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This voyage had been in my sights for at least 15 years, the Hurtigruten ‘Original Coastal Express‘ cruise. And what better time to do it than in the winter festive season, when the chance of seeing the Northern Lights was at its peak, and in a year nearing maximum flares in the solar cycle? 12 days on board the MS Trollfjord, one of the larger ships in the company’s fleet, with 297 cabins. So not too big and not too many passengers!

This is a simplified version of a map of the voyage, not showing all 34 stops in each direction but clearly serving as a reminder that Norway goes right over the ‘top’ of Scandinavia and has a border with Russia. (This will become of interest halfway through the voyage.)

My day’s journey (which started by my rising at 4.30 a.m.) was considerably eased by my being taken to Bristol Airport by my walking friend, Zoe, at whose house, ten minutes from the airport, I was able to leave my car. I arrived at the Hurtigruten terminal, Bergen, at 17.30 local time (= GMT + 1 hour). After a shipboard safety briefing and general welcome on shore I was in my cabin around 18.30.

My home from home for 11 nights, and very comfortable I was too. (If I had nothing else to do, I had podcasts, BBC iPlayer downloads, knitting, reading and even access, live, to BBC Radio 4 to entertain me.)
Obligatory photo of Bergen harbour from cabin window, through rain plus saltwater-streaked glass

After a buffet dinner there was a welcome and information briefing in English at 21.00, Norwegian and German speakers having been briefed at sessions earlier. Every day, briefings about what we could expect in the next 24 hours or so were given in German and English (about 2/3 of the passengers were German-speaking). When numbers on board, 15 minimum for each, justified it, there were also sessions in in Norwegian and French. (This working service being for passengers, cars, and goods for delivery at any of the 34 stops along the Norwegian coast, as well as for tourists, people could be on board for a few hours, a few days, or for the full coastline in one direction only, as well as those of us doing the full 11 + two half-days round trip. The language order for on-board announcements was always Norwegian, English, German, French.)

The ship had departed, imperceptibly, at 20.30.

We met the people in charge of us and of the ship. The captain, first left, was a woman – hooray! The chef de cuisine was given special applause, unsurprisingly.

We were also introduced, by means of their photos, to those who would look after our excursions and entertainment on board. I am pleased to say that ‘entertainment’ did not mean shows and suchlike, but information, talks, celebrating the arrival of 2023, and a little fun as we we crossed the Arctic Circle twice.

I had booked all my excursions in advance, but these briefing sessions were also used to advertise remaining places on them. I was a little concerned that the one I had booked for the following day, a visit to the Sunnmore open air museum, was not mentioned this evening. I found that it had been cancelled as there had been only two reservations for it, so I booked instead on to a walking tour of Ålesund. Other options were a longer excursion, including lunch (this was to be the longest stay of the whole voyage) on ‘Taste and traditions in a typical Norwegian fjord’, a visit to a lighthouse, or a trip to an aquarium.

But before we reached Ålesund, we would stop, for just 10 or 15 minutes each time, at three further ports, during the night. I had been concerned that these overnight stops might disturb sleep with clanking and other noises, but not at all. The only noise in my cabin was the gentle sound of ventilation and heating. I did wake up just a handful of times at night during the whole voyage, due to a little juddering and revving. I think it was the bow/stern thrusters as the ship was expertly moved sideways away from the quays. Whatever the cause, I was soon asleep again.

From my window at 09.20 on Day 2, 23rd December, just before arrival at Ålesund

It had stopped raining by the time we docked, and all excursions were to start at 09.45. Disembarked, we had a first chance to take a real look at the boat we had joined in the dark the evening before. There was the goods/car entrance…

… and the passenger entrance. My deck, no. 4, was the only one to give its guests a window. Cabins on all other decks, even the most expensive, had portholes.

No cabins on Deck 5, and Deck 6 was the only one you could walk all around.

I was the only one in the walking excursion not to speak German, and I’m afraid the guide increasingly forgot to repeat his spiel in English. I tired of reminding him, but I got the gist of our visit, even if not of each stop. The whole town had burned to the ground in 1904. The guide said it was because some drunken sailors had been (mis)using oil lamps. Other sources said that no-one had any real idea about what had caused the fire. The place was rebuilt in three years (!), in the art nouveau style then current. The whole town is considered to be Norway’s’ open air museum of art nouveau.

The sun does rise at this time of year at this latitude in Norway, but with hills and mountains all round, it may not reach some parts!
The former custom house

We were invited to sit on this and similar seating. It was warm! The pipes are filled with hot water in the winter season.

We visited a building which until recently had been a pharmacist’s house and business. It is now the Art Nouveau Centre. While all the others went into a room to experience an account of the fire and the town’s rebuilding in German, I went directly into the exhibition. I was blown over by the beauty of some of the exhibits, particularly the engine-turned enamel work. I could have stayed much longer but was given just 15 minutes until my turn in the English-language version of the experience (while the others would view the exhibits). I had great difficulty selecting which photos to include here.

The experience, in a darkened room, was series of photos and moving images of the devastating – though only one life was lost – fire, its consequences, and the reconstruction story.

I was astonished to find that the others were already waiting outside for me – had they been hastened through the exhibition? We continued our walk through the town, noting various art nouveau features.

At this point we were taken into an art shop. I thought it was to encourage us to buy the lovely prints on show there. But in due course I understood that we were being invited to choose, as a free gift, one each from a large selection on offer. I like mine a lot – and will have to get it framed.

We moved on.

It was lunchtime when I got back to the ship, via an ATM. I had completely forgotten to look for one at Bergen airport.