Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Luxury Liner - Once is Enough

Cruises were not for us. The thought of all that pampered nonsense seemed perfect for people with too much money and time on their hands. But as the means to a beginning - a way of getting ourselves and our tandem to the Arctic Circle and the start of our proposed ride south - a Hurtigruten ferry through the islands and fjords of western Norway made a lot of sense. Until we had a reality check and realised the ride we were planning was just too ambitious for us. It was a mistake.

Our ship, the Nordkapp -named after the most
northerly point on mainland Europe.
Room for nearly 600 passengers and 24 cars.
Norway Cruise Gets A Pass

Shipboard wall art
That left us with the ferry ride and suddenly it wasn’t the means to a beginning, it was a journey in itself. Now after five nights, as we sit in the terminal at the tiny airport at Honningsvag, waiting for our flight to take us back south, we have a chance to reflect.   And to accept that the past few days have been quite fun. We have not become cruise converts overnight but it was nice to stop and not have to think.


Among the pluses was a feeling of putting our lives on hold - that the outside world would just have to wait. We made a conscious decision not to access the internet. There was a reason for that - an extra charge applied to us lowly passengers in the less expensive inside cabins with no portholes and no reassuring glimpse of the watery world outside.  The result was that we read books - most of the time upstairs, on Deck 7 in a corner sheltered from the polar breeze that grew colder each day as we voyaged north. It was thoroughly enjoyable. We ate. Norway is not famous for its food, but the meals on board were way out of the usual fare for cyclists. Breakfast was my favourite - from porridge to pancakes via cereals, fresh fruit, bacon and eggs, pickled herring, pate and a mountain of other stuff. All served buffet style in a mad free for all in which passengers jostled each other in the rush to see who could assemble the maximum amount of food on their plates in the shortest time. And then go back for more. Dinner was a more orderly affair with passengers allocated to specific tables and staff serving the meals - no opportunity to grub around for seconds. That was just as well, we were already groaning under the excess of food that had built up during the day.

Shrimp seller, Bodø
Original steps were made from Lego, until the
 pieces were all stolen.

View from Aksla hill, after climbing 418 steps.
Remote lighthouse north of Trondheim.
 Story goes that the lighthouse keeper,
 his family and a nanny lived happily
here for many years until automation
 came along.


Riverfront warehouses, Trondheim
Fishing boat unloading its catch at Torvik.








































Fishermen's wharf, Bodø


The further north, the more the cold until it became impossible to sit out on deck for more than a few minutes at a time.

The passengers were allowed off the ship at most of the ports of call - sometimes for just a few minutes, sometimes for a morning or an afternoon.  We were warned to be back in time,  and that our captain and crew would not wait for people running late. To emphasis the point, at a passenger briefing we were told the story of a loud Texan with a big hat who missed his boat and was forced to hire a speedboat to chase down the vessel. True story or not, we got the point.

A shed roped down to withstand the winds at Honningsvaag airport, inside the Arctic Circle. 
 
Posing with the Norwegian flag (and a troll) in the town of Ålesund.

The port calls were necessary because the Hurtigruten ships are described as "working ships" as well as tourist boats and we watched as building materials were unloaded here, a few crates there and farm produce taken onboard somewhere else. But the time spent walking ashore was never enough to counteract the calories we were inputting and it was good to know that it was only a few days until we would be on the tandem and getting into the rhythm of long days of riding. I visited the ship's gym twice - a small room crammed with treadmills and a few weights and no sign they were ever used. I looked and looked at all that equipment, and felt so lethargic I left without touching a thing. It was sort of overwhelming - so new and so tidy. I dawdled back to the privacy of our cell - whoops, windowless cabin - and did a few half hearted stretches before falling back in my bunk with a book.

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