Thursday, 31 May 2012


26th - 27th May 2012

Days 5 and 6 ( 26th/27th ) on the Hurdigurdi voyage took us from Trondheim to Bergen via several other places. The weather was beginning to get warmer and the sea remained calm. The ship stopped at Tronheim early morning. I stopped in bed...getting lazy.  I found someone had left my ‘certificate’ for re-crossing the Arctic Circle outside my door. A document to be treasured I’m sure. I gathered at breakfast from those that went ashore that Trondheim has a nice cathedral, and that the streets were covered in litter following some celebration or other the previous evening. There were probably racks of stinking cod drying there too.

Left: This little islet was somewhere of the coast south of Trondheim and had what once was a fort on it. It is now a popular place to get married. Lots of these sort of places to view and of course they all had names and histories attached, but I didn’t take enough notes and anyway I’m not in the business of writing a definitive guide book ( get one if you are that interested ). I merely wish to give you a flavour of the journey, and myself a reminder.

Right: Like this ex-lighthouse called Agdenes, built in 1804 and closed in 1984. So I must have been paying attention at this point. Before I forget, I wish to correct a statement from a previous Hurdigurdi blog. The toothless reindeer on parade at the North Cape was, someone told me, 14 years old not 40! 

Left: Our ‘Table 16 Gang’ at lunch. From left to right; Helen, from Stirling, married to Iain. She is a very jolly lady who at one point worked for that excellent publishing company in Dundee, DC Thompson. They are the outfit which produces, amongst other publications, the Beano and runs the Dennis the Menace Fan Club of which, many years ago, I was a staunch member. Bill, a retired Political Science lecturer and historian who writes books. He is now a ‘trustee’ of his home town Brockport in Noo Yawk State. A very erudite man and good company. Pamela and Chris, now living in Spain, who had been big in coffee and did rather well selling their company. Pamela had also been a nurse and Danair hostie. She was suffering from a bad cold and a broken wrist and later on a broken toe. Despite that they were most cheerful and amusing and, along with me, enthusiastic conveyors and consumers of illicit drink. They had purchased a couple of ‘ship’s coffee mugs’ which on one or two occasions even contained coffee. Iain, married to Helen, is a retired architect and kept us highly amused by his staunch Scots Nat enthusiasm and invective directed against the English and, for some reason, Terry Wogan.
Right. Kristiansund, into which we pulled in that afternoon. It has ‘Kristiansund’ emblazoned in big white letters on the left-side green hill. We went ashore there and wandered. Not really much to see. A pleasant enough place I suppose.

Left: A curious statue in Kristiansund. I don’t suppose there is much of the year when this sort of dress is appropriate.

One of the useful features of this ship is that it has a laundry room with free use of simple to operate washers and driers. I made full use of it with quite a backlog of dirty clothes. 
We also encountered a family, mother and two daughters, whom we christened the Californian Vikings. They somehow became loosely attached to the 'table 16' gang. The mother, Anastasia, had been a parachute rigger in the US Navy in Hawai and the Phillipines as well as a sportswear model and her two daughters, Alexandra and Karina, had recently completed university in Berkely near San Francisco. They have Norwegian relations and connections and were very tall and blonde; hence the Viking moniker. They were most entertaining company too.
It was our last night on board and nothing out of the ordinary except that the Eurovision Song Contest was being shown on wide-screen TV at one end of the Piano Bar, and the England v. Norway footy match at the other. Between them they attracted quite a few watchers. Our new American friends ( Bill and the Californian Vikings ) were fascinated by the Eurovision Song Contest in all it’s awfulness. I think, with a few drinks breaks, we saw it through to the bitter end with United Kingdom and Norway fighting it out for last place. The Norwegian commentator was rather a let down, not least because we couldn’t understand him. Iain does not approve of this contest because Scotland is not ‘individually’ represented, yet. It’s bad enough without bagpipes as far as I can see.

Right: Another large rock. It is surprising how many of these things there are around the area. The zig-zag route these ships take often through narrow channels demands skilfull navigation especially in the winter months when it is always dark. I suppose it is made easier nowadays with accurate GPNS systems, but imagine the difficulties in years gone by, in bad weather, in pitch dark and only a chart and compass to guide you. 

The next day, Sunday, the weather was getting warm and sunny. There is a salt water swimming pool ( left ) on the back end of the ship. I didn’t see it being used much. There are also two outdoor jacusis ( one to the left of this swimming pool ) which were surprisingly well used even in the earlier Arctic conditions often by half naked and substantially built women who wandered shamelessly around the deck before plunging in and virtually emptying the thing.

It became sunny and quite warm ( I kept a light sweater on ), but to the Norwegians it must have seemed like a heat wave. Right: Some cod drying in the sun.

Left: On approach to Bergen harbour, the final destination of our Hurdigurdi cruise. Still no mention, let alone sighting, of the famous Norwegian Blue parrot. I received a comment that it does not exist! The commentator said that there are puffins in Norway which are sometimes called 'sea-parrots'. Nonsense! You could not do a dead 'puffin' sketch. They would laugh at you.
Recalling M Python again, I suppose someone will now tell me there's no such thing as 'Norwegian beaver cheese' either.

Right: The remarkably warm weather had brought out the Bergen citizenry en-masse to sunbathe. This sunny weather is indeed unusual for this place where they boast of getting 250 days of rain a year. This view is of of some club or restaurant by the harbour. They were scantily dressed and hard at it.
Before we approached Bergen we had been given lots of instructions of how to disembark without causing crowds and with maximum efficiency by our irrepressible ‘Tour Manager’ ( don't call me a courier, so we did ) Peter. How we shall miss his jokes.
Our luggage was taken ashore for us and it all worked seamlessly.
So that was the end of the 6 day north to south Hurtigruten cruise. I think it was a worthwhile experience; comfortable, enjoyable and even a bit educational. It would be even better if they reduced the price of their drinks, but I think that is a penalty you pay wherever you are in Norway.

Saturday, 26 May 2012


24th - 25th May 2012

Lots more fjords and other remarkably narrow bits of water were passed through on Day 3 when we went from Finnsnes to Stamsund via another five harbours. I'm not absolutely sure how to spell 'fjord', it may be 'fiord', perhaps it could be either. The weather was a bit murky but the sea remained dead calm.
Got off the ship for a wander at a couple of the stops with unpronounceable names, but nowt much of interest to see or do.

There is a Hurtigruten museum at the town of Stokmarknes which I popped into. Quite interesting. There is a mock-up of a ship's galley over which was slumped an unconscious looking chef! Not sure what that was meant to represent, but not a good advert for the culinary standards. There was also a ship, coincidently called MS Finnmarken, propped up on blocks outside ( right ). Looks as if she has seen better days.

In the afternoon I was booked onto what was termed a 'sea-eagle safari'. Actually it turned out to be a rather jolly excursion and the weather improved for the occasion.

We were transferred mid-fjord via a gangplank from the car deck to a small boat ( left ). Nobody fell in. This boat then sped away from the mother ship. There was hot coffee and biscuits on board which were welcome later on. It was still quite chilly.

Up another increasingly narrow fjord ( right ) we went and were joined by a flock of seagulls. The two girl crew on deck were there to attract them, but more importantly the eagles, by dispensing bread for the seagulls and fish for the eagles. One of the girls could make strange whistling noises which might have helped.

The seagulls, being greedy, took the bread from the girls' hands. I presume they get this feast every day at the same time. There was a constant formation of them flying alongside.

The sea-eagles ( white-tailed eagles, not condors; I asked ) were not slow to appear either.  They are accustomed to their regular tea meal as well.  They circled the boat and waited for a fish to be thrown.

They were pretty quick at diving down to get it. It is not easy to photograph this. Most of my shots were 'aeroplanes out of sight', so to speak.
I suppose we attracted about ten of these eagles over a period of an hour and a half. I snapped a few of them so you can view the rather poor results. I don't think I would make a good wild-life photographer.

Once or twice they even caught the fish mid-air.

One more boring eagle pic. I expect the people wielding cameras with mega-lenses on them got some excellent shots.

Right: The scenery up these little waterways with big vertical cliffs above is most attractive. There are even some small houses up there.

Left: ...and some waterfalls.
While taking these shots I turned around and, would you believe it......

Right: ......the goddamn mother-ship was following us down this narrow channel! It is a big ship and really didn't have much room to spare either side.

Left: It came into a narrow inlet which was a dead-end.

Right: Then had to do a three-point turn to get out. Quite skilful handling. We were sitting watching and waiting for it to get it's paintwork scratched.
It got away unscathed. I expect this is a well practised manoeuvre.

On our way to re-join the Finnmarken at the town of Svolvaer we came across a pod of orca whales. There were four of them. We all saw them but you try photographing them! When the shutter goes click they are back under water. Left: This is all I got; a snap of an orca dorsal fin. They were, believe me, an impressive sight.

Right:  A final shot of a sea-eagle perching on a marker pole. It didn't budge; probably too full up from the recent feast.

Left: On approaching the harbour at Svolvaer we passed some smart little houses behind which were extensive frames on which were strung drying cod for 'stock fish' or 'klippfisk', I think its called. These frames are in all the fishing ports and the production of this dried fish is an important money earner. By crikey it stank! Presumably the locals get used to it, but to a passing tourist it fair took the breath away. Essence de Poisson, by Givenchy.
Back on board I had supper alone because my table-mates had gone on a separate bus tour around some of the islands here; the Lofoten Islands. Apparently they are very beautiful and much used by artists for the quality of the light, or something. I could still smell those stinking cod.
Woke up a bit late the next morning, Day 4, and had missed the 9.00am ceremony on the top observation deck for passing back south through the Arctic Circle. I'd forgotten that this was due to happen. Apparently it involved taking photos of the globe type monument on the shore which marks the latitude, being presented with a spoon out of which you had to drink some cod-liver oil and also a certificate. I had a leisurely breakfast instead. Today we were travelling between Bodo and Rorvik.

A stop at Sandnessjoen where we were told over the PA by our ever attentive 'Tour Manager' ( he loves doing his PAs, in several languages too, and specialises in bad jokes ) that there is a statue of a famous 'turkey man' in the main street. It was a good opportunity to stretch the legs with the others and we wandered past a statue of a famous local 'clergyman' ( right ). Name escapes me.

Left: The table 16 gang posing around the statue of a gallant Norwegian admiral who, amongst other victories over German shipping, took part in the sinking of the Scharnhorst. From left to right: Chris and Pamela, Viseadmiral Skule V Storheill, Helen, Bill and Ian.

Right: At some point in the afternoon we passed this mountain with a hole in the middle. Quite well known, but I have forgotten it's name.

That evening it was the Captain's Farewell Dinner. We were not leaving for  another two days but many of the pax were getting off at Trondheim the next morning; so the Dinner was to include them. It involved a speech by Captain Anders ( "..anders juss like to say, hic, whataluvvly bunch of pashhenzers yooos been, you're the BESHT lossof passss, hic, engagers aysseverad...."etc. ). Plus a parade of the Mess Staff ( left ) and even some indoor fireworks before bringing on the pudding.

We adjourned to the Piano Bar afterwards where we ( or at least I ) got caught, much against ship's rules, pouring out our illicit smuggled drink. They go to considerable lengths to protect the sales of their grossly overpriced drinks. We were getting a bit blasé  I must admit. The stroppy barman gave me a bollocking and even threatened to confiscate our illicit alcohol if he saw any in future and maybe make us walk the plank afterwards. It will not deter us. Nobody can afford to drink much of their stuff at the prices they charge. It shouldn't be kept behind a bar, it should be put in a safe!
Two more days on board and it all seems to be going well so far.

Friday, 25 May 2012


23rd - 24th May 2012

Looking towards the North Cape
 Day 2 and up at 5.00am to go on the bus tour to the North Cape, or Nordcapp in the local vernacular. This is the northernmost tip of Europe. The sea state had returned to dead calm, thankfully. The ship was docked in the small town of Honningsvag where we got off and onto one of three buses; one marked 'English'. one 'Deutsch' and the other 'Norge'. Tough shit if you spoke Spanish, Chinese or Ruskie, or were deaf for that matter I suppose. I was sitting behind a French couple.
The North Cape and Honningsvag are on what is effectively an island called Mageroya, divided by a 2km wide strait of water from the mainland. Our guide was a pretty young local girl, Denise. She was, as it turned out later, very articulate and knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, geology and Norwegian history. To start with the PA system on the bus didn't work so unfortunately noone beyond the front row of seats could hear what she was saying. Poor girl was trying so hard. At least the French couple were at no greater disadvantage than the rest of us.

We drove initially for about an hour over some pretty desolate and rocky country to the North Cape ( left ) where the weather was somewhat changeable. The sun did not shine and there was the occasional snow shower, but at least it wasn't foggy as we were told it could be. It was a bit on the chilly side. Several reindeer were in residence. There are about 5000 reindeer on Mageroya ( in the summer ) and only 2500 people. No trees anywhere to be seen. We are 180 kms north of the 'tree line'.
The latitude here is N 71º10'21".

A good hearty breakfast was provided at the visitor centre, and we were shown a film about the changing seasons; very atmospheric. They focus a lot on trolls ( right ) around these parts. Trolls are reputed to live up the fiords and are nocturnal. There is also a museum and display of several models featuring notable occurrences at the Cape. This museum was dedicated to King Chulalongkorn of Thailand to celebrate the 41st year of his reign in 1907. No, I didn't fully understand the connection either.

Left: Self at the structure which marks the North Cape. I think it used to have a figure on the top ( it did in the film we saw ) looking out to the north. It must have blown off.

Right: There was another monument here dedicated to 'children of the world'. Seven tablets featuring designs made by seven children picked at random from seven different countries and a statue of a woman and child pointing at them. Snap taken in a snow flurry which explains the white spots.

Left: We stopped at a site featuring a local Sami herdsman and one of his reindeer, and wife who ran the nearby souvenir shop. This reindeer is, we were told, 40 years old. It was rather toothlessly chewing it's way through a pile of cut moss and it's horns were in velvet i.e. the old ones had been shed during the winter and the new ones are growing. We weren't told how old his wife was.

Right: One of the Sami tepees. These are still used by the nomadic tribesmen as they follow their reindeer herds across the country.
On this island of Mageroya the reindeer move south for the winter ( who wouldn't ) where they can feed. They then come back around this time of year to summer on the island. They used to swim the 2km strait back to the island during the course of which many perished as they were still weak after poor winter grazing. The herdsmen now get them over on boats. They are fit and strong enough to swim the 2km on their way back south in the autumn. Now, in my humble opinion, reindeer must be incredibly stupid. Why on earth don't they just stay put on the mainland and make the most of the good grazing and relatively pleasant weather all year round? Why do they insist on returning to this windswept place and suffer a hazardous swim across in the process? Answers on a postcard please because nobody could inform me and the reindeer weren't telling. Instinct perhaps? If I was a local reindeer I would be organising a 'break-away' reactionary group of mates who would give a swift cloven hoof to swimming back over.

Left: A poor photo of the Sami flag from a shiny card. Colourful and meaningful, but I've forgotten the meaning.
There are 40,000 Sami ( Laplanders ) in northern Norway.

We then had a three hour bus journey south-west to Hammerfest. The crossing of the strait was by a recently built and expensive under-sea tunnel ( prohibited to reindeer ). The sun had come out and the journey was certainly picturesque. The bus PA system was now working and so Denise was able to tell us much about the area. This whole region, the largest in Norway, is called Finnmark.

Most, if not all, northern Norwegian towns are supported by the fishing industry. Cod are caught in enormous quantities. Much of the cod is hung on these frames ( left ) to dry out over an eight to ten week period. The dried fish called 'stockfish' ( similar process to beef jerky I presume ) can be kept almost indefinitely then re-hydrated and eaten. The fish heads are dried separately. These are exported almost exclusively to Africa where they form a part of an established diet instituted by the British in their African colonies to provide whatever it was that Africans lacked previously. News to me!

Right: On arrival at Hammerfest we discovered that the town symbol is a polar bear ( the town flag has three of them on it ). There are no polar bears, outside zoos, in this part of the world. The polar bear symbol represents travel and exploration from here to the North Pole, or something like that. Hammerfest also boasts of being the northernmost town. Well, it's not! We had just come from Honningsvag which is considerably further north. Apart from that Hammerfest is also rather a nondescript place.

Lovely scenery around here, when the sun is out. Another issue mentioned by our informative guide was that the Germans evacuated Finnmark in 1944 with a 'scorched earth' policy. Every building, except for one small church in Honningsvag, was razed to the ground and all else of any use to habitation was destroyed. The locals had to flee south. They returned, but it explains why no building in these parts is over 60 years old and they are, for the most part, built to a standard pre-fab design of the 1950s. I wonder if this information was relayed on the 'Deutsch sprekening' bus.

Many thanks to Denise ( right ), our most informative, charming and knowledgeable guide ( once the PA system got going ). Somehow she got it right; keeping us informed without talking too much! My only adverse comment might be that she never once mentioned the infamous Norwegian Blue parrot with it's 'lovely plumage'. I expect we will hear of this bird later on when visiting the fiords further south.
Everybody 'back on the boat!' which was waiting for us at Hammerfest and off we sailed again.
The route today was to take us on south around the intricate waterways to Tromso stopping at a couple of small ports in between. There was to be a midnight organ and choral recital in the Tromso cathedral, and the last chance to see the midnight sun over the horizon. After another good dinner, I chose to have a night in and relatively early kip so declined the trip to the cathedral.

Thursday, 24 May 2012


22nd - 23rd May 2012

MS Finnmarken
I boarded the MS Finnmarken at 11.00am; rather early considering it didn't set sail until 12.45pm but I had a good chance to recce the ship before most people arrived. No problems with heavy bags here. As soon as I appeared at the bottom of the gangway entrance a crew member grabbed my baggage and told me he would be put in my cabin on deck problems. The feeble Aussies with their pathetic 'can't touch bags over 20kgs' rule should take note. This is one of the two newest and biggest of the 15 or so Hurtigruten ships which ply the coast between islands and up and down fijords between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes up north or vice-versa. A ship leaves every day and carries cruise passengers, freight, cars and is a regular bus service for locals. The Hurtigruten, which literally translated means 'fast route', was started by brave pioneers in 1893, notably led by a Capt Richard With after whom one of the present ships is named. It is a lifeline to the many outlying towns and villages along the coast and involves some spectacular feats of navigation and seamanship. A full one way trip takes just over five days and calls in at about 31 ports en-route,  several different ones going north to those going south. On some of the stop-overs, and even mid-cruise with 'take-off' launches coming alongside, tours are arranged sometimes driving on overland to catch up with the ship at the next port. So now you know all about the Hurtigruten.

Life for us idle cruise passengers is remarkably comfortable. Left: The dining room. The food looked as if it was going to be spectacularly good. Another 'fat tour' I'm afraid. Meet Mr Creosote again.
The welcoming 'admin' was also remarkably polite and efficient. A well rehearsed system no doubt.

Right: The lounge on 8 deck. There were 6 passenger decks incorporating lounges, the dining room, bars and cabins. All very spacious and well appointed. Somewhat different to the container ships, as you might expect. Very comfortable beds too!
Great attention was taken to wiping your hands with disinfectant when coming on board or before going into the dining room. They are keen not to encourage bugs to spread and I suppose I can see the sense of that.

Left: Leaving Kirkenes. The sun shone for a moment but on the whole the first day was overcast, windy and the sea got quite rough at times. I always worry that I might be seasick ( it happened to me once, a long time ago ) and I know how miserable that can be. Anyway, I wasn't.

Right: We were introduced to some of the ship's officers, and chefs, and given a safety briefing and demo of putting on survival suits and life-jackets. We would never be far off shore, but you don't last long in waters at these temperatures if you get wet. Das Kapitan, on the left of the pic, was called Anders something.
As expected, the food was sumptuous. There was 'free seating' at breakfast but we were allocated tables for the magnificent buffet lunches and three course served dinners. My dining companions consisted of a retired American professor of political science from Brockville, NY, a retired couple ( we're Scottish, not British ) from Stirling who were great supporters of Alex Salmond and his Scots Nats and an English couple who lived between Spain and Guildford ( she had been a nurse and a DanAir stewardess ). As also expected the cost of drink was outrageous; as such nobody drank much of it, if any. Hence my wise decision to bring some from Finland and to buy a supply in Kirkenes before boarding. I gathered that all the others had done the same!

Left: At one point we were encouraged to wave things at a passing sister ship..which didn't wave back much. This is the amusing English couple from Valencia and Guildford, Chris and Pamela, about to wave their balloon.
There was quite a mix of passengers, mostly cruise pax but also many locals hopping from port to port on shorter 'legs', if you'll excuse the pun. I suppose the majority I identified were from Scandinavia, Germany, UK, France and America. No Japs or even Russians that I noticed.

 People tended to socialise and stick together with their own little groups and families. Right: There were the odd individuals who kept very much to themselves. This chap seemed to have a rather wistful look about him.

Each day we called in at about six harbours; some were little more than a collection of huts around a quay and some substantial towns. At most you could get off and wander around, some for only 30 mins or maybe longer. On day 1 most people got off at Vardo which, we were told, is the easternmost habitation in Norway. It boasts a fort ( left ) built in 1837 and was in use against the Germans in 1941 where it held out gallantly for a bit. It has a variety of cannon and artillery pieces on display. It now only fires a gun once a year, to celebrate the day the sun first shows itself above the horizon.

Right: A sister ship, rather smaller than ours, coming in the opposite direction.

Left: This couple bravely gave a talk and demo on local sea plants and creatures on the evening of day 1 when the weather was rough and a gale was blowing. I stayed long enough to get a snap. For some reason they reminded me of Hans and Lottie Hass. Don't expect many people remember them; the laconic pioneers of underwater TV. "..and now Hans will put his arm down this interesting underwater hole to see what is in it....Oh dear, I think Hans has found something ******!".  The small audience were equally brave and impervious to the cold. They must have been Norwegians.

So far so good and the day was rounded off with a delicious dinner followed by ( smuggled ) drinks and coffee in the piano lounge. The sea had started to calm down which looked promising, and the clouds were clearing. Still sun at midnight which is a bit awkward because it doesn't feel like bedtime. I am due up at 0500hrs the next morning for a tour to the North Cape ( Nordcapp ) and then onwards by road to catch the ship again at Hammerfest.