Snowbound Southbound, Part One

Knego heads off to explore wintry Norway with two of Hurtigruten’s finest ships in a complex but action-packed week of travel. In this first post, there is a visit to Kirkenes and its legendary Snowhotel followed by a look at the handsome, 2002-built MV TROLLFJORD.


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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.

Monday, February 22, 2016

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Frosty plane pane.

The initial plan was to fly from California to Norway, where I would join the first southbound voyage of the newly refurbished Hurtigruten liner KONG HARALD on a six night coastal trek, sampling the ship’s new amenities and hopefully encountering the Northern Lights. However, when I reached Amsterdam, an urgent message relayed that the ship was delayed and I could either head back home or carry on with a new, improvised version of the journey.  This new “Plan B” would be to fly to Kirkenes for a day before heading to Tromso to board KONG’s fleetmate TROLLFJORD on a short sailing to Svolvaer, spending a night and then rendezvous-ing with the hindered KONG for a two night cruise to Trondheim. The game was on!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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Wooden portal to the Snowhotel.

After a stay in Oslo, I joined a European-based press group on a two hour flight to Kirkenes, the northern terminus on the Hurtigruten route. We would be overnighting at the legendary Snowhotel, where Hurtigruten guests often stay as a pre-or post-cruise option.

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Snow mobiling.
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Snow mobiles in a row.

Following lunch in the hotel’s dining room, we participated in yet another popular Hurtigruten offering, a snow mobile ride into the neighboring Langfjord. Donning snow suits and helmets, we were off on a ten kilometer ride through snow gusts and slush to the Snowhotel’s most remote bungalows, which are tucked away on the icy slopes of the fjord.

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King crab grip.

En route, we made a pit stop to observe a crab trap being raised from the fjord’s icy depths.  The King Crab Expedition, which during the summertime is done via boats, is one of the most popular excursions offered by Hurtigruten and the Snowhotel.

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Crab sextette.

These spindly creatures are actually an anomaly to Norway, having recently emigrated from the Pacific shores of Kamchatka via the Arctic Sea and are now decimating European ecosystems by feeding on everything in their path. By that deduction, eating them is a good thing for the marine environment.

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Crab cooking.

There was a crustacean photo op before one of the guides dispatched the day’s catch with a long, sharp knife that crunched through their thick shells.  After witnessing their gooey demise, we clambered back onto our snowmobiles for the remainder of the ride to the remote bungalows, where the dethroned kings were thrown into a boiling cauldron. It’s not easy being a crab.

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Roasting reindeer.

Back at the Snowhotel complex, in a rounded wooden lounge area, our group was offered a chance to roast a skewer of reindeer as we were prepped for sleeping in the ice portion of the hotel.

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Ice Bar corner.

Prior to dinner, we had a chance to enjoy a tangy shot of crowberry juice in a glass made of ice at the Ice Bar. We next toured the 24 different rooms that are all linked by a long, frozen passage. This entire section of the hotel was created by inflating huge balloons and then packing them in a thick layer of snow and ice. Once the shell is firmly set, the balloons are deflated and removed, leaving hollowed out spaces in their wake.

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Ice Bar at night.

The bar was chiseled out of ice blocks into the form of a Viking ship. Every year, the entire ice portion of the Snowhotel is shut down on April 20, allowed to melt, then completely rebuilt the following winter.

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My icy digs.

Each of the dramatically lit bedrooms is chiseled to an agreed-upon design — mine (#4) featured two jousting dwarfs. The temperature is kept at minus 4 Celsius but the sleeping bags that are provided were designed for temps of minus 30, often creating a “too hot/too cold” scenario for light sleepers.  As the owner joked the following morning, staying at the Snowhotel is an absolute must but for most, just once.

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Taj Mahal in ice.

Probably my favorite room was the Taj Mahal but Marilyn is the most popular and the only one that is brought back every year. Throngs of tourists come to the Snowhotel just for guided tours and the place tends to book up two years in advance.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

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Huskies in a row.

The following morning, although it was sunny, the outside temperature matched the minus four degrees of the hotel’s interior. We had a moment or two to convene with the huskies before they carried throngs of tourists off on a sledding expedition (yet another Hurtigruten-sponsored excursion) and we headed to the airport for a duet of flights to Tromso.

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Tromso night.

The irony of flying to south to Oslo to go almost the same distance north again to Tromso was not lost on us. After some seven hours of busy airports and crowded airplanes, we landed in Northern Norway’s largest town, which, with its population of 70,000, is actually the largest town north of the Arctic Circle.

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Tromso corner.

We left our luggage at the Scandic Hotel, which is conveniently about 500 feet away from the Hurtigruten terminal. A fresh blanket of snow crunched underfoot as we walked to a local pub, then to dinner in a wonderful deli/restaurant featuring local specialties.

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Midnight cathedral.

Shortly after the MV TROLLFJORD arrived, we joined the excursion to the Arctic Cathedral for its midnight concert. Designed by Norwegian architect Jan Inge Hovig, it is actually a parish church dating from 1965.

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Triangulating interior.

In the glint of candlelight with a magnificent stained glass panel hovering behind them, three musicians performed Nordic folk songs as well as selections by Grieg and other classical composers.

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Moon over MV TROLLFJORD at Tromso.

With just moments to spare, we returned to the TROLLFJORD, ran to the neighboring hotel to retrieve our luggage and boarded just as the gangway was lifted and the ship continued on her southbound journey.

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MV TROLLFJORD outside cabin.

Upon boarding, I was issued my cabin key card and took the elevator up two decks to my standard outside cabin 622 on starboard Promenade (6) Deck. It was comfortable and well-appointed with twin berths and a view of the promenade via a large picture window.

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The loo in 622 was a standard modular type with a curtained shower recess that is more than adequate for Hurtigruten service.

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MV TROLLFJORD Cabin 622 coffee and tea.
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MV TROLLFJORD Arctic Pure amenities.

A nice touch was the coffee and tea “kit” and quality Arctic Pure brand amenities (shampoo, conditioner and bath gel).

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Tromso glow.

Despite the chill and the late hour (1:30 AM), we headed up to the sun deck area on aft Deck 9 as TROLLFJORD left Tromso in her wake. While we vainly sought even the most furtive glance of the Northern Lights, I realized that in my jet-lagged stupor, I had left my backpack (with computer, passport, wallet, phone, camera batteries) in the Scandic Hotel’s baggage room. Aside from my clothes and luggage, I had my camera, one spare battery and eleven Kroner ($1.50) to my name…

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Eleven NOK.

Either due to the ongoing jet lag or the nagging horror of what I left behind, I only clocked in an hour or two of sleep, despite the comfortable surrounds. Since there would be just one full day to capture all aspects of the TROLLFJORD, I set out on a dawn documenting spree.

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Built in 2002 (the hull was constructed in Sweden and fitted out at Trondheim’s Fosen Mek Shipyard), the TROLLFJORD is, along with twin sister MIDNATSOL of 2003, the largest ship in the Hurtigruten fleet, measuring 16,140-gt.

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MV TROLLFJORD Troll Hall, facing forward.

Starting at the top with Deck 9, the TROLLFJORD has seven passenger decks. The upper Troll Hall level of a spectacular observation lounge begins the public spaces.

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MV TROLLFJORD Fitness Center.

On the starboard side of the Troll Hall, there is a fitness center, steam room and sauna as well as the Polar Bar, which faces aft and looks out onto the sheltered portion of the Sun Deck.

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The forward section of Sun Deck is partially sheltered by deck housing fore and aft and glass screens on either side.

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The TROLLFJORD boasts two Jacuzzis in the midships portion of Deck 9. Despite the below freezing temperatures, they were in active use for much of the day.

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MV TROLLFJORD aft Deck 9, facing forward.

The aft portion of Deck 9 is a wide open sunning and observation area.

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MV TROLLFJORD Panorama Lounge, facing forward.

Deck 8 begins with the lower Panorama Lounge portion of the observation lounge.

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MV TROLLFJORD Fjord Bar, facing aft.
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MV TROLLFJORD Fjord Hall/Sagafjord, facing aft.

A suite of public spaces continues aft of the Panorama Lounge with the Fjord Bar on the port side and the Sagafjord (forward) portion of the Fjord Hall lounge to starboard.

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MV TROLLFJORD Internet Room, facing forward.

Adjoining the Fjord Hall is an internet room with four computer stations.

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MV TROLLFJORD Library, facing aft.

The Library follows the Fjord Hall on the starboard side of Deck 8.

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MV TROLLFJORD Espolin Johnson Room, facing at.

Named for the painter whose striking works (originally from the 1964-built HARALD JARL — now the SERENISSIMA) are displayed on its walls, the clubby Espolin Johnson Room follows the Fjord Bar on port Deck 8. Aft of these spaces, there is a block of cabin and suite accommodation.

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MV TROLLFJORD, Valhall, facing port.

Decks 7 and 6 are dedicated to passenger accommodation, while Deck 5 is fully devoted to public spaces, beginning with the two small Nordlys and Polarlys conference rooms on either side of the Valhall auditorium, which used for enrichment lectures and video screenings.

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MV TROLLFJORD Cafe Viking Saga/Viking Market, facing aft.

Dining venues occupy the lion’s share of Deck 5, beginning with the Cafe Viking Saga/Viking Market, which offers up a la carte local specialties, snacks, coffee, soda and more for purchase.

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A wonderful painting of the ship’s namesake fjord is on the aft wall of the midships Viking Market seating area.

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MV TROLLFJORD A La Carte Restaurant.

On the port side of the Viking Market is the ship’s A La Carte Restaurant, which offers extra tariff, Norwegian-style fine dining.

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MV TROLLFJORD Saga Hall Restaurant, facing forward from starboard.

A long passageway and shop lead aft on the starboard side to the Saga Hall Restaurant, the TROLLFJORD’s main dining venue.

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The MV TROLLFJORD is distinguished by her cool, wintry color schemes versus the warm, sunny ambiance of her twin MIDNATSOL.

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MV TROLLFJORD Atrium, facing up.

The TROLLFJORD has a cylindrical atrium that soars upwards from Deck 4 to Deck 9.

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MV TROLLFJORD Reception, facing aft.

This TROLLFJORD mini-Decked! feature will end where it begins for most, in the Deck 4 reception area in the aft portion of the atrium.

End of Snowbound Southbound, Part One

Click Here For Part Two

Special thanks: Lauren Frye, Elliot Gillies, Oystein Knoph, Ryazan Tristram, Runar

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

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 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."
Peter Knego

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