I've never imagined in my life that one day I would get to visit Norway, let alone explore the country while cruising along the charming Norwegian coastal towns.
My interest in exploring the Arctic and polar regions started after my visit to Iceland. I heard many positive things about Norway, I was so thrilled to join the launching of the newly refurbished ship of Hurtigruten, MS Kong Harald.
Hurtigruten has been sailing the coast of Norway for more than 100 years now. They are the institution of exploration and considered the "fastest route" to Trondheim from Hammerfest and then they extended their services from Bergen to Kirkenes. Hurtigruten played a significant role in logistics and transportation of the Norwegians due to their unpredictable weather and perilous terrain, travelling by sea especially during the winter months is the most sensible and safest. Up to this date, Hurtigruten is still offering their services as a means of transport for the locals which for travellers like me, it is an excellent opportunity to immerse myself in understanding and appreciating Norwegian culture. Hurtigruten voyages are a cruise with character!
Cruising somehow has been stereotyped by many that it is only for the older generation, I'm here to tell you that there is more to it than that! Whether you are a young professional, family, single, couple or a group of friends you can enjoy this way of exploring different places around the globe or in my case Norway. I made this awesome travel video about our cruise in Norway with Hurtigruten.
This is my first ever cruise, Yes, I'm a cruise virgin! This experience converted me to the idea of cruising. I am sure we have all heard the different cliché lines about cruising before, like "waking up with various beautiful sceneries on your window every day" and much more. Well, I must say it's all true.
This journey started in Oslo where I had to catch a morning flight to Kirkenes. I had arrived the evening before my flight and Oslo was covered in snow, dark, windy and cold. I knew it would only get colder as I carried on my journey to Kirkenes, in the Northern part of Norway. My cruise itinerary started in Kirkenes to Trondheim, filled with loads of activities to see the beauty of the Norwegian coastal town.
On my arrival in Kirkenes together with the other guests, we were welcomed by the owner and staff of Snowhotel Kirkenes where we spent our night. Yes, a hotel made of snow and ice. I told you it would only get colder!
After the welcome briefing in the Snowhotel Kirkenes' reception, the staff of the hotel took care of our luggage while we were having lunch in the restaurant. After our quick lunch, we started to get ready for our first excursion of the day, Snowmobiling on the frozen fjords. It has been few years since I drove a motorbike and I found this experience a challenge. After the safety briefing, we rode the snowmobile in pairs. The speed limit in driving a snowmobile is 60kph, imagine that in icy conditions, that is pretty fast! Another popular activity here in Snow Hotel Kirkenes is their Husky Sledge Adventure!
While we were riding around the fjords, Ronnie, our guide, and co-owner of Snowhotel showed and told us about the King Crab Safari. This excursion is a big hit among the passengers on the Hurtigruten cruise. Part of the excursion is to harvest the King crabs from a hole on the frozen fjords and serve it in the nearby old cabin restaurant that is also part of the Snow Hotel. It was an incredible experience, especially when I held the King Crab that was almost half of my size!
These gigantic crabs were originally from Russia and migrated to Norway a few decades ago. Norwegians consider the King Crabs as a pest in Norway as it destroys everything that gets in its way. So, when you visit Norway, don't forget to eat one to help out in controlling its population!
After our exciting activity in the fjords, we headed towards the Gabba restaurant in the main part of the hotel, where we had a little introduction talk while having reindeer sausage and an arctic beer before we headed towards the Ice bar and to see their unique snow suites. The snow suites of the Snow Hotel are made up of ice with creative hand-made ice carvings and sculptures. The Snow Hotel also has cozy Gamme Cabins as an alternative lodging.
We had our welcome drink in the Ice Bar and a quick visit to all the suites before collecting our sleeping bags and having our dinner back in the restaurant. After the dinner, the staff briefed us on how to survive the night in the famous snow suites. They showed us the detailed instructions on how-to's and the do's and don'ts to have a the most comfortable sleep in my life ever! I surely did!
Just in case you are wondering how cold it was inside the snow suite, it's only minus 6-degree centigrade. It's warmer inside the snow suite compared to the outdoor temperature of minus 15 to minus 20-degree centigrade. It was one cold evening to remember and ticked-off in my travel bucket list.
Due to some last minute changes in our itinerary, we needed to catch our ship from Tromsø. From Kirkenes, we flew to Tromsø via Oslo. Tromsø is one of my dream cities to visit. I was so excited to see the Northern Lights City (also known as the gateway to the Arctic region).
We roamed around Tromsø and had a few pints and dinner in Mathallen. For an excellent finish to our evening, we watched the solemn and heart-warming concert in the Arctic Cathedral.
After the midnight concert, we went on board the MS Trollfjord to sail down to Lofoten the following day. MS Trollfjord is one of the Millennium ships of Hurtigruten that can accommodate 822 passengers. The interior of the vessel has classy design and ambiance.
The majestic views of Norwegian mountains and coastal villages are truly a beautiful sight that left me awestruck. During our breakfast, they made an announcement onboard that there was a whale nearby. I quickly ran to the nearest window to see it.
As we cruised down to the narrow passages of the fjords, I truly appreciated the picturesque landscape of the mountain range with little red cabins along the coastal shores. I don't think I can truly describe its beauty; it was as if you are in a winter wonderland dream. This voyage is indeed the most beautiful voyage and the gem of Norway.
Anywhere I looked was just picture perfect! Watching the sunset from the outside viewing deck of the ship was so special and breathtaking (even if I was so cold!).
We disembarked in Svolvær, part of the Lofoten archipelago and spent a night in the Thon Hotel Lofoten. We were truly pampered and spoilt by our hosts during our stay in Thon Hotel. We had a superb dinner in the Paleo Arctic restaurant of the hotel on our first night.
The following morning, we did the Fishing excursion and the Sea Eagle safari around Lofoten. It was my first time to go fishing, so I was not expecting to catch anything. After a few instructions on how to sort out the fishing rod and the line, I had my first catch. I was so delighted; that was my lunch sorted! After we caught enough fish for our lunch, we head to find the Sea Eagles around Lofoten. It didn't take us that long to spot one!
After our excursions of the day, the fish that we caught was cooked in the show kitchen, and we discussed with the chef the Norwegian Coastal Kitchen theme where the restaurant, as well the fleet of Hurtigruten are using a locally produced and fresh food. You can guarantee you will have the freshest food on your plate every time.
The lunch was superb! We had a few hours spare to roam around Svolvær, so most of our group decided to visit the fish racks of the traditional delicacy in Norway, the stockfish. As it says in the name, the stockfish were to be dried for a few months on the fish racks near the coast. You will need to soak the fish in water for few days before serving, a perfect accompaniment with the Arctic beer.
On our way to see the fish racks, we also saw some beautiful fishermen's cabin. I love the contrast of the cabins from the snowy white cliffs in the picture below.
After watching the stunning sunset in Svolvær, we embarked on the MS Kong Harald to sail further south to Trondheim. She is the newly refurbished ship of Hurtigruten; the new interior is all Scandinavian inspired design. The concept is all about open space, an uplifting and calming surrounding with a beautiful accent of wood. Here are some snaps of the interior of the ship.
the shop at the compass
the sitting /film screening area at the compass
As we carried on sailing down south, we had time to catch our breath and just relax on the viewing deck with the comfy recliners while watching the beautiful scenery. Oh, did I mention that there is complimentary onboard wi-fi in the ship, with a very impressive signal and loads of wall sockets scattered around in the public area so you won't be running around looking for one.
It's our last day on the ship before we disembarked in Trondheim, this day was a special one because it's the day that we will leave the Arctic region. There is a little celebration on the top deck to mark this special event. As a traditional Norwegian rite, we had a spoon of cod liver oil and a glass of bubbly! I'm not a big fan of cod liver oil but, when in Norway, do what the Norwegians do.
We finished our voyage in Trondheim, and I caught my flight back to the UK. I'm forever grateful for his wonderful experience exploring the Arctic region and the beautiful coasts and fjords of Norway with Hurtigruten. This Arctic awakening cruise should be on your travel goals or bucket list!
This article was originally published in Two Monkeys Travel Group website.
About the Author:
Ryazan Duray- Tristram, A British-Filipina travel writer of Two Monkeys Travel Group. She is named after a Russian city near Moscow. Born and raised in Manila and currently living in the UK with her husband. She likes to travel, history, meet people & try exotic foods! Planning to explore more countries with her D.I.Y trips. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.