Exploring the Norvegian coast

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One very popular country was missing on my map and I finally got the chance to visit it! I have been several days in Norway in the best way I could imagine, I could be days and nights on board of the Coastal Express navigating along the Norwegian coast to see beautiful islands and impressive fjords :)

A unique voyage

Winter voyage cancelled

I began to work  for the Norwegian Coastal Express in Tallinn office last summer. I am talking and learning every days about this country, its cities, its main natural attractions and history. I must say that before I didn’t know much about it since I am more interested in Slavic, Baltic and Nordic regions. I only some facts about its historical relation with neighbours such Denmark and Sweden.

In order to give us more knowledge about the Coastal Express voyages, my company regularly organizes trips for its employees to Norway. I was lucky to be on the list for an experimental voyage they have organized last December during which the Expedition Team that usually sail to Antarctica and Greenland was exceptionally on board the MS Finnmarken for seven days. But due to an accident I broke my right foot and therefore was immobilizing for weeks: I had to stay home and couldn’t travel to Norway this winter anymore :(

After I recovered and could walk (slowly) company added on the list of the employees going for the next voyage. Instead of being guarantee to see the northern lights I was certain to have a good view on landscapes because days will be way longer in April than in December.

Preparation

Before going I didn’t really know what to expect… I would spend almost a week abroad in a country and environment I have never experienced before, and with people I barely known. If I saw some faces in the office they were all strangers to me at the beginning. This voyage was six days long from Kirkenes (a small town in the north of the country at the Russian border) to Trondheim.

Our itinerary was set as Tallinn-Oslo-Kirkenes in the morning of our first day, and a direct flight between Trondheim and Tallinn on the return. We had late flight from Trondheim which could let us time to see this old city. That was a good thing, unless like me you had to be at work in the next morning (as I had to).

What I was sure is that Norway is a beautiful land and that I will have an active visit including excursions, visits and good food! For this occasion I upgraded some of my photographic equipment: new tele-objective and a new dedicated backpack with is far better and more comfortable that anything I owned before (it already became my everyday bag).

Day 1 – In the Norvegian capital

After a very short night (only four hours of sleep) I got ready and took a taxi for the Tallinn airport where I met eight other people before 6am, I knew two of them and hope to get to know the others soon. Our first plane arrived late in Oslo which means we missed our correspondence and had to wait for about nine hours in Olso before the next (and last) departure to Kirkenes! I chose to get my chance to see the capital and found a cheap way to reach the city from Gadermoen airport. There are three possibility to do it: the bus, the Flytoget fast train (20min, NOK 180) and NSB normal train (23min, NOK 90). I used the normal train and save some money :) Also, it is possible to leave luggage at the airport for few krons.

On Karl Johan street to the Royal Palace

My first impression of Oslo was a little disappointing as I expected something as grandiose as Stockholm. After a lunch at the Central Station I started my walk in the « old town ». A long street brings people to the Royal Palace, the perspective is nice and its shape reminded me immediately the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna. On the way I noticed a lot of beggars and gipsies, a lot, which surprised me since Norway is known to be a wealthy city. The main monument before the Palace is probably the small Oslo Cathedral located few hundred meters from the railway station, but its interior isn’t anything special.

I continued to the National Theatre building and checked some parks around the Palace. There normally have fountains but in April all were dry.

Ice cream at the marina and the Akershus Fortress

An interesting part of the city is the marina near the city hall and Nobel Prize museum (area Aker Brygge and Tjuvohlmen), I bought an ice cream because it was surprisingly warm and I was wearing my warm jacket (who knew it Oslo could be warm). The Tjuvholmen has a lot of good-looking buildings with design terracse and a modern art museum.

Across the port stands a small citadel/fortress from which the view on the marina and its boats is perfect. It was for me good to walk in that sort of park that reminded me of the Belfort’s citadel. Behind it and near the train station I could take photos of the very outstanding Oslo Opera House: it is bright white, has sharp edges and looks terribly good! When I went to the railway station I bought a ticket to the airport and met there my group for our evening flight to Kirkenes, where we arrived in a cloudy atmosphere at night.

Day 2 – Kirkenes

After a night at the Thon Hotel (my room had a view on the ) I was able to begin my discovery of the far north-eastern region of Norway and Europe. The city is small and lays few kilometres away from the Russian and Finnish borders. After a good breakfast we met our guide outside the hotel to drive us to the Snow Hotel. Despite being one day late, the team of the Snow Hotel offered a great outdoor activity: husky sledging!

Husky sledging on the frozen fjord

Just arrived and we get to a small house to dress with a blue everything-proof outfit to protect us from dirty projections. We had some time to greet the dogs and pet them, there are all very friendly and enjoy being with people. Our musher positioned us on the sledge and get the dogs ready before we started. We were the firsts to go and therefore opened the track, the view on the landscape was amazing and the feeling unique! When I did reindeer sledging in Lapland years ago, it was not that intense, trained dogs are much faster! I felt like being on some sort of expedition adventure, when we started going on the frozen fjord there was no human construction anywhere, just ice, fjord, dogs and the feeling of the wind in my hair and face :) Oh yeah!

Snow sledging in Kirkenes

Snow sledging in Kirkenes

When we get back on the shelter we could spend more time with the dogs for photos and hugs. That was particularly nice for me as I love dogs and I am far from mine. I understood there are different spices, some are small, some are very big, like a big wolf. All were lovely.

Our guide shown us the Snow Hotel, a large construction entirely built with snow! There are many rooms for guests and all have a unique decoration (mostly an ice sculpture on the wall). After those excursions a bus drove us in Kirkenes and made a stop on a hill from which we could perfectly see our ship at the port waiting for us.

The beginning of a magnificent voyage on the MS Trollfjord

We arrived at the port and get to our ship, the MS Trollfjord, named from the very narrow fjord between the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos. Onboard we met our colleagues who were all friendly and they warmly welcomed us. I had a cabin at the back of the ship, supposedly the noisiest part and I was actually surprised it was not so bad.

The Coastal Express makes 34 stop along the Norwegian coast and our first was in Vardø, a small but cute town with a citadel and typical wooden houses like those you can imagine to see in there. The stop was short – about 45min – but was enough to look around and make photos. After this I get back in the ship and could passively enjoy the fjords and sea from the sun-deck and from the restaurant during my lunch and dinner!

Day 3 – Amazing fjords of Norway

North Cape and the northernmost town in the world

I forgot to be awake during the night and missed the moment our ship passed over the North Cape, it is nothing special about it as we didn’t stop there but it would have been nice to try to see the dedicated monument on the cliff from the ship, but probably it wasn’t possible to see anything since it was dark and foggy anywya… In the late morning we had a stopover in Hammerfest in the Finnmark region, which called itself the northernmost city in the world. I am not sure why since there are many cities above it (Honningsvag for instance) but it is probably because with more than 10.000 inhabitants Hammerfest is the largest above the Arctic Circle, and the city was founded in 1789.

I read little about the town to learn that the northernmost point of the measurement used for the Struve Geodic Arc is located on the opposite side of the city… I couldn’t see it perfectly.

Hot jacuzzi while being in the Lyngenfjord

In April our ships are sailing into the Lyngenfjord, a beautiful landscape of a white mountains. We entered it in the late afternoon and the sky was being darker and darker with fog forming over the mountains before slowly going down, giving the Lyngenfjord a mysterious appearance.

I tried for the first time jacuzzi we had on the upper outside deck and I stayed in for little less than a hour, feeling despite minus outside temperature. When it started to snow I left the bath and came to my room to get ready for dinner.

Midnight concert and snow in Tromsø

After dinner we got ready for a night special concert in the Arctic capital in Tromsø. There were three musicians: a pianist, a flutist and a soprano. They performed religious and folk songs in a charming way. The singing was in Norwegian but was melodic :) the few people attending it with us also liked it. During this concert a strong wind came and brought a large amount of snow in Tromsø. It was impressive!

Day 4 – At the Vesterålen and Lofoten islands

The night was short but it was definitely worth waking up at sunrise. Our group leader organised us three excursions during the same day to discover the most beautiful archipelagos of Norway! The Vesteralen and Lofoten, two popular destination for tourists, and a former important economic region when they exported fishes to all Europe.

Lofoten islands

Lofoten islands

Tour in the Vesterålen

In the morning our ship docked in Harstad and a special bus was already waiting to drive us in some of the most beautiful and interesting areas of the islands. It begun with a short passage in the city of Harstad in which our local guide told facts about the municipally and its people and how rich and happy they were. We continued to the former village of Trondenes where we visited an old church and history museum. In the church the office was held in German and believers were asked to sing and pray…

The rest of the tour was made on the road with several panoramic stops, the view was everywhere amazing! I have been satisfied with the panorama I saw and stories told on-board were pretty much interesting. We got to a little ferry to join the Lofoten. Before arriving in Sortland our driver arrange to get on the bridge at the same time our ship passed under it, and as ships horn to each others on sea when meet, the bus horned the MS Trollfjord which replied with a stronger sound :)

Meeting the sea eagles in the Trollfjord

That was for me the hghlight of the day, an excursion in the Trollfjord was a special experience for me as I do not usually have boat trip. Our ferry approached the fjord and we stepped out to a smaller boat which could then enter the narrow Trollfjord (the Coastal Express is entering the famous fjord from May only, not in April because it could be too dangerous as rocks can fell on ship).

Sea Eagle in the Trollfjord

Sea Eagle in the Trollfjord

The boat we were on was allowed to visit the fjord – which was a good thing – since we wanted to meet the Sea Eagles! Those big birds lives essentially in the Trollfjord and by the time associate this daily visit with free and easy-to-get food. Despite being guarantee of having fishes, the Sea Eagles remain shy and it took some time before the first showed up. We first could notice them flying very high in the sky before they begun theirr decent to the newly fish put in the water. The closer they came and the faster they seemed to be! I was trying to photograph them (we had maybe 5 or 6 different birds coming alternatively) with my new ultra-sonic lens bought for this moment. This was not an easy task! Those birds are fast, the boat moving on wave, and the micro climate in the fjord (foggy and snowy) made the birds-tracking harder than I expected for me. So far some of my photos are pretty neat I satisfy me a lot :)

We left fjord and gained Svolvær where we waited for the ferry. In Svolvær we were supposed to try « fishing with locals » but due to bad weather conditions it has been cancelled. Instead I visited this typical small fishing city laying below mountains and I admired the many beautiful fishermen houses painted in red.

Houses in Svolvær

Houses in Svolvær

Racks of drying fishes in Svolvær

Racks of drying fishes in Svolvær

Day 5 – Simply on the sea

After all this activities and sightsee my last day on a ship was more quiet. There were no long landing and the landscape was all I could enjoy (beside the food served on board, maybe what I missed the most from this trip!).

Crossing the Arctic circle, to the south!

In the morning we left the Arctic area at the moment we passed the Arctic Circle monument, which meant that they where we were going the day could no longer last 24 hours. It was also a special moment for me because previously the Arctic Circle was the highest latitude I have been during my unique trip to Lapland, and so far I spent my five days in Norway over this line! On board was organized a little celebration:on the upper deck passengers were told to get some sort of « Norwegian liqueur » but it was not… surprisingly I realised it was a lie and we were given fish oil! 😀 Norwegian tend to think it prevent people from getting cold.

Outstanding beauties of the sea

If the Norwegian coast has a lot of islands, mountains and fjords, few of them out-stand others and are very easy to recognize. In the south of the Lofoten are two important natural monuments to which the Norwegian folklore has stories and explanations about their formations. The Seven Sisters is for example a small mountain chain behind Sandnesjoen consisting of seven mountains (remains of six glaciers) which are said to be seven trolls who, late,  didn’t hide from the sun and have been changed into rocks! More to the south we had a small detour with ship to admire the Torghatten, a big lonely mountain on a small island recognizable by its large hole in it, myths associate its hole with a Viking god who threw an arrow into it.

In the evening we landed in Rorvik where we could visit the Polarlys, a smaller ship of our fleet. But it was also the occasion to see a little of Rorvik.

Day 6 – Visiting the medieval town of Trondheim

After Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger this is the largest city in Norway. Yet the most important when it comes to talk about royalty since every single kings who leads the country have been crown inisde the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

Wooden houses in Trondheim

Wooden houses in Trondheim

Morning city walk

We arrived at Trondheim at 8am and had about nine hours to see and enjoy the city. To be introduced to it we had a walking tour planed tarting from the harbour. An old lady was guiding all us ten into charming streets, on the Red Bridge and along the houses on the river. This lady introduced us to the a former wealthy merchants wooden house which is now use for gala and high ranking reception (when recently the prince got married, an official party was held there).

Main interest if the city is for me its large cathedral with a façade that has countless statues. I also noticed a café/souvenir shop nearby that we will visit later. Our walk then lead us to the harbour again we saw our ship a last time, our voyage ending here :(

All the group gather and went for an unplanned visit of another ship at the port, the MS Vesteralen, a former cargot ship. After having seen most of the cabins and facilities we left its friendly team to get to a hotel to leave luggages for the day: nobody would want to spend hours in a town with his luggages :) The Scandic reception was kind and allowed us to be more comfortable to go in search of Trondheim’s beauties.

Kristiansten Fortress in Trondheim

With two of my colleagues I started another walking in the old town, but following a sightly different path. Above the old town stands a small stronghold consisting of one primary square tower and of some small buildings. Now one of them is a café. We could have a nice view from there :) The weather wasn’t cold, especially after our days up in the north! We walk down to be by the river and have an interesting point of view of the Cathedral. We had our coffee there.

Kristiansten Fortress

Kristiansten Fortress

Mulkomen island

This island can usually visited but we couldn’t because of time. It is a small land situated very near the coast of the city. On it are a little fortress that used to be a execution camp, a prison and now a monastery. We could see it from the harbour before we returned to the Scandic hotel and get our taxi for the airport. That was the last thing I saw of Norway…

Mulkomen island

Mulkomen island

Conclusion of an epic adventure

I do many long trips when I want to travel but they are always planed by myself. This time I relied on my company and could just focus on my voyage to totally unknown places. The landscapes one can see along the Norwegian coastline are more than pretty, they are wonderful!! If there is a heaven, it would look like there. Despite being more attracted by old and authentic cities with narrow streets and long history, I must admit that sometime going to preserved nature has some advantages!

Moreover if at first I had doubts on my travelling group, it rapidly appears that my co-workers were maybe the best I could have for this adventure :) I felt a true group cohesion and despite being there for work with some business-related tasks to fulfil, everything was done very smoothly and without any argument or problem, I don’t think one of us had felt somehow frustrated. We were just ten friendly people from Tallinn, Kirkrnes and Seattle who enjoyed together and for the first time a same voyage in a cool paradise, and we will share the same memories for the rest of our life!

Guillaume Speurt

Guillaume Speurt

French settled in Estonia, I have spent my last years in the Baltic States. I love photography and travelling in Eastern and Central Europe, I write this blog to relate my experiences.
Guillaume Speurt

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