Story and Photos by Carol Canter.
With a 50th wedding anniversary to celebrate with family and friends and a life list of dream trips spilling over with Norwegian fjords, Roz and Irwin “B” of Santa Barbara, California chose a 12-night cruise aboard the Hurtigruten ship Midnatsol. So did a couple from Cologne Germany, who sailed with their four children and their families. The choice was the right one for them all, each a multi generational and well-traveled group that reveled in the adventure. The “B’s” had traveled in Norway before, visiting a friend Roz had made 50 years prior. The couple had long dreamed of returning for a fuller exploration of Norway’s fjords, the glacially carved inlets of water rated as “the world’s most celebrated and iconic travel destination” by National Geographic Traveler.
Irwin loved being on deck as the ship’s captain deftly navigated the long narrowing waterways, their steep mountain walls streaming with waterfalls and closing in. Reclining in a deck chair, the retired professor of biophysics decided this surely beat driving. Others agreed, whether soaking in an outdoor Jacuzzi at sunset or steaming in a sauna as the scenery, framed in a grand picture window, floated by. Irwin was never alone on deck.
The first morning as we left the Art Nouveau town of Alesund and approached Geiranger, Norway’s most photographed fjord, most of the ship’s 400+ passengers were out with him. Sunshine poured onto the deck, reflecting off snow-streaked glaciers shimmering above forested mountain slopes. Photographers with long lenses and sophisticated equipment were shooting madly. So was everyone else, capturing Norway’s fjords with cell phones or point-and-shoot cameras. Friends and loved ones posed against the ship’s railings, to be immortalized in pixels against these long-desired backdrops.
Everywhere the scenery was glorious. Port side off the bow, patchwork patterns of emerald farmland and golden fields of barley spilled down slopes to the azure water’s edge. Weathered wood houses testified to the rugged and independent lifestyle, based on farming and fishing, led in these remote coastal villages and hamlets.
Hurtigruten, which means “fast route” in Norwegian, has provided a vital link to these communities for more than a century. Eleven vessels continue to ferry cargo and passengers daily to 34 ports of call between Bergen and Kirkenes, giving cruise passengers an insider’s glimpse of Norway’s fjords and its ruggedly beautiful coastline.
Neither standard ferry nor glitzy floating hotel, the Midnatsol, was sleek and light-filled with gleaming woods and floor-to-ceiling windows. Glass elevators serve the ship’s six decks from an elegant central atrium. An art collection of colorful weavings, mosaic wall sculptures, oils and other standout works by Norwegian artists hang throughout the ship. Photographer Trym Ivar Bergsmo’s evocative images from his book Boazojahki — Four Seasons with the Reindeer People are revelatory of Norway’s mystery.
We boarded the Midnatsol in Bergen, a picturesque historic port city, setting sail at 8pm. After dinner, a fiery sunset painted the sky aflame. The time was close to midnight on August 19, two months after the midnight sun — for which our ship is named — reached its peak. If not a baptism by fire, it was surely an auspicious sendoff.
Another baptism, this by ice, marked our crossing the Arctic Circle on Day 5. We toasted the milestone with cloudberry liqueur, at least those of us who submitted to a bracing dose of water poured down our backs in the chill morning sun. Despite the light hearted ceremony presided over by “King Neptune,” crossing the Arctic Circle is one of several markers on a “life list” that seniors can check off. A visit to the North Cape, northernmost point on the European continent, is another. Passengers stand at the edge of the world and peer ahead into the vast beyond. Some are moved to tears. An Italian named Negri wrote in 1664, “This is where the world ends, and this is also where my curiosity ends, and I can return home satisfied.”
Satisfied we were, but our curiosity was piqued by many new experiences both on and off the ship. Optional excursions took us to meet Norway’s indigenous Sami people, participate in a Viking feast, view wild reindeer, sea eagles and puffins, visit an Arctic cathedral and search for cloud-berries in the rain.
Many first-time Hurtigruten cruisers had signed on for the seven-night northbound trip to Kirkenes, near the Russian border. Retired seniors like Roz and Irwin stayed on for the southbound return to Bergen. With different ports and scenery to enjoy, they were glad they did. Though their kids disembarked in Kirkenes to return to work, they happily settled into the rhythm of life on the ship. Cruising Norway’s fjords included eating well.
Lunch buffets featured a daily selection of salmon – baked, marinated, and smoked, herrings and halibut, caviar and sour cream. Fresh salads focused on lentils, beets, potatoes and cucumbers. Nordic specialties like smoked reindeer, lingonberry preserves (delectable with crepes!) and a light cloudberry dessert were rich and enriching.
For Roz, who grew up on the Gulf Coast of the U.S., the Norwegian seafood was comparable in freshness. The final night’s seafood buffet was memorable, an ultimate feast as plates piled high with lobster, crab, mussels and shrimp were filled and refilled. Dinners on other evenings were elegant sit-down affairs with reserved seating.
While the cruise price at first glance had seemed high, the couple judged it fair after experiencing the overall quality of the product. A no-tipping policy enhances the value. In fact, after experiencing the cost of living in Norway, one of Europe’s most expensive countries, many passengers agreed that a Hurtigruten cruise is the way to go for travelers ready to turn their fjord fantasy into reality.
IF YOU GO:
Contact Hurtigruten at www.hurtigruten.com. Call 888-412-3059 ; Contact Visit Norway at www.visitnorway.com . For another experience on the Hurtigruten ship Midnatsol, see the Travel Examiner article entitled “Norway: Cruising, crab hunting and fine cuisine” by Monique Burns.