Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Additional photo courtesy of Barbara Penny Angelakis
Aboard the MS Trollfjord.
Kirkenes is a city almost as far north as you can get in Europe, and was the jumping off point for our Hurtigruten cruise along the western edge of Norway, visiting fjords and small towns. Norway was Viking territory during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance from where intrepid explorers sailed west to discover and colonize first Iceland, then Greenland, and finally, around the year 1000, the coast of North America. Yes, it was a Viking explorer -- Leif Ericsson -- that discovered Vinland (Newfoundland) more than 500 years prior to the journeys of Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci.
Our fifteen-hundred-mile voyage started in Kirkenes (see Dance of the Spirits story in Destinations) and, over the period of 6 days, we sailed south to Bergen. We embarked on MS Trollfjord, a Hurtigruten vessel – a combination cruise ship, ferryboat and mail ship – that does in Norway the Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen run.
Bergen (Bryggen) is a seafaring town that prospered during the times of the Hanseatic League with German traders acquiring salted cod, herring, furs and minerals for export to the rest of Europe, and selling European cloth and other imported goods to the locals.
Today, North Sea oil, gas, and tourism are Bergen’s major income sources. Brightly painted wooden buildings along the Hanseatic town’s harbor still stand, and a three-masted tall ship crewed by cadets from the Naval Academy is moored at the quayside, giving an impression of how the town used to look a long time ago. Of course, the buildings instead of being the shops and warehouses of the German traders are now occupied by tourist shops, coffee shops, restaurants and other purveyors catering to the tourist trade.
Considering the fact that this was winter – our trip was end of February – I found it amazing that the MS Trollfjord was full with passengers from all over the world – it has 674 passenger berths. Many passengers were there for a chance to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern lights that occur most frequently and at their brightest in a band of some 2,500 kilometers from the magnetic pole. Much of the Norwegian coast lies in the area with the greatest Aurora activity, especially above the Arctic Circle.
Traveling amongst the northwestern fjords is an interesting experience. Because the Gulf Stream bathes most of the Norwegian coast, the sea does not freeze until you get northeast of Kirkenes. So when we went King Crab fishing in a fjord east of Kirkenes with opening on the Barents Sea, the fjord where the traps were set was frozen solid, with the ice being at least 5 to 8 feet deep. The MS Trollfjord entered the Kirkenes harbor without any interference from ice, and during the rest of the voyage, even though the land was snow and ice covered, and the ambient temperature on the open decks was below 2° F, the sea was free of ice. Looking at my pictures of the countryside, the land images are almost completely black and white as if taken with old-fashioned black and white film.
The passengers spent most of their time on board at the front, two-story observation lounge, in the coffee shop/bar lounge, the library or the business office checking on emails. There was wi-fi service in the library and a portion of the coffee shop lounge and the service was very good even when the ship was between ports. There was also a shop for souvenirs, and warm weather outer clothes could be purchased, although the weather was cold but less frigid then I imagined.
The two top-side hot-tubs, on the 9th level open deck, were almost always occupied by a group of hearty souls that braved the cold, bitting, wind.
One of the days we were invited to visit the bridge. It was very interesting to see that modern computers were fairly much in charge; keeping the course, making sure there were no obstacles or other vessels in front of us and, in general, performing all the tasks that a seasoned seafaring crew was expected to perform only a few years ago. The captain, first officer and another officer were manning the bridge, where one would expect many more individuals. Also part of the surprise was the fact that steering was achieved by a very small wheel, not the large wheel one would expect to control a ship of this size. And, no-one was at the wheel keeping the ship on-course, it was not necessary; the computers were directing the ship to its destination.
Another day we visited the galley. A crew of 10 under the watchful eye of Chef Roy Kristensen, works hard to create, depending on the number of passengers, from 300 to 700 meals three times a day, plus food for the crew. The seating for breakfast and lunch is open with large buffets at the center of the dinning room; dinner is in two seatings. Chef Kristensen (with 29 years of experience) creates excellent seasonal food made with fresh vegetables and other fresh ingredients from farms and fisheries near the ports where the ship docks everyday. Another interesting thing about the dinning room was the excellence of the wine list. Even the house wines were bottlings from a top Portuguese producer, José Maria da Fonseca, whose vineyards south of Lisbon I have repeatedly visited. The better wines on the list included a Château de Pez 2005; a 2001 Marques de Murrieta, Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva; a 2007 L’Arret Buffate Puilly Fumé; a 2000 Periquita Reserva from José Maria da Fonseca; plus numerous other very good bottles.
Everyday we sailed to at least three different ports with visits from a half hour to several hours. That was enough time in the smaller ports to pick up and deliver mail and cargo and gave the passengers some on-land visits of local in-town spots. During our time in larger towns and cities, where more time was needed to load and unload, we were offered such diversions as a snowmobile trek on the frozen tundra; a concert at the Arctic cathedral of Tromsø – the singer and the two musicians accompanying him were excellent; a visit to an Arctic museum where images and films of Arctic fauna and flora and pictures of Saami artifacts gave us a good idea of life in a Northern climate; visit to a historic cathedral, seat of the local bishop in one of the larger cities; and at one location an ice bar and museum of ice sculptures, etc.
“Travel when you want, where you want, for as long as you want”. That is the Hurtigruten modus operandi and travelers can take advantage by traveling North to South, South to North, or round trip, or even segments of the route between certain towns.
© April 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.