In Search of the Northern Lights: Day 2

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Alesund from Aksla

Alesund from Aksla

We sailed and the first panic has set in. The wifi doesn’t work. But yes it does, but only on one deck and you need a password. So you will be able to read these scribbling after all. People stayed up to watch the sailing and celebrate the voyage with expensively purchased beer, wine or coffee. There is a deal on board. For 209 Norwegian krone, (NKr) about £21, you can have as much coffee as you can drink over the voyage. Considering that coffee and tea are NKr 25 each in the café, it’s not surprising that you see dozens of people carrying around their plastic mugs. it’s also about the same price on land as well.

Norway is an expensive country. It’s not unusual to pay £20 for just a hamburger or a bowl of pasta. A taxi fare of a mile or so will cost you a tenner and a glass of beer not far short of the same. Cheap this holiday won’t be so be prepared. Money will migrate from your wallet faster than a premium footballers’ weekly wages rise.

Many stayed up to see the ferry leave Bergen and some even awoke to see it enter its first port, Floro, at 4.30 in the morning. I didn’t so cannot tell you what it looks like in the dark. Nor was I awake when we reached Maloy at seven o’clock. Like a number of other passengers, I was wondering why the ferry was rocking so much. We had a roughish start to the holiday.

Torvik was visible in the daylight. At half past ten in the morning when the queasiness had left me, I went up on deck to see this small town where we were to dock for just fifteen minutes. Why stop I wondered? There seemed just a few houses and only 2 people got off. One man both tied us up and drove the fork lift truck that unloaded the goods and then loaded a few back on again. Why would you live here? The reason is the quiet and the scenery. But then all the scenery is stunning. When Slartibartfast created the Norwegian fjords in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” he said that was his favourite part. It is easy to see why. But what did the locals do for work? Fishing? Farming? (it looked too barren for all but hill sheep) I was left wondering as we left with indecent haste on our way to the next port but here we would be able to get off.

This was the little town of Alesund where about 70,000 people live. It has grown enormously as my “12 Days” says the population was only about 19,000 half a century ago. It has its own airport and ferry terminals to reach the islands and bigger places further away. A huge fire destroyed the town in 1904. Some things survived the great fire but not many. A pillar near the base of the climb up Mt Aksla records the help given by Kaiser Wilhelm II after the great fire.

Alesund - art deco architecture

Alesund - art deco architecture


Rebuilt with an art deco style in mind, the buildings do harmonise unlike many cities which mix old and new. Yes, there are plenty of new, uniform blocks of flats and a modern museum but these are away from the inner part. It’s not that small either but spread out over 3 islands. We had 3 hours between arriving and departing. A coach was laid on for those who were off to one of the modern attractions the aquarium and a bunch of walkers were off to discover the town by foot. That could have been a bit disappointing because, being on a Sunday, most the shops including some restaurants and souvenir shops were closed.

I chose to go up Aksla instead. This is a walk up to a scenic viewing area and a café that overlooks Alesund. Actually there were cars at the top so there must be a way to drive there. Its just that the guidebooks concentrate on the walk highlighting the fact that there are 481 steps. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There may be that number of steps. I didn’t count. I was too busy huffing and puffing. You start off with a steep walk. And it gets steeper. There is little let-up apart from benches which are very frequent (or try the 1826 cannon as a bench instead!) but the problem is that there are others there when you get to them! So you lean over the railings and catch your breath. The steps are uneven and some are the worse for use. You need good solid shoes and energy or patience. But there were people jogging up as well as down them. One father was climbing them with his son sitting on his shoulders. One pregnant woman, short of breath but determined, passed me as I came back down.

Is the walk rewarding? Yes, but you don’t necessarily need to go to the top. The views from vantage seats are nearly as good particularly if you want only to look down on Alesund. But from the observation area and café you can see around the many inlets and bays. And you can see 40 different peaks in front of you , each over 450 metres (say 1,300 feet high) on a clear day. The peaks were mostly shrouded by cloud but I think I made out the largest, Seljebottinden. At 1,531 metres (4,600 feet) and snow capped like all the others it provided quite a backdrop to a town sprawled over three islands.

As the rain came, back to the ferry and a cup of tea and a read before we left an hour later for our next stop at Molde. Here we get 45 minutes but it doesn’t seem long enough. At 5.45 in the evening, the lights seem to show a large town that spreads up and down the foreshore. There are more than a dozen people getting off and easily that number waiting on the quayside. But where can you walk to and still get back in a little over half an hour. My “12 Days” says that fifty years ago, Molde was a large tourist destination and people came for the shopping. Today, it’s not shopping by the July Jazz festival that’s been held here since 1960 that attracts the crowds. The other sight, the Romsdal Alps, are shrouded in the night. And on the return voyage it will also be night so on the ship I stayed.

Dinner changes as from tonight. On the first day was a . Breakfast and lunch is always one. Tonight, and for the rest of the voyage, it is a sit-down, waiter served meal at the quite early time of 6.30pm. This, apparently, is to allow for a second sitting from tomorrow when lots of passengers are expected to join at Trondheim. We now have more open sea to sail through tonight, just like yesterday when it was rough. Before midnight we reach Kristiansund which my “12 Days” tells me was once called the Venice of the North. Well there’s no chance of proving that in the middle of the night so, another place will only be greeted by my snores for tomorrow is an early start. We dock at Trondheim at 6am and have 6 hours there.

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