Friday, 30 November 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 9

Hurtigruten MAP_0011

A taste of Vesteralen

Although we did not get to bed until 0130, as soon as our ship docks at Harstad, we are off and on to a small coach at 0810 for a short tour of Vesteralen rejoining the Lofoten at Sortland by 1300.

The plan is that we will drive across country making various visits on the way and the Lofoten will sail around the islands to meet us at Sortland.

Starting with a tour around Harstad (schools, hospitals, old people’s homes and views) and after some of the most stunning views of the non-dawn

Morning Sky

Morning Sky-1

Sky improving

we arrive at Trodneses stone medieval church which is the oldest stone medieval church in northern Norway. It is a gem.

Trodmanes Church

The church used to have a belfry up high but this was taken down

Church Tower on ground

and put into the grounds because it was unsafe. 

Door Carvings

The original church door has lots of marks carved into it – these are thought to be the official marks of the masons whose stone built the church.

Masons were given their personal mark after a five year apprenticeship and these were cut into the stones they prepared “No one shall wilfully or forcibly change the mark given to him by the guild” German document 1459.

It is not know if the church stones were cut on site or came ready prepared with the marks on them.

Official Length Gauge

The door also has an official length gauge on it – if there was a dispute as to the length of something (cloth for example), then it could be taken to the church door and measured against the gauge handing on the door.


The organ is perfectly sized for the church and the latest organ is in the original organ case.


The pulpit is finely decorated, as is the Altar


2012_11300049 2012_11300050 2012_11300045 

All of the above panels will be covered up during Advent which starts. Originally the church had lots of wall paintings dating from its

 Medieval Wall Paintings

Roman Catholic origins describing the scripture tales to those who could not read or write. These were over-painted during a strong Lutheran period but a few show through or have been recovered.

Side Chapel

Very nearby is the Trodneses Historical Centre

Historical Centre

which is an attractive turf roofed building

Historical Centre Foyer

with a log fire burner in the foyer

Historical Centre dining

and a cafe with the most amazing view of the mountains on the other side of the fjord.

Chasuble detail 1500

Putting these attractions to one side, it also has a lot of historical information related to the area and a superb example of needle work dated 1500 – an embroidered chasuble – in the above picture is St Anne with an infant Mary on one arm and an infant Jesus on the other.

There are also a lot of printed records related to the area, pictures, stones etc.

Interisland ferries are important and in order to get to our destination,

Mountains near ferry

we take the Gullesfjord ferry

Ferry awaits

Ferry View

which provides an hourly service across the fjord to a small number of passengers. The low demand for its essential

Ferry Cafe

service does not stop it providing a rather good cafe for passengers on the 30 min trip.

The island we get to is mountainous and during the depths

View from Ferry

of winter, the roads are an avalanche risk but we survive and get to Sortland having seen some beautiful but very cold scenery.

Lofoten approaching Sortland

As we go over the road bridge at Sortland, the Lofoten passes underneath us giving us a unique photo opportunity. It looks so small when compared with the other ferries we have seen over the past few days.


The Hurtigruten Museum and the headquarters of the Hurtigruten coastal express company is in the somewhat isolated village (population just over 3000) of Stokmarknes. On the way north our ship calls only for 15 minutes because it is the middle of the night but on the way south we get a very short hour on land to see the museum – free to Hurtigruten passengers. The most striking thing you notice as you come into port is a Hurtigruten ship sitting on the quayside – the MS Finnmarken.

About the history of the route, the official journals say:

In 1891, August Kriegsman Gran, the national steamship advisor, came up with the idea of providing an express boat service between Trondheim and Hammerfest. Two steamship companies,“Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskab” and “Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab”, were offered the route, but turned it down as sailing during the dark and stormy winters was considered impossible.

At this time, only two marine charts existed and there were only 28 lighthouses north of Trondheim. Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, a relatively young steamship company based in Stokmarknes, took up the challenge. For some time, Captain Richard With and his pilots had been keeping accurate notes on courses, speeds and times taken to sail the route and felt that the service would be viable. Their view was that a compass and a clock were the only navigational aids necessary in the Polar Night.

Having seen how much the ship weaves in and out of fjords, around rocks etc, I am not so sure about the wisdom of travelling with only these few aids!

On 18 May 1893, the government entered into a 4-year contract with Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab, providing the company with the backing for a weekly sailing between Trondheim and Hammerfest during the summer and Trondheim and Tromsø during the winter.There were nine ports of call on the route.

On the morning of 2 July 1893, the steamship  ‘Vesteraalen’  left  Trondheim  for Hammerfest.This started a communications revolution, giving industry and coastal inhabitants better access to the outside world. Letters from Trondheim, which had previously taken up to three weeks to reach Hammerfest during the summer, and five months during the winter, could now be delivered by the Coastal Express in just a few days. Svolvær was reached in 36 hours - and 67 hours after leaving Trondheim, the ship dropped anchor in Hammerfest harbour on 5 July at 03.30 - half an hour early! The ship and its crew were greeted with salutes and cheering all along the coast.

Once Richard With and Vesteraalens Dampskibsselskab had shown the way, several shipping companies followed. In 1894, Det Bergenske Dampskibsselskab and Det Nordenfjeldske Dampskibsselskab were granted permission to operate ships on the route.The number of ships serving the route constantly increased.

In 1898, Bergen became the southernmost port on the Coastal Express’ route.Vadsø was included on the route in 1907 and Kirkenes in 1914. For a short period, there were weekly sailings from Stavanger but, from 1936 to the present day a Coastal Express has left Bergen daily heading north.This service has only been interrupted by the war.

So we arrived at Stokmarknes and whilst they repaired the ship’s anchor, we went to the Hurtigruten Museum.

Hurtigruten Hus

I must say that after all of the build up, I found it a tremendous disappointment. The MS Finnmarken which is


parked on the quayside and open for visitors was a barely

Finnmarken up closeFinnmarken inside Finnmarken inside-1

Finnmarken inside-2      

lit building site with no signs directing you around it, many unlit staircases and corridors and was of little value for a visit. No doubt when it is finished, it will be worth a visit but at the moment, it is not.

The main museum consists of a number of room tableau (including appropriately a Post Office)

Hurtigruten Tableau-2

Hurtigruten Tableau-1

Hurtigruten Tableauwhich are quaint to look at and give you a taste of what it was like in the old days plus large amounts of bits and pieces from 119 years of ships and trade. Possibly very interesting to the Hurtigruten fanatic but not very to me.

So the 45 minutes we had on shore here was more than enough and the comment of others about a shortage of time to see all that was there proved untrue for me and certainly a good number of our group (but at least it was free to Hurtigruten travellers).

After our early dinner at Svolvaer which is the capital of the Lofoten Islands, we went out into town for 90 minutes to see a local art gallery (very good but very expensive) and the rather unusual War

WW2 Museum

Museum nearby (80 NoKr).


This contains an astonishing amount of genuine WWII material mainly related to the Lofoten area.


clumped together in some sort of order


and rarely behind glass.


Above is a recreation of the local Gestapo office

War-2 War-3

and here we have ammunition, flying gear and much more.

 Christmas Lights

And as we leave this little but important town, we pass a hotel with superb Christmas decoration which ice-like, looks as cold as we feel.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 8

Food on the MS Lofoten

From experience we know that Norway is expensive – very very expensive and hence we chose to go for the Full Board option when booking our tickets. This means that for 12 days we get as much food as we can eat, three times a day with tea / coffee included after every meal. Whilst this does not equate with the 24 hour food offer on major cruise ships, I can assure you that what is on offer on the Lofoten is more than sufficient.

If you chose not to buy the full board package but to buy meals as and when you eat them, the prices will put you off eating too many. In the restaurant, Breakfast costs 135 kr, lunch 285 kr and dinner 395 kr. At 8.92 Kr to the £ or 6.963 to the $, if you bought every meal at the door, it would cost around £1000 ($1500) per person for the whole 12 day trip.

Hurtigruten describe the food onboard as (unsurprisingly) “Norwegian. All inclusive meals are served in the one restaurant. Breakfast is buffet style and lunch is the famous "Cold Table" while dinner is a no choice 3 course menu. There is also a cafe serving snacks, drinks 24 hrs”

The cafe serves less formal food

Cafeteria food

and typical of what is on offer there is:

Meat ball sandwich 65 NoKr
Smoked Trout sandwich 59 NoKr
Baguette with shrimp salad 59 NoKr
Ciabatta with chicken curry salad 68 NoKr
Today’s sandwich 52 NoKr
Pasta Bolognese 115 NoKr
Baked Trout 145 NoKr
Fish and Chips 95 NoKr
and lots more.

The most expensive dish is “Ship’s Pizza at 175 NoKr”, I have no idea how large it is.

For those eating in the restaurant, the usual meal times are: breakfast from 07.30 to 10.00 hours (open sitting – you can sit anywhere you want); lunch from 13.00 hours (open sitting); dinner from 19.00 hours (set seating) – when you first board the boat you are allocated a table for dinner and expected to sit at that table for all future dinners. During high season sailings (the summer) all boats have a number of sittings for dinner. Low season is usually a different matter. Because we were as few as 16 on this trip, we all ate together, we all sat at window tables and we chose to ignore our specified seat if finishing a conversation required this.

Meal times (particularly lunch) move around a bit to accommodate activities and the needs of the staff and twice on this trip, lunch has been on offer from 11 am.

From a passenger’s perspective, this does not work if you are going out on a trip since you may then have breakfast at 8 am, lunch at 11 am and evening meal at 7 pm. We unofficially solved this problem by making a sandwich at the lunch table at taking it with us using plastic bags a fellow passenger had to put them in.

On another occasion we had breakfast at 7 am, lunch at 1 pm and our evening meal at 5.30 pm because they wanted to serve another group coming on board for a meal at 7.30 pm.

Our comments about poor timing and the short gap followed by the long gap between meals was responded to by “take some fruit with you then”. They could do better here because we got the distinct impression that we were being moved to suit them and not us. We all accept that sometimes changes are required for operational reasons but this was handled badly, particularly so when we saw that the dining room was only half full at our normal later meal time and that our tables were empty.

The published winter dinner menu (hidden away within their website) is:

Bergen Buffet
Clip fish bolinhos with ruccola salad
Free range chicken with barley risotto
Chocolate fondant with pear sorbet
Cauliflower soup with shreds of cured ham
Baked fillet of trout with root vegetable
Panacotta made with Norwegian thick milk
Selbu Blå on baby-leaf salad with coludberry syrup
Braised ox fillet with vegetable stew and red wine jus
Brown Betty with caramel sauce
Tromsø Green pea soup with bacon and cream
Grilled stock fish with potato purée, Port salsa and bacon
Cheese cake served with forest berry compote
Nordkapp North Cape buffet
Seafood dominates, and often we serve king crabs.
reindeer meat when it is available.
Kirkenes Barents salad with delicious seafood and spicy mayonnaise
Venison medallions with sautéed vegetable, potato purée and wild game sauce with blueberries
Raspberries with sour cream
Hammerfest Aquavit-cured reindeer topside with herb salad
Arctic char with asparagus, Roswald potatoes and hollandaise sause
North Norwegian blueberry parfait
Vesterålen Potato and leek soup with croutons and truffle oil
Steamed haddock roulade with sautéed vegetables, tomato jus and baked amandine potatoes
Rhubarb and strawberry soup with puff pastry and sour cream
Helgeland Viking wraps with marinated, seasoned and smoked salmon, sour cream and lettuce
Classic pepper steak with Hasselback potatoes and pepper sauce
The ship's ice cream bombe with fresh fruit salad

Hurtigruten's classic fish soup with freshly caught fish
BBQ-marinated pork neck with root vegetables and barbeque sauce
Lime posset with fresh berries

and they seem to be sticking to the menu (more or less) and what can be expected the next day is published late every evening.

I would describe the food quality as varying from very good to adequate and presentation as usually superb.

Whilst they do offer a vegetarian option at every lunch time, it is usually a bit lacking in imagination (I have been offered a pasta based dish 5 times so far and once it was just the vegetables which every one else could have) and so doubling up on the excellent salad range is the best choice although getting sufficient protein is difficult. Vegans would be challenged and those on a special diet might have significant difficulties. Breakfast choice includes something hot (always for meat eaters, not very often for vegetarians) plus the usual Scandinavian range. Bread is very good and tastes and smells fresh.

The choice of five deserts at lunchtime is bad news for waistlines (it would be rude not to try them all).

The evening meal is superbly presented and for me (a vegetarian) there is always some variation on the main theme offered. If you are looking for thousands of calories at each meal you will not get it and that is quite welcome as far as I am concerned.

And so a partial gallery of the food offered is:

2012_112600852012_11260086  Food First Course Food First Course 2 Food Lunch 

Lunch  Buffet: Salad / Meat / etc

Lunch Trout

Lunch Trout

Lunch Veg Alternative

Lunch - Nameless Vegetarian Alternative

Sirloin Steak

Lunch Sirloin Steak

Food Puddings

deserts lunch 281112

Lunch Desserts

Food Veg starter

Vegetarian Starter

Food Veg Starter 261112

Blue Cheese Starter

Food Veg Risotto

Vegetable Risotto

Veg Dinner 271112 

Mash, Tomatoes, Mushroom main

Veg Alternative 261112

Aubergine and assorted vegetables main

Veg Main 281112

Baked mushrooms, pear in a beetroot jus main

Braised Ox Fillet 261112 

Braised Ox

Dinner 271112 

Stock Fish

Fish Buffet Fish Buffet-2

Fish Buffer Dinner

Food Clip Fish starter

Clip Fish starter

Food Dinner 241112-1   

Free Range Chicken Barley Risotto  

Free Range Chicken Barley Risotto

Pudding 271112

Brown Betty 261112

Food Dinner 241112

Food apple icecream hot chocolate cake

 Desert 281112


Hurtigruten MAP_0010 

Fish cause delays

Today we have called in at 6 ports as we head south. The first at Honningsvag caused a timing problem which took the rest of the day to recover from. A 30 minute stop was allowed for in the schedule but 45 crates of fish in ice were waiting on the quayside for shipment south and as the Captain put it “fish do not wait for the next boat” and this made us late for most of the rest of the day even though the waiting time at each subsequent port was shortened in order to try to catch up.


As the sun comes up at around 10 am (well, it does not really do this because we are in the area of 24 hour darkness)


we get lots of low clouds hanging over the sea

Rock with snow coming

and snow coming in from the west.

As we come into the port, we pass a Liquefied Natural Gas

LNG Terminal

terminal and we are summoned on deck for a lecture (with

LNG Tanks

free chilli flavoured coffee) as the lure.

LNG ship

The LNG is exported on ships. If you are particularly keen to learn about LNG in Norway, then here will tell you more than you want to know.


Hammerfest (stop 4) seems to be a delightful little town (The Northern most town in Norway)

Trondheim Houses-1

and we had a reduced stop of 45 minutes there as part of the catch up process.

Hammerfest Port

The port is the usual centre of town quayside and a group of warehouses.

Hammerfest taking on water

And even before the gang plank is down, they have started to take on fresh water (they do so every two days) and whilst we are going into town, there is a lot more fish to


load including a very large Halibut (about 1 metre long)which is contained within


this package. They are all stored on deck because the hold is full. Outside the temperature is –3C so this cargo will keep well until it gets to its destination.

 Hammerfest Polar Bear Adjacent to the quayside is The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Club (which is neither Royal nor Ancient nor a club but a museum) and also a rather good local museum (go up to the main street, then right up the hill about 400metres) we chose to go to an art gallery which had some lovely (and expensive) and also less than lovely art for sale, then for a walk around town to get a breath of air.

Hammerfest Manhole Cover 

City manhole covers have the emblem of a Polar Bear on them,

Hammerfest High Street 

the high street looks nice with the Christmas lights on

Hammerfest Central Park Lights 

Hammerfest cards in tree  

there is an interestingly light park with a tree which has been decorated with homemade cards covered in plastic. I do not know if this is just a local custom or done for some specific reason.

Hammerfest Church

The main church in town is rather spectacular

Hammerfest Church-1 

and inside, the stained glass seen from the inside is rather superb.

Hammerfest Moody mountains as we leave

The Sun sets (although it never really got up) as we leave.

Having set out to sea and just about to go for lunch, we are told that a safety exercise is about to be carried out during which a coastguard helicopter will rendezvous with the stern of the ship whilst we are steaming out of Hammerfest and practice lowering and lifting firemen and others (not us more’s the pity). And so, lunch is delayed whilst:

Helicopter coming in

we try to find a place from where we can get a good view of the helicopter coming towards us

Helicopter Rendezvous

hovering over the stern

Helicopter Rendezvous-1

Lowering someone down

and then lowering someone down

Lowering Stretcher

followed by lowering a stretcher

Hauling up 

Hauling Up-1 

Hauling Up-2

and then practicing winching someone back up.

Three ports further on was Tromso.


We arrive on time at 2345 and immediately get onto a coach to go to the Cathedral for a midnight concert. This is probably the most famous of all of the excursions Hurtigruten offer for travellers.

The Cathedral is a most striking building clearly visible in

Tromso Cathederal from boat

the darkness as we sail in (its design is reminiscent of the fish drying racks of the region). We immediately board a coach and drive to the cathedral which takes all of 5 minutes and

Lofoten from Cathederal

we can see our ship from there on the other side of the

Cathederal from outside

river. The cathedral is just as striking close up as it is from

Tromso Cathederal InsideTromso Organ    

afar and the inside is pretty amazing as well. The organ in particular impresses me as one perfectly designed to fit the space.

The concert consisted of three musicians (singer, pianist, cello) playing 13 pieces of music which ranged from extremely haunting and beautiful Norwegian folk tunes to more well known pieces. The acoustics were superb and it was a very enjoyable hour.