THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Late in 2016, I went around the Norwegian coast, almost to Russia, with Hurtigruten. Having been lucky enough to see the Norwegian fjords in summertime, I was curious to explore that part of the world in winter. We were also hopeful to see the Northern Lights and my husband, a keen photographer, kitted himself out with a tripod for his camera and a time-exposure device.
We flew to Bergen to join the ship and on arrival boarded one of the hourly Hurtigruten shuttle buses. This took us to the Hurtigruten terminal in the port. We were able to check our luggage in (for it to be delivered to our cabin) which left us free to explore Bergen for the afternoon before we returned to board the ship.
Hurtigruten is contracted by the Norwegian government to run a daily ferry service to the communities above the Arctic Circle, going nearly to the Russian border around the North Cape. A different ship departs from Bergen every day and they vary in terms of size and the facilities they offer. They all visit the 34 ports of call on the northbound and then again on the southbound itineraries, picking up and dropping off passengers and goods en-route. The ships are a lifeline to these remote communities and the ports are ice-free even in the winter because of the Gulf Stream. At the same time, it is a fascinating voyage passing through some spectacular scenery. So, when I say the ship is a ferry, they are also very comfortable and offer almost a cruise-ship experience for those who want to see that part of the world. We had chosen the Finnmarken and were very happy with our choice. The welcoming crew were great and the food was wonderful. There was plenty to choose from at each mealtime and the chefs made the most of local produce from local suppliers along the way, so we had plenty of salmon, cod and even reindeer!
During the trip, we had the opportunity to visit the Lofoten, Hurtigruten’s oldest ship which was built in 1964, and the Spitsbergen, the latest addition to their fleet, and very special. At some of the ports, the ships might only stop for 15 minutes to drop goods or passengers off and it is a very slick operation watching them docking. In the bigger towns, they stay longer and there is a wide choice of excursions available so that you can see and experience as much as possible. Highlights for us were the husky sledging, a midnight concert in the Arctic Cathedral in Tromso and a trip to explore Vesterålen which were all very different experiences. AND, we saw the Northern Lights which were amazing.
I had thought that the outer decks might be deserted but many were wrapped up and outside to see the scenery as we passed by. Some even made use of the outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzis! There are regular announcements (in Norwegian, English and German and sometimes French) and they make sure that you don’t miss anything so there is always something going on. Regular information updates were given which we attended (and there were different sessions in English and German) and gave an insight into the local culture and way of life. We returned home with a wealth of memories such as crossing the Arctic Circle in traditional style, learning about the history in that part of the world and handling King Crabs (later returned to the sea).