In a recent journey I saw the “Land of the Midnight Sun” illuminate the incredible beauty and majesty of the Norwegian coast from Bergen to the Russian border. The trip was aboard the MS With, one of the famous Hurtigruten Norwegian ships that have been sailing from Bergen in the south and back since 1893. It transports local citizens and goods to 34 ports in Norway, and also is now available to cruise passengers who are seeking adventure. While we were only allowed to visit some of these ports, we did have the opportunity to tour some of the larger and more famous ones.
The voyage was sponsored by Vantage Deluxe Travel, and we did have the availability of a personal guide and the ship’s expedition crew to see and learn about the land of the Vikings and its special heritage. The journey as a unique travel experience because we had the opportunity of 24 hours of light to be able to see snow-capped mountains, dramatic fjords, tiny fishing villages and the pristine coastal scenery. I must confess that I did get some sleep despite these temptations and opportunities. The trip was special too because we were always close to the coast, and frequently on both sides of the ship at the same time because we often cruised along inland waterways.
We spent the first and last days in Bergen, an historic city in southern Norway famous for its Bryggen Wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its ancient timber houses along cobblestone streets beneath a range of mountains. It also has a lively fish market and contains the summer home (Troldhaugen) of the famous composer Edvard Grieg.
After a brief stop at the art nouveau town of Alesund on our first day on the ship we sailed into Norway’s famous Geirangerfjord for our first awesome sight of snow-capped mountains, steep stone cliffs and multiple waterfalls. It enhanced our anticipation of the sights ahead. Trondheim was our first major stop. It is the third largest city in Norway, and is known as Norway’s historic and religious capital since its kings have been crowned in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral. I also crossed the ancient bridge topped with wooden gates and over a steam with banks lined with colorful fishing warehouses.
Next our ship cruised over the Arctic Circle beneath soaring snow-capped mountains. This is an invisible but memorable experience highlighted by a ceremony in which the Captain pours ice cubes down the back of willing passengers. When I saw the tray of ice cubes used I decided I would rather watch this ceremony and applaud The author poses with a mythical troll. those with the courage to endure this agony. On our return trip we enjoyed a spoonful of cod liver oil.
A visit to Tromso, the Gateway to the Arctic, is known as the port of polar expeditions, including the famous one by Roald Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole. We visited a museum full of polar artifacts. The highlight of the town is the huge dramatic Arctic Cathedral which overlooks the city.
Our cruise continued along the coast full of small fishing villages and bustling ports beneath huge ranges of mountains, many capped with snow and flowing waterfalls. We reached Honningswag, said to be the world’s northernmost town, and from here we traveled to the North Cape, the highest point in Europe. A large globe marks the spot.
Near North Point we stopped briefly at a Sami location, who are native people like our Eskimos who settled here after the Ice Age and before the Vikings. They retain the culture they have protected since ancient times. They dress in very colorful clothes and had tents on display like they used to reside in. Their main occupation, as it has been for centuries, is the maintenance of large herds of reindeer. Ironically, we enjoyed tasty reindeer for our dinner that night on the ship. The ship obtains fresh fish and food each day at one of its port that we enjoyed at our meals. I even ate fresh salmon a few days for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Our next featured stop was at the Russian border, the only European crossing by a NATO country. It is a very quiet and open border but one would only try to cross it at their peril. We stopped for a short time at nearby Kinkenes, the closest Norwegian town to the border, and later at Vardo, the most eastern town in the Arctic region.
On our return voyage we stopped briefly at a number of isolated small fishing villages and towns. For example, we stopped a Hammerfest, the first European town to have electric streetlights. That was certainly appropriate for a town that spends half its year in darkness. We also had opportunities on other stops to see a medieval stone church and to enjoy waffles at a large farm. We also explored the dramatic Trolfjord with extremely high mountains, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. We had a brief walk in Bronnoysund that is referred to as the “Heart of Norway.”
Next we cruised by a huge chain of seven adjoining snow-capped mountains. Most free time on the ship you could sit on the deck and watch the intricate coastline with its dramatic scenery and isolated villages and homes flow by on both sides of the ship. Also you could enjoy the fresh seafood and the pleasant cool weather.
Our Norwegian coastal cruise ended in Bergen and we gathered our possessions and returned home with special memories from a most unusual and photogenic journey to one of the world’s most successful countries.
Dave Pattison has lived in Marco Island since 1999. He has traveled to every continent and over 100 countries, and still takes five-six trips annually. Dave is a well respected travel writer, winning first place in a Florida Press Association contest. Dave was a lawyer/lobbyist for the insurance industry, and had worked in the White House for four years before retiring. A widower, Dave has four adult children and five grandchildren.