Thursday, 24 May 2012


22nd - 23rd May 2012

MS Finnmarken
I boarded the MS Finnmarken at 11.00am; rather early considering it didn't set sail until 12.45pm but I had a good chance to recce the ship before most people arrived. No problems with heavy bags here. As soon as I appeared at the bottom of the gangway entrance a crew member grabbed my baggage and told me he would be put in my cabin on deck problems. The feeble Aussies with their pathetic 'can't touch bags over 20kgs' rule should take note. This is one of the two newest and biggest of the 15 or so Hurtigruten ships which ply the coast between islands and up and down fijords between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes up north or vice-versa. A ship leaves every day and carries cruise passengers, freight, cars and is a regular bus service for locals. The Hurtigruten, which literally translated means 'fast route', was started by brave pioneers in 1893, notably led by a Capt Richard With after whom one of the present ships is named. It is a lifeline to the many outlying towns and villages along the coast and involves some spectacular feats of navigation and seamanship. A full one way trip takes just over five days and calls in at about 31 ports en-route,  several different ones going north to those going south. On some of the stop-overs, and even mid-cruise with 'take-off' launches coming alongside, tours are arranged sometimes driving on overland to catch up with the ship at the next port. So now you know all about the Hurtigruten.

Life for us idle cruise passengers is remarkably comfortable. Left: The dining room. The food looked as if it was going to be spectacularly good. Another 'fat tour' I'm afraid. Meet Mr Creosote again.
The welcoming 'admin' was also remarkably polite and efficient. A well rehearsed system no doubt.

Right: The lounge on 8 deck. There were 6 passenger decks incorporating lounges, the dining room, bars and cabins. All very spacious and well appointed. Somewhat different to the container ships, as you might expect. Very comfortable beds too!
Great attention was taken to wiping your hands with disinfectant when coming on board or before going into the dining room. They are keen not to encourage bugs to spread and I suppose I can see the sense of that.

Left: Leaving Kirkenes. The sun shone for a moment but on the whole the first day was overcast, windy and the sea got quite rough at times. I always worry that I might be seasick ( it happened to me once, a long time ago ) and I know how miserable that can be. Anyway, I wasn't.

Right: We were introduced to some of the ship's officers, and chefs, and given a safety briefing and demo of putting on survival suits and life-jackets. We would never be far off shore, but you don't last long in waters at these temperatures if you get wet. Das Kapitan, on the left of the pic, was called Anders something.
As expected, the food was sumptuous. There was 'free seating' at breakfast but we were allocated tables for the magnificent buffet lunches and three course served dinners. My dining companions consisted of a retired American professor of political science from Brockville, NY, a retired couple ( we're Scottish, not British ) from Stirling who were great supporters of Alex Salmond and his Scots Nats and an English couple who lived between Spain and Guildford ( she had been a nurse and a DanAir stewardess ). As also expected the cost of drink was outrageous; as such nobody drank much of it, if any. Hence my wise decision to bring some from Finland and to buy a supply in Kirkenes before boarding. I gathered that all the others had done the same!

Left: At one point we were encouraged to wave things at a passing sister ship..which didn't wave back much. This is the amusing English couple from Valencia and Guildford, Chris and Pamela, about to wave their balloon.
There was quite a mix of passengers, mostly cruise pax but also many locals hopping from port to port on shorter 'legs', if you'll excuse the pun. I suppose the majority I identified were from Scandinavia, Germany, UK, France and America. No Japs or even Russians that I noticed.

 People tended to socialise and stick together with their own little groups and families. Right: There were the odd individuals who kept very much to themselves. This chap seemed to have a rather wistful look about him.

Each day we called in at about six harbours; some were little more than a collection of huts around a quay and some substantial towns. At most you could get off and wander around, some for only 30 mins or maybe longer. On day 1 most people got off at Vardo which, we were told, is the easternmost habitation in Norway. It boasts a fort ( left ) built in 1837 and was in use against the Germans in 1941 where it held out gallantly for a bit. It has a variety of cannon and artillery pieces on display. It now only fires a gun once a year, to celebrate the day the sun first shows itself above the horizon.

Right: A sister ship, rather smaller than ours, coming in the opposite direction.

Left: This couple bravely gave a talk and demo on local sea plants and creatures on the evening of day 1 when the weather was rough and a gale was blowing. I stayed long enough to get a snap. For some reason they reminded me of Hans and Lottie Hass. Don't expect many people remember them; the laconic pioneers of underwater TV. "..and now Hans will put his arm down this interesting underwater hole to see what is in it....Oh dear, I think Hans has found something ******!".  The small audience were equally brave and impervious to the cold. They must have been Norwegians.

So far so good and the day was rounded off with a delicious dinner followed by ( smuggled ) drinks and coffee in the piano lounge. The sea had started to calm down which looked promising, and the clouds were clearing. Still sun at midnight which is a bit awkward because it doesn't feel like bedtime. I am due up at 0500hrs the next morning for a tour to the North Cape ( Nordcapp ) and then onwards by road to catch the ship again at Hammerfest.

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