Svolvær-Tromsø by ship
The Hurtigruten wasn’t just any ship. From far, the horizontal chain of yellow lights on the top deck made it seem like a cruise ship with a fairground on board.
The MS Nordnorge Hurtigruten was our home for the night, one that sailed from Svolvær to Tromsø, stopping at Stokmarknes, Sortland, Risoyhamn, Harstad and Finnsnes. Our cabin had a very good ambience and was better than anything I’d always imagined ship cabins to be – comfortable bedding, wardrobe, dressing table, bathroom, and a view of the sea. After dropping our bags, we went up to the top deck just as the Hurtigruten was sailing off. As we move further away from the island and into pitch darkness, I began to make out the green hues of the elusive Aurora borealis. Although it was what most would call muted Northern lights, we captured the natural phenomenon in our camera.
The captain of the ship announced that there would be complimentary fish cakes on the top deck (Deck 7) at 10.30 pm, which drew a big crowd to the open air deck. After grabbing the fish cakes, we went to explore other parts of our moving hotel. The ship contained most things they imagined humans to be unable to live without – library, internet cafe, sauna, jacuzzi, children playroom, restaurants, along with a lounge where a musician belted out his best jazz rendition. We went to the lower deck and tried our luck at a bit of deep sea fishing, where we dangled a solo crayfish on a hook and lowered it down into the sea. This possibly fruitless fishing was otherwise a time incredibly well spent outside. Despite the needle sharp Arctic wind on my face, I relished the rarity of a moment that was not a natural occurrence in my everyday life – here we were sailing along the Norwegian coast line in pitch darkness, passing innumerable icebergs which reminded me nervously of the Titanic and the utter clarity of the milky way above. Soon, we joined the dream world which was already inhabited by most of the passengers in their cabins and those in the panoramic lounge, eager to discover the coastline in the light of day.
I woke up at dusk to a ‘blue’ day outside. One has to appreciate the fact that the Hurtigruten is one of remote Norway’s main transport links, and that it stops frequently at different ports. Just as I put my camera away, there’s another scenic view to be captured as we passed magnificent fjords, colourful fishing villages, narrow straits and islands. Just as I breathed in the crisp sea air, I noticed a giant bird flying over the ship and took a picture of it. Later when we showed the picture to a local, they said it was a sea eagle, with its characteristic finger-like wings. By the end of this century, the Arctic will be a very different place. Global warming is causing the sea ice to melt and the sea level to increase. Soon, the Arctic people and wildlife will adapt to lives that are different from the ones that originally sustained them.
After spending a week in a train, small city, remote island, and a ship, arriving at Tromsø required some adjustment, because it is the most populated student city in the Arctic. It beamed at us with its city lights but we soon found out that it was a relatively quiet time of the year as the students were still on their winter holiday. The highlight of our stay in Tromsø was the delightful Tromsø Bed & Books, a very affordable Bed and Breakfast which replaces Breakfast with BOOKS. It’s a home away from home and had a floor to ceiling map of visitors from all around the world.
After spending two days in Tromsø, where we spent one of them on a thrilling dog sledding tour, we moved on to Erstfjordbotn, a charming fishing village situated in Kvaløya. It was famed to be one of the best places to watch the Northern lights. For forecast of the aurora, we checked spaceweather.com and a relatively accurate iPad application called Aurora Forecast.
Surrounded by fjords and the quiet surroundings of fishermen homes, we found that the most noteworthy mention was the romantic Cafe Bryggenjentene, which served the best cinnamon bun with custard on top, coffee, and raspberry juice sourced from a neighbouring island. The cafe was traditionally decorated with rustic wooden walls and tables painted in blue. We walked around the fishing village and saw many stockfish drying on the side of a fisherman cabin.
Although we did not see any aurora in Erstfjordbotn, it was so dark in the village that we saw a shooting star amongst the star constellations in the sky. Our stay was made more warm by our host Henry at Erstfjordbotn kystferie and meeting some new friends on their Northern Lights tour. On our last night, the aurora was displayed in high intensity across the sky (Photo taken by Gunnar Kr Kopperud). Despite, not having booked many activities in our 11 days in northern Norway, the country casted a spell on us with its magical beauty which ensured our return to this place in the Arctic in the future.