Midnight sunsets and fantastic fjords

Mr Snail, Auguste* and I have returned from spending 12 days on a boat travelling from Bergen to Kirkenes and back: not exactly a cruise, but a voyage on one of the ships in the Hurtigruten fleet, that constantly sail up and down the Norwegian coast, ferrying cars, local passengers and cargo as well as visitors like us enjoying the wonderful country.

So, without further ado, a small glimpse of what we saw:


* A bear who has come to live and travel with us… but that’s a story for Mr Snail to tell


I must start by apologising for the lack of posts recently, but I have been on holiday… to Norway. Somehow the snow seems to have followed me home, though, so I am still making use of my down jacket and snow boots! Anyway, since I can’t get out in the garden, my plans are (1) to write a new blog post; (2) to do some work on my permaculture diploma; and (3) to order some seeds and dream of warmer weather to come.

Our first stop: Torvik... we go off for about 10 minutes

Our first stop: Torvik… we got off for about 10 minutes

When I mentioned to friends that we were going on holiday, most people asked if we were going somewhere sunny… nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, for part of our holiday we were in places where the sun simply never appears over the horizon at this time of year… way up in the Arctic Circle (I now even have a certificate to prove I’ve been there). It may seem an odd thing to choose to do when the days are already short here, but I really wanted to experience the polar night and to see the northern lights. The former was guaranteed, the latter relied on luck.

The sun failing to appear once we were in the Arctic Circle

The sun failing to appear once we were in the Arctic Circle

I’m conscious that going on holiday is, often, not the most sustainable activity, but I feel that meeting people from other parts of the world and seeing different lands helps me feel part of the whole and gives me some perspective. In fact, because we wanted to see the fjords, we knew the best way to achieve this… a trip on the Norwegian Coastal Express – Hurtigruten. The company originated in 1893 as the post boats, travelling up and down the coast of Norway. providing links to many remarkably inaccessible communities. And the company continues to do this – their boats travel up and down the coast, calling at 34 ports every day all year round, transporting goods and acting as a ferry service (including taking cars). They used to carry livestock too, but have stopped doing this now! Instead, they carry tourists – encouraging them to disembark and look round even the smallest town that they visit… experiencing the local culture and supporting local businesses.

This is, I have discovered, known as Geotourism – something I do naturally when I visit another country, but clearly a concept that needs to be promoted to others. National Geographic state on their website:

Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism—that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations—while allowing for ways to protect a place’s character. Geotourism also takes a principle from its ecotourism cousin,—that tourism revenue should promote conservation—and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place.

Me with our racing team!

Me with our racing team!

And it made for a brilliant holiday. All of the on-shore activities involved local people and businesses: a Viking Feast at the Borg Viking Museum on the Lofoten Islands; dog sledging with teams from the Tromsø Wilderness Centre (we were lucky enough to have the owner, Tove Sørensen, as our musher and be pulled by her racing team); a fascinating trip to North Cape, lead by Jerome, a local from Honningsvåg, who gave us real insight what it is like to live at the northern-most tip of Europe; plus we wandered around villages and towns – meeting really friendly folks as we went. In addition, the majority of the crew on the boat were Norwegian and the food served was representative of local cuisine – lots of fish, berries and, or course, reindeer meat. So, rather than just being on a floating hotel, we experienced some real Norwegian culture and, hopefully, supported the livelihood of the people who live along the coast of the country.

It was snowy at North Cape

It was snowy at North Cape

We also got to see the Northern Lights – one clear night we experienced them as green beams extending into the sky, then later we saw the brightest stars that we have ever encountered, so bright that they were perfectly reflected in the dead calm waters of the fjord that we were sailing through. Much of the holiday was spent gazing in wonder at the natural beauty of Norway: the tiny settlements perched precariously along the coast below towering mountains; the snow-capped peaks; the barren islands with a single house on them; the twilight of the polar night at mid-day; the black storm clouds. So many memories and a truly unforgettable trip.

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