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Tromso, the Polar Museum, and the Norwegian Winter
Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol sailed steadily through the night last evening, continuing to call at some of Norway’s most remote ports of call.
This is surely one of the quietest ships I’ve ever been on, mechanically-speaking. Throughout my stateroom and the rest of the public rooms, nothing squeaks or rattles in protest while we’re underway, even when we’re making tight turns or using our thrusters to move us into and out of port. In fact, I haven’t heard noise from the thrusters once on this trip; remarkable considering Midnatsol has three bow and two stern thrusters.
After a late – yet still delicious – Norwegian buffet breakfast in the Restaurant Midnatsol aft on Deck 5, we arrived in the port of Finnsnes at 69° 13.9’ N, 17° 51.1’ E. It turns out that the 30 minutes we were here was just the right amount of time to get off and take a few photos, given that the roads were so icy and filled with melting water that walking any sort of distance quickly became challenging.
Still, my time in Finnsnes was another opportunity to visit, however briefly, a place that I probably would have never seen otherwise. Some people feel that in order to say you’ve been to a place, you have to stay for days on end. I don’t subscribe to that theory; the second my feet hit the ground, I’ve been there. Half an hour in Finnsnes is better than never having come at all.
Shortly after departure, Midnatsol sailed under the massive Gisund Bridge that links the island of Senja with the mainland. Spanning over 1,200 meters, Midnatsol had to position herself directly under the tallest segment of the span in order to ensure her radar mast and funnel cleared the bridge deck. Sailing under a bridge is always a fascinating experience, but the futuristic bridges in Norway make this experience doubly so.
The light rain that beset us in Finnsnes had turned to heavy, wet snow by the time Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol arrived in her homeport of Tromso.
Affectionately referred to as “The Pearl of the North”, Tromoso is home to roughly 70,000 inhabitants, though the increasingly-heavy snow and the fact that it was Sunday left the streets deserted, save for those of us travelling aboard the Midnatsol..
On Sundays, Norwegian shops either shut down completely close a few hours after lunch. The same holds true for most cafes, nearly every bar, and a handful of restaraunts. Only the usual suspects (the convenience store and Burger King) remained open.
Fortunately, museums don’t subscribe to that theory, meaning I had two full hours with which to explore the one place in Tromso I’d truly wanted to see: the Polar Museum.
Located just a ten minute walk from the Hurtigruten piers, this museum is an absolute must-see for anyone fascinated by polar exploration and the Norwegian explorers who led the way, got it right, and were largely forgotten by history. The names of those who tried and failed spectacularly – Franklin, Scott, Shackleton – are far more familiar to many of us than those we should know about, like Nansen, Amundsen and Barentz.
Ever since I worked on a documentary about Canadian Charles Seymour Wright’s adventures with Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated British Antarctic Polar Expedition of 1910 four years ago, I have been fascinated with Roald Amundsen, the man who was arguably Scott’s arch-nemesis. Consider the facts: not only did Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole by mere weeks (thus claiming it for Norway), he also came back alive.
Amundsen was also the first to successfully navigate the fabled Northwest Passage, and his contributions to polar exploration cannot be underestimated.
So, too, was Fridtjof Nansen, who is still very much revered here in Norway. His expedition across Greenland – the first time such a feat was successfully attempted – in 1888 brought him considerable fame, but it was his North Pole expedition of 1893 and his subsequent work with the League of Nations that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. Unlike Amundsen – who disappeared under mysterious circumstances – Nansen was one of the few explorers who managed to die of old age, in 1930 at the age of 68.
To see personal correspondence, artifacts, and expedition gear from these men is worth the 50 NOK admission on its own, but the fact is that just scratches the surface of the museum’s collection, which also includes rooms dedicated to early trappers, fisherman, hunters, and even Wanny Woldstad, who became the first woman to winter in the Antarctic.
But I enjoyed seeing, in person, personal effects recovered from S. A. Andree’s devastating attempt to fly a hydrogen balloon from Svalbard across the North Pole in 1897. Andree and the expedition disappeared without a trace, only to have their remains – and undeveloped film canisters – recovered quite by accident in 1930.
When I emerged from the Polar Museum, the snow had only increased in intensity and I was surprised to discover darkness was rapidly descending on Tromso despite the fact it was only 3:45pm.
I strolled through some of the historic Skansen area of Tromso before turning back in the direction of the warm lights of the Midnatsol. The heavy snow turned roads and sidewalks into a slushy mess and without any open shops to duck into for relief, being outside quickly became unpleasant. Still, I strolled around for another 30 minutes, unable to quit taking photographs of the rather dramatic weather befalling the city.
The bad weather also had a knock-on effect for the Husky Safari Dog Sledding excursion offered by Hurtigruten in Tromso. An announcement was made shortly before noon informing guests that the tour operators had to cancel because of the inclement weather in Tromso. The Tour Manager onboard Midnatsol was busy refunding monies paid this afternoon, which I thought was done quite efficiently.
Back onboard the warm, inviting Midnatsol, I relaxed in the Panorama Lounge’s upper level on Deck 9 and – for the first time this trip – cracked open one of three books I’d brought along.
I had thought that with no real entertainment to speak of onboard (save for a pianist playing in the Mysterier Bar each evening) that I would be able to read all three. But the truth of the matter is that there are so many ports we stop in during a given day, and so much to see out on deck or from a lounge while cruising, that I simply haven’t felt compelled to do anything but admire the scenery!
Tonight, Norwegian stockfish is being served outdoors on Deck 9 just aft of the forward staircase at 8pm, and at 9pm all guests are invited up on the open decks as we sail past Midnatsol’s 2002-built sister-ship, Trollfjord.
We then have a short, 15-minute call in Skjervoy at 10:30pm; one more chance for me to put my feet ashore in yet another Norwegian locale on this snowy night in these northern latitudes.
In between was another fantastic dinner consisting of Green Pea Soup with Bacon; Norwegian Stockfish; and a Cheesecake dessert. On a cold day like today, I really appreciated the soup.
Tomorrow promises to be one of the most exciting days of the trip, as we dock in Honningsvag, Norway and take part in an excursion offered by Hurtigruten to the North Cape – often described as the northernmost point on Continental Europe!
So stay tuned; the classic Norwegian Coastal Voyage still has plenty of excitement left in it as we make our way to our final port of call, Kirkenes, on Tuesday, where a stay at the Snow Hotel Kirkenes awaits!
Our Live Voyage Report continues tomorrow aboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol as we call on the northerly town of Honningsvag and set out on an excursion for Nordkapp – the North Cape!
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