Norway Cruise 2023

Somewhat unexpected, we are traveling to the Netherlands this year. Gepke’s niece is getting married and invited us for the wedding. We decided to combine this stay with a visit to Norway. While we were on our South America trip with Holland America, we thought if we are already in the Europe, why not visit Norway which is on our bucket list? We booked the cruise on the ship and also chose an option for another trip in 2025, but that is for another story.

Our trip started at the end of our family visit in the Netherlands. We returned our rental car at Schiphol airport and took the train to Amsterdam. Lugging along three suitcases was a challenge, but we needed clothes both for the very warm weather in the Netherlands, and the cold we expected in Norway. In the rain with our luggage we walked the half kilometer from the train station to the cruise terminal. You can hardly go wrong as the ship is the biggest thing in the river IJ behind the train station and was easy to find.

(Click on the photo for a larger one)

After checking in the suitcases, we went to the waiting area until boarding. There was a little excitement there at one point, because an alarm went off instructing everyone to leave the building immediately. Everyone got up, but the staff motioned us all to relax. Apparently they had experienced this before and assumed it was a false alarm. They joked not to run unless we saw them running. What if it really had been an emergency?

Boarding

At least this “emergency” sped up the boarding process, and shortly after we were on board and on our way to the 8th floor where our cabin was located. This trip would be different from earlier trips we took on Holland America. We had been on the MS Rotterdam before, but most passengers were either American or Canadian then. It was obvious now that at least half of the folks on board were Dutch. Not surprising as we are leaving from and returning to Amsterdam.

As the ship cast off, we headed down the IJ towards the North Sea. Along the way we recognized many sites we had once seen on land, so it was a fun and interesting experience for us. We ended up in locks near IJmuiden that allowed us the final access into the North Sea. We pass the Fort Island Ijmuiden, only opened once a year. We’ll have to time one of our visits to coincide with that.

The North Sea is full of windmills that generate electricity and can be a hazard to shipping, Before being able to turn north towards Norway we have to go a considerable distance west to avoid these and the scattered oil drilling platforms.

The first day is a sea day, and it is a true challenge for some (most?) passengers, as the weather is stormy and the sea is rough. Winds of 65 knots rock the ship and Gepke too is not feeling too happy, though she is weathering the storm better than many other passenger on the ship. The crew is constantly busy with “cleanup”; I’ll spare you the details …
Apparently I am one of the lucky ones, since all I experience is difficulty walking on the rolling ship.

Eidfjord

On the second day we arrive at our first port on the trip: Eidfjord. It’s a small picturesque village at the end of the deep Hardangerfjord. We have no excursions planned and will be checking out the village on foot on our own. It’s cold and although rain was predicted, it’s still dry. Dressed in many layers we head out towards Ravenhart, the local history museum. When we arrive there we find out it doesn’t open till 10, and will also set us back more than $40. We decide to think about it while walking the village.

We head up a road that will take us to the Iron Age burial ground. The graves are long gone, but the view is quite breathtaking. We enjoy the walk so much, we decide to continue on and circle the village until we meet the river and then follow that back. We are also lucky enough that the predicted rain stays at bay and after a 4 mile walk we find our way back to the cruise terminal area. Here we warm up with coffee and hot chocolate at a local cafe, before boarding the ship again.

In the evening the ship leaves again and does it’s scenic cruising of the fjord. The views of the steep mountains are overwhelming. We also sail under the Hardanger bridge built in 2013 for a whopping 300 million dollars. After dinner we admire the view a little more before deciding to turn in. It’s still light outside and the sun will not set until 11:15 tonight. Luckily the curtains are truly light blocking and so we sleep like angels, as the ship continues to our next port: Skjolden

Skjolden

When we wake up the next day we are traveling along the Lustrafjorden to our destination. Yesterday we got a call from the reception that the excursion we were on the waitlist for has opened up and we can go along. But the bus does not leave until 1:45, so we can take our time getting up. We have a late breakfast/early lunch on the Lido deck and slowly head to the theater stage where we wait until our tour is called.

Outside the bus arrives and we board for a scenic drive to the Jotunheimen National Park & Sognefjell Mountain Pass. The bus takes us higher and higher along a narrow curving road. It also getting colder and colder along the way. The stops along the way are made at a temperature of 6 degrees Celsius. The original road across the mountain was marked by cairns made off piled up rocks. In the old days the travelers went from cairn to cairn to find their way. Some got lost in the snow and for 6 of them a monument was erected where we stop to photograph and enjoy the view.

Fanaråkmonumentet, Mefjellet, Sognefjellet

Our guide is confused regarding the time we need to be back at the docks. He believes it’s 6 o’clock, but we’re sure it 5:30. Of course, since this is a tour organized by Holland America it doesn’t matter for us. The ship will wait for us, not so if it had been a non-HAL tour. Because he thinks we have plenty of time, we stop for a visit to the Wittgenstein Monument.

The guide did indeed get the ship’s departure time wrong, but as expected the departure of the ship was delayed by out late arrival. The ship leaves the minute we are on board. Next stop Åndalsnes.

Åndalsnes

The night takes us to the next town, that is the convenience of a cruise. Go to sleep in one town, wake up in another. Åndalsnes is a relatively compact town so we decide to walk around. We head towards the Troll Wall hiking trail and start up the steep ramp to the top. There is also a cable car that takes people to the top, but the $54 for a round trip is highway robbery.

We both start up the mountain eager to find the top, but my knee gives out at about 400ft. It’s like one of those polar expeditions of the olden days. The weak of the troupe are left behind and Gepke continues to the top. At first I hang around at a picnic table, surrounded by wasps and school children, but after a while I decide to accept my fate and return to the village.

I spend hours zigzagging through the whole village, since plain walking doesn’t hurt my knee as much as climbing. In the meantime, Gepke climbs to the very top of Rampestreken; an altitude of 2100ft. At the top she texts me and I tell her to take the cable car back: one way is “only” $36. She still considers that too pricey and descends on her own again. Since my knee has somewhat recovered, I go back up again and meet her at the same point I left her earlier.

Back together and tired from climbing and walking we return back to the ship. We got in our exercise for the day.

Trondheim

This town is one of the larger towns on our trip. Around 200,000 people live here, so it’s not exactly a quaint little Norwegian village. Normally the more than 2000 passengers that flood onto shore can overwhelm the place. Here we vanish into the crowd.

Trondheim, Nidelva River, view from Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge)

We follow a route across an old bridge into an older part of the city. We are heading towards Kristiansten Fortress a fort built in the 17th century. The fort was built a few years after the city of Trondheim largely burned down around 1681. Most of the history is on display in the large main white building in the center of the fort.

After the fort we cross the river Nidelva again and take a look at the Nidarosdomen church and the surrounding graveyard. It starts to precipitate lightly and we start looking around for a place to drink coffee and maybe have a snack. We find this at Jordbærpikene where we have coffee with a brownie. The rain never really gets going, so we brave the weather and cross a large square covered in seagulls. Instead of getting wet from the rain, Gepke gets shat on by the gulls. Not funny. We manage to get away from the birds and I console her with a soft ice cream cone.

Before the weather gets too bad we head back to the ship that will be leaving relatively early today at 4:30. The next two days will be spent at sea on our way to the North Cape and the city of Honningsvåg

Honningsvåg

Honningsvåg is the last port we see before cruising the fjords of the North Cape. It’s cold here, to say it mildly, as the temperature continues to drop the closer we get to the arctic circle. The port town is not very large. We entertain ourselves by walking it from one end to the other and back. All together even that was less than 2 miles. Along the way we can take a photo of Bamse; a St. Bernard dog that was a heroic mascot to soldiers in WW II. There are also many trolls along the way, posing for photos.

More challenging is a climb along the “Nordkaptrappa” to the top of a hill where an old viking cemetery can be found. The vikings are long gone, but we get a beautiful view of the city and the fjord that leads North.

Cruising the North Cape

After boarding again in Honnigsvåg, the ships heads out to cruise the fjord here at the North Cape. This is the most Northern part of Europe we’ve ever been. The latitude is also further north than where we’ve been in Alaska (Fairbanks), so this is a record for us. This year we have placed a record for both the most far north (North Cape) as the most far south (Cape Horn). After cruising the area here, the ship heads south again and sets course for the Shetland Islands.

Shetland Islands

Shetland is very British and reminds us a lot of the Falkland Islands. Those are also very British, cold and remote. The Island appears very barren, with few trees but a lot of history. Especially for me, there is also a Fort on the Island: Fort Charlotte. I admire the old cannons and count my blessings I was not a soldier stationed here back in those days. Gepke has her picture taken in front of the Lerwick Police station which is prominently shown on a British Crime series about Shetland. The Lerwick Town Hall is also worth a visit; it has beautiful stained glass windows and nice large room with historical articles. We end the day with a visit to a local pub for a glass of wine and a Guinness Beer.

Bergen

Our next stop is in Norway again: Bergen. This is a larger city in Norway, more to see and more miles to walk. It’s raining today, which does not add to the charm of this city. Walking past the “Briggan” a row of rainbow houses we find a cafe where we can take cover from the rain. The weather splits us up as I head back to the ship early, but Gepke is not deterred and continues her discovery of the city .

Sandnes

There is one more stop in Norway before we head back to Amsterdam: Sandnes. It’s looks unimpressive and it’s raining, so I decide to stay on the ship. Again Gepke is not deterred by the rain that is pouring from the heavens. She heads out, carrying a bright orange umbrella from Holland America. She returns shortly, assuring me I have not missed anything. The ship stopped in Sandnes only to accomdate tours to Stavanger. We were to late to book such a tour, and in that case Sandnes is better named Sadness.

Sandnes

Back to Amsterdam

Early in the morning, we arrive in Amsterdam again. We are still in bed when the ship docks, and we get ready to disembark and head for the airport. We have booked two nights in Hotel Ibis near the airport, while we play the tourist in Amsterdam. One of those days is spent with my niece who shows us her favorite spots. We also spend some time discovering on our own, looking for food and other must haves. During one of our scavenges, we have lunch at a small hole in the wall. They sell the ingredients of their meals. So we buy some “boemboe” which can be used to make delicious peanut sauce for Indonesian dishes.

Greetings from us!

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