The Fjords of Norway
Our eighteen day voyage would take us north-east from Dover, across the North Sea, along the northern coast of Norway to its most northern point, and then across to the Russian port of Murmansk. We spent the majority of our cruise north of the Arctic Circle. Just how far north we traveled will be described later. Even we were surprised.
Over the course of our idyllic journey, we ventured in and out of the fjords along the Norwegian coastline, visiting towns of varying sizes like Bergen, Tromso and Trondheim. We ventured to fishing villages like Gravdal and Alesund. We traversed majestic fjords, where the peaks towered above us, at Helleyslt and Flaam.
Putting to one side the majestic beauty of Murmansk – a subject to which I shall return later in this journal – each of the Norwegian hamlets, towns and villages were much the same. They were wonderfully pretty, as though caught in a sleepy fairy-tale. They all boasted ginger-bread houses of pastel colours, which lined the harbour or the coast line. On lovely, blue and golden days, the pastel colours of red and yellow were reflected in the sparkling blue water. On other days, when grey clouds gathered or drizzle set in, the colourful houses stood happily and maintained their pleasant disposition despite the weather. There were always snow clad peaks somewhere within our view.
We half expected a troupe of dwarfs to come marching out of the woods, axes over their shoulders, singing as they strode happily in unison.
At Helleyslt and Geiranger, on the fourth day of our voyage, we were treated to a spectacular fjord which puts Milford Sound to shame. Sharp escarpments, covered with pine trees until the moss and rocks took over, rose from the still water until they hovered over our heads; brooding in their intense melancholic state. Given the rain, multiple waterfalls cascaded hundreds of metres to the water below. At one point, there were seven separate waterfalls over a short distance of several hundred metres. Consistent with the fairytale theme, these cascades are known as `the Seven Sisters’. Directly across from them streamed a single waterfall of considerable size and intense power. Appropriately, he is known as `the Suitor’; although we liked the alternate name of `the Bridal Veil’ due to the way the falls fanned out at their base.
We were treated to a similarly stunning fjord on the penultimate day of our journey when we visited Flaam. Once again, our vessel was dwarfed by the towering escarpments which humbled us with their majesty.
Throughout our voyage, Huckleberry B and I mostly embarked upon unplanned walks around the various towns, lasting for anything from ninety minutes to four hours. We wandered hither and yon, admiring the ginger bread houses, the churches and the surrounding, snow-covered peaks. Each place we visited presented a multitude of post-card shots, as fishing vessels bobbed in the water and dwellings sat in complete agreement with the surrounding landscape.
Land of the Midnight Sun
Once we had crossed the Arctic Circle – the 60th parallel north of the equator – we also waved goodbye to darkness. For the next week, we would live in constant daylight as the sun remained permanently above the horizon.
Our first (interminable) evening of endless daylight was blessed with a cloudless sky. Not wishing to take our chances on the good weather continuing, Huckleberry and I stayed up late to watch the sun slowly descend over the western sky, hover above the horizon at midnight, and begin its ascent across the early hours of the morning.
We are so accustomed to the sun following its daily habit of setting in the evening and rising in the morning. Witnessing the sun behave in an unusual way is remarkable. We’ve never before watched (through bleary eyes) a brilliant crimson sunset at the midnight hour. Nor have we every before seen the sun refuse to rest below the horizon, allowing the night its temporary reign. Even in Antarctica we were allowed several hours of dimly lit night whilst the sun’s arc took it just below the horizon. For a week on Ocean Princess, it was nigh impossible to tell night from day. Every morning was like waking from an afternoon nap. Even with double curtains, an eye mask was essential if sleep was desired.
Despite being so far north, the weather was relatively mild. It was certainly brisk outside, however, we rarely experienced sub-zero temperatures. Most of the time, we enjoyed weather hovering around the 10 degree Celsius mark.
The way it has been explained to us is that the warm Gulf Stream flows across the Atlantic from the Gulf of Mexico and up along the Scandinavian Coast, all the way to the peak at North Cape. The Gulf Stream operates to mitigate the cold air sweeping down from the Arctic, leaving a relatively mild climate for the high degree of northern latitude. Passengers onboard Ocean Princess, from Canada, lamented the absence of the Gulf Stream in their country. They experienced much colder – and hasher – Canadian weather even though they lived further south.
Whilst the Gulf Stream was a friendly collaborator against the Arctic cold, there was one downside; there were no icebergs of any note. During our three days in Antarctica, in 2009, we saw thousands upon thousands of icebergs, ranging from the size of a chair to a bulk several times larger than our vessel. It was one of the truly memorable aspects of our expedition to the southern continent and we missed them during our voyage across the Arctic Ocean.