Image credit: Visitnorway.com / Harvard Myklebust
Hollie-Rae Merrick explores Norway – fjords, northern lights, a Viking and all
You could be forgiven for thinking that Norway’s 1,190 fjords all look the same.
I thought the same until I jumped on board Hurtigruten’s Kong Harald and set sail from Bergen to Tromso to experience the line’s new autumn itineraries.
This autumn marks the first time in 20 years that Hurtigruten has added a new fjord to its itineraries, and it’s a good ‘un.
While many of the other fjords are bustling with tourists, Hjørundfjord is off the main tourist track for other cruise lines, and is a place of pure serenity.
For miles, the fjord cuts its way into the alpine mountains and is surrounded by farmland, secluded villages and random streams of gushing glacier water.
I embarked on the Taste of Norway excursion (£66), exploring the surrounding green fields, the cute summerhouses dwarfed by the staggering mountain landscape and, of course, enjoyed a lovely Norwegian snack of pancakes with caramel butter.
The trip was the perfect introduction to Norwegian life, a mix of exploring the fjord and spending time in a historic hotel where Kaiser Wilhelm and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed – though not at the same time, I’m sure.
Hurtigruten’s new Autumn Gold concept not only introduces a new fjord to the programme, but is also about embracing the seasonal wildlife and food in different parts of the country – each night our dining options changed to suit our destination.
Seafood plays a big part in your on board dining experience – in Trondheim it’s trout, in Bodo it’s cod and in Kirkenes it’s the king crabs that the area is renowned for. Of course, it wouldn’t be Scandinavia without reindeer, which featured on the menu twice during the sailing.
Kong Harald isn’t like most cruise ships – Norwegians use it to hop up and down the coast, and it’s a constant hive of activity as they drive their cars on and off. Making up to five stops a night at tiny little harbours and towns takes some getting used to but is actually the perfect way to see Norwegian life at its finest.
During our sailing from Bergen to Tromso you could go hours without seeing a house, but after a few days gliding along the calm waters, it became commonplace to see remote communities with just two or three houses.
INTO THE PAST
In Trondheim, we headed for the tiny island of Munkholmen (£47), located in the middle of Trondheimsfjord. Don’t be deceived by its size – this islet is brimming with history.
Over the years it’s been a place of execution, a monastery, a fortress, a prison and a German Second World War base – the tank still remains. In peak season up to 1,000 people arrive at its harbour each day.
We travelled even further back in Norway’s history in the Lofoten Islands, their mountains forming a wall above the water that’s visible from miles away. The Viking Feast excursion, (£87), sees passengers whisked on a journey across the amazing scenery of the Lofoten Islands to a Viking museum.
Welcomed by three Vikings including chieftain Olav Tvennumbryni, our evening included a meal accompanied by mead, and role playing opportunities – there’s even the chance for a single man to bag himself a bride during dinner. Just don’t hold your breath for a hat with horns – I was sad to learn the Vikings never wore them.
ON THE WATER
Our excursion in Bodo could have gone either way for me. I’m a massive wimp and hate travelling at high speed. The Rib Safari to Saltstraumen (£96) filled me with dread, but once I got into my fetching orange survival suit I couldn’t exactly say no – plus I couldn’t let you down, dear Travel Weekly reader.
To my surprise, once the Rib set off, splashing along and getting up-close to the rock edges, I was caught up in the excitement of the ride, and found myself actually enjoying it.
The highlight of the adventure was seeing the currents of Saltstraumen, which has the world’s most powerful tidal current.
Four times a day, 13 billion cubic feet of water is forced in and out through a 150-metre-wide passage, causing whirlpools galore.
ONCE NIGHT FALLS
Evening is the most magical part of the day for many Hurtigruten passengers, when the sun sets over the never-ending scenery and the excitement builds about the possibility of seeing the northern lights.
To see them you need luck – cold air and a clear sky wouldn’t go amiss either – but nothing is guaranteed when it comes to these fickle lights. I had no expectation, as the lights rarely make an appearance before October.
But during the last night of the trip, I jolted awake with my phone ringing and people banging at the door. With little more than a pair of pyjamas to cover my modesty I ran to the top deck and couldn’t believe the view in front of me. The haze of white and green dancing in the sky was something I will never forget.
Image credit: Visitnorway.com / Gaute Bravik
CROSSING THE CIRCLE
I was one of the 20 or so mad people to wake up at 6am to see the ship cross the Arctic Circle – however, many more joined me the next day in a famous Hurtigruten tradition.
All Arctic Circle newbies go through a special ceremony (rumours circulating on the ship covered everything from drinking a shot of cod liver oil to posing for a photo with a man in a Neptune costume).
However, what I didn’t expect was to return to my cabin 45 minutes later attempting to retrieve ice cubes out of my tights.
Our ceremony involved having a ladle (or two in my case) of icy cold water tipped down your back. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but still, it’s a must. We may have been in Norway, not Rome, but the same rule applies…
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