Lofoten Islands, Norway - Dave Banks

Norway Coastal Cruise

Don't agree to things when you have been drinking. Not being a good traveller on a boat, deciding to go on a 5 day cruise down the coast of Norway during the Autumn may not seem like the wisest of decisions, but after a few pints, it seemed a good idea at the time.

We had agreed to sail down the coast of Norway on the Hurtigruten ship MS Trollfjord. The MS Trollfjord is named after Trollfjord in Lofoten. Here are some basic facts about the ship:

Year built:		2002
Passenger capacity:	822
Beds:			638
Car capacity:		35
Gross Tonnage:		16,140
Length:			135.75m
Beam:			21.5m
Speed:			18 knots

More details about the ship can be found on the Hurtigruten website, and the ships current position can be found on the Vessel Finder website.

This is the route itinery, we started at Kirkenes and worked our way down the coast of Norway to Bergen:

MS Trollfjord coastal route

Day 1

Thu 16th Oct

On Thursday the 16th October 2008, we had an early departure from Aberdeen Airport to Stavanger. After a couple of hours wait, we flew from there to Oslo, where we spent the night at the Radisson SAS Airport Hotel. The airport had a rail link into Oslo, so we decided to have an evening there, as it was only a 20 minute journey.

Not sure about how to use the automated ticket machine, we sought help from a member of staff to make sure we got the right tickets. Explaining that we wanted 3 return tickets to Oslo, the assistant advised us that would be 930Kr. The last time I was in Iceland, the exchange rate was approximately 100 to 1, so thinking it was just £9 I thought that was very cheap, as the equivalent journey in Scotland would have cost about £5. My brother pointed out the exchange rate was actually about 10 to 1, so the actual fare was £93, not £9. At this point the assistant was selecting the appropriate bank notes out of our mate Andy's wallet, and being too embarrassed to say "That's a bit too expensive", we went to Oslo, with Andy's wallet considerably lighter. It could have been worse I suppose, it could have been my wallet that was raided.

The train was clean, modern and fast and we soon arrived in Oslo where we spent the evening wandering about looking at the city. The Opera House was interesting, as you could walk from street level right up onto the roof and was made from white marble and glass. We later found out it was supposed to look like an iceberg.

We headed back to the hotel for our evening meal and an early night, as we had an early start the next day. We would fly from Oslo up to Kirkenes where we would meet our ship, the MS Trollfjord.

Day 2

Fri 17th Oct

An early start saw us at the airport before sunrise, we had a 2 hour flight to Kirkenes. The scenery was very baron and similar to Sutherland in Scotland, and the approach was interesting to say the least. The terrain was quite mountainous, so looking out the port side of the aircraft, the wingtip looked like it was just skimming over the rocks and no more. When the plane landed, the braking was brutal. I later found out why, the taxi way was about half way down the runway, so to save turning and returning up the runway, the plane was stopped before the taxi way to make for an easier exit from the runway. The airport was in the middle of nowhere, so we had a coach ride into Kirkenes, past rusting Russian fishing vessels, where we met our ship, the MS Trollfjord. The brightly coloured and clean Trollfjord was really out of place compared with the drab coloured, rusting Russian fishing vessels.

Our cabins were on deck 8 of the ship, deck 9 being the top deck, so being Mr Paranoid, I thought if the boat sinks, we will have a quick exit to the lifeboats. Now, it has to be remembered the Hurtigruten Line are actually working boats, carrying goods and vehicles to ports right along the coast of Norway between Bergen and Kirkenes. Even so, it was palatial inside, with the main foyer having marble floors and walls. When the ship arrived at a port, if there was a stay of 30 minutes or more, then we could get off. If you didn't get back in time, then you were out of luck, you would have to get your way to the next port to catch the ship again. To keep with tradition, in the days before modern communications, the ship would sound its horn when it approached port to alert the locals to the ships arrival so they can get their goods down to the harbour for loading or collection. If you happened to be up on deck when the horn went off, you would jump with fright every time.

Our first, and only stop of the day was at Vardo, just as the light was fading for the day. Being well above the Arctic Circle, it was dark by 17:00. We had about 30 minutes for a quick tour of the town before embarking again for our next port of call. We headed north that evening and briefly saw the Northern Lights before the ship rounded the top of Norway and started to head south. I didn't get much sleep the first night, the noises from the working ship as it called in at ports throughout the night kept me awake. So, it was easier just to get up, put a jacket on and head out on deck to see the town lit up at night and watch the ship working, and for purely medicinal purposes, a glass of malt whisky to keep the cold out.


Kirkenes		  -	  12:45
Vardo			16:00     17:00
Batsfjord		20:00     20:30
Berlevag		22:15     22:30

Day 3

Sat 18th Oct

The day started off calm with light winds, but as the day went on the wind got up and it got very cold. The terrain got more rugged and started to look like the Cuillins on Skye.

The main ports of call were Hammerfest during the day, and Tromso at night. We had a wander along the main street in Hammerfest and visited a museum and a church to pass the time. There wasn't that much to see there. We arrived back at the ship with plenty time to spare. A blast of the ships horn with 5 minutes to go before departure, easily identified fellow passengers who still had to embark, as they were all running towards the ship in a bit of a panic.

We didn't get off the ship at Tromso, but we watched the loading and unloading of goods and admired the floodlit buildings of the city.


Mehamn			01:00     01:15
Kjollefjord		03:15     03:30
Honningsvag		06:00     06:15
Havoysund		08:15     08:30
Hammerfest		11:15     12:45
Oksfjord		15:30     15:45
Skjervoy		19:00     19:45
Tromso			23:45     01:30

Day 4

Sun 19th Oct

We had booked a coach trip of the Lofoten Islands, so had to get up at 6:30 for our arrival at Harstad at 8:15. Three coaches took passengers on a tour of the islands, which incorporated a small ferry crossing while the Trollfjord continued on its way. We visited a church and a Viking museum. The coaches and ship eventually met up again at Sortland. The coaches and ship arrived at Sortland at the same time, as we crossed the road bridge to the harbour, the Trollfjord sailed underneath us, the coaches and ship exchanging horns blasts with each other in a friendly reunion. The sun was out in Sortland, but dark skies were looming.

We headed to our next port of call at Stokemarknes and a visit to the Hurtigruten museum. The original MS Finnmarken, which was built in 1956, allowed you to see what travel used to be like - it was primitive by todays standards. The museum was really interesting, but as we only had an hour on shore, so time was limited.

As we headed to our next port of call, Svolvaer, the skies got darker and the rain started pouring down. There was little wind, so the going was still good, but any sightseeing had to be done from the lower deck where you were under cover. The photograph at the top of the website is of the Lofoten Islands, we sailed into the dark area on the left of the photo, where it was raining heavily.

The rain had eased off as we left the narrow passages of the Lofoten Islands, and there was just sufficient day light left for a slight detour from the designated route to visit the Trollfjord, the fjord the ship was named after. The fjord is short and narrow with tall cliffs either side of the passage, but opens out to a bay at the head of the fjord, with the only sign of habitation being a solitary hut on the shores of the bay beneath steep slopes. The ship, using its bow thrusters and azimuth pods at the stern did a full 360 degree turn on the spot followed by another 180 degree turn to face out the fjord again while music played out of the ships tannoy system. There was very little room to spare as the ship made its manoeuvre. It was an impressive piece of piloting.

Not long after we left the Trollfjord, there was an announcement over the tannoy system about a tall rocky outcrop with an almost perfect circle eroded in the middle of it, the mountain of Torghatten. The light had pretty well gone by now, so photography was exceptionally difficult, especially with the ship moving as well.

It got dark at 18:00, that evening the winds got up and were quite strong, the sea had white horses, the ship was pitching and sea spray was hitting my cabin window. I wasn't affected by sea sickness as I was in my bed at the time, but I was getting rocked in my bed as the ship pitched. The ship wasn't rolling much as it was using its stabilisers which can reduce rolling by up to 90%.


Finnsnes		04:15     04:45     
Harstad			08:00     08:30
Risoyhamn		10:45     11:00
Sortland		12:30     13:00
Stokmarknes		14:15     15:15
Svolvaer		18:30     19:30
Stamsund		21:00     21:30

Day 5

Mon 20th Oct

The sea was much calmer, but it still had some white horses as it was still very windy, with spray reaching deck 8. The skies were still grey, and quite dull when we crossed Arctic Circle at 9:25. We visited the town of Sandnessjoen where we made the most of the limited time by exploring the harbour area. As we were still quite far north, it got dark at 18:00, by which time the wind was even stronger. There was heavy rain by the time we visited fish museum at Rorvik. By 23:00, there were heavy seas, again it didn't affect me as I was in bed by then.


Bodo			01:30     04:00
Ornes			07:00     07:15
Nesna			11:00     11:15
Sandnessjoen		12:30     13:30
Bronnoysund		16:15     17:00
Rorvik			20:30     21:30

Day 6

Tue 21st Oct

The sea was much calmer this morning, very smooth when we arrived at Trondheim at 6:55 just as dawn was breaking. We visited the cathedral which was run by quite scary nuns. You weren't allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral, and with the nuns keeping a close eye on you, I wasn't going to cross them. The wind got up during the day, and was very strong by 19:00. As a result, I was unable to go head down to deck 5 for dinner as I was feeling ill, the first time in the whole trip. Only about a third of the passengers made dinner that night, it was that bad. The sea sickness tablets were no use. Andy wasn't affected, and my brother managed one spoonful of his soup before he had to make a quick exit. That was a very rough night, the ship was pitching and rolling and spray was hitting my window on deck 8. I was getting rocked in my bed and items on the shelf above my bed were sliding about as the ships pitched and rolled.


Trondheim		06:30     10:00
Kristiansund		16:30     17:00
Molde			20:30     21:30

Day 7

Wed 22nd Oct

The weather had improved dramatically, and for our final day we had booked a tour of the bridge of the ship. The Captain explained all the systems on board and how the ship is navigated via GPS and waypoints via computerised systems. A passenger asked if it was the computers that manoeuvred the ship when it visited the Trollfjord, the Captain smugly replied "No, that was me". Andy asked where the button for the ships horn was. As the horn is so big and loud, for some strange reason you think the button will be big as well. The Chief Officer pointed out the button, it was disappointingly small. Andy asked if he could press it. I don't think this has ever been asked before, as there was a brief conversation between the Captain and the Chief Officer in Norwegian, before Andy was told he could press it, but just briefly. The barrier between the passengers and the ships controls was unclipped and Andy pressed the button. The barrier was immediately put back in place. I could see a small kid, about 6 years old with a disappointed look on his face wishing he had asked if he could press the button. I actually felt sorry for him.

Another passenger commented on how bad the storm was last night, and how bad does the weather have to get before the ship can't sail. The Captain replied the ship was certified to go to Antarctica and waves can break over the bridge. It was bad enough having spray hit the windows on deck 8, but to have waves that high would be really scary, I would not want to be on board in conditions like that!

We arrived in Bergen slightly late due to the previous nights bad weather, which had slowed the ship down. The weather had improved dramatically, the wind had dropped, the sea was much calmer and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

After getting dropped off at our hotel, we had enough time to wander around the harbour area of Bergen to see some of the sights. A pint of lager was £7.20, so we didn't spend much time in any of the pubs. We saw a very nice Chinese restaurant, so had our final dinner of the trip there before heading back to our hotel.


Alesund			00:00     00:45 
Torvik			02:00     02:15
Maloy			05:00     05:45
Floro			07:45     08:15
Bergen			14:30	    -

Day 8

Thu 23rd Oct

Since our flight back to Aberdeen wasn't until late afternoon, we had some time to explore Bergen before heading to the airport. The weather had changed dramatically, the clear blue skies of yesterday had been replaced by torrential rain. The gutters in the street resembled small streams, but the locals just got on with it, as it rains on average 231 days a year in Bergen.

We went up the funicular railway to see Bergen from above. We could just see the Trollfjord through the rain from the viewpoint at the top.

The flight back to Aberdeen was rough due to high winds. The plane flew at 20,000ft as the cabin wasn't pressurised, so we couldn't avoid the bad weather, but as a result of the lower altitude, we could see the flare stacks on the oil rigs in the North Sea in the dim light of dusk.

As we got nearer Scotland, the approach to Aberdeen was particularly rough, it was the roughest flight I had ever been on. The passenger next to my brother, a seasoned oil rig worker who should be used to flying, was clutching onto his seat and was saying "We're going to f**king die." every time the plane hit a pocket of slack air and dropped out of the sky. I have to admit, it was a relief to land safely in Aberdeen.

I would do the trip again, but in the spring with longer days so I could see more of the countryside and hopefully, with less stormy seas.

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