Norway by Ship and Rail
Luigi and Manly, 1991

Except for the facts that Luigi threw up on the dinner table, I left my broad-brimmed hat on the ship and SAS lost my duffel bag on the return flight, our venture to Scandinavia was highly satisfactory. The duffel bag was sent to our apartment the day after we got back, none the worse for the experience, and the Bergen Line reports that no one has turned the hat in to them.

Luigi flew to Stockholm on Saturday, August 31, arriving on the first of September. She was taken to the conference center a few miles outside of town for the biennial convention of the International Congress of Architectural Museums. Delegates from all over the world were there, though mostly from Europe. Those from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were there at the time President Bush announced that the United States would recognize the independence of those countries from the Soviet Union, and grew tearful at the announcement. When the business part of the convention ended, those delegates who wanted to stay for a couple of days were taken on various tours of Stockholm and environs, including a visit to Upsala, the old capital of Sweden.

She flew to Oslo to meet me on Sunday, September 7, when I flew in from Chicago via Copenhagen. We both got on a flight to Tromso and there changed planes to Kirkenes, in the extreme northeast of Norway, a few miles from the Russian border. There we stayed at a pleasant, small hotel where the tile floor in the bathroom was so heated that we could not comfortably walk on it barefoot. For dinner they served some excellent reindeer steak. The next day we were taken by bus to the dock where we arrived before the Bergen Line ship Midnatsol appeared around the outer end of the local fjord. This ship and several others combine to provide daily service to a large number of Norwegian towns whose only means of transportation is by sea. When it docked, a hole in the port side opened up and disgorged dozens of passengers and another opened up to disclose a couple of freight elevators, one for automobiles and the other for whatever other cargo was to be taken or left.

We had a nice cabin on one of the lower decks, and could look out the porthole whenever it was not obscured by a dock to which the ship was tied. The cabin was much like the one Dodge and I had on the Kzherzhizhanovsky but lacked a refrigerator, and the loudspeaker was in the hall, so we had to open the door to hear announcements. Announcements were made, usually by a woman in Norwegian, English and German, and sometimes by a man in those three languages plus French.

When we got to sea, the Arctic Ocean was fairly rough -- not with many whitecaps but with high swells that made the ship roll and pitch a lot. At dinner I had a beer and then found that the empty bottle kept falling over. A number of those passengers who had bothered to show up for dinner left before finishing their meals, and Luigi started to but didn't leave quite in time. That first evening was the roughest the sailing got; most of the time we were in fjords or in the lee of islands. Because of the ship's schedule, we would stop at any hour of the day or night to discharge or take on cargo and local passengers. We would go to sleep being rocked by the waves of the open sea and awaken motionless in the middle of the night to see a truck tire, used as a fender against a dock, obscuring most of the view from our porthole. Sometimes it was the other way around.

Although most of the places we sailed were for business purposes we did go into Troll Fjord just to see a particularly spectacular sight. Steep granite cliffs emerged nearly straight up from the water on both sides of the fjord and there were snow fields and glaciers at the top of some the bordering mountains. The other fjords were beautiful and well worth looking at, but none were quite so dramatic. The scenery is not quite so magnificent as that along the Inside Passage to Alaska, but it is still magnificent enough.

The food was generally good. There were two seatings at lunch and dinner, and open seating at breakfast. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style and dinner we were served by the same women who acted as chambermaids. The first two meals included proper smorgasbords with many different kinds of pickled herring and other cold fish and sausage and cheese. There was enough other food so that anyone who chose not to eat from the smorgasbord would not go hungry. We sat at a table near a window with a very pleasant couple named Bergstrom from a suburb of Minneapolis. He is 85 and of Swedish descent; she is 83 and of Norwegian descent.

On the third day of sailing mostly south we crossed the Arctic Circle. On an island near where the ship sailed, there is a globular sculpture to mark the location of the Circle. That night the weather was clear and we were treated to a magnificent display of the Northern Lights, hanging in curtains overhead. A day or two later those of us who boarded at Kirkenes were given colorful certificates, signed by the captain, declaring that we had crossed the Arctic Circle on September 11 on the ship Midnatsol . It was written in large letters in Norwegian with small letter translations of the respective phrases into English, German and French.

Saturday afternoon we reached the end of the cruise in Bergen, which we were told is one of the wettest places on Earth. It lived up to this reputation and most of the rest of the afternoon, that night and the next morning it rained. The rain was not constant, so we did get out for a brief walk before dinner, hardly getting wet very much under Luigi's raincoat and my poncho when the precipitation resumed just as we were heading back to the hotel.

On Sunday we took the train from Bergen, on the Atlantic coast, to Oslo on an inlet from the Baltic Sea, over a range of low mountains (4,200 feet) that were high enough to keep all but a reasonable amount of rain in the western side of the country. It was a beautiful ride, with mountains, lakes, rivers and fjords much in evidence. Near the top were several snow fields and a few small glaciers. We saw a few dairy cattle and lots of sheep grazing. A woman with a cart came by every couple of hours, selling sandwiches, beer and other essentials. The beer, a Norwegian brew called Ringnes, is quite good.

The SAS Scandinavian Hotel in Oslo proved to be quite luxurious, especially since we were upgraded to a prize room on the 22nd (top) floor. Smoked salmon appetizer and reindeer steak marked our last dinner in Norway; in the morning we flew to Copenhagen; Luigi first because that was how her travel agent had arranged it, and I later because the Bergen Line, who made the arrangements knew better how long it took to get from Oslo to Copenhagen. So I could and did enjoy the glorious breakfast on the 21st floor with a view in the opposite direction from our bedroom's. We met without difficulty at the gate for the flight from Copenhagen to Chicago, and arrived without further incident except for the lost duffel bag.