We begin our Norwegian journey in Bergen. We flew from Munich via Copenhagen to Bergen. We were a little late arriving and didn’t get to our hotel until about 11.30pm which was a great shame as our room was lovely and we were right on the waterfront in a perfect location. Breakfast was divine so we wish we could have stayed longer. It is strange being back here as I am sure when we left in 2015 we would have thought we wouldn’t be back. Winter hasn’t really descended upon this part of Norway yet and the temperature is still reasonable in the single digits.
After a reasonable sleep and a great breakfast we pack up our gear, store it in the luggage room and head out to check out Bergen for a couple of hours. We don’t check in to the Hurtigruten Cruise terminal until mid to late afternoon so we go for a wander. I spy a necklace from a German designer I saw when we were in Norway last and at the time I would have loved to buy one so we check it out. It is Coeur de Lion designer and only cosmetic jewellery but quite stunning and colourful. Since Scot still hasn’t bought me a 50th Birthday present this seems like the ideal gift especially since we can claim back the tax when we leave.
A lot of shops are closed for the season which I guess you can expect this as there are only a few more shopping days until Christmas. As we wander around I remember I haven’t got any sea sick tablets – just on the off chance we strike rough waters. It doesn’t take much to get seasick and I don’t want to spoil my holiday if it happens, so we find a chemist and make our purchase. We search for a café for a coffee but as we look around I don’t remember Bergen being so expensive for just a cuppa. Perhaps we didn’t buy much last time here but the average price is aud$10 for a coffee which I do not remember paying. But you can’t live your holiday constantly comparing prices (although I find that difficult not to) so we have a drink and watch as the rain comes down. We eventually head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the cruise terminal. The ship is late as the crossing has been rough so we check in a bit late. We get our cabin key cards and information and head on to board. We are on deck 3 which turns out to be a better one than we thought. The layout of the ship is very similar to vehicle ferries we have taken throughout Europe only it has been recently refurbished from what I have read. The ship is called the Richard With – this is the name of the founder of the Hurtigruten ships and is pronounced Rikard Wit.
We organise our stuff and empty our suitcases (although they have lost Scot’s and we are panicking a bit as we are about to leave port and Scot is having horror visions of his bag being left behind with the Jamesons and Baileys in it bugger the clothes. However after much persistence we finally ask them to check room 332-we are in 323- and yes they have put it into an empty room. Whew) since this will be our room for the next 7 days. We have 2 bunk style single beds which turn out to be really comfortable. Our port hole is right near the gangway so we see all the activity in port. Dinner is buffet style which starts as soon as we are on the ship. The food is abundant and there is something for everyone. The food is delicious and I can see the kilos piling on, on this trip if it is like this every day! We head out of Bergen around 11pm and we head up on deck to watch Bergen fade into the distance. It is cold on deck so we don’t stay too long and there is going to be so much to do so we head to our cabin. We are advised that the sea is going to be rough so I take a seasick tablet just to be on the safe side. I actually take one each day as we have a small piece of open sea each day of our travels. It is reasonably soothing rocking in the ship but every now and then there is a huge wave and I can see it splashing up against our window. I am quite glad we are down low in the ship so not as much rolling as other cabins.
This fleet of eleven Hurtigruten ships(sailing since early 1900’s) are essentially the main lifeline up the west coast of Norway. They call into about 40 different ports(all ships calling into each port every 12 hours so very tight shedules) on their way up and on their way back. They take mail, cars, people and any other deliveries necessary to each of the ports they call into. They take cruise passengers as a sideline really to make extra money. It is not your standard cruise ship – they do not have activities on board other than a few board games and the odd event like the crossing of the arctic circle so you really have to amuse yourself the whole time. They have excursions in some of the ports they stop in which are optional. You can get off in any of the ports they stop in, but they have an incredibly strict policy – if you are not on board 5 minutes before they leave port you will be left behind and you will have to find your own way to the next port to get back on. They say there is always one person each trip that has to take a taxi or whatever to get to the next place due to missing the ship. The fact that the ship doesn’t have any activities is of more interest to me as that means we can relax, watch the scenery, meet other people and read when it gets too dark for that.
Because our cabin is right by the gangway I tend to wake up at each port – mostly because I want to see where we are but also because our curtains are never closed and the lights shine in. It is a little sleep depriving but I don’t want to miss anything. The ship also has an alert system where you get told when the northern lights are showing so you can get up in the middle of the night if you want to see them.
Our first day and we stop in the major port of Alesund which is an art nouveau town. It burnt to the ground in the early 1900’s and was completely rebuilt in this style. It is quite a stunning town to walk around. We have booked onto the excursion of an art nouveau walk around town which is very informative and interesting. The only thing that spoils it is a single whinging female whom lives in Zurich but is from Armenia. She is complaining all the time about there being no snow and it is sleeting as we walk around the town and she is getting wet (Oh dear that’s so dreadful). She gets really shitty with the tour operator because of the lack of snow – like he made sure there was none when she arrived ……wtf?? I have said before we leave that yes if we don’t get snow, see the northern lights or get to do the dog sledding then that is a bummer but it won’t spoil my trip – stuff happens and you can’t change that. Anyway part way through she huffs off back to the ship with her rather elderly (and probably rich) husband. We enjoy the rest of the town walk and head back ourselves.
We head off out of port. As I mentioned there is no snow here yet. Due to global warming, Norway does not get the snow they would have in December anymore. They have to wait until later in January until it arrives. The scenery is lovely around the many islands we cruise amongst. There is snow at a higher level though which keeps the chill in the air. Our daylight hours aren’t too bad in this part of Norway since we are below the arctic circle. Once we get above it, we will get down to a couple hours of partial daylight. Most of the rest of this day is spent watching the scenery, reading or eating. You have a fixed table at dinner time and that is the number you sit at every night. Plus you have a set time to eat and you can’t eat any earlier or later. Our table has 2 other couples whom both live in Brisbane – of all places. One couple comes from Christchurch originally though. Our dinner time is 8.30pm though which makes it quite late and we are hungry waiting for that time to come.
Our 2nd day – 23rd of Dec – our port is Trondheim. Again there is not snow here but we leave the ship and have a walk around the town for a bit. I am now paranoid enough about missing the ship that we get back with more than enough time to spare. I couldn’t afford the taxi fare(or helicopter!) to the next port! Trondheim is a nice city, but not a patch on Aresund in terms of architecture. Everything is closed as well so there isn’t a lot to see within a short walking distance. Everyone back on board and we head back out of port.
When boarding the ship we had a choice to get a wine package or a beer package which if bought provides you one bottle of wine each day to have with lunch and/or dinner. The package costs 3000Norweigan Kroner which is about Aud$600. That equates to 6 bottles of wine in total costing $100aud or 60gpb each. I would say they are probably $15/8gbp store bottles in Aussie. We decline this offer as the cost is prohibitive but also wine seems to cause me horrendous headaches as of about 3 months ago so no point me having any. We did however bring in our suitcases 2 bottles of bubbly, 1 bottle of jamesons and 1 bottle of baileys, plus a 6 pack of beer. They are ok with this providing you drink it in your cabin which we mostly did. There is a water package as well which was 50 pounds each which entitles you to 2 small bottles of water each day. The tap water is drinkable(plus we have our valuable water filtering bottles) and you can have this at meals too, so we declined that as well. I thought long and hard about what to take on this trip that may be necessary and make it less expensive. So I packed packet soups, tea, hot chocolate, coffee, uhf milk and I bought one of those single cup water heaters which we used to heat the water up. It was invaluable and saves us a lot of unnecessary expense on cups of tea etc. We did have small presents of chocolate for each other as Chrissy presents so they can in handy too.
In Europe they celebrate Christmas Eve and not Christmas day. On Christmas Eve they swap presents, have a celebratory meal and do the church service thing. So on the next day we headed into Bodo. We are now over the Arctic Circle and there is snow on the ground in Bodo as well as lots more on the islands we pass. The daylight hours go from semi normal hours to partial daylight from about 10.30 until about 1-1.30pm. It is dark after that. When we arrive in Bodo – it is Christmas Eve, but early in the afternoon. Since it is snowing, we gear up, put our waterproof trousers on, our snow boots plus warm stuff. We walk into town, throwing snowballs at each other and laughing so much. It is so much fun and the fairy lights reflecting off the now gives it a magical feeling and I feel like a kid again. I can’t get the smile off my face! The town is mostly closed but is so cool. They have a way with their lights, they’re awesome. I spot a camperbus parked in the town and they have a Santa sitting in the driver seat – very cool. We head back to the ship as they are doing a walk up to the church later for the afternoon service. Although we are not religious and wouldn’t normally go, we do like to participate in events like this and experience another country’s culture especially at Christmas. About half the ship 150 people left and walked together with lit fire torches through the town to the church – I am sure the town folk wondered what was going on. The service was great – lots of singing Christmas songs and a lovely choir, we both really enjoyed it. Then we all head back to the ship for dinner and leaving port. I am still excited by the snow – it’s awesome.
That night we join a few other guests and spend a few hours making xmas tree decorations from craft materials and everyone made some really cool ones. Then we all helped decorate the tree with lots of others watching. It turned out looking fantastic and colourful – what a great idea from the entertainment director – and a great way to bring people from different countries together. We met one lady who works in Afghanistan so got to know her during the cruise which does enrichen the experience.
Xmas Eve we all sang songs around the tree in English, German & Norwegian very cultural when you have different countries celebrating xmas.
The next day is Christmas day – the one I have been looking forward to the most. The scenery where we are is stunning, with snow everywhere on all islands and the lights on and in the houses reflects off it making it fairy tale like and magical. The ship has it’s ‘crossing the arctic circle’ ceremony which entails putting ice cubes down your back and then entitles you to an alcohol shot of schnapps or similar. Scot participates but I need to photograph it so am forced to stay on the sideline….lol. Not sure whether the wet arse was worth the Scnapps though.
We arrive in Tromso just after lunch and there is heavy snow and it seems like the clouds are dispersing which is a great sign for possible northern light sighting. We take the bus from the ship and head inland to where the huskies are. Tromso hasn’t been so fortunate the last week having lots of rain which washed all the snow away, so most tour operators weren’t able to run. Our very good fortune, it started to snow again and settle 2 days ago, so now we have enough for the sledding. This husky place has 300 dogs. They all start to bark at once which is a huge racket and they are unbelievably friendly. The staff encourage pats and cuddles as the dogs love it. When we arrive the sleighs are all harnessed up and we are each shown our sled with it’s 8 dogs – 2 people to each. These dogs live to do this, they absolutely love it and they are so competitive, they try to pass each other. It is such a huge sport here. The ride is awesome. The dogs are funny – the two in the front are female leaders – smarter than the others and know where to go just by voice commands. The last two are the strongest males who take a lot of the weight of the sleigh. The dogs grab mouthfuls of snow as they run along when they get thirsty – this is a natural way of them getting water. I had started to feel it a little cruel, but when you see the dogs chafing at the bit to take off and run you realise that they adore what they do. This was such an amazing experience, I could have had a second go. After our ride we got to pat as many of the dogs as we wanted, they were all straining for attention at their respective kennels. They are such adorable dogs. After everyone has had a coffee & cake in the traditional wooden huts and bought souvenir’s we are finished and we head back to the ship.
After dinner – which because it is Christmas was supposed to be special, but turns out to be the worst meal they have put on strangely. Because we are the last ones to eat, we often miss out on some of the food they put out – like all the lobster and crab was gone. They did put on a ‘Cake Buffet’ though which we partook in prior to dinner or we would have missed out. It was delicious. I think desert should always be first so you aren’t too full from the main meal. After dinner, we headed out onto deck to watch us leaving Tromso as we will be back here in a couple of days. The sky has cleared and all of a sudden we start to see the Northern lights. All I can say is WOW, WOW and WOW!!! Strangely though, our naked eye cannot see the colours that our cameras pick up, but we see a white misty- like movement in the sky which all I can say is the most amazing spectacle. It looks a bit like smoke but it moves in the most incredible way. Difficult to describe and it would have been more spectacular if we were in a quiet countryside location watching it as we would have heard the noise of it rather than the ships engines. I got some photos but they don’t do it justice because my camera is a shitty one without any lenses. We are both in tears watching it as the experience is so amazing. We wait until there is nothing more to see before we head back inside to bed. I am so keyed up I can’t sleep. At around 2am, I get dressed and head back up on deck. There are small pockets of the northern lights but nothing like we saw so I head back to bed. I am woken again about 3.30am (not sure if I actually got to sleep though) with a speaker announcement that the northern lights are showing again, so we both get dressed as fast as we can because they can disappear as quick as they appear, and head back on deck. There are more shows but again nothing like we saw earlier, so we head back to bed.
The next day we are travelling around the very top of Norway and after breakfast we stop in a location called Honningsvag. From here we have an excursion to the North Cape. There are 3 busloads of us going from the ship, one German and 2 English speaking busses. The guide on the bus explains about the countryside we travel through on the way to the Northern most point of the civilised European continent. The surrounds are snow covered and the roads are too. The winter tyres here are amazing. They are a slightly softer material than the summer tyres and they have rubber spikes on them that help grip in the snow. The bus is travelling at normal speed on a snow laden road which surprises me. I haven’t seen or experienced winter tyres before. It takes us a good ¾ of an hour to get to the North Cape. There isn’t as much snow as I expected there to be here but there is still a bit. Lucky we have snow boots. There is a visitor centre that show a movie on the Northern lights and souvenirs etc. To the north is nothing but ocean until you get to the North Pole. This is a very isolated place.
We have had it drummed into us on the ship that if we are late back to the ship it will be gone, so on these excursions you don’t mess around and miss the boat. Scot goes to see the movie about 40 minutes before we are due to leave and I am waiting upstairs so we can get to the bus on time, but I end up in a mad panic when by the time I thought the movie should have finished, he doesn’t show. The theatre is 4 floors below and there are 2 ways to go upstairs. I race down one way hoping he isn’t going up the other way and even enlist help from other passengers we have gotten to know. I am getting really uptight with about 5 minutes to go and am imagining us having to taxi all the way to the next town when Scot shows up (I only went to the bloody toilet there was at least 45 seconds left ). I am so panicked that I am angry. It costs a huge amount to get a taxi here in Norway. Anyway we get back on the bus and all is well and I eventually calm down. I imagine the countryside in this part would be quite barren and bland if it wasn’t so pretty with all the snow around. I doubt much will grow on this type of countryside. Back on the ship and of course it is dark by the time we get there. There are more northern lights showing today but still not as impressive as Christmas day but they are showing for a couple of hours. I stand on deck watching, essentially freezing my butt off as I am standing there for such a long time. On deck they bring out two giant crabs from the Northern Ocean and large they are indeed. They also have a large urn of hot soup that they dish up to all those up on deck which is lovely.
I have to say that on the whole the food was lovely on the ship. It was only on Christmas day and one of the set menu meals that weren’t that fantastic, but all other food was lovely. We had a lot of salmon of course and it was so delicious. One night I think I filled my plate with baked salmon because it was so nice, I just couldn’t help it. Of course there was also lamb and beef amongst lots of other things.
So the final night on board and we are both sad to think it has ended. It is now that I wish we had booked the return cruise back to Bergen as a lot of people on the ship have. I thought it would just be stopping at the same ports, but they stop at ports at different times and so you get to see a whole lot of different places – ones we had stopped at during the night. We have to have our suitcases packed and out at the lifts by midnight as they take them outside for you in the morning when you leave the ship. So packed up we are, only our clothes for the morning still with us. In the morning we have to be out of our cabins by 8am and off the ship when we dock at Kirkenes at 9. So we get ourselves dressed, packed and out by 8 to the restaurant to have breakfast before we leave the ship. We have booked an extra excursion today as I believe there isn’t enough to do in Kirkenes to keep us occupied for the entire day. So after our final breakfast on the ship we head off and onto the bus that will take us to the Russian border. The bus takes us to a bomb shelter at Kirkenes and play us a movie about the war and the people of this town. The whole town survives by hiding in a mine for 2-3 months not far from the town for a period of time. It is amazing. Then we head to the border. Russia and Kirkenes have an arrangement – they can each cross over the border and get things they want without any visa for a short period of time. If Norwegians want to avoid paying tax when crossing back they need to stay in Russia for 24 hours and there is no tax. Petrol is cheaper in Russia which is great for Norwegians. It works both ways. It is cold at the border and there isn’t much there except a fence and a gate and a building on the Russian side. A small souvenir shop is there and a gorgeous husky dog is outside in the snow. After a short visit we are back on the bus and heading back to Kirkenes stopping for a lovely view over the town on the way back. It is only lunchtime and our flight out isn’t until 7pm so we get off at one of the hotels and put our bags in their storage. We hang out with a couple we were at dinner with – who are essentially Kiwis as well but live in Brisbane. We have a walk around the town but most shops are still closed and it is a tiny town. We stop and have a coffee and after a while wandering we let the others do their own thing and pick up our luggage, grab a taxi and head to the airport. We still have 3 hours until we fly out. There isn’t anything open at the airport where we are so we bring out our heating element for water in our cups and packets of soup. We sit and have that and then finish off the muesli bars we still have left. We pack up our bags and head through to departure. As we are sitting waiting the flight seems to be getting delayed further and further until eventually it is cancelled. What a buggar. We had been told that there are no hotel rooms left in town and no flights out by Hurtigruten staff, however when we check with the desk we get rescheduled on a flight at 8am the next morning. The airline is putting us up at The Thon hotel which is very nice. We get an amazing room at the top but it is so late we don’t have time to enjoy it. We even have a coffee machine in our room. The hotel put on food for us as we haven’t had dinner and we are hungry. After a shortish night sleep we are up very early, down to breakfast and on a free taxi to the airport.
Our flight is on time and we head out to Tromso. On arriving we head to our hotel, Scot slips over on the icy snow and lands on his butt. Wish I had my camera on. We book in and head out for a wander around the town. Tromso is a lovely town, heavily snowed in but very cute. The hotel puts on crepes in the afternoon for free which we head back for. They also put on dinner in the evening which we head back down for. It isn’t bad for free. They have a 3 course dinner if you want it. The next day we fly out of Tromso and into Trondheim. The flight is delayed but not badly. We have already had a look around Trondheim but we decide since we have about 7 hours before we fly back out we will check in our luggage and head into town. In hindsight we find that there isn’t much we haven’t seen, it is wet and cold and I feel we have wasted the $120 it has cost to get the bus(we even got on the wrong bus and had to walk back to the original one haha) in and back again. But that is Norway for you. Back at the airport and our flight out to Copenhagen is delayed – but whats new. We are getting used to that already. It isn’t a long flight but it is late when we get there. We catch a train to the hotel which is only 2 stops away from the airport. We are hungry but after waiting a considerable amount of time at the hotel to get the food we have ordered it comes out late and cold. I complain and we walk away from it and go to bed after a cup of soup.
In the morning we have 4 or 5 hours before we need to head to the airport so the hotel stores our bags and we head into town. I want to buy some headache tablets here that I haven’t seen anywhere else in Europe. Copenhagen is a lovely place and we wander around looking for a pharmacy where normally you can only buy 1 packet of anything with codeine in it but the lady asks me how many I want 5?, 10? Packets…lol. No I don’t need that many but I may have to come back in a couple of years to buy more. We have a coffee, walk around the haven – the main harbour area which is far less busy than the last time we were here. We have seen enough and head back to the hotel, grab our bags and take the train to the airport. Although I am sure that Murphy will prevail and our flight will be delayed I still like to get there early just in case.
After checking in and waiting at the gate for a while the pilot comes out and announces to us that Heathrow has a major fog problem and our flight has been delayed by at least 4-5 hours. Great. No change here. The airline does supply vouchers for food though so we head off the claim ours and get a free feed and drink. Eventually we head out on our 2 hour flight home. It is about 10 when we land and the bus takes forever to arrive and take us back to the hotel our car is at. We head around the back to it and open the boot to put our suitcases. Scot sees the back seat lying down and says – we didn’t leave it like that surely! Sure enough as I head around the side of the car I see our window has plastic on it and has been smashed. Bastards. Not Happy JAN!!! We take a look inside the car and the back side window has been completely smashed and there is glass on every inch of the inside of the car. They have ransacked it and strewn everything all over. What a wonderful finish to our amazing holiday……Not. We manage to brush the glass off where we will sit and the hotel helps us put proper plastic on the window. It has already been logged with the police so we head home.
The end of one of the most amazing adventures that I have ever been on. I am not sure how we will top this one(Africa, Brazil,Canada..??) but I would love to come back and do it again one day. I think I would come again late in January next time. Watch this space for our next adventure.