Welcome on Board
After a busy day of skiing in Tromsø we left our hotel at midnight. It was only a short walk to get to the Hurtigruten terminal and we were happy to see our ship, the Midnatsol, waiting for us. It certainly looked more cruise ship than a ferry with its modern design and a foyer which even had glass elevators. We left our bags in our cabin and went to explore the ship before our 1.30am departure. There were numerous nice lounge areas and up on deck there were even two jacuzzis. It was while we were up on deck that Nigel noticed an unusual band of green light in the sky rising up from Tromsø. It could only be one thing, the Northern Lights! We watched as it became a little brighter and then began to move about in the sky and by now some other passengers were watching on excitedly and trying to take photographs of it.
The excitement of boarding our ship late at night and seeing the Northern Lights meant that it was late before we got to bed but both slept soundly until being woken the following morning by a very jolly woman whose voiced blasted out from the tannoy above Martha’s head! She was informing us that we were in Harstad and the Polaris, another ship in the Hurtigruten fleet, was about to leave port.
Sun, Sea and Shore Excursions!
It was a bright sunny morning, so Nigel left Martha to get ready for breakfast and headed up onto deck to take some photos and watch as we left Harstad. The scenery in every direction was breathtaking with snow covered mountains as far as the eye could see. The route from Tromsø to the Lofoten Islands is reckoned to be perhaps the most spectacular section of the Norwegian coastline. The ship is never in open sea and seems to constantly have beautiful scenery in every direction. Having breakfast at a window watching the Arctic scenery passing by was something neither of us will ever forget. Following breakfast, we returned to our cabin to pack up, as the cabins have to be vacated by 12 midday. It’s not really a problem as there is a room to leave your luggage and there are more than enough lounges to relax in until you disembark. We had paid extra for a cabin with a window and while this is nice to have it may not really be necessary as you probably won’t be spending a lot of time in your cabin.
The Hurtigruten ships many years ago operated as post ships to deliver mail and supplies to remote towns and villages along the Norwegian Coast as well as also acting as small scale ferries to local people. Over the years this has evolved and the ships are now mainly medium sized cruise ships/ferries offering cruises of varying lengths. They range from hours right up to 12 days, perhaps to passengers from all over the world who want to experience Norways spectacular coastline and fjords etc. Hurtigruten remains true to its roots however and they continue to bring post and supplies to small isolated communities. Whenever the ship stops at these small towns, passengers are free to go ashore – even if it’s just for 20 minutes.
Our first shore excursion was 20 minutes in Andøy, which apparently is the whale watching capital of Norway with a 95% success rate in the waters close to it. It is also one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights as its skies tend to stay cloud free much of the time. Ironically, when we were there it snowed but at least we can say we have been to Andøy! We were always slightly nervous leaving the ship incase it sailed off without us but Hurtigruten usually make sure they sound their horn about 10 minutes before sailing, which has everyone racing back! These little stops are actually a fun way to break up the journey, not that we didn’t enjoy relaxing on the ship in one of the many lounges or being up on deck taking photos! Our next stop was in Sortland but it was snowing quite heavily and the main town looked a bit of a walk away so we didn’t get off that time. We were a bit worried about running out of memory on Martha’s video camera so we made a point of getting off at the next stop in Stokmarkness where we would have about 40 minutes ashore. We really made use of every minute! We crammed so much in that we pretty much feel like we had a vacation in Stokmarknes :-D. We looked in a store near the harbour for a memory card. They didn’t stock any but a member of staff kindly went outside with us and pointed to where we could buy one. Having completed that mission successfully, we then stopped at a bakery and after much deliberation we decided on a slice of cake each to bring back on board the ship. Lunch was a delicious Hurtigruten burger (not the first time a Hurtigruten burger will feature during our trip) and fries which we shared, followed by our newly purchased cakes! The remaining few hours of the journey were spent on deck enjoying the scenery and in one of the lounges relaxing and recharging camera batteries! Always have a spare battery with you if you make this trip as your camera will be kept busy! We were shown the entrance to the famous Trollfjord and were soon sailing into Svolvaer. The port town of Svolvaer is as busy as it gets on Lofoten but this particular weekend it was really buzzing as the World Cod Fishing Championships were being held. This event made the Olympic Games look like a school sports day in comparison!
Car rental Lofoten style!
Getting off the ship at around 18.45 there was music playing and crowds of fisher men literally everywhere. Whenever Nigel had been trying to book accommodation in Svolvaer months previously, he had found it hard to believe that there wasn’t a single hotel room available….cod fishing was the reason why! We had booked a rental car and went in search of their office. All that we found were drunk Norwegians, who all seemed to get involved, trying to give us directions. Nigel finally phoned the rental company and a woman said that she was waiting for us back at the ferry terminal … we had not been told somebody would be meeting us! Once we had found her, it only took about a minute to complete the paperwork…that never happens! She never even tried to force extra insurance cover on us … clearly through a sense of guilt. All that she said was that it wasn’t a new car, had some scrapes and basically as long as we didn’t roll it into a fjord not to worry. When Nigel asked where to return it to when we were leaving, she told him just to leave it in the harbour car park and put the key under the driver’s mat. That didn’t sound too safe to us but we were reliably informed that it had never been stolen … this turned out not to be much of a surprise.
And so we first set eyes on ‘it’ as the woman rushed away before we could fully appreciate the beauty of our vile dark yellow coloured original model Renault Megane, which certainly showed signs of considerable wear and tear! However, the doors did open and even closed when you slammed them three times. The electric windows did open and even close though it did take minutes rather than seconds. If ever a car looked like it had driven 114,000km, then this was surely it. The advertisement for Rent a Car Lofoten showed a shiny new White Volkswagen Scirocco but that clearly was being used by someone luckier, probably the owner of the company!
‘It’ started though, which came as somewhat of a surprise and we were soon on the open road, heading for the village of Henningsvaer where we were staying for two nights. The drive took about half an hour and we were already having to stop for photos on the way, which set the tone for the remainder of our 48 hours on Lofoten….this place was spectacular!
Check in Challenges!
We were spending our two nights on Lofoten in The Arctic Hotel in the quaint fishing village of Henningsvaer. The village has been called the World’s most beautiful village and is situated in a spectacular location straddling a number of Islands stretching out into the sea. It wasn’t that many years ago that it was only accessible by boat from the mainland but there are now a number of bridges. Pulling up outside our hotel, located on the first of the islands, we followed the sign to the reception to find it locked and in darkness. It was now about 8pm and the Arctic evening had a distinct chill so we were rather keen not to have to spend the night sleeping in the car! We saw a phone number on a sign so Martha phoned it and spoke to a guy who it turned out worked in their sister hotel/restaurant about two minutes drive away. It transpired that he had the key to our room and so we went to pick it up from a slightly embarrassed looking guy working in the restaurant. He agreed that perhaps the owner should have given better instructions about where to pick up room keys.
The hotel was located right at the water’s edge and while the room was certainly compact, it was in a beautiful setting. Nothing more could surely go wrong after our slightly stressful rental car and room key experiences … wrong! Nigel put his phone on to charge before heading out for dinner and placed it on a table. He then pulled the curtains, knocking off the heavy metal end of the curtain pole, which wasn’t attached. In seemingly slow motion he watched as it fell, landing right on his new phone with a loud smash, sending the phone high into the air with the force of the blow. Lifting his phone off the ground Nigel was delighted to see a series of spider’s web like cracks all over the screen … not amused and a few swear words filled the Arctic air!
Fish or Fish for Dinner?
Picking up our room key at the nearby restaurant, we had had a quick look at the menu and it has to be said that nothing was really jumping out at us food wise. We were hoping for a beautiful fish dinner in this gorgeous fishing village, but cod tongues and moose stew were not something which we would have had before! Nigel was still grieving for his phone screen and decided not to give the hotel restaurant his custom as a silent protest. So we went in search of an alternative. Somewhat to our surprise, we found another restaurant open nearby, which looked good. There was no menu, as it changed daily and so the waiter told us what was available. Basically, there was fish or fish and even more cod tongues. The cod tongues still weren’t making us drool so we went for the monkfish and halibut and crossed our fingers! We needn’t have worried though as it transpired that this small fishing village at what felt like the end of the world was filled with fine dining restaurants more akin to some cosmopolitan city centre!
Returning to our hotel, we decided to sleep with the curtains open, just in case the Northern Lights should make an appearance. The sound of the waves lapping against the building soon had us knocked out however! The next day was our only full day and we had a lot of exploring to do so join us in our next article when we discover if the Lofoten Islands really are one of the most beautiful places on Earth!
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