By it’s very nature, a winter voyage on Hurtigruten is a largely indoor experience.
Temperatures on our seven night, northbound voyage varied from -3 degrees in Bergen, to a truly teeth chattering -29 when we eventually reached our northern terminus at Kirkenes, just ten kilometres from the Russian border.
And a lot of time was actually spent en route at sea, or navigating various fjords and rock lined channels, as the Nordnorge followed her age old, prescribed course across the Arctic Circle, continuing on into a region that had not seen a sunrise since the end of the previous November.
So, inevitably, a lot of time was spent indoors, watching the world’s most amazing, pristine, scenic smorgasbord unfurl from the warmth and comfort of the public rooms.
The main sense of voyaging through these waters was one of calm, at times soporific, quiet and contentment. There was no organised entertainment as such. No bingo, no fashion shows or expansive spa. Just a well run ship getting up close and personal with Mother Nature.
Those often grey, leaden skies formed a continuously changing backdrop to a series of jagged mountain chains emerging from the stark stillness of the sea, their sides draped in shrouds of snow, their peaks occasionally tinted a beguiling shade of blush pink in the afterglow of a sun that lay just below the horizon.
On other occasions, a small cluster of houses formed a tiny hamlet at the entrance to some small, secluded fjord. Huddled as if for protection against the wind, a gaggle of ochre and red buildings, roofs weighed down with snow, stood around a single flagpole where a lone Norwegian flag whipped in the breeze. Sometimes, small boats sat on a rocky, snow covered shoreline, as if frozen in both time and place. Then a sudden, ferocious blizzard would take them from our sight so completely that they might never have existed.
We sailed, up close and personal, to land where ranks of jagged pine forests tumbled straight down into the still waters of a fjord. I picked out the trails where giant, splashing summer streams had frozen in the fastness of the Norwegian winter, looking like the gossamer strands of a spider’s web.
Sometimes, another ship would emerge from the hinterland, and the sounds of booming sirens shattered the silence as the two ships passed each other. Occasionally, we would sail under some great, looming bridge, where traffic scurried frantically across as if seeking refuge from the weather.
After days on end, the scenery grew increasingly more remote and wilder, less inhabited. And, though the Nordnorge sailed always within a few miles of land, it felt as if we were a million miles from every day reality.
It was all too easy (and all too enjoyable) to just take a comfortable seat somewhere, and simply absorb this continuously changing vista from the peace and warmth. Although there were some 650 passengers on board, nobody seemed to talk above a whisper. The Nordnorge was as stately and peaceful as a cathedral at times. Her almost silent progression through all of this natural wonder gave me the feeling of being somehow awake in a particularly vivid dream.
For six days, this was our world. Punctuated by stops and adventures at banner ports such as Tromso and Honningsvag, it was a charmed, whimsical universe. There was none of the night time dressing up for dinner once so prevalent on cruise ships; people just wore variations of their daytime wear, or indeed often just the same things.
At night, the bar shut at midnight though, in fairness, the cafe was still open for those that desperately needed a beer or a coffee. I’m guessing that there were not too many takers for either.
I would characterise the overall vibe on board the Nordnorge as one of a quiet sense of wonder. The real entertainment was in the stunning landscape that unfurled all around us like a series of drum rolls. Inside looking out, we savoured our delicious buffets and dinners, and drank in the views like fine wine.
Though everything seemed to happen in slow motion, the Nordnorge was in fact progressing at quite a steady pace. There was a schedule to keep; the ship was expected to arrive and depart as close as possible to her advertised schedule, weather notwithstanding.