Departure and Day 1 – Glasgow – Aberdeen – Bergen
Up and at ’em in the morning and off to meet Jim, my Fjord Escort, at Buchanan Street bus station for the Megabus to Aberdeen where we were to get a flight to Bergen where our coastal cruise starts.
After arriving in Aberdeen we stopped off for lunch before heading to the Premier Inn and checked it, we left our luggage before hitting the town, due to our early start in the morning, we had a fairly early night.
The Widerøe flight to Bergen was effortless and we arrived with enough time to explore a bit. Jim’s son-in-law Dan collects Starbucks mug, so we went in search of the one in town and had a coffee there before going to the Hurtigruten terminal to board the ship, the MS Finnmarken.
Once aboard, we wandered around to get our bearings on where the main locations were, listened to the mandatory safety briefing, before being admitted to our cabin 309, on deck 3. Our home for the voyage is a rather small but serviceable space with everything we need, good comfy beds, a great shower and plenty of storage space. Jim was especially keen to try out the on-board jacuzzi out on the deck!
After a very good buffet dinner, we relaxed in one of the panoramic lounges and had one of the very expensive beers, before hitting the sack, tired after a very full and busy day.
As we were to dock in many small ports during this voyage, especially many during the night, I will only mention the major ports and stops we made on the way along the coast.
Day 2 Bergen to Ålesund (The voyage north)
During the night we sailed up the coast, stopping during the night at a couple of small ports, our first stop was at Torvik for around 15 minutes before we sailed to our main port of the day in Ålesund, we arrived there around 10:00 and we had the chance to go ashore and have a good walk around the very nice town, which we discovered had links to one of my favourite movies, ‘The Heroes of Telemark‘ and we also found Ålesund’s answer to San Francisco’s Lombard Street (this one only has 5 curves) we then stopped off in a local bistro for a coffee, before sailing at 13:30 for Molde.
When we arrived in Molde, we took a walk along the main street, as we didn’t have much time in port here, we didn’t want to stray too far off the beaten track and be late back to the ship. After dinner we retired again to the lounge and read our books, later in the evening there were glimpses of the Northern Lights so I messed around with my camera and managed to get a couple of images, not the greatest but an improvement on those I took in Reykjavik earlier in the year. I will post these images at a later date.
Day 3 – Molde to Trondheim and Rørvik
Our main visit today was in Trondheim, on the way into the port we had a ‘Points of Interest’ talk on deck by Magnus from the Expedition team as we sailed past the interesting island of Munkholmen. Once in port, we shared a taxi into town with 2 other passengers, then had a walk around town visiting Nidaros, the large Gothic Catherdral before going down to the Nidelva river to see the old wooden riverside houses in the Bakklandet area. A quick wander around the shopping area to pick up some souvenirs and a shared taxi ride back to the ship finished off a nice visit. We then set sail for the longest voyage of the trip to Rørvik. During the voyage we had another ‘Points of Interest’ talk on deck about Kjeungskjær, the only octagonal lighthouse in Norway, this talk was finished off with a serving of Norwegian mussels presented by the chef. A quiet night in the lounge relaxing and reading our books, with occasional visits out on deck to try and photograph the night sky finished off another nice day.
Day 4 – Rørvik to Bodø
Apparently we crossed the Arctic Circle around 08:00 this morning, and after a quick stop in Ørnes, we had a crossing the line ceremony on deck with Hjord, the Norse sea god visiting us to welcome us into his realm, this was done with him pouring a ladle full of ice and water down your back, it was cold but great fun. We arrived in Bodø around mid-day and as I had done a bit of research beforehand, I was able to find a number of good pieces of street art. A quick look at the shops then back to the ship for a coffee and a snack since we had missed lunch. Our next short stop was in the nice port of Svolvær, in the Lofoten archipelago, we only had time for a little while to stretch our legs.
Svolvær is also the main starting point for tours to the Trollfjord, one of Norway’s lesser-known yet most dramatic fjords, we had a great experience as the captain took the ship through the narrow fjord with the sides of the ship almost touching the sheer mountain cliff faces, thankfully the fjord was only 2km long and was extremely narrow especially as its entrance, it showed great navigation skills, especially as we did it late at night with only the beams of the spotlights to guide us. Before visiting the fjord, Magnus told us the story of a standoff in 1890, between the industrial steamships and traditional open-boat fishermen about access and fishing rights to the fjord, whilst we had mugs of hot rum toddy and the chef’s famous fish soup. It was another great day.
Day 5 – Bodø to Tromsø
Further north today and into the polar night region, we were lucky to get around a couple of hours of daylight, it made sightseeing a little different. Our main stop today was the large city of Tromsø, fortunately, we had booked an excursion for today which made it easier. We crossed the Tromsø bridge for a trip up the Fjellheisen cable car to see spectacular views of the city before visiting the city’s Arctic Cathedral, like the one we seen in Reykjavik, it has quite a plain-looking interior, the only colourful area was the large stained glass window to the rear of the building. After a tour of the city centre, we then visited Polaria, an arctic adventure and sea life centre showing local films with an emphasis on the regions wildlife and the effects of climate change in the area before returning to the ship.
Day 6 – Tromsø to Honningsvåg (the island Magerøya)
It was a bit strange this morning, we had breakfast as usual at 8:00, then found out that as we were going on an excursion at 11:15, lunch would be served from 10:00, a quick bite to eat and off we went on the bus out Honningsvåg to visit the fishing villages of Kamøyvær and Skarsvåg stopping on the way for a photo opportunity at the Tufjorden viewpoint, where we had a glimpse of the North Cape. At Skarsvåg, the worlds most northerly fishing village, of only 40 people, we visited the Heidi’s Christmas and Winter House, which had a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere with tea, coffee, cake and biscuits, Christmas music and decorations, the owner, Heidi, showed a film of her husband fishing and explained how the village functioned. We then moved on through the bleak landscape, known as ‘the white desert’ to the village of Kamøyvær with its fish processing plant, a small fishing fleet, a lighthouse and a picturesque harbour. We started our visit with a stop at artist Eva Schmutterer’s gallery “East of the Sun”. The gallery contained arts and crafts inspired by the Magerøya region and the changing seasons. Back on the bus for a quick tour of Honningsvåg before returning onboard for the next stage of our voyage.
Day 7 – Kirkenes to Hammerfest
We literally reached the turning point on our trip today, we arrived in Kirkenes, another fishing village in Northern Norway, 7km away from the Russian border and is also close to the Finnish border. At times it almost felt like a hop-on-hop-off type of ship, a lot of the passengers left along the way north and we picked up a great deal more at each stop, however, the greatest number left in Kirkenes, as this was where we started the run south back to Bergen, and we picked up a new bunch, it was almost like the start of a new voyage.
After a wander ashore into the rather bleak village of Kirkenes, we decided to mark the occasion by doing our laundry in the well-equipped facility onboard, while waiting for the machines to do their magic, Jim and I passed the time playing a few games of cribbage, which Jim learned during the trip.
In the evening we had a short stop in Vardø, where I was told there was a quantity of street art on some derelict houses in the village, despite fighting our way through the steep snow, we only managed to find a couple of pieces before being told that they had all been recently painted over. I really liked the giant image, by Norwegian artist Pøbel, called locally “the Codfather” of Marlon Brando holding a fish with the statement “Laks Erviktig for Norway”, which translates as “Salmon is important for Norway”
The weather also decided to turn too, we experienced our first real snowfall and the ship really started to pitch and roll a little.
Day 8 – Hammerfest to Trømsø
We decided that, as were up quite late that we would have a bit of a lie in this morning, so after a late breakfast we went ashore in Hammerfest. It was snowing when we arrived and it didn’t get much better whìlst we were there, it was great fun though trudging through the snow watching the locals out doing their shopping with little sledges. While there we visited The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society where we met some of the locals up close. The town, the most northerly in Europe was very pretty, I even managed to find a nice piece of street art by the Russian, Rasmus Qbic.
Once back on board and after lunch we spent some time in the lounge playing a few games of cribbage, Jim’s game is certainly improving. The outdoor Jacuzzi was on the deck behind the lounge and attracted by the thought of warm water, led Jim to take the plunge, apart from the cold journey from the changing room, he said it was a great experience he and I would repeat.
Late in the night, we docked in Tromsø, and as we had visited the cathedral on the way north, we decided to go ashore and sample one of the local pubs, we eventually tried 2, the first, the Markedplassen, had mainly a younger crowd, but the second, the Rotbua, with its rough-planked walls and hand-hewn beams, created a rustic atmosphere, supposedly reminiscent of a Norwegian fisherman’s cottage, was a cosy place to have some Mack Bayer, a change from the hoppy beers on board the ship.
Day 9 – Trømsø to Svolvær
We had a leisurely morning taking photographs of the fjords in the area before going ashore in Stokmarknes to spend an hour or so in the Hurtigruten museum there, this was very interesting, showing how the express coastal system of Norway has developed over the years, there was a good display of ship models and artefacts gathered during that time.
We were soon back out in the Norwegian Sea heading to our next stop in Svolvær, we had visited here on the way north but had limited time ashore, this time we were able to spend more time, however, we arrived at night after the shops had closed but we managed to visit the gallery of Dagfinn Bakke, the painter who created a lot of humorous paintings displayed on the ship. I really liked how the had lit up the fish drying racks for a Christmas display.
The night sky produced some more lights before the clouds moved in so we just had a relaxing couple of hours before calling it a day.
Day 10 – Svolvær to Rørvik
We crossed the Arctic Circle again this morning and to celebrate we were each given a spoonful of Norwegian cod liver oil and a commemorative spoon to accompany the certificate we received on the way north, it was certainly better than the ladle full of ice. We spent the morning afterwards relaxing and watching the world go by, fjord by fjord.
Whilst watching us arrive in Sandnessjøen I spotted a large piece of art on one of the buildings, hearing that we were there for almost 30 minutes, I quickly got wrapped up and headed out with my camera in hand. Once I had photographed the original mural of a hare I spotted another building with some art, after taking a few pictures I realised the camera was set to manual focus and that the ones I had taken were a bit blurry, I went back to retake the pictures and had to run back to the ship when I heard the horn blow, I was literally the last man aboard, Jim wasn’t too bothered, he said that he would meet me in Bergen if I missed the boat and that he wanted to go for his lunch.
We sailed past the magnificent Seven Sisters mountain range as we made our way to Brønnøysund and we docked in the middle of a snowstorm, we had a walk around the pretty little town, had a look at the shopping centre, Jim bought a thimble (fingerbøl) in the friendly tourist office and we stopped off in GOMA, a local cafe for a beer, it was an interesting visit, despite the snow.
This evening we had a special dinner, the captain, officers and crew all visited the dining saloon and presented us with a glass of champagne, it really was a spectacular meal and a nice way to end a great day.
Day 11 Trondheim to Molde
We docked early in Trondheim this morning, so after a quick breakfast we headed out in the snow for a brisk walk, as we had visited on our way north, we didn’t see the need to go into the town, especially as most places would be closed, it funny how the weather has changed since we were last here in the sunshine. Once back on board we chilled out in one of the lounges and did a bit of laundry before lunch. The afternoon saw all of the passengers, including us, decorating the ships Christmas tree while being served mulled wine and gingerbread, it was a fun way to spend some time, an afternoon dip in the Jacuzzi topped it off.
In the evening we set off on one of our excursions from Kristiansund, we had a tour of the town before heading through the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel then over the amazing Atlantic Ocean Road, stopping to feel the full force of the ocean and to see a giant crab formed from flotsam and jetsom by local youths. We then visited the marble mine in Berg-Tatt, this was a special place to visit, we were taken through the labyrinth chambers on little flat bottom boats, accompanied by haunting music, we drank water filtered through the marble mountain, then visited the cavernous man-made concert hall to have a bowl of the very tasty miners soup. We eventually returned to the ship in Molde taking in many scenic spots along the way. We both thought that this was a great way to finish off our trip.
Day 12 – Molde to Bergen
Our final day on the ship, we got up early and packed our cases before breakfast, then relaxed in the lounge after checking out of our cabin. It was pretty much a waiting game until we docked. Once ashore we had a short walk to the Bergen Børs Hotel in the city centre, after checking in, we took a stroll around town and ended up in the Christmas Market at the side of the lake, it was strange to see a crew from Channel 5 making a TV show there (to be seen on Christmas Eve we were told). I received some locations for street art from a girl on a stall at the market, so we headed off in search of it and the 2 Starbucks cafes for Jim to buy his mugs, despite it being the early afternoon it was relatively dark, making it harder to take the pictures. As a change from the run of very good Norwegian food and beer we had during our trip, we ended up in Finnegan’s, an Irish pub where we enjoyed the beer and the atmosphere. A quick shawarma kebab (a welcome first for Jim) on the way back to the hotel topped off another great day.
Day 13 – Bergen to Aberdeen
Breakfast in the hotel was very welcome, a bit similar to that which we had eaten on board, while Jim tried to pack his case, with the addition of 2 new Starbucks mugs, I headed out to find the street art I missed last night, I also revisited some of those to take better photographs. We then went on the Fløibanen funicular railway to its vantage point over the city, once there we experienced wonderful views of the city and the surrounding mountains, it really was a most worthwhile trip.
Back in town, we went for a beer and a light lunch in Apollon, a great cafe and record shop with an extensive range of beers and loads of vinyl records and CDs. We then returned to the hotel to collect our luggage before taking the light railway to the airport, where we found that our flight to Aberdeen had been delayed by 45 minutes, all we could do was wait. Once we eventually took off the flight was very good and we made up much of the lost time and we arrived in Aberdeen only a few minutes late. A trip to the city centre with the airport bus led us to our hotel for the night. As a change from the expensive fare in Norway, we gravitated to the Archbald Simpson on Union Street, sitting relaxing with a pint after our meal reminiscing was a good way to finish off our trip. The only thing left was a return journey on the Megabus to Glasgow the following morning.
We both agreed that this had been a really great holiday, we had seen some special places, witnessed wonderful sights, ate some really good food and met loads of really nice people, Norway surprised us and we have already decided to return next year, this time travelling overland by taking some scenic train journeys.