TODAY IS BLUE: Waves and whitecaps, Neptune, god of the sea. That perfect peacock sky.
On our third night at sea, we cross the Arctic Circle. We're now north of it, which means we are officially hunting the Northern Lights. As part of the celebration, the Burger King mascot pours ice down my pants and hands me a certificate of participation. (He's actually meant to be either Neptune or a Viking King—I arrived late so missed the explanation.) Either way, we all toast to our icy wet backs and silly good fortune with shots of schnapps and warm fish cakes.
When not participating in onboard antics or enjoying the magnificent fjordy ranges during our hours at sea, I take equal pleasure in spying on my fellow Hurtegruten passengers. Like the tall woman dressed in a parka standing on the blistery deck with her eyes closed, smiling into the sunshine as wind–induced tears stream down her face. Then there's the group of Germans monopolizing one of the oversized hot tubs—steam billowing all around them as they drink beer and laugh heartily, each one comically wearing a different hat (from beret to pom–pom topped toque).
The young children on board are anything but bored as they run circles around the Panorama Lounge, wiping out on the blue art deco themed carpet every so often and then busting a gut at the hilarity of it all. (And it is pretty hilarious.) Every now and then everyone in the lounge rises en masse, cameras and camcorders at the ready, as they cross to the right side (starboard?), standing shoulder–to–shoulder looking out the floor–to–ceiling windows to get a closer look at the latest Captain Tormod Karlsen–announced lighthouse, passing village, or a particularly picturesque fjord. (These passengers rise quickly and they rise often.)
Our stop at the fishing town of Ilonningsvag and the North Cape is the most popular excursion of the trip. Half a dozen busses are waiting for us at the port. We drive up and up, corkscrewing around the great fjord mountain as a snowplow clears the road in front of us until we reach the northernmost point on mainland Norway. Once on top there's a great observation point where the raging Nordic winds threaten to pop our heads off. And while the view is second to none, my favorite part of the excursion might just be hearing the following story…
"We have five policemen on our small island. But there is no crime so they go to the gym and play paintball and one of them takes care of my cat when I go on holiday," half–jokes our guide Kim. "Sometimes he even takes my cat around in the police car." One day, not so long ago, a police siren went off in town, for the first time in 37 years. "Everyone was shocked and ran to see what had happened." It turns out the policeman had gone into the bakery to fetch a snack. He had left our guide's cat to prowl around inside the squad car. "It was my cat who turned on the siren."
That night, a dozen of us suit up in snowmobiling gear at the teeny port stop of Kjollefjord, where we set off on a Snowmobile Safari after sunset. With the full moon before us and the stars above, we roar across glaciers and bumpy forest trails for an hour of high–speed adventure. We meet the MS Trollfjord at the next port. Later in the evening, as a couple of us sit in the hot tub amidst the frigid night air, the Northern Lights make their first appearance: dancing milky sheets with hints of sparkly green.
Our final day on the ship I meet a local woman named Catrine, an art therapist who had just gotten on board following a successful meeting in one of the towns. She tells me that she wants to build a "peace university" for children. "It will teach them to dialogue with each other through art and nature," she explains. "It will be on a little island on the border between north and south Norway. I was in dialogue with the architect today. I am high on this meeting." Then she shows me photos of happy children doing artwork while gathered around low–slung tables. Their drawings are all polka dots, sunshine and pansies. "We will call the school, Children of the Rainbow."
Amy Rosen is a food and travel writer who pens and illustrates the weekly "Dish" column in the National Post and is a contributing editor for enRoute magazine, for which she ate her away across Canada twice. A James Beard nominee, and regular contributor to Chatelaine and Food & Wine among others, a story she wrote about cooking with Daniel Boulud is featured in the Best Food Writing 2008. Visit her at www.thenationalnosh.blogspot.com.
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Other European travel stories from the archives
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