Travel documentary sailing beyond the Arctic Circle
|A Norwegian Coastal Voyage|
I had to pinch myself several times to realise that I was really on what is called the world’s most beautiful voyage. Originally I had planned on putting my newly acquired French into use and wanted to go to the Camargue, but, as I couldn’t obtain the relevant information and happened to come across a brochure of the Norwegian Coastal Voyages, I succumbed to the latter.
My holiday started off with a bit of a hitch on 17th June 2003, as the taxi I had booked the day before to take me to the bus going to Dublin Airport never arrived (apparently my request for a taxi at 5.10 am had been put down for pm). Anyway, after a frantic call to their office, they sent out a car and we spent the next 15 minutes literally tearing down the roads trying to catch up with the bus, which we eventually did. After that little bit of excitement everything went off smoothly. I flew via Copenhagen to Bergen, where I boarded Nordnorge, one of the New Generation ships of the fleet, with a capacity for 690 passengers. I had a wonderful cabin and was lucky with the position: no noise from the engine or gangways. I’d say about 2/3 of the other passengers were German, with various other nationalities thrown in. I was fortunate in that I could converse in both English and German, so when I got fed up with one lot I could just switch to another group. Also got talking to some French couples, so I was able to practice my French as well. They were all very pleasant.
The Americans were generally very quiet – one couple even confided at the end of the trip that they wanted to appear as un-American as possible: apparently that meant not wearing white shoes (the men anyway)!
As for the trip itself, well, no description can really do it justice: it was magnificent. The scenery varied considerably from Bergen northwards, but it was always spectacular. There were daily excursions by bus from various ports, so that we could also explore the interior of the country and re-join Nordnorge from the next port. From the steep cliffs around Bergen with trees clinging on to the sides and dwarfing tiny houses built in the middle of nowhere with seemingly no access, to the brilliant green water of Geirangerfjord; the hair-raising bus-ride down the hair-pin bends of Trollstigen; snow-capped mountains; Trollsfjord with its eerie silence and sheer cliffs towering above us; the craggy menacing-looking mountains of the Lofoten islands, which by the way, give way to an amazing flat crater-like interior; the gray smoother mountains of the far north – every region had something different to offer and it was often hard to tear myself away from the deck. When we crossed the Arctic Circle northwards the ship gave a loud blast on her hooter and, the previous evening we were asked to write down at what time we guessed we’d cross the Arctic Circle. In the evening we then had the Arctic Circle Crossing Baptism in the Panorama lounge, which was great fun and everyone received a certificate. Then we also celebrated the Trollfjord by being offered Trollfjordsoup at 11.15 pm on the top deck in the mysterious surroundings of the Trollfjord. For the Captain’s Dinner we each received a glass of mulled wine as we entered the dining-room and the ship’s officers and restaurant staff were lined up to welcome us. After the first two courses, there was a pause and we were waiting expectantly for our dessert: cloudberries with cream. Well, suddenly the lights went out (not that it was dark because of the brightly-shining midnight sun) and the waiters and waitresses came in, each carrying a silver platter from which a flare was sending up sparklers to the ceiling. They lined up down the entire restaurant aisles and, with raised platters waited for the sparklers to finish, then we received our cloudberries and cream served in a pancake shaped as a cup – delicious! That was our entertainment: there were no shows and only one television in one lounge, or radios (they were in the cabins but reception was poor) and with no newspapers, just faxed newsheadlines every few days, there was just blissful peace! I thoroughly enjoyed not just the sea voyage, but also all the excursions, though some were more memorable than others. In Vardø we only had a short stop ,but I got off and made my way to the small museum nearby, where they were holding an exhibition on Roald Amundsen’s voyage on the Airship Norge to the North Pole. They actually had a replica of the gondola and I got chatting to the young man working there. In fact I only just made it back to the ship as she was giving her final hoot before departure! In Honningsvag I disembarked for my bus-trip to the North Cape: unfortunately, those two days right up north were very cloudy and there was thick fog at the North Cape. But that way I could stand at the fence at the edge and not be frightened of the sheer drop! In Kirkenes I went on a riverboat trip along the Pavslik River to Boris Gleb on the Russian border. We went ashore there and enjoyed learning about the history of the place and also enjoyed a cup of coffee with a dish of delicious cloudberries and cream. I have to add that for this trip we had to dress in thermal suits to protect us from the cold (6 C), but it was so enjoyable and that aspect actually added to the adventure.
We stopped at so many places, 35 in all. I remember at one little place where we docked at midnight, the ship’s information officer informed us that the town had been celebrating something that day and as a finale they wanted to welcome the Nordnorge with music. Needless to say, most of us stayed up. It was drizzling, but there were four bands lined up for us on the quay-side and they gave a superb non-stop performance. There were also people dancing and despite the rain there was a lovely atmosphere.
The larger places we stopped at were Trondheim, Bodø, Tromsø and Hammerfest. When we docked in Hammerfest it was very warm – amazing really, when one thinks of Hammerfest’s latitude. On the southward journey we docked in Tromsø just before midnight in sunshine blazing across snow-capped mountains… At midnight I went on an excursion to listen to a midnight sun concert at the Arctic Cathedral. Well, what an experience: although only four performers they were excellent. The male singer started singing softly at the back of the church and as he came to the front he got louder and louder with his magnificent voice. The performance only lasted half an hour, but as we all trouped out of the church overlooking Tromsø just gone 1 am, with the sun still shining high in the sky, we were all nearly in a daze. On the southwards journey I went on two excursions of the Lofoten islands, which I found absolutely fascinating. Those sheer cliffs towering up with so many huge rocks clinging on precariously and then, when one drives into the interior there is this large flat green plateau with lots of small lakes and inlets from the sea.
There was just so much to see, and especially with the midnight sun I often stayed up until the early hours just watching the beautiful scenery. The longest day of the year I celebrated with some of the other passengers by watching the sun shining brightly at midnight and 1am …..
Apart from the scenery I of course also enjoyed the fantastic food on board: full breakfast, 3-course lunches and 3-course dinners every day and I still managed to lose nearly 3 kilos in weight during those 12 days! I think that was due to the diet of more protein and hardly any carbohydrates. Every lunch I started off with prawns, shrimps, salmon, crab and sometimes Greenland halibut. Also served was Arctic trout, whalemeat and reindeer – everything was excellent.
All in all a memorable trip, made even better by the mostly beautiful weather.
On the way back I parted company with my luggage, but as Copenhagen airport notified Dublin airport that my case had merely missed the flight and would be forwarded on, I wasn’t at all worried and it arrived the next day.