Hurtigruten Voyage July 24th - Aug 4th

Hurtigruten Voyage July 24th - Aug 4th

Written By: Art&Heidi

Hurtigruten Voyage

Our voyage began in Bergen and sailed north visiting countless fjords and archipelagos from latitude 60 degrees north all the way to the North Cape at latitude 71 degrees north, which is 5 degrees above the Arctic Circle at 66’ 33” N. Our voyage was blessed with phenomenal weather: temperatures exceeding 25 degrees on most days heading north with clear blue skies. We celebrated the Arctic Circle crossing on the flag deck with a maritime ceremony that included King Triton and the ship’s Captain ‘baptising’ the passengers with sea water and ice poured down their backs followed by a shot of aquavit as fortification in return for their bravery. All on board also received a certificate verifying our crossing of the Arctic Circle.

We were on board for 11 days and visited a total of 68 ports, some stops being only 10 minutes long (no point in getting off obviously) and others 2-3 hours (which was adequate time to hike or explore the port city). We availed ourselves of almost every opportunity to get off the ship, sometimes just to stretch our legs and explore these arctic towns and sometimes to enjoy some very unique experiences.

We kayaked at Trondheim on the Nidelva River that took us through the beautiful countryside. We entered the river 2 hours east of the port and we paddled past the 11th century cathedral and through the old town with the colorful riverside buildings and even saw a Viking rowboat to complete the experience.

In Tromsø we hiked to the top of the lookout, (equivalent to climbing The Chief in Squamish) on a beautiful clear day and were treated to spectacular views of Tromsø and the surrounding mountains and fjord. The climb was so steep it would not have been possible without the installation of over 1200 massive rock stairs by Sherpas and Magar people from Nepal between 2016 and 2019.

In Bodo we swam in the Arctic sea to mark our visit, the water was only 10-12 degrees C, so no amount of swimming and flailing would warm you up here! In Hammerfest, the “northernmost town in the world” we again scaled the local lookout and while enjoying the views discovered a return hiking route that took us past a Sami House (Norwegian indigenous people of the north known for herding reindeer) and we were also treated to close encounters with two reindeer families.

This short stop cruising was always a blend of curious exploration and time management, as 5 minutes late returning to the boat would mean figuring out the transportation to the next port to meet your ship. Our cab driver in Tromsø told us he had to give a 370 KM ride to a couple that cost them $10,000 krone, ($1,500 CDN), yikes! Needless to say, we always gave ourselves lots of time to return on time.

Truly magical experiences were had from just being on the deck of the ship moving through the majestic deep fjords: such as the Geirangerfjord, home to the world-renowned seven sisters waterfall (only two sisters appeared for us due to the hot summer) and thanks to the size of our small ship, tiny fjords such as the Trollfjord where we were treated to a visit by a pair of sea eagles, massive birds of prey larger than the north American bald eagles.

Our captain navigated this tiny fjord to the end and his turn around required a perfect three-point turn with the ship approaching the walls to within 10 meters. The waterways we travelled were mostly through inside passages, until we reached the top of the world, where we were required to enter the Barents Sea for a few extended stretches. Given the age of our ship, she had no stabilizers, so the rocking of the boat in seas whipped by polar winds challenged the waiters in the restaurant when delivering soup as well as the passengers negotiating the hallways: we called it the ‘Dance of the Lofoten’.

Our ship played three roles, cruise ship, ferry for the locals and freight delivery and pickup along the coast. The ferry passengers were often on for only 2-3 stops and could be found in the cafeteria or sleeping on a couch in one of the two lounges on board if their journey was overnight.

The small size of this ship was one of its biggest selling point. Given the intimate nature of a small ship, we met and spoke with a great majority of the passengers and ended the voyage having made true friendships. Based on the vagabond life we will lead we fully expect to cross paths with many of them and are hopeful they will in turn visit us in Vancouver in the future.

MS Lofoten 

Our ship was a passenger and cargo vessel owned and operated by Hurtigruten ASA. The ship was built in 1964 and is the oldest ship in the fleet still in operation. The vessel was declared worthy of preservation in 2001 by the Norwegian Director General of Historic Monuments to preserve Norway's cultural heritage. She has been refitted several times—in 1980, 1985, 1995, and most recently in 2004 but since she cannot be made handicap accessible, she is due to be retired in 2021.

At only 286 feet long and a capacity of 400 passengers, this was a very small ship but beautifully appointed with old wood and brass everywhere. Our cabin was tiny! Down on the lowest deck (formerly 3rd class or crew quarters), no window, 2 bunk beds and a sink, toilet and shower down the hall! But with wonderfully comfortable beds and linens, we were rocked to sleep every night in our little cocoon! 

And our little ship is a little bit of a celebrity. The Norwegians, as I said previously are quite nostalgic. And many have childhood memories of sailing on the Lofoten or eagerly awaiting its arrival and what it might bring: mail, supplies and items ordered from catalogues or friends or relatives coming for a visit. Numerous times our ship would be cruising along the coast and motorboats or even jet skis would zoom out to meet us, ride alongside for a while and wave before heading back to shore. Other times we would notice people standing outside their very remote homes waving and even once we saw a whole group of children and adults performing the wave on shore for us!

Many of our fellow passengers had specially booked this cruise to enjoy this Grand old Dame before her retirement. It was purely by accident that we ended up on this ship: the dates of this sailing just happened to work with our itinerary. We were very lucky indeed!

Norway Trivia

Norway boasts of growing the best strawberries in the whole world in one of the Vesteralen Island fjords where a special microclimate, super rich soil and the long growing season due to the midnight sun combine to produce fruit that are very big, super sweet and with perfect shape. The best of them are, of course, sent to Japan. 

Traditionally Norwegian homes were painted in a strong red, yellow or white and we noticed this everywhere especially along the coastal towns as well as the farming communities. Apparently, ones’ house colour would signify financial and social status. Red was the old traditional colour as it was the cheapest to make animal blood (fish or mammal) for the colour and cod liver oil (as a base and wood protectant). Yellow was made from ochre and oil. White was the most expensive due to the requirement of adding zinc. The colour of ones’ house was therefore a status symbol: those with a white house had money. So sometimes people would even paint the front of the house white and the other walls red! Because paint is now commercially made there is no price difference and so houses for habitation are most commonly white. But the Norwegian people are nothing if not nostalgic and still favour the use of red especially for farm and boat buildings and huts. 

Another example of their love of tradition is that of hanging a small lamp in a window. It is dark in Norway in winter. So, these small lamps or lights are lit 24/7 during the winter and are never turned off. This comes from the times when there were no big towns or streetlamps and this light would give a more congenial feeling to your home. These lights were also visible as orientation points for the fisherman from the water and for travellers coming by horseback over the wilderness. A green lamp in the window though has apparently a quite specific meaning: it was a way for a woman to indicate that she was available for male companionship! According to our tour guide, this “most genial practice” started in the 50s and was common until the 80s. He did not say whether these were ‘professional’ women! 

We were told that living in Norway makes one value the summers so much more–not a moment is wasted. Norwegians participate in many outdoor sports and activities. Days are spent trekking in the mountains, boating, bike riding, and sunbathing. The idea is to store up as much happy sunshine to last you until next spring. And there is certainly a lot of sunshine to be had with 60 days of polar sun. Even at midnight there are people enjoying the sun, having BBQs on the beach, playing volleyball in the sand, going to outdoor concerts and celebrating the Midnight Sun. The flip side of this was pointed out by our tour guide, he said, 'If you are going to live in northern Norway with its long dark winters, you MUST be an optimist'!

Fun Facts

Farm animals have holidays by law for eight weeks! After the long winter when they have been inside the whole time, they are released to roam in the mountains completely free until fall. Many of you may have seen YouTube videos of ‘extremely happy cows’ being let out of the barn and actually frolicking...these are very likely Norwegian cows.

Related Links
Countries: Norway
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