Passage on the MS Nordstjernen

by Britta on 4 April 2010

in European Adventure,The Norwegian Experience

MS Nordstjernen

MS Nordstjernen

I was like a 19th-century adventurer, crossing the high seas in search of the exotic and the undiscovered. Though I was less a Victorian gentlewoman and more a poor immigrant, relegated to steerage for the duration of the voyage.

I took the Hurtigruten from Bergen to Bodø last week, and I really was in search of adventure—and a little relaxation, to be honest. It’s touted as a National Geographic-type cruise: educational, adventurous, with a bit of luxury thrown in. It’s Norway’s version of the Alaska Marine Highway, the link between isolated communities, hauling cargo, mail and passengers, just as it has done for the past 100 years.

I was told when I inquired that cabins were mandatory. I booked 3 nights on ship in the least expensive cabin. It turned out to be in the bowels of the ship, next to the engines. The porthole was sealed shut, so of course it let in no light, and the lack of heat in the cabin meant that whenever I was inside, I swaddled myself in blankets and comforters. I never knew what time it was when I was down there, so I avoided it as much as I could.

Nordstjernen Lounge

Nordstjernen Lounge

I was thankful we’ve moved beyond the days of third-class passage on Victorian steamers, however, because early on I staked a spot in the classy and comfortable lounge. I stayed there all day, and no one said a word, although at breakfast every morning I was asked to show my cruise card, and I noticed no one else was asked to show theirs.

I learned on disembarking that I could have just walked on to the ship and paid for passage to my destination. I would have had to stay in the lounge—no cabin, and my luggage would have had to stay below deck—but actually, I would have been ok with that. I had pictured my time on the Hurtigruten like my time on the Alaska ferry: sleeping bag on a deck chair (although I would have needed a waterproof bag; it rained the almost whole time). I didn’t have to use my sleeping bag (I don’t actually have one with me anyway), but it would have been nice to know I didn’t really need a cabin. I would have felt less like I was on a cruise (most of the other “cruise” passengers were much older than me) and more like I was adventuring. I suppose it was nice to have a bed to sleep in, I guess, even if the noise of the engines did keep me awake.

The first two days of passage were a study in shades of gray. Demarcation lines between land and sea became diffuse, and mountains were slowly lost into sky. The half-moon showed itself briefly on the first night, bright but indistinct, its edges moving with the undulations of the passing clouds. In Kristiansund on the second night, the rain offered me a respite, and I sat out on the aft deck, the only one, watching the city lights across the harbor dancing slowly on the calm water. The next night in Brønnøysund, it snowed, enough to accumulate a couple centimeters on the deck. I sat outside then, too.

Ålesund's Art Nouveau Skyline

Ålesund's Art Nouveau Skyline

We stopped in Ålesund on the first morning, a pretty town, but quiet, perhaps due to the incessant rain. A fire destroyed the town in the early 20th century, and so the entire town was rebuilt in Art Nouveau style, the height of architectural fashion at the time. I wandered the winding streets, looking for interesting vantage points and inspiring architecture.

We came to Trondheim the next morning, where it also rained. I spent my time here skirting puddles and chatting with a talkative English woman. We wandered around town, looking at the historic wharf buildings and the imposing gothic cathedral. She was on the cruise with her mother; they were doing the round trip to Kirkenes and back (12 days; expensive). She talked about her kids, her work, her mother, her ex. And her lack of sense of direction. She stayed with me because I knew the way back.

On my last morning, the purser passed around a schedule that showed the stops as an hour later than originally noted. So I couldn’t understand why, when the captain announced we would shortly arrive in Bodø, my clock said we were arriving at noon, and the captain said nothing about our early arrival. It took asking two different parties about the discrepancy before I discovered we had sprung forward an hour for daylight savings time. In my darkened cabin, the world passed by without me knowing it.

North of the Arctic Circle

North of the Arctic Circle

That day dawned crisp and clear, the first one I’d had in a long time. White hills stood out sharply against a severe blue backdrop, and the deep blue of the ocean was a perfect contrast to granite crags and icy waterfalls.

Bodø is north of the Arctic Circle, and is the farthest north I have been. I might have gone farther, were it not more expensive. It’s small, though larger than most of the other towns in the north, so it’s one of the main ports. The Norwegian Aviation museum is on its outskirts, a somewhat fascinating compilation of old planes, artifacts and mementos from Norway’s aviation pioneers.

The spectacular scenery, the comfort of the (common areas) of the ship, the experience itself: after all of the recommendations I had had for taking the trip, I was not disappointed, at least not with the method of travel itself. I might change things for next time: I’m either splurging for a cabin with a little more space and a porthole, or I’m ditching the cabin altogether. Caught as I was between luxury and adventure, I think maybe choosing between the two might make for a more cohesive experience. Sleeping bag, deck chair: I that’s probably all I need.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pat Perry April 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

Don’t think you have me sold on that adventure…. WOW, you should review that stateroom on TripAdvisor!

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