Hunting the Lights - A Cruise in Norway

Norway's breathtaking coastline has often been rated as the best destination in the world.The fjords of Norway are among the worlds longest and deepest and offer up-close and ever-changing views of spectacular scenery all along the way. Hurtigruten will give you an opportunity to see the best of this amazing coast. The fleet of eleven Hurtigruten ships sails up and down this beautiful coastline throughout the year between the cities, towns and hamlets on the shore, carrying locals and tourists from around the world. The fleet consists of small, intimate ships that take visitors directly into the heart of Norway. They explore the calm sheltered waters, enter the narrowest channels and call at tiny ports that other larger cruise liners are unable to reach. They give you a closer look at Norway's shores and the people and wildlife that live in this beautiful, secluded paradise. Hurtigruten is unique in the world. When you are onboard Hurtigruten, you are really a part of Norway, part of the Norwegian tradition. The crew is Norwegian, the food and experiences are Norwegian. Hurtigruten is uniquely identified with the country in which it operates.

The Hurtigruten sails for all twelve months of the year. The scenery is constantly changing from the dramatic snows of winter, to the vivid greens and flower covered mountains of summer to the red and gold spectacle of autumn. It is a trip that the seasoned travelers can take many times and continually experience something new. There are 34 ports of call along the way, most of which are never visited by larger ships. Many of the ports are little more than tranquil hamlets or tiny islands. Other ports are long established, bustling towns which owe their prosperity to the fishing, mining or shipbuilding industries. At each port you can experience something different. You can explore on foot, bicycle, bus, snowmobile, dogsled or leisurely stroll through the village. Each port offers excursions which help passengers to experience the life, culture and landscape of this spectacular coastline.

I chose to join the winter Northern Lights cruise, Hunting the Lights. At this time of year dramatic light-shows are often visible in the nighttime sky. The magic color-show changes from light green to dark purple as it flickers across the Arctic sky. The cruise, aptly named, Hunting the Lights starts in Bergen and slowly moves along the coast to cross the Arctic Circle. Along the way, we tried our hand at snowmobiling at night, hunting for King Crab and dog -sledding. We also spent one memorable night at the Snow Hotel near Kirkenes where we slept in icy beds kept warm by thermal sleeping bags and native furs.Afterwards, we toasted in the sauna and then stepped into the softly falling snow. It was a true Arctic experience. As one intrepid visitor from England commented, It was great fun. Lets not do it again. And as a matter of fact, the snow hotel will book visitors for only one night.

Our journey north began in Bergen, the beautiful historical city surrounded by seven mountains. The Bergen harbor area is included on UNESCO's heritage list of 89 international historic monuments.

Just slightly north of Bergen is the delightful city of Alesund which is one of the most important fishing ports on the west coast of Norway. The harbor here is deep enough for even the large cruise ships to enter. In 1904, a tragic fire destroyed almost the entire city.A total of 850, mostly wooden buildings, were destroyed within a matter of hours. The city was completely rebuilt in just three years by craftsmen from throughout Norway. Today it is one of the most architecturally interesting Art Nouveau centers in the world.

Always heading north, we visit Trondheim. The picturesque city is over 1000 years old and was the first capital city of Norway. The Nidaros Cathedral, built in the 11th century is one of Northern Europe's greatest Gothic memorials. New kings still come to Nidaros for a blessing ceremony.

Early in the morning, as we enjoyed another sumptuous breakfast, we pass the Arctic Circle. We stop briefly in Bodo and continue on to Stamsund where we enjoy a Viking feast in the original Chieftans house. The house and museum and its entertaining new residents provided us with a rollicking evening and a taste of Viking food and brewed mead. We rejoined our ship in Svolvaer.

Tromso was our next port of call. This Arctic capital is known as "The Paris of the North. It is located on an island 70 degrees north and is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. As we strolled through town we made a stop at Olhallen, the northernmost brewery and pub in the world. We sampled several of their private label beers and ales before we continued our walking tour. Before we left, we took a cable car to the top of Mt. Storsteinen where we had an excellent view of the city below us. The snow added to the dramatic effect and highlighted the many, red, blue, green and yellow homes tucked into the valley. I especially loved the colorful homes, but was told that only the wealthy painted their houses white. White paint was more expensive.

With several more stops along the way, we crossed the 71st parallel and arrived at North Cape Plateau, the northernmost point in continental Europe. We enjoyed the sub-Arctic landscape on this scenic excursion as we journeyed by bus to North Cape Hall, a modern interpretive center. Later in the day, after returning to the ship and again repositioning, we dressed warmly and challenged the elements in one of Europe's most extreme and exciting natural areas by snowmobile as we searched for the elusive Northern Lights. Our journey in the dark took us from the fishing village of Kjollefjord over the mountains to Mehamn.

Nearing the end of our leisurely cruise, we were certain we had saved the very best until last. Near the small town of Kirkenes, we spent a memorable night in the Snow Hotel. We hunted for King Crab in a snowmobile drawn sleigh, and enjoyed the results of our catch at a lovely lunch in the fisherman's home where we feasted on all the King Crab we could eat. In the early evening, we visited a reindeer farm and watched the sun set as we traveled by dogsled over the frozen landscape. This final experience in the winter wonderland which is Norway in the winter was a truly magical day.

Our entire cruise was first class. The ship was small, the cabins were comfortable and the food and wine were outstanding. The dining room frequently included such items as whale meat, crab legs and reindeer. Some passengers never left the ship but were content to enjoy the ever changing scenery from the comfort of the panoramic lounge on the 8th floor. We had free access to computers, a library and reading room, entertainment each night in the bar and informative movies. The entire trip was better than good; it was outstanding.