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