Sunday 21st September
Today our 7 hour train journey took us from Bergen to Oslo. We left Bergen through a very long tunnel to reach the fjord and river system that would take us east to Voss. Climbing all the time through pine forests, close to Voss we reached the railways 800 metre summit beneath the ice fields of the Hardangerjokulen. Here we flashed past tundra and bare rock just as illustrated on the side of the locomotive. There were remote summer and winter sport resorts and isolated cabins here. People got on and off with rucksacks moving to upper or lower levels. The whole route was an engineering masterpiece, following valleys, clinging to mountainsides and piercing the mountains with around 180 tunnels and avalanche shelters. This makes it one of the highest adhesion (normal) railway lines in Europe.
After 5 hours we began our descent to Oslo Fjord where again the masterpiece of engineering was evident as we sped through long tunnels under the suburbs and even under the fjord to reach Oslo Central railway station.
Saturday 20th September
At 8:00 a.m. this morming at Floro on the western section of the Sogn Go Fjordane Province under black skies, torrential rain and poor visibility. We made slow progress to the mouth of the Sognefjorden, one of Norway’s longest.
The whole journey was a difficult one for navigation with cloud down to the sea and continuing torrential rain. This final day on the boat brought home the importance to the whole of Norway of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift’s influence on its climate. This moist and in winter relatively warm water and air keep the ports ice free even though on this voyage we have travelled to locations further north than mainland Canada and parts of Alaska (USA) which in winter are icebound.
After a 3100 mile journey we docked on time in Bergen. We stay here overnight in preparation for a very special railway journey tomorrow.
Friday 19th September
Overnight we travelled to Trondheim, arriving at breakfast time. This was quite a lengthy stop as cargo was unloaded and new cargo loaded as well as waste removed, fuel added and fresh foodstuffs and under our cabin window a super tanker transferring its load of beer to the ship.
We departed at 10:00 a.m. and sailed to open sea for some 4 hours along Trondheim fjord. At the mouth of the fjord we turned south and made the first stop of the day at Kristiansund. During the 17th – 19th centuries this was an island but since then causeways have been built to link it with other islands and the mainland to make a bigger town. The core of the town is built around the port and the original timbered buildings preserved complete with their signs showing which produce was processed inside the building and sometimes even its origin at the other side of the world.
As darkness falls we cling to the coast to reach Molde by 8:45 p.m. This is a short stop and for the rest of the night we will sail over open sea southwards to Floro.
Thursday 18th September
We negotiated more of the Lofoten Islands during the night to reach the Norwegian Sea and the crossing of the Arctic Circle marked by a globe on an island near the Horseman Mountain 568 metre high. There was a glass of champagne available as well as another ceremony to mark the crossing of the line.
Late morning saw us stop at Nesna, a small town reminiscent of many on the eastern seaboard of the USA with its marina, timber church and colourful buildings down to the waterfront. Our journey continued southwards, weaving our way through narrow channels between islands to reach the port at Bronnoysund. This was originally an island but the expansion of the port because of the fishing industry led to causeways being built that now makes it part of the mainland. One of Europe’s longest bridges crosses the entrance to the harbour.
By nightfall we had reached the port of Rorvik before crossing the Folda, an open stretch of sea that takes us to Trondheim by tomorrow morning.
Wednesday 17th September
Overnight we travelled across several fjords to reach Harstad. As we write we are weaving our way in between the islands that form the Lofoten Wall to the small port of Risoyhamn. Just before the port we sailed through the Risoyrenna, a 3 mile long, 100 metres wide and 7 metres deep, artificial channel opened in 1922 to assist navigation. it was a masterpiece of navigation as the big ship was turned on its axis in front of a big bridge and a small space to dock.
Upon leaving the port we negotiated the end of the narrow channel and yet another big bridge with little room to spare. During the afternoon we navigated through more narrow channels, some almost within reach from the cabin window, to the capital of the Lofoten Islands at Svolvaer. The sun has already set and in still waters the lights of the town are a stunning site reflected in the sea. Overnight we will cross the Vestfjord to reach Bodo¸ and by daylight, the mainland of Norway at Ornes.
Tuesday 16th September
This morning at 03:30 a.m. we left the ship for a coach journey of some 3 hours across the taiga and later the tundra to the North Cape. As dawn broke we saw the magnificent colours of the the tundra ground cover and the scattered lakes reflecting the night and early morning skies. The North Cape is the last rocky precipice of Europe overlooking the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean at 71.10.21. At the seaward end of the cliff is a steel globe marking the exact line of latitude. It is a remote, exposed and barren location but a popular tourist spot so facilities have been built on and under ground to service the visitors.
The journey to the Cape twisted over mountains, flat tundra summits, along fjord edges and through mountains and even under the sea by tunnels, one of which was 7 km in length. As it was very early morning traffic was light, in fact in 250 km we counted only 15 vehicles! As a result the groundwater dripping into the tunnels had formed slush on the roadway. After the Cape we made our journey across the mountains and tundra to Hammerfest to rendezvous with the ship across Sami territory.
Our journey onboard takes us southwards to Tromso where we will arrive around midnight. As we write the sun has set and we are passing solid, black, mountainous outlines with the occasional small settlement and small ships brightly illuminated.
These were the only polar bears we saw on our trip!
Around 10:00 p.m. we had the first sightings of the Northern Lights. These were faint at first but developed as night progressed. Our ship continued its journey to the Lofoten Islands.
Monday 15th September
While repairs are being made to the ship we have had an opportunity to explore the Rock Art of Alta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the largest known collection of rock carvings in Northern Europe made by the indigenous hunter-gatherer people of around 6200 – 2000 years ago. These carvings show animals that were hunted, the hunting techniques and the people themselves. They may have a symbolic meaning but for us they are a window into life in the past in the Far North. The people who drew/carved these lived on the edge of glacial meltwater lakes and either the lakes receded or the land rose because of the lack of the weight of ice from the Ice Age and today show life along several edges of these lakes, all at different levels. The area is surrounded by small forested areas but most stunningly by the taiga bushes and berries forming a green, yellow and red carpet with some of these growing in joints in the rocks.
It is anticipated that overnight we will go by coach to the North Cape for breakfast as we had planned then rejoin the boat at Hammerfest.
Sunday 14th September
During the night we entered open sea (Barents Sea) and experienced a ‘perfect storm’.
The high pressure over Europe and the high pressure over the Arctic squeezed the approaching low pressure from the Atlantic creating strong winds, high seas and meteorological confusion that results in swirling water, and during the night 29 foot high waves with a forecast of even higher, maybe up to 70 foot!!! This led to the ships four stabilisers breaking and although reaching 71.5 degrees north the ports ahead of us are small so the captain turned around and headed for the shelter of the fjords and the largest port in the area at Alta. We arrived here in the early afternoon.
We are staying here, using the ship as a hotel, until at least late Monday with the hope that German engineers will fly in and conduct repairs. We are currently planning our independent exploration of this infrequently visited place, which is the headquarters of the Midnight Sun observations.
There are people on board who would have left the ship at the terminus of the northbound journey at Kirkenes. As a result they have been provided with a coach journey of 7 hours across the mountains to the airport in time for their Monday plans.
This is the true North. As we write we see vast expanses of bare, grey granite with ice fields on the highest summits and stunted bushes and small trees showing signs of autumn in the geographical region known as ‘The Taiga’ which is just short of the tundra of the Polar regions which we would have seen if we had made the journey to Kirkenes. This is the only section of true tundra in Europe.
Saturday 13th September
Overnight we travelled northwards in between the Lofoten Islands. This wall of volcanic rock has been cut by the ice and the sea into mountainous and rocky islands. Our ship called in several ports and threaded its way to the open sea at Harstad. Our last call in the Lofoten Islands will be at Finnsnes.
After a short call in the very small port we negotiated very narrow channels to reach Tromso. The town is described as ‘The Arctic Gateway’. From here most of the Arctic expeditions of the 19th and early 20th century departed. On the waterfront is the Polar Museum which charts human activity in the Far North. Amundsen, the Norwegian bi-polar explorer, had this town as his base.
It was afternoon when we arrived but the light was the equivalent to early evening at home. The fjord here connects with the Norwegian Sea and so is tidal. When the tide meets one of the fastest sea currents in the world it makes reverse direction waves which are like mini tidal waves. These stir up the fish and the sea birds have a ‘fish fest’. There is a high concrete bridge here which we will sail under, with the Arctic Cathedral to our starboard at 18:30 p.m.
Overnight we will leave the Lofotens, cross open sea to reach Hammerfest, the most northerly town in the world.