Tag Archives: hurtigruten

The Joys of the Arctic Circle

The scenery this far north gets more barren and wild the farther we travel with the Hurtigruten, but it has its own rugged charm.

Far north

Some of the towns we’ve stopped in seem like frontier outposts. We turned around in Kirkenes, where we went on an excursion to the Russian border, and our guide informed us that Kirkenes will soon be the center of the world — there is so much work and the unemployment rate is so low (1.7%) that soon everyone will want to go there. 51 nationalities live in complete peace with each other. In short, it’s utopia, even if that’s impossible. Nice to know that the locals love their city so much.

On the border

We have also finally dared to get our swimsuits on and enjoyed the hot tub last night, still above the Arctic Circle. Getting in and out was less than pleasant, and today I’m sniffling and sneezing, but it was lovely lying in the bubbling hot water with the arctic breeze cooling my face.

The high point of the last few days, however, has been the Northern Lights. Yes, we have seen them, not once, not twice, but three times. It’s a myth that they can only been seen in winter — all that’s necessary is night, at least partly clear skies, and a location in the far north. The first time we saw them, it was a completely cloudless night, so we stayed up until midnight and went on deck to see the stars, a whole sky full of them. Then on the horizon I saw what looked like a plume of white smoke, but streaked up and down. As we watched, it expanded into an arch like a rainbow across the night sky, but wider and white, with just a hint of blue. Once the arch was complete, it began to recede again.

Three nights later, we got our second dose of the Aurora Borealis. The lights were mostly white once again, but this time they filled the night behind our ship. Strips of light all around us grew and arched up into the sky until we were standing under what seemed like a dome of light. Spectacular, amazing, all those words just aren’t enough to capture the beauty of the sight.

Then last night, we were already ready for bed, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker in our room that the Northern Lights were visible in the sky over Tromsø. We hadn’t been expecting anything, since it had been cloudy much of the day. We dressed again quickly and went up. If anything, it was even more impressive than those before. There were clouds in the sky, but in the breaks between them were shimmering, dancing lights in shades of green and white. They rippled across the night sky above Tromsø, shifting and transforming into all kinds of fantasy shapes, now a question mark, now a face, now a snake. It was all I could do to keep from clapping my hands in glee. It probably would have been even more stunning without the clouds, but the shadows they cast in from of the northern lights contributed to the beauty of the whole specatcle in its own way. The clouds just above the horizon looked like fantastic mountains of shadow thrown into contrast by the glittering green lights beyond.

I feel very, very lucky right now.

Since we turned around at Kirkenes, our stops have been shorter and less frequent, and I’m actually getting some writing done after all, 500 words two days ago, and 800 yesterday. Once I see what I can get down with the medieval level of Fragments of Legend all plotted out, I’ll try to reformulate some writing goals for the rest of the year.

Life in the fjord lane

Fjords

We are now cruising north along the coast of Norway on the Hurtigruten. The scenery is amazing, but it’s cold, a lot colder than I expected. We arrived in Bergen and made it to the port with a few delays here and there, but nothing serious. Flying into Bergen above all the mountainous islands was stunning, and I took five or six pictures, even though I’m a jaded flyer and never take pictures out of airplane windows anymore (I usually sit in an aisle seat).

Our ship is one of the newest in the Hurtigruten line, the Midnatsol.

Midnatsol

The cabin is a bit cramped, but the ship itself is spacious, with a large panorama room for watching the fjords so by, and even hot tubs on the deck. We haven’t dared try those yet. We told each other we were waiting for the arctic circle, but we’re past that now and we still haven’t gotten on our swimsuits.

In Ålesund, Chris chased me up a hill and a we had amazing views on three sides. Coming down the hill, my knees were killing me, but it was worth it.

From the hill

The next day, our longest stop was in Trondheim. We hiked up another hill; unfortunately, the view wasn’t as good. Trondheim had some funky back streets and the Bryggene, the renovated warehouses on the river, were quite picturesque. A very pleasant city, despite the rain. When we left Trondheim, the sun came out again, and the lighting on some narrow fjords we passed through was striking. After a cloudburst, we even had a rainbow. Then in a village we passed, half-a-dozen people waited on the wharf, waving Norwegian flags and hooting what sounded like Indian yells to greet us. A number of people on the deck hooted cheerily back.

On the fourth day of the cruise, we booked an expedition to Svartisen Glacier, the second largest glacier in Norway. A smaller boat docked onto our Hurtigruten ship in the middle of the fjord, and then off we went, down a side fjord, all the way to the end, where the glacier came nearly down to the water. You could see how much bigger it used to be though from the size of the glacier bed surrounding it. Global warming in action.

In front of Svartisen Glacier

From where the boat docked, we hiked up to the glacier and had lefse (oh, memories of my Norwegian grandma!), hot chocolate, and bubbly with shards of glacier ice. Life is very fine.

Today we had our longest stop, in Tromsø, quite an original. The old town is full of colorful wooden buildings that makes the place feel (to me) much smaller than it actually is, looking in places like a village where time stood still. In reality, Tromsø has 66,000 inhabitants, and the main shopping street, quaint as it is, was bustling with people.

Since Internet on the ship is so slow, I think I’m going to wait on uploading any more pictures until after the trip. I’ll probably just check email occasionally and leave it at that. We have so many stops and there are so many places to explore that I have a lot less leisure time on the boat than expected. I haven’t done any writing on this trip, but I have been busy filling the well, collecting experiences that will feed into my fiction someday.