In Search of the Northern Lights: Day 9

By | Category: Travel destinations

One of the galleries that open to the timings of the ferries

One of the galleries that open to the timings of the ferries

People have read their camera manuals. Lots more people were happier with the photographs last night. During the day there had been even more conversations between the camera elite and some had exposure settings down to as little as 4 seconds. But there were moans about those who used automatic cameras and who couldn’t disable the flash. It was claimed that the onset of the flash ruined the shoots being taken by those with the more sophisticated cameras. All this was way over my head so I left them to it.

Today is the last real day of excursions for those who have been with the ferry since the start of the journey. After the trip to Vesteralen today the only trips left are ones that they probably did on the journey up when we docked at Trondheim. The midnight concert in the Arctic Cathedral was approved by all I spoke to as the acoustics meant every lyric could be heard even for the softer sung hymns. Those people wouldn’t have been in bed much before 2am but, off they were again when we docked in Harstad.

Hurtigruten Museum

Hurtigruten Museum

The Vesteralen tour is one of the longest at 4 hours and explores the countryside as well as a small Viking museum and, most importantly, the mediaeval church, Trondenes Kirke Those that went on it said this was the best of all the excursions due to the amount of information given; time didn’t lag and there was no suggestion that the trip fitted in something just to eke out the time. As we went under the bridge at Sortland, so the coach came over the bridge to an announcement and a toot from the ferry.
Sortland is another of those places where a short stop is all that you get. It doesn’t look as though there is more close by if you had another 20 minutes so I guess it is a starting off place for longer journeys into the countryside. Earlier we stopped at an even smaller place, Risoyhamn with no more than just enough time to stretch our legs. But the sun was out and full so that the snow sparkled. A white poodle gamboled in the snow thoroughly enjoying itself. At least with the lead, the owner knew where it was because it looks as though it snowed again in the night.

Bust of Richard With

Bust of Richard With

The longest stop of the day – if you have don’t count Svolvaer which we stopped at on the way up so most of us have seen some of it – was at Stokmarknes where we had an hour. In many ways this was a promotional stop as it is here that the Hurtigruten Museum is based. And its hotel. And one of its former ships, the Finnmarken, lies on dry land for all to see. But to be fair to Hurtigruten, the role of the company and its antecedents in opening up Northern and Western Norway for tourists and for people just to be able to deliver their goods and visit their relatives is enormous. Hurtigruten is part of the history of Norway not just the transport history of the country, When the company was started here in 1881 by Richard With it bore no resemblance to what it would become. It took weeks for some of the tucked away towns to be reached by boat in those days until it was decided to try and provide a coastal express route between Trondheim and Hammerfest in summer and Trondheim and Tromso in winter. Initially two companies were offered the route. Neither accepted, one reason possibly being the shortage of charts. Two years later in 1893, Richard With began it and a year later other companies joined in once he had demonstrated it was feasible. By 1938 the coastal express as it became known, was carrying nearly 300,000 passengers. Heavily affected by the war with ships lost, some sort of service survived for large chunks of the period. Although back to normal by the end of the war, the express only carried 268,000 passengers at the beginning of the 1990’s. The service nearly ended but by adapting to the cruise business and highlighting the northern lights in winter and the midnight sun in summer, for the moment at least, it’s future looks stronger. As long as tourists come. But with airlines and cars making life easier, will this ferry service to see the northern lights be around in this form in 50 years? Or will it be just another cruise line with standard food, standard manners, and standard cruise passengers?

Leaving Stokmarknes

Leaving Stokmarknes

The Raftsundet is a long strait of water that takes about an hour to sail through. Narrow and surrounded by peaks it is one of the most scenic journeys we have made. The pity is that it is twilight. On the one hand it makes the peak look even more monstrous, on the other seeing it in full daylight might be magical. But maybe the time is especially chosen because as it widens out you came to the narrow Trollsfjord. Much too narrow for our ferry to go down, it just slowly spins around so we get a good view. Everywhere you go, you can buy souvenir trolls. These monsters, of course, have a reputation for irascibility so us not being able to go up this fjord adds to the Norwegian legend. But twisting around on a sixpence does give you a feeling of the power of the landscape, almost being trapped and having only one exit route away from the wrath of the trolls!

Yet again we have arrived in Svolvaer where we have a stop before dinner. Why visit a place again? Sometimes in the first stop there was hardly time but to get off the ferry and stretch your legs (Although there is a gym on board it is fairly basic as it must be given the size of the vessel and running around the deck is, well, repetitive.) Longer stays at least give a little bit more time to explore. But this is Sunday, and Sunday in the early evening so it is dark as well. Svolvaer has a pretty town square which unfortunately is knee high with snow apart from paths that either have underfloor heating so are completely clear or which have been largely cleared. The Lofoton culture building is closed apart from two people who seem to be taking paintings in, maybe for a new exhibition. There are some galleries, souvenir shops and fast food outlets open as well as the museum about the second world war and Ice Magic. It has been apparent on this voyage that museums and attractions gear themselves – more often than not- to when the ferries dock. They open for what we would consider odd hours. If nothing else it shows the importance of tourism and the ferry service in bringing those tourists to these small towns. Still it would be nicer to be able to visit some in daylight and look properly instead of a hurried dash in the dark. And on a Sunday when so much is closed.

After dinner, talk turns to the northern lights and whether they will appear again. They do but are fainter than the last two nights but there are fewer people on deck. The hardened are there again with their tripods but you get the feeling that, as they have been seen, some people have just ticked them off their “must-do” list and are ready to move on to the next on their tourism agenda of life.

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