Cruising the Fjords

Our first glimpse of the northern lights was on the evening of 21 January. There had been some introductory glimmers earlier in the evening but as I was getting into bed at around midnight, Dermot banged on my door with a summonse to come quickly. I pulled out-door gear over my night clothes and hurried up on deck. What I soon realised is that where I thought that the lights were vibrant greens and sometimes blue and orange and red, in actual fact what you see is varying intensity of white light against a dark sky. There are teasing hints of rainbow colours that appear at times, but it is only when photographers capture the sky with slow shutter speeds that the colours become visible. I tried to take pictures with my digital camera but it was a total waste off time. All I got was a dark sky. Tonight, the display has been more impressive.

In many ways, our scenic tour of Norway has been in shades of black and white. We caught the train from Oslo to Trondheim, and given that snow covered much of the landscape and that the trees were stripped of leaves and foliage, there was very little ‘colour’ to be seen. What we did see though was truly magical, with rivers of snow and ice, dramatic landscapes and craggy mountains, and of course there were still the frozen waterways, the small neat cottages with their steep roofs and attic windows, and lights shining from the windows by early afternoon.

The further north we have come, the earlier it has become dark. Today in Tronso, darkness fell at around 2:30 pm. The sky was very clear, so if it had been cloudy, no doubt darkness would have fallen even earlier. This morning, when I awoke in my cabin on the cruise ship, we were anchored in the town of Harstadt. I quickly jumped up and on learning that we still had 35 minutes in that port, left the ship to do a quick tour of the closest streets. That was also totally in the dark of course as it was only 7:30 as I made my way down the gang plank. This limited amount of daylight and extended night really plays havoc with my body clock, as it generally feels to be much later than what it really is. I am ready to go to bed quite early.

I will retire quite soon but have just been nibbling on some chunks of Bacla (dried cod) washed down rather too quickly with aquavit and my stomach is a little uncertain. The boat should rock me to sleep, in spite of the ferocious wind that is raging outside. On my last venture on deck to check out the lastest developments with the lights, I was picked up by the wind and slammed against the railings. That, and the cold, sent me inside again.

For something different this afternoon, while we were moored in Tromso I went dog-sledding. Unfortunately, because this has been a mild winter the snow was not as deep as would usually be the case at this time of year. The locals would expect there to be snow of around a metre deep but it was shallow enough for grass to be poking through in places and much of the snow had turned to treacherous ice. A team of 10 husky dogs pulled a sled with two passengers and driven by a musher. A simple ‘Yip! Yip!’ and a release of the hand brake is all that is needed to get the dogs running. They slithered and slipped on the ice though and where the route might normally have been cushioned by powdery snow, it was instead a hard track of ice, with many frozen lumps, bumps and ridges. The sled bounced from side to side, occasionally becoming airborne and then landing with a spine-jarring thump.

The tour guide also reported that last summer had been un-seasonally warm, with temperatures of up to 25 degrees which is incredibly hot for northern Norway. This upset the dogs as they are not comfortable in this sort of warmth, and also upset the locals as they are concerned that it is indicative of global warming and a change in their environment.

The cruise ship has been a fabulous vehicle in which to explore Norway, as most of the development is coastal. It would be nice though to be able to get on and off the boat in different ports, to explore a little and learn more about each location. That may be feasible, but I have not taken the time yet to check it out. There are not so many passengers over the winter period, which means that there is more individual attention from the crew. In the sheltered waters of the fjords, the ship is very stable although the sea can be quite rough in the sections of travel through open waters. Sometimes the sides of the fjords seem so close that you could reach out and touch. As we travel continuously night and day, you soon appreciate the navigational skills of the captain or whoever is actually plotting the course and steering the ship. Tomorrow (Monday) we will be travelling towards the North Cape and past some ‘Wind Power Parks’. Given the wind that I experienced earlier this evening, the turbines should be performing well.

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