The gingerbread and the ice
It has to be said that Hurtigruten is a strange animal. Is it a cruise line or a cargo ship? Not really. So is it a ferry or the local water bus? Well not really any one of those, it’s all of those and more. Our twelve day classic round trip involved lightning fast pit stops, that would make the Mercedes F1 team proud, to move cargo, pick up a passenger and make up a little lost time in the schedule. There were dead of the night stops in sleepy places, where you could watch the forklift whizz around like a bee on steroids, whilst the Christmas decorations and town lights illuminate the stage. There were times when hundreds of locals popped onto the ship to have their Christmas breakfast, lunch or dinner and make liberal use of the bar. Plus longer stops where we got to know a place a little better or explore further afield.
We chose to journey on MS Trollfjord, where there’s a wide choice of accommodation but we chose an expedition suite which was spacious and luxuriously comfortable. Food on board was delicious, plentiful and the lamb shank would comfortably grace the table of any restaurant. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with masses of choice but dinner is a set menu and a wine is selected for you if you have the wine package. This leads to the somewhat irritating practice of being charged 1NOK (10p) to change to a wine of your choice, even if it is cheaper than the suggested offering. Service is competent but wouldn’t rank as 5-star but staff would accommodate reasonable requests.
Back outside, good waterproof outdoor clothes are essential (combined with layered clothing and spikes for your walking boots) there was plenty to see from the ship or on land. Many of the stops have a Bryggan (wharf) of some sorts, the old warehouse district of the city. Whilst Bergan’s is very pretty with floor to apex lights to outline their shape, my favourite was Trondheim. From the Gamle Bybro (old town bridge) you can look down the row of colourful 18th and 19th century buildings reflected in the still waters and there is a peace and tranquility about the place. A moment to be savoured with your eyes open and you mouth shut. Turn around and you have Nidaros Domkirke (Cathedral) Scandinavia’s largest medieval building and the Archbishops Palace (12th century), this is a beautiful part of the city.
I got a bit of exercise by yomping up the 418 steps to Aksla the viewpoint above Alresund, offering breathtaking views over the city and similar at the Kristiansten Fort at Trondheim. A sure fire way to generate some internal heat to ward off the cold.
Some destinations are not without their quirkiness either. Outside a bakery in Bodo was an old bus converted into a Christmas Grotto and filled with a city made of Gingerbread. Father Christmas himself was driving this homage to baking and icing skills and oh it smelt so good. In Alesund a centrally heated bench gave chilly bottoms and bags (picture) respite from the cold (dashed clever these Norwegians).
What’s the most fun you can have in Svolvaer in 50 mins (time ashore) with your clothes on you may ask? We went to Magic Ice to find out. Set in a former fish freezing plant it has an ice bar where you get your included drink and an amazing selection of ice sculptures to admire, huge fun! Top Tip: Don’t let your wife put your ice glass down on the ice table and watch it slide to the floor, yes Linda it’s you I’m talking to.
A dog sled ride is one of the many excursions offered on this cruise and Kirkenes was blessed with a heavy snowfall the night before we arrived. The dogs couldn’t have been more excited to see us if they’d won the dog bone lottery. Jumping up and down and barking wildly, they weren’t bothered by the minus 12C temperatures and were raring to get going. Two to a sled, musher on the platform behind us and off we went, far smoother and more exhilarating than I’d imagined. The scenery was picture postcard perfect as we passed snow dusted trees and mountains all reflected in the still waters of the Fjord, mush, mush! See video for a taster.
It’s billed in some of the literature as the most beautiful voyage in the world, but at this time of the year when there is so little daylight you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a stretch, unless your idea of beauty is a black cat in a darkened cellar. Then you open your mind up to what beauty can be and marvel at the snow dusted mountains that flank the ship, the moody clouds that blanket the sky. With the sun reluctant to peek it’s head above the horizon, this strange light seems to suck the colour out of the world and you’re presented with a land in magnificent monochrome. At times there is a strange blue or blue/grey light that, combined with the snow, paints a unique canvas. On other occasions the sky is as black as a tar pit, but as your night vision adjusts there’s just enough light for the snow covered mountains to appear. They glow with a faint luminescence that makes them look like eerie ghosts, looming over the town, quite spooky really. Even a little light is enough to reveal the breathtaking scenery of Vesteralen, an excursion not to be missed. Then the Northern Lights appear and illuminate the sky with strange glowing ribbons that seem to writhe across the sky in white and shades of green and red. Put this all together and you’ve explored a very different world and it’s quite, well beautiful!
My thanks to fellow passenger Geoff W Trigg for allowing me to reproduce his picture of the Northern Lights (my attempts were rubbish).
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hurtigruten