Embark on a traditional line voyage aboard Hurtigruten’s classic MV LOFOTEN with Peter Knego as he joins the 1964-built vessel on one of her recent southbound itineraries. In part one, the adventure begins with a diverted flight that invokes a trek across the Finnmarken countryside in Northern Norway to catch up with the ship as well as a visit to the famed North Cape.
Berlevag or Batsfjord? That was the rather urgent question. Each is one of 31 stops made on the Hurtigruten coastal route between Kirkenes and Bergen. Had outside forces not intervened, my morning flight from Oslo would have taken me to Kirkenes just in time to board the 1964-built LOFOTEN for a five night southbound voyage along one of the most scenic shipping routes in the world. Instead, thanks to inclement weather and a deferred flight (surely cursed by that troll-shaped cloud spotted en route), I embarked on a veritable Amazing Race to catch the ship.
After retrieving my luggage at the airport in Lakselv, the largest village in Finnmarken, Norway (population 2,258), I was sent off on a four hour bus ride in the grim Arctic weather to another village called Tana.
In Tana, a local taxi driver assured me that Batsfjord was the closer of my two Hurtigruten options. A terrifyingly expensive but comfy forty minute ride ensued. At this rate, I would have plenty of time to catch the dandy LOFOTEN, which was due at 8:15 PM on the second of her southbound stops since departing Kirkenes.
The driver delivered me to the pier, only to find a line up of small coastal cargo ships and no shelter from the incessant rain. He paused, kindly shut off the meter and drove me a mile or so into town where I could at least settle in the entry of an abandoned hotel to wait it out. After a couple hours, when it was finally time to head back to the harbor, I began the walk, umbrella instantly blown inside out.
Mercy intervened in the form of a lovely lady in a small SUV, who pulled off the road and offered me a ride to the terminal, where the ironically named SUNNY LISA was beginning her tormented departure.
At the pier, I wedged my suitcase in the relative dryness between a dumpster and a tin-sided warehouse and rode out the rest of my time at Batsfjord in the good company of a much more suitably dressed companion.
Right on time, a fuzzy black speck on the horizon morphed into my Norwegian sea chariot. A vision of sleekness and mini-majesty, the LOFOTEN, lights flickering on, came rolling into the small harbor. Undeterred by her surging green element, she spun around, engines rumbling and aligned herself with the pier. A forklift hoisted the gangway, which I instantly scaled to Saloon Deck to be welcomed by the hotel director and tour guide.
Within moments, the lines were dropped, the gangway was off and LOFOTEN began her continuing thrust into the Barents Sea. “Welcome on board, Mr. Knego. We hope you will enjoy your stay with us.” I followed Snorre (the hotel director, who also goes by his middle name Albert) and Anja (the tour guide) to the Reception area to check in. Fortunately, the ship was alerted about my diverted flight and held my cabin, knowing I would be boarding at the nearest accessible point after Kirkenes. When Anja saw me marveling at the vintage surrounds, she smiled proudly. “This is the good ship, Mr. Knego. There is really nothing else like her.”
Literally translated, Hurtigruten means “express route” and LOFOTEN, unlike a typical cruise ship, did not have time to meander, despite the churning Arctic seas. She was plunging and rolling into what must have been at least a Force 8, so I dug out a meclizine tablet and started chewing, hoping its raspberry-flavored narcotic effects would take quickly.
I shuffled my luggage down to standard outside cabin 207 on port Deck B. It had a small porthole, upper and lower berths and a writing nook with a fixed seat. It was not a typical modern cruise ship stateroom, nor did I expect or want it to be.
All was in good order with the tiled loo’s shower, sink and commode.
When I arrived at the dining room, a marvelous space with gorgeous paneling and a sea of vintage fixtures including chair ties to hold everyone in place during inclement weather, I was surprised to find myself the only one.
Hurtigruten dinners are a fixed menu with three courses and since I don’t eat meat and am not keen on shellfish, I had arranged for the vegetarian options in advance. The salad was fresh and the vegetable entree looked and smelled delightful but a familiar, alarming tickle in the back of my throat meant only one thing. As LOFOTEN bravely corkscrewed into those mountainous seas, I careened back to the cabin just in the nick of time, adding the Barents Sea to my increasingly long “bucket” list that includes the North Sea, Bay of Biscay (twice) and the South China Sea. LOFOTEN was determined that I earn my stripes, so I gave in and spent the next six or so hours in fetal mode, sliding around my berth as she charged into the frothy night.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
At 5:15 AM, there was a tap on my door. “Mr. Knego, it’s time to get ready for your excursion.” Under any other circumstances, I would have stayed put but this was my first and possibly only opportunity to visit the famed North Cape. Still stoned from the meclizine and not ready for prime time, I quickly dressed, covered the bed hair with a cap and headed up to the lobby where fellow guests had gathered. At 5:45 AM, LOFOTEN glided into the port of Honningsvag, where we quickly marched off in the direction of a large, comfortable coach.
Typically, the Hurtigruten shore excursions pick guests up in one port and deliver them at one of the ship’s next stops. My 5.5 hour Breakfast at the North Cape tour would take us through much of Norway’s now familiar western Finnmarken region before meeting the LOFOTEN at Hammerfest. We were most fortunate in being the only tour bus to visit the North Cape that morning, where after some 40 minutes of scenic driving, we exited into The North Cape Hall visitor’s center.
Most of us headed directly out to the promontory, where the seas surged 1,000 feet below.
We would soon learn that the neighboring Knivskjellodden Point actually extends nearly a mile farther north but that its inaccessibility ruled it out as the “official” North Cape tourist destination.
I awaited my turn for a photo op on the platform underneath the oversized bronze sphere.
Before heading back inside, I stopped at a series of sculptures created by seven children from Tanzania, Brazil, USA, Japan, Thailand, Italy and Russia called “Peace on Earth”. Each of the 8-to-12-year-olds made a clay relief symbolizing friendship, hope, joy and working together. In 1989, the works were enlarged, cased in bronze and erected in a semi-circle outside the North Cape Hall directly across from the “Mother and Child “monument by sculptor Eva Rybakken.
I was long overdue for a warm meal. At the buffet, I indulged with various rounds of fresh-baked Norwegian breads smeared in local berry preserves, some yogurt, cheeses, cold cuts, eggs and much more….
The multi-level North Cape Hall features a gift shop, wedding chapel, numerous displays, a concert hall and a cinema with huge high definition screens, where we were shown a movie about the North Cape.
On our way back along the coast, there were a handful of stops, including one at a Sami family’s residence where local crafts are sold and guests could pose with a reindeer.
Other stops included a coffee and waffle shop and a beach that was abloom in shades of purple. With almost perpetual sun at this time of year, the Norwegian Arctic is blanketed in color.
The coach arrived in Hammerfest some forty five minutes before LOFOTEN’s scheduled departure at 11:45. As this was one of the ship’s longer stops, I took a quick walk along the harbor front, then headed back on board.
As it turns out, I still had plenty of room to devour yet another full meal as the ship continued on her dutiful way to Oksfjord.
Still groggy from the prior day’s adventure and the lingering efects of meclizine, I enjoyed a walk in the brisk air on deck, then headed back to the cabin to finally unpack and settle in before taking a “quick” nap, from which I would awaken twelve hours later…
End of Catching Up With The LOFOTEN, Part One. Much more to come…
Special thanks: Mindy Bianca, Anja Erdman, Elliot Gillies, Snorre A. Pedersen
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."