Can you really 'afjord to miss this?' The Northern Lights and the Northern sights of Norway
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Time for another bracing walk on the poop deck. We’ve crossed the Arctic Circle and the temperature seems to be dropping with every mile we sail further North, writes Cliff Edwards.
Soon the trees will be gone altogether and the wind blasted mountains at the edge of the black fjord will be without any form to gauge their size. I return to my cabin, routinely tidied - fresh sheets and towels every day - and put on some extra layers. I put my big coat on and my scarf and hat and big gloves and fur lined boots, stride out and take the smooth glass lift to deck eight, from deck five.
I pass the people cradling playing cards and kindles, scrolling with their effortless thumbs through their phones. They’re in little groups, or maybe alone, laid back on sofas, sipping coffees, some staring out. The scenic beauty reels past, viewed on the giant screens that are the huge picture windows in the common areas.
Inside, it’s a hospitable 20 odd degrees. You can walk around in a t-shirt inside. But few do. They like the option or the thought of the option of going outside to see something. But few do. For, outside - which happens as you place your hand near a green button and a great glass door slides noiselessly aside - is something else entirely.
Prepared, as you are, the arctic blast from the sea and off the white mountains hits like a navy strength rum. It doesn't debilitate. It invigorates. We have air in Britain, of course. We’ve all had some. But this cold air is different. It doesn’t rasp your lungs. It doesn’t pinch your face.
How can I describe it? It’s like drinking from a spring, at source. Or it’s like running when I was a boy. I drank in this air as I drank in the air during youthful play. It was pure and seemed loaded with goodness. Maybe, it was just because I was so relaxed in my surroundings. I’d never been on a cruise before - I’m one who always eschews a cruise.
But, this Havila cruise, beginning in the Southwest of Norway - dipping in and out of the fjords - allows you that time to “stand and stare”. Up in the far North, the sea is black and the landscape is grey, black and white. The sky for us, was the deepest blue for the most part. And the sun sparkled fantastically, like a big diamond, hung low.
The sun exited, stage right, earlier and earlier each day in a golden flourish behind the monochrome mountains. Until, by Honningsvag, the most northerly town, it was gone by lunchtime.
We had crossed the arctic circle on day four of the trip. The amiable tannoy man, who doubled as your excursion guru, announced that those who hadn't done so before were invited to get their arctic circle baptism.
We went outside to find out what it was all about. It looked more of a punishment than a celebration - getting ice trowelled down your back. But it was all good fun and so we joined the queue and did that, too.
It’s likely the same souls who were prepared to have ice down their backs in sub-zero climes, were those who kept their boots and coats to hand once night fell for the same tannoy man’s call that the Northern Lights were visible.
They were usually at the bow as we headed North, of course. As the main bar was at the bow, we found that a good place for a base camp - no other reason - for us to hot foot onto the cold deck to view the sight that many of us have dreamt of witnessing for a lifetime.
The first call came and I hurried out, but my fellow passengers kitted up more languidly - they knew that the lights were no Will o’ the Wisp - there and gone in an instant. Once they'd decided to make an appearance, the lights played tantalisingly behind the landscape and then across the sky over the ship, seemingly for hours. Cameras were adjusted accordingly to record the full spectrum.
You can set your cabin phone so you get a call at any time to see the spectacle. If the season is right, you’ve recorded your preference to see them, and the aurora is absent during the trip, Havila promise you a second chance free!
Food and drink
Havrand Restaurant is at the stern with picture windows, very comfortable seats, attentive, friendly staff and exquisitely presented and tasting Nordic meals.
Havly Cafe is a less formal cafeteria option. Try the soups. Particularly, the fish soup.
Hildring Fine Dining Five course signature menu. We were served superb fare by the engaging Antoine, a knowledgeable Parisian foodie who loves his Norwegian life
Sailing with Havila
The Northern Lights are visible along the whole route, at certain times of the year.
The Havilla Castor was build in 2022 and sails the coast North then Siuth on a 12 day full cruise. IT making 34 stops going North. One each day during which passengers can disembark. The ycan choose form the excursions or go do some exploring themselves. But don’t get back late. The ship will not wait.
Bergen Sailing from a sophisticated Bergen in the evening, I’d recommend fixing up a night beforehand, at least, in the beautiful old town.
Day Two Alesund The first stop for passengers is Alesund - from where you can cross the little town to catch the boat to take a day long trip up the Geraingerfjord. 500m sides and 450m of water below yu. And the most biting, rigid wind. Truly unforgettable beauty. And wonderful stories regaled by the guides who live there of how fjord folk live insuch harsh conditions.
Day Three Trondheim A cultural centre, with beautiful waterside buildings, Norway’s most important cathedral, famous for its great food and drink.
Day Four Bodo A brief stop in a small town rebuilt following its destruction as a strategic centre during WW2.
Day Five Tromso An arctic gem of a town, with a rich student life. Where the town centre paths are heated. Cable car views, an inviting shopping centre and some excellent bars.
Day Six Honningsvag A fascinating fishing settlement, close to the Northernmost tip of Europe. Walk the streets, in a blizzard to the end of town.