We were now on our way along the coast of Norway. We are travelling all the way from Bergen to Kirkenes. The Hurtigruten is a passenger cargo ship and ‘time and the Hurtigruten wait for no man,’ so we have been told, the ship will not wait for anyone who is late and it would be your responsibility to meet the ship at the next port. We settle down that night to the hum of the engines looking forward to the coming journey.
The idea of an express coastal service had been proposed but many thought it impossible, especially in the winter. Captain Richard With had been keeping accurate notes on courses, speeds and times taken to sail the route. In 1893 the communication revolution along the coast of Norway commenced. The Coastal Express had ships especially constructed for their operation, with refrigerated compartments and roll on and off facilities. Early on tourism was conceived as forming a basis of the operation. The journey is from Bergen to Kirkenes and it is possible to hop off and stay at various ports along the way. Many companies were initially involved in the operation along the coastal route. Now it’s under the Hurtigruten (Fast Route) Company and is marketed as ‘The world’s most beautiful sea voyage.’
The ship stops at many ports but many for only 15 – 30 minutes. There are many organized excursions available and it is one way we could see a lot more on the way. We sailed into Greigranger Fjord and saw some wonderful scenery which included the Seven Sisters waterfalls and the larger one on the opposite side called the Courtier who ‘flirts with them. On our first full day we took the excursion to Geirangerfjord. The fjords are Norway and are all along the coast, they are formed when the glaciers receded from the land mass towards the coast, and they cut great valleys through the mountain ranges. Geirangerfjord is UNESCO listed and the views were absolutely spectacular. High mountains are typical of this fjord and this felt as we drive up Ørneveien (Eagle Road). Descending we come to a series of hairpin bends which was like the Great Ocean Road on steroids, and we arrive Trollstigen Pass. Here are rugged mountains which are loved by mountain climbers
We had a number of stops to admire the scenery each one proving to offer interesting views along the way. We continued to the town of Molde where we had dinner as we caught up with our ship the ‘Nordcapp.’
Daylight lasts virtually the whole night as we proceeded further north it lasts longer into the night until we reach the Arctic Circle and it becomes the Midnight Sun. Whole the sun is shining you don’t feel tired, midnight arrives and you don’t realize it and feel like staying up, but common sense takes over.
The following day we arrived at Trondheim and had about a three hour stopover. The town has 175,000 people and has some interesting historic buildings. As we had such a short time there we thought we would go on the historic city walk. We enjoyed the walk but were disappointed that we didn’t have enough time around the Cathedral and surrounding museums to do them justice. Nidaros Cathedral has been extensively restored due to numerous fires and devastation. The church was originally built in the mid-13th century. According to legend St. Olav is buried there and his grave is part of a pilgrim trail. Also a number 19th and 20th century Norwegian kings have been crowned in the Cathedral.
We made sure we were back on board before the warning signal. We were back to watching the passing scenery each day which could be quite hypnotic. Regular announcements were made pointing out interesting land formations, towns, waterfalls etc. We would go out on deck not wishing to miss the next ‘postcard’ opportunity to pass us by.
On day four we crossed the Arctic Circle which was marked on a rock. We were now officially in the land of the midnight sun. We landed at Bodø, with a two and a half hour stay. Bodø is the administrative centre for Norland County. The town has widespread trade links. Unfortunately it was a Sunday which is quiet enough in the capital cities in Scandinavia so this small town was even quieter with nothing very much open. We went to the Norland Museum which was quite small but very interesting. They had exhibits about the Lofoten Fisheries, coastal birds, the Sami, silver treasure from the Viking era found only a few kilometres from the museum. Also there was an extensive exhibition relating to Bodø’s experiences during World War 2. The town had been completely destroyed from German attacks. A number of photos from those times were displayed as well as relating to everyday life. Bodø was completely rebuilt and has a very interesting modern cathedral. We soon used up our time on this quiet Sunday afternoon and scurried back to the ship.
Our next stop was Tromsø with another 2½ hours in port I wanted to go on the excursion to the Tromsø Wilderness Centre on Kvaløya Island. We travelled in a minibus for about 25 minutes through a tunnel blasted through the mountain rock which was quite long and had a round-about which was a surprise to find in a tunnel. Finally up a bumpy farm track we arrived. We had come to see and learn about huskies. We first saw a film about the Iditarod dog sled race, the longest one in the world from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska which is 1049 miles in 10-17 days. Teams start out with 12 to 16 dogs and 8 dogs must finish. At check points along the way dogs are assessed as to their condition by a vet and if deemed unfit to continue are then driven to the finish. We were then allowed to go and pat the 250 dogs. These dogs are cross breeds of Alaskan huskies and three other breeds, selected for speed, stamina and strength. All the dogs were eager to get patted and were friendly. We saw some puppies and were allowed to hold and pat them. They showed us how the dogs were attached to the sled and the various roles they had. The leaders were the experienced females as they are the most intelligent (not surprising), then younger females to learn from the leaders, followed by the young males as the wheel dogs they guide the sled as it turns, finally the older males are the grunt, they do the real pulling. It was very informative. We were given information about the area and where we were in relation to where we arrived. A long concrete bridge from the mainland to the island was pointed out and it only took two months to build. I’m sure they would still be doing long drawn out feasibility studies in Australia and we still wouldn’t get a bridge after 10 years.