Sunday, September 2, 2018

Hurtigruten - Day 1 - Bergen to Molde

Our first of many sunsets in the land of the midnight sun
We walked the six blocks from our hotel to the Hurtigruten dock. A slight uphill climb of three blocks and one steep block downhill were the highlights. We will be spending the next six nights aboard this ferry that is more of a cruise ship than a ferry. The service began 125 years ago with a few stops. Today the Hurtigruten is a twice daily experience for more than 25 towns and villages along the Norwegian Coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, the last stop before the Russian border. Fifteen ships assure that each of these often isolated towns have service from the north and the south every day. While freight, cars, and passengers are important, the service makes more money from tourists like us during the summer months. During the winter, they promote trips to see the Northern Lights and dog sled trips.

The first white-tailed eagle
Our trip to Kirkenes would take six nights, seven days with stops varying from five minutes to 3.5 hours. Stops at smaller towns are just long enough to load and unload passengers and freight. We linger at the larger cities and tourist sites so we tourists can be escorted on a variety of excursions (at additional cost, or course).

Alesund Church
Alesund. The Art Deco City
The food is excellent with a strong emphasis on Norwegian cuisine and locally sourced food. Buffets for breakfast and lunch make it hard to keep the pounds off. Sit-down three-course dinners are sumptuous and beautifully presented. Special presentations of particular foods and drink highlight some afternoons. Smoked lamb and aqavit were one of the highlights. Lectures and cultural presentations round out the days.

A fish farm. We would see many of these.

Imagine dragging the building materials up here

We checked in and boarded the boat about 4:00. A Norwegian gin and tonic eased the wait until our rooms were ready at 6:00. Bergen had dawned with sun and no clouds, but by the time we headed out at 8:00 pm it was raining. It would continue to rain until the next morning. We did however get a break in the clouds about midnight for a lovely sunset. It was still raining as we awoke the next morning and we were in one of the few short sections of open sea. But soon we were again inside the protective islands and calmer waters.

Most of these fjord homes do have a boat house for transportation

We stopped at Alesund where I had hoped we would have time for a short stroll because Alesund is full of art deco architecture. Downtown burned in 1904. Because it was rebuilt so quickly, most of the downtown buildings were completed in art deco style and that look has been preserved to this day. Unfortunately we were a bit late and there wasn’t time to do more than just get off and quickly back on. I chose to simply remain aboard and see what I could from the deck. We stopped at Alesund again in the evening, but that was during dinner, so we did not have time for a stroll then either.

Seven sisters who refused to marry the young man from the opposite side.
It's a good story
In the meantime, we had a great trip through a series of fjords to Geiranger fjord, one of Norway’s most spectacular. It is one of the narrowest and steepest with a large number or waterfalls. Along the way we were treated to views of some of the fjord’s farms. It’s hard to imagine the work it would have taken to build a home up these steep hillsides and the fortitude it still takes to live and work in these isolated spots. Interestingly, one of the farms is a favorite of the royal family and they visit it frequently with guests during the summer. One of the jokes is that Norway’s best soccer players come from here because they have to be precise with their kicks or the ball will disappear down the fjord-side. Rumor also has it that parents leash their young children so they don’t roll down the hillsides.

Geiranger town
The start of the Troll Highway
The shuttle craft
By the time we reached Geiranger, the sun was fully out so we had an even more beautiful return trip to Alesund. Most of the passengers left the ship at Geiranger to take advantage of one of the world’s best road trips over the Troll Highway (Trollsteigen). This road begins with a dozen switchbacks out of the fjord, crosses the high country and descends again on the Troll’s Highway before rejoining the Hurtigruten at Molde at 9:45. Linda and I chose to stay on the ship for the return trip as we had done this excursion a few years ago as part of our Norwegian Fjord Tour. Our friends John and Cherie Briggs and Jim and Marcia Rinta did take the ride and loved it. They were especially impressed with the fine dinner they were served in Molde before returning to the ship. You can read about our trip on an earlier blog post here.

A mine along the fjord
A little entertainment as we learn about smoked lamb
And Aquavit
The ride from Alesund to Molde was blissful as we passed numerous islands, their beauty enhanced by the low evening sun. The highlight of Molde is the wing-shaped hotel that overlooks the harbor. We stayed there as part of our previous tour. It has a bar on the top floor that I wanted to visit for a quick gin and tonic, but the stop is one of the short ones with no time to leave the ship.

Arrival in Molde

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