Archive for the ‘aurora borealis’ Category

Unfortunately this is the last day of this wonderful journey through what must surly be some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. It finds me in a reflective mood thinking about all the fantastic sights we’ve seen and the things we’ve done.

It is equally unfortunate that I am sitting in the lounge, with a pile of hand luggage, writing this while yet again we start to pass yet more incredibly beautiful and diverse scenery. I guess that what I see today will just have to be taken away in my own memory rather than on the memory in the camera. It may well provide me with the impetus to come again to see the many things that I have missed along the way, maybe I should arrange a photographic expedition for other like minded individuals, any takers?

Last night proved to be the roughest of the journey, the ship was rocking and rolling all over the place, the now nearly empty bottle of Disaronno even slipped noisily onto the floor in the middle of the night. Even with the extremely rough seas Steph was fine, which considering her lack of ‘sea legs’ is quite a major feat.

So this is the final chapter as it were, a summary of the last twelve days, maybe a review even and a recommendation, but probably no photos, or at least only a few at best as the internet is proving to be exceedingly slow to non existent today. While writing this I am still trying to finish off Day 11 but every time I try and upload a photo to Flickr the process just hangs, so it may well not be until we get back home that the last two days of the blog get posted.



As we sailed into Bergen we went out onto deck 6 and took some photos of the city, just as a final keepsake. It was as we started to queue to get off the ship that Steph said “Have you got the bus tickets?”, “The bus tickets, I think there in with my phone” I say as I franticly rummage around in the laptop bag for my phone case. When I finally manage to open the right compartment and then open the phone case there are no tickets to be found anywhere! Then it dawned on me, I had bought them last night from the excursion desk, paid cash and put them in the phone case, they were just like a credit card receipt. After breakfast this morning I put my last krone notes in the tip jar on the restaurant desk, at the same time I took out a small accumulation of ‘cruise card’ receipts, which I later deposited in a bin. Shame that the airport bus ticket was one of them!



I’m glad that the excursion director was in the baggage claim area when we got down there otherwise my life wouldn’t have been worth living! Luckily he was most understanding and had a word with the bus drivers so we didn’t have to repurchase our tickets, and at 170 krone each that was a real relief. In future I must remember to check the receipts before I chuck them away.

Where to start then, that is the difficulty. Should I just write dow a bunch of words, or maybe a list with a rating from 1 to 10, maybe both, decisions, decisions.


I booked our cruise direct with Hurtigruten and not through a travel agent, which for us was fine but other people might prefer the comfort of knowing that everything is done for them in one package. The booking process was reasonably simple and straightforward and was completed mainly on the internet. Once the booking was made and the deposit payed we were sent an invoice with instructions on how, and when, to pay the balance. Once the balance had been paid our tickets and itinerary was promptly emailed to us.

On the couple of occasions that I had to ring Hurtigruten, for instance when pre booking our excursions, I was dealt with promptly and courteously. Documentation was always updated and forwarded within a day of payments being made.

One thing that I am extremely glad about is that I booked our flights directly rather than through Hurtigruten which meant that we flew direct into, and out of, Bergen. All the other passengers that we spoke to that had booked packages flew in on indirect flights, some having to have three flight changes.


We did four excursions all told, the Viking Feast, Wilderness Safari, Snow Hotel and the Midnight Concert in the Arctic Cathedral. All of these excursion were well organised, timed to perfection and included everything that was advertised. Were they value for money? That is always a subjective question which I can’t really answer, the best that I can do is this, they were informative and enjoyable so if that is how you judge value, then they were good value. At the end of the day I have already documented what we did on the various excursions, so you the reader of this will need to make up your own mind as to the cost/value of them to you.

The alternative obviously would be to book these separately, but just bear in mind that you may well need to organise your own transport and that you may have to leave the ship at one port and then rejoin it at another. If this is the case make sure that the crew are aware of your intentions otherwise there could be complications.


As with all cruises, this is not a cheap option for seeing Norway, but then again there possibly is no cheap way to see Norway. The costs can vary greatly according to how you book, the type of cabin you choose and the level of meal options. We had an outside cabin on deck 7 with all meals included, although with the exception of water, tea and coffee with breakfast and lunch, drinks are extra.

You should remember that drinks are expensive wherever you buy them in Norway, below is an example of what we paid whilst on board:

  • PepsiMax – 39 krone (£4.37)
  • Bottle Bear – 45 krone (£5.05)
  • Draught Beer – 59 krone (£6.62)
  • Glass of Wine – 79 krone (£8.86)

So not cheap, even a cup of coffee in the cafeteria will cost you 37 krone (£4.15), so the advice is get the coffee deal when you first get on board and drink lots of water!


We were on a full board basis so had breakfast, lunch and dinner included in the cost. Breakfast and lunch were always buffet style with open seating whereas dinner was waited and reserved seating, with the exception of 2 meals. Breakfast consisted of cereals, various cold meats, cheese, fish, hot meats, fish eggs and a host of other things. There was always ample choice though best not to go right at the end as clearing up often started early.

Again lunch was always a mixture of hot and cold food, soup if you wanted it and a choice of various puddings and cheeses, far too many my own good.

Dinner consisted of two sittings, the first at six thirty and the second at eight thirty, these times did fluctuate on occasion so it is a good idea to check each day on the days itinerary sheet, or the various notices posted around the ship. The service was always exemplary and the food delicious, although there were some passengers who thought it was not ‘gourmet’ enough. There is a booklet available in various languages detailing all the meals that will be served during the voyage, so if there is something you can’t eat, or won’t eat, you can always ask for a substitute.


This is a big ask, would I recommend this cruise and Hurtigruten, the answer on both counts is a resounding NO, but only because I wouldn’t want not to be able to go again because it was full to capacity.

The truth is that not only would I recommend this ‘experience’ I would urge everyone to do it. Having said all of the above I should point out that this is no ordinary cruise, it is an ‘experience’, this is more like a car ferry than your average cruise liner, but then that’s what really makes it quite special. There is no formal dress code, no major shows although on our cruise there was a live duet every night playing the sax, fiddle, keyboard and singing from about 8 till around 12.

The Trollfjord is one of the biggest and newest vessels in the fleet having a capacity of some 822 passengers, but is still able to retain a rather intimate atmosphere, which was not to everyones taste. Personally we really enjoyed it, the crew were always helpful, pleasant and willing to chat. It is interesting to note that a lot of the staff appear to have multiple jobs, on more than one occasion we saw the restaurant staff in the cabins doubling up as chambermaids. It was also refreshing to note that all of the staff were Norwegian, as far as we could tell.

There was always plenty of room in the public areas to find somewhere to sit and relax, it might not always be the seat right at the front of the panorama lounge but I don’t think we were ever disappointed.

Do your research before you go and you will not be disappointed.


Fantastic Scenery
Good Food
Good Accommodation
Friendly and Accommodating Crew
Some Superb Excursions


Limited Shore Time
Expensive Drinks
Nothing Much Else

We were exceedingly fortunate – We hunted the lights and found them.


I truly hope that you will be as fortunate in your hunting.



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Our penultimate day see us arrive back in Trondheim at about six in the morning and although we will be here for nearly four hours we decided not to get off on the basis that it is much too early in the morning and we toured the town on our way north. We were down to breakfast around nine fifteen which meant that I could just get out on deck to take some photos of the harbour before we continued our journey southward.



Apart from being able to photograph Munkholmen, which in its time has served as a prison island, fort and monastery, I was also able to photograph the current Hurtigruten Finnmarken, if you remember we had seen the original ship in Stokmarknes, where she is now part of the Hurtigruten museum, on Day 9.



For the rest of the morning I wandered round the ship, happy snappy, while Steph sat in the panorama lounge just taking in the breathtaking scenery and occasionally reading her Kindle. So here are just a few of photos of the scenery.






At some stage of my wanderings I came across one of the young crew members giving a lesson to another youngster, I’m not sure if this was a new trainee or maybe someone on work experience, as he really didn’t look a day over fifteen. Maybe it was the son of one of the crew members, who knows, but it did provide another photographic opportunity not to be missed.



This is primarily a day of laziness in that we did not leave the ship, even when we docked at the port of Kristiansund at four thirty for half an hour, it was however a day to take photos and I make no apology if today there are more photos than words.



It must have been close on six in the evening when we decided to go and have an other plunge in the jacuzzi up on the top deck. We almost rang across the wind swept deck and then almost jumped into the jacuzzi itself. We lay there for several minutes trying to get the bubbles to start but it was all to no avail as they just would not start. Not to worry as it was hot and relaxing anyway, that is until we looked up to see the rather ominous black clouds looming all around us. We sank lower in the jacuzzi, still trying to get the ‘hubble bubbles’ to start, and still no joy. Then the clouds burst, the hail started to come down, and we dragged ourselves out of the warm water and made a frantic dash across the wind swept deck to get back to the changing room before we were completely pelted by the sleety hail. Thank God for the warmth of the sauna!

The rest of the evening was spent trying to repack everything we had brought with us, and of course any new purchases that we may have made. We went to settle our account before dinner so that everything would be sorted for the morning.

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We were woken up this morning by the tannoy announcement that we would soon be crossing the arctic circle again, so it was a quick shower followed by a quick rush on to the deck to see us leave the arctic behind. We look all around to try and see the arctic circle but of course we don’t really know what we’re looking for, is there maybe a  big red line, like at the airport when you’re waiting to go through immigration, of course there isn’t, well not that we saw anyway.


After floating by the last couple of snow capped islands within the circle we come to the island, and the globe monument on it, that marks the latitude 66° 33′ 44″ and the ship dutifully sounds it’s horn as we effortlessly move passed on our journey south.



I’m glad that we then decided to make our way straight to breakfast rather than go to the ‘ceremony’ again, as we later found out that the southbound ceremony is even worse that the one going north. How can it possibly be worse I hear you say, well on the southward leg of the journey they make you drink a spoonful of cod liver oil, that how. As a souvenir they do let you keep the spoon, which is fish shaped and would undoubtedly be forgotten at the bottom of one of those ever overflowing draws that never seem to get emptied until you move. As Steph pointed out, she’d probably loose it like the one she dropped into her handbag when we flew on Concord!

There was enough time after breakfast to have a wander round deck 6 and take a few more photos before we were due into our next port of call, were we thought we would get off and have a stroll around. Since leaving the arctic the weather seems to have gotten slightly brighter with higher than freezing temperatures so that the ships crew have started hosing deck 6.



As we approach Sandnessjoen there are a number of other large vessels already tied up in the harbour, one of which is a large Statoil ship, and judging by the large tower in the middle of the vessel she might even be a drilling ship.


As we make our way down from deck 6 to deck 4 to disembark we notice some people so desperate for a ‘fag’ that they actually go out of their office windows to stand on the roof for their fix of nicotine, rather them than me, particularly as the temperature is well below zero!


As we disembarked at Sandnessjoen at 12:30 for an hours sojourn in the town the weather seemed to be turning again and within a few minutes of arriving we were in a near blizzard white out as we walked from the ship up the main street.


Steph obviously was savouring every moment of the snow, I, on the other hand was trying very hard to protect my equipment, if you know what I mean!


Being a big fan of Dolly I just couldn’t resist taking the following photo while we were walking up the main street, well you have to don’t you?


After getting back onboard the ship we went to the restaurant for a light lunch, OK maybe just lunch would be a better term as there wasn’t anything light about it. I’m glad that I decided to take the camera down with me as shortly after leaving the port we went passed the ‘De Syv Sostre‘ (the seven sisters), an amazing mountain range.


At first I thought that it was hardly worth going out on deck to photograph them as they were shrouded in mist and cloud, nevertheless I decided to go, and boy was I glad that I did.


As we sailed along the side of them the weather changed again, the mist evaporated, the cloud lifted and the most spectacular views just appeared. If I didn’t know any better I’d think that I was in the Dolomites. These are truly magnificent mountains seeming to almost rise out of the sea.


As if a curtain had risen as we sailed past, as we reach the end of the range down it came again engulfing the last of the peaks in cloud.


I stayed out on deck for most of the rest of the afternoon taking photos of the ship and the amazing scenery that we continued to pass as we made our way ever southward towards our final destination of Bergen.



Of course I wasn’t the only one onboard that was taking advantage of the good conditions.


The sun dipping behind the clouds during the late afternoon provided ample opportunity for some lovely sun-scape photographs.


We arrived at our next port of call, Bronnoysund, around quarter past four and stayed for about forty-five minutes, just long enough to actually catch the sunset.


The light was truly a joy to behold.




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Today sees us continuing our journey southward. Around nine thirty we are told that we are about to slow down considerably as we are just entering a channel that is very shallow, intact the clearance under the keel of the ship is just two meters and judging by the marker posts there is about the same amount of clearance on either side of the ship too.


We slowly make our way along until we arrived at the port of Risoyhamn around ten forty-five where the ship gingerly had to do a 180 degree turn before being able to dock.


We set sail again some fifteen minutes later heading for our next port of call, Sortland where we decided that we would disembark and have a wander round, even though the stop would only be for thirty minutes or so.


We duly disembarked to find that it was snowing, nevertheless we decide to continue and explore for the next half hour, which proved to be more than sufficient time as Sortland really isn’t a very large port.


When we got back on board there was just enough time for a spot of lunch before we reach Stokmarknes, our next port of call and our next disembarkation. We had an hour here to explore the port and what it had two offer. It was a pretty place, all covered in snow though luckily it had by now actually stopped snowing.


Right on the quayside as we disembarked was the Hurtigruten museum, which has attached to it one of the older Hurtigruten vessels, the Finnmarken which was launched in 1956 and was in service right through until 1964.


We didn’t bother with the museum as such but rather took the elevator to the third floor where we were then able to cross over to the Finnmarken.


Unlike museum pieces back home which are normally well preserved and restored, the Finnmarken was neither. I couldn’t work out if it is in the process of being restored or if it is just being left as it is, whatever, it was an interesting half an hour seeing what one of the older ships was like, and by todays standards it was nowhere as comfortable or refined, even though this one was not retired all that long ago.


We continued into the town for another twenty minutes or so before returning to the ship to continue with our journey south.



We headed straight up to deck 9 where there was to be a fish filleting demonstration. Being almost the first people up on the deck we placed ourselves just to the from of the tables that were obviously going to be used for the demonstration. Isn’t it amazing that no matter how early you are for something, or how close you stand, you will just never be at the front.


Strange that, but true. In fairness it wasn’t so much that I wasn’t at the front but more that I was jostled and pushed from the sides, still it’s worth a bit of a moan. Steph was worse done by as she did get pushed backwards, but that doesn’t matter quite so much as she already knows how to fillet a fish, she just gets the scissors out and cuts open the packet. Anyway I do the cooking, well most of the time, and Waitrose do have a good selection of fresh filleted fish!


The demonstration was interesting though not that informative as the chef didn’t actually talk us through what he was doing but just got on with it. He did talk about the two fresh salmon that he was using, where they had come from, how they were going to serve them to us. That last bit really got everyone excited and they just couldn’t wait to get their hands on the first samples of the freshly carved raw fish, although I’m not sure that once tasted that it was everyones cup of tea. Personally, I enjoyed it, Steph on the other hand was rather less enthralled.


When the demonstration was over, or at least when I had taken sufficient photos and I was fed up with the jostling, we went back to the cabin and then decided that we would get changed into our swimming gear and go back up to deck 9 and try out the outdoor Jacuzzi. “Are you mad!” I hear you exclaim, and I guess the answer is probably yes, at least just a little. Actually quite a few other people have already been in and said how nice it is, the fact that they have pneumonia is neither here or there. The worst part of the whole experience is that the changing rooms are inside and across the open deck from the actual jacuzzi.

We spent the next hour or so in the jacuzzi just soaking up the most spectacular scenery of the journey so far, the mountains rise higher and nearer on both sides of the ship as we near the mouth of the Troll Fjord. There are so many people wandering round with cameras that I have to tell them to stop taking our photos, of course I always seem to pick on the wrong people, like the man who has two Nikons dangling from his neck.

“No photos”, I say as he approaches the jacuzzi with the intention of just walking past to photograph the scenery. He jumps slightly, startled, “No, no I am sorry I am not taking your photos”, “it’s OK mate it’s only a joke”, he hurries past but comes back a few minutes later and says in his German accent, “What would I do with zem anyway, sell zem, who would buy zen, maybe on ze internet?”, see a there is a sense of humour after all, I think!

Mind you one old boy did keep popping up and taking our photos, so you never know you might just see us half naked, outside, in a jacuzzi north of the Arctic Circle. All Steph wanted now to make it perfect was for it to start snowing, as if on queue as we pulled away from the Troll Fjord it stated. I must admit that I was rather glad to reach the changing room having had to walk across the snow covered deck in my bare feet, I did have my shoes but decided to I carry them so as not to get them wet! Once inside I popped into the sauna, which has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the fjords, for a few minutes before heading back down to the cabin to get changed.

It had been so exhilarating and warming in the jacuzzi that we just had to go and sit in the bar and have a beer before going in for dinner.

The cloud had come down and the snow with it, no lights tonight then I guess.


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No lights during the night which was probably good as it was a rough sea, honestly it was rough, my iPhone even fell off the table during the night and got lost somewhere under my bunk not to be found till the morning. Most inconvenient as I use it as a torch when I go to the loo during the night so that I won’t wake Steph up, yes I know I’m just so considerate!

The first port of call where we docked for long enough for us to get off the ship was Hammerfest at 11:15. The town is described as the worlds northernmost and has about 10,000 inhabitants. In the short time that we were there we managed to visit a couple of shops, a gallery where Steph managed rot find a nice Norwegian jumper that she took rather a licking to and is now being worn around the ship.


On our way to the church we passed some roadworks, not unusual in themselves but when you consider that the roads are currently packed with ice and snow and the temperature was well below zero, it’s not bad going. Maybe I just find these things interesting because of the way that everything back home seems just grind to a halt at the merest hint of snow.



We eventually reached the church at the top of the hill from where we had a superb view across the harbour, having said that from where we were we certainly couldn’t see the ship.

On entering the church we were created by a stunning triangular stained glass window in an otherwise quite simple and low key environment.



After a few minutes inside it was time to make our way backdown the hill to rejoin the ship prior to it’s departure at 12:45. Just before boarding we popped into the ‘Polar Bear Society‘ museum, which is right on the quayside and worth a short visit.



As we left the building I was able to get some photos of a rather iced up truck which was making deliveries on the quayside, I just wish that I could have got some shots of the snowplough that we had seen earlier as it had almost as much snow on it as there was on the road! Just goes to show that these trucks just manage to carry on their normal daily functions even in these harsh conditions.



Once on board it was another change of clothing and off for a quick bite to eat before the restaurant closed.


I spent the afternoon going up and down between decks 6 and nine, weighed down with camera bag on my back, the Canon 5D with the 100-400 lens mounted on it. This was really the first day that I felt like wandering around taking photos, probably due to the absolutely superb quality of the light. It was an almost crystal clear day with just a smattering of cloud in the otherwise azure blue sky. The light just shimmered off the snow covered mountains on both sides of the fjords.



Towards three fifteen in the afternoon we were greeted to the sun slowly sinking behind the mountains ahead of us, a super sunset that was a fitting end to another very beautiful day.



At about five we decided to put on our thermals and go for a wander on to the upper deck hoping that the clear conditions might just bring out the all too elusive lights. As we made our way to the rear of the ship we could see a few people, not more than half a dozen or so, looking up, conferring:

“….. is that it?”
“No that’s just a cloud, or smoke from the stack”
“I’m almost sure that’s it, but then again….”

We looked up, through the light smoke rising from the stack, and sure enough there it was, the Aurora was back! It certainly wasn’t the brightly coloured light that we had last seen two days ago but nonetheless it was there. Smaller, then larger, here, there and all around.


First on the starboard side, then on the port, from one side across the ship right over to the other side. Then it was behind us. Where was it now, had it gone? We were looking all round but couldn’t see it. Minutes pasted and then again just a mere speck, and then a bit more, growing ever larger as we watched. Strangely, the deck was almost empty, where was everyone, in the bar maybe having a drink? We hadn’t actually heard any announcement we had just decided to go out and see for ourselves, so maybe no one else knew. “Should I go and tell the entertainments guy” asked Steph. Good idea, so off she went but unfortunately there was none to be seen at the excursion desk so the deck stayed pretty empty for the duration.


We lost sight of the Aurora about quarter to seven before we docked at Skjervoy. We went back to our cabin just after we left Skjervoy at seven fifteen to get ready to go and have dinner.


On the way back from dinner I thought that I would just wander out onto deck 6 to see if I could see anything. When I got to the stern of the ship I looked up and there it was, a bit faint again but it was there. As I was rushing back to the cabin to fetch Steph, well the camera really, the announcement came over the tannoy so by the time we got up to the top deck it was getting a bit crowded.


This wasn’t to be the spectacular show that we had a couple of days ago unfortunately, nevertheless I manage to get some reasonable shots, even one which distinctly shows the plough bushing it’s way through the Aurora. For this session I had decided to whack the ISO unto 6,400 and use my 24-70mm zoom on the basis that it had somewhat larger aperture that the 17-40. This meant that I could take the exposure length down to between 1 and 3 seconds thereby significantly improving the stability of the shots. But as with everything there is a price to pay and in this case it’s noise, no not the shouting type just the thing that causes digital photos not to look nice, we old buggers used to call it ‘grain’ back in the days of film!


By around ten it had all but gone, we were getting cold, wanted the loo yet again (note to self, don’t drink a pint of beer, a litre of water and then go and stand out in sub zero temperatures), so we decided to go in and sit in the bar for a while.

Around midnight we docked in Tromso where we disembarked to catch a coach to the Tromsdalen Kirke (also known as the Arctic Cathedral) for a midnight concert. There was lots of snow on the ground and the climb from the car park up to the church entrance was, shall we say, interesting. Once all of the coaches had deposited their passengers the concert, which consisted of a soprano, a pianist and a frugal horn player, started. It was a strange startup as there was no one to be seen anywhere, the front of the church was lit but devoid of any performers.


The first piece was the frugal horn which resonated magnificently from the arctic style of the church walls, but still no visible sign of a performer. This was closely followed by the fine voice of the soprano, still no sign of a performer, were we really listening to a live performance? I turned round and saw her standing on the balcony behind us, an unusual start to a performance but nonetheless nice and rather peaceful. A little while later the soprano processed down the central isle to the front of the church while singing a wonderful solo piece.


All too soon we rejoined the ship to continue our journey south. As the ship sets sail it is 1.30 in the morning, the cloud is forming, it is starting to snow and the likelihood of another sighting is highly unlikely.


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Well it’s certainly going to be hard to top last night. Even though we didn’t get to bed till early in the morning we were up early and down to breakfast where the talk was of last nights sighting. It was especially poignant for those passengers who will be leaving the ship when it reaches Kirkenes a bit latter in the morning. It turned colder overnight and the ship is now well covered in snow and ice. At around 9:45 we docked in Kirkenes (which we are told is pronounced Shirkenes) and disembarked to join a coach for our next excursion, a visit to the local ‘Snow Hotel‘. Not the most adventurous of trips but the alternative would have been a coach tour of the Russian border, can’t imaging that being overly exciting either!

Our guide for the trip is a rather elderly lady whose English is especially good, which considering her age is somewhat unusual. The coach takes us on a whistle stop tour of the town, which on the surface looks rather drab and unappealing. Our guide pointed out many different buildings, the rather large police station, (for a small town) due to the towns proximity to the Russian border we’re told. The town hall, the library, which she is particularly proud of it would appear. Then there is the big yellow building with bars on the window, the only building with bars on the windows, “Do you know what it is?” she asked, silence, “It is the Russian Consulate of course”. Amassing really, to think that there is a consulate in a small sea port in northern Norway, but there it is and very uninviting it looks too!


She explains that the town is built around an iron ore mining industry that went into decline a few years ago but is now once again thriving due to the price of iron ore. The town owe much to this industry which has enabled it to build modern schools, swimming baths and many other facilities. One such is the local football field which she explains attracts the reindeer down during the spring time when the snow disappears and the grass shows a bright green colour. Unfortunately for the reindeer this is a rather futile venture and they turn away in disappointment when they discover that it is in fact Astro Turf!


We stopped at the top of a hill just on the outskirts of the town to take in the view of the town and docks spreading out below us. It was rather nice to be able to see the Trollfjord moored up on the quayside far below us in the distance. Just as we were about to get back on the coach the postman pulled up in his little red van to deliver the mail to the house at the top of the hill, just like home, except that there was thick snow on the ground, the temperature was -4C, which at home would mean that we would be waiting for days for the mail!



We gladly re-boarded the coach, even though we had only been stood outside for a few minutes we were all rather chilled. As we made our way out of the town towards the snow hotel our guide pointed out the railway line next to the road, only 8 kilometres in length but a vital link between the port and the open cast mine that could be seen in the distance. Apparently prior to the railway being constructed the ore used to be sent from the mine to the port by reindeer sledges in the winter, and by horse drawn wagons in the summer months, and that was not that many years ago.


The coach parked in a small lay-by near to the snow hotel and we all disembarked and made our way to the hotel a few hundred meters down the snow covered driveway and across a narrow little wooden bridge. We waited patiently outside the entrance of the snow construction while our guide explained that the snow structure of the hotel is rebuilt every year, all out of natural snow, no chemicals are used as when the thaw comes the hotel is just left to melt away back into the fjord.



The snow part of the hotel contains only bedrooms, no facilities, so if you need to go in the night you have to traipse over to the main building which is constructed from wood. Obviously there is no heating in the snow hotel, otherwise it would melt wouldn’t it? So the place is, shall we say, just a little on the chilly side. We did try a couple of the beds but I certainly wouldn’t recommend them, the one I tried was distinctly icy.



The place is certainly fascinating and the ice sculptures need to be seen to be believed. Not only are the beds sculpted from pure ice but the snow walls also have carvings on them. Every room has a different theme, each bed carved differently and each wall sculpted differently.



After mooching around the snow hotel for a while we went outside and made our way to the reindeer enclosure where we saw the cutest little white reindeer you ever did see, we’ll never know but it might just have been Rudolf.


From there we walked over to see the huskies and boy were they cute too. I caught Steph trying to put one in her new handbag but luckily he didn’t quite fit in, phew! It still amazes me just how friendly these dogs are. We just wandered around their various kennels and stroked them, they in turn licked us, jumped up to say hello, they just behave like any other pet dog rather than what you might expect from a working dog.





I eventually managed to drag Steph away, she was kicking and screaming but soon calmed down when we entered the hotel restaurant, Gabba, the term restaurant is used because we were fed and watered. Actually we were given a very nice warm juice and a BBQ’d reindeer sausage, straight off the fire that was blazing in the middle of the circular room. From here it was a walk back to the coach were we got on and duly sat in a couple of spare seats at the very back, not the ones we had originally occupied as they were already take. Shortly after we got on an other couple got on and were very upset because someone else was sitting in THEIR seat (no it wasn’t us). They spent the rest of the journey complaining because some people on the coach were from the other coach and it just wasn’t right! As I’ve said before, you just can’t please everyone.

As the coach approached the ship our guide thank us all for visiting Kirkenes as she just loves showing people around, she was really very sweet.


During the evening the sea got rather rough, the roughest that we have had since starting our journey back in Bergen. Steph decided to go to bed early as she doesn’t do anything other than a ‘mill pond’ when it comes to sailing. By the time I went to bed she was fast asleep and luckily there was no sign of ‘mal de mare’ anywhere, even though it was rough.

As I quietly get ready for bed in the almost pitch blackness of the cabin I wonder to myself if we might just be lucky again over night, will they appear again, will they, oh I do hope so.


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The day started with a leisurely breakfast at the back of the restaurant where there are some super panoramic windows overlooking the stern of the ship. Just as we were finishing breakfast the sun started to pop out through the ever thinning cloud, so it was a great opportunity to put on some of the warmer clothing that we had brought and go out on deck and take some photos. About time really as so far I haven’t really done the photography justice.


Well once started it is difficult to stop, so I spent the next couple of hours wandering round taking the odd shot here and there, as you do.

The ‘eye glasses’ on the aft deck would appear to show things at about the same size that you can see with the naked eye so I’m not too sure what use they are, having said that they are quite an interesting object, and anyway Steph seems to like them.



As you can see from the following photo I wasn’t the only person wandering the icy decks. It was certainly cold and photography was interspersed with the occasional dash inside to try and warm up a bit, not that I was that cold but the tips of my fingers ached something chronic.


I rather hope that the photo below shows just how isolated, and desolate, many of these coastal areas are. It’s hard to tell from the comfort of the ship whether theses places are permanently inhabited or if they are only winter or summer homes, however I’m fairly certain that the majority are peoples homes. Lord only knows what you do when you run out of toilet paper!


At 11:45 we arrived in Honningsvag and as the ship was not due to sail until later in the afternoon we decided to get off and have a wander round the town, such as it was. It’s main claim to fame is that it is where you go to see the North Cape, a goodly number of the passengers took the excursion to the cape. Apparently it is very beautiful, if a little windy!


Our tour of the town took us passed the many fishing vessels that seemed to be constantly coming and going, both small and large. Luckily there are not too many shops so Steph didn’t manage to buy anything, even though she was eying up some woollen blankets. She might even have been seriously tempted until she saw the label that said they were made in Peru and not Norway, mind you there is probably a good reason for that as we later saw one on the ship that was made in Norway and it was only £117!


While walking up the main street we came across a very eco friendly mode of transport that, coming from England, we tend not to see very much off. Here in Norway most women, and even children, have one, whatever could it be? Well it’s quite simple really, it’s a sledge, not pulled by anything just pushed along by your feet and ridden once in motion. It’s quite amazing to see them dotted around the town like we would see bikes, outside shops, in the school playground. I don’t think that they carry any parking restrictions and of course you don’t need a licence!


We came back via the waterfront, stopping to take photos and generally looking around. We were incredibly lucky to see some cod hung out to dry. It is just hung out to air dry naturally, no chemicals or preservatives. When it is finished drying it is called stockfish and can easily be used in all sorts of dishes, in fact we had grilled stockfish for dinner a couple of days back, it’s probably a bit of an acquired taste as it tends to be a bit rubbery in texture rather than the flaky texture that you expect from white fish.


We got back on the ship just in time to have some lunch, God forbid that we should have missed our lunch, how on earth would we ever have survived till dinner! As it happens around 3:30 when the excursion passengers were back on board and the ship had sailed we were informed that we could buy Norwegian pancakes in the cafeteria for 35 krone, well you have to try these things don’t you? Down we went and joined the queue for the said items, turns out that they are a bit like the American pancake although possibly not quite as thick. There were 3 toppings and we were advised by a Norwegian lady in front of us that we should try all of them, the sour cream, the butter and sugar mixture and the berry type compote. Very, very nice if just a little OTT.

That of course wasn’t the end of it, oh no. Around 4 or 5 there was an announcement that we would shortly passing a Sami church in the rocks, “bring your cameras it will be lit up”, off we dully went to put on the thermals and get the cameras. Up on deck 9 we stood, buffeted by the wind, starring hard into the darkness to see the said church in the rocks, well yes it was lit, but sufficient for a camera, not a cat in hells chance. I pumped up the ISO to 6400 and at 1/80th this is all that I managed, so lord knows what anyone with a point and shoot achieved.


Was it a church, was it a shrine or just lit up rocks, even with the naked eye it was impossible to make out clearly, suffice it to same that to the Sami it is a sacred place. We stayed on deck, even though it was perishing cold, as a man had come aboard in Honningsvag with a bunch of King Crabs and Steph wanted to have a good look at these beasties before she ate some latter for dinner. Apparently these creatures where introduced into the area by Russian researchers many years ago and have spawned a thriving local fishing industry.


And yes they were all very much alive!

Then shortly before six Steph was sat near the excursion desk and overheard the following conversation, more or less:

“We’ve just seen some lights up in the sky, we think it’s the northern lights”

“No, it’s probably a lighthouse or something”

“We don’t think so, it’s too high, we think it’s the lights”

“No it’s definitely not the lights otherwise the bridge would have called to let me know”

Ring, ring, ring, ring

“Excuse me, Hello …….. OK I’ll make the announcement”

Needless to say none was prepared as the likely hood of a sighting had gone down from a 3 to a 1, so everyone was rushing hither and dither. People rushing out of this door or that door, people running up stairs, down stairs, up the corridor, back down the corridor. Into cabins, out of cabins, on with boots, jumpers, jackets, gloves, hats and not forgetting the cameras! By the time I had packed up the laptop and rushed down stairs to get my gear Steph had long disappeared, not to be seen by me for a good hour, although apparently she accosted a number of other men carrying large tripods with cameras attached. Turns out that she had gone up to the top deck (deck 9) whereas I had initially gone to deck 6 where it was much darker.

At first it just looked like a wisp of cloud, not at all colourful but eventually it did become more pronounced. I just stood and watched at first not too sure what I was actually seeing, was it really the Aurora, was it? Well I fired off a couple of quick shots which produced nothing of any value whatsoever. I made my way up to the top deck and there it was, Aurora Borealis, it truly was and all I could do initially was stare. This wasn’t a particularly fantastic display, no real distinct colour as you would expect but it was undoubtably the Northern Lights. I went and found an empty spot set the tripod up and started taking photos.


It’s difficult when you’re on a ship that is traveling at some 15 knots to take extended exposure shots, but at the end of the day that’s what I did. They are certainly not brilliant, and some were out of focus because the camera could obviously not auto focus and I couldn’t remember which way was infinity and in the darkness there was no chance I could actually read the scale, and no I couldn’t see a damn thing through the viewfinder. After about an hour or so it had all but gone, and I was freezing anyway, so I packed up and went to find Steph who by this time was warmly sat in the Library. We were happy, we had seen the Northern Lights.

Shortly after the lights had gone we docked at Mehamn at 71 degrees north.


After dinner I went and sat in the library and put the first photo up on Facebook and started sorting out this blog. when all of a sudden around 10 the call went out again, they were back and for the next 2 to 3 hours we were on deck totally enthralled. We spent most of the time up on the top deck but did at one point try and get to the front of deck 6, unfortunately the driving wind and arctic conditions meant we didn’t get very far which was a real shame as there is much less light pollution down there. I did manage one short bout by the rail to be totally amazed by the most brilliant display of lights just off the port side of the ship.







It took me several hours to get warm again when I finally got into bed around one thirty.

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Arrived in Finnsnes just after eleven in the morning, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, which meant that for once we were off the ship and waiting on the quay side for the coaches to take us on our next outing. Well I say outing but really it’s an adventure, in fact it’s a Wilderness Adventure.

The coach journey is about an hour and a half and takes us along snow clad icy roads through beautiful wild country, even seeing Elk grassing at the side of the road. During the trip there were various multi media presentations giving us information about the various places that we were traveling through. We eventually arrived at Camp Tamok, which is in the Tromso region and is our final destination. Before we are allowed to disembark from the coach we are greeted by one of the Sami guides and told that we must sign a form to say that we have read, understood and accepted the terms and conditions. Basically, are you pregnant, do you have a heart condition, we accept no responsibility……….etc. You know the sort of thing. In the end it was a simple list, write your name, date of birth and sign, however there were a number of people who did want to read the T’s & C’s, really you’ve come this fare paid a couple of hundred quid are you seriously not going to do this?

We are then herded into a wooden hut where we are suited up in large snow suites, boots gloves and whatever else we may need. We are then basically divided into two groups, there’s the Dog Sledding and Skidoo (snowmobile) party, they are sent off to do their sledding first and then there’s the rest of us who are doing Skidoos followed by Reindeer Driving. Steph really wanted to do the dog sledding but unfortunately it was fully book, and I haven’t heard the end of it since, obviously I should have sorted it earlier!

We were told to ensure that we had our drivers licence with us as it would be required before we were allowed to drive the skidoos, guess we look so old that they just assumed we all had a licence. There now followed a short training session:

  • This is the key, turn once for the engine, twice to start
  • On the right handlebar is the throttle, press gently
  • On the left handlebar  is the brake, press gently
  • The big red button is the engine cut off
  • The big blue button is the handlebar heater
  • Use your weight to stabilise the snowmobile, otherwise it can tip over, also don’t lean the wrong way or it will tip


Lesson over so now it’s two to a snowmobile and off we go. As Steph jumps into the driving seat she comments, “I hope we get a practice and don’t have to go straight down that icy slope”, wrong! It’s follow my leader straight down the slope and off on our adventure and it’s not long before we no longer see the snowmobile in front of us. Still not to worry as we soon catch them up as everyone has come to a stop on a rather steep icy incline that someone just can’t quite get up. We soon come to a rather narrow, snow covered wooden bridge that we have to cross, for goodness sake don’t lean the wrong way now or we’ll end up soaked. This weight shifting business is not as easy as it sounds, I know that we both have more that our fair share but trying to move it in a coordinated manner in the right direction is certainly not easy!


Still we managed to arrive safely at the halfway point where we stopped the snowmobiles and got off for a stretch of the legs, needless to say Steph got off took one step and fell flat onto her back! She says that it was just that the snow was too deep to stand in, but you know Stephs penchant for falling over. It was unfortunate that my camera was still in the camera bag, typical, the shot of the day and I missed it.

Anyway now it was my turn to get in the driving seat and off we went. It’s not as easy as it looks driving a snowmobile, they don’t appear to respond as quickly as one thinks they should, which when you’re heading straight for a tree at 25 kilometres is not really when you want to discover this minor inconvenience. What an experience, absolutely exhilarating and fantastic. Would we do it again? Absolutely!


Next came the reindeer driving which was conducted by a lovely Sami family.


We were given some insight into the Sami life and culture and how it is unfortunately changing with the times with less of the younger generation willing to live their lives driving reindeer herds 600 kilometres between winter and summer pastures.


It’s a life style, not a living. I can’t honestly say that it is an experience that I want to partake in again, it is actually rather uncomfortable laying/sitting on a sleigh that is being pulled by a reindeer.


Once finished with the reindeer we were driven a short distance to a wilderness camp where we were served Malash (reindeer stew, sorry Rudolph), griddle cake and coffee. We were all sat round a huge log fire in a wooden circular building with a canvas roof, on long wooden tables and benches, wonderful.


Before leaving we were at least able to go and see the Huskies, pet them and take a few photos though by this time it was getting late, dark and still snowing. Time to take off the snowsuits, get on the coach and spend the next hour and a half dreaming of the adventurous day we’d had. We rejoined the ship in Tromso in time for a shower and then onto dinner.


After dinner I sat in the library updating the blog, uploading to Facebook and listening to various people chatting and complaining. Apparently the Viking feast the night before had not been up to scratch, they hadn’t had time to finnish their meal and were much too rushed. It would appear that with the frequency that the ship runs this should all run like clock work, be slick and not have any delays! Hello, it’s sub zero outside, there’s ice and snow on the ground, you were taken on an hours coach journey and you’re complaining, one day of light snow in the UK and EVERYTHING stops!

I’ve heard a number of complaints from “they could have informed us better as to what clothing to bring”, to the food not being gourmet enough, the beds too hard, and so on it goes. I guess that you can’t please everyone but I must say that so far we have no major complaints about anything. Yes there are niggles, but then there always will be, nothing is perfect. Live the experience for all that it is worth.

Way over the Arctic Circle now and still no lights, will we actually ever see them.


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7am saw us dock in Trondheim, not that we were awake at the time as we didn’t get up till 8. After a quick breakfast we left the ship for a walk round the city. We gingerly made our way over the snow covered icy pavements, they don’t appear to mind the fact that there’s ice and snow in Norway, no fuss, no bother just get on with it. We made our way passed the old town towards the cathedral where we paid our 60 krone each to enter, not that anyone bothered to look at our tickets, look away now if you’re not into rants! Much as I object to paying to enter God’s house, I object even more when I’m then not even allowed to take photos, after all that’s what I live for, isn’t it?

From the cathedral we made our way back to the ship, walking through the town centre passed the most unassuming palace that I have ever seen. Made of wood, in the middle of the shopping district, small park behind. No large railings, CCTV, guards or anything, the front door even just opens onto the pavement.


We popped into another church in the centre of town, close to the palace. No entrance fee, very simple, a lady serving coffee at the back, people asleep on some of the pews. This time I could have taken photos but chose not to as this church was actually being used for a purpose, providing sustenance and shelter for those in need.

As we made our way back to the ship we passed the sign to ‘Gods Terminal’, but decided that now was not the time to avail ourselves of the services on offer, whatever they might have been. It was good to be back on board and get into something a bit lighter and more comfortable, that’s not to say we weren’t comfortable while out but as soon as you get on the ship it is rather warm to say the least. After a late lunch we went and sat in the lounges, Steph in the panorama, me in the library to do a few Facebook posts as the wifi is a bit sporadic up front, thinking about it the library isn’t that much better. By late afternoon the sea was starting to get a bit choppy, not that you felt it too badly as the ship is extremely well stabilised, but none the less Steph thought that a lay down might not come a miss. Not a bad idea really, with age one needs to rest you know!


The decision now is whether or not to go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn to see us cross the Arctic Circle.

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It’s hard to know really where day 1 ends and day 2 begins. Although the beds are comfortable I’m a light sleeper so didn’t really sleep through the whole night. Around about 4:40 we arrived in Floro, our first port, everyone was still fast asleep on the shore, save for the loan dock hand who was rapidly approaching the closed dock gates in his car. As the ship slowly manoeuvred into her berth the gates slid open as the car drove through, screeching to a halt not 10 feet from the ship, out sprang the driver, an tall young man, just in time to grab the mooring lines and secure the vessel. Hardly seemed worthwhile considering that by 5:05 we had already cast off and were on our way once again. By the time we woke again at 7 we were docked again at Maloy another fairly short stay as we were underway within 15 minutes. By the time we got up for breakfast it was well past 9 and we were out at sea, with just the mere hint of a swell.

After a nice breakfast Steph partook in one of her favourite pass times, shopping for a new handbag! I must admit that I also bought another bag, well I needed something to carry the iPad, MacBook, Kindle etc. While in the shop Steph was able to help another equally old lady to choose a new jacket! She’s good at making friends, picking up strangers, mainly of a certain age, old!

As I’d forgot my belt it was a good job that Steph bought the new handbag, and it just happend to have a spare shoulder strap in it, so now I have a designer belt to go with my designer jeans!


At 12 we docked in Alesund for a three hour stay, so after a quick bit of lunch we disembarked and wandered around the town for a while. The weather was rather dismal so the town wasn’t really seen at it’s best, I think that on a nice sunny day, or with a good covering of snow it would look wonderful.

We spent most of the rest of the afternoon sitting in the bar posting on Facebook and listening to one group expounding on the best way to photograph ‘the lights’ if they appear. Not too sure that the long exposure in the bar proved very much though, beyond the fact that 4 to 8 seconds in a bar with relatively good lighting conditions provides a rather overexposed motion blur, no matter how still the subject sits! Steph did suggest I went and involved myself, but at the end of the day I’m not that big headed and some of the advice wasn’t necessarily too far off the mark, just a little incessant in it’s delivery. Mind you they weren’t the only people expounding, oh no. Another nearby party were discussing the ins and outs of why they decided not to take up the wine deal, it wasn’t the cost you understand, oh no just that they didn’t drink a bottle a night – anymore! Never mind, Steph managed to get the post cards written and I did get a couple of posts done, oh and I changed her picture on Facebook, I’ll let her use that nice one I took of her yesterday!


About an hour before dinner the tannoy announced that we were just about to pass the largest gas and oil processing terminal in Norway on the starboard side of the ship, so we dutifully went out and stared at a very dark island, nothing at all like Ellesmere Port! Next announcement, “Sorry, the plant is actually on the port side, that’s the left side, not the right”, still not quite Ellesmere Port. I did fire off a quick shot but needless to say it was black, should have listen to all that advice from earlier!


Down to dinner we went, just as the ship started to roll a bit. While Steph sat and patiently waited for the restaurant to open a well dressed young man, well the dressed bit was accurate, came and sat next to her. Unfortunately I scuppered her chances by returning just then, which meant that Mr Bean (the said gentleman) spent dinner on his own, though I’m fairly sure I saw him talking – to himself , maybe he’s Belgian, after all thee are some on board.

Sat at the front of the panorama lounge as we made our way into Kristiansund, where we were tied up for an hour or so. We spent most of the time sat chatting with a couple from the Wirral who are also on they’re first cruise.

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