An 11 day cruise along Norway's west coast, round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes.
by Wasatch on June 23, 2012
The Hurtigruten stops at 34 ports in 12 days. Some stops are 15 minutes or less, not enough time to get of the boat and explore, so I shall only comment on the major stops, stops lasting as much a six hours where one can do some local sight seeing. A GENERAL OBSERVATION ON THE TOWNS OF NORWAY'S WEST COAST: WWII started in September, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. In January 1940 Germany invaded Norway with the fist paratroop invasion in history. Being neutral, Norway had virtually no Army-- the entire Norwegian Army was evacuated to England on one ship-- and the Nazis quickly conquered Norway. After shooting or starving much of Norway's population, the Germans were eventually forced to pull out of Norway, but in full Christian spirit, the God fearing faithful Nazis burned almost every town in Norway to the ground as they retreated. Consequently, many Norwegian towns were rebuilt in late 1940s-early 1950s in cheap, dreary modern architecture, which is to say, they have little appeal to the sight seeing tourist.BERGEN, where we started and ended our the Hurtigruten cruise, has a separate review.ASELUND (pronounced Orslund or Awslund): Among the 34 towns the Hurtigruten stopped at, Aselund was the architectural star. This town of 41,000 is built on three islands in fjord A big fire in 1904 all but destroyed the center city, and it was impressively rebuilt in Art Nouveau style. The Hurtigruten docks very near the heart of the Art Nouveau city.To see the major areas of Art Nouveau buildings, leave the Hurtigruten and walk straight ahead for a block or two to Kirkagata Street. Turn right. Walk to the end of Apotekageorgata, turn around, come back to the intersection where the bridge goes off to your left to cross the fjord inlet. After crossing the bridge, turn right on Kaiser Whilhelmgata and follow it to its obvious end. Turn around Go back toward the bridge and turn right to Lovenoldgata. Follow Lovenoldgata to the place where it is obvious that the Art Nouveau buildings end. That's the end of the tour. There is just barely time enough for this tour and for and a little souvenir shopping during the northbound the Hurtigruten stop at this port. MOLDE: Molde's spectacular setting is belied by the town's dreary post war buildings There was a nice little park about three minutes walk from the ship ablaze in spring flowers and Japanese cherry tree blossoms. The stunning post war church was not open for a visit, but its exterior is impressive. The only promising option for Molde sight seeing is to take a taxi up to the high mountain overlook above Molde from which you can see more than 200 mountain peaks, which we did not do because the weather was bad, but, with the caveat of having not done it, but while having explored Molde town, I have no hesitancy in recommending the mountain ascent and skipping the town, weather permitting As for Molde's setting, the Molde Alps are second only to the Lofoten Islands and the Vesteralen Islands for spectacular scenery TRONDHEIM: After Aleslund, Trondheim is the most interesting city to see on the Hurtigruten trip. Trondheim is a very old city. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1070 A.D. It is a 20 minutes walk from the Hurtigruten dock to the center of Trondheim, and well worth it (there are signs to the 'Cenrtum' showing the way. The Hurtigruten's full 12 day cruise stops twice in Trondheim, once going north from Bergen and again returning southbound to Bergen. The stopover is longer on the Northbound trip. When traveling northbound, we followed the signs to the Center (Centrum) from the Hurtigruten dock and, after crossing the bridge, proceeded straight ahead to the Cathedral, which is one of Norway's architectural masterpieces. The facade of the Cathedral is especially impressive. Facing the Cathedral, which dates back to the 12th Century, the building to the right is the even older Bishop's Palace.We then proceeded to Prinsensgata, the major street facing the cathedral facade, turned right and headed for the center city. At Kongensgata, the major east west route thru downtown, we turned left and walked down to the church on the left where we turned right and then took the next right on Dronningensgata which is pleasant street of old wooden houses. Dronningengata dead ends at the street we took to the Cathedral, so we deviated onto some side streets on our way back to the ship when we reached the center of town. Traveling south bound (a shorter stop than on the north bound trip) , I went into the city center-- not as far from the port as is the Cathedral-- and wandered around the center city. On this visit, I confined my explorations to the quadrant of the center city bounded by Prinsensgata, Kongensgata, the river Nidelva, and the and the arm of the Trondheim Fjord closet to the center city, which is what you cross by bridge when going into down town from Hurtigruten port. Although there are lots of post WWII buildings, the center city also has a fair number of pre-war buildings, the most notable of which is the Royal Summer Palace, one of the largest old wood structures still standing in Norway. Walking the streets in the old center city quarters as defined above, I found a mix of modern buildings, old wooden buildings, and massive stone structures. The modern buildings are uniformly nondescript The wood buildings are quaint, and the stone buildings impressive. The most impressive area was around the torget (city square). Just east of the torget-- look for the tourist information office-- was the most attractive part of the old town. Check out the side streets and the Royal Palace, especially its back yard gardens. There is also a really old church nearby which was, naturally, closed up tight. Kjopmannsgata, the street you end up on when you cross the bridge on your way to the center city (and to the cathedral) from the Hurtigruten's port, runs along the reconstructed old wooden warehouse district on the banks of the river.BODO: The best that can be said for Bodo is that, among the many nondescript post war towns along the Hurtigruten route, Bodo is among the less nondescript. Like Molde and so many others, Bodo's best feature is the chance to get off the boat and walk for awhile. Bodo is the departure port for the Lofoten Islands, one of highlights of Norway's west coast. Between Bodo and the next stop, the Hurtigruten crosses the Arctic Circle as we sailed across the vast Vestfjord (West Fjord). SVOLAR, in spectacular setting, is the capital of the Lofoten Islands, for what that's worth. There are spectacular views of fishing boats, reflections of houses and mountains in the water, and of drying fish on a clam sunny day. A short walk along the harbor is rewarding, but heading inland quickly brought us back to the dreary post war era. All in all, the stop was too long. We had two stops at Svolar, one northbound and one southbound. Both came late in the day, but they were very different. Northbound, Hurtigruten travelers first experience the Lofoten Wall, a 60 miles long chain of islands so tightly packed together that it looks like a continuous solid wall of mountain peaks rising from the sea. The crew said that in good weather, we could see the Lofoten Wall approaching at about 5:00pm. We had pretty bad weather and the Lofoten Wall did not appear until we were almost in Svolar, at 7:20pm. Sights were much better on the southbound stop, one of clearest days of our tip. While there were some pleasant views in Svolar on the first visit, the sights were much better on the southbound stop. The most notable sights were the reflections of the waterfront buildings in the calm sea. There is what seems to be an attractive recreated village of 18th and 19th Century wooden buildings-- from before the Nazis burned them down-- along the waterfront. Leave Hurtigruten, turn right, follow the sea front where the fishing fleet is at anchor, and cross the bridge to the right. As noted, if it is sunny and the sea is calm, there are some great views along here. Our northbound stop came very near dark, and at the end of our first walk in Svolar-- turning right as we left the ship and then returning along the harbor front, I went straight out from the ship instead of turning right and thru the port terminal to the street on the other side. To the left, was building in the dark night with striking lights on its exterior.
by Wasatch on June 21, 2012
The Nordnorge is one of 13 Hurtigruten ships, 12 of which are on the water 365 days a year making the 12 day round trip along Norway's west coast, the fjord lands. The Hurtigruten ships are a combination of tourist cruise, local ferry boat, and cargo ship. With 12 ships traveling one day apart up and down the coast, every port of call is visited at least once a day by a Hurtigruten ship. Bigger towns get two visits a day, one north bound ship and one south bound ship. The voyage is scheduled so that places you pass at night going north are passed in daylight going south. Theoretically, weather and your stamina permitting, you can see the entire coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. The oldest ship was built in 1964, the newest in 2007. The smallest ship carries 318 passengers, the largest is home to 1,000. All the ships are registered in Navarik, a large city on a fjord that is not on the Hurtigruten route. Nordnorge was built in 1997 and carries 691 passengers (I'm not clear what this means because the Nordnorge also has a "bunk capacity" of 457) and 45 vehicles. But in addition to passengers who pay for a cabin ('bunks'?), there are both tourists and locals who choose to book the cheapest overnight fare between two ports and spend the night trying to sleep in the public lounges. We never saw any of these who remained on board for two nights, but one-nighters were not unheard of. Whatever capacity was, it was clear that our trip was near, but not at capacity But however passengers are counted, these are small fry ships as cruise ships go these days. Don't expect to get what you get from Carnival or Holland America or Princess or Norwegian cruise lines Nordnorge had no theater, no casino, no ice skating rink, no putt-putt golf, no swimming pool (there were two hot tubs with signs forbidding diving), and only one restaurant. Cabins have small windows, so, since the whole point of the trip is to see the scenery, you are going to spend a lot of time in the public spaces that offer panorama views of the scenery, of which there are three: the Panorama Lounge, the bar, the cafeteria, and the 'sun deck'. Regrettably, every cruise we have ever been on provided a keyboard 'artist', and I use that word loosely, who performend daily in the lounge or bar. The keyboard artist on Nordnorge was particularly lacking in talent. Had he appeared on American Idol, Simon would still be ranting and raging. Aside from that daily misadventure, the only other evening entertainment was one night at dinner when some of the crew sang Norwegian folks songs-- quite enjoyable -- and on our first night while the ship was still in Bergen when a trio of Norwegian violinists came on board for a short concert of Norwegian violin music. A Norwegian violin has one more string that a regular violin. It was a pleasant event.And there there was the whako saxophone player. After 12 years of teaching, this guy was burned out. His shrink told him to stop teaching and go do something he liked to do, like play the saxophone After becoming a minor Norwegian musical celebrity playing an amplified saxophone from more than 300 church bell towers around Norway-- more than 1,000 to go-- he propositioned Hurtigruten and they made a deal where for three years he would travel for three months on Hurtigruten ships between two ports and play his original saxophone compositions inspired by the lands north of the Arctic Circle With apologies to Robert W Service,There are strange things done 'neath the midnight sun in the land where men moil for oil and the Northern lights have seen queer sights that would make your cold blood boil.The Arctic trails hold their secret tales, but the strangest that did ever soundwas those days on the boat where there chanced to float a saxophone down to the ground.For the three days he traveled with us. He would play his music on an amplified saxophone for about 10-20 minutes as we docked and departed every port. Since it was amplified, we could leave the ship in port and as we walked away from the ship, we were followed by the music of the Arctic.Deck 7 was the highest deck passengers could get to on the Nordnorge. The saxophone player stood on deck 8, up by the stacks, dressed in a long wool overcoat and wearing a wool hat with ear flaps and two tassels on top that fluttered in the perpetual winds of the Arctic. Combine that with his strangely appropriate mournful Arctic music, and it made for a most surreal memorable event.Along with the music, there were reminders that CDs of his music could be purchased at the ship's store. I would have bought a couple at $20 or less, but as they were priced at $35 each, I bought none.With daily high temperatures mostly between 30 and 40 degrees F, we didn't spend much time on the outside sun deck. Our preferred spot for sight seeing was far forward in the Panorama Lounge on the top deck of Nordnorge The Panorama Lounge had a 270 degree wall of glass running from about two feet above the floor to the ceiling. The bar, behind the Panorama Lounge, had views out both sides of the ship but none fore or aft. It also had a bar, a very expensive bar (cheapest beer: $10).Three floors down, just outside the cafeteria, there was a row of window seats on one side of the ship. The sun deck on deck 7 had lounge chairs and lots of standing room with wide open views over the stern. In other words, looking out over the stern on the Sun Deck, you saw the view that would be seen from the front of the Panorama lounge if the ship were traveling in the opposite direction. On a typical day, we spent most of our time in the Panorama Lounge, next most in bed, next in the restaurant, and then in our cabin after dark before bed.Furniture aficionados should note that the chairs in the Panorama Lounge were made by Ekornes. If you don't know what an Ekornes chair is, suffice it to say the Ekornes makes the world's most comfortable chairs (our house is furnished with four Ekornes chairs). Of the 10 or so cruses we have taken, the chairs in Nordnorge's Panorama Lounge were far and away the most comfortable we have ever encountered anywhere while traveling. This is a good thing, since you can expert to spend up to 10 hours sitting in them. There are three styles of chairs in the Panorama Lounge. I preferred the swivel chairs, she prefers the forward facing high backed chairs, but all three were excellent when it comes to comfortable sitting. Many chairs in the bar were notably uncomfortable, but the chair along the starboarcd side near the cafeteria were also outstanding.The Nordnorge has two types of cabins, standard and suites, of which there were only six. Standard cabins were very basic 90-120 sq ft with two bunk beds, one of which folded up against the wall during the day while the other converted into a couch. This system actually provides a decent amount of space during the day, but the couch was very uncomfortable to sit on. Suspecting that, we booked a suite-- two standard cabins with the separating wall removed. Our cabin had a comfortable three cushion couch, two decent arm chairs, a desk chair, and double bed in a separate alcove. All in all, it was the best cabin we have ever had on cruise ship. The cabin also had a flat screen TV, a radio, CD player, and a mini-bar fridge. A basket of fresh fruit was refreshed every day, and the original contents of the mini-bar-- one beer, one bottle of water, and one bottle of orange juice-- were gratis. All the suites seemed to be located on deck 6. Standard cabins went down to deck three-- higher is further away from the engines and so they are less noisy We found engine noise to be apparent but not bothersome. Can't say what you would get for the less expensive deck 3 cabins.Coffee drinkers should take note of this: All cruises we have been on before the Hurtigruten included coffee and tea in the base fare. Not Hurtigruten. Standard cabin passengers have to pay either $6 for a 6 oz. cup of coffee or tea or you can buy a special souvenir mug for about $50 that includes all the coffee or tea you can drink. Our suite came with two mugs included, so there was no added cost for coffee or tea. Note: coffee or tea was included with all meals.
by Wasatch on June 19, 2012
We sailed on the Nordnorge, one of 12 Hurtigruten ships that sail the west coast of Norway 365 days a year.The Nordnorge had two provisioners of food, the restaurant which served breakfast, lunch and dinner for passengers traveling in cabins, and a 24-7 cafeteria mostly serving day travelers using the Hurtigruten ferry service for short trips. We have taken some 40 or more European vacation trips, and it seems to inevitable that somewhere along the line when traveling in Europe we will develop a hankering for a good old American hamburger. Unfortunately this is urge rarely fulfilled, for European beef comes from different breeds of cattle that does American beef and so, European beef will not satisfy a desire for an American hamburger. Still, we kept trying. The closest we have ever come to finding a real hamburger in Europe before the Nordnorge was at the Luxemburg Holiday Inn, followed by UK's Blimpie's Chain. As for McDonald's Europe, forget it. Their euro burgers aren't USA burgers because their euro beef is not American beef. Hamburger patties, but not on a bun, were twice offered up at lunch on Nordnorge, and they were very good, maybe even better than Luxembourg Holiday's Inn. There came one night about 10:30pm the urge to have real burger hit me and, figuring that if the restaurant's beef patties would have made a good burger, the 24-7 cafeteria probably served the same, so I could get a real burger there It was not to be. The 24-7 cafeteria stops serving burgers at 10:00pm, along with several other hot offerings. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner the first night on board were served buffet style. After the first night's buffet dinner, dinner was a sit down affair with three courses served by waiters.Breakfast: The breakfast buffet was both extensive and limited. Lots of food was offered, but still it got boring from the lack of variety that could satisfy our tastes (an advisory: I think a ham burger is the perfect breakfast dish, so you might not be as disappointed as we were). We would have been happy with bacon and eggs every day, but they were only offered twice. Appearing every day were sliced beets, cheese, two types of salami, pressed ham, salmon (often in two or three forms at a time), sardines, herring, a couple unknown fishes in a sauce, bread, rolls, sausage, meatballs, porridge for the British which is oatmeal for us, dry cereal, and hard boiled and soft boiled eggs. The soft boiled eggs were problematic as they sat on steam table and became hard boiled if they sat too long. However, when we were lucky enough to get true soft boiled egg, they were excellent. A digression on the soft boiled egg. Soft boiled eggs are not commonly served in America but they seem to be universal in Europe. Count on the soft boiled egg being part of every breakfast you have in a European hotel or cruise ship. They are eaten from an egg cup, something else that has been a rarity in America in our experience, so here is how to eat a soft boiled egg in an egg cup. AN egg cup looks like a tiny bowl on a pedestal Put the egg in egg cup so the egg is standing up. If you are right handed, put one finger of left hand on the top of the egg to hold for what is to come. Then take your knife and give the egg shell a sharp hit about 25% of the way down from the top of the egg to crack the shell. Next, stab the point of the knife thru the egg and pull and push the knife towards and away from your body to cut the top piec of the egg above your knife away fcrom the rest of the egg. This takes some experimentation to learn exactly where to whack the egg. The goal is to cut the egg open above the yolk, which, if the egg was properly cooked, will be hot but still liquid. Take the egg spoon and eat the egg out of the shell. If you are at a breakfast buffet, you will find the egg cup and egg spoons somewhere in the vicinity of the soft boiled eggs. Soft boiled eggs are also known as "three minute eggs", the minimum cooking time at sea level. Scrambled eggs appeared twice in 11 mornings, as did sunny side up eggs topped by bacon. Aside from topping the sunny side up eggs, bacon did not appear, which was too bad because it was excellent bacon. Baked beans appeared once. The sausages, which were severed every day, looked like mini hot dogs and tasted just like an American hot dog.The breakfast buffet also served a variety of breads and rolls. Lunch: The star of lunch, indeed the star of both lunch and dinner, were the lunch desserts, especially ice cream (two varieties offered every day) and several varieties of chocolate mousse, only one of which was ruined by including coffee in it. Vanilla and lemon pudding were also frequently offered. Cinnamon buns appeared a couple of times. If you like to eat fish and potatoes three meals a day, you will love the food on Hurtigruten. One day at lunch I counted seven different types of salmon being served. Two or three diner entrees were fish. The out standing lunch fish dish was breaded cod fillet. I think I had three servings. Come to think of it, this was far and away the best entree on the entire trip. Other lunch offerings included lamb ham, also sometimes served at breakfast, chicken (which was generally overcooked and had a cardboard texture), meatballs and pasta or just meatballs that were pretty good. There was always a vegetarian offering at lunch, as well as potatoes. The veggie dish was often outstanding. The plain boiled potatoes were a model of how plain boiled potatoes should be done. The lunch buffet also included a soup of the day. Many of these were excellent, but since preference for a soup is a highly personal matter, its best if I don't recommend any. Instead, I recommend you try to bit of the soup of the day, and if you like it, go back and get a bowl or two. Two or three cheeses were included on the lunch buffet, and several of them were very good.Dinner: Dinner was a fixed three course, sit down, waiter served meal. The first night's chicken entree was excellent, perfectly cooked chicken which raised our hopes about future chicken dishes. Our hopes were quickly dashed as the several lunch chicken dishes and the second evening chicken meal were overcooked, dry, cardboard. A steak entree was exceptionally good for European beef. We were not offered the option of how it was cooked, and it was cooked rare, which she can't stand so I got two steaks that night and she got my veggies. A couple lamb dishes were tolerable. A boneless pork chap was awful-- overcooked, dry, tough, and stringy. The two or three fish entrees were good. I would categorize Raindeer steak as an interesting but worthwhile novelty experience rather than great cuisine. Offered the choice between a typical European beef steak or Raindeer, I think I would opt for Raindeer. All dinner entrees were accompanied by some sort of vegetable, and they were all very good, but the star of dinner were the desserts. The first course at dinner was a soup, a salad, or, most often, an appetizer (or an amuse de bouch for the hoi poloi). All were well done. Were any particularly outstanding? No, none worth mentioning, but nevertheless, all were well worthwhile. So what's the bottom line? Of the 10 or so cruises we have taken, the food on the Nordnorge was second to the bottom. However, the Nordnorge's food was well ahead of what we encountered on Royal Carribean. Moest of our cruises have been river cruises with AMA, Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon, all of whom had notably better food. Our Ocean cruises were on Oceana, whose food was near the top of the list, and Royal Carribean, who's food w anchors the bottom of the list.
The whole point of the 12 day Hurtigruten experience is to look at the spectacular scenery of Norway's West coast where the sea has invaded the valleys between seemingly endless mountain ranges. Most of the time, Hurtigruten travelers see the rugged, mountainous west coast of Norway to the east and rugged, mountainous islands to the west. At its most prosaic, the whole point of the trip is to look at mountain tops and water. For most of the voyage, the mountains are Alpine in nature-- steep, rocky, and often with pointed mountain peaks. Once on trip to Jackson Hole, WY, we took a single engine sightseeing plane ride through the Teton Range. As long as you did not look down, this airplane ride provided the same views of mountains as does the Hurtigruten cruise-- looking out or up at the spectacular tops of mountains Although we have only take the Hurtigruten trip once, based on where we live, I'm going to assert with confidence that there is one day of the year when you should book your trip, and that day is April 14. Being more generous, any day between April 1 and April 14 will suffice. Here's why. Fro the last 15 years, we have lived in the Rocky Mountains Our house is about 6,000 ft above sea level, overlooking a mountain valley with a mountain wall across the valley rising 6,000 ft above our house. Such mountain setting have three seasons a year: green, brown, and white. Ours is dry climate. That's why we have three seasons. Mountains in a wet climate, like the Alps or Norway have two seasons, green and white, and of this there is no doubt, no possible doubt whatever: mountains are at their best when covered with snow. Ergo, the best time to travel Hurtigruten is when the mountains are covered with snow, and that time is the early spring, for you four season dwellers. A bit more on snow and maintains for the flat landers. Snow capped mountains do not happen overnight. Our mountains get snow 12 months a year, but it quickly melts until average temperatures got low enough for the snow to not melt at high noon. That happens sometime between late October and mid-November. From then until the end of March or early April, the snow covering the mountains gets deeper and deeper. Typically, the ski resort where ski has its greatest depth on snow covering the ground when the resort shuts down in mid-April. So, if you want to see a lot of snow on mountains, and that is when you want to see mountains, go in the early spring, not in winter. The latitude of Norway is another consideration in planning your trip For days, the Hurtigruten steams north of Pt Barrow, Alaska, the most northern part of the North American continent These latitudes play tricks with daylight, the land of the sunless winters and midnight sun in the summer. You need light to see the scenery, so there is trade off-- the most daylight comes on June 21, the least on Dec 21, but the December date is irrelevant At these latitudes, night last nearly 24 hours a day for a month or so-- lots of snow, but no way to see it.We departed Bergen on our Hurtigruten trip on April 11. Once we passed the Arctic Circle, there were several days where daylight increased by 15 minutes a day or more. For several days, sunrise was around 4:00 AM and enough light to see the sights until nearly 10:00 PM. Weather is also a factor. Norwegian tourist propaganda stresses that the temperature in the Lofoten Islands, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, rarely falls below freezing (what they don't tell you that it rarely gets above freezing in winter). This is due to the Gulf Stream, which comes barreling into Europe off the west coast of Norway. Because of the Gulf Stream, temperatures in Norther Norway-- north of Alaska-- never drop as low as Alaska's temperatures in winter. The predicted daily high temperatures we encountered ranged from 30 degrees F at Kirkenes to 54 degrees F in Bergen. The final consideration in asserting that early April is the optimum time to travel the Hurtigruten that fares take a big jump up on April 15. So, there are three factors to consider in when to travel the Hurtigruten: 1] lots of snow, 2] lots of daylight, 3] minimal chances of rain, and 4] lower prices, and the solution is the first two weeks of April, which is when we went.Why did we then pick April 9 as the date to sail? Because Condo Nast Traveler Magazine's reader's poll had picked Hurtigruten Nordnorge as one of the top 10 best small cruise ships in the world, and April 9 was the last sailing of the Nordnorge before the April 15 price hike. There are two other geographic factors that affect the view along the Hurtigruten route, the tree line and the snow line. Where we live, the tree line is at 9,600 ft. That is, trees cannot grow at an altitude higher than 9,600 ft. A few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, the tree line reaches sea level. The tree line marks the latitude where the great northern forest ends and the tundra starts. In America's mountains, the snow line is the altitude where the winter snow field ends and snow free land begins. Like the tree line, the snow line is also affected by latitude as well as by altitude On our April Hurtigruten cruise, the snow line extended to sea level well south of the Arctic Circle, meaning that we saw snow capped mountains that were covered in snow from the coast to the mountain summits. George Orwell's classic critique of Communism, "Animal Farm", contains the memorable line "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". So it is with scenery of Norway's west coast-- all the scenery is great, but some places are greater than others. The best scenery is on the southbound trip between Honninsvag and Trondheim, especially in the Vesteralen and Lofoten Islands, and the approach to Molde.
Hurtigruten (literally: the fast route) or the Costal Voyage or the Fast Express or the Norwegian Fiord cruise is, whatever you call it, one of the worlds great scenic trips, weather permitting. Hurtigruten cruises the fjords of Norway's west coast. The dictionary says a fjord is "a long narrow inlet from the sea between steep cliffs and slopes". So it is, but the dictionary is wrong. An inlet is piece of the sea penetrating the mainland The famous Trollfjord (one of the several fjords in Norway given three stars by the Michelin Guide) is miles from the mainland and is not an an inlet. It is a channel separating two islands. A better definition of a fjord is that it is a mountain valley flooded by the sea. Sometimes it is an inlet, sometimes it separates islands, and sometimes it is between an island and the mainland The fjords and coastal islands of Norway's west coast were created by glaciers in the ice ages. In short, going to see the fjords is trip to see water and mountain tops. Most of the mountains are below the surface of the sea, sometimes as much as 3,000 ft., but mountains peaks rising from the sea is what it is all about. Consider how many of the world's notable scenic spots are where the mountains meet the sea-- the Riviera, the Amalfi Coast, Big Sur, Cape Breton National Park, Olympia National Park, the Inside Passage, the west coast of New Zealand, and the fjord lands. We have been to all of them except New Zealand and the Hurtigruten trip trumps them all. When it comes to endless grad sightseeing, the only trip I can think of that might rival the 12 days of scenery seen from the Hurtigruten would be a 12 day drive around America's Colorado Plateau. The full Hurtigruten trip is a 12 day cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes and then back to Bergen, with a total of some 34 stops at Norwegian costal and island towns. Stops lasted from 15 minutes to four hours. Most of the passengers are tourists from many lands come to see the sights, but Hurtigruten is also a working ferry boat service, also transporting cars, locals, and cargo. On our trip, we had two groups of school children out for a field trip day by riding the Hurtigruten from here to there and then probably taking bus back home. The Hurtigruten fare includes room and board-- three meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are buffet. For Dinner, you are assigned a table at one of two dinner seatings, 6:30 pm or 8:30 pm. Hurtigruten seems to be very inflexible in deciding for you where and when you will eat dinner. The diner menu consists of three courses, 1] soup or salad, 2] entree with a vegetable, and 3] desert There are no options, although options are offered to those with food allergies. Coffee is a special quirk. Standard rooms do not have coffee makers. Coffee can be bought at the cafeteria, which is open 24-7. A cup holds 5-6 oz. and costs $5-6. But there is volume plan. For $50 you can buy a souvenir Hurtigruten mug which includes all the coffee or tea you want. Mugs are provided in the room rate for suites. Optional land tours are offered at many stops, ranging in price from $50 for a one hour guided tour of the town to more than $500 for things like an overnight dog sled ride. Some optional excursions leave the ship at one port and rejoin it at a later stop. The ship's interiors are 'no smoking'. Smoking is only allowed outdoors on the sun deck. For bad weather, part of the sun deck is roofed over and glass enclosed on one side. Infrared heaters kept the temperature in this enclose around 65 degrees F when the exterior temperature was in the 30s F. The Hurtigruten fleet consists of 13 ships carrying from 310 to 1,000 passengers depending on which ship. The oldest was built in 1964, the newest (and largest) in 2004. At any time, 12 of the ships are sailing the Hurtigruten route, with a new sailing starting in Bergen every day of the year. Some of the older ships do not have stabilizers, and cabin configurations vary widely from ship to ship. Standard cabins are Spartan, furnished with two single beds, one folds up against the wall during the day and the other converts into a very uncomfortable couch. At night, when both beds are down, there is no more than two feet of space between them on one side while the other side of each bed is up against the cabin wall. Suites are considerably more comfortable (and expensive). Suites vary in size, and price. Some cabins have obstructed views because the life boats are right outside, but considering how uncomfortable the cabins are in the day time mode, you won't be spending much time sitting in your cabin trying to look out the window. Fortunately, if our experience on the Nordnorge was typical, the lounges and bars are the most comfortable we have encountered on any of the 10 or cruise ships we have been on. One area of the Panorama Lounge was well enough lighted at night to make reading possible after dark. In keeping with its status as a combination working ferry, cargo ship, and sightseeing cruise ship, entertainment on board was minimal. One evening, some of the crew sang some folk songs during dinner. Another evening three violinists played folk songs on Norwegian violins which are a bit different from the standard violin. If the keyboard musician who played and sang nightly in the bar had appeared on "American Idol", Simon Cowell would still be be fulminating. There were no shows, no casino, no theater, no swimming pool. There were two hot tubs. The strangest entertainment was the saxophone player who spent three days on board. He serenaded our arrival and departure from each port, playing mostly his own compositions celebrating the loneliness of the Arctic while standing outdoors on the highest part of the ship, dressed in park and wool hat with ear flaps toped by two tassels blowing in the wind. The music was amplified and could be heard for some distance from the ship while in port. Altogether it was an odd but pleasant experience He has an arrangement to travel the Hurtigruten ships between two ports for 67 days a year for the next three years. When he left our northbound ship, he boarded the southbound Hurtigruten ship that called later that day and sailed on it back to the port where he joined us, and repeated this pattern for three months.At some of the longer stops, family members of the crew would come on board when the Hurtigruten reach their hometown for a visit The Hurtigruten schedule is more or less laid out so that the scenery that is passed during the night on the trip north (Bergen to Kirkenes) is passed during daylight hours on the return trip from Kirkenes to Bergen. Hurtigruten USA offers three standard choices of itinerary-- the full 12 day Bergen to Bergen trip, Northbound only-- Bergen to Kirkenes, or southbound only-- Kirkenes to Bergen. If you don't want the round trip, southbound-- Kirkenes to Bergen-- has the better scenery. Norway is an expensive country (the cheapest beer in a grocery store was $6 for the 1/3 liter sized bottle) and this is an expensive trip (the cheapest beer on board was $11). By taking advantage of the early booking offer and going in off season, we saved about $5,000 per person from standard fares. One disadvantage of sailing off season, or winter season is Hurtigruten aptly puts it, is that the famous Geiranger Fjord is not included in the trip while summer voyages visit the Geiranger Fjord. The advantage of winter travel, especailly in the late spring (summer fares start on April 15. We sailed on winter rates on April 9) is that the mountains are snow capped. Blue sky, a blue sea, and brilliant white mountains in between makes for the most spectacular scenery.Weather wise, prepare for the worst, hope for the best. We went in early April and encountered sun, snow, rain, clouds, and snow. Daily high temperatures ran from 30 degrees F (at Kirkenes, where the Hurtigruten turns around for the return trip to Bergen) to 57 degrees F (in Bergen at the end of our cruise).The bottom line: In our extensive but limited travel experiences, the three must do trips to see the natural world are 1] a drive around the Colorado Plateau (USA), 2] Hurtigruten, and 3] an African safari.
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