The Coastal Express in Norway is often dubbed the world’s most beautiful sea voyage. Ships ply the 2,400-kilometre route from Bergen to Kirkenes along the Norwegian coastline, through fjords, islands and inlets, connecting communities small and large with a safe trading route, established in 1893.
You may have seen the Hurtigruten advertisements for expensive cruise packages on the Norway coastal voyage route but many people don’t know that you can easily book point-to-point passage on the ships at a significantly lower cost. The Wandering Kiwi family only had a few days to spend sailing the Norwegian fjords so we booked a cabin for two nights from Bergen to Trondheim.
I have never been on a cruise ship before and have always been quite wary about the whole idea of cruises. Pictures of geriatric fellow-passengers and days of inactivity on a huge floating hotel fill my mind when I think of a cruise. I thought this would be a little taster.
The initial concern proved accurate – there were more old people than not on the MS Nordkapp, including several hundred German retirees complete with mobility scooters and walking sticks. They were lining up ready to break down the doors when it came time for the three course midday and evening meals that come with the full cruise package!
Thankfully we soon discovered that there were some younger people on the ship – couples on honeymoons and even a few young families. Hanging out by the kids playroom was a good tactic for us. Wandering Kiwi Jr was very happy with the ball pit, slide and TV with cartoons – not to mention other kids to play with.
The cabin was fine – down on deck two where the crew stay and the unpleasant smell of cooking wafts from the kitchens – with comfortable bunks, all spotlessly clean and well organised. It was exciting to be sleeping in a cabin, peering out of the two portholes at the sea.
If you have not purchased the full cruise package with the gourmet meals you can eat in the cafe – where rather ordinary meals are served up at Norwegian prices (but still a whole lot cheaper than paying for the cruise package). It looks ok but really was not very appetising – think dry fish n chips and luke-warm soft pasta bolognese. The buffet breakfast is included in the fare and offers a good selection in the main dining room – catering more to European than Anglo Saxon tastes.
So, what was it like on the Norway cruise? Heading out from Bergen after sunset a saxophonist played out on deck, sending ghostly notes floating out into the still night. We passed under a huge road bridge and slipped silently into the dark fjords, slowly leaving the lights of city and town behind.
It is certainly a precipitous coastline with mottled colours of rock and grass, bracken and scree, as well as patches of woodland. It is the Gulf Stream that makes this part of the world habitable and most of these communities grew up around the rich fishing grounds and fleets in the 19th century. The ship gets quite close to the coast at times. not close enough to see what people are having for breakfast but enough to see the calm, clear waters of tiny harbours.
I spent as much time as possible out on deck during the day and felt quite frustrated when I was stuck indoors – in the floating hotel – with views restricted by window frames and dimmed by salt spray.
It wasn’t a sunny day but somehow the colours and light were all the more beautiful, framed by many-layered clouds. Clouds like UFOs; clouds like gulls with outspread wings. When the sun breaks through it turns the sea to silver.
Cottages and barns painted in a range of colours with that distinctive Scandinavian matteness – red, yellow, blue – show up strongly against the landscape. A lovely old wooden church with a square spire is braced against the elements on a promontory.
From above fjords, islands and tiny snatches of arable land came the mountains. The mountains are revealed slowly, inch by inch as the ship glides through the fjords. One range is displayed in all its glory, then hidden again only to make way for another. The mountains get higher as we move north. Higher, craggier, with seams of snow trailing down towards the sea.
Sea birds fly low over the water and I listen for hours to the soft fizz of the water passing under the ship. The ship stops a number of times during the day – it is a cargo and postal delivery ship as well as a passenger carrier after all. There were two opportunities to disembark.
The first was at the tiny port of Monde where black and white sheep herded their new-born lambs in the fields. Then the stunning Alesund, surrounded by fjord and mountains. The final destination of Trondheim was reached early in the morning of the second night.
Did I like my first cruise experience? Well, I loved being out on deck with the sea air in my face and the beautiful landscapes slowly unfolding before me.
But a lot of the time you are inside and I started to feel a bit cooped up. So in some ways I was happy to disembark at Trondheim and I certainly wouldn’t want to be eating from the cafe for the further five days it takes to get to Kirkenes. But part of me was sad to watch the ship leave on its journey to the Arctic Circle. So maybe I will be back one day to do the rest of the world’s most beautiful sea voyage (when I’m a lot older).
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you travelled up the Norwegian coastline? What did you think?
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