Sunday, September 27, 2015

To the End of the Earth and Back

      Realizing at long last the trip of a lifetime, we boarded the Hurtigruten MS Vesteralen and settled into our little cabin.

      From our porthole we could see the final cargo being loaded and cars boarding the bottom deck, the first of dozens of such views we would experience over the next 12 days.
Soon the bell sounded and the announcement was made that the dinner buffet was ready and waiting. The first night on board the evening dinner was informally served buffet style, but from the next night forward we had an assigned table with 6 other Americans, thankfully at the first seating, which was generally at 6:30.
     As we have not experienced a cruise or even a river boat excursion, everything about this trip was new and wonderful and exciting. The Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage vessels are hybrids between ferries, cruise ships, river boats and cargo ships. They service Norwegian towns and villages -most twice each day - from Bergen to Kirkenes. In 1849 Richard With of Tromso recognized a need to transport mail, cargo and people to otherwise difficult to reach locations along the Norwegian coastline, and set about building a business to accommodate that need. 

Here, the cargo doors are open and goods are being loaded.
      One ship leaves Bergen every evening at precisely 20:00, and takes 12 days to make the round trip. The ports of call visited by day on the northbound trip, are visited at night coming south. Passengers making the entire round trip are treated to an amazing variety of geological as well as architectural sights along the way. 

     The Hurtigruten fleet has ships ranging in passenger capacity from 350 to 1100. The Vesteralen capacity is about 500, but she only has 274 berths in about 160 cabins. The rest are accommodated as day passengers. We saw people getting off and on at nearly every port, and I think the number of us that did the round trip was about a hundred fifty or so. 
     Our table mates came from Florida, Chicago, New Hampshire and Minnesota. It was great fun getting to know them all. An interesting bunch with all sorts of backgrounds, hobbies, work and volunteer experience. Apparently the table assignments are made according to language groups, which was nice because we were able to talk to each other. This did not limit any of us however, in getting to know others from France, Germany and Norway, England and Canada, as we had ample opportunities during other mealtimes and on excursions.
Monument marking the location of the Arctic Circle
     The tour director on the ship kept us apprised of important landmarks, the appearance of the Northern lights, special activities on board, etc. and arranged excursions for those who were interested. Above is the marker at the Arctic Circle. There are no cabaret shows, swimming pools, spas or casinos on Hurtigruten ships. The entertainment is provided by the raw natural beauty, the ever changing light, and the quaint, colorful and historic towns and villages along the way. We had opportunities to get off the ship several times a day for between 30 minutes and 2 or 3 hours. Some excursions left the ship at one location and rejoined her at another. If a major excursion conflicted with mealtimes, then the schedule was altered to accommodate those on the excursion. 

     As I reflect our 12 days motoring thru the fiords of Norway at a constant, leisurely 15 knots I realize it will take several more posts to share the sights, sounds, experiences and profound affect that going to the End of the Earth and back has had on my mind and heart. 
Stay tuned for the next installation. 

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