V. and I just got back from a week in Norway, where we met my parents.

It was the last voyage down the coast for the mail and supply ship MS Nordsjernen. We sailed for six days from Kirkenes (last port before the Russian border and 240 miles North of the Arctic Circle) past the icy Northern coast and the colorful little towns for whom the ship has represented a life line for the past 56 years.

On our first night out of port we encountered hurricane force winds in a storm that lasted a good ten hours. We got rolled around our bunks a bit while the furniture in our cabin danced back and forth. Nobody mentioned the word “hurricane” until after it was over though, which is a good thing, because while it was occasionally uncomfortable, we didn’t worry about it. Actually, I’m pretty sure my mom worried. She stayed huddled in a corner of their cabin, while my dad, who never gets seasick, went to the dining room at 7am and helped himself  to a nice plate of bacon and eggs. I believe he was the only one there.

Once it was all over, we had a calm waters for the rest of the trip, with enough decent weather to get off the boat and visit some of the sites: 13th Century churches, more snow-covered towns, more and more dramatic landscapes, and the occasional sister ship on the Hurtigruten line.

Because it was the ship’s last trip, almost every port we stopped at had a brass band playing at the quay, and the mayor came out to give a little speech and hand the captain a bouquet. It was a very touching show of affection from people who have long depended on each other. Afterwards, anyone who wanted to could come onboard for coffee and traditional marzipan cake (sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberry jam). Over the course of the journey, there were at least 20 of these cakes at all hours of the day, apparently from different bakeries along the way, and perhaps some of them created on board (much respect to all chefs who work on the high seas.It gives a whole new meaning to the term “balanced diet”). We didn’t quite manage to sample all of them, but judging from the speed with which they got eaten, they were all delicious.

And while we’re on the subject of food, I can tell you that the fish eaters on the trip were very happy indeed. There were vegetarian options at every meal, and I certainly ate alright myself, though there was a heavy emphasis on dairy and bread (vegans would have some trouble here). There were always the “Pimp My Car” cookies to fall back on (apparently that’s code for whole grain, low sugar and high fiber – who knew?)!

And there’s the other Norwegian specialty, caramelized cheese. It’s meant to be eaten in thin slices (and ours was served on waffles with butter??!!). It turns out that it was a Norwegian who invented the cheese plane for this purpose. It must be a matter of national pride, because in every tourist shop there was a Norway pin featuring this nifty device.

After we disembarked, we spent a night in Bergen (with serious dock rock), before getting on the train to Oslo, to catch our flight back to New York.

It is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque train rides you could ever take, first past lakes and valleys flanked by giant rock faces, then high into ski country, where snow shoveling is obviously a total bitch!

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