Folks back home appeared skeptical when told about our trip to see the Northern Lights. Won't it be really, really cold? What cruise line? The Arctic? In winter? Are you guys crazy? You guys are crazy...
No one heard of Hurtigruten, our cruise line. Their ships sail the waters around Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica. They are experts, or at least experienced, sailing cold, distant, often rough, inhospitable seas, places most tourists avoided in the past.
Our ship the MS Midnatsol
Things change, and the company that sails Norwegian waters ferrying passengers, cars, mail and cargo between towns seven days a week, everyday of the year except Christmas, now carries tourists as well.
Stereotypes about cruises and past cruise experience should be thrown away when thinking about sailing Hurtigruten. As an introductory program emphasized, this is an expedition, not a cruise. Along with warm clothing bring along an open mind and sense of adventure.
Not that the ship is rustic, not at all. Public areas are well-appointed and comfortable. The ship is small compared to many cruise ships, maximum 1,000, and that includes day passengers as well as overnight guests.
Our ship, the MS Midnatsol (Midnight Sun), docks about 35 times during the 11 day round-trip cruise. At many ports the ship docks, loads and unloads passengers and cargo and leaves within fifteen minutes. Longer stops allow tourists to enjoy shore excursions or explore on their own. Docks are a few minutes walk to the center of town in most places, allowing easy access.
We took a bus tour around the city of Trondheim, Norway's original capital, beginning in the dark at 8:00 a.m. and ending in daytime twilight at the Nidaros Cathedral. Norway's patron saint and first king, Olav, was buried on the site. It quickly became a pilgrimage destination, and the church was built to accommodate visitors. Today pilgrims, tourists and townsfolk enjoy the facility. Church services are held at various times by Catholics, Lutherans and Orthodox. Originally Catholic, Norwegians later converted to the Lutheran faith.
Usually we sail close to shore and the coastal 7,000 islands. We encountered rough seas, however, when sailing open waters. Waves were so high sea foam crossed our deck 4 window. I witnessed the activity lying down, the best position to calm a queasy stomach.
The further north sailed the fewer hours of daylight experienced. We crossed the Arctic Circle and continue north and east. Lights from houses and towns lining the shore dot the landscape, with snow-capped mountains a constant backdrop.
View from ship's deck passing a town.
Meanwhile we are warm and toasty inside the ship, unless venturing out on deck.
Crossing the Arctic Circle is cause for celebration. The exact time is noted, the Captain reads a proclamation, King Neptune appears, and passengers are doused with ice cold water down their back (I can verify there are lots of ice cubes in the water!) and then handed a glass of wine to help recover from the shock.
Flexibility is key to enjoying this trip. Excursions cancelled because of bad weather, sporadic or no internet service, rough seas, schedules delayed or changed due to weather conditions, fish available every meal smoked, boiled, baked, fermented, stewed...such is life in the Arctic.