Hurtigruten, Part 1

July 23, 2014

We’re travelling on the MS Lofoten, which is the smallest and oldest of the Hurtigruten ships. When you see it next to one of the other ships of the line, which are much larger and look like cruise ships, you would hardly realize that they belonged together, but the crew are very proud of their ship and its long history.

MS Lofoten 50 years

We departed from Bergen at 8 pm and charged northwards, through a channel under a long suspension bridge and then out into a wide channel protected by a barrier island. We stood outside on the deck enjoying the scenery as we motored along through the channels and around the rocky islands. At 9 pm we went inside for a general briefing about the ship’s routine, then we watched the sun set at about 10:45 pm before we went down to our cabin.

Sunset off Bergen

Our cabin was close to the engine room, so we had engine noise plus an added high-pitched whining sound every so often. Presumably we would get used to the sounds.

July 24, 2014

As it turned out, we did sleep quite well. Both of us woke up around 2 am when the ship docked in Florø, but neither of us woke up two hours later when it docked in Måløy.
Breakfast was from 7 am until 10 am, so we headed up there about 8 am. A variety of items were available including smoked fish, meats, cheese, crackers as well as hard and soft boiled eggs and porridge. Basically everything you could think of was on the table. It wasn’t long until we docked at Ålesund, where we had an opportunity to wander the town. It was foggy, but nevertheless off we went after the ship docked.

Ålesund architecture

Ålesund was destroyed by fire in 1904 and subsequently rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style, which included turrets, spires, and beautiful ornamentation. The decorations on the buildings looked like flowers and were all painted in pastel colours. Despite the fog the buildings were easy to see, although they would have been nicer in sunshine. It was a quick walk as we really only had half an hour, and right after we re-boarded the ship we were off on our trip to the Geirangerfjord.

The first hour we were still in the fog, and it wasn’t until the fog cleared that we could see mountains next to the water. We travelled through several fjords before finally turning into the Geirangerfjord. Each fjord was narrower than the previous one, with steeper and more precipitous walls. We passed abandoned farmhouses sitting high on hillsides, small villages, as well as numerous waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls were in the Geirangerfjord and apparently they were better a month ago when there was more snowmelt, but they were still pretty good. The day was sunny and warm and perfect for this cruise.

Geirangerfjord coast

There were already three big cruise ships moored there when we arrived, and small tour boats were zipping around. There were also lots of kayakers along the shore. A busy place in the middle of nowhere! A small boat came alongside to pick up the passengers who had opted to take the bus excursion over the mountains, but we had opted not do that, being content to stay onboard and return to Ålesund by the same route in reverse.

Geiranger with cruise ships

Once again we got off in Ålesund for the quick half-hour walk, and this time the fog had departed so we were better able to appreciate the style and workmanship of the buildings. Dinner tonight was a set meal served to us (which is supposed to be the normal procedure). We had smoked trout with a dill cucumber sauce on rye bread followed by salted lamb with potatoes and gravy. Dessert was quite yummy, baked apples with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Ålesund street view

About 10 pm we docked at Molde; we went out for a quick walk but all the buildings were new and uninteresting.

July 25, 2014

We were up at 8 am to have breakfast and then got ready for our morning in Trondheim. We had four hours in port, but Trondheim isn’t a big city so we decided not to sign up for the bus tour but to just do our own walking tour. Luckily the weather was still nice, although cloudy and a bit cooler than earlier.

The walk into town was well signposted, so we had no trouble finding our way. We started by following the road along the river, the Nidaelv. Before long we came to the Gamla Bybro, the Old Town Bridge, which is now restricted to pedestrians only. Crossing the bridge we came to a corner with coffee shops, and to our surprise found a bicycle lift which was meant to help people ride their bikes up the hill, thereby encouraging them to ride more. Apparently it’s the world’s only bicycle lift! You put your right foot onto a metal plate which was attached to an underground cable and your left foot onto your pedal, and then once you pressed the button the lift propelled you up the hill. We didn’t see anyone using it, but we did see a man pedalling quite easily up the hill.

Gamla Bybro

Crossing back over the bridge we headed to the cathedral, our main goal for the day. After paying our admission we walked around inside a bit to look at the carvings and stained glass windows, and then joined in with the 10 am tour for English speakers. Originally built about 1000 AD, the cathedral has gone through several additions and renovations through the years, as well as having five major fires and losing all its cash flow because of the Protestant Reformation. It looked much like many British cathedrals we had seen, and that was because it was recently rebuilt by British stonemasons—the Norwegians didn’t have the expertise for such a large project. There were two organs; the old one was ornately painted and tuned to play music from Bach’s era and the newer one had about 1,000 pipes and was used for more modern music.

Nidaros Cathedral front

After the tour was over we wandered back to the ship down one of the main shopping streets, arriving well before departure time. It was a lovely walk and made us think more seriously about sometime walking the pilgrimage from Oslo to Trondheim.

Back on board it was lunch time, but because our dinner seating wasn’t until 8 pm we decided to wait until at least 1 pm before going to the dining room. We were 45 minutes late leaving Trondheim because the ship’s refrigeration system needed repairing, but once underway we headed back into the fjord and turned north, passing many clusters of brightly painted houses along the way. We were quite surprised at the number of farms in the area, considering we were at 64° north latitude.

Munkholm, near Trondheim

Later in the afternoon we went to a meeting to hear about upcoming shore excursions and also about “the current situation in Norway”. We had no idea what that meant so we were very surprised to hear that Norway was under threat from an Islamic terrorist group! Since Hurtigruten was one of their possible targets, there would now be added security when leaving and returning to the ship, and possibly armed police at the docks. However it was much more likely that larger ships, and ships in port in Bergen, would be targeted. As for the shore excursions, we signed up for the trip to the Viking Feast in the Lofotens.

During the meeting we had passed the Kjeungskjær lighthouse, which is supposed to be Norway’s most beautiful lighthouse, and now the scenery was becoming increasingly rocky. But still there were a lot of houses with plots of arable land, and the number of fish farms was increasing. A bit later we went through the Stokksund, which is a very narrow channel with a sharp left turn to navigate. Today the weather was very calm so there was no problem, but apparently they don’t try it in bad weather.

Kjeungskjær lighthouse

Our late dinner was very good. The main dish was halibut, which was beautifully cooked. Dessert was interesting, being cultured milk ice cream flavoured with aquavit and topped with buckthorn berries, which are a type of seaweed. Just as we finished dinner we arrived at Rørvik, so we hurried out to walk around the town. There was a fun fair there, so we thought about buying some candy floss but weren’t hungry, but besides that there wasn’t much else.

Hugo’s Tivoli

Next: Hurtigruten, Part 2