The Hurtigruten (Day 4) - Rainbows and waterfalls

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Norway  , Western Fjords,
Monday, September 7, 2009

Boarding the Hurtigruten ship is the beginning of the real reason that we came to Norway.  Chris' Mom and Melanie had always wanted to take the Hurtigruten Norwegian fjords cruise.  Chris' Mom had a milestone birthday this year and it was also his parents' 50th wedding anniversary this year, so it seemed like a good occasion for Martha to finally see the fjords.  Because of the time of year and the downturn in the travel industry they found a great deal on the cruise, so Melanie and Chris joined as well for the 7 day voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes.

The Hurtigruten is not a big fancy cruise ship.  It is a multi-purpose coastal ferry that serves the western coast of Norway.  Local people use the ferry to get from town to town.  It is a car ferry, a postal carrier, a freight carrier, a passenger ferry, and it has several rooms that people like us can rent for multi-day cruises.  Some of the stops are as short as 10 minutes - just long enough to load passengers and freight, drop the mail and supplies for the village, and keep going.  The boat makes stops all through the night, so it is virtually impossible to get off and see every port of call - unless you really don't want to sleep!  

We had a room near the back of the boat, which we learned really isn't ideal.  The big engines make a lot of noise and vibrate when docking/undocking so that first night we were awoken several times with the noise and vibration.  So, when the boat docked at 7am and we were awake anyway, we decided to run out and see whatever was available to see.  It wasn't much - just a few buildings and a road - but we had our first port of call.  It was also a good learning because we had misunderstood where the boarding time was posted and had to run for the boat before it left again!!

Along with the quick 10 minute stops, there are some longer ones as well.  It seems that the stopover time is proportional to the size of the town (and therefore probably the amount of freight to be loaded/unloaded).  There is at least one stop of 3-4 hours every day and there are also site-seeing excursions organized by the cruise staff.  There is no onboard entertainment other than watching the beautiful scenery go by.  The internet sucks, so nobody bothers to be online either.  Basically, it's an extraordinarily relaxing way to see some beautiful landscape.

The first "real" stop was the town of Alesund, with 40,000 inhabitants.  The town was leveled by fire in 1904 and was rebuilt in Art Nouveau style, much of which has been preserved.  The 30 minutes stop was enough to see some of the buildings and take a quick run to a lookout point overlooking the port.

From Alesund, we entered the Geiranger Fjord, a Unesco World Heritage site and commonly agreed to be the most beautiful fjord in Norway. The fjord is typically narrow, gracefully curving, and bordered with steep cliffs sporting slender waterfalls - even at this time of year.  We can only imagine how the waterfalls must look during the spring thaw!  

From the town of Geiranger, at the end of the fjord, Chris' parents and Melanie boarded a smaller boat for a full day bus excursion. The bus first climbed to a lookout point with beautiful views, from where we could watch the Hurtigruten boat retreat up the fjord.  We then drove across beautiful farmland, rising in elevation, and crossed a river (on ferry) toward the beginning of the "Troll" Highway (Trollstigen pass).  Here we saw large, stark gray mountains which, by myth, are said to be giant trolls who turned to stone upon seeing sunlight.  With some imagination one can make a troll profile of the smooth mountain peaks.  The bus driver had to navigate 11 hairpin turns on the way down this pass.  We were all glad to be passengers and not the driver!  Again, thin, tall waterfalls were everywhere.  And, thanks to the on-again/off-again rainy weather, we saw several rainbows as well.

At the end of the day, the excursion met up with the boat in another town.  The boat had kept sailing up the coast, making its deliveries and ferrying passengers, while many of us were exploring a bit of the land.

Tomorrow's big stop:  Trondheim

P.S.  Apologies to Norwegian purists for the Americanization of spellings throughout this series.  We have no idea how to make the Norwegian letters (o with a slash, mini circle on top of the a, etc) on our keyboard.
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