This is an unusual journey. For 120 years, these ships are calling every day at 34 ports between Bergen and Kirkenes, delivering food, mail, and the local people use it like a bus. You watch them bringing supplies and even cars on board, some stops are only 30 minutes long, and others you can get off and have a few hours to sightsee. I spoke to a farmer who was going to see his vet in the next village to discuss a sick cow. They sail 365 days a year, eleven ships of different sizes, and it is an important lifeline between the villages and little towns along the fjords, taking you where the big cruise lines cannot go. It’s crew is Norwegian, along with the food, and the only “entertainment” were the lectures during the day. Only 6% of their passengers are American. Norway has always been expensive. Only 2% of the land is farmable, so everything has to be shipped in. Liquor prices are a shock - I paid $46.00 for two vodka tonics in Oslo!
I flew on SAS, which is an excellent airline, and I recommend it highly with its superb food and service. I went Copenhagen to Oslo, stayed overnight at the Radisson Blu at the airport, then flew the next morning to Kirkenes on the Russian border. I stayed at the Thon Hotel which was lovely in an interesting little town of 10,000 residents with no bank. Everyone pays with their credit card for everything, even an ice cream. Big shopping mall – five shops – and 250,000 Russians come in each year to buy goods.
This was an Astronomy Voyage, with Dr. John Mason, a British Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society who gave several lectures on board and does so every winter. Through a series of lectures, and guided tours of the night sky from the deck of the ship, the world of stars, planets and meteors brought closer by numerous myths and legends linked to the constellations in our skies. This chap was amazing, and well known for his television program on the B.B.C. “The Sky at Night”. There was a large group of British people who, all equipped with camera and tripod, went on deck to watch and wait for the dancing lights in green, purple, red and yellow. The weather was much warmer than my prior trip to Alaska, but of course, you still had to be decked out in warm clothes. The coast of Norway is on a gulf stream, and waters never freeze.
Above the Arctic Circle the sun is below the horizon for a number of weeks, giving the best opportunity to enjoy the starlit sky. Norse myths linked to the stars say that the lights are people dancing on their way to Heaven. Norway and Alaska are the two best places to view the lights because of their latitude and longitude.
Important tips from the Professor: How do you photograph the Northern Lights? General settings for digital cameras. Stand still for 10 minutes in the dark so your eyes get used to the night sky.
Flash, off. ISO, 400, 800 or 1600 (the darker the sky, the higher the ISO needed). White balance, daylight setting, shutter speed (TV): 10-30 (might not adjust on most camera) Focus, manual focus (set to infinity)
Self-timer: set to 2” (reduces camera shake) LCD: low brightness.
Here are some useful websites on Solar Activity and the Aurora. www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link_/sun/sun.html
From the Solar Physics Group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, an overview of solar activity with links to sites covering sunspots and the sunspot cycle.
I was on the Hurtigruten MS Midnatsol, Kirkenes to Bergen, which was is a six day trip, or 12 days if you do a round trip. Most of the journey is in sheltered waters. You can get off at any one of the ports, stay a few days, and then get back on the next ship. You stop at different ports going up and back. The highlight of the trip for me was Trondheim, to see its 1,000 year old cathedral where the tours are given by University students in their red robes. Bergen is a delightful town and the open air fish market is now in a lovely glass building with a magnificent new cruise terminal nearby. I stayed at the Hotel Neptun which is excellent.
If you want to see the dashing magical Northern Lights, with only 4 hours of daylight, go on Hurtigruten, but I would highly recommend you going when you can see the scenery and perhaps have 24 hours of daylight. This is a cultural experience, it’s a journey, not a cruise ship as you perhaps know it. Casual, no glitz, relaxing, peaceful, great value.
Maureen Jones, Scandinavia Specialist, 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.