a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘hurtigruten’

ice, baby, ice ;)

Now that I’ve slagged the towns of northern Norway (with good reason!), I must entice you to visit.  As I have explained, I have adored the landscape… it’s just that the towns have been a little dull.  I wouldn’t say Honningsvag is a lot different.

remote but gorgeous

remote but gorgeous

It’s day 6 and the first time there are no materials or city map for the port of call.  I was frantically researching yesterday to see if we actually got off the ship!  But it appeared we did.  I could only assume the town was so small a map was unnecessary.  Research suggested it had about 2,800 inhabitants.  Having grown up in places of that genesis, I understood.  You could likely see the ship from any random point in town!

I have been wandering into town on my own instead of joining a tour so each day feels like a small adventure.  The challenge is always to make sure you get back to the ship on time.  They tell a story of a legendary (and possibly mythical) Texan who apparently hired a speedboat to catch up with the ship – they could see his massive cowboy hat from the water – but I think the theme is “don’t miss the boat!”

moving the ship

moving the ship

Today, of course, I COULD see the boat from most angles… which made it especially distressing when I re-emerged from a tourist shop and COULDN’T see it!  They have an irritating habit of only playing public announcements in public parts of the ship but I have learned to open the door to my cabin if I hear noise – and, with luck, they have not already done the English part – so I knew they were moving the ship at this port.

I had confirmed it wasn’t departing until 2:45pm and it was only 12pm so I was pretty sure I didn’t need to hire a speedboat – but it was disconcerting.  Luckily I found the ship and even got a great photo of it turning around!

Since the chance of having been abandoned now seemed abated, I decided I would brave the unknown and go into some place that advertised an Ice Bar.  My friend Sarah spent the introduction to the millennium at the Ice Hotel in Sweden and I had considered joining her so have been fascinated with the concept for a long time.

And finding an Ice Bar is not an easy task!  I would totally encourage you to check it out.  I had two absolutely

partying with the polar bear...

partying with the polar bear…

wonderful girls from Barcelona (in scarves and parkas!) as my escorts.  You get two drinks (no alcohol – we are in Norway – but great ice cold fruit juices).  It’s a great space and a surreal experience.

As a tradition, you get to take your frozen shot glass and throw it into the Arctic Ocean to make a wish. I decided the shot glass was likely made of ice so just became part of the polar landscape.  This – and the fjord at midnight – the highlights of the trip.

Bring fleece.  Embrace the ice.  When the sun shines down on you, it will warm you everywhere – skin, heart and soul.

I think I need to go to Antarctica after all 😉

obviously, they have never been to paris ;)

Once you leave Trondheim, the journey becomes a bit metaphysical.  Early in the morning the next day you cross the Arctic Circle.  I set the alarm but had been reading late into the night and expected it was likely a non-event.  If you get up for it and tell me otherwise, I will need a re-do 🙂

Whether you get on-deck at 7am or not, you DO end up in the Arctic Circle.  Had there been free champagne instead of bad Prosecco for 55 kroner, I would definitely have been outside on three hours of sleep 🙂

remember to go outside and check it out :)

remember to go outside and check it out 🙂

I grew up not far from the Arctic and wandering through these tiny, remote towns in northern Norway reminds me of my youth.  It’s late May so I have experienced worse cold – but bring fleece!  Wind-stopper fabric.   Serious gloves.  Even if the temperature is above zero, the wind chill will test you.

But there is a beauty and majesty to these places that is impossible to describe.  You look out the window and you see endless stretches of ocean, yet another set of snow-capped mountains, blue skies with barely a horizon (yes, it has stopped raining!) and you start to feel bored…

But brave the wind chill and get outside on deck and take photos… even if you aren’t sure how they might turn out… because you will upload them and be astonished by the interplay of colour, texture and light that is the arctic in spring.

I am typing this wearing my souvenir – a moss green Helly Hensen (Norwegian!) fleece emblazoned “the arctic awakening” – the current Hurtigruten theme.  And they are right.  The arctic is awakening – and it is the most fulfilling part of the journey.

This is a cargo ship so information is sporadic and incomplete.  I fear I should have stayed up – or been on deck – to see specific things but it’s not very clear just what you should be looking for – or when you might find it – so I have just accepted the randomness.

You do get to go ashore at least once a day so I have just embraced the experience and whatever journey I ended up on.

Bodo was OK.  What I have discovered as we advance north is that the physical beauty of the landscape and the interplay of light with the physical surfaces have been enhanced but the man-made stuff is pretty basic.



What is impressive is some of the new modern architecture – and how the locals have to be outside in an outdoor café even though it’s only 8 degrees Celsius!  I grew up in that world.  Once you have been in darkness and minus 40 for a long time, it turns 4 degrees positive and you’re thinking tank top and sandals 😉

The Arctic has been my favourite part of the journey and I would highly encourage you to experience it.  I do think that Tromso could really use a better tourist office though.  I have never been so confused!

They would have got more kroner from me but I couldn’t find either of the tourist attractions I was seeking.  It was like a Monty Python skit.  It was the first tourist town with NO signs to attractions.  Fine, I had a map.  Oh, but the tourist map only had a few random streets.  And only a few random streets actually had street names marked on them!  And the streets named on the map were generally NOT the ones with street signs!

Seriously???  Maybe the Mafia is in charge of tourist buses… “you no pay the tourist fee and take the bus, we no tell you where the tourist stuff is”…  It is the first time in the history of my traveling through FOURTY EIGHT countries that I couldn’t find what I was seeking…

It was a combination of not having a specific address, the tourist map not including all the streets and most of the streets being incognito.  I walked the blocks the map indicated in its general way at least four times braving the icy polar winds, but to no avail… so I finally just decamped to the ship.

Of course, Tromso had been promoted on the ship in the typical Hurtigruten hyberbole as “the Paris of the North”.



Seriously, have ANY of you BEEN to Paris??? Or even Buenos Aires?  I could see it as the former Paris of South America, with a faded majestic charm.  But Tromso… you don’t even have enough street signs – or a decent map – to be considered a Norwegian tourist town.  It is entertaining how many cities want to be Paris… perhaps setting your benchmark as probably the most thrilling city in the world from a man-made perspective may be setting your sights a little high 😉


re-inventing your past ;)

I am pretty sure I have blood on my hands.  I am at least half Viking – and given the mayhem the Vikings allegedly caused in my other homelands, I may well be a little more…

I have now finished Colin Thubron’s excellent book, “Shadow of the Silk Road” and questions of ancestry, tribe and history are subjects he addresses over the course of many nation states, ethnic groups and shared versions of history (accurate or not).  Reinvention is not a modern concept.

We have always lived in half-truths, in perceptions, in mythology.  History is an imperfect science so we never know exactly what happened in the past – although it is getting a lot harder in the age of social media.

But, luckily for the Vikings, there were no selfies or embarrassing posts on Facebook of the pillage you were hoping to forget… so Vikings can do a little rearranging of history without anyone being able to know for sure if it is just wishful thinking.

My knowledge of ancient history is improving but it is still shaky so I keep an open mind when it comes to the Vikings.  No society is composed of only bad guys – and you need to understand the context in which people behave before you can even consider passing judgement of any kind.

norwegians like boats!

This is the right mindset in which to enter Trondheim (the next stop on Hurtigruten).  It used to be called Nidaros and was Norway’s first capital city.  It was a port of departure for Viking expeditions.  Apparently Leif Eriksson is Leiv Eiriksson in Norway, the dude who discovered Canada – Viking no matter what direction I turn 🙂

I take a little issue with the Hurtigruten info that says the first export of American goods to Europe took place in Trondheim in 1100 AD.  That stuff came from CANADA, dude 🙂  At the time, I think it just came from Newfoundland.  But not America…

The really big thing to see in Trondheim is the Cathedral.  I have

cathedral of many genres

cathedral of many genres

seen a lot of churches!  This is country 48… but I was impressed!  It is something new.  A little Viking, a little Gothic, a little Baroque… a piece of history, which is always more messy than people seem to remember.

you decide if he was really a saint...

you decide if he was really a saint…

It’s not too often a Viking becomes a saint and is the centrepiece of the market square.  It’s not clear if he was a great guy – or just a great politician.  But it does seem Vikings elected leaders so it’s nice to see some non-royal on display.  Someone who had to do something for that sainthood beyond just be born into the right family…




fast – but not furious :)

Going on a Hurtigruten ship is an experience in Norwegian history.  It is the only Norwegian word I really know – “hurtig” means fast.  It all came about in 1893 when a young entrepreneur named Captain Richard With left Trondheim on a steamship named “Vesteraalen” sailing into Hammerfest to a cheering crowd in 67 hours – a half hour early!

the view in the rain...

the view in the rain…

When Captain With took the challenge to create an express boat service between Trondheim and Hammerfest, there were only two marine charts and 28 lighthouses north of Trondheim.  He was a pioneer in Norwegian history and helped to foster the economic powerhouse that is modern day Norway.

Ships have been operating on the Coastal Express for over 100 years.  Since 1936, a Coastal Express ship has left Bergen heading north every day – with some minor interruption when Norway was occupied by the Nazis of course.  The names of the Coastal Express ship company has changed over the years, from Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab in 1893 to the much easier to pronounce Hurtigruten today.

I’ve almost finished my journey so we’re going back to nostalgia mode now.  Leaving Bergen is dramatic.  These are lots of excursions you can take from the ship and I think it’s worthwhile to research them before you leave home and decide what is most likely to rock your boat.  Nothing is cheap in Norway so I decided to just see what I could see from the ship – a mini adventure.  Some people have booked the excursions just so they have someone to guide them back to the ship.  It really depends on how good your sense of direction is.  The towns are pretty tiny though so it’s not hard to find your way home.

If you go on the excursions, the days will likely feel much more hectic.  If you just follow the ship’s timetable, there is lots of downtime.  If you go later in the season, it’s likely fun to hang out on deck or pop into the Jacuzzi.  It’s not a cruise ship so there aren’t many activities on board but there is lots to see out the window and you can eat and drink pretty much all day and night.  Internet is not 21st century but you can generally find a signal.  And you can always pile on your fleece and walk around on deck 5 to snap photos without glass in the way.

Your first stop will be Alesund.  If you’re lucky, it will not be raining.  I was not so lucky but persevered and found my

view from the top of the 418 steps!

view from the top of the 418 steps!

way (after a few false starts) to the 418 steps to the top of Aksla mountain.  It wasn’t too bad but I was breathing heavy for the last 50 steps.  People coming down encouraged me to keep climbing, saying it was worth it – so I did the same for other tourists when it was my turn to come down.

It is worth it, even on a rainy day.  I can imagine it would be glorious on a sunny one.  Alesund is definitely worth checking out.  Norwegians are keen on building wooden houses – and then burning them down it seems.  I guess it gets boring in remote places…

The town of Alesund burnt to the ground in 1904 so was rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style, making it one of the more intriguing cute towns in Europe.  This is also a gateway to the Geiranger Fjord I gather – but not until June…

Perhaps I will return someday when the sun is shining and boats are sailing in the Geiranger Fjord? 🙂


about those fjords…

Today I met a wonderful lady from Santa Barbara named Nancy.  There are also some lovely retirees from Vancouver with whom I dine each evening as we have been assigned to the same table at 6:30pm every night.  And last night I met a jovial retired goat farmer from Tromso (where I am writing this) so I have talked to a few people.  But, as Nancy and I were discussing this morning, there isn’t a ton of interaction between strangers on the boat.

It’s unfortunate I didn’t meet Nancy earlier.  She is delightful and celebrated her 75th birthday on the boat.  I would have bought her a glass of champagne had I met her in time.  She got off the boat in Tromso to visit friends in Denmark so we only had a fleeting conversation.

We were discussing how we both thought we were going through the fjords.  I’m glad I’m not the only one who was confused.  I am going to end all the Norway posts with my insights in what I would have done had I known more so we won’t get into that yet.

stavros charming passengers and carrying 30 plates at a time!

stavros charming passengers and carrying 30 plates at a time!

Hurtigruten is really a cargo ship that goes where it’s good for business.  Passengers are an extra.  The staff are very pleasant and some are really memorable, like Stavros who discouraged me from buying wine at lunch since there is apparently a special deal tonight.  Exciting!  I had a lengthy conversation with the staff when I got on board as I didn’t think I needed an entire bottle of wine every day (the much promoted wine package) but I tried the house wine the first night and I am not too sure about the ship’s sommelier…

The hazards of being a wine snob 🙂  But the good news was that I could order a bottle and keep it on the ship, sipping away until it was finished.  So I could reduce my cost per glass – and more importantly – choose what would be poured when I had a glass of wine.  I realize I look a little nuts carrying around a bottle of wine but I also know I am drinking much better wine than most of the passengers 🙂

There is much to say as I have been on the ship for a few days.  There is lots of downtime so I have been typing but mostly catching up on the past, rather than recording the present… so will have to figure out how to frame the experiences on the ship.

But this post is about fjords!  Because I really imagined cruising through a bunch of fjords.  But I gather the ship is too

into the fjord!

into the fjord!

large to do a lot of the fjords so you need to see them on a different ship.  And it’s a bit early.  May has been fun but the season really starts in June it seems.

scenery near midnight...

scenery near midnight…

All that being said, that made last night extra magical.  It was announced if the weather was right, the ship would go into the Trollenfjord around 11pm.  You could buy a kitschy souvenir for 84 kroner but I just stuck with taking photos – and trying not have my fingers fall off from frostbite!

We are now in the Arctic Circle.  So enjoy the pictures – just appreciate it was around freezing temperature as I was snapping them.  But we are also now in the midnight sun so taking photos around midnight while it looks like daytime and the light plays tricks with the mountains and your eyes is pretty extraordinary. Well worth staying up for.  And I saw a fjord!!!


will I be the only one without a senior’s discount? ;)

I am hoping I won’t regret this 🙂  The staff have been fun so far.  Not EVERYONE has a cane 😉  I don’t do cruises… because I am restless and easily bored – and because I have always worried I would be trapped on a boat full of people over 70…

I think not everyone is over 70… but my initial impression still holds… there is a couple sitting across from me right now who look younger than me but they are likely on their honeymoon so there is a good chance it will be me and the geriatrics… training for the future?

norway the beauty queen :)

norway the beauty queen 🙂

So far, Norway is that pretty girl with the perfect complexion and the rich daddy.  She doesn’t have to talk to you.  She doesn’t have to try.  She’s got the world by a string and she just wants your lunch money.

Apparently Norwegians are reserved.  So far that has been my experience.  No one is rude and I am fascinated and impressed by the country – but no one seems inclined to indulge in idle chit-chat.

We haven’t left port yet and it finally started raining so I may feel more enthusiastic tomorrow.  On the plus side, dinner was excellent, especially the cold salmon and halibut.  And I found the unmarked Vinmonopolet and discovered that there are Norwegians who own operations in Cognac so you can buy a bottle of Cognac to take onboard the ship for only slightly more than a bottle of whiskey. The ship information has procedures on bringing your own alcohol onboard – that is how expensive liquor is in Norway!

waiting for departure

waiting for departure

It’s an interesting place and I am hoping some Norwegians will talk to me before I leave.  So far the friendliest people have been taxi drivers in Bergen.  Apparently a girls’ choir from North Korea is here for the Bergen International Festival (I am leaving Bergen too soon!).  We were discussing how North Korea and Norway are about as far apart on the cultural and political spectrum as you can get.

I may be a little bored but it IS a beautiful country and apparently we can get a postcard stamped “Arctic Circle” in a couple of days so I think at least the scenery will be entertaining.

even pretty in the rain :)

even pretty in the rain 🙂

And I will try and bond with the geriatrics.  It won’t be long before I have a senior’s discount – and I hope that won’t mean I have nothing interesting to say.  I have my parents for inspiration – we always have to remember that my mom should get out her ID because she can get a discount – even if she acts at least a couple of decades younger… so I just need to find a senior with her vitality 😉

p.s. things DID get interesting but I wasn’t paying proper attention soon enough 😉

living la vida disney ;)

It’s always exciting when a place exceeds the dreams you have had of it in your imagination.  I have been dreaming of Bergen for over twenty years.  I imagined myself here in 1989… but on a budget of $50/day, Scandinavia dropped off the table.

I had read an article in the globe and mail travel section about the “mail boat” that cruises up the coast of Norway through the fjords.  Not a cruise ship but a regular boat whose principal purpose is cargo and mail delivery.  At the time it seemed you could book something really basic and it didn’t cost a fortune.

It was still way out of my backpacking budget so I’ll never know but a trip on Hurtigruten in 2014 is not cheap although I am sure the cost is substantially less out of season.  But I am here in Bergen on a glorious day in mid-May.  It is so sunny it’s tough to type and I have to contend with my reflection in the screen as a kind of unwanted screensaver.


I wanted to save a little money on the Hurtigruten ship so I booked really far ahead and came in May instead of June.  I can’t guarantee your experience of Norway in May is going to be as spectacular as mine but I have rarely had a more perfect climatic travel experience.

gorgeous bergen!

gorgeous bergen!

And then there is Bergen… (the Hurtigruten ships start out of Bergen)…  It is like Brugge and Ljubliana – another small city that is so cute and perfect it’s hard to believe Tinkerbell didn’t scoot in prior to your arrival and sprinkle pixie dust over the place.

It’s an old trading post and seafaring port, one of the Hanseatic merchants` four most important trading centres.  I am sitting typing this next to the harbour on one side and rows of adorable houses rebuilt a series of times due to fire but apparently using the original blueprints from the 12th century.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site called Bryggen.

As has already been noted, Norway is a wildly expensive country to visit so I read about all the tourist attractions but almost nothing is free (maybe a church… not all churches though) so you will have to explore them on your own.  Most sound pretty small town so paying at least $12 to be underwhelmed seems a recipe for disappointment.

And the town is gorgeous so exploring it will provide plenty of free entertainment 🙂 The one thing I did pay for – and I would encourage you to do the same – is the funicular up to the top of one of the mountains (the city is surrounded by seven).

bergen via disney ;)

bergen via disney 😉

It`s the Floibanen Funicular and takes you to the top of Mount Floyen in seven minutes.  It costs under $20 (not much in Norway does J) and, on a sunny day, the view is breathtaking.  It also provides a great bird`s eye view of the city.

The other cool thing to do from Bergen is explore the fjords.  I expect I will be back.  There is no question Norway is gorgeous – but, like supermodels, it charges a lot of cash per hour so one has to plot a careful strategy.

I`m not sure exactly what I will see via Hurtigruten so that`s the plan for this trip.  I can fly back to Bergen on another European jaunt and check out the missing fjords if I am not OD-ed on ice, water and rock in the next seven days.

Tomorrow I join the ship.  Today I am soaking up the sun and the immense satisfaction that comes from realizing one’s dreams – and having the reality exceed everything one has imagined.  Skol Bergen 😉

p.s. after I wrote this, I searched for a great final meal in Bergen that wouldn’t break the bank.  I wanted to have fish.  I knew that if I got off the main drag next to the harbour the cost would likely come down.  I finally settled on Ruccola at Verdidsalmenningen 7.  It’s just down the street from the station for the funicular.  An amazing meal of salmon and vegetables for about 220 kroner – and the best house wine I have had in Norway!


Tag Cloud