The World’s most beautiful sea voyage
In 1891 the National Steamship Advisor came up with the idea of providing an express boat service up the 1,100 mile coast of Norway. At that time, there were only 29 lighthouses north of Trondheim. It was considered an impossible feat.
In 1893, the Coastal Express, visiting 34 ports, little villages with just a few hundred inhabitants, and small towns was started, and it is now a daily service. You will be off the beaten track, some places where tourists never go.
There are parts were you ski in, or go by boat. Mail now takes four days instead of four months. Bergen to Kirkenes is a spectacular coastal voyage — six days one way, going through deep fjords, seeing magnificent waterfalls, mountains rising from the sea, lovely quaint and unique towns and fishing villages. The history of the coastal ferries is vital to the people living along this stunning coast.
This is paradise for a birder, with all the different bird colonies along the route. The advent of the Coastal Express means that places such as the Lofoten Islands, Troll Fjord, Skjervoy Island, Hammerfest and the North Cape became accessible to international travelers who wanted to visit the Land of the Midnight Sun. This is now one of Europe’s biggest attractions.
A summer journey in the midnight sun to the Arctic circle and the border of Russia gives you 24 hours of daylight. The country has incredible history — the Vikings, World War II, with many people having Scottish ancestors who came to work in the cod fishing industry in the 18th century. The Gulf Stream keeps the coastal waters ice free, and the cod, halibut, herring and crab make it a wonderful fishing destination. The halibut has a unique place in Norwegian culture going back 6,000 years. It was the only fish to be worshipped by its people. Great skiing in the winter, and safe waters for sailing in the summer months.
I grew up in Scotland, and we went every year to Norway to cross country ski, or cruise the fjords. My father, a British Army Officer, told me that the Norwegians were very brave people, and were vital to the British troops with information in World War II as to German troop movement. They are outstanding skiers. Norway was occupied starting in the Spring of 1940 and many towns were burned as the war drew to a close - a sad time in the nation’s history. One town of 1,500 people lived in caves for two months until the Allies rescued them and took them to England. In Harstad, you can see the Adolf Gun, which is the world’s largest caliber, 42-cm shells, built by the Germans. There is a small exhibit on the hill, in a bunker. You will learn a lot about this period of history from lectures on the ship.
This cruise is not on a luxury liner. It is very comfortable, excellent food, especially sea food, and you are going for the unique experience. It is casual, with none of the glitzy entertainment you will find on a large cruise ship. You can see things along the journey which are a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
You will find mostly Europeans on board and all of the Norwegians speak English. There are 11 vessels in the fleet which take from 500 to 737 passengers. Many will be Norwegians, sailing part of the journey, since the ship carries freight, mail, and locals. All the vessels are equipped with stabilizers so on the coastal journey they are only on the open sea for a few hours. Going through so many coastal islands the journey is very calm.
One of our clients has been on 110 cruises, and said this was No. 1 on their enjoyable list.
You go across the Arctic circle, the border with the Land of the Midnight Sun. This invisible border circles the earth at 66 degrees 33’ north, marking the southernmost point at which the Midnight Sun shines 24 hours a day on Midsummer Night’s eve. This occurs 23 degrees 27’ from the North Pole, due to the angle between the sun’s orbit and the earth’s orbit at the Equator. The earth’s axis is tilted towards the sun and scientists have calculated the exact dates of the solstices as 21 June and 21 December, respectively. This is a great place to see the Northern Lights.
You will see the Sami people, Lapplanders, with herds of reindeers in the north. More of them live in Norway, than Finland or Russia yet there are only 4 million people in the entire country.
This is a more spectacular cruise than going to Alaska thru the Inside Passage. If you have been on an Alaskan cruise, then this is a must for you to do.
They also offer a voyage to Greenland, and to Spitsbergen, the home of the King of the Arctic, the polar bear. If Antarctica is on your bucket list, then these are the people to go with.
When I was growing up, we went regularly to see the Hardanger and other fjords. Flam is most famous for its railway, one of the steepest tracks in the world and the most popular rail journey in Norway. From Flam you can sail into Norway’s longest fjord, the Sognefjord.
Have a few days in Oslo, then take a cruise. A photographer’s dream. You won’t regret the wonderful excursions, outstanding tour guides giving you background in Norway’s culture, history, and all reasonably priced.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.