Friday, April 29, 2011

Hurtigruten: MS Vesterålen

FINALLY! The Norwegian 6-day sea voyage from Kirkenes to Bergen, following all those wonderful days in Oslo a month ago!

I've decided to start with the ship...our ship...because without it, the sea voyage wouldn't have happened. You notice I didn't say cruise, right? We were corrected from the get-go: with no bingo, casino or entertainment, this was a sea voyage. And utilitarian at that, its chief purpose being to transport mail, supplies and daily passengers up and down Norway's rugged, fjord coastline.

OUR ship was the MS Vesterålen, one of 11 in Hurtigruten's fleet, built in 1983 and one of the smallest at only 510 passengers. Don't you just love the circle over the 'a' -- å or Å. And isn't she a beauty!

Totally unbenownst to us ahead of time, we passed other ships from Hurtigruten's fleet all along the way. That made sense, of course, since they're all going back-n-forth up and down the coast every day. They're on a mission and we as passengers are just on for the ride.

We passed The Polarys, Nordlys and the Kong Harald... well as the Trollfjord and Nordnorge, all at sea or on shore.
Every time we were ready to pass a ship going in the opposite direction, it was announced on the PA system, followed by reciprocal horn blasts from each ship...and whooping and hollering on the decks.
That was camaraderie at sea!

Lucky for us, because the ships sail for utilitarian reasons, there are many stops during the day and night, sometimes for only half an hour while supplies are loaded and unloaded. Every time we had a chance, especially if we saw something close to shore that looked interesting, we got off. The whole embarking/disembarking routine became old hat for both Astrid and me. Sometimes we were the only passengers getting off, getting closer to a church for photos, for instance...before rushing back.

Our room card keys were also what logged us on/off the ship each time.
See how easy it is to learn Norwegian! Gått ut. Gått ombord.

Speaking of supplies, they had it all down to a science at every port. The punctuality in and out was mind-boggling to us, sometimes with several forklifts operating at the same time.

You know how it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
And so it was that Astrid went inside the hold of the ship to get the above view. HA! I love it.
We saw everything from cars, to furniture, groceries and everyday living supplies.

Of course, nothing gets on or off before another important crew gets the ship docked...those on shore and those on the ship. We loved seeing how the thick ropes were thrown back-n-forth by the thinner ropes with weighted balls on the end...and then pulled through the water.
It's fun to see how things work, sometimes by simple methods.

OK, time to come inside!
Reception was on 'ground' floor near the entrance, just a couple doors away from our cabin.

Our cabin was plenty spacious for us. We don't ask for much, you know.
There were actually 3 single beds but we chose to keep the couch the couch and use the bunk beds instead (both of which could be folded up against the wall). Astrid will tell you I insisted on sleeping on top. Actually, I told her I always slept on the top bunk whenever I had the choice. And so I did, with her 'spotting' me up and down each time. :)
(Those suitcases in the hallway were in preparation for departure at the end.)

Which comes first, eating or sleeping?
Every day the menu was posted for the sit-down evening meal. No choice of menu but we had nothing served to us we did not like immensely.
(click to enlarge)

I've been on the big cruises, you know, but they have nothing over the meals we had each day as well as the service of the staff. Our table mates each evening were 2 delightful couples from Germany.
We even had a Captain's Dinner night with a champagne toast...

...which was really amazing since almost NO ONE drank wine with the evening meals.
Why, you might ask? Because the cost of alcohol in Norway is nigh prohibitive, at $11/glass on the ship! When we mentioned this to Renny beforehand, he suggested we buy and take our own box of wine (equivalent of 4 bottles), which we did, at half the price. Still, it was $64 for the box!
Trust me, we drank it in the room before dinner and treasured every drop.

So, besides eating and sleeping, how did we spend our time? Are you kidding me!

Pictures speak more than a thousand words!
We were up and down 3 flights of stairs several times each day, keeping ourselves in good shape...

...along with the crew doing their own thing...

...while others had a bit more R&R. No argument there.

But we did have down time with Rummikub and staying on top of e-mails. The wireless internet worked well and was free. But also, every day I uploaded all our photos onto our separate external hard drives.
Everything was neatly into files before we finished the voyage!

Speaking of finishing, all good things do come to an end and before we knew it, it was time to disembark the voyage in Bergen, at the terminal where most people begin their trip. As we awaited the crossing of the catwalk into the terminal, we watched the crew come on board to clean the ship before the next set of passengers left a few hours later.
Everything really was down to a science and just like clockwork!

With suitcases in hand, we still had another 2 legs of our overnight in Bergen before the 7-hour train ride across Norway to Oslo the next day, followed by more sightseeing in the Oslo area before flying home.

See why I still have miles to go before we're done!

[Thanks again to Astrid for several images here-n-there in the collages!]


  1. Wow~! You still take the cake for the amt of photos taken on every trip. I was day dreaming of how much fun it would be to be the 3rd leg on a photo hunt with you like that. I was also envisioning this being just like a voyage up north here in Canada (yet much shorter)...

    Very cool experience, and great food!

  2. What a fantastic sea voyage, the food offered on those ship's menus must have tasted wonderful... reindeer meat and arctic char and cloudberries.... I think I might have to add a sea voyage in Norway to my bucket list! Actually I don't really have a bucket list.... maybe I should start one.

  3. I am so jealous!!! You really whet my appetite for the sea voyage - sounds so much better than cruise!!! You also made me hungry with the photo of the menu - oh yummy!!! Yes please!!! Ginnie, you can have the top bunk, go for it, girl - I'm a bottom sleeper!
    My favorite picture? The passing of The Polarys. It looks like you're traveling through icebergs.

  4. ET: Once I'm home and start sorting out the images is when I realize how many I take, Jen. Actually, every day on the trip I was able to upload and delete most of the images I didn't want. That really helped me for now. Canada could definitely have such sea voyages on both coasts. I wonder if they already do them for utilitarian purposes because they're just easier than land travel?

    Sham: The food really WAS wonderful, starting off the first night with reindeer. I had had it before in Amsterdam, so knew the treat we were in for. Very lean meat. You would LOVE this sea voyage. Totally worth the experience...and different from any other.

    Carola: The kid in me comes out whenever I see a bunkbed. :) I always want the top. It's not as easy to navigate anymore but with Astrid spotting, I was just fine. Thank you kindly for your comment.

  5. Mmm, that menu looks delicious. I've not had reindeer meat but I've tasted caribou and I imagine they are similar. Did you take your own Rummikub or was that in the room? How wonderful that they have wifi on board. And I love the photos of all the behind the scenes work that goes on. That is always the stuff that fascinates me, too.

  6. I am so glad that the bunkbed did not kill you.... things we do HA...
    But I made sure you came down to 'earth' safe every morning. (were are wives for)
    The boat was great, the people were great, the food......fabulous.
    There is so much to see and to do on a boat, the getting ready for being in a port, the loading and unloading goods from the boat, the men had that made to a science, fast and accurate.
    The captains-dinner was great, the next day I found out why it was a day early, manny people were sea-sick during the late dinner the next day, however the crew was more than happy to give dry cookies and ice-cream ( :) ) to a certain person that was kind of not feeling too well by the rough sea........
    Life on that boat was great, loved the number of people that travelled with us, that was enough to me (I don't like big crowds)
    Thank you again for the great collages.

  7. Karen: Yes, I imagine caribou is similar to reindeer...and perhaps also similar to deer meat we have in the States? Wonderful. And yes, we took our own Rummikub, which is small enough to take in our suitcase whenever we travel. The small pleasures of life. :)

    Astrid: You make a good spotter, you know. HA! That was fun. So many laughs. We needed a vacation after we got back home, but then that's what vacations for us will probably always be like. Too much to see and do...a trip of a lifetime.

    And yes, I did miss that one meal, didn't I, along with almost half of the passengers. The ice cream and crackers were all I needed afterwards. I'm actually glad we got to experience the rough sea...something you don't usually get on the bigger cruise ships.

    Thank YOU for supporting all I do to get these posts figured out. You know I love it!

  8. So here I am at last... I've been trying to check daily to see when you have posted the next part of your Norwegian adventures... but have been a bit CRAZED this past weekend and am just now checking in before bedtime!

    I love all the little details you include in your epic adventures... such as the photo of the room card keys showing the times off and on the boat. What fun! As someone who has spent a fair bit of time on sailboats, I enjoyed seeing the huge (by comparison to the boats on which I've sailed) dock lines in that very colorful collage.

    Oh my, $64 for a box of wine... even at equivalent to 4 bottles that seems quite steep for boxed wine! The collages of you and Astrid with cameras in hand (and in use) are marvelous! And I love the one of the crew... so colorful with them all wearing their bright orange gear. My family (sister and brother) enjoys playing Rummikub... will have to see if I can find a travel size to take on our trip to Sweden this summer!

    Another enjoyable read... oh yes... one image particularly caught my eye... LOVE the one of the suitcases all lined up in the hallway!

  9. Victoria: You so faithfully come and read, dear freind. THANK YOU. I always enjoy finding out what grabs your attention and which images you most enjoy. THANK YOU.

    That image of the suitcases in the hallway is one of Astrid's and is a perfect example of the kind of detail she is so good at documenting. Things I never see or think about for photography are what grab her attention. Maybe that's why we make a good photo-hunt team?! I'd like to think so. :)

  10. Ahh, sea voyage. I like that so much better than "cruise" for some reason! :-)

    Love the ship at night with fjords in the background, wow.

    How cool to see the record of embarking and disembarking!

    I giggled when I saw you on your bunk! Fun to see you playing a game. There's something very appealing about having to live within a small space, with the appropriately sized stuff. I can't believe the Internet was free!! after hearing how expensive it was for Susan and Rodger on their cruise.

    So lovely and fun!

  11. Ruth: In comparing this sea voyage with the big cruise ships, hands down this one wins for me, sister. Maybe not for Rodger and Susan, I don't know. They would surely enjoy the pomp and circumstance on the bigger ships. This one was perfect for Astrid and me. And yes, it fits our small-space living. So glad you could join us here for the ride. :)

  12. This cruise looks and feels wonderful! I'm glad you have this opportunity and share it with your blog readers.

  13. Tim: It really WAS wonderful and I feel very fortunate about being able to share it with the world. :) Thanks.

  14. You have to know how much I love seeing this cruise through your lenses. I commend you for hopping on and off the ship so many times. We were the sloths who spent most of our time in the game room. We considered it the most beautiful room on the ship and the five of us claimed it as our salon. It sounds like your internet worked better than ours. The wifi did not reach our cabins and it was slow as ... cod liver oil (think dial-up speed).

    I was hoping you got a glimpse of our beautiful ship the Midnatsol.

    Loved getting a peek into your digs. Those bunk beds remind me of my childhood. I ended up on the top bunk after I saw my sister sail past me as I was just falling asleep. Amazingly she landed on her feet. We all think she's part cat.

    I was also fascinated with those huge lines tying up to those massive cleats.

    I am relishing these posts!

  15. DB: I know exactly what you mean about seeing this same trip through your eyes! Everyone experiences the same thing differently, for the most part. Even Astrid and I marvel at the different images we take of the same thing. Thank you for such a full and fun comment!