Thursday, May 29, 2014
By Land or by Sea...The North Coast of Norway
Norway is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. That's a simple fact. There are a dozen cruise lines that will guide you in and out of fjords, look at glaciers and waterfalls, show you the old time fishing villages, and in general show you a really good time. Problem is, I don't like to do the normal thing. Therefore, I decided to talk about a couple of different routes to take with exploring the coast of Norway.
Let's be honest, in today's world of modern and amazing engineering, you can drive it. The Atlantic Highway goes all along the coast of Norway, in and out of fjords, to and from little archipelagos like the Lofoten Islands, and over some amazing bridges. This method does give you ultimate freedom to go where you want when you want. The road does go to most of the places that the cruises go. The only problem with that is that you have to figure out where you're going. I like that kind of thing, but a lot of people do not.
I'm not going to lie. This is listed as one of the top ten beautiful drives in the world. Here's the thing. I love a good drive. I really do. It's just that in a place like Norway, I want to watch the scenery. I want to see everything. I don't want to watch the road. So, driving Norway's Atlantic Coast? This is for the return visitor. This is for the person who saw everything on the first trip. Once you've looked at some of the world's most amazing scenery, you will be ready to experience the drive. It will be spectacular. I promise. Just make sure you've rented with unlimited miles and insurance. Watch out for the weather, because it can sneak up on you and be terrifying. That being said, have a wonderful time if you take the road. If you've never been there, try a cruise.
First timers for the coast of Norway, I have a cruise for you. Hurtigruten. These guys have been around for about 120 years. That alone is amazing. The Norwegians refer to these guys as the mail boat. That's right, they also deliver freight and the mail all up and down the coast. They run from Bergen, that historic town that everyone on Earth has heard of to Kirkenes in the north inside of the Arctic Circle and nearly to the Russian border. They are the locals and that is why I would recommend this as one of the few cruises in the world truly worth taking. This is called the world's most beautiful voyage, and they aren't joking.
Bergen is the start and/or finish port for the cruise. Bergen is one of the better known coastal towns in Norway, having gone from fishing hub to tourist town over the years. This little berg has all the shopping, eating, and lodging that you will want before and after your trip.
Trollstigen is another stop on this cruise. True, if you take the road you can simply drive the Troll's Road, but the Hurtigruten Cruise sends you out in a tour bus so that you don't have to do the driving. You can take your time to marvel at one of the greatest roads in the world. It goes up and down, through, and across fjords to give you one of the most amazing drives in your life. There are many hairpin curves on this road and at the top there is normally snow, no matter what the season.
You'll never forget a trip on the Trollstigen Road.
Svartisen Glacier is another stop along the way. If you're into travel and you like these northern latitudes and glaciers, then you've probably seen a photo or a video of this place. It's one of Norway's largest glaciers and it's a very popular stop for all the cruise lines. It's sometimes referred to as the black glacier, because the snow has so much sediment in it that it does look black from certain angles. I think that it takes a lot of imagination to really see it as black, but whatever.
Trondheim is another interesting stop on the trip. Along with all those wonderful old fishing village style buildings in red and yellow, Trondheim has the Nidaros Cathedral. This is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in all of Europe and well worth a stop. It has flying buttresses, copper roofs, painted glass and the whole nine yards. It's a gorgeous cathedral.
The mail boat goes to the Lofoten Islands as well. This small archipelago is one of the most scenic spots along the coast with 1000 meter high mountains just popping up out of the ocean, and tiny fishing villages all along the way. This is the part of Norway that you most often see on calendars and puzzles.
Svolvaer is the largest town in these parts, and one of the most scenic. This is a great spot to take off on a fishing excursion. But, if that's not your thing, you can just poke around town and check out all the great stuff and great places to eat.
Tromso is the heritage part of the tour. Here you will find all the museums about Nordic life. You will also find the largest excavated settlement of the Vikings. They even have the remains of some of the Viking royalty from days gone by. They have a long boat and a lot of other things. Tromso is one of the main stops on all the cruises.
Hammerfest is the northernmost city in the world, period. This place is a huge fishing and industrial city sticking out there in the North Atlantic and Barents Sea. They are also coming into play as the oil companies move farther and farther north. They are a boom town that seems to just keep on booming.
Nordkapp--the North Cape. You can't miss it. If you're this close, you must stop. It's a quest kind of a thing, like going to any other extreme cape on the planet. There is a monument there that you must take your picture with. It's just something that travelers do. It can't be helped. However, don't be expecting nice weather. The odds are against it, just like all the other extreme capes. That's why they are extreme.
Kirkenes is the last stop in the north on this trip. This town is amazing. They've been through a lot of wars. Everyone has tried to wreak havoc on this place. Why? Well, that's the adventure for anyone that's at the end of the rainbow of this trip. You didn't really think it was just the cruise, did you? Kirkenes sits very close to the border with Russia. You didn't even think about that one, did you? That's right. Way up there in the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't set in the summer, there is an international border with mighty Russia.
There is a special excursion that the Hurtigruten Cruise will send you on to go and visit the border. You have a guide, and you will see a lot of other northern sights along the way, but it's unique. Most of us never get to Russia, much less see the border from Norway. It's a great experience and you'll only get it outside of Kirkenes, Norway.
Hurtigruten Cruises provides a lot of things that you don't get on the regular cruise, like King Neptune's Arctic Baptismal. That's a show that the cruises are famous for that you can't see anywhere else. The mail boats also go through some of the most narrow straits and fjords along the coast. Other cruise ships can't get in there. They also go to some places that you absolutely cannot get to by car. I don't normally go for a cruise, but this one is different. They've been around for over 100 years. They are the mail service, so they go no matter what.
The other thing that most people worry about when I mention alternative ship travel is the accommodations. Trust me, the ships have multiple levels of luxurious accommodations. They have restaurants, great cabins, and some of them even have a glass elevator. Some of them have pools and spas. You can observe from fabulous indoor locations if the weather isn't to your liking or you can go outside with the hearty souls like me. There are activities and everything. It's wonderful. You won't regret it.
So, it's summertime. Come and see the endless days, the beautiful scenery of Lofoten, Islands of the Gods, check out a fjord, soak up some history, and have a great time on a cruise the way the locals go. It's a great trip. It's the one and only time that you will take a guided tour to the border between Norway and Russia. It's the only time that you'll get to visit the north cape and take a picture of the globe that stands at N71 degrees 10 feet 21 inches. It's an adventure that you'll never forget. It's an adventure that just begs for a thousand pictures. It's a great adventure for anyone.