Five years ago my friend and I began planning to celebrate our fiftieth birthday by going to a special place... And we did! We took a cruise along the Norway coast from south-north Norway on Hurtigruten cruises. It includes the most fascinating routes capturing the beautiful summers and winters according to the season. The best is, one gets to see the white snow-filled coast with added bonus of sighting the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, in winter.
It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime trip with the beauty of Norway that leaves one totally mesmerised. The most important point here is Hurtigruten cruises have no gambling on board. The basic aim is to promote local tourism, encourage tourists to enjoy the natural beauty that Norway’s towns offer and, through the cruises, promote important tourist spots and historical places.
The cruise begins from Bergen, the city located in south Norway and goes till the northern most point of the world, Kirkenes. One can return to Bergen or break away from it proceeding to other places. The ship docks every day and, depending on the excursion planned for that town, time is given to passengers to disembark. Many prefer to stroll and explore the towns, it is not expensive.
It is advisable for tourists to study the route in advance to see if they want to break their journey. Some travellers disembarked at Kirkenes, took a bus to Finland and went on to visit Helsinki, St Petersburg and furthermore. The excursions are fully booked, one must preferably pay in advance for the optionals if interested.
The route chalked out captures the natural beauty of that area, the difficulties of extreme weather faced, the stories of the locals, the history of that area and more importantly, the food served is connected to locally grown grains, fruits, vegetables, animals hunted there and the fish available.
The cruise itself has different options, like an astronomy study group. These are participants who are either professional astronomers, or enthusiasts and their study focuses specifically on studying the Northern Lights. The coordinator of the British Astronomy Group, Ian Ridpath, has completed 17 such trips and has at least 50 participants on every cruise. “We do star gazing and inform people what they should expect. We explain, the bright green light of Aurora Borealis people see in photographs is not what is visible to the human eye, it is what they see due to the camera.”
One of the main aims of this cruise is to encourage tourists from Europe and the rest of the world to understand the small towns, their historical value, and tourist spots that are popular. Whale watching, ice water jump, architectural towns, salmon plant, local industries — the cruise company ties up with these local tours and commercial places that are monetarily beneficial to both.
The highlight of the cruise are the Northern Lights — yes, it features as ‘top-of-the-bucket list’ of most people. The cruise management tells you, they will refund a small amount if you don’t get to see the Northern Lights! There is a bell in the passage which rings with the announcement system. The first night is quite a Titanic sort of experience. So there is a deck on the fifth floor or one can go straight to the upper deck, on the eighth level.
As I finally make it to the top, it is fast and breezy like a passing white cloud. The second day onwards however, it just gets better as one crosses the Arctic Circle. In the chilly, icy winds as one’s hands remain frozen while you adjust the camera settings, one looks up through the weight of the woollens, white clouds blow over, like smoke. Look carefully... one sees pink, purple tinges and I must say we are lucky to catch the rare red light. Most are quiet, though you do get a few millennials who will be noisy about “1/10...no, no, it’s 1/100, Oh my god, it’s awesome, Dad...” while you want to gag them.
The experience on the ship, where you are one with nature, bracing the cold, harsh winds that make your teeth chatter, you want to simply immerse in it. It doesn’t even make you want to click at the first instance, because you let it sink in. Since the expanse of the sea is vast, you get that much more time and canvas. Some really beautiful skies, rainbows and yeah, a stormy day with air ambulance rescue too... we experienced all that and more!