Author: Meng Tay
When I first read the article Day for Night in Norway in the New York Times, my first reaction was “I have to go on that cruise.” That was about two years ago. This year I had the opportunity to fulfill two items on my bucket list: this Norwegian cruise and going to Oktoberfest. I sandwiched the two trips with visits to Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.
Let me state that this blog is not an advertisement for Hurtigruten, the company that runs the cruise. Most Americans have never even heard of the cruise company Hurtigruten. It’s been around since 1893. The name “Hurti” means express and “ruten” means route. The company operates what it calls exploration voyages around the world. This blog is about one of those, The Classic Roundtrip Voyage. Lonely Planet calls this “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.” Whether you are a traveler or photographer or combination of both, you are sure to come home with a lot of beautiful pictures.
The trip starts from Bergen, Norway’s second largest city. Bergen, and the surrounding area itself is a big tourist destination. This is where you can visit the famous Norwegian fjords. Another famous activity here is taking the Flåm Railway. It is a branch off the Oslo to Bergen railway and considered one of the beautiful train journeys in Europe. If you want to combine the two activities plus taking a boat ride through a fjord, then you should sign up for a Norway in a Nutshell tour. This includes riding on the Bergen Railway, Flam Railway, a cruise through a fjord, and a bus ride down a winding, steep mountain road with 31 hairpin bends. You can do this all in one day.
Hurtigruten has 12 ships sailing the Classic Voyage. They range from the oldest, M/S Lofoten, to the newest, M/S Spitzbergen. Most of the ships are working ships, which means that besides carrying passengers, they also carry cargo and mail. The 12-day trip stops at 34 ports, 22 of them north of the Arctic Circle. Some of the stops are for only a short duration, enough time for the ship to load or unload cargo or passengers. Many of the stops are at night or even during the middle of the night. Whenever there is enough time, the ship allows the passengers to stroll through town for 30 minutes to a couple of hours. At some ports, Hurtigruten offers excursions. These excursions range from hikes to concerts to tours of the area to meeting local natives. Prices of these excursions range from US$50 to US$300.
It is impractical to detail the whole itinerary so I will point out some of the highlights. The first major port is Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city. The landmark in this city is the Nidaros Cathedral, built in 1070, in memory of King Olav II. It is as impressive as any church in Europe. Many tourists climb up to the top where you can have a good view of the city. Trondheim is also home to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which puts a strong influence on the city through its student population.
Crossing the Arctic Circle was a big deal for the ship and passengers. A ceremony was held to commemorate the occasion. Those willing to withstand having a glass of ice water poured down the back of their shirts get a glass of whiskey, a time-honored Norwegian tradition.
As the ship sails north of the Arctic Circle, you start to hear names of towns that you have vaguely heard of: Tromsø, Hammerfest, Kirkenes, and other names that only a Scandinavian can pronounce. Tromsø is known as the Arctic Capital of the World. Despite its high latitude, Tromsø and other towns along the Norwegian coast, have a relatively mild winter temperature because of the Gulfstream. Its most famous landmark is the Arctic Cathedral. An optional midnight concert was held for the ship passengers; attendees raved about the acoustics of the building. The Polar Museum is another landmark that is attractive to tourists.
Among Hammerfest’s claim to fame, besides being the northernmost town in the world, is the home to The Struve Geodetic Arc, an object used to measure the size and shape of the earth. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is also the center of Sami Culture. Sami’s are natives of the region and are considered relatives of the Athabascans natives of Alaska. We heard a talk from a Sami woman, who told us about life in the Arctic north. The Sami’s own all the reindeer in Norway. Reindeer meat is very common in this part of the world.
We rode a bus to North Cape, the northern most point in Europe; a bragging right for those who’ve been there. Kirkenes is our last port before the ship turned south to head back to Bergen. Kirkenes, and the whole region, were occupied by the Germans during World War II. Stories and evidence of life under the Germans were everywhere. A road leading to the outskirt of town also takes you to the border with Russia,
Are there photography opportunities on this cruise? Plenty. However, because of the pace of the trip, it does not give one enough time to explore for the best photography locations and condition. The combination of majestic mountains, water and deep fjords make Norway as good a photography paradise as any of the popular destinations like Iceland or New Zealand. The Lofoten Islands is known for its natural beauty. Wildlife, landscape, and at the right time of the year, Northern Lights; topics that are endearing to many amateur photographers. It’s best to engage a local professional photographer to take you to the right location at the right time, or follow a photography tour. Arizona Highways Photo Workshops does not offer one to Norway but one of its photographers, Nathaniel Smalley, leads tours to Norway, Iceland, and other popular photography destinations.
Here are a couple of photographs of Arctic sunset at Solvaer, one of the ports of call:
Meng is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops