One of the highlights on our southbound trip on MS Nordnorge is when we cross the Arctic Circle in Norway. There have notably always been certain rituals related to crossing the polar circle. Polar baptism is an act for those who cross for the first time. To our great surprise, though, Hurtigruten introduces quite another tradition to the passengers on the southbound voyage.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 04 JAN 2020
As we board MS Nordnorge in Svolvaer by the end of the day, the weather changes unexpectedly fast from bright and shining sun to a regular snow storm. Even if it is April, there are still moments of winter weather and snow in the air on the Lofoten Islands.
When approaching the ship, we notice that the passengers now disembarking MS Nordnorge have appropriately dressed for more winter-like conditions with warm hats firmly pulled down over their ears and jackets zipped all up. With the weather forecast in mind, they have seemingly got ready for some hours in real tough, stormy weather. As far as we understand from the sporadic comments we hear passing them, some have even booked a horse ride on the beach!
MS Nordnorge is part of the Hurtigruten fleet
The Hurtigruten company was founded by the Norwegian ship captain, politician and businessman Richard With. With a profound wish to improve the infrastructure around the small coastal villages, until then all served by different ferry companies, he incorporated the routes into the Hurtigruten services.
The ships are still today being used by both locals for transport, goods delivery and postal service and as cruise ships with passengers from near and far. Its route is both northbound and southbound along the Norwegian coast.
Due to receiving state subsidies, Hurtigruten has committed itself to serving all the small ports along the Norwegian west coast. There are therefore daily calls at all ports, such that you can embark and disembark according to preference and needs.
At the moment a fleet of 11 out of 15 ships operate up and down the coast. A few ships serve Svalbard as well. Likewise, Hurtigruten has during the last years extended its routes to comprise even more distant locations and have today cruise ships reaching as far as Greenland and Antarctica.
Aboard MS Nordnorge
Aboard MS Nordnorge we are introduced to a variety of Norwegian specialities in the restaurant. The buffet features ‘fenalår’ (salted, dried and cured leg of lamb), reindeer, freshly caught salmon, dishes of stockfish and ‘bokna lam’ – another dish made from dried lamb. Among the desserts we find a goat cheese ice cream which, maybe a bit surprisingly, is absolutely delicate!
In the morning the breakfast buffet matches the quality of the dinner buffet and abounds with smoked and freshly marinated salmon and halibut as well as gravlax. It is all accompanied by colourful cucumber and raspberry smoothies.
MS Nordnorge is one of the modern ships which underwent an interior restoration in 2016. The ship has an expedition team on board who arrange excursions from the ports of call and give lectures on relevant subjects on board. Moreover, on the deck just a few steps from our cabin, there is the coolest Jacuzzi!
The polar circle in Norway alias the Arctic Circle
Our cabin is equipped with a flatscreen of considerable size on which we can follow the position and route of the ship. Additionally, we have from our bed a phenomenal view through the window to the islands and snow-covered mountains we pass. To complete the Arctic setting, we can use the ‘Arctic Purée’ at disposal in the bathroom to wash our hair in – maybe at least when we cross the Arctic Circle, which is the same as the northern polar circle!
The weather is remarkably changeable in this region. One moment we experience the brightest sunshine and sensations of spring. The next, we need to put on thick layers of clothes to be adequately protected against the polar climate. In fact, we continuously change clothes on board. Solid winter boots, thermal underwear, woolen jumpers, hats and gloves are repeatedly replaced by indoor shoes and a somewhat lighter outfit for the lounges!
Our small rucksacks also include an appropriate shirt for dinner, although the dress code on board is utterly casual. A few passengers seem to have given priority to being elegant and stylish in the restaurants rather than warmly dressed on the deck. We spot both summer jackets, short skirts, thin shoes and a couple of bare feet on a few passengers outside in a lighter snow storm!
The changeable weather teaches us to take advantage of the good moments during the day for outdoor activities. When the sun appears in the afternoon, the Jacuzzis on deck six get popular and ultra fast filled with passengers in bathing costumes … and hats! If you like, you can continue to the sauna afterwards.
We soon realise that the cruise passengers on MS Nordnorge differ a bit from the passengers on the Hurtigruten ship MS Richard With, which we took on the first part of our trip to Lofoten. Whether coincidental or not, the passengers seemed a bit more dynamic in activity level on MS Richard With.
On this slightly more modernised ship we find quite a few passengers literally floating in the comfortable, reclining chairs in the panorama lounge. In sharp contrast, the gym room is astonishingly empty most of the time! Moreover, the eagerness to come ashore in the small coastal villages is not quite as pronounced as we experienced on the first ship.
This is also what we hear. Passenger segments are different on many of the ships! According to what we are told, it is most noticeable on the very old and legendary MS Lofoten from 1968 with traditional, primitive berths and not even any stabilisers. The interior is, though, in a class of its own with stylish wooden as well as leather furniture and polished brass. That seemingly attracts, in particular, well-travelled passengers who precisely seek this kind of atmosphere on board.
MS Nordnorge passes the Arctic Circle
One of the absolute highlights on the trip is when we are going to pass the Arctic Circle.
Well suited to the situation, we all of a sudden enter directly into a lighter snow storm, reminding all passengers of the northerly latitude. There is not much sight now, but we can just discern the marking of the Arctic Circle.
The specific location is clearly marked on a rock we closely navigate by – this is for a vast majority of the passengers really a climax. We probably have not seen that many people gathered on the deck until now.
The crew prepare a small ceremony on deck. They bring plentiful bottles of cod liver oil, so that everyone can get a spoonful. It is clear that this tradition and offer evoke memories and even emotions among the passengers. Some look at it with disgust and others approach out of mere curiosity.
Old traditions in Norway related to the Arctic Circle
This is an old Arctic tradition, and it is practiced now that we pass the polar circle.
The well-heeled can supplement with a glass of exquisite champagne to relieve the bitter aroma. The entire ceremony is accompanied by traditional, Norwegian tuneful music and catchy song. The crew have put on their polar hats, which are matched by a reindeer hat worn by one of the passengers, presumably just achieved on his Norway trip – the perfect outfit for crossing the Arctic Circle!
All courageous passengers can keep the special Artic Circle spoon, which each participant receives when lining up for the cod liver oil tasting – a fine souvenir from Norway!
It is announced through the loudspeaker when we meet a northbound Hurtigruten ship, and the ship horn duly sounds when passing.
The Helgeland Coast (Helgelandskysten) is magnificent with snowcapped peaks both to the starboard side and the port side, since we go inshore between the rocky islands. The Seven Sisters at Sandnessjoen are partly covered in light, white clouds which nearly melt together with the mountains.
Sandnessjøen is both a fishing, a shipbuilding and an oil town. The oil and natural gas resources are a welcomed injection into the local communities with the jobs they create.
In Bronnoysund, on the long peninsula, we walk at brisk pace to reach the small lake full of nimble and chirping birds as well as the old neogothic church from 1870 with medieval foundations.
Back in the port we notice a group of people gathering on the wharf. Seemingly, their attention is captured by something in the water. Slowly approaching, we realise that it is a lively otter that has found its way to the dock. It swims along the ship under the car tires attached to the pier. Every now and then it sporadically peeps up before continuing among the clearly visible small fish in the ice-cold sea water.
The captain competently navigates between the rocks all the way round Torghatten. It is the spectacular rock with a considerable hole inside, so that you can look all through it! At first we think that we will not really be able to see it from the ship, but with an appropriate course, the ship is maneuvered in position, such that we get the right angle to discover the phenomenon! From the deck we even get a magnificent view to it and clearly see the light through the hole in the massive rock!
It is this year Hurtigruten’s 125th anniversary. For this occasion the company serves a five-course Captain’s Dinner during the cruise, and that is precisely today. All MS Nordnorge passengers and quite a few crew members are seated for a glass of champagne followed by specialities like the Lofoten cod and a cloudberry icecream dessert.
The sea voyage comes to an end for us. Next morning we disembark from MS Nordnorge at Trondheim Fjord. Compared to many other international cities, Trondheim is a small-scale city.
Nevertheless, the municipality is the third most populous in the country. Trondheim is known for having the largest university in Norway, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) with over 30,000 students as well as the renowned Nidaros Cathedral in Romanesque and Gothic style.
The settlements go back to the Viking Age. The Cathedral is built over the burial site of King Olav II who was killed in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. He was canonised as Saint Olav by the Bishop of Nidaros. Trondheim remained the capital of Norway until 1217. Later it became the seat of the Lutheran Diocese of Nidaros, and after the Reformation the Cathedral became part of the State Church of Norway.
Still today it is the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world and a pilgrim destination for many Europeans. Just as we stand in front of the impressive building, we happen to see ‘a pilgrim’ arrive on ski, take them off and carry them on his shoulder while approaching. He then leaves the skies behind and enters the Cathedral.
Finally being in Trondheim, we naturally want to take advantage of the perfect opportunity to see the historic old town. We continue towards the Nidelven River flanked by the old colourfully painted timber buildings on the embankment and the iconic red painted wooden bridge, Gamle Bybro, from 1685, crossing the river.
The scenic and authentic old riverside warehouses with the fronts partly resting on wooden pillars in the water are just amazingly unique in Norway and in the world!
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