Julie is heading to Norway aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Nordlys

The famous Geiranger Fjord. (Photo courtesy of FjordTours.com)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A cruise in Norway!? What a lovely idea; I’ve never been to Norway; have always wanted to go. I’m immersed now in reading about fjords, Vikings, Norse gods, gorgeous people, fresh fish and unfettered wildlife in preparation.

But Norway is north of Boston. I live in Boston and try never to go north from here. Boston is north enough for me, cold most of the year in fact, frigid in the dead of winter, lots of snow and ice. I don’t do north. Give me the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, get me out of the cold.

And yet, it is summer, so Norway can’t be all ice and snow in August, can it? The brochures from Oslo and Bergen show people in shorts and short-sleeved shirts frolicking near the fjords. The Gulf Stream streams up the coast of Norway to keep it reasonably warm, and up the coast, from Bergen to Kirkenes, at the top of the world, is where our ship will go. Along the way we’ll see Geirangerfjord, said to be perhaps the most beautiful fjord in the world and listed in Traveler’s Journal of “1000 Places to See Before You Die” as one of the one thousand.

Norway can’t be all ice and snow in August, can it?

The city of Oslo. (Photo courtesy of Fjordtours.com)

We can expect temperatures in the 60’s, and the coldest we’ll feel is somewhere in the 40’s, when we’re in North Norway, where the reindeer and possibly Father Christmas live. In fact, we’ll be visiting the town that is the furthest north in the world on one of our stops, and they advise us to “dress in warm clothing, bring gloves and hats.” My granddaughter tells me to please say hello to Santa Claus and tell him she’s a good girl.

We’re going on the MS Nordlys, part of the Hurtigruten line of ships that take both freight and passengers to 34 different ports from south to north and have been doing so since 1893. The name of the shipping line comes from “hurtig ruten,” which means fast route, and we’ll sail from the bottom to the top of the country in seven days. But what to bring in summer in Norway? Layers, and lots of them. Everything from summer to winter clothes, but at least no gowns; Hurtigruten tells us that life on board is casual and “no tiaras” will be needed.

I’m immersed now in reading about fjords, Vikings and  Norse gods

The Norwegian cruise line sends us a long reading list for this trip, and as usual, I wish I’d had this for about a year, as everything on the list looks interesting. Notable are the number of Norwegian writers who have won Nobel prizes in literature and New York Times Best Book of the Year contests. I choose a group of books about Norse myths, Viking travels, and literature and quickly read “Out Stealing Horses” by Per Petterson, which in addition to one of the 10 best books of the year award given by the New York Times Book Review, also won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Independent foreign Fiction Prize and Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize. A sweet, tender story of a boy growing up in Norway.

Norway has a very long coastline

The Vikings have not been in Norway or anywhere else since 1066, but their legends live on and I’m sure will be felt in this harsh setting. So ferocious were the Vikings that the word “berserk” comes from “bare sark,” which means “bare shirt” and refers to the way that those ancient bare-chested Norsemen used to fight. The story is that their land was not producing enough food, so they decided to go out and sack and pillage to bring in more revenue.

Along the way north from Bergen, we will cross the Arctic Circle and experience the crossing ceremony by Njord, the ruler of the Seven Seas. We will sail through Norway’s second largest glacier, Svartisen, and travel by inflatable boat into the Saltstraumen seascape to see white-tailed eagles, Europe’s largest predatory birds, with wingspans of more than six feet. We will also kayak off the coast of Tromso, and  on Kvaloya Island we’ll meet more than 250 huskies and puppies and receive an introduction to dog sledge driving. The sailing part of the trip ends at the North Cape, Europe’s most northerly point, where we’ll meet the indigenous Sami people, and be so close to Russia that the road signs will be both in Norwegian and Russian.

We’ll fly down from Kirkenes to Oslo and tour that lovely city before heading home. I will be blogging each day from the Nordlys about this experience.

As do Bostonians, Norwegians have a lot of winter in which to sit inside and write, after they ski – remember Lillehammer in 1994, when they hosted the Olympic Winter games? And they’re wonderful writers, although Petterson’s book and Sigrid Undset’s Nobel winner “Kristin Lavransdatter,” and Knut Hamsun’s Nobel Prize winning “Growth of the Soil” always presents an element of darkness and hardship in these stories of daily life in the country that is either very very dark or light all night long depending on the time of year.

There is great detail in the stories I’ve been able to read in the brief time before I head to Bergen, and I’ll stuff a few more books into my luggage to find out about these hardy people of the mountains and sea who made it to New England five centuries before Columbus set sail from Portugal. From what I’ve read, Norwegians sound similar to the locals of Maine: friendly enough, but parsimonious with their words. Paul Watkins, author of “The Fellowship of Ghosts” about his mountain hikes in this spectacular country, says “to begin a conversation in Norway is to invite total silence.” When he asked a resident of the north what was the prediction for the next day’s weather, the Norwegian answered “It’s too early to tell.”



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