Hurtigruten’s Trollfjord

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Spending the night in a hotel made entirely from snow is not for the fainthearted. The bed is an ice slab, a ghostly light bathes the place in translucent colors, reindeer hides are strewn on the floor, weirdly fascinating Arctic scenes and Nordic faces are carved in bas-relief on walls made from snow blocks, and the air is extremely dry and cold, causing your nose to ache every time you inhale like when you eat ice cream too fast.

Although you’re comfortable and warm inside a heavy sleeping bag, the anticipation of that inescapable, dreaded moment when nature will call is always on the back of your mind. That means worming out of the warm bag, putting on a heavy jacket, hat and boots and trudging some 100 yards to the nearest facility.

And it’s snowing outside. The wind howls, blowing ice and snow so hard it stings your face.

This is the latest and final adventure in a series of memorable excursions for those who have sailed north along Norway’s western coast on M/S Trollfjord, a sleek liner sailing under the colors of Hurtigruten, a ship line synonymous with Norway’s rich seagoing history.

Hurtigruten (it means “fast route”) has a deep Norwegian maritime pedigree, having been founded in 1893 explicitly to deliver goods and mail to isolated coastal villages and towns scattered along fjords and a rugged coast that stretches from Bergen to Kirkenes—a 250-mile trip with scenery so majestic it could pass as the setting for a Nordic fairytale.

The northbound passage begins in Bergen, Norway’s second largest city—a colorful, historic, clean and friendly port nestled between mountains and home to a tad more than a quarter-million residents.

There is something appealing about the northern latitudes in late-winter, when spring is just beginning to peek from under its snowy blanket, but winter remains a formidable presence. What little sunlight filters through dark clouds paints buildings in pastel hues and—in Scandinavia in general and in Norway in particular—the first days of March, with their promise of spring, seem to add zest to the steps of Norwegians who’ve been buried under snow and ice for several months.

Hurtigruten, one of the world’s legendary cruise lines, runs a regular schedule from Bergen north to Kirkenes, anchoring in 34 ports to drop mail and goods, but also carrying passengers who invariably claim this to be the “World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage.” It just might be.

Hurtigruten offers a roundtrip, 12-day voyage, or a 7-day, north or southbound cruise.

It is also touted as the best cruise from which to observe the Aurora Borealis, the dancing northern lights of legend in early spring. However, weather conditions like haze, rain and fog will make watching the lights a crap shoot.

Presently, Hurtigruten operates 11 ships up and down Norway’s coast and its vessels also call on Greenland, Spitsbergen and even Antarctica.

Prices, not including airfare, range between $1,019 to $4,542 in winter; summer rates, from $1,892 to $11,270. The lower prices cover 6-day southbound voyages, inside cabins. The higher prices are for suites in Hurtigruten’s 12-day Classic Roundtrip voyage.

bergen For those awaiting the sea journey that will take them places no one even remotely thought of visiting, a walk around Bergen is all it takes to make you fall in love with the city.

Bergen in early-March is cold, very cold. The thermometer seems stuck around the freezing number, the days are short and the nights are long, a northern wind blows, making it seem as if this old port is as clean and fresh as a newly minted coin. The town oozes great charm.

It’s rightfully been bestowed a UNESCO World Heritage Center tag and is famous in Scandinavia for its medieval houses and a fish market that gives new meaning to the word “exotic.”

Ten years ago Bergen was named “European City of Culture” and that’s no stretch. It claims, again rightfully, that it is “a city with all the atmosphere and all the charm of a small town.”

Many impressive museums are housed here and, while awaiting for the cruise ship to raise anchor, not exploring Bergen would be inexcusable. It has much to offer. Its people seem straight out of a Scandinavian travel poster, the North Sea flowing through their veins, rosy cheeks made redder by the cold. Almost all have corn silk hair, irrefutable evidence that a Viking lurks under the familial woodpile.