Monday, July 12th, 2004: Aboard the M/S Vesteråle
Hurtigruten is the coastal ferry steamer that plies the small ports up and down Norway’s Atlantic coast. Running for over 100 years, the ferries are now a big tourist business – in addition to freight and mail, they carry passengers and cars. The return trip from Bergen to the Russian border on the Barents Sea takes 12 days. There are now 11 ships making the journey, so that all summer long there is a departure at the same time every day. We are joining on day 11, and will go south to Bergen, a journey of 29 hours.
The weather is less than we would have wished – cold, with intermittent showers. Not a day for sitting on the deck, but some of the hardier voyagers do, until driven inside by a heavy rainstorm.
The fjords, as we head out of Trøndheim, are lined with gently rising slopes – the voice over the intercom system tells us that we will pass some of the best agricultural land in Norway on our journey south. We remark that it cannot be easy being a farmer on this land. We pass numerous small islands with 1 house and some outbuildings on them – we assume the people who live in these homes must be fishermen, although we see neither boats nor evidence of boat-mooring facilities; but they cannot be farmers, because these islands are rocky outcroppings. Our fellow passengers seem to be mostly Scandinavian with a smattering of Germans and French to keep things interesting. It is a laid-back crowd. Lots of retirees with many books to keep them occupied on the 12 day journey up and back. We seem to be in the minority as far as age group but we share this with a couple of families with small children. People seem to spend their days either reading and watching the scenery go by from the panorama room on top of the ship or wrapped in blankets on the occasional sunny side of the ship. The optimal word here is relaxed.
A Universally Adopted Mindset
We settle quickly into this universally adopted mindset and wander the ship, snapping photos of the grey-blue fjords with tremendous billowing clouds caught on their high, rocky points. The ship is quite comfortable and we easily find our way around. The vistas remain the same, rolling monochromatic fjords on a cold, black sea. I am a bit disappointed with the scope and size of the fjords – they do not compare with those we have seen in New Zealand but being here is what this experience is about.
We stop in the occasional town, multicoloured houses set on high, steep, wind-exposed cliffs. What Norwegians do in February is beyond us. All the while we have a strange feeling of familiarity about these vistas. We could be visiting the outposts of Newfoundland with their rocky shores and bright fishing shacks.