another Xmas card-this time from Viking...

I WILL ATTEMPT A NEW BEGINNING:      I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’LL DO WITH THE/A DAILY DESCRIPTION – probably nothing.  ??? I think the major elements have been touched….   Now I just need the decorative touches, the flashes of inspiration and those important pertinent insights   I do hope at least a few of these will survive and resurface.

I’ve come to a final decision;  I seem to have chosen to relate my story differently, more appropriately,  in a different format  I chose not to attempt to relate my story not as I normally would on a daily or diary type form,  but rather as an overall experience … appending an occasional anecdote to an appropriate subject rather than on the day it actually took place..

   NEW AND DIFFERENT FORMAT as ENCOURAGED BY LOSS OF NOTES;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; \

I’m going to do this by category





If you flipped Norway over the long way it would reach all the way to Italy. The entire  western side is island – 45,000 of them more or less which gives  it a rather unViking- like  lacy appearance.  The color of the flag, red white and blue, the colors of “liberty” was presumably inspired by the flag of France. (Norway declared its independence in 1814 - interesting).   The World Bank rates Norway as the richest country in the world; this is based on wealth per capita.  It is one of the world’s most prosperous countries with gas and oil production making up 20% of the economy, followed by fishing and hydroelectric power.  It is a very safe place to travel.  For openers: the crime rate records a total of 25 murders in 2018. Additional interesting statistics: The acquisition and storage of guns is regulated by the State;  and there is a strong integrated welfare system.

THEY are so totally unconscious of the need to preserve energy that they think nothing of taking off for distance parts leaving all the lights on.

 Norwegians are notoriously  addicted to the outdoors especially skiing; they are in fact  believed to be born  wearing skis.  They also tend to be “hermits’  accept….at EASTER  - they are definitely not religious but…. -the entire country shuts down for two weeks TWO WEEKS at EASTER at which time the entire population drops everything and takes off for the country. 

They keep their indoor environments toasty warm –.   I was amazed that most of those “suburbs” I was seeing on the hillsides of the towns were liberally endowed with super-sized and multiple picture windows.  So, they have unlimited energy; I’d still think all that glass would make for a windy environment.  

Everyone has a small house in the country with the express purpose of “escaping  from civilization”:  this sure begs for definition;  when I was told this the closest town had a population of  5000; I can’t think of this  as much more than a village so how much more “country” can you get?.  Escaping to this “HYTE” is apparently a national institution, and is usually aggressively lacking of even the basics…. like electricity, running water or indoor bathrooms -  yes they have outhouses.  the “outhouse” is apparently the “man Cave” of the outfit; a convenient place of retreat to read the newspaper.  Which conveniently becomes the toilet paper, but not before all images of the royal family are removed and stuck on the wall.  All the comforts of home.. 

Alcohol is an issue in Norway – not surprising -  so is therefore strictly regulated.  Any town which wishes to operate a liquor store must acquire  the necessary license and in order to do so it must have 400 residents.  Achieving that number can prove a real bear and  can require a certain degree of resourcefulness.    Our ship was docked at  a town  known for it’s “sore thumb”, a  blue building which towers over its surroundings.   It seems the town struggled for years to acquire the few extra souls needed to fill the quota but with little success until, eureka/voila, along came a particularly imaginative person who suggested they build an apartment building which hopefully could attract the requisite extra people.   And it worked -  SUCCESS!  The celebration which resulted was so exuberant it was likened to Xmas, New Years and Easter all rolled into one.   I can certainly sympathize with this.  

Norway seems to have a strictly enforced and in my opinion a particularly intelligent speed limit – on second thought, as little traffic as there seems to be maybe this doesn’t make any difference – but to continue:   This is a story related to us by our taximan in Kirkenes++.  Apparently one of his subsidiary jobs was to transport medical materials of some sort  to and from neighboring Sweden –this was  a very long and I imagine boring operation as I’m sure you can imagine.  It  was getting towards the end of one of these  lengthy tedious runs, and he admits he had gotten a little lax, and was driving – not the allowable ten miles over the speed  limit -  which we think was maybe an intelligent 55 - 60 mph - but maybe actually fifteen, when  he was pulled over and fined GET THIS $1000!!!  WHOA.  – this area is so remote this is amazing – what on earth was a squad car doing way the heck out there at what seemed the ends of the earth?  And he DID NOT dispute this – he paid it!!!  .  I was utterly flabbergasted at this story 

Somewhere I talk about tour guide repartee – that I said I was missing using cabs….  HUH not when the cabbies tell stories like this.   WOW!

++ KIRKENES. –A booming metropolis with a population of 5000 on the borders of Sweden, Finland and Russia.  I was pleased to hear that there is an extremely fluid interaction between these countries in the pursuit of what we think of as basic amenities like grocery stores, department stores, etc ;– I didn’t actually hear” Walmart”,  did I?. This area struck me as being  one of the most  assertively remote – I didn’t say desolate - places I’ve ever encountered:  saying there isn’t much in the way of “civilization” up there is a vast understatement.

Kirkenes  is the northern end of the  Hurtegruten Coastal Ferry route and   where the ship  turns around to return  to Bergen. There is an airport with flights to Oslo; many passengers embark or disembark the ship here.    It is also somewhat of a popular destination for those seeking  a  magnificent winter sports venue, or perhaps to view the aurora borealis.  A major tourist attraction is the presence of an  “ICE HOTELS”  - one of the few in existence. 


Red barns and white houses are an integral and notoriously desirable photo op as part of the landscape.  And about those red barns: the original paint job used to  preserve the wood was cod liver oil tinted by using the cheap and readily available iron ore from Sweden.  A major  drawback was in warm weather, when the countryside took on a decidedly disagreeable stench.  This deleterious situation was discontinued the very minute and maybe before a remotely affordable red paint appeared on the scene.   The houses only  became white when that color became commercially available and then only as a sign of status, one side at a time.    

You can’t talk about Norway without mentioning their notorious mythical inhabitants; the TROLLS.  It is they who are very conveniently blamed for every little fiasco;  kind of like the “yourhoodee” of my youth.   I’ll bet every culture has  a convenient scapegoat just like this.   

I am well acquainted with the likes of Trolls myself; I have two living in my plant room as we speak, and I’ve had cause to mention them in my journals from time to time. In this reincarnation /trip they acquired a persona I had thus far not encountered:  it seems Norwegians are hampered by a deep- seated aversion to night – rather inconvenient in a country that spends half the year in the dark.  It seems the Trolls are out in force at night, have the ability to smell blood – I’m not sure about the Christian element of this, and are therefore DANGEROUS.  It seems they’re particularly dedicated to hanging out on top of the mountains  tossing rocks around at each other therefore causing  those frequent and massively destructive avalanches.  Dare I mention; there are no rocks on top of the mountains – they’ve all been scoured clean by glaciers.

They are the subject of many a terrific legends my favorite being the one assigning them the role of the Gods of Chaos….it was  in that role they were put in charge of designing the Earth.    How perfect is that? 

Actually I find it rather difficult to contemplate these hardy individuals as being so superstitious ……but maybe so.

BERGEN – and the originator of this trip.  It is frequently called Bryggen, or wharf, for its original function, and thus Bergen.  It was a major port of the Hanseatic League; an association of Baltic cities founded in 1354 for the purpose of trade and defense.   I was astounded when I discovered the presence of  such an active and strong organization so early, and in Northern Europe. A major concern was the adjudication of the Cod industry – a very major concern throughout history and I gather even currently.  A particularly interesting fact is that Bergen was marked on world maps from the Middle Ages. whereas London was not.    

BERGEN in Aug. 2006

that is the entrance to the Snow Hotel, Kirkenes.

Hotel room - Snow Hotel

Harbor ice - Kirkenes.


Hurtegruten ship - Aug.2006

2/HURTEGRUTEN: “Rated BEST premium cruise line 10 years running.  Best price, extraordinary staterooms”  . An interesting aside of this comment was the fact that “Tips not expected; but there are tip boxes scattered around.”  I thought that addition was rather odd even considering the fact that cruises and tipping arrangements can become a hot issue.  Also:  “ They are all about sustainability and value, learning and adventure over luxury”. And an Amen to that.

Hurtegruten has run the mail packet servicing the myriad islands of the Norwegian coast since 1893.  It is mail carrier, ferry, delivery van, cargo  freighter. and maybe even “school bus”,  and incidentally cruise line, all rolled in to one.  The cruising type passengers are joined by locals, campers, and independent touring groups, so they have plenty of company. The knitters I encountered are ostensibly and perhaps presumably the locals – it seems to be their national hobby – maybe pastime meant to keep your hands busy. 

In the role of “mail packet” they sail from Bergen to Kirkenes and return, taking twelve days to do one cycle.  There are 34 stops in each direction: those stops which occur in daytime going up become nighttime stops on the reverse run.  Each port is visited by two ships each day. The duration of each stop is frequently 15 minutes with a few select stops of two hours or a bit more.  The excursions for the cruise passengers are handily and frequently creatively sandwiched in to accommodate the stop times and incidentally the meal times.

 A popular choice is to go by ship north to Kirkenes and fly back down to Oslo, or they may elect to do this in reverse.

Hurtegruten has expanded to offer more formal cruises: most specifically and starting with Svalbard and Iceland.: but also including all the other destinations offered by other cruise lines:  Mexico,  South America, the Caribbean and - Holy Moley -ALASKA?   Wouldn’t you think this would be creating their own competition?

 There’s even one I believe ….”The Northwest  Passage” across the top of Canada, the route explorers have been itching to accomplish since the beginning of time – more readily available now with the melting of the Arctic Sea.  Doesn’t that sound exciting?  But I think it’s a three week trip – too much for me.

I have been at least vaguely aware of all this – but I’ve got a strong suspicion  that they are primarily of the “expedition” variety, and probably too active for us?????  Oh boy!

Right now I’m busy…..

Eventually it hit me that there is a major benefit offered to me here – most particularly to the part of me which involves walking discomfort.  What’s more I’ve also discovered that what we were doing here -  primarily inter island and with  the 24/7  scenic situation – might actually exist elsewhere  and even seems to have a formal designation -  Seabourn offers SCENIC CRUISES – to Alaska.  This is a very encouraging discovery.  That was a major pleasure offered by this trip and probably quite functional in perhaps an archipelago for instance.

The winter cruises are billed specifically as being for the purpose of viewing the “Aurora Borealis” -- not to be skeptical or anything.  This was the subject of one of the ship’s  programs and there were photos all around  –my impression is that these photos were most likely extensively  enhanced.  I’ve also discovered  the camera sees stuff the eye doesn’t,  maybe due to the use of  particular lenses, and also, there’s the fact that  different eyes see them differently. Yes, there were people there who actually did expect they’d see “the lights”.   At any rate, the young lady presenting this program allowed as to how, although she’s lived in the optimal viewing area for four years, she has only seen the Aurora four times.

 Unfortunately the word on our trip was that “ the weather just wasn’t with us”;  I have a rather strong suspicion that that may be increasingly more the case – fog and rain perhaps becoming the norm and don’t do much for visibility.

I probably needn’t mention:  the excursions offered are quite different for winter and summer; not surprising. 

This cruise offers two notably unique programs:  One being a ritual celebrating the crossing of the Arctic Circle, King Neptune and ice down the neck.

The other bears a strong resemblance  to a “party trick”:   complete with favours, alcohol,  and fanfare.  The major entertainment is  THE TROLL FJORD.  The objective is for the  ship to deftly insinuate  itself into the barest of recesses within  a towering rock wall  thus gaining access to the fjord and beyond. To achieve a  heightened  effect, this party takes place at the acutely unpleasant hour of midnight; and in our case a very icy midnight.

We’ve had the chance to enjoy this undeniable treat  three times: The first time we learned of it after the fact and had gone to bed (thank god).  Or not… neither  of the most recent performances actually occurred; they were belatedly cancelled  -cancelled due to the threat of avalanche I might add.  By the time this was decided we had all diligently gathered up on the decidedly frigid roof to wait expectantly.  What they did in lieu was to spotlight the presumed entrance using search lights to illuminate the narrow opening that we were meant to go through:  It’s almost invisible.  I have no idea how they get out of this minimal space…. I don’t think they back out.  (what a funny idea).  At any rate, the experience was super and if nothing else gained:  I’ve become totally crazy about the roof,  and  I had a chance to test out my new $30 jacket  and the effectiveness of my layering technique – they both worked just fin. 

Obviously this is much more likely to work in the summer;  but I’m not so sure I’d care to give up ALL THIS SNOW…..i’ve seen summer and it  was nowhere near as splendid as this winter.  Yes?  They perform this  experience on the southern leg as well but at a rather  mundane 3 pm.  

The Hotel Manager of Spitzbergen wrote to thank me for completing the .questionnaire they sent me;   imagine… this is such a  personal touch.…

On this circuit there is no evidence of the tourist industry…Viking goes to other ports -   that may be true of the others  as well.    Maybe that’s where the action is??  

This is the two week schedule of stops for the Coastal Ferry,


Spitzbergen in Hammerfest.


THE VOICE OF THE SHIP: the voice which kept us informed and tied us together announcing all highlights – in four languages… the mellifluous,  the velvet “voice of the ship” intoning “ Mein Heren und Mein Damen”… very comforting  and an integral element of life on board.    She announced each stop, each departure, sights and- lighthouses, other Hurtegruten ships, and geological points of interest, as well as any turbulence and possible duration thereof -  as if we hadn’t noticed.   As an additional attraction, she also warned us of the presence of icy wharves for precaution.

  Her major job was to let us know when there was an Aurora sighting. One evening at around 10:30 we got the heads- up announcement that there was a sighting on the starboard (our) side. I, being not exactly enamored at the idea of dressing and chasing out,  poked my head out the veranda door;   and saw nothing.  RJ clothed and ran for the roof; he saw nothing either.  It was at this point that we switched the phone off and kept it that way at night. 

It was, however, always on during the day.

Just one other very handy and much appreciated addition which serves to keep the passenger informed:  there’s a tv channel hooked to a camera on the bow – it lets you know whether it’s worth running to the roof or elsewhere.

I’ve mentioned the major attribute:  the top deck – I call it fondly “the roof.  I think we all spent a great deal of time up top enjoying the scenery and various entertainment programs provided.

The SHIP IS SO SHORT YOU CAN VERY EASILY STAND AT OUR END – BEING aft - AND SEE the OBSERVATION ROOM WINDOWS at other end of ship. Quite clearly. (a real boon for me)

The Spitzbergen  was simply one of a number of others of her fleet operating as ships  of the Coastal Ferry line.  There was, however, a ship scheduled specifically for the purpose of specializing  in  the  “Aurora Borealis” ..  I got the impression it was staffed and programed to accommodate this specialty. I suppose that makes sense: for purposes of promotion – and they surely did want to bolster their cruise role.  I think it’s mostly a convenient moniker or perhaps a successful stab at a “destination” objective.  For truly satisfactory publicity results nothing beats an exciting gimmick.

  It was sold out, but I wasn’t interested anyway; it was one of the larger ships and I wasn’t particularly interested in the objective.  I had other fish to fry, I’ve actually seen the lights a few times maybe, I figured this would involve a lot of VERY LATE activity – forget it – and I have a negative attitude in general about so called “destinations”.  Probably won’t happen.

I was much more interested in the smaller ship with its more modest agenda and title:  totally happy

This ship possessed a very INTERESTING QUIRCK:   And here is an undeniably  cute effect of being on a ship that I’ve never experienced before:  the freight door is on the left side of the ship so they must always  dock left side to, and in order to accommodate this, we spend some time  swiveling ourselves into a port –.  Anyhow: so they’re swiveling when you are in the shower – as often as they dock, this is bound to happen sometimes.  I JUST LOVE IT.  So, innocently lavishing in the hot shower you suddenly become aware that you are no longer alone – you’ve been joined by A POOL.  Oh?   Seems the drain is on the opposite side of the shower from the swivel –thus achieving said pool,  and eventually that pool just  escapes right out the door and across the bathroom floor. “ No problem – happens all the time” so sayeth the crew… I JUST LOVE IT!!  But, watch it – the hair dryer is right there under the sink.  Apropos  to all that:   I just recently discovered that ships are  moving the hairdryers out of the bathrooms and out into the cabin – not so convenient – but less likely to electrocute a passenger.

 That’s ok, I got the message, and went out to the room to perform my hair drying indulgence. 

the view - aft to fore showing how blissfully short.

TV in room showing current view from bow.

Those wonderful jacuzzis in full sail.


the most disruptive people ...


a/ I’ve already extolled the virtues of our suite/cabin/accommodations..;;;;

b/It is and was as I had hoped and expected,   notoriously, and fortunately  slight on amenities; no floor shows, no spa – there were two jacuzzies on the 7th deck OUTDOORS… and people actually indulged.  Well, it was different, and I really don’t think they lasted long.  I left my bathing suit at home so I wouldn’t be tempted into such insanity – and you know I would have!!!! The thankfully minimal  passenger entertainment consisted of Expedition Team lectures and programs on subjects of local interest.  They also provided an overtly basic exercise room.

 We were strikingly and happily assured of that impressive situation the first morning:  We were on our way out to visit Alesund and we dived into the bathroom to grab our routine stash of Kleenex,  and AND,  LOW AND BEHOLD…. There ain’t none.  Another WOW.  That’s good, no waste.  They also don’t set out the requisite shampoo, etc that most ships do :  they have refillable dispensers in the shower.  We signed up  to be a part of their ‘GREEN TEAM’ electing to forgo linen replacement.  Why not?  we probably kept everything the whole two weeks like  we do at home.+++++++++++++++++

The Norwegian housekeeping staff is  also the restaurant wait staff…everyone does everything.   All the staff we’ve encountered up to now have been Scandinavian or a close equivalent; quite in opposition to the usual cruise staff which is generally multinational, usually Asian.

 The general impression is that it is a family owned business;  not corporate.  The atmosphere was relaxed and welcoming, not servile and seemed genuinely desiring to please.

c/My fellow travelers:  were mostly German, with a pretty good representation of British and Australian and they were all impressively adorned in subzero clothing – of course, this is the crowd that is out there doing winter sports at midnight;  hearty souls.

d/FOOD:  was definitely regional and seasonal.  Very good

Breakfast appeared at a normal 6 or7 to 10-and was also the usual  buffet.   The selection was astronomical and Norwegian in scope;  like liver loaf at breakfast – yum.  My favorite breakfast indulgence which I actually acquired on our trip in 2006 and have been faithful to ever since on cruises, is  yoghurt with as uncivilized  a cereal on top as is offered.  The ship was a true indulgence: three versions of yoghurt  - two fruit and a plain-  and a choice of eight - granola and similar type goodies to dump on top.  Yumm…

Lunch was also buffet and also a huge extravaganza - THE BEST BREAD ever - as you’d expect of the Norse.  Five versions of pickled herring, cheeses, hot dishes, mussels, all kinds of versions of salmon, a real feast  but the crowning glory:  the dessert of course.  They do a real job on whipped cream;  versions thereof.     I loved dessert best.  Gallons of yoghurt and whipped cream….and I discovered that real rough cold cereal was Kellogg’s AllBran – not our version.

There was a card on each  table at lunch every day indicating what was to be offer for dinner and giving a brief narrative about the heritage of the ingredients, all of which were locally sourced.  I thought this was very special indeed.

Dinner, and as I feared,  there were two sittings 6:30 and 8:15; one too early leaving a great deal of left over day to contend with, the other at 8:15 was rather late even for me.  We worked this out, and it worked out just fine.  The seating was assigned so I was saved from sharing my calory-imbibing with other people – yeh, that’s narrow but I’m built that way.  Most dinners were seated and served – a set menu, thank god….I get so wound up with choices, and pre apportioned – no messing around.  There was no coffee offered;  no time obviously, and it’s available in all forms elsewhere.

NB A STORY:  Every Sunday I attempt to cook a “perfect” soft boiled egg, and every Sunday I think of Hurtegruten ( our visit in 2006) and how impressed I was  by the mountain  of soft boiled eggs provided at breakfast.  And  I say to myself:  “If they can do it I can do it”.  Don’t laugh, eggs are not easy to cook successfully.  Well, the truth is that they can’t actually:  the purported soft boiled eggs which appeared this time are just a bit softer than the hard boiled ones.  What a discovery!

It’s tricky to figure out the right way to eat them too:  I’m working on it.  (admittedly this is slightly a matter of personal preference).

e/ The BAR- CUM- LOUNGE: was  impressively well stocked but also impressively underutilized …I call It “cum- lounge” as  It took up one wall of the large lounge/meeting room.  I was delighted when I discovered it carried  my preferred  Tangueray gin  – unexpectedly for sure; I expecting to be happy with any gin at all.  The pricing of drinks was intriguing:  all drinks; beer, wine, cocktails, or what all,  was a flat $11.    It didn’t open until a rather peculiar, for a cruise,  5 pm, and there were only three THREE martini glasses…the rest had gone the way of a few rough that’s truly refreshing. And I never did see much in the way of bar activity – were they all sporty types? 

A FEW BAR STORIES: as would be appropriate from me.  One of the first evenings I entered into the bar,  looked around me;  ….you could hear a pin drop and the only inhabitants were hunkered over their knitting needles -  KNITTING… and one of them was even male.  I was just ……whoa!! flabbergasted.  I was literally struck Speechless and  I’ve never ever had that happen to me.  I quietly crept to the bar, took a deep breath, and  tentatively  managed to get out in a whisper  to Sunny the delightful Swedish bartender, “I am absolutely speechless”, this is the quietest bar I’ve ever seen”.

the next evening I arrived a bit early and was somewhat horrified when all the lights were turned off and they launched in to a program – on the aurora borealis – in German no less.  I sat patiently for my turn for my drink…and they turned the lights out again – same program, but in English.  By then I’d had enough, nothing messes with my cruise martinis, I’d had enough aurora borealis: I picked up my drink and removed to the hall by the reservations desk to enjoy my drink in peace and quiet.   

Dinner was finished early so I initiated the practice of going to the bar for -  I suppose an aperitif….  I don’t know what to drink after dinner, but I was not going to the cabin and tv?  No way.   Sunny set me up with something vaguely palatable. And, because there were no stools at the bar, I was off at a booth being lonely.   The next day I overheard Sunny make a comment something to the effect:   Americans and their commitment  to their cocktails,  and when I asked what brought that on, he said there was another American couple on board.   Another couple showed up to chat at the bar, but unfortunately, there being no stools at the bar therefore no bar scene – not something I’d do anyway – so once more I was off at a booth being lonely.  After dinner  I made a huge effort and gave up being a loner, and marched over to the bar and insinuated myself. Ok.  And with this I happily became acquainted with Donna and Michael from Bermuda – not so far off American and certainly not from cocktails.  One evening we were yakking it up with Sunny… we received a very VERY respectful request for quiet – well, they were having a lecture IN THE BAR at COCKTAIL HOUR.  There was no doubt … we were the most disruptive people on the ship.  And I admit, that was very fun.

I told you this was a unique ship. 

Sunny, the sunniest bartender ever, and his bar.

panorama lounge - every one is "viewing" a lighthouse.

FOOT GEAR of preference-while inside only.

That "luscious" jacuzzi at night.

Most ingenious table and chairs; and deck.

impressive scenery.


They make a considerable and  totally successful effort to keep their visitors  Entertained, Occupied, and perhaps even Educated.

That’s really basically just icing on the cake; with  National Geographic quality scenery and stunning vistas gliding by  24/7 what else is needed?


There are the two  MAJOR RITUALS -   I suppose the most familiar activity/entertainment they offer  celebrating crossing the Arctic Circle complete with King Neptune and ice down the neck.  I did that on our first trip and once was enough…. At least for this time. Etc, etc   and then there was program on the roof to view the ship passing through THE TROLLFJORD>   (I talk about this earlier under Coastal Voyages).

there are the very frequent STOPS: They are surely the major activity for cruise passengers; you spend the day running up to the roof to take pictures. This is a Very successful occupation.

There are   LECTURES:  The lectures , involving all things Norwegian like myths and folklore, culture and reindeer, were actually not a huge commitment;  actually tended to be short and sweet because they were generally shoehorned  between meals, the stops when we all had to rush to the roof,  and the occasional excursion.  The delightful young woman who not only delivers these lectures, she does it in at least three languages – was also needed and in demand to facilitate  tour departures.

  I’VE always been selective about what lectures or programs I would partake in as my priorities were more in the order of meals, cocktails, pool time, etc.  +++ BUT this is Norway, and  I felt  a compunction to ingest as much indigenous atmosphere as I could possible acquire – it took me a bit to recognize this, but once it was hatched I was on my way.  And I loved every minute of them.

 My favorite  lecture:  it being such a surprise and so unexpected, involved Crabs.   Did you know that what we know of as King Crab, actually “Kamchatka King Crab”,  has actually become a major scourge in Norway?   ++  I have always associated  “Kamchatka” with Alaska; a very long way from Norway.   So, what about it?

in an effort  to save a sagging  Far Asian seafood industry in the Far Asian Russia conceived of the idea of introducing  the King Crab into the area.   This project was initiated in the  1960’s and was met with great difficulty.  The crabs were spectacularly difficult to persuade.  They finally managed to transport nine female Kamchatka   Red King Crabs from the Alaskan peninsula, across Asia to the Barents Sea in  North Norway. They have bcome, and not fondly known as “Stalin’s Crabs”.

This is a most amazing creature (arthropod/crustacean no matter how you cut it;  Not only a possesses an amazing 6 to 7 foot wing span, is also  capable of detecting 400 odors  to our 40 (how do you suppose  they know that?),

Unfortunately it is also a major detriment to Norway and its fishing industry.

The   crab had no predators and is an excessively INVASIVE SPECIES. What’s more; it EATS EVERYTHING including equipment meant to corale it; nothing is sacred.  Outcome: basically it is succeeding in creating a “desert” of the ocean floor thus totally wrecking the local environment. 

They  first started showing up  in Norway in 1977 and has been  spreading fast; it has been spotted as far south as Bergen.  The basic fear is that  they’ll reach the  Cod breeding grounds in Lofoten which would be a total  disaster to Norway’s  fishing industry.

So why don’t we just eat the lot?  Answer:  they are exceedingly  expensive in our stores – and why might that be?   I discovered, they are nasty to catch,  are slow breeding,  and they can’t be farmed because they eat the necessary netting/equipment.  Furthermore, they are also a protected species.  Too bad, I thought I was on to something.

And ROOF TOP PROGRAMS:   just to round out that scintillating list of available entertainment: , The Expedition team, which seems to include most of the staff - also scheduled/provided/staged/   roof top programs complete with alcoholic beverages all at the astonishing cost of $11.  Even one of their specialities : tea with rum (just as vacuous as it sounds).  That was fine with me – I limit by intake.  One of the programs involved the poor long suffering and freezing chef demonstrating how to prepare salmon – I personally just pick it up at the grocery store all done.  With this they offered aquavit which I was happy to try. 


As would be expected in February in Norway,  the emphasis was on  winter sports like snowmobiling, dog sledding, cross country skiing, and there’s always walking. etc.  Although very appealing, these were way out of our comfort zone, and the more sedate tours were limited to stops which we had already visited on our previous trip.  This was good.  It permitted us the opportunity to indulge in a more pleasurable  drive around the area by a local cab.   Our experience at the first stop,  Alesund, was so very satisfying, that we had no problem electing to continue this and this  proved to be 100% the ideal choice.  not only was it the most satisfying option, but it also was actually usually half the price of the ship’s tour

We signed up from home for only two excursions;  the one was to visit the Saltstrummen which I spoke of earlier.

The other  was  the closest we could get to Lofoten.  (it seems this was the closest you could get in winter.  This was a 4 ½ hour tour,  obviously an amount of time never provided at any of the stops so it was handled thusly: we deboated at Harstad –the ship left us there, and picked  us up at the next stop ++ how’s that for clever…  It was a bus/ferry/bus drive around a neighboring island – I gather the largest island of the 45,000 they count.  We visited an ancient church purportedly from the Viking era 1000 years old, arriving just in time to sit and enjoy the short morning service.   As we were the soul visitors and very small in number,   we were able  feel the depth of atmosphere that permeated it.- so unusual on a normal tour . We then strolled over  to the neighboring museum  and it’s neighbor a very beautifully designed museum dealing with that time frame.  We were then bussed around the island  thus to enjoy  the beauty of Norwegian fjord country.  It was during this ride that we were informed of the extreme visisitudes of living in avalanche country. – those avalanches purportedly caused by those trolls throwing down rocks, as well as a short introduction to a traditional style vocal style  Called yoiking… the guide was making scathing remarks at our hymn singing  and somehow became inspired to launch  into this totally terrific sound… he was very good.

Of course no professional ship excursion would be complete without a goodly supply of humorous tales relating to the scenery we were passing by.   I managed to acquire three good stories:  the  BARN STORY,  and the BLUE BUIILDING AND BOOZE story….both of which  I relate under the topic of Norway.  That leaves me with  the CANON: It seems the Germans left a 97 Ft long canon when they left at the end of the war.  I was astounded at this description:  What kind of explosives would  be needed to fire such a weapon? And  what kind of ammunition would it propel and was it actually capable of firing at all?  After the war it appeared to the villagers that alll these questions needed to be answered so….. they  primed it up and set it off….   And it blew out all the windows in town.  Needless to say, it was  retired. Good story.

and another tale of the kindness and consideration of the Norwegians:  I brought nothing but my camera…. But I started to become overwhelmed with delicious incidents I would have liked to make note of.   We were on the ferry I asked our tour gjuide if I could borrow a pen and a bit of paper to jot down a few things… the man he was speaking to departed and came back and handed me a pen and piece of paper – just keep it.  I was totally gratified.  How nice   

   By not doing the set tourist excursions I miss out on all the deliciously wacky tourist diatribe.  Can’t have everything.  But these three stories satisfied the need quite sufficiently.    




Viewing HARSTAD view.

Those are not deer - they are unowned reindeer.


one of the "iffier" days - weather wise.


I’ve already noted my idea of what evolved as a perfect daily schedule: up at 7:45 (allowing plenty of time to eat that yummy breakfast/ROOF/EAT/lecture or shore time/EAT/ROOF/ lecture or shore stop/ROOF/COCKTAILS/EAT/BAR/BED.   How much more relaxed can it be?  Just the perfect PERFECT level of exertion; not too little, not too much…

the result of this very busy agenda was that I had little time for the stash of emergency time-passers I had:  crossword puzzles - and I came quite adequately provided -  or even for any of the five  heavy- books I never leave home without.  My experience in the past with cruise days on the water was that there was very little interesting to do unless there was a pool and an appropriate temperature (hardly forthcoming in this case barring the existence of the outdoor jacuzzi’s -  brrrrr).  This was  a warning to me to come prepared: and this proved to be another  of those non issues I had formulated at home.


I really did know that going to Norway in February was just a bit on the nutty side – but I just love “nutty” situations.   To make it even more interesting;   I had no winter clothes.   I make it a practice to never go out in bad weather, so I wasn’t particularly anxious to invest in any either.  I spent a lot of happy time speculating about how I was going to survive this and it was a great topic of conversation;  the general opinion was that I was going to FREEZE.

I broke down and bought a down jacket  on line for $30 (I never had a chance to test it for lack of testing conditions, so I was left with the question of whether that  $30 jacket would actually work in subzero temperatures);  and we managed to acquire a suit of thermal underwear for each of us..   I figured if that didn’t work I’d simply pile on everything I brought;  and if that didn’t work - I’d never go outside.  I really didn’t care.

 And wasn’t I in for a surprise….. 

  We’ve ALL got THE impression that Norway, because so much of it is above THE ARCTIC CIRCLE;  is hellatiously FRIGID. This is a total fallacy.  Not so. We underestimated the effect  in Norway of the Gulf Stream.   We also made no allowance for the global warming which is making an impact at this point.   Kirkines, our most northern point of encounter,  purportedly had been -27Celsius only a week earlier,  but apparently cleaned up it’s act just for us, and  it was a rather balmy and very doable 0o Celsius - – 32oF - not much different from here.

I expected to spend the entire time in the ship considering the cold, and the activity level;   but neither was a problem: minimal layering was quite adequate:  the $30 jacket worked very well – and will be a good addition to my home wardrobe.   I never used the long underwear, the gloves, and the hat only once (the jacket hood hindered my vision),  the flannel nightgown I was really hoping to wear for once (I suppose I should toss it), and the boots? well, I might go out in the rain occasionally.

They keep their environments toasty warm; and the ship was not immune to this tendency;  much to some  discomfort on my part.   I was packed for the Arctic, so I had to make a few not so attractive adjustments – but blessedly and like I said before, there was not an inkling of “fashion statement” visible on the ship …. THE CABS WERE very warm too; The cabbies were invariably in SHORT SLEEVES. I was a bit embarrassed to ask to have the window open so I could enjoy  that beautiful crispy fresh air. 

I learned something… when I attempted to figure out how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit below 0 I got lost in a miasma -  a fog.  Our delightful (again) driver looked it up on his iPad and discovered the fact that temperature as it becomes minus in Celsius becomes closer and closer to Fahrenheit until you get to minus 40 and I gather they’re both the same.   Interesting.

WEATHER… this was very well described by our dulcet- voiced ship announcer as she declared:   “the winter is not playing in our direction” as she  was  announcing the cancellation of the tour to North cape::  too much snow, threat of avalanches.

I suppose most people would say  the weather was BAD, you might even call it ghastly at times:  rapidly changing, rain, sleet, snow, and sometimes even all at once.  If you like your weather with attitude, this was it.  I just loved it; after all one of my reasons for being there was for SNOW, and for that you need WINTER.  Ok, I’m willing to admit that a ray or two of sunshine might have been  nice.   

And then there were the occasions of  rough seas: “motion in the ocean”.     These occurrences were actually rather hefty, but also blessedly of rather short duration…. There was a certain amount of crashing dishes in the dining room, and all kinds of opportunity to show off any agility you might have as you went dancing from one thing to hang on to  to another – which I love, but was hardly permitted to do because my momentum was hindered by very helpful,  thoughtful  and considerate ship’s personnel – I had a hard time shaking them.  Certain essentials proved to be real tricky however:  – achieving the surface of the rather high bed without landing on the floor instead, and equally so the “necessity” was hard to aim at.   I loved it but was relieved when the episodes proved to be of short duration. 


the issue of “THE DARKNESS” :a major element this far in the northern world. 

You aren’t so aware of the “midnight sun” – the sun is just there.  BUT THE DARK… now that’s a whole different ball game.  And it’s very apparent for a substantial part of the year.  The shortest day of the year is mid December; by February its let up considerably – but it has a huge effect on how and what you see. 

I was on the expecting to see scenes I have photos of taken in our August visit in 2006.  I made a point of getting a cabin which would be on the right side of the ship in order to see those scenes.  and puzzling enough I saw none of them as careful as I had been.    And finally I got it – our window of visibility was limited.  I bet most of it was shrouded in dark..  (and  don’t forget the snow).

I I got the impression thanks to YouTube, all the excursions were schedule in the middle of the night.  Not at all….AT ALL..  what better time for dog sleds and snowmobiles?  No, that wasn’t necessarily a misunderstanding – I think there was a whole lot of this action but was naturally no problem for me – let those few hardy souls have at it.   I think they were on top of a mountain at midnight snowmobiling….. ok, that sounds exciting.  Maybe for an owl.

This paucity of light did encourage me to be alert for photo ops during that short window available.  …        I felt some push to get out there and get my pictures when any opportunity presented itself  - figuring I’d be restricted in photo time.  but no biggey:  night shots in ports were aone.  The general interest excursions –  actually the longer stops – were a few hours midday so a reasonable brightness.  and I’d say the weather itself was more of a determinant.

  The darkness  (6 months of it) to live with; now that’s quite a different issue and surely a very good reason for the government to attempt to regulate booze.  Otherwise,  a common solution is to take off for Spain occasionally.


 I  was  pleased by the prevalence of other languages:   this allowed me my preferred  privacy. I didn’t feel compelled to eavesdrop – although the opportunity did arise;  unfortunately I’ve dredged up a good deal of useful information this way in the past.   I was not expected to participate but could still be present, and I didn’t feel excluded or envious or uncomfortable like I’ve occasionally felt on other ships.  


Exiting and entering the ship –can be is generally something of an ordeal.  Often involving a plethora of security precautions, customs checks and extensive plowing through vast warehouse like  buildings  on the wharf.  Add to that a substantial dollop of climbing up and down a gangplank and finally a helping of  Xray surveillance to boot to add  to the key card check in.  this subject/ category probably doesn’t resonate with you, but believe me it can be very meaningful if you are a bit ambulatory impaired.

And then there’s Hurtegruten : with about as minimal a boarding process as possible and a gangplank which is negligible if present at all.  There’s the  basic key card check  to assure no one is left behind and with that you are greeted by a scanner which greets you  “hello” and  “goodbye” as appropriate. Access to the excursion vehicles and local cabs are a bare  step away.


One note of  warning:.a precaution;     A minimal hazard:  watch out for the patches of ICE on the piers.  This problem is easily rectified/solved by cheap slip on cleats.  

Rain, snow, sleet, everything at once-good stuff.

the famous warehouses from our window.

BERGEN BATH - super "rainforest".



(I know, you’ve heard this before)



new mantra

LESS EFFORT; MORE SATISFACTION  *** I’m showing my age




BEST TRIP  EVER ::::  A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW…..all elements agreeable and in total balance.

Did I experience snow?  Not enough, but I sure did enjoy what little I was given.

Did I see Lofoten?     Sorta/ but I got the message.

we actually were probably sailing beside it for some time each way. We did learn what makes Lofoten  so special:  what makesit especially photogenic thus a visitor attraction.   These particular  mountains were so high that they escaped being scraped down  by the glaciers of the last Ice Age; they were therefore left  appreciably higher, sharper and craggier than most.   I may have missed an objective but I feel my desires have been well satisfied.

And the snow in Bergen?  The truth is, Bergen is known for it’s rain;   but it snowed for me and that’s what counts.  The Xmas card from Seabourn that  vaguely inspired this trip?  There is no question it is an enhanced photograph, as all commercial images of this sort have to be, but that’s ok.  I am so very thankful; it served it’s purpose.

HAPPY HAPPY   100% stress free. No cataracts, and happy heart as it should meal planning etc.  No obligations, no decisions to be made, no commitments, …minimal wardrobe decisions, food decisions only with ease and totally agreeable, minimal activity stress effort.. no imposing effort.  Privacy and space quite at most achievable, sufficient enjoyable intellectual mental stimulation….all creature comforts enjoyably attended to. And I didn’t get antsy or  need to activate as is usual on cruises at sea barring pool – obviously not an option - and  not counting those outdoors Jacuzzis  brrrr and no sun….even more brrr…. 

Life was so simple and the return so great  - what was there not to love?

And how about all those little acts of kindness so readily offered – and so much appreciated.  I can’t tell you how gratified that made me feel.

This was so perfect I simply can’t imagine a repeat – everything else will suffer in contrast.  Perfect comfort, ease, enjoyment;  only small Hurtegruten. I think nothing else will suffice.  Unique, special, unconventional.

Small ships are unfortunately going the way of the Dodo;  maybe because they’re not as financially lucrative, and perhaps even not so  desirable  as people want more amenities.   The Spitzbergen:  I’ve been told her future is solid; she’s unique as an expedition ship, and due to the amount of fuel she carries –often called into service when ports are cut off by storms.   she’s often the only ship capable of rescue.  I hope this is right; I can only hope.

 I’m not,  however, so sure I’m up to an “expedition” cruise.   I’m being confronted by that term as I research SMALL SHIPS;    but I  perceive that a reprieve may be on the way: I’ve encountered what may be a new category  for cruises  - SCENIC CRUISES – that does sound hopeful.

I’ve been thinking about this trip for so long and now IT’S DONE and …. I suppose I’m at loose ends!  First time in forever.  What will I do with myself.. aside from looking at 500+ pictures of snow. 

I hate to say EPITOME…QUITING AT TOP…maybe I’ll discover that i have to go to something more sedentary.

There’s a good chance that I’d be willing to  take that risk.





           MY VERY FAVORITE PHOTOS.......



     I HAVE ADDED A PHOTO ALBUM for PHOTOS of my   favorite locations: Honningvag, and kristiansund, and my favorite subject: boats.








One month later



 I simply couldn’t imagine such a complete antithesis.  From heaven to hell.

And I am sitting here writing and appreciating every minute of that heaven.  I didn’t think I could appreciate it more than I did. What a gift it has proven to be.