Snow flakes accompany us as we walk through the yellow lit, quiet streets of sleeping Tromsø. A gigantic ship has docked at the harbour and we are about to board it. There’s no office or waiting room on shore, it’s just the snow-covered waterside and the entrance of the ship. The Hurtigruten is traditionally a mail boat, but is now mainly a floating hotel. Up at the entrance stairs the hall doubles as reception and we receive our cabin key. The cabin is laughably small and outdated, and decorated with pale pink details and smudgy blue carpet with a shell design. As it’s already 1:30 at night, we decide to try to get some sleep. With high hopes we press the F1 button on the phone panel in between our beds to be able to hear the captain’s Northern Lights alarm. When I wake up excitedly from a voice on the intercom I quickly and disappointedly realise it’s already morning and it’s a mere notification to let us know we are about to arrive in the harbour of the first stopover village on our route to Svolvær.
As the boat glides past fairy tale fjords that are covered in white, I can see the iconic red wooden houses lining the water’s edge and imagine the cosy interior with Scandinavian design. I’m not talking Ikea now – that comparison was easily made this morning when we had a choice of Swedish meatballs for breakfast – but the real Scandinavian design. Wooden swing chairs and porcelain plates on the wall. Maybe a cosy wood fire with a reindeer skin in front? Cosy living, that’s what I imagine as I see snow flakes passing by the window and still feel the chill on my back of the couple of minutes I stood outside on the front deck to take some pictures as the ship was navigating between Norway’s mainland and its islands.
The blowing ship horn makes me jump outside on the deck, as the sound surprises me while I’m focusing on making a picture of the Norwegian flag waving in the wind on the hind side of the boat. The wind is strong and while walking a circle on the outer deck I have to hold on to the railing to make sure I don’t get blown of my feet. Thankfully, the deck is not as slippery as I had imagined. I see no one slipping on the snow-covered icy deck outside, only on the stairs inside where people enthusiastically run down the stairs to get to the floor with outer deck access.
Others however just stay inside to only occasionally look up from their book to see the landscape glide past through the window. During lunch time we made a smart move, taking seat in two arm chairs in the bow of the boat with floor high windows, while the majority of the passengers enjoyed their menu in the restaurants. The seats provided us with an amazing view of both sides of the strait and although the ventilation system underneath caused a chilly breeze, it’s a lot more comfortable than standing outside on the front deck to take in the same view. Taking turns, we go outside to feel the beauty of the surroundings and then warm up again inside.
Tromsø’s bridge that I had found a very remarkable and recognisable piece of architecture of the town, seems less so now as more and more small fishers villages with similar bridges pass my eye. The boat itinerary is a concatenation of photo worthy views. Mountain peaks carefully showing themselves from under a blanket of fog, fishers’ boats in misty sunlight. Then suddenly the sky breaks open and the sun forms a bright spotlight on another tiny wooden village. As the day progresses and the sun drops behind the horizon, the houses start to light up. A curious detail catches my attention. Every house seems to have a table lamp in their window sill. Even in the window frames with closed curtains, a lamp is placed between the curtain and the window. It makes the houses look warm and welcoming, and because of all the wood make me think of a doll’s house as well.
It’s still snowing when we dock in Svolvær, a fishing village in the Lofoten. The last hours of the journey have been quite rocky and we’re both happy to stand on land again. As we walk to our hotel we see the typical Lofoten triangle-shaped fish racks glowing in yellow light on the other side of the water. Yet another Norwegian phenomenon to explore.
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The Hurtigruten offers a unique way to explore the beauty of Norway’s fjords. Depending on the strength of your sea legs, you might even like to consider the complete classic route of the Hurtigruten that takes you past 34 ports along the entire coast line.
For me, that would be a bit too much of a good thing so I’d recommend to try to see if you can combine part of the journey with the plans you already have for stops in Norway. I do highly recommend our part of the journey as it takes in the beautiful Lofoten islands. Obviously, we’ve seen them covered in the white blanket providing a fairy tale landscape, but they must be equally or even more impressive during the summer months when their blanket turns a lush green.
Do keep in mind that for catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, you’d want to cross the Arctic Circle in winter. If you choose to visit in summer, you’ll be able to enjoy 24 hours of daylight and the spectacular midnight sun.