From September 9, 2018 through September 24, 2018 we kept a daily journal to chronicle a trip to Norway we took with our son, Justin, and daughter-in-law, Andrea. This was, for reasons you will discover, going to be a very special trip: not just because we were traveling with loved ones, but because we were also recreating a journey made by family members who had preceded us some eighty-six years before. Today’s blog begins the tale of Our Norwegian Saga.
September 9-10, 2018
Today we departed, the four of us, Joan, Greg, Justin (our son), and Andrea (our daughter-in-law), for two weeks in Norway. The centerpiece of our visit was a cruise of the western and northern coasts of Norway on the MS Spitsbergen, a vessel of the Hurtigruten Line. On a seven-day tour we anticipated stopping at three dozen ports of call, beginning in Bergen in Hordaland, and ending in Kirkenes, in the far north of Finnmark.
We had first heard about the Hurtigruten coastal cruises in 2003, during a previous trip to Norway. This was an odyssey that began in Bergen, wove through the fjord country to Nordfjordeid, and then went overland to Trondheim—all by bus. From that northern base we had forayed as far north as Namsos and Rørvik, on the eastern side of the Vikna archipelago, by a combination of bus and ferry. During that visit we had been told that the Hurtigruten coastal voyage was a truly memorable experience, a cruise considered by some as one of the “world’s most beautiful.” Having seen some part of the beauty of these regions of Norway through bus windows, we had hoped one day to see them from a different perspective, the deck of a Norwegian ship. Fifteen years later that day had come at last.
Hurtigruten had its beginnings in the late nineteenth century. Because of the nature of the western and northern Norwegian coastlines, rail travel was almost impossible. Therefore, the government contracted with Captain Richard Wirth to establish a cargo, passenger, and mail service to improve communication between communities on the otherwise almost inaccessible coast. Hurtigruten’s first voyage was on July 2, 1893, when Wirth captained the Vesteraalen from Trondheim to Hammerfest in Finnmark with stops at Rørvik, Brønnøy, Sandnessjøen, Bodø, Svolvær, Lødingen, Harstad, Tromsø, and Skjervøy along the way.
Earlier on, Hurtigruten competed with several other coastal carriers, the Ofotens og Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab (OVDS) and the Troms Fylkes Dampskibsselskap. Over the course of the twentieth century, as road and air travel improved, the demands on the coastal carriers shifted increasingly away from freight, cargo, and local travel. Hurtigruten eventually combined with the remaining independent carriers, emerging with a renewed focus on tourism and passenger travel.
Nevertheless, Hurtigruten retains its roots as a working line. It still carries mail, cargo, and local passengers between the thirty-six ports on its north- and south-bound schedules. This is not your typical cruise ship and, frankly, the unconventional was what we preferred. No water slides, no casino tables, no Disney characters putting on a show. For us, the magnificent scenery of the fjord country and of the coastal islands—and, with luck, the Northern Lights—were the shows we had come to see.
We decided to bracket our voyage with three full days in Bergen at the beginning and three full days in Oslo at the end. We had fallen in love with Bergen on our first visit and wanted to share with Justin and Andrea some of what we had seen then—especially Troldhaugen where Edvard Grieg had lived. We hadn’t yet been to Oslo, so that was reason enough to add it to the end of our journey. Andrea had been to Norway, including Bergen and Oslo, before. Like us, she had fallen in love with the country. She had first seen these cities as a seventeen-year-old and, as she readily admitted, was glad to see them again, as an adult, with Justin—the only one of us for whom Norway would be completely new. The Hurtigruten voyage would be a truly novel experience for all of us.
The first days of a long trip like this are always a hectic blur. A limousine to the airport; waiting at gates; a layover in Detroit; a long flight over the Atlantic, squeezed into uncomfortable, economy-sized seats. Then there was a layover in Amsterdam and more waiting at gates. Finally, we landed in Bergen and figured out how to get into town—Bergen’s airport is forty-five minutes away from the city center via the Bybanen (City Light Rail).
Once downtown, it was just before noon, and we had to kill time to get into our apartment on the Vestre Murallmenningen, not too far from the harbor and the old Hanseatic waterfront, the Bryggen. We dragged our luggage through the rain to a coffee shop, the Espresso House on Olav Kyrres gate. A café mocha and sandwich later, we still had time to while away. We then lugged ourselves to the Bergen stasjon, where we found, to our great good fortune, an unoccupied set of chairs and a couch. The couch was hard and unforgiving, but welcome nevertheless to Greg, Joan, and Justin, who took turns resting on it. There are worse places to wait. Built in 1913 by Jens Zetlitz Monrad Kielland in the National Romantic style, it was our temporary refuge from the continuing downpour outside. Andrea was the only one of our small group who seemed unfazed by the tiring journey.
“I’m pumped—I’m in Norway!” she answered wholeheartedly when asked how she could not be exhausted from the trip.
We talked, we dozed, and the hours passed. Close to four o’clock we set off in search of our Norwegian home for the next three days.
Luckily, the apartment was only about a thirteen-minute walk, first down the Kaigaten, and then up a small hill on the Markevein. On the second floor, it was roomy, clean, and well-furnished. It was conveniently close to a REMA 1000 grocery store. More importantly, the apartment had comfortable beds and a large shower. After a small repast foraged from the store, we reviewed the day and opted, unanimously, for an early and well-deserved retirement to our pillows. Even Andrea was ready to turn in for the night.