A Voyage into Winter - The Hurtigruten Cruise
I wanted to do the Hurtigruten tour for years, and in the winter season it's half the price for a voyage that leads along the Norwegian coast from Bergen all the way up to Kirkenes at the Russian border, crossing the Arctic Circle and circling the North Cape, and back again. The Hurtigruten started out as post service with some bunks for passengers in 1893, and has over time morphed into a mix of cruise, ferry service and freight transport. It's still an unusual cruise with no captain's dinner and entertainment on board (the landscape is entertainment enough), and with a lot more stops that a normal cruise. There's time to visit some of the towns along the way, and guided tours to fun places like a reindeer farm.
My journey took me first to Copenhagen and Roskilde, then by ferry to Oslo, and next by train to Bergen where the Hurtigruten starts. I left a day early at Trondheim on the way back to get more time for that town; and took the train to Oslo.
The cathedral of Roskilde in Denmark dates to the 12th and 13th centuries and is the first Gothic church to have been built of brick. It served as model for the brick churches of Lübeck, Stralsund, Wismar and other towns. The cathedral is also the burial place of the Danish kings. The westwork shown in the photo is an impressive structure.
Hamlet's Elsinore, Kronborg Fortress near Helsingör
Kronborg castle was developed as Renaissance palace in 1585, with additional fortifications dating to the late 17th century. Because of its location in the town of Helsingör, the Elsinore of Shakespeare's Hamlet, the fortress is connected with this semi-historical character, and the play. It is also said to be the place where the legendary hero Holger the Dane (Ogier li Danois in the French chansons de geste
) sleeps until great need arises and he will awaken again.
Winter in the Oslofjord
The overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo was a voyage into winter indeed. There were even some ice shoals in the fjord. I love traveling by ferry and train, it gives you a better feel for the distance than flying, and entering the Oslofjord by ship after the sun has risen is a beautiful way to arrive in Norway.
Winter evening in the mountains near Geilo
The railway connecting Oslo and Bergen, the Bergenbanan
, competes with the West Highland Line for the most scenic route in Europe, and I'm not going to decide on a winner here. I brought my portable CD player and listened to some of my favourite music while watching the landscape pass by and taking some photos (the above is one that worked out fine); it was a wonderful experience.
Hansa Quarter (the Bryggen) in Bergen
The quarter - kontor
- of the members of the German Hanse
in Bergen was established in 1360 and still in use until the early 18th century, but the Hanseatic League had long since lost its economical and political importance. After a fire in 1955 the quarter seemed to be lost, but in the end it was decided to rebuild it. The photo shows the waterfront of a veritable labyrinth of buildings, walkways and stairs.
Håkon's Hall, Bergen
Håkon's Hall was built as royal banqueting and representation hall by king Håkon Håkonarson between 1247 and 1261. It is part of Bergenhus fortress and a fine example of a Gothic hall, likely influenced by Anglonorman architecture. Håkon was very interested in the Anglonorman culture and had fe. several French epics translated into Old Norse.
The Richard With, my home for eleven days
The Richard With
is named after the founder of the Hurtigruten Line. It was built in 1993, is 121 metres long and 19 wide, and has a maximum speed of 18 knots. It's one of the medium sized ships of the fleet with 466 beds. I caught her docking in Sortland after I returned from an excursion.
Light in a land of water and mountains
This one was taken near Alesund - it is only one of many photos of the various changes of light and atmosphere during the voyage. The gulf stream keeps the waters from freezing, but there's still snow on the mountains at this time of the year, and the climate is typical for a westcoast.
This could be right from the cover of a travel magazine. The Norwegian flag in the stern of the Richard With
, framed by one of those beautiful rainbows I saw during my voyage.
It was really still winter north of the Arctic Circle, but since it's past the equinox, the days are already long and there's an extended period of twilight, the blue hour. But due to the west coast weather, there often was a lot of fog and haze.
Snow covered mountains near Tromsø
There was a neverending array of mountains in all shapes and sizes. Long stretches of the route go between islands and the mainland, and that way you often get mountains on both sides. It made the Hurtigruten possible in the first place, since the Arctic Sea can be very rough and dangerous in winter, albeit the navigation in the sometimes small passages is tricky as well (at least it was in times before GPS).
Gisund Bridge is a 1147 metres long cantilever bridge that crosses the Sound of Gisund and connects the island of Senja with the mainland. There are several bridges, both cantilever and suspension, that are part of the road system these days, but the Gisund bridge is one of the largest. Its main span is 143 metres at a height of 41 metres above sea level.
Ishavskatedralen in Tromsø
The Arctic Cathedral is one of the landmarks of Tromsø, the largest town north of the Arctic Circle. It was built in 1965 by Jan Inge Hovig. The eleven aluminium-coated concrete panels resemble the shape of ice shoals, and the large windows at the east and west sides allow for lots of light to come in during summer time (though the east window had to be replaced by a coloured mosaic because there was just too much light).
'Blue hour' on a surprisingly calm Barent Sea
I had expected the Barent Sea to be stormy and was a bit surprised I caught it at a very calm time, but thus it gave me that beautiful blue twilight instead of storm grey. At that point of the journey we were further east than Istanbul - it doesn't look like it on most maps, but a globe may show you how much that upper hook of Norway tilts eastward. Norway keeps one time, though the time zone of that area is technically Moscow time which made for the odd experience of daylight at 2.30 am in April.
Dog sleighing near Kirkenes
This was a really fun excursion
. I had booked it in advance which was a good thing because there are limited slots. You got to sit in a sled that was guided by a musher and drawn by eight tail-wiggling Huskies with goofy grins who just wanted to run
and didn't like to stop, which we had to do several times because our team was faster than the one ahead of us. I can't blame the dogs; I liked it fast, too.
Ice sculptures in the snow hotel near Kirkenes
There are several snow hotels in northern Scandinavia, the most famours is the one of Kiruna in Sweden, but the Kirkenes hotel is very pretty, too. It has 20 rooms that are all decorated differently, and an ice bar. The beds are shaped of snow and ice, but the coverings looked comfortable enough. Though you proabably have to stick your nose under the pillow if you don't want to look like Rudolph the Reindeer.
is the world's northernmost fortress. The first fortification can be traced back to the early 14th century and was built by Håkon V Magnusson during the conflict with Novgorod. The present buildings meanwhile date to 1738 - 1825. The fortress is still used by the army, though there has never been any fight during its long history. It's actually a quite charming place due to the style of the houses with their rustic grass roofs.
Impressions from a bus tour through the Vesterålen
A bus tour through Hinnøya, the largest island of the Vesterålen archipelago, provided a good chance to get a different perspective of a little bit of the country. The bus did stop a few times, but I managed to get a few decent photos out of the running vehicle (I'm getting better at that, it seems) like the above. The bus did stop so we could visit this charming little church.
Stone church in Trondenes (Vesterålen)
This is the oldest stone church north of the Arctic Circle. There's a bit of a discussion about the exact date the church was built, either about 1250 or 1440. It definitely replaced an older timber church from the 11th century. There are also remains of fortifications from that date that once protected the timber church from attacks from the sea side.
Entrance to the mist-veiled Trollfjord (Lofoten archipelago)
In summer the ship enters the Trollfjord
, one of the most narrow passages on the way, but the amount of snow on the mountains makes for a significant danger of avalanches this time of the year, and since the ship has to get close to those steep slopes, that's not unproblematic. But I could get a glimpse because I went on a sea eagle safari in a smaller boat. Yes, I did see eagles but the skuas were more willing to fly model in front of my camera.
Sunset in the Brønnøysund
With this one were's south of the Arctic Circle and here spring slowly makes it way north. There was less snow and even a few specks of genuine green among all the brown and yellow, but it took until I arrived back in Germany to fully meet spring. It really had worked hard on that green thing during the time I was away.
The Richard With
I left the Richard With
in Trondheim where I stayed another two days, and then continued to Oslo by train.
Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim
The cathedral of Nidaros, as Trondheim was called in the Middle Ages, took a long time in building, from 1070 to 1327. Thus it's a mix of Romanesque and - preeminently - Gothic elements. The cathedral suffered severe damage by fire several times, so the building had to be restored in part; a task that was finished in 2001. The most striking feature is the westwork with its rich decoration of large stone sculptures.
Historical farmhouses, Trondelag Folkemuseum
The Trondelag Open Air Museum is situated around the ruins of the oldest stone castle in Norway, Sverre's castle near Trondheim. It houses a collection of different buildings that were - and in some cases still are - typical for the area. The age of the buildings varies from an old church of 1170 to 19th century town houses. Most of the buildings are farm houses, stables and sheds though, and they make for a lovely scenery among the trees and rocks.
Spring is coming to Norway
I took this photo from out of the train window on the way from Trondheim to Oslo. The ice on the rivers and lakes in the inland is the last trace of winter to give way, but the snow had been melting those last days even in a skiing district like Lillehammer. The Norwegians need to travel further north for their customary Easter fun.
Gokstad ship, Viking Ship Museum Oslo
I've visited two Viking ship museums during this tour, the ones in Roskilde and in Oslo. The museum in Oslo houses the ships found in Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune, and additional grave finds from Borre. All three ships had been buried in mounds, together with other beautifully crafted items; most remarkable among them are the cart and the sleighs from the Oseberg find. The museum's eldest part was opened as early as 1926 while the museum in its present 4-winged layout dates to 1957.
The opera house in Oslo
The opera house in Oslo opened in 2008. It won several architecture awards for its unusual ice shoal design, and you can walk onto the roof. Most of the material used is white Italian marble, while the stage tower is clad in white aluminium in a pattern that resembles old weavings. The large windows allow for a lot of light to stream in. In contrast to the white and glass of the exterior, the interior surfaces are covered in oak. I managed to get a ticket for 'Rigoletto'; a fitting celebration of my last night in Norway.
More photos can be found here