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Northern Lights and Viking Tales: A Cruise Through Norway's Wonders



Have you ever dreamt of exploring the land of fjords, northern lights, and Viking history? Look no further than Norway! This stunning Scandinavian country offers breathtaking natural landscapes, charming towns, and a rich cultural heritage. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a foodie, or a history buff, Norway will captivate you.


Join me as I describe my favorite port-to-port activities on my two-week "Land of the Midnight Sun" cruise in Norway.


 

We sailed through the fjords and explored the rain-soaked streets of Bergen, known for being the rainiest city in Europe. We also visited Andalsnes, a place of mythical trolls, and discovered awe-inspiring landscapes, fascinating history, and many breathtaking moments!

 


Day 1: Southampton

Our small group boarded a minivan and departed London this morning for a two-and-a-half-hour ride to the port city of Southampton. For this cruise, my husband and I reserved an aft penthouse suite to provide excellent views of the fjords as we sailed in and out each day. Boarding the ship was a breeze, and the room was beautiful!


Day 2: At Sea

Day 3: Bergen, Norway

Welcome to the rainiest city in Europe! This beautiful city experiences rain on average, approximately 275 days a year. Today's shore excursion takes me on a city tour of Bergen and then launches out into the countryside. Climbing onboard the motorcoach, I was immediately thrilled. The bus was only half full of participants, which meant I had plenty of room to snap pictures from either side of the bus.



Our bus driver expertly navigated the bus throughout the city, introducing us to the highlights, then routed us toward a countryside road. Our driver shared an interesting fact: Many countryside roads are used less today than in the past. The reason? Tunnels and ferries!


Norwegians have been building roadway tunnels through massive mountains of rock for years, which allows them to move speedily from place to place using motorized vehicles. Next, our driver pulled the motorcoach into the queue and waited for our turn to load on the ferry en route to the Hardangerfjord. The ferry crossed the fjord, which took 12 minutes.



Our tour guide for the day was a lovely gentleman who shared interesting stories and tidbits as we drove toward Hardangerfjord. The first tidbit was concerning nationwide sports. Cross-country skiing is the local main sport. The second largest sport is the Biathlon. (Fun fact: An Olympic silver medalist lived in the area we drove through.)


The junior high and high school curriculum includes a course titled "Biathlon," which includes a gun shooting range to teach students how to shoot and compete in the Biathlon. Parents and students are required to meet safety standards in order for the students to participate in the courses. There are also courses in cross-country skiing.



Norway isn't a wine-producing country, but it does produce cider. You'll notice plenty of apple orchards. Our guide mentioned that most of the apples are not eaten straight from the tree. They are picked, cleaned, and pressed. The juice and a small amount of alcohol are blended to make the drink.


Our first stop was at a historic church. The Reformation was brought to Norway by Christian III, king of Denmark and Norway (reigned 1534–59), who was converted to Lutheranism as a young man. Norwegians officially accepted the new faith in 1539. Our church host was a humorous speaker, and the talk was enjoyable.


At the end of the talk, our host asked the group to sing Amazing Grace. She mentioned the church had never had an instrument within its walls, and people who attended there in the past would have sung acapella. Instruments were expensive, and this area of Norway did not have the funds to purchase a piano. The song sounded beautiful as the sound echoed around us.



After leaving the church, we continued to drive and finally reached Hardangerfjord. This is the second longest fjord in Norway. It is 110 miles long and 2,500 ft deep at its deepest. As we drove along the coast of the fjord, we learned that one of the major occupations in the area happens to be manufacturing salmon farming equipment, farming salmon, and salmon processing plants. As a fun fact, once the fish are harvested and processed, they are shipped and will arrive somewhere in Europe within 24 hours and the United States within 48 hours.



Next stop: lunch! We stopped at the century-old Sandven Hotel for a quick meal of fish, vegetables, and homemade bread. This was a great place to stop! After I completed my meal, I decided to walk around the small town and purchase some sweet treats.


Next, after a short drive from the hotel, we arrived at the area's famous waterfall, Steinsdalsfossen. This particular waterfall is notable because it is the only waterfall in Norway that one can walk behind the gushing stream of water without getting wet!


Day 4: Flaam, Norway

Have you viewed the show "Vikings" or another Viking-related movie or television show? I am sure you have, and so have I. Today's scheduled activity is one that I have been looking forward to for months. When visiting the Viking Village in Gudvangen, I felt like I took a journey back in time. This is a living history-style village, and I learned so much.



If you know me, you know I do not enjoy visiting museums. I lack the patience to read each tiny card delicately placed inside the glass case. My husband can spend hours upon hours going through and reading each valuable piece of information. For whatever reason, I can't do it, but show me someone dying wool and and tell me a story about how the color is obtained from urine turned to ammonia combined with a difficult to find wood and I'll remember it for years to come.  (Seriously, ask me how the Vikings produced blue yarn.)


As we arrived into the village, we were greeted by our guide.  He dressed in clothes simulating the Viking age and began to share how many movies produced in our current culture incorrectly portray the Viking lifestyle. The tour was designed to visit different areas within the village and explain the Viking culture. Boat building, weapon design, gods and their purpose, knitting and clothing production, how bad behavior was handled within the village, and more.


Day 5: Olden, Norway


Today, we disembarked the ship and walked into the small port town of Olden. Lots of cruise passengers had tickets to the Loen Skylift. The gondola attracts plenty of visitors every year and is the main attraction within the town.


As we neared the attraction, we noticed the extremely long line of people wrapped around the parking lot. (We had not purchased tickets in advance and learned a lesson: Purchase a ticket in advance if you want to see the area from above.) We observed the line and it was moving slowly. Our interest began to wane. My husband and I decided to take a walk and found several young men paragliding. This was fun to watch!


Day 6: Andalsnes, Norway

This morning, the ship arrived at the port of Andalsnes. My activity for the day? I'm heading out to Trollstigen to lay my eyes on the most famous stretch of road in Norway. Trollstigen is also known as the "troll road." Yes, I said Troll Road. Norwegians have a great many tales about trolls, and it seems that each tour guide has a story. Each store we enter has a troll at the entrance.



Here is what I've learned about trolls: Once upon a time, these creatures roamed freely in the vast lands of Norway through the mountains and forests. Trolls only went out at night to scavenge and scare those people who were roaming around. There was only one thing that could scare a troll: The sunlight. If the trolls were not hiding before the first rays of sunlight appeared, they would be turned to stone. That is why you can still see their faces and bodies carved into the mountain sides, cliffs and stones all around the country even today.



Off I go in search of Trollstigen! Our motorcoach driver and tour guide announced a special lunch stop today as we ventured out of Andalsnes. The quaint lunch spot was located in a valley well known for its strawberries. Upon entering the eatery, a lovely buffet was prepared and laid out for hungry guests. We dined on thick slices of bread, a hearty Norwegian fish dish, battered fried pork chops, deviled eggs, salad, and a mixed strawberry and cranberry compote.


After lunch, we proceeded to ride toward Trollstigen and I noticed the clouds were not lifting. Our day began cloudy, but this is not unusual for Norway. Every day began with thick, gray clouds hanging in the air. By noonish, the wind blew the clouds away, and the sun appeared for short periods of time. As we drew near the troll road, constant rain began to patter onto the bus roof. But friends, nothing was going to stop me from going to the Trollstigen Overlook - not even pouring rain.



As the rain began to shower from the heavens more intensely, I noticed lots of people did not want to get wet. They stayed in their cars and on the buses, trying to wait out the weather. This was the perfect time for me to go. I headed off the bus and moved with a purpose. I walked a short distance then trudged carefully down 130 steps to the overlook protruding out over the mountain wall. (Yes, I counted the steps.)


I came from across the globe to see the winding road that snaked down the mountain. Rain and stairs were not going to deter me. Note, the overlook is the only place you can see the road. You must stand on the platform in order to gain a full view.



After I took my pictures, I headed back to the bus to dry out and prepare for the ride DOWN the mountain on the troll road. Our bus driver was an expert and navigated the road with ease, however the tourists who rented small camper vans often caused bottlenecks with their lack of experience in driving on a road that is barely more than one lane wide.


We are traveling in mid-August. Weather-wise, this has been the only day we've had much rain. For the most part, it sprinkles for 10-15 minutes and passes on. The temperatures range from 50-65 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on our location as we move north.


Day 7: Honningsvåg, Norway


We made it to the northernmost city in Europe! Today's activity list included ATV rides to the top of the mountain overlook.


After an hour of climbing into the cold-weather riding suit (seriously, this was no small task, and I can guarantee I didn't get the best-fitting suit), finding helmets and gloves, and going over the best practices of driving an ATV, we were off.


The first thing to recognize is that Honningsvåg is so far north that it is located above the tree line. That's right folks, trees do not grow here. It's scrub brush, lichens, grasses and a few little flowers. You will also notice it looks similar to a moonscape.



As we rode toward the mountaintop, reindeer were foraging in the rocks. REINDEER! I made it to the part of the world where reindeer graze freely. This was an unexpected treat!


When we arrived for our photo stop at the overlook, the three of us posed sweetly for our picture.


Day 8: Tromso, Norway

Today is full of learning. We visited the Arctic Cathedral, Polaria Museum, and the Tromso Museum.


Ok, if you've kept up with my journey thus far, you'll notice there are two museums on my list. I admittedly was less than excited to participate because I expected experience to be "Walk and read, move to the next exhibit. Walk and read more." Poor attitude, Melissa, right? However, I found great pleasure when visiting The Tromso Museum.



The museum is housed in a university building. (The designers must have read one of my previous posts about reading tiny cards in display cases and knew I needed some help making it through). There were sections divided into prehistoric Norway, the Sami people, World War 2, and general area information. We were able to move on our own or hop into a group with docents as they presented section highlights.


I decided to hitch onto a guided tour and learned so much about the Sami people and their efforts to maintain their language and culture. There was an interactive area that allowed me to listen to old radio broadcasts from a Sami woman who read the news each Saturday in her native language.



Next, I moved to the WW2 section. Holy smokes, I can tell you I had never considered the effects the Nazis played in Norway and it's people. The museum had display cases showcasing letters written by various citizens detailing what was happening to them at a specific time and what happened to their children and neighbors. Headphones were set up in front of each citizen's display case, allowing me to listen to the letters as they were read to me, which greatly impacted me.


Polaria Museum was geared toward the Northern lights and flora and fauna of northern Norway. The displays were nice.



Last, but certainly not least, was the Arctic Cathedral. As we drove up toward the building, I noticed the promenade was full of people. Church had just wrapped up for the morning, so there was a blend of tourists and church goers mixing. As I walked around the church, I noticed a shelf holding hymnals and quickly paged through to see if I recognized the songs. All were written in Norwegian- except one. Amazing Grace.


I highly doubt John Newton, the gentleman who wrote Amazing Grace ever thought his song would be one that traversed the world.



Skjolden, Norway (pronounced Shoal den)


The early morning entry into Skjolden was picturesque with low hanging clouds, but the ship captain shared sunlight may appear later in the afternoon, so I had high hopes for beautiful pictures as the day progressed. We boarded a small rib boat in Skjolden for a hour-long ride in the fjord. The boat operator turned on some nice music for us to enjoy.


While on the ship we listened to a port presentation that provided information about scenic hikes in Skjolden. After completing the boat ride, we set out to hike the shorter trail to the Sengaberget Overlook.



As a side note, yesterday we sat in a port lecture on the ship to learn more about the area. The lecturer provided information about a local hike to a scenic overlook. He was significantly off on his distances, and it was more of a commitment than I had anticipated.) My husband breezed right up and down the craggy rock and tree root-strewn path. Let's just say I made it, but it was a challenge. In the end, it was worth it. The view was beautiful.



Overall, this was a fabulous 14-day cruise. Should you decide to go on a Norwegian fjord cruise, be sure to opt for a stateroom with a balcony and take your binoculars. My favorite part of the fjord days were sitting on the aft balcony in the afternoons with my husband as the ship sailed out of the fjord. We enjoyed grabbing the binoculars and tracing the waterfalls as they streamed down from the glaciers into the fjord.


This was a fantastic trip of a lifetime!


 

Dreaming of experiencing the magic of Norway for yourself?


Reach out to us and book your unforgettable Norwegian fjord cruise today! Enjoy breathtaking views from your own balcony stateroom, trace waterfalls with binoculars, and create lasting memories. Contact us now to start your adventure!




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