Hurtigruten

Introduction

Hurtigruten is the Norwegian Coastal Voyage.  It is a network of 11 ships that, save for a few hours here and there, are constantly on the move.  The network is part of the transportation infrastructure of Norway. The ships, which serve 17 ports from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes—within a few kilometers of the Russian border—in the north, are a combination of mail boat, freighter, ferry, and cruise ship.  The Hurtigruten operates every day, throughout the year.  It can do this because the still-warm Gulf Stream, having traversed the North Atlantic, runs along the Norwegian coast.  It is a bit disconcerting at times to view the Arctic-Alpine countryside and then see at the shore the aquamarine water that one expects to see only in places like the Bahamas or Florida.  It does make for rather striking, and sometimes almost unworldly, photographic images.

Route of the Hurtigruten

Route of the Hurtigruten

The complete voyage takes 12 days, with 34 stops.  Those ports that are visited during the night on the way north are visited during the day on the return.  Some of the stops are little more than a few minutes in duration (long enough to drop off the mail); others, such as at Trondheim, Tromsø, and Honningsvåg, are for most of the day.

Other than the combination of functions of the Hurtigruten vessels, there are two other facets that separate their voyages from the typical cruise-ship operation.  When they say “coastal voyage,” they mean it.  Not only are you never out of sight of land, sometimes from the deck you could throw a rock and hit it.  The other is that they take the attitude that those on the voyage are sufficiently mature and intelligent to amuse themselves–so that other than a few excursions at the longer stops, there is no programmed entertainment,  no contests, etc.  Breakfast and lunch are buffet style.  Dinner is served—a starter or salad, an entree, and a dessert.  There is no choice.

We will board our ship—the Finnmarken—on 25 September and sail from Bergen at 2200 sharp.  All ships have the same schedule, which makes it simple to figure out when you will arrive or depart any port.

The Finnmarken is one of the newer and larger ships.  It was built in 2002; is 138.5 m (455 ft) long and 21.5 m (70.5 ft) wide; and counting that for cars and frieght, has eight decks.  It cruises at 15 kt—the standard speed for all of the hurtigruten vessels.  It has 643 berths. 

The Finnmarken at Tromso.  From the Fjellheisen, Sept. 2004

The Finnmarken at Tromso. From the Fjellheisen, Sept. 2004

This will be our third Hurtigruten and the second in the autumn.

Preparations

We began thinking about this voyage last winter.  Having made the Hurtigruten in both September and early May, we opted again for September.  The early May voyage in 2005 was spectacular; throughout most of the voyage, the mountainous countryside was covered in snow—just as we thought (hoped) that it would be.  At that time, it was not quite the time of the “midnight sun” although we seldom saw real darkness.  This time, we decided to go when it was more likely to see the northern lights.  Also, in May, we sailed aboard the Midnatsol, one of the newest vessels.  Although it is a great ship, to me at least, it lacks a bit of the classic ocean-going ship, so this time we decided to go back aboard the Finnmarken—our first Hurtigruten ship.

Now we are about to begin the trek to Bergen.  We fly from Bangor, ME to Detroit, then to Amsterdam, and finally to Bergen.  Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has been characterized as the world’s largest duty-free shopping center to which an airport has been attached.  That is a bit of an exaggeration.  The duty-free section indeed is large, with individual shops devoted to chocolates, perfumes, electronics, alcohol, etc.  However, Schiphol also is a rail terminal, so it clearly is a transportation center. 

Our luggage is pretty much packed.  Hurtigruten ships are casual, even at dinner, so our bags are filled with slacks, jeans, sweaters, sweatshirts, and outer gear.  I spend a lot of time on deck (weather permitting) with my camera, so I have packed my hiking boots and a good pair of gloves—after all, about half of the voyage is above the Arctic Circle.  We now have our seat assignments as far as Amsterdam; until we leave for the airport tomorrow, it is a time of waiting—and wondering what else we might need to stuff into the bags at the last minute.

So tomorrow we begin the trip.  The next installment here will be either from Bergen, or from aboard the Finnmarken as we head north.

Bergen

We are here.  The trip was delightfully uneventful—all flights on time, about two-hour connection times all around (thanks to Bonnie’s planning).  The different attitudes toward things like passport control were interesting.  The U.S. of course is anal compulsive.  At Schipol in Amsterdam, we had to go through passport control and another round of security (baggage) screening.  Then when we got to Bergen, it was “go through these one-way doors, down the stairs, get your luggage, and head out the door.”  No passport control, no nothing, save to hit the ATM for krone and get aboard the Flybussen for the 25 km trip into Bergen proper.

It was of course a long trip and we were pretty beat when we got to our hotel on the Bryggen here in Bergen.  We managed to stay awake through a visit to the Irish pub across from the Fish Market at the end of the Vågen—great place to sit outside, have a pint (Kilkenney is great stuff) and people watch.  Then it was dinner at Bryggeloftet & Steune—garlic marinated scallops to start, then bacalao.  Then to the hotel and sleep.

It has been a beautiful morning.  It was very foggy early—great for photography at the Bergenhus and along the Vågen.  Now the sun has broken through (1100).  Soon we will take the funicular to the Floyen overlooking the city; we will be able to (literally) watch our ship come in about 1430.  We board about 1800 and sail and 2200.

Aboard

Boarding was a breeze.  Before going up in the funicular, we ate lunch at the restaurant in the Bergen Kunstmuseum—a place that Espen recommends.  Beautifully appointed and great food. After coming down from the Floyen (and watching the Finnmarken arrive and dock), we descended, stopped again at Scruffy Murphy’s (the Irish pub) for a pint, and then strolled leisurely through the streets of Bergen to the Hurtigruten terminal.  We got here about 1615 and were able to check in.  We can’t get into our cabin until 1800, another 35 minutes from now.  This is completely understandable, given that between about 1430 and 1800, they have to get everyone disembarked and then clean all of the cabins.

At any rate, decks 7 and 8 are great platforms to take photographs of the city.  According to theory, our luggage should have been picked up from our hotel this morning and should be waiting for us at the cabin door.  This is a new service relative to our last voyage in 2005.

The internet connection on board is 256 kb.  We were warned that it is slow, and for some parts of the most northern leg (Tromsø–Kirkenes-Tromsø) the connection may fail—apparently we get over the horizon from the satellite.  How quickly we get spoiled by DSL and the rest.  Anyhow, I will endeavor to persevere.

Saturday Night, out of Rorvik

Yesterday was a nice day.  We awoke for breakfast as we were leaving Maloy. A good day to stay out on deck, either on decks 7 or 8 toward the stern or deck 5, where one can be in the bow. It was cloudy most of the day, with some fog on the mainland—made for interesting photography.  The Alps of Romsdalen north of Alesund were very nice—rank upon rank of mountains leading away from the shoreline, each higher than the last.  At the stop in Alesund, we loaded up on snacks for our cocktail hour.  Our cocktail hour is a little later than usual because we are the 2030 sitting for dinner.

Today broke cloudy again, with the promise of some rain.  We were in Trondheim as we went for breakfast.  Afterwards, we walked the 20-minute walk into the city, along the River Nid, to Nidaros Cathedral—the national cathedral.  It is a very pleasant walk and the cathedral grounds as well as the cathedral itself are beautiful.  As with most cathedrals of its age, it is undergoing some exterior rehabilitation.  However, much of it was still in good order; I spent some time taking photos of some the gargoyles, which are perched well above the collection of saints and notables.  There is a message there, I suppose.

It began to sprinkle as we returned to the ship.  We were invited to tour the bridge at 1230; the captain has a great sense of humor.  Someone asked how quickly the the ship could stop; his answer was: “That depends on what we hit.”  After the tour, there was champagne.  While we were on the bridge, we got the news—we would be running with a gale in the afternoon, once we left Trondheim fjord.  And so we did—for close to six hours.  Because of the gale-force winds, we could not traverse the Stocksundet, a very narrow passage but instead went out to sea where as the captain said:  “There is a lot more water.”  Indeed.  At one point, for about an hour, we were running in 6 to 7-meter seas.  Impressive.

It was still running pretty well for the first dinner seating, so many of those people showed up at our seating.  Tonight the entree was trout, last night roast chicken, tomorrow, lamb.

Things seem to have quieted down, so maybe tomorrow will be another good day on deck.

Monday, at Finnsnes

Yesterday was still very windy, but well below gale force.  The storm threw several of the Hurtigruten ships off schedule.  We had to circle in the bay at Ornes for about 45 minutes; the southbound Trollfjord was at the dock and there is only room for one of these ships at a time.  When we finally docked, we took on passengers from the Trollfjord who were bound for Bodo; the Trollfjord had had to skip Bodo because of the rough water and wind (the entrance to Bodo harbor is only about 3 times the width of the Hurtigruten ships).

There usually is a nice waterfall at Ørnes; this time there were three or four.  Just like on Mount Desert Island, when it rains heavily here, the water flows everywhere.  It generally was a good day for photography, especially in the Ørnes area and again at Bodø. There were intermittent periods of drizzle, but nothing serious.  Sundays in Norway, almost everything shuts down and yesterday, Bodø was no exception.  We took a short walk into the nearly-deserted city center (Sentrum); it was still very windy.  After Bodø, we crossed the large and open West Fjord (Vestfjord).  It was another good time to pop a Dramamine, stretch out on the bed, and read or nap—I did both.

Dinner last night was rack of lamb, preceded by citrus-marinated salmon (what I would call salmon ceviche, I guess).  Both were excellent.

By this morning, we were back on schedule, so all is right with the Hurtigruten world.  It is partly cloudy; the wind has died to normal proportions, so it is pleasant out on deck.  We will leave here in about 20 minutes for Tromso.  Going up to the Fjellheisen in the cable car is going to be a last-minute decision—the last forecast we could get was still 80% chance of showers.  However, the rain forecast for tomorrow at Honnigsvag is good, so I signed up for the excursion to the North Cape (Nordkapp).  Bonnie will wait and take the Nordkapp excursion on the southbound leg—an 0600 start with breakfast at the Cape and a bus journey down to catch up with the ship laterat Hammerfest. 

We were happy to find out that most of Kyle went east of Bar Harbor.  It was an interesting time; we had just ridden out a gale, Bar Harbor was about to be hit with a hurricane, and we could do nothing about either.

And away we go.

Still Monday, now Tromsø

We didn’t make it up to the Fjellheisen.  It was raining when we docked and the skies did not look favorable.  The Fjellheisen would not be a very comfortable place in wind, rain, and 9C temperatures.

The route from Finnsnes to Tromsø is beautiful.  The ship runs up the Gisund sound that separates Senja—Norway’s second largest island—from the mainland.  

A few words about photography on the Hurtigruten.  The issue is not to find something to photograph, but rather how to choose among so many beautiful and interesting scenes.  As one stands on one of the upper decks, on one side there can be forbidding, snow-capped mountains with clouds or fog; on the other side, it can be bright, sunny, with scenes of small farms and forested hills—or very small islands (skerries), often with one or a very few trees.  The scenes fore and aft can be equally diverse.  Sometimes the views and the choices are so overwhelming that one just slowly turns in a circle, marvelling at it all.  It is a photographer’s dream. 

Turned the corner and headed south

As promised, internet access was spotty or non-existent north of Tromsø.  I made the trip from Honningsvåg to Nordkapp.  Nordkapp (North Cape) is billed as the northernmost place on the European continent.  Well, it’s not.  There is a low-lying headland just to the west of the Nordkapp that extends about 1 km further.  However, it isn’t as dramatic and didn’t have a good press agent.  There is land farther north; to the east of Nordkapp is Mehamn which is farther north, but is on an island.  Well, so, really is the Nordkapp.  Sort of reminiscent of the “who sees sunrise first” on the Maine coast.  At any rate, Nordkapp is a unique place; I hope my photos will show some of that.

After Honningsvåg, we did some more bouncing as we turned the corner and headed east and then slightly south to Kirkenes.  Kirkenes was fun.  It turned out that the day we hit port was the 100th anniversary of the first Hurtigruten ship (an earlier generation of the Finnmarken) to arrive at Kirkenes to begin regular service.  We were met on the approach and ushered to the dock by three fire boats.  There was a brass band and the mayor in her official regalia.  After greeting the captain and officers, she greeted each passenger as we disembarked.  I passed on greetings from the U.S.—she clapped her hands and laughed delightedly.  We like Kirkenes.  It is small, well organized, and has some delightful neighborhoods through which to walk as we make our way from the ship to the town center.  It exudes a very tranquil air.  Atop one hill, there are two bomb shelters—relics of WWII—and a monument to the soldiers of the Russian army.  Kirkenes residents say that they are doubly grateful to the Russian army—it liberated the area from the Germans, and then went home.  The nearness to Russia (7 km as the crow flies and perhaps 60 km or so to Murmansk) is reflected by some major street signs and some signs on stores in cyrillic.

Last evening about 1915, it was announced that the northern lights were putting on a show, so we spent close to an hour watching.  I finally figured out how to take pictures of it (hint: auto-focusing does not work).  The photos look decent on the small LCD screen; it will be interesting to see how they look on the big computer screen at home.

Today was a great day on deck.  It was cool—about 3C but sunny.  The stretch from Hammerfest south to Øksfjord is magnificent.  The mainland and islands on the mainland side of the passage were snow-capped—some looking fresh but most from last winter.  The other side of the passage was bordered most of the way by a large, mountainous island–Sørøya.  It was another one of those times that kept me moving across the deck from one side to the other.  The only bad part was when we crossed the mouth a large fjord; then the concept of wind chill became reality.  I feel a little wind-burned tonight.

Probably no northern lights tonight (for us to see, anyway).  We started running under clouds just about sunset (which was gorgeous).  Tomorrow we pass through the Raftsundet—the narrow pass (sound) through the Lofotens.  In our other two voyages, we were unable to go into the Troll Fjord—once owing to high wind, the other time owing to the danger of snow avalanche.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Third time was the charm

Most of the morning, as we sailed south from Harstad, was a mix of partly cloudy and occasional drizzle.  That did not detract from the scenery, however—although occasionally, I had to head for cover to protect the camera (digital SLRs do not interact well with excessive moisture).  After successfully managing the channel near Risoyhamn—one meter of water under the keel—we went on to Sortland and Stokmarknes before entering the Raftsund.  At Sortland, we met the group who had left at Harstad for an overland excursion.  The tradition is that the excursion buses stop at the top of the Sortland bridge; as the Hurtigruten ship approaches the bridge, it salutes four times with its horn and the buses respond with their horns, accompanied with much waving on both sides.  The tradition was upheld.

After Stokmarknes, we crossed, in a brisk wind, to entrance of the Raftsundet.  It is a narrow sound that separates the Lofoten islands from Hinoya, the largest of the Norwegian islands.  It runs between high peaks and occasional low valleys.  The highlight is Troll Fjord, an approximate 1 km-long fjord.  Twice before we have failed to get into Troll Fjord; this time we made it.  It is difficult to describe.  The passage for the most part is between vertical walls that literally are only meters from the sides of the ship.  The fjord dead-ends at a spot that is just wide enough for the ship to (safely) spin on its own axis and head back out.   By the time we did this, it was late afternoon and between the shadows, temperature (ca. 6C), and breeze, it was good to get back to the cabin and some salubrious administrations of Scotch.  My hope is that the photos, which eventually will be on my Picasaweb page, will do the Troll Fjord and the rest of today’s journey, justice.  At any rate, I had a hell of a lot of fun.  More later.

Back in Bergen

Saturday was another cloudy day with intermittent showers.  Finally, in the later afternoon, it cleared up a bit as we docked in Brønnøysund.  It remained fairly clear, although brisk, as we approached the Torghatten—an offshore mountain with a 160 m long, 25-30 m high, and 12-15 m wide hole in it.  Weather permitting, the ship maneuvers around so that we can see and photograph both sides.   After that, it was dinner time—the Captain’s Dinner.  The Captain and his officers toast the diners; we had champagne and owing to the zero-tolerance policy of Hurtigruten, they had fruit juice.  In addition to a very nice dinner, including rare steak, we discovered that Martin, the evening bartender on Deck 4, was a devoted martini drinker.  He made excellent martinis, although he doesn’t have Elizabeth’s touch (he insists on stirring rather than shaking), and the olives on board were mediocre.   Sidelight:  The entire crew of the ship, from Captain to chambermaids and deckhands, works 22 days on, 22 days off.  The Captain who began our voyage, and who is the original captain of the ship, finished his 22 days in Bodo.  Others of the ship’s complement drop off and come in as their stints end or begin.

Sunday we awoke in Trondheim to more drizzle.  The weather forecast on CNN International showed the whole western coast of Europe to be socked in.  It was a day of reading, occasionally venturing out into one of the more protected deck areas to see what I could see, then back to the reading.  Thre was one fairly clear stretch just as we were leaving Trondheim fjord; there is a lovely lighthouse at the mouth.  In the evening after dinner, we did a tour around the ship on Deck 5, looking at Molde at night.  Later that evening, the wind came up and we encountered a storm—not quite as bad as on the northbound leg, but the ship did a lot of pitching and some rolling.  This all occurred in another area (Stadhavet) where we had to swing out into the open ocean.  I’m sure that the seas weren’t of the 6-7 m variety, but 4-5 m wouldn’t surprise me.

The run down from Florø to Bergen today was nice—a few brief, misty showers but nothing to keep me inside for very long.  Lots of rainbows and lots of contrast between the misty, foggy mainland and the sunlight skerries and islands.

This morning we left our luggage outside our cabin door before 0900.  It reappeared on the carousel as we disembarked at 1430 and we were here in the hotel by 1515.  The Bryggen and the rest of the center of Bergen was mostly sunny and pleasant for walking.  We did a little shopping, had a Guinness at Scruffy Murphy’s, then repaired to Pepe’s Pizza for supper, followed by a slow saunter back to the hotel.

I have a few more thoughts to add to this page but it is 2000 now and I’m beginning to fade.  It is tough enough navigating an international (or at least Norwegian) keyboard when I’m in the best of shape. 

Some final thoughts

It really is more than a cruise ship.  The fourth night out, a Norwegian couple that we had not seen before had dinner at the table next to us.  It turned out that they had been motoring inland while we were encountering the gale.  The inland forecast included substantial snowfall in some of the mountain passes, so they headed for Bodo, drove onto the Finnmarken, and sailed to Tromso.  We had a long chat the next morning at breakfast.  The current financial mess was one topic.  According to them, the same sorts of things are occurring in Norway, i.e., people overextending themselves on mortgages and credit cards and the banks aiding and abetting them.

The Hurtigruten means what it says.   In the information meeting held on the first evening of the voyage, the tour director makes it very clear that the ships run on schedule.  At each stop, the departure time is announced in several languages and is prominently posted at the gangway.  This time, two American women got left.  What several people were chuckling about is that these two had been a problem.  Although not part of the Vantage tour group, they tried to barge into the Vantage information meeting and were denied.  Afterwards, they cornered the Vantage group leader (a very nice Norwegian woman who probably trained for the job by herding cats) and read her out for being rude and uncooperative.  Well, they wandered away from the ship at one of the short-stay ports.  It cost them about $1,000 U.S. for the overnight cross-country taxi ride to catch up with the Finnmarken.  Some were of the opinion that if they behaved in the taxi the same way they did aboard ship, the toxi driver earned every penny of the fare.

American tour companies have discovered the Hurtigruten.  Four years ago in September, we were one of only two or three American couples on the voyage; it was about the same when we returned the next May.  On this voyage, there were 85 American tourists doing the complete voyage–a Vantage tour.  Apparently, Vantage discovered the Hurtigruten in the last couple of years.  It was interesting to watch the dynamics.  The first day or so, they were involved in establishing their credentials with each other—retired or working, working at what, how many Vantage tours and where before this one, etc.  After that, they relaxed a bit.  A few of them were fairly dedicated photographers, so I chatted with them out on deck.

The Germans are dreadful tourists.   At Kirkenes, the turn-around point, we were graced by a hundred or more Germans.  Almost immediately, the tour director had to start making repeated announcements that it was the policy of the ship that seats in the observation lounge could not be reserved and that belongings left in the chairs would be removed.   Also, the incidence of elbows-to-the-ribs in the lines at the breakfast and lunch buffets increased markedly (at least, when a Norwegian, Swede, or American does it, there usually is an apology; with the Germans, there may or may not be a grunt).  Three European areas in which we have travelled—the UK, Norway, and Italy—share the same low opinion of German tourists.  What is surprising is that in their home country, Germans are good hosts to tourists; apparently,it’s only when they cross their own borders that the Wehrmacht mentality arises.

And so it ends

We are back home.  Bonnie says that this was her last Hurtigruten.  For me, I don’t know.  I may have one more voyage in me.  In a little while, I will add a few photos to the text here, and it may occur to me to write a little more.  But now, I must begin processing all of the images stored on the CompactFlash cards.  The collection of images will be deposited on my Picasaweb site: < http://tinyurl.com/2w873s>.  There probably will be two or three albums, all with “Hurtigruten 2008” in the title.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: