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Trip Report Norway Hurtigruten journey south

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I have just boarded the ship in Kirkenes on a trip I have wanted to take for many years.
There is internet access! I can send a report as we go if anyone is interested.

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    Some things you didn`t know about the Hurtigruten
    The coffee isn`t great
    We are amongst the youngest on this ship
    It snows in Northern Norway on the 5th May
    They don`t search your luggage for alcohol
    Most of the passengers are German

    Some background.In 1996 we visited family in Oslo who talked about this voyage and said that they aspired to do it one day. The idea took hold but only now have we managed to do it. We are myself and my husband both 56 years of age and we are Welsh. Over the years I`ve taken the brochure out and decided bit by bit how I`d do it as and when. Now the time has come and here we are, first night nine hours out of Kirkenes and still heading north.
    We flew out of Manchester yesterday on SAS to Oslo and after a layover of about 5 hours on to Kirkenes. The leg up to Kirkenes was longer than the leg from the U.K. We organised our own flights as this was costing less than doing it through Hurtigruten.
    Arrival in Kirkenes was a totally new experience. It was about 8.30pm 3 degrees, crisp and clear with a blue sky. Quite a lot of snow still but the roads were completely clear and dry. There was a bus waiting with its motor running to operate the heating and he waited for everyone to retrieve their baggage. The cost to Kirkenes 14 kilometres away was 170 krone for two.
    (Forgive the typos as this keybord is a little different from the one I am used to hence ØÆÅ and so on!)
    The drive to Kirkenes took about a quarter of an hour and it was all so interesting(you`ll hear that word a lot from me). The town itself was a real frontier town and reminded me of some other remote places I`ve been to- Ardrossan, Islay, Lana'i.
    We were booked in the Thon Hotel which turns out to be Norways biggest chain. It is a new hotel right on the quay. Very Scandinavian- clean lines, modern, open public areas, and very comfortable warm rooms. It wasn't busy though and they could have given us a room with a view over the fjord!
    We ate in the hotel restaurant which was a great meal. I'd seen somewhere that the food there wasn't good but I was very happy. We both had scallops to start (after an amuse bouche of Lamb with a potato and pea puree):The scallops were 130 krone which was a lot but it was first night.Then I had reindeer with a red berry sauce and pureed potatoes and my husband had salmon on asparagus again with pureed potatoes with a mustard cream sauce. Both of these dishes were extremely good and we both remembered to our pleasure how much better salmon was in Scandinavia(me included because I had some of his!)
    We had a good espresso and the bill came to about 970 krone. Then we stuck our noses outside where it was by now below freezing but still light. Off to bed!
    The beds were very comfy but the room was hot. You know what its like when you wake up hot but can't be bothered to get up and put the light on to find the control? Well that was me.
    This morning we opened the curtains to a light that was SO bright that I had to close them again.We are certainly a long way from Anglesey!
    More tomorrow.

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    Kirkenes is a town which I understand is much loved by its inhabitants(or at least by the lady who sat next to me on the plane).
    She told me it has no crime and because of the iron ore mine which is right in the town it has more work than people looking for work. There were quite a few Russian cars and Russians come here also to shop. I never found out whether you can fly directly from Russia or whether you have to connect through Oslo.
    Anyway the town itself was fairly deserted when we took a wander around with many more shops than you would have thought needed to maintain a population this size. It was not clear whether some of the shops were open but we'd noticed on the drive in from the airport the previous night that few homes had lights on . All the inhabitants cannot have been out and so we came to the conclusion that they were sitting in the twilight as they now have 24hour daylight-in thanks for it.
    The buildings were very square and utilitarian( the commercial buildings that is as the houses were built of wood.)
    People when they did emerge were wrapped up but no more heavily than we would have done at home on a cold day. I was wearing a long sleeved t-shirt , a body warmer, and a winter coat plus scarf.(- Together of course with trousers and Ugg like boots in case someone should quip at the absence of clothing on my lower half!)
    The streets were dry and this was noticeable because when its cold at home the streets are invariably wet.
    There were few trees and those that there were, were in their winter garb with no sign of leaves or growth. The hotel receptionist told us that May is not Summer in Kirkenes.
    There was white on the sea and at first we thought it was the light but as we sailed out (yes, I AM getting there!)we saw that they were small ice-floes. The Gulf stream does not come down the fjord to Kirkenes and so it freezes and has to be broken up by an ice-breaker.
    We also found out that because of the geography at the very top where Norway Finland and Russia are bunched together, then if you travel east from Finland you cross into Norway and so go from GMT plus 2 to GMT plus one and then back again.
    At 11am we caught the service bus - the same one as had brought us from the airport the night before to the Hurtigruten dock. We had watched the MS Vesterålan come in as we had breakfast and now we were boarding.
    We've never been on a cruise before, the longest we've been on a ship was overnight on ferries in Europe so this was all a new experience for us.
    We chose the Vesterålan because of its size and age and because of the lack of glitz which some of the larger boats have. There is a lot of polished wood in the ship which is quite lovely and makes you feel comfortable.
    We had an outside cabin which wasn't ready. That's fine we'd waited 16 years and were going to go so what was a couple more hours?
    We went up on deck where there were areas glassed in and as the sun was shining we sat with the sun on our faces-well zipped into our coats!
    As the ship was about to leave several people ambled back on to the dockside and one couple made it by the skin of their teeth as the gangplank had already been lifted and had to be lowered again for them! Off came the ropes, up went the gangplank again when another elderly couple came around the corner. Someone on the boat had signalled to them that we were going but they didn't speed up-until they turned the corner and saw what was happening. The gangplank stayed up and off we went. I felt awful about this- what on earth were they going to do? I had heard that this happens and here was the exact thing. The first stop was four hours away. I wondered if they had money for a taxi or warm enough clothes. They just stood and watched as we moved away. I couldn't understand why they were doing nothing about it- although there was no-one to ask.
    The boat pulled out into the fjord and then turned around and went back in the other side. It seems that it had docked on the wrong side to allow cars on and so now it let down the car access and the two who had been left behind got on!
    As a result of this we were now running about 30 minutes late.
    We went for lunch.It was and is every day I think the Scandinavian cold table. Absolute bliss! All sorts of fish-salmon, dog fish, eel about 6 different types of pickled herring-in cream, mustard sauce curry sauce, tomato sauce, cold meats salad. Then there were hot dishes-trout, lasagne, pork, beef.Puds-there were about 4-pancakes with strawberry cream, a tart of sorts which had nuts in it, a cake , a cheesecake and a cheeseboard. This had some of the nicest stilton ever. I wonder if it is made in Norway or imported from Britain? There was also a softcheese with orange in it which was really interesting along with a brie and some others. Lovely meal
    Then came the coffee. As you can tell I'm keen on my coffee -both as a drink at any time and also after a good meal when it finishes it off nicely. This was disappointing. As one of the offers on board is for a coffee package where you pay(lots)for unlimited coffee I was very glad I had tasted first. By today(Sunday) I'm drinking tea.
    We are now approaching Hammerfest where we getting off for an explore.
    More later.

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    Can I say that I'm grateful to you for saying that you want me to carry on. I'd also like to know if you feel I'm too long winded(I know I talk a lot about food)
    Sometimes I remember things I'd meant to say and they can be stuff which would interest me if I hadn't been to Kirkenes. If that's as clear as mud just let me catch up .
    The road passed our hotel in Kirkenes -so the main road along the harbour, was a dirt track. I don't know whether it had been surfaced and had been broken up by the snow but if that was the case why wasn't every road in Kirkenes the same? It seems more likely that this is the surface it was meant to have. I think this was one of the main reasons I described Kirkenes as a frontier town.
    Back to yesterday. We stopped at Vardø after 4 hours. This is a pretty small town on the water with many coloured houses-red, yellow, blue and one mustard colour with bright green fascia. We hadn't intended to get off but did. I was worried we would miss the boat (for those of you who have just joined-see above) and so even though it said that we would be there an hour we were back in half. It was cold-colder than Kirkenes. Our faces were cold but the rest of our bodies were warm enough.
    The Hurtigruten run a schedule of excursions which you are encouraged to book in advance and you are told that if you leave it until you are on the boat that they may be full. These vary from walking tours to tours of several hours by bus, boat or skidoo. Some of them are very imaginative. We have booked only one before leaving and that will be tomorrow. You have to have your wits about you as the tour description tells you which port they take place from and how long they last. However as boats sail every day in both directions and at different times its not obvious at what time they take place. You have to look at the sailing schedule to find out what time your particular ship is in that port to know what time the tour will take place. Some are obvious eg tonight there is a midnight concert in the cathedral of the North in Trondheim - you see "midnight " gives it away-wake up at the back! However the snowmobile trip actually starts at 1am so if you've booked that without realising it could be a shock and the excursions are non-refundable.
    Having wandered around a little bit of Vardø we returned to the ship and promptly went to sleep. The ship stopped somewhere whilst we were snoozing and the change in noise and motion woke us up. As many of the stops (34 in total from Kirkenes to Bergen) are at night I wonder whether we will wake at each one?
    Dinner was to be at 7 and so at about 6 we decided to crack open some of our contraband alcohol carried all the way from the UK. We had read that beer is 10 pounds a pint and wine 40 pounds a bottle. One school of thought may be that if you are paying a lot of money for this trip then it is a tad tight not to splurge on the drinks as well. Yet another may say drink water! All part of the rich tapestry of views that makes life interesting.
    We had brought a wine box together with some pear cider (which I am very fond of) and some Mythos lager which I may explain later.I had heard that cases were searched to avoid people bringing their own but no. It all arrived safely in our cabin. The on-board info did say that you couldn't consume your own stuff-food or drink in public areas and we were happy with that. It just doesn't taste the same out of a plastic cup though!
    And so to dinner. Do you remember how annoyed our teachers used to get when you started a sentence with "and".Well now I don't care.It reminds me of the poem which says- "when I am old I shall wear purple". Add to that "and start sentences with "and"".
    Dinner was at 7 with assigned seating. I'm not keen on assigned seating as the only other time it has happened many years ago in Switzerland we shared a table with someone who was very difficult to engage in converstaion. This time the other people didn't turn up so it was just us two on a table for five.
    You may have gathered from what I said above about lunch that I had eaten my fill and so I wasn't very hungry by now. This was a three course table d'hote menu and I was being forced to eat when I wasn't ready for it. Luckily it was quite easy to taste it all but only eat a small(er) amount than was offered. The first couse was a Barents Salad which led to a discussion as to where the Barents Sea started and ended. The salad was a piece of toasted bread with a seafood mix(prawns) in a cream sauce. The portion was quite small but perfectly adequate. The main course was a lovely piece of venison with an onion and mushroom mix and pureed potatoes. The pud was sour raspberries and vanilla cream. Another excellent meal. As for the coffee which followed -well!
    Then bed. I slept well and didn't hear the boat stop. It was light all night but not a problem. What was more of a problem was that our room is the first one in from the outside and at some stage someone didn't close the outside door which banged and banged and banged.... Its also strange that because of the layout of the ship our outside cabins are the only ones which you have to go outside from in order to get to the rest of the ship. In this afternoon's snowstorm its something you think about.
    There. Our first day which takes me nicely to 6pm and drinks. See you tomorrow.

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    We sailed from Bergen to Kirkenes and I am enjoying hearing aboutt your trip south. We rhought the food was wonderful too. Our ship's passenvers were about 90% Northern European, wirh those from UK, USA, and Australia the other 10%.

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    Hey Frances - the Vesterålen is the ship I chose as well, both times.
    I am enjoying your report, and slightly envious too ;).
    Both times the passengers were about 80% German.

    The coffee is pretty good for Norwegian coffee btw. You can always buy an espresso, or if you have the coffee arrangement you can always stick to tea!

    Next time I go I shall take my travelling espresso machine with me though.

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    Just curious - why did you choose Hurtigruten and not one of the cruise liners? Do they have different itineraries?
    We did a land tour in Norway recently and are now talking about a cruise next time.

    Enjoying your trip report - keep it coming.

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    marg - the Hurtigruten are working ships. They calls at placed the cruises don't (and vice versa), and is a much more relaxed way of travelling.
    Certainly on the Vesterålen getting dressed for dinner means taking off your warm jacket, except for the farewell dinner when people do tend to dress up a tad, but even then it isn't essential.
    I'm not sure I would even go on a proper cruise, but the intimacy of the Hurtigruten (even the bigger ships are tiny compared to a cruise ship nowadays), the fact you get to meet locals on board using it as a ferry, and generally relaxed and friendly atmosphere is what makes me return.

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    And so, buoyed up by Pepys -who had never met Mr Francis Williams my teacher, we move on.
    Thank you for your comments. Perhaps I can address some of them together with other things which have occured to me since yesterday that seem relevant.

    Thank you janis

    Why like this and why now?
    I mentioned above that I have never been on a cruise and the idea of a traditional cruise never appealed to me. I go abroad many times a year,sometimes only for a long weekend. When our children were at home we sometimes took 3 week holidays but now we are more in the mode of about 10 days which you can achieve on a weekend such as this which is Bank Holiday in the U.K., with only 4 days off work.

    I have seen cruise liners come in to places where I am already on holiday and noticed people disembarking and going on an excursion only to return in a few hours having "done" Bridgetown or Athens or Maui or Dubrovnik. I was in a jewellers in Tasco when the cruise buses were arriving from Acapulco and the person serving me in the shop was putting on his tie as he spoke to me. In Holyhead where I work there is a "Chas and Dave "tribute act which is organised by the council which goes on and on with a portfolio of about 30 mins of songs, throughout the time the ship is in town. Unfortunately for me it is almost outside my window! So what I knew of cruises didn't make me feel that that is what I wanted to do. However there are some places visited by cruises which seem to give the best way of seeing a lot - and this is one of them. Others which have caught my attention are the Yangtse, Rivers of Russia, Mississippi and the waterway down the east coast of the U.S., but I've never done one of them.
    Another factor was the report of very good food(so right).
    When we looked at when in the year to do the trip, we knew that Norway could have rain at any time. We live on an island on the west coast of the U.K.- second only in its greenness to Ireland due to the Gulf Stream and we wanted to avoid a Summer holiday being rained out. We felt we could cope with bad weather at any time other than the Summer so we then had to decide when to do it. We thought it would be interesting whilst there was midnight sun but the further you went towards mid-summer, the higher the cost became.

    It may also help to know that we are deeply attatched to Greece and try to go there in early Summer every year. So much so that when we saw the forecast for Kirkenes last Wednesday, just before leaving home both of us admitted we wished we were going to Greece! Gladly this evaporated as we disembarked the plane in Kirkeknes where I felt very excited.

    "Gaeafol".
    There is a bakery in Dulwich Village in South London which has a hoarding outside with a daily Welsh word. This may have something to do with the fact that Huw Edwards of News at Ten lives there(In D.V. not in the bakery). Well if its good enough for the south Londoners... you know the rest.
    "Gaeafol" means wintery in Welsh and as we disembarked in Hammerfest yesterday this was the word which escaped my lips. In fact it was "uffernol o gaeafol" but you only get one word a day!
    The temperature was showing 1 degree but there was a bitter wind from the Artic giving it a chill factor of many degrees below. It was also Sunday and everything was closed. We did a quick once around the block regretting having left the warm and comfotable Vesterålen, and saw a Thon Hotel- the same group as we had stayed in in Kirkenes where you may remember that they had good coffee! We went in and sat down with our coffee watching a large piece of paper being tossed around in the wind outside. Every now and then the wind would disturb the dust which swooshed up into the air in a cloud.

    I can't tell you any more about Hammerfest because after our coffee we returned to the ship in thanks for good old wet Anglesey.

    Lunch was as per yesterday but I omitted to mention that they were also serving dressed crab. Dressed crab has a short season in the U.K. and is synonymous with Cornish beach holidays and rock pools. If I can have it once a year I am happy. It doesn't seem however that it had the same appeal in Germany because only 2 or 3 were served every day so now for the second day I feel much indulged(as does my tum).
    I don't honestly know where you can be served a Norwegian cold table in the U.K. and so at this stage I'm going on the basis that it may be another 16 years before I am faced with this abundance of food so much to my liking again.

    The terrain.
    The landscape out of Kirkenes was low gentle rock covered in snow. Someone mentioned that it was all black and white and that is correct. Apart from the novelty factor initially there was nothing very interesting about it. What WAS noteworthy was the almost total absence of habitation for hours and hours of travelling, even an absence of fishing communities. Compelled as we were to draw comparisons(with Greece if you must!) there were no tiny homes with lights and boats drawn up outside. This is because we are really beyond the point here where people can survive in isolation. The cold is so cold that emergencies are immediately life threatening and day to day survival depends on having a support network.
    Over a short period we gradually became enveloped in a snow storm which reduced visibility to zero. It was an interesting but chastening experience to allow someone else to "drive" on in circumstances where, if we had been driving a car we would have been very worried.
    The snow continued for about five hours. Initially it was tiny little granules rather like washing powder, but over time became big and wet and splotchy- like a toddlers kiss.It didn't stick on the deck but was no doubt adding to the not inconsiderable amount of snow which we saw on the mountains when the visibility improved.
    "Mountains" you exclaim? but she said the terrain was uninteresting!
    Amazing mountains craggy with their slopes so steep and high they were wreathed in cloud and you could only guess at where they ended. The first one we saw was as high as Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales and in addition it rose straight out of the sea and so was towering and majestic and foreboding all at once. The mountains were running down the side of a fjord, seven or eight of them one after the other,sculpted, beautiful and challenging. If I was amountaineer I would have jumped out there and then.

    We are now approaching Trollfjord. Time for a break. Anyway I have exhausted my vocabulary of superlatives for the time being.

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    I have been thinking for years of taking this trip and I am enjoying your descriptions.
    Do you think a solo traveler would like it? I would love just talking to the locals on board.
    Looking froward to the rest.

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    Hetismij- thank you I have just had a perfectly acceptable espresso! I didn't know they served it because my Norwegian is non existent.

    Martha T- this essentially depends on two things
    1. You and whether you are happy striking up conversation with strangers. You will know this as you have already by the sound of it travelled alone,and
    2 whether the other people want to talk. You have no control over this and hetismij is a better person to answer you.
    I did notice today that on the excursion we took people were falling into conversation which they weren't necessarily doing on the boat.

    The pleasure at the voyage is the same whether you are one or two people and certainly provides lots to talk about.

    As I've started off about talking I'll add that on the boat everything is broadcast in Norwegian, English and German. All posters and information are also in French but I've not heard any French on board and I would have had there been any. The boat is not full. It carries approx 200 passengers and at times hasd two sittings in the Dining Room. We have one sitting and in general it is about 80% full. It is difficult to be more exact as the boat takes passengers from port to port as well as people like us who are on it for a longer period. Interestingly, when we visited a church today(of which more tomorrow) we had a leaflet in about 8 languages.

    Now back to those outstandingly beautiful mountains. These are the Lyng Alps in Lyngen Fjord. Until we reached this point I was coming to the conclusion that there was probably no point catching the boat in Kirkenes if you wanted the scenery. You will know that I really enjoyed the experience of Kirkenes but it may not be everyone's cup of tea (or espresso). Norway has a good domestic air system and it would I think be easy to get on the boat where ever you wanted to. However the next most obvious place after Kirkenes would be Tromsø which means you would miss said mountains- I wouldn't do this.

    Just after the Lyngenfjord a fisherman came out to meet the ship and delivered two cases of fresh shrimp which we ate out of doors on the upper deck. It puts things really in perspective and shows how different our lives are when he does this every night in the middle of the fjord in that jaw- dropping scenery whilst I am at home safe and warm watching television.

    It is habit that when we met a northern-bound Hurtigruten (which is every 12 hours ) that we are encouraged to go out on deck and wave. Each ship sounds its horn and flashes its lights and it leaves you feeling that you are part of a tradition that was there before you and will remain after.

    My memory of the cold in Hammerfest is so acute that I forgot to mention that we visited the polar bear museum on the quayside. This was free and a good place to spend half an hour. The info on pollution was thought provoking-the Sami have 20 words for snow but not one for pollution. I bought a mother and baby polar bear for my first grandaughter who is due in 39 days!
    I also forgot about dinner which was as excellent as always. We had acquavit-cured reindeer followed by Artic char on a bed of asparagus then a blueberry parfait. A good word-parfait- describes the whole meal.

    Finally we decided to stay awake to see the arrival into Tromsø which was at 11.45. It is still significantly light at this time althought he street lights are lit. Tromsø is huge for this part of the world-population of 60000. It is spread out along both sides of the sea . Both sides are joined by a modern graceful bridge under which we passed and we docked in full view of the Cathedral of the North. I fell asleep while we were still in Tromsø thinking that I would quite like to come back and see it in daylight.

    We are now leaving Svølvaer. It was a tad rough on the way in here and we are now striking out over open sea for 4 hours to Bodø on the mainland. I caught myself singing "For those in peril on the sea"!

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    You have captured my feelings about the Hurtiguten experience in your well written report. I have no desire to ever go on a large cruise ship either but this was so different.It was an experience. We loved watching the locals get on and off the ship at the various villages and towns too. The food and scenery deserve your superlatives!

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    Having trouble with the connection tonight so this may be in small bites just to make sure that I don't lose it.

    Marija- if you are still with me there will be a further thought on cruising v. Hurtigruten on todays post which I will post tomorrow.

    While there is little point analysing decisions you have taken it can also be useful to try and learn from them. Revisiting things endlessly can be counter-productive but tonight's Welsh word is
    "Difaru" which means regret.
    You may know that Welsh people sing and it is only a short step from that to realise that they are musical. Yes, of course it is a generalisation but as generalisations go it is quite accurate. Many of my long-held and fond memories involve music, particularly on holiday. So I remember going to a Chopin recital out of doors in the ruins of the castle of the Knights of St. John in Rhodes in 1971,seeing Ray Charles perform in the amphitheatre in Taormina in 2000 and hearing Itzaak Perlman play in Tanglewood in 1992.
    I knew that there was a midnight concert in the Artic Cathedral of the North starting as soon as we docked two nights ago. I saw the concert programme which was advertised on the ship and it inclded performances on the flugelhorn which I don't think I have ever heard. I don't know exactly what it is but I suspect that it is a member of the brass family-a second or maybe third instrument for one of that section.
    Because of the late hour and also because we had already booked an excursion leaving at 8.15 the next day I decided not to go. Then we berthed right across the sea from the cathedral and in the midnight sun I WAS sorry. It was a very modern cathedral and according to the information had a whole wall which was of stained glass. Had it not been middle of the night I might just have hoofed it across the bridge but being terrified still of missing the boat , I didn't. There we are.
    In years gone by I have sometimes had to pay a second or even third visit to a town in order to see something I have missed the first time- the Sibelius Museum in Turku Finland was third time lucky for me!Maybe I'll return!

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    Our excursion was around Westerålen and Lofoten. We visited Trondenes church which dates from the 11th century and is set overlooking the fjord but at water level. An unexpected pleasure when we arrived was that the priest was there and coducted a short 5 minute service for us. His hymn sheet was in 8 languages and we sang in English and in German. I noticed that many of the German people crossed themselves when he pronounced th blessing "in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost". I had no idea that this service was going to happen and I thought that if it had taken place in Britain, there would be someone who would complain that his human rights were being infringed! I put the happy acceptance down to our age (I mentioned before that we are amongst the youngest on this ship) but it may also be the high proportion of Germans.

    Just by the church was a beautiful museum, well-designed and lovely to look at. In the entrance hall was a large fire with benches covered in reindeer skin for us to sit down and warm ourselves. There was also coffee- yipee!
    The museum was interesting and well done and imaginative but we didn't have enough time.
    We moved on with a number of photo stops and caught a ferry to the next island where we due to join the ship. As we got closer to the time the ship was due to leave we still couldn't see any sign of it and the driver of the coach was going very slowly. We started to think that we would miss the sailing. Our guide then told us that they would try and co-ordinate our passing over the bridge to the other side of the fjord, to our boat travelling underneath and so as it came into view, off we went. The guide had said that we couldn't stop on the bridge and it was pretty high . He told us that we would drive slowly but warned that drivers behind would become impatient. He said that once,a driver had been so incensed that he had driven straight to the police station and reported them!
    Anyway it was perfectly coordinated and as we reached the top of the bridge we saw the Vesterålen pass underneath and it gave us a blast on the horn.
    I was so struck by the sheer money put into the design and construction of the museum in what was a tiny community that I thought the money must have come from somewhere else. In the E.U. we would have joked that it was E.U. money but clearly that wasn't the case here. I thought that perhaps the Hurtigruten had paid but having made enquiries back on the boat it seems that that is not the case.The tour guide on the boat thought that the community, backed by central government would have funded it.

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    The weather yesterday was glorious and consequently I didn't want to spend time inside reporting back. I am now quite behind and so I will shorten this somewhat but please feel free to ask if there's something you want more info on. Sorry by the way,for the typos in the last post which I didn't check before sending.

    How quickly you become used to the abundance of wonderful food on this ship so that by the second day I was trying to watch what I did eat not regretting what I didn't. It was noticeable that there was little fresh fruit-at breakfast for example there would be a plate of watermelon and this is a time when I could have put paid to some.
    Lunchtime on Monday (so the third day of our journey) I saw a big basket of fruit topped with bananas and it has been there every breakfast and lunch since although rarely with bananas. It's not nearly so visible when it just contains apples an pears because they are green and .....green.
    Thinking about the operation of this ship makes the mind boggle and I suspect there is more that I don't know than that I do. At every port there is a Hurtigruten refrigerated lorry which brings fresh food (I suppose) Presumably the chef is responsible for ordering ahead according to the numbers of passengers and the menu. I don't know whether every ship serves the same menu for dinner every night. I mentioned that for the first two days we had dressed crab at lunch but that has now finished.
    Still on the point of organisation you start thinking of things like sewage and rubbish disposal, and the ultimate- at Harstad there was a hearse parked on the quayside!

    After lunch on Monday we stopped at Stockmarknes and had time fo a quick whizz around the Hurtigruten Museum. Most stops are for about 1-1.5 hours and allow you to disembark but not move very far away from the quayside. I could have done with longer in this museum.

    Then we entered the Trollfjord. Most of the ships are too big to do this as the entrance is only 100metres wide. It is 3 kms long and the ship went up and then turned 180 degrees where it became wider(but not much) We were so close to the sides of the fjord that you felt you could reach out and touch them. Quite an experience!

    As we arrived at Svølvær the sea was becoming rough. On the harbour wall were large wooden racks drying hundreds of cod sides which are mainly exported afterwards-a lot of them go to Nigeria. There was a small one of these racks plus necessary disembowelled cod , crowned by the heads of the unfortunates on an outside deck on the ship. I never found out whether it was a tourist attraction or a hobby of the chef!

    In Svølvær we wandered around and then visited the War Museum It was by now about 7.30 pm but clearly the tourist provision in the Hurtigruten ports knows when the ships are in. This museum had an extraordinary collection of war uniforms which were the private collection of the man who was running it- the only staff member there. It also included little gems like SS Christmas baubles which were incredibly rare. It showed table china which the occupying forces had made locally but because of the local resistance to this the workers sabotaged it. They would place a brown dot in the middle of a logo or a dotted line across the skull of the SS symbol! Unsurprisingly manufacture was discontinued soon and consequently there are very few examples of these remaining.
    The curator/owner had taken great care to provide English translations for many of the exhibits and some were long(no, we are not related!) and very detailed. This was a little gem of a museum but once again, we sailed before having nearly enough time.

    Dinner tonight was leek and potato soup, a haddock roulade and strawberry and raspberry soup with vanilla ice-cream. For the first time I found that I was less than totally enthusiastic about the haddock but really because it was totally plain. It was a piece of fish rolled up and cooked. It was beautifully fresh and perfectly cooked but needed something else.

    There, that's Monday.

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    Hi Frances, I just came across your report and am enjoying it immensely. It's bringing back some wonderful memories for me, we did the round trip in 2007 on the Finmarken, roughly the same time of year too.

    Isn't the scenery just so beautiful, it's hard to tear yourself away to go indoors.

    I will look forward to reading more.

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    Tuesday
    At 9.15am we crossed the Artic circle. We were invited to a "little ceremony " on the aft deck and we went along- me thinking vaguely about Poseidon,although I couldn't believe that they were going to drop us in the sea. They produced half bottles of what looked like whisky and some rather nice souvenir spoons which we were told we could keep. As the tour organiser made her explanatory announcement first of all in German, everyone groaned and I didn't catch what it was she said. It was cod-liver oil!One of the ship's staff was saying "don't be shy". You have to admire people who can speak idiomatically correct English when it is not their first language!
    I had never tasted cod-liver oil but I had a friend in primary school who was fed it by her mother and didn't like it. Surely by now it would be nicer, and if they can flavour Calpol they can do anything. As I liked the spoon and my husband went before me I queued up obligingly.

    "Afiach"- disgusting! Its a lovely word, very expressive. You can roll it around your mouth until its perfectly formed and then spit it out with the right amount of venom. Sadly I was not able to do the same with the cod-liver oil. What I haven't told you is that the crossing from Svølvær the night before had been seriously rough and it was about 1.30am before I had got to sleep. Consequently we had only woken just before we crossed the Artic Circle and not had breakfast. Well a spoonful of cold oil smelling of fish hit my empty stomach producing just the result you may expect and I JUST made it back to the cabin in time!

    Maybe I could have lived the rest of my life without the nice spoon after all.

    Arriving now at Kristiansund and being recommended to see this. More later.

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    As the morning wore on without incident I thought I had put this episode behind me until I sat down for lunch with a plate of smoked tuna and halibut. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling I had had a surfit of salt (I've no idea why but that is how it felt) and I couldn't eat it-or anything else. I've not been able to chose cold fish since even though I know we disembark tomorrow and it will probably be Christmas Day before I have smoked salmon for breakfast again.

    During the afternoon we stopped at Sandnesjoen which was unremarkable because it was raining. We did get off but strolled along the main street taking shelter. It was only a one hour stop in any event.

    Later in the afternoon we stopped at Bronnoy. The sun had come out and we wandered along the water front. We were only a stone's throw from a tiny island with a little white boat house glinting in the sunshine. The sea was blue and slightly higher on the island was a white wooden house. Have you read the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo? You know how he goes to the island in Sweden to investigate the death of the daughter (or is it neice?)and stays in the main house but the denouement takes place in the smaller house by the water's edge? There it was except that there was none of the threat which you feel on reading the description in the book. The other side of the island were more little islands and the sea was deep turquoise in parts.
    What a gift to have ended up there - even if only for an hour. I had never heard of Bronnoy and if I had been on holiday in Norway I very much doubt that I would have headed there.
    Marija- this was another side of being on The Hurtigruten which was lovely. I think I mentioned that there are 34 stops from top to bottom and so inevitably you will see and experience far more than if you took a conventional cruise which may make a stop a day.

    As we left Bronnoy the sun was shining and the sea was glistening. Now we had dropped below the Artic Circle the snow had receded from the shore but remained on the mountains further inland. Also we were now below the Artic tree line and so the landscape was greener. We passed between the mainland and off-shore (but very close by)islands for some hours in glorious sunshine. There were few colours -red houses, blue sky ,deeper blue sea with patches of turquoise green trees and bits of white paint around the windows and doors of houses. It was glorious and we only moved to go and tidy up for dinner.

    Tonight was being treated as the last night as quite a number of people disembark in Trondheim tomorrow. The captain and his staff lined up one side of the dining room and the restaurant staff did the same the other. All had a round of applause with the females curtseying to the diners.
    We had a smoked salmon and salad tortilla, followed by peppered steak with hasselback potatoes then the ships ice-cream bombe served with a caramelised meringue. Really good once more.

    Some people say that their main courses are cold by the time they are served and this is because those are plated up by the chefs in the dining room. By the time they have reached the last people to be served then that has happened. The food is brought in to the dining room in a large heated cabinet and stays in there until the tray before is all used up. Nevertheless it seems to be a problem but this is the way the ship have decided to do it.

    Finally for today, we caught sight of the first pleasure boat this afternoon- a yacht sailing by. We are obviously in warmer climes now.

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    Wednesday

    We hit the streets of Trondheim at 7.45 despite having tossed about in bad weather for a few hours during the night. It was a glorious morning and the ship was there for 4 hours only. We walked into the city and along the riverside amongst all the old wooden houses and warehouses, many of which had been converted into restaurants and apartments.We arrived at the cathedral before it opened and so just carried on wandering around and enjoying it. We only saw one coffee shop and this is fairly charecteristic of the places we stop. Note to self -Trondheim would be a nice placec for a weekend from Britain.
    Back to the ship where we were for once, very ready for breakfast.

    We sailed out of the Trondheim fjord surrounded by blue sky, blue sea and two killer whales which were accompanying us. It's quite marvellous what the Hurtigruten can arrange!
    The scenery has changed quite a lot by now and there was arable land sloping gently down to the sea with farmhouses and small communities and Summer houses dotted all around. At the end of the fjord we turned left(I'm sure there must be a more nautical term but I don't know it) and now we had very low lying islands on our starboard side for miles and miles- more the sort of thing you might be familiar with on the North Sea coast of Holland and Germany. There were lots of houses on these islands- I mean streets of them and I wonder where the people work as by now we are quite a long way from Trondheim.

    In the afternoon it was warm enough to sit out well wrapped up and we fell asleep in the sunshine. Another glorious afternoon both weather and scenery wise.

    We arrived in Kristiansand at teatime and went off for a wander around. Most of the towns we have stopped in are very similar in terms of architecture, the shops and hotels they have and so on. If there is no old quarter you would find them all the same. We noticed a large number of shops/restaurants in prime position in Kristiansund which had closed down. It is of course the position on the water which adds hugely to the attractiveness of the towns.

    Also important in Kristiansund is the range of Ronsdal Alps across the fjord which were snow covered. They stretched for miles and miles and we watched the sun set (as much as it ever does) casting a pink glow over their beauty .

    Tonight I had THE best fish soup ever. I noticed that the fish heads which had been drying on deck had disappeared and maybe they added to the flavour! Then we had barbecued pork and an excellent lime posset. All very good with the soup and posset shortly to be the subject of a search to see if I can find the recipe.

    We were by now in Molde. As we are getting close to the end of the trip we are getting off everywhere we can. We set off up the main street and saw both daffodils and tulips. The absence of flowers has been noticeable but it is due to the fact that we have been so far north. We first saw flowers- crocuses, on Vesterålen where our tour guide said that they were late because normally the snow clears from Vesterålen by the end of April. There was still a lot of snow around when we were there on the 7th May .
    Before we returned to the ship we also saw a tree with blossom- the first we have seen.

    Another rough night. We have sussed out that where our daily schedule says "open sea" it means hang on to your bunk!The motion of the sea is not a problem but it is rough enough to wake you because your body is rocking in bed. Our wardrobe door flew open and slammed shut twice.Out of five nights then we have been woken or kept awake on three of them by the weather. The ship posts daily wether reports and in advance of the first rough night that day's forecast was taken down. We should have guessed!

    I see on re-reading yesterday's post that there are a couple of spelling mistakes there-sorry!

    Today- Thursday
    We had to check out our cabins by 10 which we did. Not too nice at first but then it opened up as we sailed between small islands. Strangely it was rough on and off even though the sky was blue. We sailed through a narrow sound and a saxophonist played us through on the upper deck with some beautiful haunting melodies.

    We arrive in Bergen shortly and so this is likely to be my last post for now. I'll finish off after I get home- Sunday next.

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    Wishing you a good trip home, Frances. Thanks for taking the time to write. I still can't decide, since we're not cruisers, whether we'd find the trip "boring." We've spent a week in Norway and enjoyed the amazing fjords but we weren't captive on a boat and we do need good coffee. What do you think?

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    Back in Anglesey. It was good to read this because even a week later I had forgotten some of the food we had.
    Just to finish off the cruise, and to return to food. At lunch I asked if I could have the recipe for the fish soup. The waiter told me it was on again that day anyway but he would ask the chef. He came back saying that the chef was delighted I liked the soup but that the recipe had some secret ingredients.
    By now I had tasted it and it was different- I think the chef had bulked it out, probably with celery and so he didn't want to have to tell me this!
    The saxophonist played us in to Bergen. Like I've already said the music was compelling and carried a long way across the water. Some school children waved from their school yard and the ship gave three hoots on the horn- "I'm home"! I admit to feeling quite emotional at this point. You hear that taking the Hurtigruten is not a visit to Norway but it is part of Norway- and that is exactly how I felt.

    We disembarked and walked to our hotel-The Basic Hotel Bergen which was less than 5 minutes away. We weren't sure what to expect in a hotel of that name but it was more than basic and very comfortable. Both nights though we were woken at 3 am by street noise. I think that this must be the time of stop-tap in Bergen.
    The weather the first afternoon just got better and better and we estimated that it reached about 20 degrees. We went up the Floyen in the funicular and had a wonderful view of the city below. There were lots of people up there eating ice-cream. We also kept seeing people who had been on the ship.
    Then we went to have a look at Bryggen and Marken. Lots of small wooden houses which were very pretty.
    That evening we defected back to an Indian meal which we enjoyed a lot.
    The next day we caught the urban tram out to Greig's home at Trollhaugen and spent a lovely few hours there despite the rain. We ate in the museum restaurant- £13 each for a bowl of fish soup!
    We returned to Bergen and wandered up above the Bryggen where there are streets and streets of pretty houses all overlooking the harbour.Today we managed to get in to the cathedral which had been closed the day before. Churches throughout this trip had generally been locked apart from the one in Trondenes which we visited as part of an excursion. The vast majority of churches were very modern in their design.
    This evening we ate in Tracteursted restaurant in Bryggen. This is in one of the old buildings which stretches a long way back from the road. They were serving a Norwegian style tapas menu in an old wooden room at first floor level. It was very atmospheric and the food was good.

    Up early the next day to catch the 7.54 train to Oslo. You forget how noisy wheeled cases are until you pull them through empty streets in the early hours.
    The train journey was very pretty and went through some mountainous areas which weren't accessible by road.There was loads of snow at the highest point.

    In Oslo we stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton on Stortingsgata. It was a typical Scandinavian weekend with the whole population (so it seemed) in Akerbrygga eating ice-cream and drinking beer in the sunshine.
    We spent the evening visiting family and recounting how we had finally taken the voyage they had told us about.
    On Sunday mornig we whizzed over to the Opera House and walked up on to the roof- you'll know what I mean when you get there. Then airport express, plane, car and home.

    Thoughts on looking back.
    I am describing this as a big adventure- or as big as I do now. Visiting Kirkenes, the snow, the beautiful mountains, the sun and scenery-wow!
    The ship was very comfortable and you know what I think of the food.
    I am very very glad that I have done it and if you were to ask me if you should I would say yes. It was not at all boring - we read when visibility was bad. On about the third day I realised that we didn't even have to deal with easy mundane things like putting petrol in the car!

    I was bemused by the coffee but after hetismij's tip-off, the espresso was good. There is an absence of coffee shops in Norway but every port has a Thon Hotel so coffee is only a short step away!

    So there we are. I'm very happy to answer questions.Thanks to all those of you who have stuck with me.

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    Wonderful report- we took the same trip a few years ago, and your report brought back memories. One thing I kept looking for, and did not find was a report on the boiled potatoes at dinner. I LOVED them, and cannot remember what was so special, but something was !

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    One of my most memorable!

    I had a few days to kill on a trip to England so flew to Oslo, train to Bergen, Huertgruten going north. Single room, interior, very cheap, very depressing.

    We arrived at Trondheim, maybe 4 hours ashore allowed. Turns out it was National Day. Parades, food, music, history. I went back to the ship, got my gear, told them I was leaving, and had a great, no, fantastic experience of patriotism.

    One of the best memories of all my travels. I have great admiration for Norwegians and their love of country! Caught the wonderful train back to Oslo.

    I am from the US, of German extraction, but am convinced that mankind is better served by adopting the cultures of the colder climates. The colder the better!

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    I loved reading about your southbound voyage. We are booked for June and can't wait! As I'm about to book the excursions, I have some misgivings and hope that you can help.
    I am keen to experience the area around the Lofoten Islands so was intending to do both big excursions on the one day. The 9A Taste of Vesteralen which is 4 hours - all morning, and the 9B Lofoten Islands which is 3 hours in the early evening. Someone said that as I would be away from the ship for so long I might be disappointed in missing such a significant part of the voyage as it passes through the islands. Now I'm not sure what to do. Perhaps I can have your opinion.
    Also,a similar question arises about excursion 11C The Atlantic Road, which sounds very scenic but at 4 and a half hours that's another big chunk of my cruise time gone. I'd value any insights.
    Thankyou.

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    That is interesting. We only took the one excursion and that was on the Lofoten Islands. As luck would have it we found when we rejoined the ship that the sea journey we had missed was spectacular passing beautiful turquoise seas.
    Some who did nearly every excursion enjoyed the Atlantic road very much and I still remember how glad they were that they'd been.
    The really important point is to cross refer the trip with the time that you'll get to that port-for example the skidoo trip was at midnight and some who did it said they would not have booked it if they'd realised.
    Please feel free to come back with any more queries, a few of us have done this trip

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    Thanks Frances. I had decided to do The Atlantic Road, so I am pleased to hear that. I've now found the port arrival and departure times hidden away on the website and yes, it is invaluable. I re-read your fascinating voyage report again today, sitting in the autumn sunshine in good old Adelaide - in fact I read it out loud to my husband. Good on you, it makes such interesting reading.

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    Frances: If you are still following this be advised you caused me to dig out our travel records for our late Sept/Oct) 2010 trip from Washington State to Norway. Now I will have to go through them all - again!

    Seattle-Tacoma Int'l to Heathrow then on to Oslo and train into the city. Confused by no passport control. Stayed in a hotel close to the train station and had a bit of time for Oslo and the Viking Ship Museum. Needed more time for Oslo. Next morning off to Bergen by train and an unscheduled stop in Gol while track was being maintained. Little did I know it was the home of my other Norwegian family line.

    Arrived in Bergen's train station and for travelers be advised there was no auto rental there. You have to take a bus or taxi to the airport and reverse when returning. That could/should be improved upon. Did I mention it was raining. Hmmm, just like home. Next morning headed approximately 200 miles north for Orsta and our first visit with Norwegian relatives. Still raining with huge amounts of water pouring off the mountain sides. Lots of long tunnels and several ferry crossings and arrived Orsta. Dinner with new family was pizza at a place run by a Turk. Spent a great week there and in Aalesund plus a visit to the family farm in Syvdefjord. Still raining but with occasional breaks and rainbows. Then back to Bergen for a couple of days before departure on the Nordlys. Surprise. No more rain!

    Bergen was great with most of the tourists gone and locals out walking the quay with children. Fish market had lots to buy - we peeled shrimp and made our own sandwiches. Must have looked like a local as two very attractive young ladies asked me in Norwegian to take their picture. Told them I would be pleased to - in English. Caught them off guard but they made a quick switch to English. Lots to do and see so if possible have a couple of days there.

    As for the Hurtigruten experience the first thing folks need to understand is that it is NOT a cruise ship. No formal entertainment, no casinos, no ice sculpting classes, no tour of the kitchen, no special menu restaurants at additional charge. Just watch the view as you travel port to port and marvel at how they manage to eek our a living. Be sure to take a couple of books. I think we scurried off the ship at most stops except those in the dead of night. We were fortunate to have a charming couple from London as our table companions.

    On the trip north we had planned on doing the Lofotr Viking Museum but it was closed for a week while transitioning from summer to winter. As an alternate we booked a visit to the Sverresborg-Trondelag Folk Museum at Trondheim. Well worth it!

    Regrets? So few Norwegian passengers on the ship. Not enough time to take in the various cities and fishing villages (wanted badly to get off and have a day to wander around each of them). Not taking the Nordcap sidetrip and not taking the short trip to the Kirkenes/Russian border. By the way, big battles there during WWII between the Germans and Russians.

    Highpoints? Absolutely gorgeous weather the whole trip. A few clouds as we rounded Nordcap but otherwise sunny and flat calm. New family with whom I still communicate. Watching everyone run on deck in the middle of the night in their nightwear to see the Northern lights.

    Gaffs? Taking the proper seat numbers in the wrong rail car. Uff Da! My excuse? Very little train travel at home and no conductor checking tickets when boarding. Had to do the walk of shame to the proper car at the first stop. Oh, and taking a big first bite out of the old cheese aboard ship. Gag. Should have been labeled toxic. Otherwise, very nice menu if you like seafood.

    And, Frances, if you are looking for cruises in the U.S. be sure to consider traveling up the Columbia River from the Pacific to the end of slack water navigation in Idaho followed by a jet boat trip into Hells Canyon. Or take a trip to Alaska but if you do that be sure to depart or arrive in Vancouver, B.C. which ensures traveling the entire Inside Passage behind Vancouver Island.

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