By Bob Gloor ~
Established by the Norwegian government to facilitate travel along Norway’s long, jagged coastline, the Hurtigruten Cruise Line was founded in 1893 to sail along Norway’s western and northern coast between of the southern city Bergen and the northern city of Kirkenes, 1374 nm away (1600 miles). Hurtigruten ships sail almost the entire length of the country year round, crossing the Arctic Circle and calling on thirty-four coastal cities and towns, completing the round-trip journey in eleven days. The trip has been described as the “World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage.”
The government still subsidizes the fleet of eleven ships, and many Norwegians use them as transportation between the isolated coastal villages. During the long, harsh winters some of the small villages still depend on the ships to bring mail and supplies as the government doesn’t plow the remote roads leading to them. This trip had been on my personal “Bucket List” for many years. I knew it would be the only way to experience more of the country’s famous fjords than what is offered by the major cruise lines. And I went with one of my favorite traveling companions, my daughter Carolyn.
Carolyn and I left JFK Airport on a Friday night in August for the overnight flight to Oslo. After spending a few days in that beautiful city, we took a train to the coastal town of Bergen, the southernmost terminus of the voyage. The eight-hour train trip was an unexpected delight. It is considered to be one of the most scenic train journeys in Europe. After spending a day touring Bergen, we set sail on the Nordkappon a Tuesday afternoon. We decided beforehand to travel only the northbound leg of the journey, and during the next six days were treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world as we sailed among the jagged peaks and fjords along the coast.
Many stops were only long enough to pull up to the docks and unload cargo and passengers, while other stops were for several hours, allowing us time for shore excursions and to explore the small towns. We managed at least one shore excursion every day. After cruising past the 1,345 ft. Seven Sisters waterfall in the famous Geiranger Fjord, we disembarked and took a bus tour overland, across high, alpine passes and tundra, and then traversed two smaller fjords on local ferries, rejoining the ship that evening in Alesund.
Determined to make the most of every on-shore excursion opportunity, we did a bicycle ride through Trondheim, which included a stop at the Nidaros Cathedral. Built between 1070 and 1300, Nidaros is the largest medieval building in Scandinavia and is still a popular pilgrimage destination. After crossing the Arctic Circle, we spent an afternoon hiking the shoreline of a fjord in Bodo, and that evening had dinner in a Viking longhouse in Lofoten. In Tromso, we spent several hours kayaking in a fjord, and the next day took a bus trip from Honningsvag to North Cape, the northernmost point on the European continent. Along the way, we had the great pleasure of visiting some indigenous Sami people, the nomadic reindeer herders of the far north. We ended our cruise in Kirkenes, the northernmost town in Norway, and only eight miles from the Russian border. After disembarking, we took a four-wheel ATV excursion through the woods to the Russian border before flying back to Oslo later in the day to continue our Scandinavian adventure with visits to Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Stockholm.
A Hurtigruten cruise is not what one would consider a normal, “run-of-the-mill” cruise. The ships are small, but neat and clean. They carry only a few hundred passengers, and the cabins are small as well. The food is very good, served buffet style with plenty of Norwegian fare, which means abundant fresh seafood. One of the dessert “delicacies” was vanilla ice cream with dried fish! A small sample was enough for me to conclude that it’s definitely an “acquired” Norwegian taste. The entertainment consisted of a piano bar. Sorry, but there are no casinos or swimming pools with sliding boards! The entertainment is really the journey itself, and an opportunity to immerse oneself in the spectacular scenery with a chance to visit small coastal villages and meet the warm, friendly people of Norway.
About the author: Although Bob Gloor is a resident of Sun City Carolina Lakes, he is wandering soul. I have heard and read many of his stories and would not believe any of them if I had not seen the evidence myself. He is the kind of guy your mother warned you about. If you read Bob’s stories, the most interesting man in the world becomes a little less interesting.