Norway Hurtigruten journey south

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May 5th, 2012, 03:00 AM
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Norway Hurtigruten journey south

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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May 5th, 2012, 04:01 AM
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Absolutely interested, Frances, bring it on!
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May 5th, 2012, 04:32 AM
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Enjoy your trip Frances! Which ship are you on?

I've done the full round trip twice now, and love it. I'd go again in an instant if I had the money.
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May 5th, 2012, 12:46 PM
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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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May 5th, 2012, 04:58 PM
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Keep it coming, Frances. I love your style.
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May 6th, 2012, 01:55 AM
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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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May 6th, 2012, 07:19 AM
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Keep it coming. I am fascinated by your report.
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May 6th, 2012, 09:00 AM
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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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May 6th, 2012, 09:15 AM
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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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May 6th, 2012, 10:42 AM
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Frances, beginning your sentence with and is not so bad. After all, that English diarist Samuel Pepys used to end his entries with "And so to bed".
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May 6th, 2012, 01:12 PM
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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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May 6th, 2012, 01:17 PM
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I'm really interested in your report - thanks.

(One hint - do a double return to separate your paragraphs -otherwise it all runs together and is harder to read)
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May 6th, 2012, 11:06 PM
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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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May 7th, 2012, 02:36 AM
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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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May 7th, 2012, 07:08 AM
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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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May 7th, 2012, 09:31 AM
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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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May 7th, 2012, 09:32 AM
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The word is forward not froward.
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May 7th, 2012, 01:13 PM
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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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May 7th, 2012, 01:39 PM
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Thanks for writing. I'm enjoying reading about yout trip.
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May 7th, 2012, 02:17 PM
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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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