Monday, 3 December 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 12

Hurtigruten MAP_0014
Back to Bergen and then home

The last 4½ hours of the trip are spent on the panorama lounge at the front of the ship because our cabin has to be vacated by 10 am to enable it to be prepared for the next trip and new passengers.

We steam south on a very calm sea with a clear sunny sky and reports of temperatures of –7c in Bergen (it was 8c when we arrived 12 days ago).

Although the scenery is nothing spectacular, the occasional something pops up to delight us such as this island which

Isolated houses

 is not very large but has on it a few houses

Isolated Houses Close Up
Isolated Location

arranged around a light house. All of the islands have a slight covering of snow although it feels too cold outside to snow.

Then we pass through a very narrow channel called

Shoemakers Channel Approach

Shomakeren Channel which is named after a shoemaker who lived nearby and made a good living from repairing the shoes of sailors on passing ships.

It is marked by a couple of lights,

Shoemakers Port

one on either side of the channel.

Shoemakers rear view

It looks narrow to us and would feel even narrower on larger ships in the fleet and apparently is so narrow that the largest ships often choose to avoid it, particularly at night.

Waves

One thing we noticed when sailing up the coast was that almost every rock was marked by a lighthouse or small light such as those in the photographs above.

Bergen approach

As we approach Bergen, we are greeted by a snowy landscape

Bergen Hurtigruten

and shortly we see an empty Hurtigruten quay awaiting our on-time arrival.

The MS-Lofoten’s Fog Horn

I have been attempting to record the Lofoten’s fog horn for a number of days without success.

It does not sound it if we are in the “official fleet hours of darkness” (not when it is actually dark because that can be most of the day).

It sometimes sounds it when we pass another ship of the fleet but the convention is that the north bound ship determines if it is to be lights flashing or fog horns sounding and all of the ships in the past few days have flashed lights.

It also sounds it when we approach a port and about five minutes before we leave it but again, only in the official hours of day light.

A combination of all of the above rules means that I have not managed to record it during the past week!

However – my failed attempts have (apart from creating some mirth amongst my fellow passengers) come to the attention of our Guide and the ship’s Captain and it has been agreed that I will be given prior warning of when it sounds as we approach our final destination. They have also agreed to sound the noisier of the two fog horns and so, 10 minutes out of the port I get to hear the horn

and if you click on the play arrow above, you will hear all 22 seconds of it yourself!


Leaving Lofoten

And so, we arrive and disembark for the last time,

Last View

and we get a last view of the MS Lofoten which will be leaving port to repeat the trip (in about 8 hours time) as it has done more than 1500 times over the past 48 years and will continue so to do until around 2018 when it might be taken out of service.

Bags 
Our bags have arrived back in the terminal before we do,

Coach

the ever efficient Norwegian transport system ensures that the coach to the airport is waiting outside of the terminal

Snowy Bergen

and about 5 minutes after getting off the Lofoten, we are moving with speed along snowy roads towards the airport in a country

Smowy Bergen

where they have even cleared the pavements of snow. Snow does not seem to cause any problems here.

Our flight home is nearly empty (16 passengers in a 169 seat plane) and arrives on time and follows the usual route with three

Flight Back

times round the holding pattern to the east of London because of congestion at Heathrow.

Putting to one side the breakdown of the inter-terminal railway at Heathrow Terminal 5 giving us a 30 minute delay and a long walk plus the fact that only two of the e-passport gates were working, we quickly collect our bags, eventually get to our car and drive home on nearly deserted snow free roads.

And so, 12 days and 13 hours after we closed our front door, we open it again to a warm house (thank-you Monica) and unpack before going to bed.

And on the following morning, we wake up to the news that our local airport is closed because 1 cm of snow has fallen on the runway overnight. This would never happen in Norway!!!

So what did we think of our trip?

It is difficult to summarise a 12 day trip like this but:

Travelling there

We travelled there and back independently because we thought the Hurtigruten quoted charge for arranging flights, a hotel and buses was ridiculously high. So high in fact, that our own costs of getting to Bergen and back (for the two of us) were less than the Hurtigruten charge for one person.

The hotel we stayed at in Bergen (The Terminus) was fine and we have no complaints or comments at all on it.

The MS Lofoten

The MS Lofoten is a lovely old ship (48 years old). The key word here is “old” – it creaks and rattles a bit, it is faded in parts, it has no stabilisers, it has “no” many things and that is why people choose it. The crew work hard at maintaining it. We found them cleaning the outside windows at 11 pm when we were in one port, and the cleaner onboard when we seemed to be polishing the brass and sweeping spotless floors continuously. Heating on the ship was a bit erratic – we were either far too hot or a little cold, again it is an old ship thing.

The Lofoten is small and that is its greatest asset because provided you make an effort to join in, then you rapidly become part of its small family. I think that in high season with some 350 people on board, it might feel a bit over crowded and certainly the forward lounges (on two levels) could not house everyone if they wanted to see things from the front.

Overall, the cabins are ok. We were lucky with our one which was excellent, those down in the bowels of the ship might feel a bit cramped and some might be noisy but I have no means of comparing these cabins to those on the larger ships – they might be exactly the same and this might not be a small ship thing.

Do you want to travel in a home or a hotel is really the question you should ask when choosing a ship.

The food

Dinner was well presented and very good and not over-facing in quantity. Lunch similarly was very good although the vegetarian hot meal option rarely looked (or tasted) inviting. The lunch salad buffet and numerous desserts were superb. Breakfast was ok but only barely so for vegetarians.

Alcoholic drinks are ridiculously expensive (a Norway not a Hurtigruten thing) but you can drink your own alcohol in your cabin (absolutely not anywhere else in the ship). Whilst you can get water with your meal, the staff are not allowed to leave a carafe of water on your table unless you have paid 19NoKr for it and there is no tap or jug of water for you to top up your glass yourself. This seems very peculiar and as a result I felt thirsty during most meals.

The company has a policy of moving tourists meal times to accommodate trips (a perfectly reasonable thing) or to accommodate groups coming onboard at a port to eat a meal (this seems to be a Norwegian custom) and the subsequent meal times were far too early. When you are going out on a Hurtigruten arrange tour, there is no facility for you to substitute a meal for a packed meal (which you could then eat when you were hungry and at a more appropriate time) and therefore you have to sneakily make something at the table and take it out with you.

Ship’s Services

All ships have an on-board Tour Leader. Ours was the multi-lingual Asgeir LarsenAsgeir Larsen and we thought he worked very hard to ensure that our trip went smoothly and that when there were hitches (such as not enough people to run a booked excursion) that an alternative was provided. He also had a sense of humour and on most occasions, could match ours!

Every night after dinner, we collected a programme for the following day which showed port arrival and departure times, places of significance, ship passing times etc. Written by Asgeir, it was very useful.

Our cabin was cleaned promptly and well every morning whilst we were at breakfast.

The right time of year

We chose to go in winter because we wanted to see the snow and the northern lights. We only saw snow up in the far north and we saw the northern lights on three evenings. Seeing either is a bit of a gamble and we won on this occasion. We understand why people repeat the trip in their “other season” and when time allows, we will do a summer trip. We might go on a larger boat because although it will have more passengers, it will have much more space and therefore might not feel as crowded (as we think the Lofoten might) when it is full.

In summary

A great 12 days which we thought was good value for money. We travelled with a great bunch of fellow travellers and thought that the service the Hurtigruten staff gave us was excellent.

Next – In February 2013, polio vaccine distribution in India with my Rotary club.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 11

Our fellow passengers

Fellow Passengers

a number of the 16 who travelled south

The website Cruise Critic describes a typical Hurtigruten passenger thus:

Americans form a minority (about 10 percent) of the passengers, and those who find the line attractive are usually well-travelled and sophisticated, and yet unpretentious individuals who are comfortable among Europeans. They tend to be independent sorts who like to take control of their own vacation experiences, and are perfectly content simply enjoying the passage of spectacular scenery and picturesque communities.

The average age of the typical passenger is toward the high end of the spectrum, and families are few and far between. However, one of the charms of these voyages is that the complexion of the passenger load often changes literally from hour to hour as the portion made up of point-to-point travellers can shift in age radically between the many and varied port calls.

Whilst we are not American, we are assuming that Cruise Critic would regard their advice and guidance to be equally valid for British travellers.

On our trip there were only  16 “sophisticated, well travelled, unpretentious, high end of the age spectrum” fellow passengers undertaking the round trip plus 3 going one way (north) only, 3 of the 19 were single travellers. We were joined by a number of short trip passengers travelling from one port to another. This varied from 3 to 29 (who were travelling between two ports and eating their Christmas dinner at the same time).

It is absolutely true that this trip is not suitable for anyone who delights in the attractions of the modern 5000 passenger cruise ship with 24 hour everything. Whilst the ship’s cafe is open 24 hours a day, there you pay for everything and it is not cheap. Entertainment is that which you make for yourself and diversion comes from making the effort to talk to fellow sophisticates!

Our group did consist of “experienced travellers” who in the main, had chosen the boat for what it was and also for what is was not. A few had been on Hurtigruten before and for one, this was his 31st trip and he had already booked his 32nd for March 2013! All of us enjoyed each other’s company and we got on very well as a group. At various ports. we all visited larger vessels operating the route and universally agreed that we had the better deal for seeing Norway in winter. Those who came onto our small ship from the large vessels for a look around seemed to be rather envious of our homely atmosphere and the fact that we all knew each other and socialised most of the time. One commented that there were so few travellers on their ship (65!!) that they never met each other because the ship was so large.

Hurtigruten MAP_0013

To Trondheim and further south

Today is a day of long sailings and not many ports (4). At around 7 am we arrive at Trondheim and are berthed next to the largest ship of the fleet MS Finnmarken. This

MS Finnmarken

behemoth (as far as we are concerned) can manage 1000 passengers and currently has more on it (150 plus another 150 who came on-board for breakfast) than we have had in total over the last 12 days.

Sunrise

Although it has been light for some while today, my camera records that this sunrise picture was taken at 1226

Sunset

and that this sunset picture was taken at 1448. The duration of sunset was the longest I have ever seen and one of the most beautiful with a red sky going from one side of the horizon to the other for a long time and slowly contracting to the west.

We are conscious of the fact that we are now travelling through less interesting countryside (as compared to the harsh beauty of the far north) and also that we are travelling to catch flights home. We have been given our final onboard bills and agreed the refund process for cancelled trips and packing is something to be fitted in before we have to vacate our cabins by 1000 tomorrow.

We are also further depleted in number because five people got off at Trondheim to complete the journey to Oslo by train. Travelling now does feel very much like going home and the scenery has become less interesting. We can understand why some choose to get off at Trondheim and get the train to Oslo for a speedier return, never-the-less, we will have done the complete trip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back which gives us some satisfaction – it might have felt like cheating had we got off early.

We continue to get off the boat for some quick exercise whenever we get to a port in order to walk off some of the calories we have eaten.

We got off at Molde on the way north and do so again on the way south – we were last here a week ago and in these seven days, the town has got out all of its Christmas decorations and the town and its shops windows look very

Molde Pig-1

Molde Pig

Molde Christmas

Molde Christmas-1

nice indeed.

I am also able to add to my collection of Norwegian

Molde Manhole whale

Manhole Cover photographs with one from Molde which features a whale. These pictures were taken with an Ipod camera and therefore are not very good – sorry.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 10

Keeping occupied for 12 days

Before we left, we spent much time considering how we would keep ourselves occupied for 12 days on a slow boat to northern Norway and back. We are used to being extremely active and there was a worry about becoming bored.

Our packing list therefore included: books, an Ipod (books, music, downloaded TV programmes), Sudoku (difficult and fiendish), Times crosswords, laptop for writing the blog, binoculars for watching wildlife etc and lots of Christmas Cards for writing. There is no internet for passengers on the Lofoten and we are advised to seek cafes or libraries ashore if we want to check emails or, if we are in a port at the same time as any other member of the fleet, to nip on board that ship and use its free internet – slow but useable for emails..

We booked six excursions before we left the UK (two were cancelled during our trip due to low numbers and a third was supposed to have been cancelled but was reinstated – this is a problem common to all boats during the low season months since a larger boat does not necessarily mean more passengers)

Whilst we were not intending to get off the boat at the remaining 61 ports, we developed a simple routine which maximised our walking time ashore and therefore the number of ports at which we could get off at and stretch our legs. This routine was to be ready and waiting at the gang plank when it touched the dockside and then get off as quickly as possible, walk towards the village / town / or whatever there is to see for just under half the time we are to be docked, turn around and do a fast return to the boat. Time keeping is critical because the boat does not wait for you if you are late.

About 10 minutes before we arrive at any port, the fog horn is sounded to warn those ashore that the boat is arriving and this was our final warning to start getting dressed for shore since it took at least 10 minutes to get all of our cold weather clothes on.

Hurtigruten MAP_0012

Back to the land of the sun and a busy day

On paper today looked like it would be a quiet day, but it

View North just above circle

north at 0900

turned out to be the exact opposite. There was more light when we got up than we had seen for many days. After being on deck at

Dawn

south at 0900 showing the possibility of the sun

0815 to see us pass the northbound MV Nordlys (lights flashed at each other) about 1 hour later we passed the Circle Marker South

marker point for the Arctic Circle in gloomy light with a ceremonial sounding of the ship’s horn.

Next there was the formal ceremony put on by the ship’s crew to celebrate our return to the sub-polar region.

Captain at Cod Liver Oil

Its importance was signified by the fact that the Captain (left) also attended. We were called out in pairs, sat in chairs in front of our fellow passengers and offered the opportunity to drink

The Cod Liver Oil

some Cod Liver Oil in order to keep us healthy. Having done this (I think to the surprise of the crew there were few “yuks” about the taste since all bar one of us (the Yummy

youngest) were regularly dosed with it when we were children (being post war babies). Having taken our medicine, we were

Cod Liver Spoons

presented with our dosing spoons as souvenirs.

We were then offered the opportunity to go onto the bridge and ask whatever questions we wanted about navigation, ships operation etc.

The Lofoten is a relatively unsophisticated ship as far as cruise boats go.

Bridge-1 

 Ships Wheel (2)

The Radar equipment

Electronic Chart-1

Navigation requires more action by the bridge team on this ship than on others in the fleet because whilst the electronics knows the route it would like the boat to take, it does not keep the boat to it, it merely shows when it is on and off course and therefore every change in course (and there are thousands) requires action from the bridge.

The electronic chart which also shows where we have been and where we will go to unless we change course and the route they would like to take (but the equipment is not sophisticated enough to automatically follow the planned route).

View from Bridge

So unless they change course slightly, the above chart shows that we will hit this island (we did change course slightly)

Ships Wheel 

This small lever is effectively the wheel and is used to change course slightly by changing the rudder or varying the pitch of the propellers.

Chart Room

There is a chart room behind the bridge which also houses other equipment.

The intricacies of steering into and out of port, using an anchor as a pivot point (the boat does not have bow or stern thrusters) and navigating if all of the electronics fails was explained.

Magnetic Compass 

A periscope and speaking tube is not found on many ships these days. We understood that there is a magnetic compass up very high for use as a backup if the electronic systems fail. The periscope is used to enable the helmsman to see which direction we are sailing in and the speaking tube is used when calibrating the compass – they do not use a phone because that would introduce something electric near the compass and perhaps interfere with the setting.

Full Speed Ahead     

We were pleased to see a traditional “full speed ahead” gauge (which was replicated down in the engine room). It was a privilege to see the bridge, particularly on a ship where more action is required of the team to keep us on course than on the very modern push one button and let it steer itself type ships found elsewhere.

Later, those that wanted to went down into the engine room

Entrance to engine room

(hot and oily) and clambered up and down all of the ladders etc. The engine is the original 1963 7 cylinder 2 stroke

Engine Room Gauge

Engine Room Plate

diesel engine which was installed when the ship was built.

Apparently the engine can be operated as a 4 cylinder

Engine Room Four

or a 3 cylinder engine if needs be (servicing or breakages).

Engine Room Three

Engine Room Electricity 

There are three electricity generators but because of the increasing electrical demands made these days, one of the original generators was recently replaced with a modern one (green) which is sufficiently powerful on its own to meet the total load and therefore the two old ones are kept as spares.

Engine Room Repeater

The engine room “full speed ahead” repeater

Engine Room Prop Shaft

and down in the very bottom of the ship was the prop shaft. The engine uses about 400 tons of fuel oil over its 5000 km trip.

Late in the afternoon, one of the engineers came to teach us the art of sailors knots- proficient is not a word I would use to describe our skills post instruction but it was good fun.

Knot InstructorKnot Chart

The knot instructor and the tasks

Knots a perfect sheet bend

A perfect sheet bend

Knots Bowline Hitch

a perfect bowline hitch

Knots His and Hers Sheet Bends

His and Hers sheet bends

Apart from these activities, there were also numerous ports

Nesna Terminal

visited today. The third port of the day was Nesna which is probably the only port we have visited where the terminal is painted in traditional Norwegian colours. Nesna is

Nesna Main Street

a very small village (950 inhabitants) in a most beautiful

Nesna View

Nesna Map

area of Norway but typical of the small isolated places we call at where the daily boat (one in each direction) is a lifeline. It is famous for its felt shoes and not much else.

Nesna View leavingThe sun started to set as we left Nesna (we were below the Arctic Circle so it could set although it had not been up very much) 

Nesna Mirage

and as it did so, we saw an example of a mirage out at sea where the islands in front of us appeared to be floating due to thermal changes in the water.

Sandnessjoen Bridge

Further south we passed the Helgelandsbrua (Helgelands Bridge) near Sandnessjoen is one of the pride and joys of the local inhabitants in that it is graceful and 395m between the pillars. The town itself is a typical small one shopping street town of 7500 inhabitants.

Sandnessjoen High Street

The main street is nothing special,

Sandnessjoen Christmas Decorations

the busiest shop in the high street was the one selling Christmas decorations – they seemed just to have had a large delivery and hence everyone was shopping there with their children (it was a Saturday morning) and stocking up for Christmas.

Sandnessjoen Building

There were a number of very pleasant (this one undergoing significant restoration) buildings,

Sandnessjoen Building-1

this one dates from 1923 in a very traditional severe style (now a pub belonging to the Dolly Dimples chain)

Sandnessjoen Building-2 

this large substantial wood built house

Sandnessjoen Statue Sandnessjoen Statue-1 Sandnessjoen Statue-2 Sandnessjoen Statue-4

but what struck us most was that throughout the town were quite a large number of unusual statues – why we do not know but they were all very nice to see.

Just after we left Sandnessjoen’s port, we passed the 568m mountain of Hestmannen which is (according to myth), the petrified remains of a wayward troll prince. The story has it that Hestmannen was overcome with lust after seeing the beautiful Lekam√łya bathing naked with the seven daughters of the troll king Sulitjelma and galloped south to abduct her, sending the panicked girls fleeing. As dawn broke, the seven were turned to stone, becoming the Seven Sisters mountain range.

SS-2 SS Map

The seven sisters are shown on the above chart as the line of seven black triangles and the picture above is taken from a position towards the bottom of the chart looking up the line of the sisters.

SS Sunset

And shortly after we pass the last of the sisters on a very calm sea in an absolutely freezing wind, the sun sets (as it now has a right to do) although it was not up very long.

I think that for me, this stretch of coast with its magic combination of mountains and light was the best section of the whole 5000km we have seen on this trip.

Further south we cruise (in the dark) past the rocky dome of Torghatten, which is pierced right through by a hole about 20 metres in breadth. The mythical explanation is that after failing to catch Lekam√łya, the petulant Hestmannen decided to shoot her instead. Fortunately, a benevolent troll king threw his hat between the two, which stopped the arrow and was petrified into Torghatten mountain.

Dinner was advertised as the Captain’s Dinner – it was

Dinner Assembly

nearly as normal except that all of the key members of the crew were present and we were told what a good group we had been and we told them what a good crew they had been then we toasted each other – we had Glug and because of the very strict alcohol policy applying to the crew (none ever whilst on board) they had a fruit punch.

Captains dinner

This is a vegetable wrap, the alternative had fish in it.

Captains Dinner-2 

Pepper Steak etc

Captains Dinner-1 

A stuffed pepper with a sliced roast potatoes with swede on top plus assorted quick fried vegetables served on the same pepper sauce as the meat eaters.

Desert was the Chef’s Bomb Surprise which was a sort of

Captains surprise

baked alaska ice cream cake with a firework in it.

Captains Surprise-1