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Trip Report The most Beautiful Voyage in the World and the Northern Lights

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I am not very good at writing trip reports but this was such a magical experience and there is so little written about Norway on Fodors, I felt I had to share it with others.

I am a solo traveller and retired at Christmas. My retirement plan is to see all the countries on my wish list and at a time of year that was not possible when I was working i.e. when prices are cheaper.

Around Christmas time Joanna Lumley (British actress) presented a programme on the BBC in search of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and I was hooked.

A trip on the Hurtigruten was on the agenda for 2009 but all my friends and people here on Fodors advised me to do it in May or June. Well, I am a stubborn and independent woman who always asks for advice but rarely takes it and decided why this should be different, so off I went in March in search of the Aurora and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Hurtigruten is a fleet of 14 ferries, one leaves Bergen every day and sails up the western coast of Norway to Kirkenes and back down again to Bergen carrying passengers, mail and freight to over 30 ports along the way. The complete journey takes 12 days and the ports that are not stopped at on the way up are called at on the way down. This is not a cruise ship; the ferries provide a very important lifeline to the communities along this rugged coastline. It is very informal – no dressing up for dinner, no tipping required and no organised entertainment, however there is an activity organiser on board who gives out information on the ports of call and sells tours to various important places at these ports. I only went as far as Kirkennes (6 nights) and did 2 of the organised tours however; if I were to do it again I would do the full 12 day trip and pick my tours very carefully (more about them later).

Enough about the Hurtigruten my trip report:
Day 1 – 3 Bergen

Arrived in Bergen from London via Oslo, I decided to spend a few days here before my trip up north and also spend 2 days in Oslo at the end.

Norway is very expensive (and I mean expensive especially for alcohol), when you arrive in Norway you can visit the duty free shop and purchase a maximum of 3 litres of wine for use in your cabin on ship. The wine is much cheaper here than on board (£7 a glass) and they sell small 1.5 litre boxes which are really quite good and about the same price as wine in an off licence in the UK. I bought 2 1.5 litre boxes.

I took the airport bus to Bergen which stops at several different places – Radisson Hotel and fish market. I got off at the fish market. My accommodation was the Skansen Pensjonat and it was excellent. I had a small single room which cost £30 per night (very very cheap for Norway) it didn’t have an en-suite but the toilets and showers were spotless I never had to wait. The owner supplies each person with a bathrobe. Breakfast was brilliant – eggs cooked to order, ham, cheese bread and tea or coffee. It is in the centre of Bergen but up a very steep hill so not really suitable for anyone with walking difficulties, the owner is very knowledgeable about Bergen and surrounding district and like everyone in Norway speaks fluent English.

It was raining when I arrived but put my hat on and went for a wander around Bergen, got something to eat at a very good Indian Restaurant and went to bed.

The next day I went on a Norway in a Nutshell tour from Bergen to Bergen – this was brilliant and a wonderful taste for what was to come later. I got the 8.35am train from Bergen station to Voss (you book the whole trip from the information desk at the station). Each turn was different as we passed rivers and lakes and snow covered mountains. In Voss we headed for the Bus to Gudvangen (make sure you get the right bus it has Nutshell on it) and travelled through mountains, along rivers, hairpin bends and a snow storm to Gudvangen. At Gudvangen you have about 30 mins before the boat takes you through the Fjord to Flam. As it was March there were very few people there and the only place open was the gift shop however, it was very nice to wander around the area and browse through the shop. The trip down the Fjord was spectacular, there is lots of deck space for photograph taking and for those people who prefer to be indoors there are large windows and a covered sun lounge to sit by and observe the beautiful scenery. When we arrived in Flam everything was closed apart from a small restaurant but I imagine this place would be very crowded in summer. The weather was still snowy and I had a coffee in the restaurant along with some Americans I met on the trip (we had a very depressing conversation about bankers and global recession). We then boarded the Flam railway to Myrdal which was another splendid trip and made a stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall. Everyone got out to photograph it but it was completely frozen and I think looked even better than had it been flowing. From Myrdal we waited for the Oslo – Bergen express train and arrived back in Bergen about 18.30pm – it was a brilliant day and one that I will never forget. Had a very nice meal in a Chinese restaurant and went to bed.

Day 3 I checked out but left my luggage at the Skansen and went exploring Bergen. The tourist office opposite the fish market was very helpful. I walked around Bergen and the wonderful little streets then headed for the Bryggen. This is a lovely area to wander around, I had intended to visit the museums but they did not open until 11am and I had 2 other must sees on that day so they will have to wait until my next trip. It had stopped snowing and the sun came out so I headed for the funicular and up to the Floyen. What a view of Bergen in brilliant sunshine. As it had been snowing it was quite icy under foot so I did not venture very far but the views were worth the trip. In the afternoon I headed for Troldhaugen and Edvard Greig’s home. You get a bus from behind the tourist office (I think it is bus 30) and ask the driver to tell you when you have arrived at the stop for Troldhaugen. It is then a 20 min walk which is signposted all the way to Greig’s house. There is a museum there and when you visit the house a lady takes you around and tells you the history of one of my favourite composers. It was a lovely day the sun was shining on the lake and you see where he composed some of his work.

Back to Bergen, collected my luggage and headed for the Hurtigruten terminal.

Next leaving Bergen for the most wonderful voyage in the world!

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    Great report so far. I'm eager to read the rest since the Hurtigruten has been a "maybe" on our list. We were in Norway mid-May and it was just starting to warm up so March must have been quite cold. (We were the only guests in the entire Stalheim hotel which had just reopened for the season!)

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    Hurtigruten is on my maybe list also. I have been to Norway all the way to North Cape but by bus and I think the ferry would be really interesting.
    I would go as a solo traveler also and wondered if it would get a little boring on the boat between stops.
    How was the food? I am also anxious to hear about the northern lights.

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    Marija, It was not nearly as cold as I expected it to be, the West Coast is warmed by the Gulf Stream so apart from the wind chill I don't think the temperature was below -1 the whole time I was there and I was dressed for the weather.

    MarthaT, The scenery is so wonderful you won't get bored and there were lots of single people on my ship, I met English, Scots, Irish, Fins, Swedes, Germans and Norwegians.

    The food was excellent

    Leaving Bergen on the Finnmarken:

    Day 1

    The Hurtigruten terminal building is big and check in similar to an airport. You are given a key to your cabin and a table number where you will have dinner from the second night of your journey. The key (which is a card similar to hotel bedrooms) can also be used as a credit card on board ship, it has your name on it and the cabin number. I was on the Finnmarken which is one of the newest ships and it was really very plush. I was on deck 6 and the cabin was lovely although the amount of storage space for 2 people would have been a little tight. It had a television which showed CNN and a small fridge. The bathroom was small but adequate and had under floor heating, the heating for the cabin was individually controlled.

    Dinner the first night was a buffet with no assigned tables. It was excellent (as were all the meals) and consisted for various fish and meat dishes . Before departing Bergen there was a health & safety and general information briefing in the panoramic lounge in English, Norwegian and German . At 10pm we set sail in search of the Northern Lights.

    Day 2

    Breakfast was a massive buffet with everything you would want. Coffee was only served in the dining room with meals and had to be purchased at all other times however, there was a coffee deal with was quite good if like me you drink a lot of it, for 200kn you bought an insulated mug and had free coffee for the entire trip. There was also a wine deal that could be purchased but it was too expensive for me and I stuck with tap water at meals times which was free.

    Although there was a large panoramic observation lounge on deck 8 I much preferred to be out on deck as I felt you could see much more and get the feel for the spectacular scenery much better. I met two elderly English ladies on my first day and they informed me that there were thick blankets in the cabins for use on deck and also the most sheltered places to sit (they must have been nearly 90 and they spent all of their time out on deck in all weathers, as I am not that age yet I reckoned if they could do it so could I). We passed under the Maloy bridge which was the first of many on this trip that links the different islands along the way.

    The first major stop was Alesund and I disembarked. The ship docks in the centre for 3 hours which is plenty of time to explore this very beautiful town. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style. The museum tells the history of the town and worth a visit.
    The next stop was Molde but the boat only stops here for 1 hour so you don’t have a lot of time but enough to walk around the main shopping street.

    I had first sitting for dinner (6.30pm) and met the person I would be sharing a table with for the remainder of the voyage – luckily we both got on very well. Dinner was table service and all of the meals were excellent. In your cabin you are given a little book called Culinary Voyage so you know what the meals are for your entire journey. They reflect the culinary and local produce of the towns and village you pass on that particular day.

    We had a short stop in Kristiansund at 22.15pm but I didn’t get off just watched our departure from deck.

    Day 3

    We docked in Trondheim at 06.00 and departed at 12.00pm so there was lots of time for this wonderful city. The boat does not dock directly in town but it is only a 15 min walk and you are given directions. When I left the ship the sun was shining but the one thing you learn is how quickly the weather changes and within 30 mins it was snowing heavily. King Olav decreed that there should be a town at the mouth of the Nidelva river (then known as Nidaros) and for a time Trondheim became the capital of Norway. King Olav was canonized during the middle ages (according to legend when he was buried his coffin rose up out of the ground, they buried him again and the same thing happened). The Cathedral is supposedly build over his grave but no one is sure in what area of the cathedral that is. It is the largest Cathedral in Norway and Romanesque in style in fact this is the only Romanesque building I saw in Norway. It is very impressive but you must join a tour group to go inside. The sights of Trondheim are within walking distance and it is almost surrounding by water. There are lovely colourful wooden houses particularly around the university area and the Bryggen has been restored and is very colourful.

    The ship sails down the Fjord from Trodheim and passes lighthouses, skerries and islands (every turn there is something new to see). I was back on deck wrapped up snugly in my blanket just watching this wonderful scenery and feeling the wind blow around my ears – brilliant. In the afternoon the ship passes the narrow sound of Stokksundet. It is very narrow and twisty with such a sharp bend that the ship has to sound its horn to let oncoming traffic know it is coming. Again, according to legend, Kaiser Wilhelm 11 sailed in this area and became so nervous he took the wheel himself. The pilot told him ‘I’m the boss here’ and was rewarded with a gold watch by the Kaiser.

    After dinner we stopped in Rorvik for 30 mins but the southbound vessel Nord St Jernen was docked at the same time. We were all welcome to visit it and the passengers on it to visit our ship. The Nord St Jernen is a traditional ferry and I was glad that I picked the one I did. It is very popular with people who like an old nostalgic traditional ship but I prefer a little bit of luxury which I had on the Finnmarken. It was very small and had no comfortable seats to sit on but each to their own some people prefer this.

    Before going to bed we were told we would cross the Arctic Circle between 06.30am and 07.30am and had to write on a slip what time we thought this would happen the winner would get a prize. I said 06.50 and 40 seconds.

    At 2.30am in the morning I got a telephone call from reception to say that the Northern Lights were showing on the starboard side of the ship (when you board the ship you tell reception if you want to be wakened during the night if the lights make an appearance). I jumped out of bed and quickly pulled on my clothing over my pyjamas and suddenly thought I don’t know my port from my starboard!! I didn’t need to worry as I just followed the other people out on deck. Went up onto the top deck and a green horizontal light illuminated the sky. We all stood there watching wondering what would happen and then it sort of disappeared. We stayed out on deck and it came back again this time 4 or 5 folds of green each one seems to illuminate and then fade as another fold became more luminous. It lasted for about 20 – 30 mins and lots of people were trying to get photographs. I must say the flashes were a bit irritating and apart from those who had their camera on a tripod I doubt if many of the camera’s captured this wonderful sight – mine certainly didn’t. I think it was cold but I honestly can’t remember I was so excited about seeing the Aurora that I think I could have been out there in a t shirt and wouldn’t have felt the cold. I do remember that it was at the back of the boat which was more sheltered from the wind so that might have made a difference. The next time I saw them it was a different story.

    Next we cross the Arctic Circle

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    Day 4
    Everyone was talking about the Northern Lights next morning at breakfast and then an announcement was made at 07.15am that we had just crossed the Arctic Circle – I was way out

    There was a ceremony on deck – we had crossed the Arctic Circle and King Neptune entered with a crate of ice cubes to pour down the necks of willing precipitants. I decided not to bother however a lady in a wheelchair wanted to do it and was having difficulty getting into the queue, so I made a gap in the queue to allow her in. The next thing I remember was someone grabbing the collar of my coat and ice cubes were poured down my back - so much for being considerate!! It was awful but having met all the others we all had a good laugh and went to our cabins to change and I mean change as I had to completely change all my under and mid clothing.

    We disembarked at Bodo at 12.30 however,the good weather we had been experiencing turned to sleet. The ship docks outside the town centre but there is a bus for those who do not want to walk into the town. I walked, it was about 10 mins but I must say this was not a very nice town, it had been completely destroyed during the 2nd world war however there were some nice shops and I did some shopping and bought a Reindeer Rug which looks great in my apartment.

    After Bodo the ship sails across the Westfjord towards the Lofoten Islands and the Lofoten wall should come into view but unfortunately the weather was not on our side and we really didn’t see the wall until we were almost there. In good weather this is supposed to be a fantastic view.

    Everyone is entitled to make a mistake when on holiday and this was mine. I signed up for an excursion to a Viking Feast on the Lofoten Islands. A bus picked us up in Stamsund and took us to the Viking Museum. Along the way we were told the history of the Vikings in this area and the hardships they encountered due to the lack of daylight during the winter months. When we arrived at the long house, which is, if I remember correctly ,the largest Viking building ever found recreated, we were welcomed by the lady of the house and the Chieftain. We had a traditional Viking meal and mead. The food was Ok lamb, carrots, swede, barley, cloudberries and cream all on one plate. The mead was very sweat and very alcoholic. As I ate it I was thinking about the lovely meal I was missing on board – Filet of salmon with fruit salsa, Lamb with cauliflower puree, ratatouille, creamed potatoes and timian sauce, Panna cotta with cherry compote. However, the bus did take us through the islands and we saw how each one is linked by a bridge. We also passed lots of houses and every one had either a table lamp in the window of lamps hanging from the windows. I thought this was an old Viking tradition but in actual fact Norwegians like to have plants in their windows and because it is dark in the winter these lamps are there to give light to the plants. Oh well, it really did look very pretty.

    Back on ship, we left Svolvar (a village I would loved to have visited and we had 1 hour here) and entered the Raftsound, which forms the border between Vesterallen and Lofoten and sailed towards the Trollfjord, there was a celebration on deck. Fish Cakes and Mulled Wine were served and all lights switched off as we came closer and closer to the entrance to the Trollfjord. However the weather was again against us and an announcement came over the loudspeaker to say that we would sail up to the entrance but because of the risk of avalanche we would be unable to enter it. Having seen how narrow it was and the weather I was sort of glad the Captain made this decision but anyone going in summer this would be a magnificent trip as the ship is only slightly narrower than the Fjord.

    Day 5
    The ship docks at Harstad from 06.45 until 08.00 but I didn’t go into the town as I overslept .
    Out on deck the weather was improving and fingers crossed all the cloud would lift by tonight. The ship passes close to lots of little villages with colourful houses and churches.

    The next stop was Finnsnes which was worth a quick look around but the real beauty was between here and Tromso. The ship passes under Gisund Bridge which links Norway’s second largest island, Senja to the mainland. This area is very sheltered and as the ship sailed through the Gisund sound the water was like a sheet of glass. I have never seen anything like it, all my photographs are wonderful as you can see the snowy mountains and colourful houses reflected in what looks like a mirror and this continued for miles really beautiful and possibly my favourite part of the journey.

    Next stop was Tromso and my favourite excursion. I went dog sledging and it was brilliant. We boarded a bus that took us to an island outside Tromso . We were given thermal clothing and boots and taken to meet the huskies. These are the friendliest dogs you are ever likely to meet. The ones pulling our sledge were Alaskan dogs which are not thoroughbred but bred from Siberian Huskies, English pointers and Greyhounds (I hope I have got this the correct way round). My Musher (don’t know how to spell this) was Australian and has been living in Tromso for 5 years. There are 2 people to a sledge, one sits at the back on a sort of seat and the other on the floor. You sit on reindeer skins and have more skins over your knees. It is really exhilarating the sledge bounces over tracks and holes in the frozen snow into a white wilderness . It lasts about 40 mins and then you get to thank and cuddle the huskies who gave you such a good time. We then met the Siberian Huskies and English Pointers but they are not used for running only for breeding as they are not fast enough. We also got to cuddle the little puppies. After this we went into a large Sami tent with huge fire and had coffee and chocolate cake and heard the history of the dogs and Sami life in this area. There were lots of questions in English and German (the Scandinavians ask their questions in English) but if there was a question in German it was answered and then both question and answer were translated into English and vice versa.

    Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to visit Tromso which I understand from those who did not go sledging is a very nice town. That evening the Captain gave a lecture in the Panoramic Lounge about himself and what it’s like to employed by Hurtigruten. He also talked about the Northern Lights and informed us the next stretch of water was the area where they are mostly seen. However, the cloud was thick that evening so no Aurora.

    Day 6

    We docked in Hammerfest from 05.00 until 06.45 and as it is the world’s most northerly town and the first to have electric street light, I had to see it so set my alarm for 05.00am(there is a much longer stop here on the southerly journey). As it was so early nothing other than the newsagents shop was open but it looked like a very nice town and I (along with many other people from the ship) walked along the streets and saw the Polar Bear Club, The Polar Bear Monuments in the town St Michaels Church and the Hammerfest Church .

    The main stop today was Honningsvag and the trip to the North Cape but I had heard mixed reviews about this and Peter, our tour manager arranged another excursion with a Sami lady on a little fishing village at North Cape, so I decided to do this and I was so glad I did. A bus picked us up at the dock and took us out into the wilderness to a little fishing village. We were greeted by the lady who showed us around her village and told us the history. She is trying very hard to preserve this way of life which is becoming very difficult. Her children have to go to school in Honningsvag and board there weekly as there is no longer a school in the village and in winter the road to Honningsvag is often blocked with snow. She showed us how they dry the cod and let us taste some which was delicious, she then took us to the factory where they prepare the fish for export – mostly China. We had another walk around the village and she showed us the various houses and the ones who are owned as holiday homes by people from Oslo. A house there costs about £3,000 – if the weather was similar to that day – sunshine, I would be tempted but I don’t think I could cope with the darkness in the winter. We then went into her house which is also a cafe and Christmas Shop and she served us non alcoholic mulled wine, homemade gingerbread and lovely cake. It was a lovely afternoon and she is trying so very hard to bring tourists in and keep her community alive. I really hope she succeeds.

    This was my last evening on board and dinner tonight was an open buffet – mostly fish King Crab being the most popular (it really is much nicer that Lobster). There was also meat but sadly no reindeer meat (I had to wait until Oslo to taste that but those on the round trip had it on day 9).

    After dinner I went out on deck as we were leaving a small town. It was bitterly cold but the sky was clear and full of stars. I just knew that we would see the Aurora again that evening so I went to my cabin and put on an extra sweater, gloves, scarf, hat the lot and waited. An announcement came that the Northern Lights were showing at the front of the ship. This time they were much stronger and brighter that the first time and lasted for over an hour. They were brilliant but the wind was howling around the front of the ship and you really had to hold on to one of the rail bars as it really could have knocked you over. This time there were no folds it was more a line of green on the horizon which broadened as it rose in the sky and spread across the sky horizontally. Again the only colour was green but different shades from a dark bottle green to a pale mint colour. We had a lecture on the Lights in the panoramic lounge before Tromso and I understand that the colours you see are governed by the moon but not sure if I have got that quite right however it has something to do with the moon. It really was spectacular .

    Later there was a final celebration on deck as the Southerly bound MS Nordkapp ship past us and we waved white towels at them and they at us (those people who did not grip their towels tightly lost them to the sea due to the strong wind). This was followed by mulled wine on deck and music.
    Back to my cabin to pack my case as they had to be left outside the cabin that night and final breakfast on HS Finnmarken the following morning.

    Day 7

    I said a very sad goodbye to the lovely people I had met on this voyage who unlike me were doing the round trip and met up with other new friends who like me were disembarking. We boarded a bus to Kirkenes airport and onwards to Oslo. Those who were left behind boarded buses to the Ice Hotel, Russian Boarder and Husky dog rides.

    I consider myself to be pretty well travelled around the world and especially Europe but can honestly say this was the best. It is impossible for me to recreate the different views I saw, you really do have to do it for yourself. I have never been on a cruise before so don’t know if they provide a constant change of scenery at every turn which this voyage did. Having done it in winter and having seen the Northern Lights not once but twice!! Next time I will follow the advice of my friends and those people here on Fodors and do it again in May or June.

    PS Something I forgot to mention each time you leave the ship and re-enter you must use an alcohol gel on your hands and likewise each time you enter the restaurant. This is because that had a virus of some sort a few years ago and with people living together in a confined environment germs can spread very fast.

    If anyone in interested in Oslo I will continue with my 2 days there – It is a lovely city.

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    I respectfully disagree with your very first sentence in the original post. You are a VERY GOOD trip report writer. I have had this trip on my long list for some time, and your report has resulted in it being moved up significantly toward the top of the list.
    Thanks for a great report.
    I for one would love to hear about Olso. We were there for an afternoon a few years ago as a cruise stop, and I remember it fondly. I vowed to go back when I had more time.

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    Oh Cambe....THANK YOU!!!! Can you hear me shouting!!! I had just called my travel agent yesterday about this trip and want to do the full 12 days. So your report has come at a perfect time. Oh did I say THANK YOU!!!!

    Now I have some ?'s....if you don't take the optional trips each day, then you can wander around in the towns for the time allowed??? Is it easy to get into most the towns and is there something to see most the time?

    And if you do the optionals then the boat moves on and you join it in another place? But then you miss the towns huh?

    Which of all the optionals did you hear were good, or bad, or just so so etc.

    I have added the ones up I would be interested in and it came to over a $1000 for the 12 days! That is a taadd steep!!

    I hope Im not bothering you w/ asking ?'s but your trip report was so complete it really gave me a good idea of what to expect. I think I will go in Aug so I won't see the lights but should have a tad warmer weather.

    Also any other info you want to give out......Im here to gather it. And yes....I want to hear about Oslo!!! I also will stay in Bergen an extra day at the end to see Grieg's house....already had that on my list as well!!!!

    Thanks again!

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    Hi Leanna,
    As you are going in summer you have more options for excursions but they are expensive. The ship goes up the Geiranger Fjord in the summer and I understand this is wonderful. There are also 2 excursions, one that takes you back to Alesund where you join the boat and the other that takes you to Molde where you have dinner in a hotel. As my ship didn't do this in winter I can't comment but you will go up the Fjord and this is free. In Trondheim the ships docks outside the town but it is an easy 15 min walk and you don't need to book an excursion, same for Tromso. The Svartisen Glacier might be worth a trip and you skip Bodo which doesn't have a lot to offer. I really enjoyed my visit to the the fishing village on North Cape but this can only be booked on board ship and was about £10 ($15) so not expensive. The ship gives you information daily on all towns visited and directions on how to get to various places. The most important thing is to be out on deck and just watch the world go by you will also probably see a lot of wild life in summer. If I were you I would not pre book may excursions before you leave wait and see and the ship will have others that are only available to book on board.
    I got off at all available stops, each village has something to offer but make sure you get back to the ship on time as it will not wait for you.

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    Cambe - That trip report was just marvellous! Thank you so much for taking the time to inspire us to travel farther afield. I have to do this trip!!!
    Please carry on with your experiences in Oslo.

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    Kevav,

    I got a special deal with Hurtigruten and it was £890 for half board but include flights from London to Bergen, Kirkenes to Oslo and Oslo to London. It did not include my accommodation in Bergen or Oslo.

    You might see the Lights in very early April but in May there is almost 24 hour daylight so you will not see them then. The best time is I understand late September until Late March.

    Oslo:

    I took the bus which was outside the arrivals terminal to Oslo (cost 140Kn) and you pay on the bus.
    I got off at the last stop which was the Radisson SAS but the driver names the various hotels at each stop in English.
    My hotel was the Cochs Pensjonat in a lovely area of Oslo overlooking the park and cost 500kn per night. It was very clean, central and cheap and cheerful, I had no complaints.

    I walked across the road to have a look at the Royal Palace which is in the park and has very little security except guards with rifles in little huts - so different from London. The first thing I noticed when arriving in Oslo was how cold it was. It was definitely colder than the North Cape (excluding the wind up there) and the snow was piled up in huge heaps everywhere but the roads and pavements where clear.

    Oslo is a very small walk able city – if anyone has been to Dublin I would say it was about the same size possibly even smaller, it is also like everywhere in Norway, very hilly, so wear sensible shoes and take your time. I spent the first evening just walking and taking in the lovely houses in the centre, like all of Norway there are lots of colourful wooden houses but unlike other major cities lots of them they have driveways and front and back gardens in and these houses are slap bang in the city centre.

    I found a very nice Italian restaurant and had a very nice pasta dish – ravioli stuffed with gorgonzola in a lovely sauce and some bread – it cost 230kn ouch eating in Norway is expensive. However, as I was walking around the city I looked in estate agents windows and was very surprised at the cost of property, a nice 2 bedroom apartment in Oslo centre was about 1,23000kn (about £123,000 or $190,000) which I thought was very cheap for such an expensive country.

    The main street is Karl Johan Gate and most of the interesting buildings are on this street with the Royal Palace dominating the hill at the top. The National Theatre (lovely building), Parliament, the University, City hall are all very close together and lovely buildings. My favourite building in Oslo had a blue badge on the side saying that the Gestapo had stayed there; it was not mentioned in my guide book so I asked someone in a cafe what it was. It was the office for foreign affairs and really was a remarkable building I suppose the Gestapo knew what they were doing by taking the best building in Oslo for themselves.

    Next morning I headed down to the Aker Brygge and the Nobel Peace Centre. Unfortunately it wasn’t open so I had a look around the shops in the Aker Brygge and checked to see if I could find a boat to Bygdoy. Unfortunately they do not start running until April so I headed for the tourist information office to find out how to get there. None of the museums in Bygdoy are free (the ones in central Oslo are free) and as I was hoping to visit at least 3 of them I was advised to buy an Oslo card for the day which gave free entrance to all museums and free bus travel – this was a good buy as I ended up visiting 6 museums.

    The bus leaves from the National Theatre and stops at all of the museums in Bygdoy Bygdoy was gorgeous the houses were picture perfect all wooden in various colours white, ochre, green and all of them had gardens. My first stop was the Norsk Folkemuseum which was an absolute must on my list but ended up being a little disappointing. As it we March a lot of the houses were not open but I did get a glimpse of what Norwegian life was like and from what I observed they were not always as rich as they are now, in fact their life style in the 19th Century was quite poor. The ground underfoot was about 2ins of ice and as the sun had come out it was melting the snow on the roofs of the houses so every house I went to have a look at I also got a shower of dripping water which after a while became a bit uncomfortable. However I would think this would be a must in summer when the house are staffed with people in costume and there to explain the life during that period.

    Next stop was the Viking Museum which was brilliant you climb up into viewing platforms to look down on the ships and along the walls it gives the history of the Vikings and their burial in ships which is why they are so well preserved. From there it was a short walk to the Holocaust museum. The Villa which houses this and the lovely houses and apartments that surround it are lovely but you really need to speak Norwegian to get a lot from it. It is set out in a similar way to the Holocaust area in the Imperial War Museum in London i.e. people telling their story about the Holocaust but it is all in Norwegian. They do give you a handset which describes in English parts of it but the bits I wanted to hear were not translated.

    Next I got the bus to the best – The Fram museum, I could have spent all day in there, Scott, Amundsen and the other biggie whose name escapes me at the moment (Senior Moment) but hopefully someone here will know who I am talking about, their adventures are all very well displayed, their routes, how they survived and in Scott’s instance how they died and the Fram itself which you can get onto a walk around – brilliant and everything in English. Next door was the Kon-Tiki museum which was not on my list but as I was there decided to have a look (free with my card). It was so informative and again everything in English. You see but cannot wander around the Balsa Wood Raft and also learn about Balsa. Next door was the Norsk Sjofarts Museum which was in 2 parts and tells the history of Norwegian shipbuilding and seafaring, all of the Hurtigruten ships and their history are displayed along with Cruise ships from beginning to present. It also exhibits the fishing heritage of Norway.

    I bought a coffee to go and a cake and walked over the scrunchy snow to a wooden bench overlooking the Fjord, the sun was shining brightly – not a cloud in the sky but it was cold and drank my coffee – bliss.

    The bus to Oslo leaves from outside the Fram museum (I think but it was one of them) and I boarded and went back to Oslo.
    I was determined to try Reindeer meat when in Norway and found a restaurant that served it = 350kn but it was my last night and it was delicious. It was much more tender than beef and not as gamey as venison.
    The next morning I checked out of my hotel and headed for the airport.

    I did not do everything that I wanted to do in Oslo but that was because I hadn’t checked museum opening times etc and I think if you do your homework before you go 2 full days is probably enough. I have read a lot of semi negative remarks about this city and I think it is a bit unfair. I have been to Copenhagen but not Stockholm and I would rank Oslo on a par with Copenhagen, Sweden is another must see so perhaps I will change my mind but I really did enjoy my time in Oslo and I am so glad I added it onto my trip.

    Some information about Norway:
    1. Make sure you use the lavatory in your hotel or ship before going out – it costs £1 ($1.5) to spend a penny in shopping malls.
    2. It is the cleanest country I have ever visited.
    3. If going in Winter make sure you have the correct clothing - I wore thermals, a windproof jacket, hat, gloves, scarf and most importantly gortex walking shoes/boots with a thick ribbed sole and layers.
    4. Everyone in Norway speaks English and they speak it fluently.
    5. Drink the tap water offered in restaurants and unless you have lots of money give your liver a rest!!
    6. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions etc from Norwegians they are all willing to help
    7. Enjoy Norway
    Helen

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    OK Got it! I have done a lot of River Cruises so I'm use to the boat moving on....ready or not! :) But I have copied and pasted your stuff in to my notes and as soon as I get this booked I will start my homework so I am truly prepared.

    I think your idea of booking the opts on board is a good one...I will understand better by then how the pace goes and be more aware of not doing too much.

    Thank you again for all your comments....they are wonderful!

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    Thanks for this report Cambe - seeing the Northern Lights is on my "life list" but I was just thinking of going to northern Minnesota to see them. Norway sounds much better. It's now officially on my travel list, thanks again!

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    thanks Helen for a great report
    we are leaving for scandinavia and russia in a few weeks

    i wish we had time to go as far north as you did but since we decided to include russia into our itinerary we are only going as far as alesund

    it is lovely to read all your detailed reflections
    really whets the appetite

    so glad you enjoyed it - good on you for going it alone!

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    Leanna, I think it is very wise to wait until you are on board the ship as there were additional options available plus lots of information and pictures of the various destinations. I really do not recommend the walking tours of the towns as I did them on my own and having spoken to others who had taken the excurions, I saw as much as they did all be it with a guide book (which the ship gives you)rather than a guide.

    Thank you all for your lovely comments.

    Lanejohann - I always travel alone, no one to fight with! and I always meet such interesting people.

    Helen

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    Since you enjoyed Troldhaugen, Grieg's home, if you return in summer, it is possible to book an evening excursion on the weekends to have a concert of Grieg's music in the Troldsalen concert hall. We booked through the tourist office, and were taken by bus to the bus stop for the house and walked up the road. The concert was by a local artist, in this technically perfect hall which holds only 200. It was a magical evening and one of the best things we did in Bergen.

    Also the Norsk Folkmuseum in Oslo is much better in summer - costumed guides, everything open - we particularly liked the stave church there, and the wonderful Sami museum.

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    Thank you cambe. This is a wonderful trip report. I too saw Joanna Lumley's documentary and was, like you, hooked. She had wonderful adventure and the scenes of the Northern Lights were mystical. BBC1 are showing it again on Sun 5 Apr 2009 at 6pm.

    If anyone wants to see the moment the lights began for her you can see it here. Prepare to be amazed. There's a few clips available but this is, I think, the best one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCqX_aIHQ0I

    Bill

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    Helen,
    Your trip report was fantastic. I was ready to cancel my trip on Sept. 1-18 to Norway/St. Petersburg until I read your account. I, too, will be traveling as a single retiree.I've wanted to see Norway/Lapland and St. Petersburg since I was a teenager. I booked my tour with Grand Circle (I'll be the youngest there, but that's okay)! My question for you---were you seasick? My concern is rough seas. Are you really close to shore the entire trip? I'll be sailing from the north to Bergen. Your report also made me feel that I'll be 'okay' traveling alone. Thanks for any info you can share! Jill

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    Helen,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for such an extensive, exciting report. We are taking the 12-day trip in December, and I can hardly sit still because I am so excited about it. Your suggestions are helpful and your report so interesting, I printed it out to take with.

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    I just saw this today. What a great report!I'm glad the trip turned out so well for you. Like others, I've moved this trip up on my list.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post an well-written, organized report. Where are you going next?

    Jill, I'm interested in the trip that you will be taking. I hope you'll post something about it when you return.

    Have you traveled with GCT before? I've made five trips as a single and found a range of ages from 18 to close to 80. The eighteen-year-old was a grandson of a participant and on other trips there have been 30-something daughters traveling with their mothers. I hope you enjoy your trip.

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    Dear Helen,

    Not sure if you still check in to Fodor's but wanted to thank you for a very good and helpful trip report. I hope to be going to Norway at the end of May (also solo) and found your report to be just the kind of thing I was looking for in terms of planning my itinerary.

    Thanks very much!

    gruezi

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    Thank you gruezi, enjoy Norway it is truly a lovely country my only complaint - it is sooooo expensive but I wouldn't have missed it and plan to return.

    I am off to Scandinavia myself in June but this time Sweden, Finland and St Petersburg. I hope they are as beautiful as Norway.

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    Cambe - I found your trip report via another recent post re the best trip reports of 2011 and I have to thank you for having posted such a wonderful trip report. I've been thinking about doing this trip for about two years now but was a bit concerned about what it would "really" be like - you have truly inspired me! Thank you so very much ...and btw - I think you write beautifully!

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