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June 1999: the Hurtigruten (Norwegian Coastal Express)

Part 1 - Outward bound

Preparations

The children have left home, one to University and one to married life, so let's celebrate with a sea cruise. Not the sort where you join an enormous ship with singing, dancing, and other entertainments, but a small interesting ship where your entertainment comes from visiting interesting places. The Norwegian Coastal Voyage fitted the bill perfectly, a fascinating trip along the Norwegian coastline and around the North Cape to the Russian border, on one of their fleet of small ships that make the same journey every day at the same time regardless of the weather carrying freight, mail, and passengers.

Day 1     Saturday 26th June 1999

7.40     Chris collects Allan and Debbie in the minibus to take us to Heathrow.

9.10     Arrive Heathrow. Check in luggage and sort tickets out. Staff at SAS desk very helpful. Have a coffee then hit the duty free shop! Debbie buys perfume and a bottle of vodka. Allan buys a bottle of 100% proof Whisky, after trying several others!

Eventually we board the plane – again SAS staff and facilities excellent. Lunch was smoked salmon salad. We could have any drinks we wanted so a bottle of wine each (small individual bottle) and a brandy and whisky. It was a little cloudy so didn’t see too much of where we flew and on arrival at Copenhagen it was raining. At least we didn’t have to carry all our bags as the big ones had been checked through to Bergen.

No time for shopping at Copenhagen as it took all the time we had to walk from one end of the terminal to the other. Then there was a major computer breakdown and when it started up again our flight was missed out on the departures list – hence we left Copenhagen about half an hour late. Eventually arrived at Bergen. The flight over the mountains and fjords was magnificent, with the airport nestling amongst the mountains.

We were met by a courier from Scandinavian Holidays who took us to the dock at Bergen where we saw M/S Nordkapp for the first time. As we got off the minibus our luggage was whisked away and not seen again until about 22.00 when it was waiting outside our cabin (505). We had to wait until about 18.00 to collect our cabin key, so we wandered round the ship acquainting ourselves with what bars were where, and booking our table in the restaurant. Dinner was the cold buffet. If this is what we have to look forward to twice a day then we’ll have no complaints about the food.

The ship sailed at 22.30 leaving Bergen in the glow of a beautiful evening. We didn’t turn left under the bridge but went straight on through some islands. The first of many trips where you felt you could touch the land either side of you.

A drink or two in the bars and then off to bed.

 

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The passenger door of the Nordkapp
The cargo door of the Nordkapp
The impressive bow of the Nordkapp
The Nordkapp dwarfs the buildings of the small fishing villages
Approaching a typical Norwegian fishing village

Day 2     Sunday 27th June 1999

Woke about 4.00 a.m. and thought it was raining. Back to sleep to wake about 7.30 a.m. Breakfast excellent then off the find Leena to book excursions. Spent the morning wandering around the ship discovering who we were travelling with. This turned out to be many Americans, mainly matrons, being cared for by Gary an Australian. A number of Germans and Norwegians, but very few Brits!

12.00     Arrive Ålesund, a delightful town with a small harbour for private boats. Walked around the town and had a drink at a harbour bar.

Decided to book for the Coastal Highway Trip this evening. The road and bridges have only just been completed. Very dramatic joining all the little islands. Dinner was excellent -–baked fish with onions. We saw the M/S Vesteralen from the coach, and Nordkapp going past while we were eating. Kirsty was the guide and extremely friendly and knowledgeable as well. At one of our stops 2 American Ladies fell in the peat bog – unfortunately they got out again! Onto the ferry and back to meet Nordkapp at Kristiansund. More drinkies and bed. It stays light late.

 

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The quayside of Ålesund harbour
Ålesund
A very impressive new bridge on the Coastal Highway
Another view of the same bridge
The Norwegians know how to build beautiful bridges

Day 3     Monday 28th June 1999

Again woke early to find it raining.

Gary has a jar of Vegemite which he insists on having for breakfast every day. The Americans in his care don’t understand.

Arrive Trondheim. Haven’t booked the trip to the music museum, so decide to walk the 20 minutes into town. Did a little shopping then found the Cathedral – the Crown Jewels that are housed here are magnificent – and the Bishop’s Palace Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to really see and enjoy the museum as we had to get back to the ship before she sailed. M/S Kong Harald in port. Discovered we could have hired bicycles to get round Trondheim.

Sat in the observation lounge, but wherever we sat seemed to attract people who sit and chatter like birds. Warm enough to sunbathe on the back deck during the afternoon. Decided it was time to open Bar 505 before dinner, so while drinking a couple of large ones put the radio on and amongst the Norwegian stations we found one broadcasting the story of Slartibartfast and the Norwegian Fjords (from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). This is most surreal!

The captain had fun round the bendy bits and handbrake turns amongst the islands etc. After dinner he played Hooligans to allow us to see Trollhatten, the hole in the mountain which is supposed to have been made when the gods and Trolls were fighting; the island is the Troll's hat, and the hole is where the gods shot an arrow right through it! At Rorvik we saw M/S Polaryis.

As we watched the ship unloading provisions in one of the villages at 2am we realised that when there are 24 hours of daylight, the normal clock ceases to have any meaning. The villages come to life - all the shops and offices open up for example - when something such as the arrival of the mail boat happens, even if that is in the small hours of the morning ; they close down and go to sleep when nothing is happening, even if that is around noon!

 

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The scenery is wonderful
Traditional houses grow grass on the roof for insulation
You can still see the occasional Viking longboat
Approaching a narrow passage between the islands
Sunset among the islands
It's fascinating to watch the ship loading and unloading at every village

Day 4   Tuesday 29th June 1999

5.0       Found out that the rain every morning was in fact the ship being washed!

6.45     Up early to cross the Arctic Circle at 7.17.02 am – we didn’t win the sweepstake – but the ship sounded it’s horn as we passed the globe.

8.0       M/S Narvik passed us.

The Glacier Trip. A little boat came alongside and we boarded the little boat direct from the gang plank of Nordkapp. Off went Nordkapp while we sailed gently through the Fjord away from the sea. Sea Eagles much in evidence along the cliffs and fish farms all along the Fjord. As we neared the end of the fjord with the glacier dominating the scene the little boat’s speaker played Grieg’s morning from Peer Gynt. We had coffee and cakes at the little restaurant overlooking the Glacier, then back to the little boat to find coaches to take us on a scenic trip via Salt Fjord to see the tidal rapids at Saltstraumen. Unfortunately we arrived about midway between high and low tide (the only time nothing to see!). After losing more Americans, only briefly, back to the ship at Bodo only half an hour late.

Whilst we were having dinner NordNorge passed us.

As the weather was so good – yes the sun really does sit in the sky above the horizon – we took a small diversion to see the Trollfjord and have soup (which we didn’t). Bed quite late at 1.30 a.m. still as light as midday.

 

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The globe that marks the Arctic Circle
Certificate presented for crossing the Arctic Circle
Waiting for the small launch to arrive (note that we have not slowed down for the transfer)
Fabulous scenery in the fjords
The Svartisen ("black ice") Glacier
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Svolvaer, capital of the Lofoten Islands
Fish drying at Svolvaer.  Dried fish is their main export.
How the fish are dried (picture taken in Tromso museum)

Day 5   Wednesday 30th June 1999

We missed the M/S Richard Witt tied up with us at Harsted as we got up late.

Took the Tromso sightseeing tour. The weather really is quite exceptional – again temperature of 25C. The Arctic Cathedral was quite inspiring. The stained glass windows depicting many scenes from Tromso’s history, plus bible stories as primitive peoples understand them. The organ and pipes were made in the shape of a ship, as every church in Norway has a ship dedicated. The Museum was very informative, lots of tableaux, but again would have liked a lot longer to look around.

During dinner the M/S Harold Jahl passed by.

After dinner King Neptune came to visit us all, and presided over the ceremony for passing the Arctic Circle. The Captain handed out certificates, Neptune covered everyone in ice cubes and the Chief Purser gave everyone a drink!

 

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Tromso
The beautiful "Arctic Cathedral" at Tromso
Organ pipes depicting a ship  in the "Arctic Cathedral"
King Neptune puts ice cubes down a passenger's neck

Day 6   Thursday 1st July 1999

During the morning M/S Midnattsol passed us.

Spent a very pleasant afternoon in Honningsvåg. Walked around the town, visited the church and museum, again we found the girl in charge very helpful and knowledgeable also very friendly. Honningsvåg had been completely razed to the ground by the retreating German Army in WW2, but the church alone had miraculously survived (see photo below). Found a shop presided over by a very large Polar Bear to buy lots of souvenirs, but didn’t buy anything from the Reindeer shop.

Passed Kjoll Fjord before dinner and the sun on the mountains made them seem like gold.

Debbie got a little tiddly after a few too many drinks, and after lack of sun most of the day found it on the back deck about 3.00 a.m., but couldn’t persuade Allan to come and see it.

 

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The Church at Honningsvåg
Wartime photo of Honningsvåg; only the church survived
Debbie meets a polar bear in the shop
The reindeer shop
Midnight sun in the Arctic

Day 7   Friday 2nd July 1999

Allan spent most of the morning asleep. Debbie was up but her head was a little delicate!

Arrived Kirkenes, just a few miles from the Russian border, to find chaos and confusion on the dockside. Apparently here we are further North than Moscow and further East than Cairo!  Decided to go ashore for a little while. Didn’t go into town – too far, but had a very interesting chat with the Chief Purser. One car was unloaded by mistake and nearly forgotten.

During the afternoon visited the Fort at Vardo. It looks like a child’s fort, but has a very interesting history.

Rather overcast all day so we didn’t see the midnight sun.

 

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Fort Vardo
Fort Vardo

 

Now read about  the return trip (with LOTS more pictures) including our visit to North Cape. the most northerly place in mainland Europe .....

 

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