Part 3 February 2020
The rough weather delays our arrival in Mehamn by 90-minutes until 2:30AM. Our stop here is very brief and just enough time for Julie to disembark and join her snowmobiling group of 10 people. After a short van ride, they get dressed and suited-up and begin their 2-hour adventure traveling through the deep snow in the arctic night single file with the girls first. Initially, they travel at ~20 km/hr. heading ~1200 ft. up into the mountains. Once there, they have a brief stop with a hot fire and some warm lemonade before saddling back up and continuing their journey – this time at an increased speed of 35 km/hr. Finally, they reach a waiting bus and driver who is nervous about the degrading weather, but who successfully transports them to dock in Kjollefjord where they rejoin the ship at 5:00AM and bed down for some well-deserved sleep. Later that morning, we pass a huge Liquid Natural Gas facility loading one of its ships on our way to Hammerfest where we have a few hours to walk around town and explore. Traditionally, for over 200 years, Hammerfest had been regarded as the world’s most northern town at 70o 39’ 48”, the same as Point Barrow, Alaska. However, the definition of “town” has resulted in conflicting claims among contenders. Today’s population of 7000 is a significant increase from the 350 who lived here in 1945. We walked through the snow-covered sidewalks to the town’s historic church, and to its newer cathedral built in 1961. On the way back to the ship, we stop to collect an application to join “The Polar Bear Society” and to visit their historic museum. Then, it was back on board and off to the next series of ports arriving in Tromso at midnight. Tonight, many of the ship’s passengers will be treated to a concert in the Tromso Cathedral. We quickly board busses for the short trip to the Cathedral located just over the bridge, and then make our way up the icy path to the Cathedral’s warm pews. Soon, 3 musicians – a flutist, a pianist and a baritone – serenade us with 12 traditional Finmark songs that are lovely and haunting. After the hour-long concert, we re-board our buses to return to the ship and continue our voyage throughout the night.
It is now early Saturday morning, February 8th, and the ship is running a few hours behind schedule due to weather and a few mechanical difficulties with the ship’s disembarkation ramp. Therefore, the Captain begins to make up time by restricting our time in each port. By late afternoon and 5 more very brief stops, we are traveling through the stunning Vesteralen Islands and crossing the Raftsund strait before arriving in the town of Stokmarknes – the home of Hartigruten shipping and their “Museum of the Coastal Express”. Here we have just enough time to take a walk up the local bridge to get a view over the fiord and town, and then it is on to dinner and a repeat visit to Svolvaer. This time we have a little more time to explore the harbor, including the island restaurant and hotel connected by a narrow wooden bridge. The ground is icy and covered with snow and we find the slip-on crampons that we have brought still necessary. After enjoying the brink air, we return to the ship for a lively game of cards with our sister and brother-in-law before calling it a night.
On Sunday morning we gather on deck to cross the Arctic Circle once more and continue our travel south. This time to celebrate, we each drink the obligatory serving of cod liver oil! Yes, that childhood threat of ultimate disgust that strangely is palatable as an adult, but still requires washing down with a sparking glass of champagne. Soon after lunch, we assemble on deck again, but this time to view the famous “Seven Sisters” mountain peaks. By now, the snow and ice on the deck have melted, the waves have subsided, and the view is spectacular. Later that afternoon, we arrive in Bronnoysund, often referred to as “The Heart of Norway”. It is connected over the Bronnoysund strait by a 550-meter-long bridge that will lead you to Troghatten and the famous “hole in the mountain” natural wonder. This is Norway’s geographical center and we take some time to walk out onto the harbor’s dock and sample the local aquavit with our tour leader and fellow travelers. After this, we walk through town to a local pub where we have a round of wine and beer while enjoying the pub’s homage to the Beatles. Then, it was back on board for a night’s gentle cruising to the city of Trondheim.
Monday morning, we arrive early in Trondheim, and although we have toured the city by bus earlier in the trip, we set off on foot this time to walk to the Old Town Wooden Bridge and Trondheim Cathedral. On our return, we catch up with our Tour Guide who takes us into the city’s AquaCenter, complete with slides, pools, and all sorts of aqua-adventure opportunities. In addition, the facility is built on the waterfront and looks out over the fiord and Munkholmen. As leaving and heading back to the ship, we see Hurtigruten’s newest ship, the Fridt Jof Nansen practicing maneuvers in front of the wharf. We leave the town and cruise past the islands of Grip and Hitra before arriving back in Kristiansund in late afternoon. Here we take another quick walk around the harbor before boarding the Kong Harald one last time for our trip back to Bergen.
On Tuesday, we arrive back in Bergen at ~2:30PM and transfer back to our Clarion Hotel. We have just enough time to shop before the stores close, and decide to eat a dinner of pizza, beer and wine before returning to the hotel for farewell drinks and deserts with our traveling group. That night is spent arranging and packing, and the next morning, it is breakfast and transfer off to the airport. Everything has gone so well that it is not surprising that KLM was now not able to check us into the flight! After an hour at the ticketing desk, they finally were able to print Boarding Passes for us, and to route our luggage to our final destination. The flights back through Amsterdam, Atlanta and New Orleans were pleasant but uneventful. This trip accomplished reaching the far north and finally seeing the Aurora Borealis – two of our long traveling desires.