An Adventure And We Saw The Northen Lights Too
Day 1 – We arrived at Bergen airport and eventually found the temporary Hurtigruten bus stop about 200m to the left of the terminal entrance. Major road works prevented the stated place being used. 2 buses were there and ours left after 10 mins or so with only about 10 passengers on board. It took us directly to the Hurtigruten terminal and we had our main luggage checked in immediately. We had decided that small rucksacks would be the best bet as carry-on luggage, as they could be used in ports of call. We had a brief walk around the terminal to check the layout and then walked across to the Floibanen funicular railway (about 20 mins walk). The view from the top was spectacular and we had food and drink in the restaurant before returning to the Hurtigruten terminal. We were disappointed to see so much graffiti on buildings along the way. We then completed check-in and after a compulsory health and safety presentation, we (about 20-30 people) were allowed on board Nordnorge at 4.00pm. After assigning a credit card to our cruise cards, we bought two Hurtigruten aluminium mugs, explored a while, then waited in the lounge with coffee and cake until we could access our cabin on deck 3 at 6.00pm. Our baggage arrived outside the cabin door shortly after. After unpacking, we showered and found that water leaked from the shower section into the other part of the bathroom, soaking new down slippers we had left on the floor. We reported the problem to reception and went for a buffet dinner in the restaurant. The ship was busy by then. The buffets have a huge selection of food, hot and cold and to most people’s tastes. The desserts are an amazing selection of blancmanges, jellies, gateau’s, trifles etc. After dinner, the bathroom had been dried, but the problem persisted, so back to reception. We were allocated another cabin on deck 5, so we re-packed, moved and unpacked again. We sailed on time at 10.30pm. Cabin - Cosy, with a sofa that unfolds into a bed + a drop-down bed, each with sheet, 1 pillow and thin duvet. The gap between beds is approx 600mm. Small coffee table, 1 chair, plenty of wardrobe hanging and shelf spaces. Vanity mirror and dressing table. There’s also a high shelf for a TV. It sticks out enough to make it easy to bump your head on it (nose in my case) when standing up after folding the bed away. The air conditioning works well, but isn’t quiet, having said that, neither did any noise keep us awake, even the rear thrusters, which were occasionally evident. There’s also a small shelf unit and telephone between the beds, below the window. We had holdalls as baggage, so these could be reduced and stored in a corner. The bathroom had a good shower with grab rail and curtain, hand basin, toilet, wall-mounted hair drier, mirrored cabinet, extractor fan & waste bin. Liquid soap dispensers are mounted in the shower and above the hand basin. NOTE: The hot water in the cabin taps was VERY hot. In the evening, “Information” meetings were held in both English and German, to tell passengers about the ship and voyage, as well as for health and safety purposes. Day 2. - Woke at 7.00am in Maloy, after a very good night’s sleep, only being vaguely aware of ship’s thrusters when at ports. We had a quick shower and went to the dining room which was already very busy. An announcement told us that we were about to enter the 1st stretch of open sea, where the North Sea meets the Norwegian Sea. After eating, we put on warm clothing and stood outside on deck for a while, watching other boats and the coastal scenery. At one point we spotted some Sea Eagles. At Torvick we went on deck to watch people and machinery on the quayside. Lunch was early on arrival at Alesund, to allow passengers to go on their excursions. The restaurant was busy and it was difficult to find an empty table, with people “reserving” tables with bags, coats etc. To us, a seat isn’t taken unless someone is sitting on it, or has left it temporarily. Some couples would sit at a table for 4 and put their clothing on the 2 spare seats to prevent them being used. This behaviour was also common in the observation lounges, with chairs being left for ages with clothing or books on. There were eventually announcements asking people to stop the practice of “reserving” seats. After lunch, I sat in the empty observation lounge and was joined by an elderly local Alesund man and we chatted for over an hour about everything from local history to language similarities. At one stage, a group of local schoolchildren passed through on a tour of the ship. After the gentleman left, we had a walk across Alesund and back for some fresh air. We had already been to Alesund twice before and seen most of the sights. We went out on deck briefly to see Molde before dinner. Kristiansund was visited at 11.00pm. Day 3 - We woke in Trondheim after a good sleep. Had breakfast at 9.00am, after excursions and tours had left the ship. Dining room was fairly quiet. The cabin shower had leaked again and flooded the area around the toilet / hand basin. We spoke to our cabin attendant and she said it was a problem in her room also and it mostly happened when the ship was leaning to port side, especially when in port. After that she provided us with extra towels to mop up with. I think that due to the age of the ship, the bathroom sealants must need renewing. We had a quiet time in the observation lounge until the shore tours started returning and people started hunting for “their” seats. It got noisy, with chatter and phones ringing, so we went back to the cabin. The Hurtigruten information system is great, with announcements being made in various languages about weather, meeting other Hurtigruten ships, and landmarks to see along the way. If time allows, the ship slows or even detours a bit to enable passengers to see and photograph things of interest. A daily programme is available, with information on ports, meal times, local sights and events. We went out to photograph the Kjeungskjaer lighthouse and see the scenery as we passed through the Stocksundet channel. It was colder then and we needed thermal lined trousers, light fleece, down jacket, hat & gloves, plus warmer socks. After dinner we went on deck for the approach to Rorvick where the Midnatsol was already tied up. On some occasions, there is time for passengers to visit other ships of the Hurtigruten fleet. Day 4 - We crossed the Arctic Circle at about 7.30am & met Nordlys heading South. There were views of Norway’s 2nd largest glacier and a very scenic sail into Ornes . There were lots of snow-capped peaks both there and on the sail towards Bodo. It was cold, needing very warm clothing, but the sea was quite calm. At 10.15, there was a Polar Circle crossing celebration on deck 7, with many passengers queuing to join in, having icy water poured down their backs, followed by a small drink of alcohol? A lady who won the competition to guess the exact time of the crossing, was the first to be “baptised” with icy water. She was also awarded a prize of a Hurtigruten flag. After all passengers that wanted to take part had done so, a crew member poured the remaining water and ice cubes down Neptune’s back. “King” Neptune gave out a very girly shriek. All passengers got a certificate of crossing the Arctic Circle. On arrival at Bodo, Fred Olsen’s Boudicca was already in port. We had lunch then had a walk into town. Local people were coming aboard to use the ship’s restaurant facilities. On reaching the Lofoten Islands, we visited Svolvaer, then cruised near the entrance to Trollfjord, in the hope of seeing the Aurora. It was too cloudy though. Snow level in the islands was down to sea level. We had paid about £8 each and gathered on deck for hot fishcakes and a hot fruit drink in a Hurtigruten/Trollfjord china mug that we took home. We stood outside until about 12.45am in the hope of seeing the Aurora. Day 5 – We woke on arrival at Harstad. It was very cold, with plenty of snow on the mountains. We were joined by Finnmarken. It was bitterly cold but calm and sunny between Finnesnes and Tromso. The roads in Finnesnes looked icy. Excellent views of snowy mountains. Silk liner gloves under mitts were needed while on deck taking photos, as fingers rapidly became numb. We only had a short walk in Tromso as we had been there before. We tried to see Aurora Borealis after dinner, but it was cold, windy and cloudy. Day 6 – At 12.45 am, there was an information message came across the cabin telephone that the Northern Lights were to be seen. We hurriedly dressed and went out, but sadly, there was nothing to be seen. Maybe it was a mistake by other passengers? We had been told to report any sighting of the Aurora to reception, who would let everyone else know. I certainly heard people on a previous night saying that the low orange glow in the sky was the Northern Lights – but they were just the lights of a town, reflected off the underside of clouds. When the call came about the lights, it was frantic at the front of the ship, with people pushing each other out of the way. On another occasion, there was a particularly good photo opportunity of a view and lots of people wanted a shot. At one point, a man physically pushed aside two girls who were also trying to take photos, just so he could take his. Come on people, where are your manners? We called at Havoysund and then at Honningsvag in mid-morning, where we took an excursion to the North Cape. The Mageroya Island plateau is vast and was covered in deep snow, with the road winding its way Northwards to the North Cape. It is compulsory to follow a snow plough in convoy at this time of year and there were 5 buses and a few cars, so it was fairly busy. At the North Cape it was bitterly cold and breezy, though quite sunny at times. We took a few photos and spent some time in the visitor centre before heading off back to the ship. Along the way to Kjollefjord, we passed the Finnkirke rock formation, which is supposed to be the most graceful sea cliff in Norway. As we passed, a fast boat crossed the fjord and delivered some containers of King Crabs to the ship. These were taken to the top deck for passengers to see. Dinner that night was a massive seafood buffet, although other food was also available. At about 9.00pm, it was announced that the Northern Lights were with us. This time it was true and we watched and photographed them until they faded. Various passengers had different types of cameras for photographing the lights, and had varying degrees of success. There were even people trying to use flash. I’ve spoken to quite a few people and most didn’t get any decent photos or very few. It’s so difficult keeping a camera still on a moving ship. We called at Berlevag at 9.45pm, just as the Aurora was fading. Another message woke us at about 11.45pm. The Aurora was back. It’s so difficult coming from a deep sleep to getting dressed and going into the freezing arctic night, but it was worth it, they were much better this time and we also had time to watch them as well as taking photos. Far fewer people out to see them this time, no doubt put off by the time and maybe thinking it was another false alarm. Day 7 - Called at Vadso at 6.30am. Arrived at Kirkenes at 9.15am after sailing up the very calm and slightly icy fjord. We got straight onto buses and went off to the Ice Hotel and Husky centre. The temperature, we were told, was -12c. There were 3 groups of 20 people. One group went directly to the huskies, one went to see the reindeer and our group went to see the Ice Hotel. It was beautiful, with amazing sculptures and lighting. We then visited some reindeer before retiring to a wooden lodge for hot drinks around a blazing fire. We had a little time to see the huskies before it was our turn to get on the sleds. We could wear warm protective suits provided by the owners, but we were well wrapped up, with base layer, thin fleece, down jacket and heavyweight waterproofs. Hat, silk gloves + fleece gloves+ ski mitts. Boots with 3 pairs socks. Wrap-around sun glasses are very important and so is sun screen, especially for the lips. During the few days in the far North, my skin became very rough like sandpaper and my lips split with the cold – “be warned!” It was a great experience, sliding and bumping along a 5 km long trail among trees and over a frozen fjord, with time to stop for photos. Then it was straight back to the ship which was waiting to sail. There were a good number less passengers on board, with many ending their personal journey at Kirkenes. Next port was Vardo, set beside low-lying snow covered hills. Here, a couple of passengers and some crew braved the “Ice Swim”, where they climbed (or jumped) into an enclosed part of the harbour. The air temperature must have been below freezing and the sea temperature not far from that. Brave brave people. After dinner, while in Batsfjord, we watched a video about the Pomor coastal people. Note: Skin protection is essential. I didn’t use any and any skin exposed to the cold and wind became like sandpaper. Lips crack with the cold and remain cracked and painful for many days. Day 8 – We woke up to clear skies, sunny and cold weather when in Havoysund, after a very bumpy night. The bumpiness didn’t affect us though. There were strong winds and rough seas through to Hammerfest and sea spray was reaching deck 7 at times. In Hammerfest we had a short walk along main streets to view the beautiful modern church. From there we made our way back to the museum and Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. A very interesting place and well worth a visit. The seas were calmer for a while, but the wind picked up and it became quite rough to beyond Oksfjord. It was raining in Tromso when we arrived and we went directly to the Arctic Cathedral to listen to a great concert shortly after midnight. It’s a magnificent setting for any event and worth visiting. We were slightly late back at the ship and as we set sail, it started to snow. A lot of passengers disembarked having ended their trip and there was only one dinner sitting from then on. Day 9 – It was dull and wet on arrival at Harstad. During breakfast the wind increased in strength, breaking up the clouds and revealing good views of snowy mountain scenery. We sailed through the Risoyrenna, a channel dredged to allow passage of smaller ships. At the South end of the channel is Risoyhavn. It became very windy, with broken cloud. It clouded over before Sjortland and it rained for a while, remaining windy. The weather cleared a bit as we visited the Hurtigruten Museum in Stockmarknes (free entry to Hurtigruten passengers). A worthwhile experience and very interesting. After that we sailed through the Raftsund, a long, fairly sheltered channel between snowy mountains. The light started to fade a little, but the ship detoured a bit to visit the entrance to the Trollfjord, a fjord only 100m wide in places, with sheer cliffs and mountains each side. This will be spectacular in summer, when the ships go all the way into the fjord. Approaching Svolvaer, we could only just see the white shapes of the surrounding mountains – a view to be seen in daylight in the following weeks. In Svolvaer, we visited the Lofoten War History Museum (about £8). It’s a small building, absolutely crammed with interesting stuff, from uniforms, medals, guns, to even a motorbike. Another hour to look around would have been nice. I heard someone say that the weather was to deteriorate even further during the night, with winds up to 60kts. It was certainly getting very bouncy as we left Svolvaer. NOTE: Many doors on the ship are very heavy to open, but the outer doors are near impossible to push or pull open during strong winds. Day 10 – We were woken by massive vibration and lots of noise and looked out to see we were leaving a port (Ornes). We later found out that it had been impossible to reach Ornes – nearly, but not quite. There had been a lot of movement during the night, with the occasional bang as we hit a big wave and objects were sliding around on shelves. We got up at 8.00am, just in time to see Nordkapp pass by, ½ hour earlier than anticipated. Nordnorge seemed to be listing a lot to the port side. The cabin floor had a definite slope to it and our heads were pressed firmly against the outer walls while in bed. While showering, the ship suddenly levelled out and all seemed good. Before we reached Nesna we re-crossed the Arctic Circle & met on deck for a bit of fish oil on a commemorative spoon (which we got to keep), followed by a small drink of something nicer. We made it into Nesna OK. South of there we sailed among bare rocky islands, with snow-capped mountains to the East, their lower slopes having a mix of conifers and deciduous trees. We were also able (just) to see the Seven Sisters range of mountains and I watched a small aircraft do a shaky landing at a small airport near the sea. The weather remained very windy, with blustery showers of hail and sleet. The wind eased and the clouds broke by the time we reached Bronnoysund and we had a short walk into town for exercise. After Bronnoysund, as the light was starting to fade, we reached Torghatten, the mountain with a hole right through it. The ship slowed and turned enough for most passengers to get a good view. There was a Farewell Dinner as many passengers were leaving in Trondheim. Kitchen staff and waiters were introduced and they paraded through the dining room to applause from passengers. We were joined in Rorvick by the Finnmarken and were warned of a potentially rough crossing of open sea for up to 3 hours. It was VERY rough, with objects sliding on shelves and us sliding up and down the beds. We did go to sleep quickly though. Day 11 – We woke up suddenly about 12.45 am, we were in calm seas, approaching Trondheim. Arriving at Trondheim, we joined Polarlys. There were clear skies at first, but clouds quickly developed, along with a strengthening wind and some rain. At 10.00, we attended a Disembarkation meeting, to receive instructions on where and when to leave out luggage and how we would disembark in Bergen and board buses that would take us to the airport and hotels. The sea became very rough again, gales, but not raining. We arrived 20 mins late at Kristiansund and with a lot of cargo to deal with, we left 45 mins late. The storm got worse during dinner, with the ship rising on huge waves and dropping into the troughs, with the wave tops sometimes nearly level with the dining room on deck 4. Occasionally, there was a bang and the ship vibrated. Diners started leaving one by one as conversation died and objects started sliding and falling off tables. My mealtime ended when my chair suddenly slid sideways and I went to our cabin, where I was OK lying down. Conditions improved a couple of hours later, so we used that spell to pack luggage and prepare for bed. Day 12 – It was extremely rough overnight, with luggage being thrown around the cabin floor and us sliding and rolling in our beds. We missed one port overnight, not sure which one. The weather remained stormy for much of the way to Bergen, with huge waves breaking over the top of small rocky islets, these waves could be seen from a long way off. Many of the islands we passed were little more than rock. but as we neared Bergen, scenery became less stark and there were small communities on some, with trees and fields. We arrived in Bergen 45 mins late, due to the bad weather and I guess we were worried that we wouldn’t make it to the airport in time for our flight. Disembarkation went well though, even though we hit rush hour traffic on the way to the airport. The only problem at the airport, was that a few buses arrived together and a huge queue built up at the check-in desk for chartered flights, blocking the way for those of us wanting to check in at the empty KLM desk. The Northern Lights - Many people, me included, were disappointed in not seeing more of the Northern Lights, but we did see them and should be grateful for that. I had envisaged standing out on deck on a smooth sea, with curtains of bright green and red twisting across a starry sky. The reality was short glimpses of pale silvery green, often among clouds, but mesmerising just the same, as they danced their way across the sky, changing direction and intensity. All this seen from a ship that was gently moving up and down – very difficult conditions for photography. The best part is that the camera sees so much more than the human eye, as the colours become brighter and more pronounced. You would hardly believe that they were the same creations. Which are the true colours? I don’t know and I don’t care. I enjoyed watching the Aurora at the time and I’m very happy with my photos too. The Ship – Nordnorge is a beautiful ship with good facilities and is kept beautifully clean. Crew – Friendly and efficient. Food – We thought the food was excellent with enough choices to cater for most tastes. Seasickness - This has been a problem to me all my life and it worried me a lot before this journey. I left home stocked with many preventions and remedies, which I'm thankful to say that I hardly used. I took some Stugeron before we sailed from Bergen and had a spoonful of crystallised ginger each day but other than that I left things to chance and nature. I am delighted to have found that it took much worse weather than I anticipated before I felt ill. Even then, I was fine just lying down and could even sleep through rough periods.
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