“A most beautiful voyage along the Norwegian coast”
At least that is what is claimed in the advertising, so we boarded MS Finnmarken in Bergen and sailed to Tromsø to test the statement. The passengers on our voyage were mainly tourists from Britain and Germany, many of whom said that they wanted to experience the northern lights.
The history of Hurtigruten:
On the 18th of May 1893 the Norwegian government and the shipping company Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab signed a four year agreement scheduling weekly summer trips between Trondheim and Hammerfest and weekly winter trips between Trondheim and Tromsø. Thus the people and businesses along the coast were offered a completely new way of keeping in touch.
Prior to this time arrangement, Captain Richard Widt and his pilots had taken accurate notes about courses, speed and times along the route. In July 1883, at 3:30 a.m. DV Vesteraalen anchored at the bay of Tromsø half an hour before schedule, therefore the name Hurtigruten (The Express Route).
In the more than 100 years since that July, several owners and more than 70 vessels have been part of the Hurtigruten operation, and it has become the foundation for tourism, freight and mail delivery as well as a means of travel for the inhabitants of the coastal cities.
Today 11 ships sail from round trip from Bergen to Hammerfest, a voyage lasting for 11 days. Every day a Hurtigruten ship arrives at one of the 34 ports along the route.
MS Finnmarken, completed in 2002, 138.5 meters long and 21.5 meters wide, is one of the company’s largest ships.
Captain Kai Albrigtsen, an officer with Hurtigruten for 31 years, became captain of MS Finnmarken for the second time after sailing it to Australia in 2011, where it was then used as hotel ship for the oil industry. He had also served as Captain on the ship’s maiden voyage after its 2001 christening.
In past years, there were few passengers on the ship during winter, but lately, winter bookings have greatly increased. “I find it more exciting to sail during the winter, not only enjoying the northern lights, but the light of the north as well”, says Captain Albrightsen.
Many passengers choose to stay on a ship the full 11 day round trip from Bergen, joining one or more of the excursions offered during the cruise. Excursions are steadily increasing in number, as the number of travelers in winter has also increased. Voyages are scheduled so that the ports visited during evening hours on the northern route are visited during daylight hours when returning south. In this way passengers are able to enjoy the whole specter of the beautiful Norwegian coastline on the very same voyage.
Tourists who prefer to disembark at ports of call along the route at are able to do so. You may, for example, board the ship in Bergen and stay four nights enroute to Tromsø, as we did. If you decide to bring your car, you may debark or embark the ship anywhere along its route. It is also possible to leave the same ship in one port and join it again, or join another of the 11 other ships at another port. We took a bus from Stamsund to join a Viking celebration, and joined the ship again in Svolvær. (See excursions below).
Passengers who have sailed with Hurtigruten applaud the beautiful coastline as well as the light and comfortable atmosphere on board.
A fisherman, living on the coast near Harstad, was so pleased with Hurtigruten that he has traveled on 100 round trip voyages. On one occasion, having missed the bus at Harstad after an 11 days’ round trip, the fisherman decided to take another 11 day round trip, hoping that the bus would be on the pier. He even had his own Christmas tree in his cabin, which the crew cheerfully decorated before his arrival for the holidays.
Many people dream about a cruise with Hurtigruten. An elderly couple from the northern Norway saved money for many years, until the day that they were able to purchase tickets. The first thing the husband did after entering their cabin was to stretch out on the bed while his wife set out to explore the ship, walking from stem to stern, and deck to deck. On her tour she met the captain and told him how they had saved money for many years to be able to afford the cruise. The captain was so impressed by the story that he invited the couple to dine with him at the captain’s table.
Filled with joy the wife ran down to her husband in the cabin and told him about the dinner invitation.
“No”, said the husband, “We are not accepting the invitation. We have saved money for so many years, and we shall damned not eat with the crew.”
Searching for the northern light:
Many tourists that we met on our cruise looked forward most of all to see the northern lights. As we cruised north from Trondheim the weather became cloudy and rainy, resulting in slowly diminishing hopes of seeing the lights in the northern sky. Exultation became evident when the bridge reported that northern lights luminated the sky as we passed Raftsundstredet, and the mouth of the Trollfjord. In the summer the ship enters the fjord and turns out again, but in winter the risk of ice falling from the mountain is imminent, so the only thing to do is to sail as close to the mouth as possible. The combination of the Trollfjord and the northern lights created laughter and joy.
A tasteful voyage:
Norwegian cuisine is, like the nature along the long stretched coastal line, distinctive and made from fresh raw materials. Hurtigruten offers its passengers a set dinner menu for each day with fresh foods related to the particular coastal areas. There is also a good choice of superior quality wines imported from Portugal.
Bergen is the town where Norwegian raw materials meet the culinary delicatessen of the continent. The voyage from Bergen begins with a dinner buffet consisting of the best Norwegian and international cuisine.
On the stretch from Ålesund to Molde we were served codbolinhos with a tasty ruccolo salad for starters. In the split cod capital of Ålesund we were served cod originally dried on rocks, the Norwegian name being “klippfisk”, or rockfish.
The main dish was farmer chicken served with barley groats sotto, and the evening dessert was chocolate fondant with pear sorbet.
We’re on our way from Trondheim to Rørvik. Today’s dinner menu consists of cauliflower soup with strips of smoked ham for starters and baked filet of trout served with celery root as the main dish.
Dessert was panacotta made from Norwegian curdled milk, called ‘tykkmelk’. The name ‘thick’ or ‘tykk’ originates from the copious consistency which was enhanced with the use of butterwort. Leaves from the butterwort plant are placed in small wooden bowls before lukewarm fresh milk is added. I remember we called it ‘melkering’ or ‘a ring of milk’ when I was a boy.
We have arrived at the port of Bodø and are heading for Svolvær. The starter on today’s dinner menu was Selbu Blue on salad leaves, served with cloudberry syrup. The Norwegian blue cheese was created over a period of 100 years. As opposed to Roquefort, which is made from sheep’s milk, cow milk is used in the Norwegian blue.
The main dish was grilled brisket of beef, and dessert was a Norwegian speciality “Vailed farmer girls”, apples in cream and bread crumbs.
We have arrived at Tromsø where we left the ship.
In the event that you should be interested in the remaining days’ menus, here they are:
Today’s starter is green pea soup followed by grilled dried cod with potato purée, porto salsa and bacon. Drying food is the oldest known preserving method, and dried fish may last for years. The grilled dried cod which is being served today has been softened in water for a week, and it is a treat to taste how an ancient method of preserving still produces gourmet food.
Dessert was cheese cake.
This is the day of arrival at the North Cape, and what then is more suitable than a Cape North buffet?
“The king crab is better than lobster, and the best ever comes from Russia,” said Bent Stiansen, a Norwegian world champion chef. If you agree or not, it’s time to test the statement.
Welcome to Kirkenes! Today’s dinner consists of Barents salad, deer medallions and raspberries under sour cream. The dish emphasizes the potatoes, vegetables and herbs from this part of the country, which is said to have a richer taste and aroma due to cool climate, slow growth and a lot of light, which bring out the best of the produce.
The ship leaves Hammerfest, the world’s most northern town. Today’s menu is aquavit brinc-cured round steak from reindeer with herb salad as a starter. Main dish is Arctic charr served with asparagus, Roswald potatoes and hollandaise sauce.
For a long period of time Arctic charr was a culinary secret reserved for the lucky chosen few. A small and quality conscious fish farming industry has however made it available for more people, also passengers on the Hurtigruten.
For dessert, Norwegian blueberry parfait.
The ship sails in Vesterålen, and todays dinner menu is a tempting potatoe- and leek soup for a starter. Main dish is roasted roulade from haddock with sautéed vegetables, sourish gravy from tomatoes and baked almond potatoes.
“She is vain, beautiful, exciting and shining white, simply delicious. And she arrives readily among royalties” The haddock is described this way. The haddock pours among other places in Vesterålen and is therefore a natural choice for today’s menu.
The desert is rhubarb- and strawberry soup with pastry and sour cream.
The ship is southbound for the coast of Helgeland, and today’s dinner consists of «Viking wraps» marinated, seasoned and light smoked salmon with sour cream and salad for starter.
Norway is the world’s leading producer of salmon, so it would be a mistake not to let the passengers have a taste of this delicatessen.
Main dish is classical pepper beef, and the ship’s ice bomb served for dessert.
The ship is sailing from Trondheim to Bergen, and is back where the voyage began. It is therefore quite logical to serve Hurtigruten’s classical fish soup.
In the soup you’ll find tasty pieces of what was once called “the love fish”.
Hurtigruten has 34 calls during a voyage lasting for 11 days. Some of these are short without time for excursions, unless passengers decide to leave the ship and take another vessel or reach the ship again in another port.
Calls during night time on the way up north are being done at daytime when the ship is southbound. This way it is possible to experience all of the coastline on an 11 days’ voyage. In summertime, when it’s bright light all night long, it’s rather a question about how much sleep you need.
On our voyage from Bergen to Tromsø we took part in four excursions.
Ålesund, the art nouveau town of Norway:
In our opinion, Ålesund is the most beautiful city in Norway. A disastrous fire swept through the central parts of Ålesund in 1904, and reduced the town to ashes. The reconstruction created one of Europe’s most characteristic building surroundings in so called Jugend style or art nouveau. The town also has its own art nouveau centre, worth a visit.
The drugstore, which was owned by the pharmacist J. A. Øwre, forms the entrance to the centre. On the first floor you find pharmacist Øwre’s stately dining room, restored with a gentle touch and laid out for celebration. The multimedia program “The new art” is a valuable introduction to the international art nouveau style’s background, art, design and architecture.
The items you may experience in the exhibition “The Beautiful Art Nouveau Style” contains items made by leading Norwegian and European art nouveau artists such as Gallé, Mackintosh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Hoffmann, Munthe Bull, van de Velde and Knox.
During our stay we also had time to experience the spectacular view from the lookout restaurant Aksla.
Going out in Trondheim:
In the primordial capital of Norway we walked from the quay through the original viking settlements and the town centre to the Nidaros dome, and returned to the ship through Bakklandet. Bakklandet consists of charming wooden houses, and has been preserved thanks to the citizens who protested loudly when the authorities wanted to tear down the buildings and restore this part of the town.
It was wintertime with icy streets and pavements in Trondheim, so we were not impressed by the level of street maintenance. The most poorly cleared areas were around the Nidaros dome, making safe passage difficult for both inhabitants and tourists alike.
The aviation museum in Bodø:
The museum is constructed like a huge aircraft propeller and contains a lot of aerial experiences. The exhibition, which includes military and civil aviation history, is spread out on about 10.000 square meters, and is the largest aviation exhibition in the Nordic region. At present a whole hangar is planned to display items connected to the cold war.
The Viking museum in Lofoten:
We arrived at Stamsund and drove by bus to Lofoten Viking Museum, which contains the largest known house from the viking age. The chieftain’s house is recreated in real size, and we took part in a rite ceremony, wishing that the sun would return to avoid Armageddon. We were served real mead and meat of sheep, which is eaten by spoon and sheath knife – perhaps a little too much touristic, but it was a nice evening, nonetheless. We caught up with the ship in Svolvær.
Expedition to Antarctica:
In 2007 a completely new, modern expedition ship was added to the Hurtigruten fleet. This fast ship, the Fram, is classified as ice class 1B and is equipped for research in cold arctic seas. In the summer MV Fram heads for Greenland and Svalbard, and during the winter it sails for Antarctica. MV Fram also sails in Antarctic and Arctic areas and on exciting cruises all over the world. In conformity with other Hurtigruten ships, the focus is on exciting nature experiences. The voyages are conducted with experienced expedition crews, with passengers learning about flora, fauna, history and culture at every destination through lectures presented by experts on the subjects.
Text and photos: Tor Kjølberg