Day 4. 14th November
(My Son Will’s Birthday – I think of him from time to time all through the day)
Each day on board is measured from midnight to midnight, and each evening one can pick up a sheet from the Recepsjon, which tells us the programme for the next day: ports of call; mealtimes; objects of interest on the way and in the towns; excursions and their timings. MS Lofoten is stunningly punctual – she covers over 4,000 kilometres on each 12-day round trip, arriving strictly on time at every location. Our collective jaws drop at the thought and we consider our own late trains. It’s not just in Britain – by now I have befriended quite a few Germans and a couple of Americans – and they, too, are amazed.
By Saturday I have properly discovered how to get myself awake in time for breakfast. And oh boy! what a breakfast! It is a vast smorgasbord involving hot food – sausages (various), eggs (different every day), beans but not as we know them; cereals – muesli, two kinds of hot porridge (plain and fruited). As well as that there is salad, pickles, cold meats, fish of different kinds every day, several versions of wonderfully fresh bread and breadrolls (they must bake on the ship, working in the small hours) plus pastries. Oh, and I nearly forgot the range of orange and mysterious fruity drinks; yogurts (fruit and natural); jams and marmalade; several kinds of milk to pour on the cereals; and the healthy wedges of oranges and melons. At the same time kind waiters circulate with big pots of tea and coffee, endlessly topping up one’s cup. No wonder the average weight gain on the voyage is said to be 4 kilos (more than half a stone to you and me). They told us that very jovially several times in the first few days – almost as if they are proud of it. So, just don’t start me on lunch! On the dot of ten, they all vanish from our beck and call, and start stacking away the remains of the breakfast: as clear a signal as you’ll ever be given that it’s time to finish up and go. The white paper napkins for breakfast are everywhere replaced by navy blue paper peaks: the napkins for lunch. I know enough to scuttle away, smoothly, of course, as befits a conscientiously maintained dignity.
I was even up in time to take a few photos as we came into Ørnes (pronounced Er-ness, with a clear ‘r’ sound). You will have noticed by now what a joy it was to me to collect Norwegian pronunciations and words. It was a huge help to have the regular tri-lingual announcements over the PA system, first in Norwegian, then in English, then in German, made by the remarkable Tour Guide, Morten Sagen, who I believe was himself Swedish. With immense precision and politeness, information and advice were delivered in his light, polite voice. Place names names articulated instructively. First time round, it was all guesswork about the message in Norwegian, then the English, if you missed it in English, chances were you could catch it in German.
Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck, heading towards harbour.
An amazing line of mountains behind the town – they make me think of Bund cake, every time.
same mountains, different angle – the light is sunrise, I guess, at around 9.15am
I took this photo for the extraordinary pinkish light: still approaching Ornes harbour.
We pause for just a quarter of an hour at Ørnes. Long enough to step off the boat for a brisk stroll and a sticky-beak around at the loading process, and then back on again. Gloriously, it’s Christmas trees that they load onto the fore-deck. Are we heading for a place where fir trees don’t grow?
The loaded about eight of these, extremely neatly and quickly.
We crossed the Arctic Circle in the night (well – about 7.30) and the air is detectably sharper. I do some washing, change into the wonderful lined walking trousers that Sally recommended, and become detectably fresher also. (This is not destined to last long – wait till I tell you about the huskies!) On deck, it’s time to start wearing the full kit: winter coat, woolly hat, gloves and the heavy walking boots.
Three little dark birds with black backs whizz past, close to the sea. They are smaller than the cormorants: I think they must be razorbills. Next comes the ‘Arctic Circle Ceremony’ – someone dressed as King Neptune in a scarily grotesque mask comes to tip ice water down people’s backs – a kind of hilarious christening into the Arctic. People laugh and scream and jump around a lot. Sorry – not my idea of fun. I stay well back, and when it all looks like becoming riotous, retreat to the rear lounge.
Tour Guide Morten Sagen, far right, complete with microphone. Chairs are for the ‘victims’ to sit in. They did get a shot to drink, after the ice water down their backs.
King Neptune. I think that’s the captain on his right. Behind him two nice German friends I met much later – she is called Christiane.
Soon after lunch we come into Bodø, capital of Nordland, population 50,000. (It’s another lovely word to say: Berduh – something like that, maybe between that and Boder). We have two and a half hours here: time enough for a coach trip to see the Maelstrom (this one is called the Saltstraumen). The tide has to flow through a very narrow passage between two parts of the fjord, so going in and coming out it moves at great speed, and gets tangled up, causing a series of whirlpools. Very dangerous, but also a very good place to fish: what a combination!
apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm
sky and mountains
Saltstraumen in the Arctic light
the magical outline of mountains behind the Maelstrom
Those mountains are amazing: so stark and strong. Made of stern, ancient stuff.
What the mountains are made of.
water tumbles and flicks past – too fast for my camera
frothing black dark water – we set off across the Vestfjord
A glimpse of the polished wooden rail; a churning sea – mesmerising.
Crossing the Vestfjord involves three hours crossing the open sea – the Lofoten takes on a spacious, gentle rocking, and I’m coming to know what people mean when they say that a ship is alive, that it is like an animal. A big, gently creaking animal that accommodates its environment. It fits with the sea, moving with it, using it to move onwards.