Archive for the ‘Hurtigruten’ Category

Returning to the unfinished sequence: Day 6 (continued)

July 27, 2018

I had a wonderful cruise on the ‘MS Lofoten’ more than two years ago now. Somehow, the blog posts petered out when I reached Nordkapp, but I still have my notes and I might be able to find my photos. I still have a strong sense that it needs to be finished.  We left my journey with the travelling sandals at Nordkapp –

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the travelling sandals on board MS Lofoten

Day Six – Monday 16th November 2015 – was overloaded with experiences, and I can’t easily reconstruct their sequence.  You will have to accept the patchwork, and the jumble of times and events.  A little inflatable charged towards us in the dark – orange men in bright orange overalls – and I thought: how strange and wonderful to be one of the people for whom everything is laid on.  In this staged event, a local fisherman came aboard with a bucket of King Crabs (Kamchatka crabs).  “I bring them here for you; for your entertainment” said the fisherman.  Big boots.  He swung on board up a rope ladder – no faking it.  I felt like Elizabeth I on a progress.  What drama would next emerge? These invader crabs are wonderful to eat – but not nice to see them alive and maybe unhappy.  Surely unhappy – crawling around, or lying doggo, on that big plastic bin.  Was I about to see them killed?  I turned tail, revolted.  Didn’t take the photo (forgetting that I’m a sometime blogger and would need it later) – go on the trip yourself if you want to see the show of their struggle.  (This picture was taken in the fish market at Bergen.)

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Kamchatka crab

Before Nordkapp, what?

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A quick walk on the icy wharf at Harvoysund, when a smart black car swept up suddenly – a couple jumped out, embraced, and the woman stepped quickly on board.  A flash car, a sophisticated moment, were unexpected and somehow incongruous in this tiny place.  I gaped like a yokel.

These are puzzling places.  Some seem big: they’re not hick towns at all, for all their wintry inaccessibility.  So very far north, such an extreme climate, yet people still drive smart cars, embrace, express irony.  The houses around the wharf display lights in their windows – an old custom, symbolising lighting the seafarer home.

Our ship takes on cargo – Christmas trees at the next town – around ten am.

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It’s twenty to six, and there’s still dinner, and two more stops to make before today is over.  The boat is gently pitching now, instead of the rolling she more usually does. I suppose it’s to do with turning the top corner.

That was not all on this wonderful day.  Illuminated cliffs as the ship went near to a fjord, and shone its lights onto the steep rocks.  Earlier, I was standing on the deck in the icy cold, enjoying solitude in the growing dark when I realised that I was watching a blue-green light gradually extending itself across the sky.  The Northern lights, displaying themselves in cold abstraction across the heavens.  Behind them, the Plough (the Great Bear – the Ice Bear – the Isbjorn); Cassiopeia winding the lights as her hair.  Somewhere, the Pole Star.  And next to me, sharing them: an exhilarated, deaf, Irish-Australian  woman – Pauline – .  My heart, already softened at Nordkapp, rejoiced, delighted.  It will do feelings, after all, careless of rationality.  Hope and joy: “See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament – “.  I can’t help thinking it, though the blood bit is all wrong.  The chill green, pale as a drift of cloud, is there whether we are here with our amazement and wonder, or not.  Our primitive awe that takes no notice of scientific explanation, but just looks most deeply at the strangeness of it all.

Day Five closes: on the MS Lofoten

December 11, 2015

A pale day.  Low, pale grey cloud, a pale shine on the sea.  Only a thin line of darker land lies between cloud and sea.  These are the colours dogs are supposed to see.  On the fore-deck we are transporting Christmas trees still: surprising in their intense, rich green.  In this pale wide world, how startling, how precise and welcome they look.  Maybe I can forgive this ritual execution, after all.

Thrum, thrum.  Everywhere on the boat comes that soothing deep heartbeat of the huge engines.  I feel that nothing can ever go wrong while they are beating.  Through the heavy doors to the interior, spectacularly out of place in this iron landscape, a glowing nugget of gold-brown warmth.

Things are under control.

Very tired.  Hard to find a place to be alone.

Day 5 – Finnsnes and the Gisund Bridge; Tromsø and the unmentionable Huskies

December 7, 2015

We stopped at a couple of places in the night – I could hear strange rattling, screaming and grinding sounds from my cabin, but I decided that we were most unlikely to be sinking, and went back to sleep till breakfast.
A steadily changing readout near the upper lounge shows the bearing (the white line) and the planned route (the dotted red line). It also shows the speed in knots, as the water pounds behind us.

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Norway has so many lovely bridges across sounds, across fjords – lots of places.  This is one of the finest.

a distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship

A distant view of the Gisund Bridge from the ship.  I liked placing that delicate tracery next to the lumping steel in this image – a trick of perspective, of course.


Two large dark birds - but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Two large dark birds – but what are they? Cormorants abound around there.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes.

Running across smooth sea into Finnsnes just after eleven am: the sky is pinker, and the Lofoten is as punctual as you could possibly imagine.

A short half hour in Finnsnes gives all of us passengers the chance for a quick walk on the dock, while the loading and unloading takes place.

Cargo waiting for loading. it's raining in Finnsnes

Cargo waiting for loading. It’s raining in Finnsnes with a fine drizzle.

Those little lamps in the windows are characteristic of many Norwegian houses.  I asked one guide what it was about, and he told me that it harks back to old times, when a person out in the open in winter would freeze to death unless they saw a light, a haven.  Nobody would turn a stranger from their door.  Still, today, the custom of keeping lighted windows persists even in the cities and towns.

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders - this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clamking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn't see that happen.)

Huge tractor tyres line the wharves as fenders – this is what makes the screaming, dragging noise, as the ship comes alongside. Clanking occurs in those places where the anchor goes down. (I didn’t see that happen.)


Here follows one of my little symphonies of adoration for the Lofoten, the most beautiful and wonderful ship for a sea voyage ever.

MS Lofoten

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Bridge, boat, wharf.

Bridge, boat, wharf.


fine lines of the bow.


Bowline, bridge, shore

Bowline, bridge, shore

blue light, portholes, reflection

blue light, portholes, reflection

I believe my cabin is somewhere below that waterline.  I know I can hear the waves and the wash beating past in the night.

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

we move towards the Gisund Bridge

- going -

– going –

-going -

-going –


a strange effect of the evening light - around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

evening light on snow and low cloud – around 2.00pm, approaching Tromsø

We have a four hour stop in Tromsø.  (Morten the Tour Guide gives the name impeccably clear pronunciation: the ‘r’ is well rolled, almost a syllable in its own right, the final is ‘er’ as in Bodø.)  

Some of us had booked to see huskies.  It was dark, with icy slush.  Two hundred dogs were kept on short-ish chains in outdoor kennels.  And my God, how it did stink!  These dogs are kept for the sport of sled racing, in which ‘mushers’ try to cover long distances at great speed.  They are not actually Huskies, but a mixture of Alaskan Husky, greyhound, German Pointer, anything that will be both fast and enduring.  Some collie.  It’s not really a breed as it doesn’t breed true, and though I asked, I couldn’t get a proper answer about the principles of the breeding.  This was the moment when my cultural tolerances started to waver.  OK. It’s a different world, harsher climate, where survival is crucial.  OK, Huskies happily bed down in snow. But I still think that a chained up pack of two hundred is problematic.  The photos (for once) look worse than the reality, partly because my camera doesn’t cope very well with low light. We didn’t meet the owner, who is called Tove: bizarrely the same first name as Tove Jansson, the wonderful Finnish writer and creator of the gentle Moomins.

Easier to get a photo of the puppies

Easier to get a photo of the puppies: they were pretty cheerful and friendly – and better lit.

They are fed on fish – hence the unimaginable stink.

some border collie in this one I think

Some border collie in this one, I think.  Very cute.


another pup - they all have names

Another pup – they all have names.  Yes – we did try to smuggle one home.  It would never have worked out.

I don’t think the Moomins would have treated Sorry-oo quite like that, though.  Wait for a later post, where you will see a proper Husky. (Siberian?  Alaskan? – I forget.)

Day 4 – We Cross the Arctic Circle

November 29, 2015

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

Logs and the fork lift device on the fore-deck, heading towards  harbour.



The amazing line of mountains behind the town

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

apricot sky and the bridge over Saltstraumen: towards 2.00pm


sky and mountains

sky and mountains


Saltstraumen in the Arctic light

Saltstraumen in the Arctic light


Saltstraumen again

Saltstraumen again


the stark line of mountains behind the Maelstrom

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.

What the mountains are made of.


water pounds past - too fast for my camera

water tumbles and flicks past – too fast for my camera


frothing black dark water - we plough across the Vestfjord

frothing black dark water – we set off across the Vestfjord


churning sea - and a glimpse of the polished wooden rail

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.




Close of day 3 – no photos on the Lofoten

November 27, 2015

Day Three – continued

You can’t photograph the feel of the engines – a thrum and gritty rumble that’s different in the various parts of the ship.  Here in the ‘bar’ (not really a bar – more a cosy lounge towards the stern of the boat) there’s an additional rattle intermittently from the woodwork as something – maybe a window – jars slightly on its fixings.

We’re moving faster, purposefully, and the engine is really working.  It’s a reassuring deep note calling to some place in the body’s core that lies below the heart and above the guts; right at the very bottom of the lungs perhaps.  Something, as they say, visceral, but I want a more primitive word, not that Latinate form.  What pre-industrial sound, I wonder, does it echo from out of our ancestral past?  – And so – and so – here I sit quietly in the bar, feeling the ship, looking out across the cold, late-afternoon sea, still as still here within the broad fjord.  I’m hoping to see orca, but I guess I’m just not clocking up the hours of looking that would earn me that.  Not ‘earn’ – it’s not a transaction – there’s a moral overtone: that would deserve a glimpse.  So I go out on deck, where the water looks a jewelled deep dark green and rather less still.  Fjords are not necessarily so steep, it turns out: they can be wide.  Fjords are full of islands and small rocks that show a dark tip above the surface.  Everything out there looks a bit like a living beast rolling its fin through the water, just for that moment before it’s quite obviously not moving at all.  Another rock.

And so now I am seeing imaginary orcas, turning in the turning waves.  They only occur here and there, for even imaginary orcas are scarce, and difficult to spot.  But I can look at the night-time sea surface and feel happy – they are underneath, they are there.  It’s just that I don’t see them.  In this way, I am well content, and I go back in through the heavy doors, to dinner.

It turns out that I am dining with the white witch of the Corriebrechan: her name is Alison.   Her husband is called Donald.  She has special powers, but she laughs and twinkles so much when she tells me this, that I think she is just teasing.

Alison - the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert

Alison – the charming Scottish friend from Tarbert.  Here she is knitting, as all good witches should. (I took this photo on the last day – so it’s out of sequence here.  One doesn’t take snaps of new acquaintances.)

The evening wears on, and decisions become difficult: coffee? bed? booking a wake-up call?  I go outside, where I love to be on deck, watching the sheer weight of water pushed aside, pushed aside, pushed aside endlessly by the Lofoten, and feeling the fresh, sharp cold.  I want to stay and keep looking but my legs are tired and want to give way, so it’s bed and book time.

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