The Hurtegruten in the Land of the Midnight Sun

The Hurtegruten in the Land of the Midnight Sun
It’s almost midnight in Tromso, Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and although the midnight sun isn’t shining, we can still take pictures without a flash. Long days for photographing the scenery is just one of the pleasures of a summer voyage on the legendary Hurtegruten.

Because our ship, the MS Nordnorge, carries day passengers from town to town, it has a lot of public areas -- a cafeteria, children's play room, sauna, hot tub, fitness room and spacious lounges with plenty of comfortable chairs facing the picture windows. Outdoors, the abundant deck space has plentiful deck chairs for those who prefer to have nothing between themselves and the scenery.

From almost any place on the ship -- cabins, lounges, decks, or dining room -- passengers can watch the constantly-changing views. In the glass-enclosed dining room in the stern, no one minds when people jump up, camera in hand, to catch the setting sun painting the little fishing shacks an even brighter red.

Not that leaving the food is easy. Lunch is served in a bountiful buffet that includes shrimp, mussels, crayfish, pickled herring and several varieties of fresh and smoked salmon, as well as a changing selection of hot dishes. Three-course evening meals are served at table, and feature local favorites such as reindeer steak with lignon berries, grilled trout, baked cod and cloudberry cream. We especially enjoyed the fresh local berries, sweetened by 24-hours of sunlight during their growing season.

Even without all these cruise-ship niceties, the Norwegian Coastal Voyage would be an outstanding trip for the scenery and for the experience of being part of local life in these remote North Sea communities.

Our trip began at the far northern end of the route, in Kirkenes, only a few miles from Norway's eastern border with Russia. The first optional shore excursion -- and one we highly recommend -- leaves early in the morning and travels to the North Cape, mainland Europe's northernmost point. More than simply a geographical landmark, North Cape is a stunning teaser for the scenery on the rest of the trip.

Other shore excursions leave the ship at one port and rejoin it later. One explores the Vesterland region to visit a Medieval church and the scenic coast. Another allowed us to see the mountainous Lofoten Islands by land while the ship wove through them by sea.

Port stops vary from 15 minutes to several hours, with the longest ones in places with the most attractions. In Vardo we followed a costumed drummer to the octagonal Vardohus Fort, built in the 1700s, for sea views and a tour of its historic buildings. In Stokmarknes, the Hurtigruten Museum recalls the service's founding here in 1893, and has a vintage steamer that is being restored as a museum ship.

The highlights of Trondheim, one of the longer stops, are the beautiful cathedral and walking through the streets lined with old houses. Alesund, where the ship stops at night on its southern voyage, is worth staying up for. The town's extraordinary Art Nouveau downtown is floodlighted, and a short walk from the dock.

Our trip ends in Bergen, a beautiful and historic Hanseatic city well worth an added stay of two or three days. The Hanseatic Museum and Bergen Museum, both on the historic waterfront, set the stage for understanding the picturesque old warehouse quarter -- the Bryggen -- that lies between them. A block from the Hanseatic Museum, a funicular climbs Mount Floyen for views of the city and surrounding mountains, as well as access to bosky hiking trails. Old Bergen is an open-air museum of historic buildings set in a park and easy to reach by public bus.

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