Norway – Northern Lights Cruise
On the road again! This time DM and I are off to Norway for a 12 day cruise in search of the Northern Lights. We're flying from Dulles Airport in northern Virginia to Copenhagen, Denmark wth a connecting flight onto Bergen, Norway, where we are boarding our ship.
We're sailing with Hurtigruten, Norway's national cruise line. Hurtigruten has been sailing along the Norwegian coast since 1893. Sailing from Bergen, our cruise will take us along the Norwegian coast, through the fjords, across the arctic circle, up to the north cape and onto Kirkenes, Norway - near the Russian border. The return trip back to Bergen will take us back along the same basic route, but with different ports of call.
We could have taken a shorter cruise, but we wanted to give ourselves the best and most opportunities to see the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. Predominantly seen in the northern latitudes, the best time of the year to view the Northern Lights is between November and March.
Follow along on our trip! If you are following our trip between February 11th and the 22nd, you can see exactly where our ship, the MS Finnmarken, is at any time by clicking here, then click the View in Map link and use the "+" and "-" keys to zoom in and out. There are also several links on this page to get additional information such as our direction, next port etc.
You Might Also Enjoy - If you would like to read and see more of what we are hoping to experience on our trip, check out this blog post from the New York Times - On The Horizon - a Northern Lights Extravaganza.
Starting below are the daily entries I made into my travel journal along with some pictures. If you would like to see all of our pictures from the cruise click here to open my photo website, Smugmug. Photos are grouped into 5 separate galleries - just click on a gallery to see all the pictures in that gallery.
Saturday, February 11th - Day 1 - Bergen
7:00 am - This was the 1st time we had ever flown SAS and I have to say we were impressed - the food and cabin service were excellent. It was well worth the additional cost to upgrade our seats. We like to sit in the exit row and on the big Airbus A-330 the exit rows give you over 4 feet of leg room. It also has a jump seat for a flight attendant to use during take-offs and landings. We had a nice conversation with the flight attendant who parked himself near us during boarding and sat in the jump seat during take off. He must have liked us because when he brought the beverage cart around, he gave DM 2 free splits (small bottles) of a very good French Champaign and 2 free bottles of wine for me. Good food, free booz, plenty of leg room and a smooth 7.5 hour flight over the "pond' - very nice.
9:30 am -After a quick plane change in Copenhagen we arrived at the Bergen Airport (BGO) where we were met by a cruise representative who took us by van into the city of Bergen.
Weather - Temps around 30 with mostly sunny skies
10:00 am - We spent the rest of the morning sightseeing. This included a stop at Starbucks for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat and some free wi-fi. I don't sleep well on planes, so by 1:00 pm I was starting to get a little tired, so we hung out for a few hours at a nearby hotel lobby before heading over to the ship.
6:00 pm - Our ship was late arriving in Bergen, so we had to hang out for a few hours in the cruise terminal building before we could board. Once we boarded we went straight to dinner since our cabin was not yet ready. It was a very nice buffet meal with lots of fish - no surprise there. After dinner and a stroll around the boat our cabin was ready sometime before 8:00.
8:45 pm - The cruise director gave a short presentation and introduced us to the senior officers. I was falling asleep in my chair, so I couldn't wait to get back to our cabin and crash.
Historic Bergen Waterfront called the Bryggen
Interesting Photo Combining Roof Lines and Sky
Bergen Fish Market
Fish Market - Vintage Photo - Early 20th Centery
Sunday, February 12th - Day 2 - Alesund
7:00 am - Sailing up through the fjords we awoke this morning to a spectacular sunrise (see below).
9:00 am - After breakfast we spent some time getting to know our way around the ship.
10:30 am - DM and I attended a very well done onboard presentation about the Northern Lights.
12:00 pm - After leaving the ship, DM and I head into Alesund for a self-guided walking tour of the city. Alesund is a town renowned for its many fine examples of Art Nouveau architecture. A devastating fire destroyed most of the town in 1904, after which the entire town was rebuilt in the fashionable architecture of the day. In addition to fishing and tourism, the other industry driving the economy in this area is the support and supply for North Sea oil drilling operations. Overall the town is very nice with well maintained buildings, pedestrian friendly streets and friendly locals.
4:00 pm - Back on board and heading up to Deck 8 for a drink in the lounge on the observation deck. As the sun was starting to set I was able to get a great sunset photo, which is shown below as a GIF.
Art Nouveau Architecture
Art Nouveau Architecture
No, we didn't Climb The 418 Steps!
Waterfront Near Center of Town
Monday, February 13th - Day 3 - Trondheim
9:00 am - Weather - Overcast skies, temps around 40. After leaving the boat, it was about a 10 minute walk into town. Trondheim, one of Norway's oldest cities was founded as early as 997 by the Viking King Olay. We walked along the Nidelva River, past the historic warehouse district called the Bryggenne and up to the famous Gamie Bybro bridge. From here we made our way over to the grand Gothic styled Nidaros Cathedral. We walked back to the boat along Munke-gate, Trondheim's main shopping and sightseeing boulevard
2:00 pm - We spent a very relaxing afternoon in the Observation Lounge on Deck 8 - lots of comfortable chairs to look out through large panoramic windows on 3 sides. This afternoon's route took us mostly through the fjords but occasionally into the open sea, where you feel the up and down movement from 8 - 12 foot rolling swells.
6:00 pm - While breakfast and lunch are open seating, dinner is served at our assigned table and we are fortunate to be seated with L&B, a very nice couple from Seattle, Washington, and E&H, 2 lovely ladies from England.
9:30 - Back in our room to watch an old episode of NCIS with Norwegian sub-titles on TV.
Gamie Bybra Bridge
Tuesday, February 14th - Day 4 - The Arctic Circle
07:04 and 50 seconds - Crossed the Arctic Circle at 66 Degrees North Latitude
Temperature 40 Degrees!! - Edgewater, MD 29 Degrees
10:15 am - Most of the passengers gathered up on Deck 8 for the "Crossing The Arctic Circle" celebration. The captain begins with a few words about the crossing after which King Neptune appeares from the depths and gave a little speech - in 3 different languages. This is followed by the traditional "ice walk" where everyone, who is brave enough, walks past the king and gets showered with an ice bath down your back followed by a short shot of Norwegian whiskey. A little corny, but everyone seemed to enjoy it
11:30 am - Bummer! We just found out that tomorrow's dog sledding adventure was cancelled due to a lack of snow. We are still going to visit the Tromso Wilderness Center learn about dog sledding and spent time with the huskies.
5:00 pm - The remainder of the day was spent relaxing up in the lounge on Deck 8. Sometime during the afternoon I walked down to Deck 4 to check on one of our excursions and wound up giving mini camera lessons to 2 different people. Its amazing how many people have big DSLR's and don't know how to use them. They end up shooting most of their pictures on AUTO. They would be better off with a good point-and-shoot camera. I was showing one guy how to use his Nikon when a women tapped me on the shoulder and said "Would you mind if I went and got my camera and you showed me a few things as well? How could I refuse?
Celebrating Crossing The Arctic Circle
Wednesday, February 15th - Day 5 - Tromso
10:00 am - I thought by now I would be getting a little bored hanging around the ship so much, but actually it is quite the contrary. Relaxing in very comfortable chairs in the Observation Lounge on Deck 8 has given me plenty of time to work on my blog and my pictures.
2:00 pm - After docking in Tromso, we board buses for a half hour bus ride to the Tromso Wilderness Center. While we would have preferred dog sledding, spending time at their facility was a lot of fun. The owner, who has raced in the big European sledding events as well as the 2006 Alaskan Iditarod, now has a staff of 40 and over 300 Alaskan Huskies. After a nice film presentation about the Wilderness Center, we spent over a half hours with several 6 week old puppies. Our guide also gave us an introduction to sledding including the equipment and the commands the mushers use to control the dogs.
DM With An Alaskan Husky Puppy
Tromso Wilderness Center
Tromso Wilderness Center
Thursday, February 16th - Day 6 - The North Cape
11:15 am - After an early lunch, we boarded a bus to take us on a 40 minute ride to the North Cape. Its called the North Cape because it is the northern most point of land on the European continent. We are currently over 350 miles above the arctic circle. It was snowing in town and began to snow harder as we climbed up in elevation. The last 4 miles up to the cape was a well maintained single lane road. Since it was snowing and the Norwegians are very safety minded, buses must form into a caravan headed by a snow plow in front and a follow up vehicle in the end. Even though our bus had studed tires, I felt more comfortable knowing a snow plow was leading the way. At the top is a very nice welcome center and of course the famous North Cape monument (looks like a globe). The return trip used a caravan as well for the first 4 miles.
7:00 pm - As we were finishing dinner the wind picked so much so that our ship struggled to get off the dock and get properly lined up to exit through the harbor channel markers and out to open sea. The captain had to use his bow thrusters several times to get the ship aligned properly. Since we were no long protected by the fjords the big winds also brought big seas - very bumpy for several hours.
DM with 2 Friendly Trolls
DM's Studded Snow Boots
North Cape Welcome Center
Friday, February 17th - Day 7 - Kirkenes
Kirkenes is located about 30 miles from the Russian border and about 50 miles from the big Russian navel base at Mermansk. During WW II Norway was occupied by the Germans. Kirkenes was important to the Germans because it was rich in iron ore that the Germans needed to drive their war machine. So, while the Germans were bombing the Russian navel base, the Russians were bombing Kirkenes in order to cut the flow of iron ore back to Germany. Kirkenes was bombed over 300 times between 1940 and 1944. Even after all the bombing, the people of Kirkenes saw the Russians as liberators. Today, even though Norway is a member of NATO, there is a special relationship between Russians and the town of Kirkenes. People from both Russia and Kirkenes are allowed to travel freely back and forth across the border to work.
9:00 am - We left the ship and boarded buses for a 20 minute ride to the Ice Hotel. There was a lot of snow over night and temps were around 30 degrees. Cold, but still about 8 degrees warmer then it normally is in February. Before going into the hotel we got a chance to get up close and personal with some reindeer and see the start of the day's dog sledding activities.
10:30 am - Well, the Snow Hotel did not disappoint. There are about 20 rooms and each room has unique lighting and ice carvings on the walls. The entire building is rebuilt each year in January from blocks of ice cut from a frozen fjord nearby. While we really enjoyed the visit, I don't think I would like to stay over night - too dam cold for me!
2:00 pm - Leaving Kirkenes to begin the southbound journey back to Bergen.
5:45 pm - It gets dark early this far north - about 3:30. So by 5:45 it was fully dark and DM and I were sitting in our favorite chairs up on Deck 8. As the boat was going up and down through moderate swells on the Barents Sea, DM spotted what she thought (hoped) were the Northern Lights. No sooner had she mentioned it to me and the announcement came "Northern Lights on the port side". Within a few seconds you had hundreds of people running for their cameras and coats to get outside. Too properly shot the lights you need a camera that can take long exposures - usually 5 - 15 seconds. The problem is with long exposures and a boat pitching up and down, your pictures are going to have some shake. I took several images at 10 - 15 second exposures.
Snow Hotel Lobby
Snow Hotel - Guest Room
Snow Hotel - Wall Carving
Snow Hotel - Main Hallway
Northern Lights - 15 Second Exposure
Sailing through Fjords
Coming Into Port
Saturday, February 18th - Day 8 - Southbound Hammerfest and Tromso
9:00 am - Our first stop this morning was at the port of Hammerfest. After DM and I left the ship we did our own self-guided walking tour around town. The town was covered in 5" or 6" of fresh snow from the night before. The snow was still nice and clean, and with the people from the ship as well as the towns people walking around, enjoying themselves and taking pictures, it was really nice.
1:30 pm - Back on board we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, occasionally taking a few pictures and chatting from time-to-time with some of our new friends we made on the cruise.
7:00 pm - We are being treated to another spectacular night of Northern Lights. Since we are traveling through the fjords this evening, the seas are fairly calm, which should make for better pictures.
9:00 pm - Trying to get a few hours sleep before we have to get up to go to a midnight concert at a cathedral in Tromso. More about that tomorrow..
Another Evening of Northern Lights
Southbound - Arriving in Tromso
Sunday, February 19th - Day 9 - Southbound Tromso and Svolvaer
12:00 am - After docking in Tromso, a bus picked us up and took us to the cathedral to attend a midnight concert. It was really good!. As the candle lights flicker this elegant church is filled with the sound of beautiful Norwegian folk songs along with some classics. There were 3 performers - a women who had an outstanding voice, a very good piano player and gentleman on the Chello. They performed 10 or 15 traditional Norwegian songs. For their last number they did "Amazing Grace" in english.
3:00 pm - Today has been spent mostly sailing through the fjords in dense fog, heavy snow with occasional breaks in the clouds.
6:30 pm - After docking in Svolvaer, a bus pickup us up for a short ride to the working fishing village of Svineya - a thriving, vibrant fishing village since 1828. The facility we visited has been operating since 1853 and is still operated by the same family (5th generation). We saw the fish processing plant, the stockfish (cod) racks, the fishing huts, the company store and the village art gallery. The man who gave the tour was a retired school teacher and an excellent story teller that brought the whole story of Svineya to life.
Midnight concert at Cathedral in Tromso
Late afternoon break in clouds
Late afternoon break in clouds
Fishing Village in Svolvaer - Racks used to dry Stockfish (cod)
Monday, February 20th - Day 10 - Southbound
2:00 pm - Today was the 1st day since we arrived in Bergen that has been sunny, but cold, most of the entire day. It has given us the opportunity to get some great shots of the snowy mountains that line both sides of the fjords.
3:30 pm - After docking in Bronnoysund, we left the boat for about an hour to just walk around the town, After wondering around for awhile, we realized we were chasing daylight and any opportunity to get some good shots before it got dark. Even though DM only uses her iPhone 6s Plus, the quality of the shots she has taken has steadily improved on this trip.
8:00 pm - Just finished dinner with our table mates L&B from Seattle and E&H from England. For 10 days now we've had lots of good conversation, shared stories about our daily adventures and had lots of laughs. Oh, and did I mention, we knocked off 2 bottles of wine each evening as well. Its been lots of fun and one of the things we like about traveling solo, rather then with a group of friends - we always seem to meet people we enjoy talking and spending time with.
Friends - Shared Dinners Together + Lots of Stories and Plenty of Laughs
The 7 Sisters
Tuesday, February 21 - Day 11 - Southbound
2:00 pm - As we travel further south there is less and less snow on the mountains lining the fjords - so the pictures are not as spectacular as the ones we have taken over the last few days.
4:00 pm - Docked in Krisiansund for an hour and although we didn't leave the ship, I was able to get some good pictures of the harbor area as the sun was setting and we were leaving port.
Channel Marker Leading to Open Sea
Wednesday, February 22nd - Day 12 - Southbound
9:00 am - We had our last breakfast this morning with our friends L&B and E&H. L&B were telling us all about their excursion last evening to a marble cave. they could not join us for dinner last evening, so we took their bottle of wine back to our cabin and gave it to them at breakfast.
12:00 pm - Scheduled to dock in Bergen around 2:30, We are staying at the Clarion Hotel at the Bergen airport this evening because we have an early flight out tomorrow morning to Copenhagen (about an hour) with a connecting flight into Washington (Dulles). Once I get home I will post some additional comments about the trip - what I liked and what I didn't.
Thursday, February 23rd - Heading Home
4:15 am - The Clarion Hotel at Bergen Airport is a new, modern hotel with a very good restaurant. The big advantages to this hotel is that it is just a 2 or 3 minute walk to the airport terminal and they have a very early (4 am) buffet breakfast for travelers like us, who have to catch an early flight.out the next morning.
5:45 am - Boarding for a 1 hour flight over to Copenhagen, Denmark and then a 5 hour layover before our flight into Washington Dulles.
12:00 pm - Most routes east or west between North America and Europe fly just south of Greenland. Today, however, the pilot decided to fly further north over Greenland to avoid the jet stream and give us a smoother flight. One of the flight attendants told us when you fly over Greenland its usually dark (west to east) or its cloudy (east to west). But not today - crystal clear at 35,000 feet - completely snow covered with huge mountains.
3:15 pm - Landed in Dulles and thanks to our new Global Entry capability, we breezed through US Customs in less then 5 minutes. For people without Global Entry, the waiting time in line was approximately 35 - 45 minutes - not what you want after getting off a long flight.
Overall - I am happy to say that we achieved our #1 goal, which was to see the Northern Lights and for that our overall satisfaction is very high.
Scenery and the People - Norway is a beautiful country and to be able to see it in winter is something special. The towns, the fjords, the snow covered mountains. The people are very friendly and virtually everyone speaks english in addition to Norwegian and quite often German as well.
Food - Overall, I thought the food was very good, Buffet style breakfast and lunch and a prefix 3 course dinner. My only complaint was that it was a single main course - Some evenings I would have preferred a second choice. The wine package that came with our cabin was excellent.
Wi-Fi - I have to say the wi-fi was very good - dependable and fairly fast. It was as good, if not better then the local Panera or Starbucks I go to at home. Yes, and although it did cost 400 Krones (about $50), I felt it was well worth it.
Excursions - Only one of our excursions was cancelled, dog sledding, and that was because of a lack of sufficient snow. Some excursions were better then expected (Fishing Village Walk) and others fell a little short, mainly because of weather - At the North Cape, it was snowing very hard so we could not get those iconic pictures of the globe looking out to the North Sea. With the exception of Bergen, most of the towns are not that big, so DM and I preferred to do self-guided walking tours using maps they provided us with at each port.
Photos - Finally, to see all of our pictures from this trip, click here to go to Smugmug, our photo sharing website.