Monday 12 February 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal voyage 6

Day 10

We crossed the Arctic Circle once more at 9.15am and much of the day was spent at sea there were stops but only for very short periods so we could not go ashore. Natasa gave a  talk on Mythical Creatures of the Sea which was fascinating.

Wild Weather in Bronnoysund
We arrived at Brønnøysund at 3.45pm and as there is a stop of one and a quarter hours we decided to go ashore to go to a small shopping centre that had a branch of a cheap Christmas shop we'd been in at Hammerfest as we wanted to buy something. Quite a few people got off with us and headed the same way. The weather was atrocious, howling wind and driving rain, but the centre was not far away and it was a relief to stumble into the shelter and warmth of the shops. We bought a few things in the Christmas shop and looked around some others before heading back to the Nordnorge. We tried to do a selfie with the ship in the background but it was so windy I couldn't hold the camera straight and, as my mother used to say, every picture tells a story!

The evening meal this evening was billed as the farewell meal as lots of German tourists were leaving the ship in Trondheim tomorrow. We had some free prosecco and representatives of all the departments of the ship's staff all lined up and sang a funny song about the trip and then went around the restaurant to toast "skol" with passengers. It was
The Staff all Lined Up For the Farewell Meal
really lovely, very warm and friendly as the staff had been throughout our voyage. The meal, as ever, was delicious and we had the best dessert of the trip, "success tart" which was absolutely gorgeous - everyone was loving it! 

That evening we just relaxed in the panoramic lounge, chatting and drinking the expensive wine very slowly. 

Day 11

Our last full day onboard the Nordnorge and I felt  sad that the trip was coming to an end. We had a stop for a few hours in Trondheim, but it started at 6.30am and finished at 10am  so we didn't go ashore, we had been on a tour of the city on our way north anyway.

We had our last meeting with Bjorn and David where they told us a bit about the shifts the staff work (22 days on then 22 days off) and arrangements for our departure the following day.  They also told us that it would get very choppy later in the night.

That evening Bjorn held a quiz about Norway in the panoramic lounge and Marian and I won it!  Considering some of the teams were six people strong I think we did very well! Our prize was one of the smart Scandinavian design water carafes each they used in the restaurant which we were both  very happy with. 

We went back to our cabin but had barely got in bed when the ship started to go through the storm and there was no way we could sleep then!  The ship was tossed around by the storm until about 4am when things calmed down and we were able to get a bit of sleep, luckily neither of us got seasick.

Day 12

A Last Photo of us on the Nordnorge
We had to be out of our cabin by 10am but there were plenty of areas we could sit in, the ship was much quieter since the Germans had left yesterday. We had our last buffet lunch, I was starting to get used to having all this great food made for me.

I went out on deck to watch us head in towards Bergen and soon we were docked at the Hurtigruten Terminal.  We arrived late due to the storm in the early hours. We left the ship and got the bus to the airport. Bergen Airport is a strange place. It's not very big and has no proper place to eat or drink. Everything is self service and the shops are few and not very interesting, I remembered Bjorn had said there wasn't much at the airport in the meeting the previous day, he wasn't joking!

So that was it, the end of a fantastic experience, I absolutely loved it all. Norway is a stunningly beautiful country with lovely people, I felt very at home there. The Nordnorge was just the right size of ship for me, and it's staff were wonderful. Apparently Hurtigruten staff are well paid and there is a no tipping policy, though if you wanted you could leave something when you left. Nothing was ever too much bother for them and they went out of their way to talk to passengers. The food was amazing and some very seasoned cruise travellers we talked to were very impressed by the food and voyage in general.

I loved the fact the ship was a working ship and we were on a journey not a cruise. There is always something to see and I loved how you could just hop off the ship at the ports if you wanted. Sometimes we'd stop at some tiny place where, as well as goods and post, people, sometimes just one person, would get on or off, sometimes a car waiting to pick them up. Marian said it would make a good storyline for a book, the stories of these people where they had been, where they were going, what they had done.

Favourite events/places? I loved the tour I went on way up north to the winter/Christmas house in Skarsvag and the gallery in Kamovaer. The Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso was so beautiful.  And I'll never forget travelling along Vestfjord balancing against the window so I didn't have to test out my survival suit in the icy water, looking up at the vivid green ribbon of northern lights as they danced above the fjord.  The only disappointment being that there was not enough snow to be able to go husky sledding in Kirkenes. Winning the quiz was a perfect ending to our trip.

I would highly recommend sailing with Hurtigruten, especially if you want a trip that is a bit different. I will be doing another voyage with them, maybe in the spring to see another side of Norway.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Voyage - The Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Voyage 5

Day 9

We arrived in Tromsø  just before midnight and those of us who were going to the Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral headed off on a coach. We could see it all lit up in a blue light on other side of strait linked to the island of Tromsoya by a long and elegant bridge. The cathedral was completed in 1965 and, like a lot of churches here, is triangular in shape. Inside it has A large triangular stained glass window and at the other end organ pipes. Otherwise in true Scandinavian style minimal decoration.

The Arctic Cathedral
The performers were a singer, flautist and a piano player. Their performance was absolutely beautiful, the acoustics in the cathedral were amazing the singer's voice soared throughout the building and gave me goosebumps. The music was a mixture of traditional, classical and they finished off with Auld Langs Syne which brought a tear to my eye! Absolutely loved the concert and would recommend anyone to go to it.

We got back to the ship at about 1.15am and the Nordnorge soon set sail once more. I stood on deck as we left the city watching the lights slip away into the darkness. Tromsø was like being back in civilisation once more even though we were still well above the Arctic Circle. It was a city I always wanted to visit and it looked lovely and I would love to visit it again but in day light!

Next day we were sailing south passing through stunningly beautiful landscape towards the Lofoten Islands, I love the easy going life of this ship and what views we had!

Later we had a talk on the history of the Hurtigruten shipping line. In the 1890's it took mail many weeks to reach Hammerfest from Trondheim. A tender was put out for a service that could provide faster services to the coastal communities. Richard With, a very experienced captain, accepted the challenge and did the route in just 67 hours. He named the shipping company he set up Hurtigruten which translates as the "fast route".

We arrived in Stokmarnes and had time to leave the ship and visit the nearby Hurtigruten Museum. The ground was like an ice rink and a couple of people fell. We managed to get there in one piece and it was a fascinating place to look around. Outside, and also part of the museum, (you could go into it) was an old ship Finnmarken, it looked really impressive. Afterwards we gingerly made our way over the ice again to the ship and made it there in one piece!
The Finnmarken part of the Hurtigruten Museum in Stokmarnes

There was a meet up on the deck later for hot chocolate and brandy as we went into the entrance of Trollfjord and the spotlights lit up the massive sheer sides of the fjord. It seemed strange but nice drinking the yummy drink out of special Trollfjord mugs (which you could buy - we did) while Abba was singing Dancing Queen and everyone chatting at the mouth of the fjord. Afterwards the ship made its way through the Lofoten Islands. The only downside was it was dark so we couldn't see the beautiful scenery we knew was there.

Our next stop was at Svolvaer, where we'd been soaked to the skin on the way north! This time we went on a tour to look at the huts and A-frames used by fishermen in the past. We were taken by bus a short distance and walked to a large A-frame or hjell as they are called in Norway. These frames were and still are used to dry cod, it is hung on the frames and dries out naturally in the cold, dry air for three months. The end result is called stockfish and can be stored for years. Stockfish is Norway's oldest export and today big importers of the fish are African nations and Italy.

Hjell on which cod is hung to dehydrate and
so preserve for many years
 We then went into a small wooden hut that had all the things in it that would have been there when it was in use. Up to 15 men lived in the small space there during the fishing season. As we entered the hut a man had a bowl full of dried stockfish and offered us some. It was brown and tough as old boots, after trying the soften it in my mouth for ten minutes I gave up and spat it into a hankie and put it into my bag (next morning my bag stunk of it and it took ages to disperse lol!) We had a talk about the lives and work of the fishermen and boy they had a hard life!

After that we went to the Gunnar Berg Gallery which was very close by. Berg was born in Svolvaer, trained in Germany and lived much of his life there. But he came home to Lofoten during the fishing season and painted many paintings of the landscape, fishing fleets and day to day life of the area. His paintings were beautiful, he was only 30 when he died, it makes you wonder what else he could have produced had he lived longer.

We then went to visit a small hotel that has a shop beside its reception that is preserved from around 100 years ago. Fascinating to look around. And if I remember rightly it was owned by Berg family members.

We had the best cod I have ever had for our evening meal, huge tasty flakes steamed in a white sauce, beautiful! Good to have fish not in batter or breadcrumbs. The food on this ship is fantastic and healthy. Lots of fish (but also lots of other things for people who don't care for fish), hardly anything fried, chips never served once, tasty potatoes, and lots of delicious berries in the desserts, sauces you could put over desserts and also sometimes with the main course. Loved it!

We'd had a busy day so just spent the evening relaxing in our favourite lounge, drinking the expensive wine, very slowly lol! Really enjoyed the day though and was beginning to get sad that the end of the trip was not very far off.

Friday 12 January 2018

The World's Most Beautiful Cruise - the Hurtigruten Coastal Norwegian Voyage Part 4

Day 7

Today we arrived at Kirkenes, 955 miles from Bergen, further east than Istanbul, as far north as northern Alaska and just 10 miles from the Russian border and the point at which our ship would turn around and head on back down the Norwegian coast. Marian and I had been due to go on a husky sledding trip here but it was cancelled due to there being no snow. I was very disappointed as it was one of the main things I was looking forward to on this trip, but you can't control nature. So Marian opted for a hike and I walked into the town from the harbour which wasn't far. The place was bleak and quiet, (it was a Sunday and in Norway everything is closed) and I had to watch how I walked as it was icy. I had my ice grips on but they made me walk really funny and didn't help much, apparently the chain ones are best. It was cold but I found that the dry cold they have there doesn't feel as cold as I expected. I saw a supermarket which had it name in Norwegian and Russian, quite a few Russians live in the town. This area was occupied by the Germans in World War Two and when they left they burned almost all the buildings (something that happened in many of the Norwegian coastal towns.) Apparently it had also been a crossing point for Syrian people entering the country which is strange in such an isolated, northerly place. To be honest on my little walk there wasn't much to see in Kirkenes, but some of the things it is famous for were not happening (sledding, the Snow Hotel) due to no snow. As I got back to the harbour I noticed a rock that had lots of little stones on top of it, so I added one to it, it seemed to be the thing to do.

In the afternoon we had a talk from Natasa about the Vardo witch Trials which was one of the biggest witch trials in Scandinavia and took place in 1621. It resulted in 91 people being burned at the stake. The ship set sail from Kirkenes and in a short time docked in Vardø. There we could disembark and see the place the trials were held and a memorial to those who died. The trial took place at the Vardøhus Fortress which was a five minute walk from the ship. It was dark and the icy wind howled in from the Barents Sea, I was glad to have the torch on my phone to see where I was going. Some people stopped at the fortress and others, including Marian, went on to the memorial, there wasn't time to do both. 

Cannon on Sledge in Vardohus Fortress
The fortress was octagonal in shape and made up of small turf-roofed houses in which there were militaria exhibits. One we were inside the fortress walls there was a bit of shelter from the wind and I wandered through the little houses. In one there was a cannon on a sledge which makes perfect sense for this area. It was a small museum but it was interesting.

Marian said Steilneset Memorial was impressive. It is made up of two parts, a cocoon-like structure mounted on A-frame like structures. You can go inside and in there are lamps by small windows each lamp representing one of the people who was burned at the stake after the witch trials, beside each one is a little information about each person. The other part of the memorial is an eternal flame that burns through a chair and is reflected by mirrors.

It was good to get out of the wild and icy weather and into the welcoming warmth of the Nordnorge. We went to the talk by Bjorn and David which was as entertaining as ever. I learned that during hibernation bears do not urinate, urine produced is converted into amino acids that stop their muscles from wasting away during their long sleep, amazing! We also learned that house prices in this area are cheap but if you go to Tromso or Bergen they are very expensive.

That evening we had reindeer (this being the area where the herds of reindeer range) for our evening meal and it was lovely.  Later the staff put on a tongue-in-cheek fashion show of items from the shop, some of them really got into it and it was fun, the crew are lovely..

Day 8
We sailed past an island called Håja that sat in the sea like a huge whale. Once past this island you see Hammerfest which claims to be the most northerly town in the world. Once docked we disembarked and first went to a pharmacy to buy some (very expensive) cream for my eczema which had flared up. The pharmacist told me that the air is so dry there that you must keep skin well moisturised. 

We then popped into a nearby art gallery but it wasn't really our cup of tea. Nearby was The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society  which housed a small museum and rather good little shop. The museum depicted the history of Hammerfest, and the hunting and fishing that once made this town a very busy port. It was also full of stuffed animals including an eagle, walrus and polar bear. Some of the old photos were really interesting. Seeing we had time to spare after looking around the museum we walked the short distance to the church. It was built in 1961 (Hammerfest was another Norwegian town that was burned by the Germans when they left) and had a beautiful triangular stained glass window and wooden panels painted by local artists. We both liked Hammerfest, it still felt very Arctic and it had a good feel about it. 

Inside The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society
We headed back to the Nordnorge and I went out on deck and watched Hammerfest disappear behind Haja once more. The scenery was stunning as we headed south once more towards our next port of call, Tromso.
Beautiful Scenery After Leaving Hammerfest