I think it’s difficult to be passionate about commuting. I know I speak for about eight million people when I say – as a Londoner – that I hate my journey to work. But this is just another reason why a Hurtigruten cruise is unique: the ships are also fully-functional passenger and freight carriers and so offer a realistic (although pricey) method of daily transport for locals, not just holiday-makers. Indeed, the very name of the company comes from the Norwegian for ‘the Express Route’, which gives the ships a more practical atmosphere on-board – and more chance to stop at dry land.
Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, was the main port of call on day three of the trip, although the ship stopped off at several small towns along the way, including Molde and Kristiansund. More specifically, we would be visiting Munkholmen – an island off the coast of Trondheim. For such a small piece of land, it boasts a varied history, including housing a former monastery, fortress, prison – and an anti-aircraft gun station. The musty stone dungeon in the heart of the main building is an equally poignant reminder of the island’s past as the enormous artillery gun that looks out over the fjord. It’s hard to imagine the destructive nature of the fortification as I look along the barrel of the gun station and towards the serene blue emptiness ahead.
Once back on-board, passengers ready for a rest can choose from the ship’s 474 beds, including two suites at the front of Deck 5 (of seven). There is also room for passengers to sleep in the bars and café areas – which seemed common – making the total capacity up to 622. The rest of the rooms comprise twins (some with upper and lower berths) with wardrobes and desks, and a choice of inside cabins and outside cabins. One of the beds can be folded up into a sofa and the other folded flat against the wall to make a comfortable living space. The en suite has a heated floor which, unsurprisingly, becomes more and more useful as the journey north continues.
It takes something exceptional to make me want to wake up early – especially if it’s not even at a specific moment and just within a window of potential times – but crossing into the Arctic Circle is definitely one of those special events.
Hurtigruten tell customers that the ship will reach the hallowed Polarsirkelen ‘somewhere between 6.45 and 8am’ depending on the schedule. You could be waiting around on top deck in icy polar winds – not that it was at all cold during my trip – for an hour but it’s a special sight you’ll want to wake up for: a metallic sphere, shining proudly from a drab isolated island, designating the limit of the midnight sun. To make it even more interesting, the night before there’s a competition on-board to guess the exact time of crossing, with the winner getting a photobook prize.
For the still sleepy, there’s time to go back to bed until the next excursion – or for the active there’s a small gym and sauna available. On arrival at Bodø, the capital of Nordland country, we boarded RIBs and thrashed out across the water to visit Saltstraumen, a small strait with the strongest tidal current in the world.
This in itself means very little until you see what it represents – a sudden jump in water level in a seemingly innocuous stretch of sea. Skimming over the resultant whirlpools at 30-odd mph is easily the best way to marvel at the view, as the awesome power of manmade machinery swerves around this astonishing force of nature.