of steps and onto the deck which didn't really have anything to hold onto! The rails were very low and there were no seats, scary! Like a few others in order to feel stable and safe, I leaned back on a window and stayed there as the boat flew along the fjord at quite a pace, I hoped that I wouldn't need the survival suit lol!. Unfortunately there were no shoals of herring showing on the radar which meant there were no whales. But while we were on deck we saw a beautiful aurora. It was vivid green and was directly overhead and stretched like a ribbon above the fjord and snow covered mountain tops, twisting and twirling along itself.  For me it made up for not seeing the whales. I was relieved to squeeze down the steep steps and back into the warmth and safety of the cabin.

Later as the Nordnorge left Tromsø I stood on deck, the city swith it's sparkling light looked beautiful.  Snow started to fall as the lights slipped away and I thought how lucky I was to be able to come on a trip like this.

Day 6

Ever north we go, I loved seeing all the new places we stopped at, and watching locals getting on and off.  Supplies were loaded and unloaded. Cars waiting in tiny Arctic villages to pick up a loved one, I wondered what their stories were. 

Near the North Cape
The Hurtigruten ships are especially vital to this part of the country, where roads are not a viable transport system in the winter. Even small places have airports, again vital for these areas, but they too can fall prey to the Arctic winter. There are 12 Hurtigruten ships that sail up and down the coast 365 days of the year.

Today our main stop was Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya which is almost the most northerly point Europe. Marian had opted to go on a trip to the northernmost place in Europe, the North Cape while I went on a trip to two fishing villages. It was very cold here but it was bright and sunny. 
The Winter and Christmas House

We drove for about 20 minutes along narrow icy roads, hairpin bends and over a mountain before arriving at a small village called Skarsvåg where we visited the Winter and Christmas House. The small shop and cafe is run by a lady called Heidi who was born and raised in Skarsvåg. First we sat in the cafe area where she had traditional Norwegian Christmas fayre, mulled wine, coffee, waffles, Christmas cake and cinnamon biscuits, it was very snug and cosy. She talked about the changing fortunes of the area, a lot of the young are leaving. Her husband is a king crab fisherman and you can make a good living doing that. She and a few other ladies from the village get together once a week and knit various items in the traditional style which she sells in her shop. She was very passionate about her village and its traditions.  The sun will not rise above the horizon here from November 21st to January 21st, but there is a winter blue light for a while each day. She also said that you have to have plenty of firewood in stock for when the electricity goes off in the winter.
The East of the Sun Gallery
You also need to be well stocked up on food as they are often snowed in as well. I bought some mittens knitted by the ladies and she thanked me for supporting their work.

We left the snug Christmas House and the Arctic cold hit me, onto the bus and off to the next visit which is the village of Kamoyvaer where we visited the East of the Sun Gallery. This is the gallery of Eva Schmutterer from Germany who came to Kamoyvaer many years ago after meeting and marrying a Norwegian from the area. She was inspired by the amazing landscape and wildlife of the region and produces amazing paper collages. I loved her work and it was very reasonably priced so I bought three prints. I had a little wander around the village afterwards, it was very isolated and it felt really Arctic. Places like Tromso didn't feel really Arctic to me but here it did, as fascinating as I found it I couldn't live here.

Fishing Boats at Kamoyvaer
The trip back to the Nordnorge was in the dark and once again it was lovely to feel the warmth of the ship again. 

Later that day we had a talk on the Sami culture which was enlightening. Many of the Sami people live a nomadic life across the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia and at this time of year are in the east so we wouldn't be seeing any Sami or reindeer. We had the usual talk from Bjorn and David and learned that gulls drink seawater and filter the salt out through glands in the head and the salt is excreted through their noses - nature is amazing!

That evening we relaxed in the lounge on deck seven, my favourite place on the ship. It was quite stormy, after all we were now well into the Arctic on the Barents Sea, 742 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The easy going life on a ship is deceptive, you are travelling in wild waters and further than you realise.

Sunday 24 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage Part 2

Day 3

Had a lovely breakfast as we headed up Trondheim Fjord towards the city of Trondheim, Norway's third largest city. Once we docked we left on an organised tour of the city. Trondheim used to be
Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim
called Nidaros and is over 1000 years old. The cathedral bears the old city's name and is not at all of the  usual Scandinavian style, it is more Italianate in style and it is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world. We went inside and had a short guided tour which was fascinating. We then went on to a viewpoint that looked out over the the city and the fjord. We saw the brightly coloured warehouses along the banks of the River Nidelva that are now exclusive homes and shops. Trondheim seemed a lovely city and I really enjoyed the tour.

We went back to the Nordnorge and set off along Trondheim Fjord and ever northerly. Later in the afternoon Natasa gave an interesting lecture on how the Norwegian landscape was formed. I've always been interested in geology and so really enjoyed the talk.

Later Bjorn and David gave their talk which was as entertaining and informative as usual. After another delicious evening meal we just chilled in the panoramic lounge on deck seven, love this life!

Day 4

 Awakened at 7am by the intercom telling us we would be crossing the Arctic Circle in 20
minutes. So it was a mad scurry throwing on clothes and heading up to the outside area on deck seven. It was still dark but we knew when we crossed into the Arctic as there was a lit golden globe marking the line and the ships horn was sounded. I had a glass of wine to celebrate, think it's
Champagne after entering the Arctic
the earliest I've ever drunk alcohol! Later the winner of the competition to guess the exact moment we entered the Arctic was "baptised" with ice put down his back! The winner also received a Norwegian flag signed by the crew. Others could also be baptised and got a free glass of cloudberry wine. It was a bit of fun and was just one of the onboard events that made this trip such an easygoing, fun eperience.

Funnily enough after entering the Arctic the landscape became more dramatic, snowcapped, jagged mountains and huge monolithic-type mountains jutting out of the sea like huge whales. Our main stop today was Bodø, Marian went on another hike and I walked into the town to explore. To be honest I wasn't very impressed, there wasn't a lot to see there. I wandered about for an hour before returning to the ship. Marian returned from the hike which she had enjoyed.

When we returned to our cabin we found a certificate confirming our passing into the Arctic signed by the captain who was called the wonderful name of Roar Winther. I later went to a lecture about Vestfjord and Trollfjord given by Natasa, then the usual information talk by Bjorn and David which included eider ducks, and snowart. Each of their talks finishes with some Norwegian music and art, which so far has been lovely.

Our evening meal was fabulous tonight. Each evening the meal is comprised of specialities of the area we are passing through. Today we had the tenderest beef I've ever had from Trondelag. Dessert was chocolate parfait with a rhubarb compote, sounds like a strange combination but it worked perfectly. Rhubarb is one of the first crops to start growing after the snow melts so it is viewed as a reminder that the winter is passing and summer is ahead.

We had a longish stop at Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands so, even though it was dark, we decided to go ashore and explore. There was a boardwalk that skirted the water so we walked along that passing lovely looking bars and restaurants. After a while the heavens opened and the rain poured down, I could hardly see where as I was going as my glasses were full of water. Luckily my coat was waterproof and long but my boots were sodden in no time. It was a relief to walk up the gangway and get out of that rain and feel the welcoming heat of the Nordnorge.

We dried out and went up to our favourite lounge to relax. We stayed there until we reached Trollfjord which we could not enter as it is too dangerous to do so at night  as much of it is very narrow. But the captain went into the mouth of the fjord and shone spotlights on the sheer cliffs so we could see a little of it. The rain was still pouring and we could see waterfalls running down the rocks. The entrance to the fjord is very narrow and it was an amazing feat of steering to give us a peek of this place.

Thursday 14 December 2017

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage, the Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage

For many years I had wanted to go on this trip and when I saw it at a bargain price I jumped at the chance to go on what is advertised as the world's most beautiful voyage - and I wasn't disappointed.

Day 1.

We flew to Bergen and from there were transported to the Hurtigruten Terminal where we did a smooth and well organised check-in. Afterwards we were free to go on board the ship, we couldn't yet go to our cabins so we explored. Hurtigruten ships are not cruise ships, they are a vital part of daily routine up and down the coast of Norway. They deliver and take on supplies, post and local passengers during the 34 stops going north and 33 south, they are working ships. But having said that the seven decks were beautifully fitted out with a lovely restaurant, two small cafes and a bar in the panorama deck which has the most comfortable seats in the world! There was also a shop, reception, expedition desk where trips are booked and information given. There is also a small gym, sauna and a jacuzzi on deck.

At 6pm we were able to go into the cabin which was small with a square porthole, very clean and had all we needed.  We then went to the Torget restaurant for the evening buffet which had everything under the sun and was absolutely amazing!

Later there was a meeting with the friendly expedition team, Bjorn, David and Natasa who gave us all the basic information for our trip and what to expect on the voyage. They also told us that if you walk round deck five four times you have walked a kilometre, so I decided I would do that at least once a day as I knew I would have to walk off some of the wonderful food we would be having!

Day 2

I had a lie-in and skipped breakfast as I didn't sleep well due to the motion and engine hum of the ship. Today the major stop was at Ålesund. Marian decided to go on a hike up 400 steps to Mount Aksla which overlooks the city. I went out to explore the city by myself rather than go on the organised tour as the ship was docked right near the centre and it was not a large area to explore. Plus the tours are quite expensive!
Art Nouveau Building in Ålesund

The city had been almost totally destroyed by a fire in 1904 (the fate of many Norwegian towns/cities due to them being mainly built of wood in the past.) When it was rebuilt much of the architecture was in the Art Nouveau style which is one of the things the city is renowned for nowadays. It was a mild and sunny day as I explored the cobbled streets of Ålesund which indeed had some beautiful buildings often painted in bright colours in typical Scandinavian style. 

The city is built on islands and there are lots of bridges and waterways, it is very picturesque, laid back and I really liked the place and it would be a place I would love to return to and explore some more one day.

I returned to the ship and Marian returned not long afterwards having enjoyed her hike with its amazing views over Ålesund.

Leaving Ålesund
We later went to the Norwegian Way of Life talk by Bjorn and David which was very informative and entertaining covering such subjects as elk, language,music and art of Norway.

During dinner it came over the ship's intercom that the northern lights were visible. There was a mass exodus from the restaurant as people headed out to see the.  The lights were light green and formed a semi-circle in the sky  at the front of the ship. They were gorgeous and magical and it was also surprisingly mild out on deck five. What a brilliant start to the trip!
Northern lights from the ship's deck