8 Practical Issues
General comments you may find helpful
Personal comments about clothing, weather, eating and other things about being in Norway and on Hurtigruten. They are based on our experience in March and May on traditional vessels.

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When to go
Initially we chose May because you get virtually 24 hours daylight, there is still snow on the mountains, it's drier then, not as expensive as high season and quieter. We found National Day is on May 17th, a very significant date to the Norwegians and great to experience.

For the aurora you need dark nights (plus clear skies and good luck) so the nearer December the better your chances. However the north gets little daylight in winter so you will see relatively little of the scenery, though people who have been then enjoyed the arctic dawn/dusk and moonlit snow. Going in early March we did miss the light nights of May.

Climate
With its long coastline and mountains Norway has a variable climate. As a rule you will meet a greater range of temperature inland than on the coast. Weather links on Page L3 will give you an idea, especially historical data on wunderground.com. At the risk of sounding trite we would suggest summers can be really hot and winters very cold! We found May very variable - one year we were in Kirkenes at -4ºC, five days later it was 25º there. In March we experienced -10º, but the dry air meant we did not feel cold.

On five trips we saw virtually no rain on the voyage, but had taken an umbrella as talisman. Bergen, with a reputation for rain, has only given us one wet day out of about twenty - but that day was WET!

We spent nearly all of our spare time (ie when not eating or sleeping) on deck. Personal comfort depended a lot on sunshine and shelter. Near Tromsø at a clear, bright midnight in May you could feel heat being sucked from your body. Watching the aurora near there at the same time in March we needed every layer we had plus a blanket. On the traditional vessels it was easy to find a spot where you were sheltered from the wind. This even applied to the bridge wings, though changes in course could mean relocation to the other side. On Narvik there was a platform beneath the bridge. This could be very windy due to the shape of the superstructure unless, paradoxically, you went out on to the small platform right in the middle.

Clothing
The traditional vessels were very casual; dressing for dinner meant taking your cagoule off. We get the impression the new hotels with propellors are more formal, at least as far as some passengers are concerned.

If you intend to spend time on deck (and if you don't why not stay at home and watch the promotional video?) you will need plenty of layers, especially out of summer. Several thin layers will be better than a few thick ones. Go for natural or special insulating fibres, avoid ordinary synthetics. Have top wind/waterprof layer(s) including your legs. Don't forget hats and gloves. Walking boots/stout shoes with thick socks will help keep you warm and be useful for walking. In places underfoot conditions between ship and town can be quite rough. Sunglasses, sunblock, aftersun and lipsalve are advisable throughout the year.

If you will forgive the indelicacy we saved up old shirts and underwear for the voyages and threw them away after wearing them. Cabin space can be limited, luggage that collapses is better at fitting in.

Buying things
Norway is expensive, some say don't try to convert prices - you won't stand the shock. In fact we found that with full board on the ship and relatively little time ashore we spent relatively little (but then we are mean). The ability to use credit cards in shops and draw cash from ATMs with cheque cards meant we only took a relatively small amount of cash with us. However we found that some discount supermarkets won't take foreign credit cards. (Click here to see current exchange rate in new window.)

Incidentally Norway's smallest coin is 50 øre, but shops like to price things at NOK 9.99 or whatever. Tills round prices up and down automatically and it gets quite complicated if you try to understand credit card receipts, so don't worry about the last two figures. Most bottles are returnable for a deposit. And always carry small change with you - public toilets are rarely free.

Service
Standards of service seem high with most shop assistants, bus drivers etc being very pleasant. Tipping does not seem to be the norm.

Food
Hotel breakfasts will set you up for the day in more than one way, it appears to be accepted that you do a pack-up for your lunch off the buffet. We heard you can ask for special bags but didn't have the nerve to - the little bags you find on boats and planes do just as well.

On board our ships breakfast and lunch were buffet meals. As you would expect there was a lot of fish, but also a good range of other hot and cold dishes. The Norwegians don't pile their plates up. They will go back to the buffet for a new plate for different dishes - several times! A dirty plate will be removed from your table and the cutlery put on your side plate if you haven't already done so yourself.

Look out for gammelost (old cheese) on the cheeseboard and try a bit. Highly prized by Norwegians it looks a bit like a biscuit, is low in fat, high in salt and tastes like old socks, better make it a small bit. Cold whale was black, rubbery and tasteless. More palatable is rømmegrøt, a sour cream porridge. We only saw it once per trip and enjoyed it as starter, sauce, pudding...

Ship dinners alternated between fish and meat. Second helpings were almost compulsory on TFDS (but virtually impossible for desserts - cloudberries are superb). Larger ships may be different.

Sea conditions
Sorry to bring this up so soon after food, but it may be of concern to people who, like us, are poor sailors. Most of the route is in water sheltered by islands so sailing is good. However there are some open stretches which can be lively. Going north these are Stad between Måløy and Ålesund, Folda before Rørvik (and after dinner), and Lopp - which means flea - between Skjervøy and Øksfjord. Vestfjorden after Bodø will depend on wind direction. Most are fairly short, but the section in the far north between Honningsvåg and Kirkenes is largely exposed for some 16 hours each way. We have seen this both like a mill pond and the other thing. Pills are available from the Purser, but these seem to be real knock-out drops. We took crystallised ginger with us to chew on less smooth bits. Lying flat in a deck chair also helped and when things got bad we went to bed and had no trouble. Don't leave breakables or jewellery on lockers if at all rough, they may slide off.

On the last day you will probably be asked to clear your cabin early. We packed first thing so we did not have to be moving round in the cabin during some of the more exposed bits after Florø. On one trip some who hadn't wished they had.

Binoculars, cameras, maps
If you get on deck and look you stand a good chance of seeing whales, dolphins, sea eagles and so on. If you are at all interested take binoculars (a pair each - whales don't wait about). If you are not used to binoculars don't go for large magnification as you won't hold them steady. 6X or 8X are probably best.

Print films and batteries are widely available from the kiosks on quays at many ports, or special photo shops in towns. Slide films are not so easily available, take plenty with you. A lot of people steadied cameras on ships' rails - not a good idea as engine vibration will cause camera shake. Tripods on deck for the aurora don't work for the same reason.

I tried to use prime lenses rather than zooms, but changing them in the cold forced me back to zooms whilst at sea. A fairly wide range is desirable, for instance in harbour you may well need a 35mm lens, but at sea you may want 100mm or longer to pull in passing islands. (Those lengths apply to 35mm SLRs, not those new-fangled digital contraptions.)

A map will help you follow the journey. There are some good bookshops just up from Torget in Bergen. Cappelens kart 13 covers all of Norway at 1:1,000,000 on a single sheet but is arranged in a series of panels which can be confusing. EuroMap Norway covers all of Scandinavia at 1:800,000 on a double sided sheet. We found this easier to read and use. Cappelens also do five larger scale sheets (Hurtigruten needs four) but unless you're keen these are difficult to use. If you are really keen consider a road atlas, difficult to know which page you're on and expensive, but easy to handle, especially if it's windy.

Newspapers and radio
If you're desparate for home news foreign papers reach the larger kiosks in the main towns fairly quickly, but obviously less quickly as you move north. Radio reception (in the open air - earphone useful) should give you R4 on 198 LW and the main UK stations on MW at least as far as Trondheim during the day. World Service on SW carries Middle East schedules - see link on Page L3 for frequencies.

Fellow passengers
On our early trips on traditional vessels predominantly German and several British. Very few Americans since the events of recent years, but they were returning in 2004. However on Narvik there were small numbers from a much wider range of nationalities. On the traditional vessels virtually everybody was there because they wanted to be on one of those ships. Overcoming natural English reserve we talked to people on deck, had many interesting conversations and made some good friends.

Odds and ends
Norway feels a safe country and personal safety, given usual precautions, gives little cause for concern. Norwegians drive very defensively and considerately (at least by UK standards). Pedestrians have right of way at street corners. So don't stand on a corner to discuss where to go next - you'll cause a small traffic jam while drivers stop for you! At lights you may be crossing on green when a car makes a legal turn then stops for you.

In many places like post offices and booking offices there is a numbered queuing system, sometimes with different queues for different services. look out for signs saying 'vennligst ta kønummer'.

More information
There are a number of worthwhile web sites shown on our external links page.

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Updated 07 May 07