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Embarking Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol in Bergen, Norway
Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol arrived at the Hurtigruten quay in Bergen, Norway just moments after I did. With her tri-color black, red and white hull, she stood out amongst the otherwise grey and brooding sky and sea, giving three blasts on her unusually deep-sounding whistles to let everyone know that sailing day had approached.
Arrival couldn’t have been easier; after landing at Bergen Airport on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt this afternoon, I boarded the Hurtigruten transfer bus that can be pre-booked with your voyage. From Bergen’s Flesland Airport, the Hurtigruten pier is a scenic 25 minutes away. Jet lagged and still getting over a horrific cold that reared up last week, I was amazed at how much my body kicked into high gear at the prospect of being back in Bergen, and about to embark on my very own “Most Beautiful Voyage” in the world.
At the Hurtigruten terminal I was able to check my luggage in immediately, even though Midnatsol was – at that point – nowhere to be found. But rather than having to wait an interminable amount of time in the terminal, staff encouraged guests to explore Bergen and return sometime after 4pm for check-in and embarkation.
Having been here in August 2009, I needed no measure of arm-twisting; instead, I was off like a flash to visit one of my favorite sections of this beautiful Norwegian town: Bryggen.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Hanseatic buildings that have become warped and slanted with time, Bryggen was the historic center of trade throughout much of Norway. While some of these classic buildings have burned down at various points in history and had to be reconstructed, many are still the real deal.
Today, these structures house souvenir and artisan shops that you could lose yourself in for days. Sadly, the one shop I was looking for seems to have moved on: a candle maker used to sell these gorgeous candles shaped like the Hanseatic houses, both in Bryggen and just up the road. I even stopped at a bank to withdraw some Norwegian Krone (NOK), but sadly it appears his business has moved on.
If you’ve been to Bergen in the summer, the city in the last days of February is much more subdued and relaxed. During my August visit nearly three years ago, the line for the Floibanen funicular stretched around the block. But on this 20th day of February, I was able to decide – on a whim, no less – to hop onboard. I put 80 NOK (about $15) to good use, received a ticket, and hopped onboard the car scheduled to depart at 3:45pm.
The Floibanen is noteworthy for two things that might not sound all that spectacular: it’s Scandinavia’s only funicular cable railway; and it traverses nearly 320 meters above sea level at its highest point on Mount Floyen.
The experience – and the view – are nothing short of breathtaking.
To start with, there was ample snow on the ground when I arrived just as the sun was setting beyond the mountains, turning a gorgeous panorama of the city of Bergen into something ethereal. There’s plenty of trails up there, and I saw kids whizzing about on their toy snowracers and even a few joggers and cross-country skiers out.
Which reminds me: Norway is gorgeous during the summer, but I have never, ever seen a winter landscape as simply beautiful as Norway. Snow-capped peaks give way to frozen lakes and rivers that end with small villages nestled at the ends of fjords that seem to go on forever.
So too with Bergen, which is nestled near countless islands and accessible only by sailing under a fantastic bridge that exists just outside the city’s harbour.
I could have stayed up on Mount Floyen longer, had the Midnatsol not been calling my name. An easy 15-minute stroll had me from the base of the funicular to the Hurtigruten terminal where I formally checked-in and was issued my cruise keycard. After a safety briefing held in the terminal, those of us checking in were whisked outside to embark the Midnatsol.
Now, before I go further I want to preface this with the fact that Hurtigruten has a very special product: it is part cruise, part transportation link, and part vital necessity. So the line does things a little differently – but that’s not a bad thing.
After embarkation, guests had to proceed to Deck 5 to register a credit card or make a cash deposit onto their accounts in order to activate their cruise keycard. Or, if they chose, they could pay for everything on a ’la carte basis throughout the voyage – but unless you’re a day passenger, there’s little point to not registering.
The line offers a coffee package for NOK 245, or a Wine Package on a sliding scale that depends on the length of your voyage. One thing I want to emphasise to prospective travellers: Norway is expensive. A Big Mac will set you back $12. So it should be no surprise that the wine packages offered onboard were very, very expensive. But – they were priced per cabin, which is a refreshing change from the per person drinks packages being offered by other lines that just don’t work.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi internet access is free. FREE! So I see it as a worthy trade-off.
Staterooms were ready just after 6pm, which gave me some time to do a little running around. What I found was a ship that is so gorgeous, it almost defies belief. There’s no cookie-cutter design at work here: each room (and indeed, deck) has its own unique color and décor scheme, all of which are anchored by a massive six-story atrium flanked with wall-to-ceiling windows on three decks and traversed by glass elevators.
My absolute instant-favorite public room (where I sit typing this) is without a doubt The Hamsum Room on Deck 8 amidships. Located just aft (and still within earshot) of the equally-stunning Mysterier Bar, the Hamsum Room features dark wood panelling offset by cream-coloured furniture and carpeting. Along the walls are original works of art by Denmark-born, Oslo-based artist Kenneth Blom. They’re moody and intense, and help give this room a mysterious feeling by night.
In fact, Midnatsol boasts so many original works of art that Hurtigruten have produced a fantastic brochure highlighting each individual piece. You can pick one up (like I did!) on Deck 8 next to the Internet Café.
In the Mysterier Bar next door, a Pianist is serenading a large group of cruisers who have gathered to while the night away. Being a Norwegian ship, I should have expected the response when I asked for a glass of Aquavit: “Of course! Which one would you like?” The bartender wheeled around to reveal an entire shelf of the popular Scandinavian beverage lined up behind her. “This is an Aquavit Bar, of course!”
My personal evening goal for the week: try each kind of Aquavit once. Sure, they’re not cheap, but as the saying goes, “When In Rome…”
At 6pm, I made my way to my stateroom, a Category U Oceanview cabin on Deck 7. When I saw photos of the bed arrangement, with one fold-out bed on the wall and another as a sort of Pullman-style couch, I will admit I had my doubts. Everything about my room is different from a standard cruise ship, from the bed arrangements to the lack of a television. But once you get over those “disappointments”, it really is amazing to see just what Hurtigruten have been able to do with that space.
To start with, there’s ample storage space – I still have shelves left over. There’s also no shortage of electrical sockets for power-hungry passengers like myself. And there are individually-controllable accent lights, vanity lights, bedside lights, and overhead lights; something I really appreciate in a stateroom.
By the time I’d unpacked, my stateroom had taken on a wonderfully cozy feeling. It is very nautical in a way that is missing from many modern cruise ships, and I am looking forward to crawling into bed this evening!
Another unexpected high point was my room’s shower: it’s recessed into the floor by about an inch, and is surprisingly large! By being sunk into the floor, water won’t slosh all over the bathroom floor, and the curtain is far enough away from you that it can’t be the butt of all those horrible jokes comedians tell about cruise ship bathroom curtains.
In short, my room is wonderfully inviting and cozy!
It’s a descriptor that could also be applied to Midnatsol herself: cozy. We haven’t even left the pier in Bergen yet as I write this, and yet I feel totally at home onboard this state-of-the-art ship. Tonight at 10:30pm, Midnatsol will push away from the pier here in Bergen, bound for 34 different ports along the length of the Norwegian coast line.
Tonight, there’s live piano music in the Mysterier Bar, and a Norwegian concert will be put on for guests at 9:45pm, just before sailing. Even dinner tonight was a Norwegian-themed buffet featuring meats, cold cuts, cheeses and salads of all kinds. If you’re tired of cruises that still focus heavily on North American-centric foods, Hurtigruten is for you.
It’s the world’s most beautiful voyage, they say, but I feel grateful I can partake in this excursion on one of the world’s most beautiful ships.
Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow, as we continue our voyage aboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol and come ashore in Alesund, Norway – among others! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport, and check out the Arctic cruises on offer from our friends at Cruise Experts Travel!
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