Norway & Finland - an introduction
“National Geographic” magazine calls Norway‘s fjords the top most unspoiled travel destination in the world. I’ve just returned, and I couldn’t agree more.
For me, this was a dream come true, not only for the extraordinary vistas that surrounded me everywhere, but for another special reason: I enjoyed these views with Doug and Emily, my two traveling companions---and children!
I had long dreamed of taking what I called “the Norwegian mailboat trip.” After all, I had just returned from my spring 2005 adventure taking a unique “mail run” excursion on the South Island of New Zealand. A year or so before, on another exotic adventure I had explored the South Pacific’s Marquesas Islands aboard the Aranui III, a cargo/passenger vessel that drops supplies and mail to these far-distant islands.
I decided I couldn’t let another summer pass without hopping aboard what I thought would be another great “mailboat” run. Imagine my surprise when I finally viewed our “mailboat” ship, the Finmarken, docked in the Bergen harbor...but that’s getting a little ahead of my story, as usual!
As I began to plan my trip early in 2005, I couldn’t have anticipated the several other surprises that awaited me. The first had to do with choosing a travel companion. I had envisioned exploring Norway with my usual travel buddy, Jean, but she was otherwise occupied in August when I intended to go.
Sharing a stateroom was a high priority for financial reasons, if nothing else. Soon my thoughts turned to my daughter, Emily. She was already scheduled to be in Paris the month of July, so I asked her if she was interested. You can guess her response! She managed to juggle her family obligations and was thrilled to join me.
Working with Five Stars of Scandinavia, a Seattle tour company, I began to plan my dream trip. I booked passage on a legendary Hertigrutin coastal steamer, one of 12 ships that have been the lifeline to the people of Norway’s seacoast villages for a hundred years. The steamer features an 11-day 2500-kilometer round trip voyage stopping at 35 ports to deliver supplies and passengers. I opted for a one-way passage going north and passing over the Arctic Circle on a seven-day journey.
My itinerary was set in stone by early summer—but an idle conversation with my son Doug led to a slight hiccup in the plan. Unexpectedly, Doug said he’d love to come along too! This took me by complete surprise since he had just finalized his plan to set off on his own dream journey, a three-month solo bicycle trip across the USA I was thrilled that he’d even want to accompany his mother (at my senior snails-pace), but I doubted that I could manage to find space for him aboard the Finmarken at this late date. But as luck would have it, a last minute cancellation came our way. Doug was set with his own inside single room on the bottom deck of the ship---it actually turned out to be a stateroom larger than Emily’s and mine!
The Finmarken, a ship that I had envisioned as primarily responsible for delivering cargo and hauling a few passengers, was not what I imagined! It turned out to be a sleek Millennium Class vessel that was a unique combination of first-class passenger and working ship. It delivered cargo, supplies and mail to 35 ports and villages over the vast distances of the Norwegian coastline, and accommodated about 600 passengers. As Doug put it when we first boarded, the ship not only featured panoramic viewing decks, a swimming pool and exercise room---but to his delight, also contained 11 bars---and Doug was determined to sample Norwegian beer at every one. Before the journey was over, you can bet we did!
On July 30, 2005 I set out from Dulles airport, bound for Oslo. There I would meet Doug, arriving 20 minutes later from Colorado. Emily would join us from Paris later that afternoon.
Our adventures in the land of the midnight sun had begun.
My plan called for spending several days in Oslo, then starting a five-day excursion through some of the most picturesque scenery in Norway’s fjordland via train and ferry. Our destination would be the port of Bergen where we would begin our journey by sea on the Finmarken. Passing over the Arctic Circle, we would sail north into the Arctic Ocean and Barrens Sea to the northernmost point of the European continent. We would disembark in Kirkenes. There a driver would pick us up and we would head for Finnish Lapland and several days of immersion in the Sami culture of that northernmost region of the world. Finally, we would retrace our steps back to Kirkenes, via a stop at the Russian border and fly back to Oslo for another day before flying home.
This trip would be an independent journey. We would be responsible for finding our own planes, trains, automobiles, ships and hotels on our own. I had learned early on that Norway has among the world’s highest per capita income, but it also possesses among the world’s highest prices and the world’s highest taxes. To cut down on expenses, I had paid for much of the trip
in advance, and had vouchers for all our modes of travel. I also had kids along to haul my luggage and lead the way to the best viewing points and brew pubs. All the ducks were in order for a great trip!
[Go to Norway Part Two]