We crossed the Arctic Circle at 66°33’ N in the Norwegian Sea and we got a call from Neptune. A powerful voice came over the loud speaker of the Hurtigruten's MS Finnmarken, our faithful vessel from Bergen to Kirkenes, calling us to the top deck for the Arctic Circle Baptism. The 120-year old seafaring company has many traditions, and the ruler of the seven seas pouring icy ocean water down newbies back is one of the classics. Welcome to Arctic Circle and the Hurtigruten voyage...where fun, adventure, and beauty are always around the bend.
It's Day 5 of our 10-day voyage (for days 1-4 and more about the history and ships of the Hurtigruten, see our first post here) and we've just sailed passed a 3000-foot mountain range erupting out of the sea and have arrived at Tromsø, the Arctic Capital of Norway. It's where explorer Roald Amundsen would come to stock up for expeditions to the North Pole and people owned polar bears for pets. We wanted to know about this wild place so we signed up for the Polar History Walk excursion (Hurtigruten offers different excursions each day to better immerse passengers in the port towns and surrounding beauty). Our expert guide gave us a tour of the Norwegian Polar Institute, taught us about Tromsø's unique architecture and the town's hunting and boating culture with a lively stop at a traditional pub for a pint from Mack, the world's most northern brewery.
We awoke in our honeymoon suite and decided to revel in our spacious lounge with breakfast in bed. Smoked salmon, poached eggs, fruits, yogurt, muesli, and the works arrived, compliments of the chef. The food was amazing and tasted that much better while enjoying it in our terrycloth robes and slippers.
The landscape got more surreal as we approached the North Cape, just 2,000 kilometers from the North Pole and ostensibly the end of the earth. We arrived to the port town of Honningsvåg and embarked on our next excursion to the North Cape Museum, atop the plateau. The area is also known for its birdlife, with a sanctuary of a quarter million seabirds with many species that can only be observed here. We walked the cliffs and couldn't help but have a photo shoot at the globe sculpture. Of the 225,000 photos we've taken on our HoneyTrek, this picture best encapsulates the world's longest honeymoon.
The North Cape is the heartland of the indigenous Sami people so we decided to learn about their unique culture with Hurtigruten's Sami Autumn excursion. It was an intimate evening led by a renowned Sami story teller, where we learned about their music, healing foods, and traditions like the yoik...a unique song that is given to each child at birth (love that!). We sat on reindeer hide in a lavvu-style tent, sampling cloud berries, nettle tea, dried reindeer meat and learning to use our diaphragms and hearts to yoik. Sami Autumn was a truly special evening and an excursion everyone should sign up for!
Driving back to the ship we could already see the Northern Lights dashing through the sky. We sailed into the darkness and the solar wind with its greens, purples and pinks transported us out of this world. The funny thing about the Northern Lights is that they are a total tease; their unbelievable beauty often comes and goes in a flash--but once you've seen it, you'll wait up all night for one more glimpse. I think we were up until 2AM most nights, each neon explosion keeping us up a little later.
On day seven we arrived at the Russian border in Kirkenes, Norway. At a longitude of 30º east, the town is actually further east than Istanbul and St. Petersburg, and it's a mashup of Norwegian and Russian culture. We took an excursion to the line between the two nations and got a peek into the world's largest country.
The boat turned around in Kirkenes but the scenery on the return trip to Bergen was entirely new. It may be the same 1,490-mile coastline but the areas we originally passed in the night were now revealed in the sunshine on our way south. Though no matter what time it is, the view is always great from the roof-deck hot tub.
The meals on the Hurtigruten were all excellent, embracing the local Norwegian produce, meats, fish, and delicacies from the towns en-route, but one meal that deserves calling out is the seafood feast! The bounty of lobster, crab, cod, shrimp, and smoked fish at this buffet was over-the-top fabulous. Come with a big appetite and don't be shy.
We weren't even done eating dinner when our boat leader announced the Northern Lights were ablaze! It was only 6pm, but when the sunsets at 2:30 in the afternoon, the sky was already prime for the auroras. That night we even saw the coveted corona, where the diverging rays seemed to burst right over your head! Seeing the Northern Lights was always something we'd dreamt of experiencing together and it was even more magical than we had imagined.
The Hurtigruten's route from Bergen to Kirkenes is said to be “the most beautiful sea voyage in the world.” After passing the mountains, glaciers and pure waters of 100+ fjords, soaking in countless Northern Lights, and experiencing the charm of its traditional fishing villages and royal cities, we are confident it's true.
Much love from Norway,
Anne & Mike
Note: Hurtigruten invited us to be their guests; however, all opinions are our own.