LOVE TO WANDER
Hurtigruten translates literally as the Coastal Express. The service started in 1893 - the Hurtigruten name was first used in 2006. Before the service began, a letter from Trondheim took three weeks to reach Hammerfest in Summer and five months in Winter. The service opened up access to the outside world for all the isolated villages along the Norwegian coast. Tourism was always part of the basis for the Coastal Express though with brochures printed in several languages promoting the wild and beautiful coastline of the Land of the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights enticing international travellers from all over the world to "find their inner explorer".
It was interesting to see in the Hurtigruten Museum that when the service first started, there were three classes. First class passengers were allowed out on deck to see the views and had their meals in the restaurant and their own cabins. In third class, you had to bring your own food, the sleeping facilities were dormitory style and you weren't allowed to go up on deck to see the views. The class system was abandoned in the 1970s and the ships were designed to give all passengers as comfortable an experience as possible.
Despite a good safety record, the Coastal Express Line has been shaken by dramatic incidents in times of war and peace. 8 ships and 97 lives have been lost in peace time and 9 ships and 700 lives during WW11. It is all too easy to forget when you are gliding along in the safe hands of the crew all the effort that goers into planning and navigating these waters which at one time were thought to be too dangerous for any regular ferry service - particularly in the dark depths of Winter.
During the war, one of the ships was paid for in Norwegian cod due to difficulties with cashflow!
Tips for Future Travellers:
Our cabin was in the middle of deck 3-convenient for the restaurant and excursion departures and less rocky than cabins towards the fore and aft of the ship. The cabin was small, but comfortable enough with two single beds, one of which converts to a sofa during the day. There isn't much space - a squashy holdall would probably be the best luggage to bring as you could fold it up and tuck it out of the way under the bed during the voyage. Larger suitcases can be left with the luggage service once emptied, if you like though. Port side is probably better than starboard as you get a better view of the ports when the ship docks - although the portholes are only small, so you are better to be out on deck if you want a good view anyway.
A nice alternative to the round trip voyage would have been to travel one way from Bergen to Kirkenes, stay at the ice hotel for a couple of nights and then fly back to Bergen - and/or Oslo for a few nights. With hindsight, this is what I would have booked.
The choice to opt for the 8 hike Winter activity package could probably also have been improved on. A half package with 4 hikes would have allowed you to do the best of the walks in Vesterålen, Trondheim, Bodø and Tromsø, leaving you free to book other excursions in the other ports. If I was choosing now, I would have picked the kayaking trip in Ålesund (lovely views from the water); Fishing villages or the North Cape in Honningsvåg, City tour and Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim (or just a walk around on our own). This would have given us a better mix of activities overall.
Wish I had packed:
A different jacket for mountaineering - something light, windproof and waterproof, but breathable - the down jacket is great for standing around in, but not for serious hiking.
Some cooler clothes. I didn't wear the thermal underwear at all and was wearing a sleeveless T shirt most of the day towards the end of the trip when the weather turned and the heating was turned up.
Goodbye - and thanks very much for an enjoyable and memorable voyage!
Photo I wished I could have taken:
The Land of the Midnight Sun - a postcard will just have to do!
A husky dog - full face, capturing the glint in the eyes anticipating the next opportunity to run in the snow...