Just Got Back: Norway

Rigmor Newman, Independent Travel Consultant and Certified Scandinavia Specialist

Where did you Just Get Back from? Hurtigruten: The cruise up the Norwegian coast.

When were you in Norway? July

Words to describe what you felt when you first arrived: I have always dreamt of going up the Norwegian coast with Hurtigruten, and that summer I had the pleasure of taking this cruise in this most stunning part of the world. It was everything that I had imagined it to be, a breathtaking journey into nature at its most spectacular and a very good introduction to Norway, its people, its wildlife, and its culture from Viking times to our times. With a history going back to the 1800s, this cruise is unlike any other cruise. Although its base is tourism, Hurtigruten is often referred to as the mail boat, dating back to the times these ships carried mail. The ships also serve as transport for the locals especially way up north, and for cargo in general.

It took no time for the breathtaking scenery to take over. To stand on the open deck at the top and take in the majestic nature of that landscape is a visual experience that I will always want to come back to. The play of the sunlight as reflected on the sides of the mountains and on the surface of the sea with its small skerries created a variety of exhilarating views that changed from one moment to the next as your eyes moved and as angles changed with the movement of the ship.

Tell us more about your cruise. In 1936 Hurtigruten initiated daily year around 12-day trips. The voyage starts in Bergen and goes up the west coast of Norway. Halfway to the top it passes the Arctic Circle. This passage was celebrated with a wonderful ceremony in the presence of Neptune himself. The cruise continues up the coast and turns around at Kirkenes, close to the Russian border, and returns to Bergen making the same stops on the way down the coast as on the northbound route (the stops visited during the day on the northbound voyage, are visited during the night on the southbound voyage and vice versa). It makes over thirty ports-of-call in each direction en route. You can take the whole 12-day trip, but many take either the northbound or the southbound part of it. At many of the stops there are land excursions offered by the cruise line at an additional coast.

We embarked the MS Nordnorge at Bergen in the latter part of July. The Nordnorge has a total of 214 cabins including twelve suites and can hold a total of 691 passengers, a midsize ship in the whole Hurtigruten fleet. Although missing some of the amenities of a floating deluxe hotel, this ship was very comfortable with a very friendly and accommodating staff, attractive design and decorated with interesting works by contemporary Norwegian artists.

There is one restaurant and a café open 24 hours. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch buffet style with a wide variety of dishes with a Scandinavian touch and has two seatings for dinner with a set menu, and will accommodate special requests and dietary needs when necessary. There is also a very nice wine list, that is sure to please wine lovers. The public spaces include an internet café, a gym, a library, and conference rooms for lectures. In addition, there was a small playroom for children, which my grandson enjoyed for many hours along with the other children that were aboard. Although most were over fifty, cruise passengers were of all ages and nationalities, including honeymoon couples, adventure travelers, retirees, and a few families with children.

What’s the best time of year to go in your opinion? I prefer summer, but each season has its own very special attraction.

Tempt us, name a special place you discovered on this trip: You must visit the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø.

Anything else to add? The intermittent ports of call varied in length from 15 minutes to six hours. It was fun to see the life and activities on the dock of these small communities and sometimes, if there was enough time, to take a short walk in the vicinity. To complete the experience you can partake in some of the various shore excursions arranged by Hurtigruten at many of these stops. An excursion in Trondheim, a city founded by a Viking king in the late 900s and for centuries Norway’s first capital, took us to the Nidaros Cathedral, the country’s national shrine, a most impressive structure going back to the 12th century. Nearby we visited a museum with a unique collection of historical musical instruments.

As a contrast you can visit Tromso, often referred to as the Paris of the North, and see the Arctic Cathedral, a modern architectural master piece which rises 120 feet into the air as a mountain of ice, where, during the summer months and if you are on the southbound voyage, you can enjoy a Midnight Sun concert. To get a close up glimpse of the white tailed sea eagle, Europe’s largest predatory bird, you can take a sea safari by inflatable boat. And from Ornes you can take an excursion to the Svartisen glacier. In Svolvaer there is a tour of the Lofoten Islands by motor coach, an opportunity to see the many charming fishing villages typical of this area and the dramatic mountains up close. I have only mentioned a few of the many excursions offered, which all will bring you close to the wildlife, and close to the people and their history.

I strongly recommend to everyone that is planning to take this cruise, to include one or two days in Bergen in your travel plans. Bergen is the vibrant capital of the fjord country. And if time permits, take the train from Oslo to Bergen and you are well on your way to a great experience.

If you’re interested in traveling to Scandinavia contact Rigmor at rigmor.newman@altour.com, or 212-497-7630.