Friday, September 10, 2010

Norwegian Coastal Voyage

After having spent a great day in Kirkenes (see my posts here and here) we were ready for our “Norwegian Coastal Voyage” down the coast to Bergen. We were early going to the harbor and were the only ones there. I took a couple pictures of our ship.

Since 1893 there have been ships going up and down the coast of Norway to service the small communities there. They are more accessible by sea than by roads. Over 70 ships have been used in the last 100 plus years during the Coastal Express operation. The company is now called Hurtigruten. It has a daily departure from Bergen, crossing the Arctic Circle, and going all the way to Kirkenes close to the Russian and Finland borders. Travelers can take the classic voyage which is the 12-day roundtrip or select one portion only – the 7-day northbound or the 6-day southbound. Because of commitments in Oslo we decided to take the southbound voyage from Kirkenes sailing to Bergen. The ship taking this journey for our required date was the MS Lofoten, one of the oldest ships in the fleet. Below is a picture of all the Hurtigruten ships journeying on this Coastal Voyage.

The MS Lofoten is the ship on the bottom of the page below, in the lower right hand side corner.

The MS Lofoten and MS Nordstjernen are called “classic” ships. They are not “cruise” ships. They also call them “intimate” ships, reminiscent of classic steam vessels. They can accommodate 200 passengers. They stop often, at about 34 ports. Passengers can hop on and off from one port to the next. By the middle of the voyage there were only 60 passengers left on board our ship (maybe 6 Americans.) The Lofoten did not have elevators (my knees could tell…) no TV in the rooms. There was a dining room, snack room, a couple of enclosed lounges and a panorama room, a bar. I’ll show pictures in my future posts. Many passengers prefer this “old lady” to the newer ships. It has a lot of wood and brass. It reminded me of the ferries I used to take to go between Dieppe in France and Newhaven in England when I was a teenager – classic but not fancy.

Hurtigruten emphasizes that their ships are “working” and not cruise ships. They carry mail and cargo as well as passengers (animals and bicycles.) They make short stops at some ports – such as 20 minutes and some longer stops. Excursions are offered. You take the excursion out of one port and meet the ship down the coast at one of the next stops. We could not take advantage of many excursions as there were not enough passengers on our ship interested in them. Below is a map I found on the Web. It shows our flight from Oslo north to Kirkenes and some of the ports where we stopped on our way south. This is called “The World Most Beautiful Voyage” by Hurtigruten. It is indeed beautiful to go down the coast of Norway. Most of our time was spent on the deck watching the ever changing panorama.

My blogging friends have asked me in my earlier posts about Kirkenes why we went to such a remote section of Norway, or why we selected this area. I’ll answer all these questions now. I do not usually tell much about my feelings, but I’m going to, to give you a sincere answer and the two reasons we went. The first reason was to travel to a new place. I do love to travel, as those who have read my posts know. My love of traveling started early, as a wee child, when my grand dad would bring me a small suitcase full of postcards showing many cities of the world.

When I was about 6 years old my mother and I took a ship to Turkey to bring back my Armenian grandmother (my father’s mother) to Paris. I made my first trip, solo, at 13 ½ years of age – to England. Since then I have been to 49 countries so far (see description here and here.) Some people have a passion for playing tennis, others cannot stop writing, I love traveling. I have a budget, so I read a lot about the different ways to travel and will go when there is a good occasion. It’s more like “there is a fare sale to New York – let’s go” even though I may have preferred to fly to Washington, DC, at the time. The opportunity is often the destination.

The Departure Platform Victoria Station, James Jacques Joseph Tissot, French, 1836-1902

"Le voyage pour moi, ce n'est pas arriver, c'est partir. C'est l'imprévu de la prochaine escale, c'est le désir jamais comblé de connaître sans cesse autre chose, c'est demain, éternellement demain." - Roland Dorgelès, French novelist, 1885-1973

(To travel for me, it’s not to arrive, it is to go. It is the unexpected during the next stop. It is the constant desire, never fulfilled, to learn something new. It is tomorrow, the eternal tomorrow.) - Roland Dorgelès, French novelist, 1885-1973

The Departure, Henry Bacon, American, 1839-1912

Last October 2009 one of my blog readers, TorAa from the blog TorAa Mirror in Oslo, invited me to come to the Oslo Blog Gathering planned for August 2010. At the time I checked and realized that Norway was the most expensive country in Europe so I did not think we could manage it. However we had enough “frequent flyer” miles on Delta to get a free airline ticket so I kept my eyes open. Years ago I had read a travelogue on the “Coastal Voyage” in Norway and thought this would be a marvelous experience. I checked several travel agencies and received an attractive offer from a Norwegian agency in New York. In the meantime, Renny of the blog RennyBA’s Terella in Oslo, was organizing the Blog Gathering and explaining all the incentives – such as reduced rates in a local hotel and the “Oslo Pass” which paid for all local transportation and entrance fees to many museums and other places in Oslo. Everything worked out and we decided to take the Coastal Voyage and attend the Blog Gathering. We went and we loved it. I’ll have more posts in the future on this trip. As you see, blogging had a lot to do with our trip to Norway since this is way I met both TorAa and RennyBa of Oslo. Now to answer the first question: traveling makes me happy. While traveling anywhere - I find happiness - and this was a great opportunity not to miss.

Picture taken from the back deck on ship

The second reason is more difficult to explain. When I left Paris and came to this country in the sixties – to travel – I lived in San Francisco for about ten years. This was a great city where I made many friends. There was always a lot going on. (I talked some about it in this post here.) The sixties were a decade of great changes. I loved San Francisco and the freedom I had there (away from my very strict father.)

I was already taking photos in San Francisco in those days

Having fun on the beach in San Francisco

When my mother was widowed I started to go to France more often and as she became ill with Parkinson’s disease I tried to visit her twice a year in Paris, for decades. Here in Georgia my work as a customer liaison between our foreign trainees and our company kept me very busy. I worked with trainees from all parts of the world. When I went to visit my mother in Paris I would often take an extra week and visit some trainees’ homes, like Indonesia, Italy or other places.

A lighter moment with some advertising characters in the Lausanne railroad station, Switzerland

During those years I did not have much contact with American people; most of my work was with the foreign trainees. My mother died in 2002 and I retired about three years ago. Suddenly I did not travel as much and had no foreign trainees or foreign customers around to talk about international affairs. I realized that America had taken a sharp turn to the right and become much more religious and some even preached extremism in their tax-free churches. In Georgia we did not have many friends. We are in Newt Gingrich’s county where most of the people are very conservative. Dialogue is difficult if you are not an adherent to the “Tea Party” or member of one of the many “conservative” churches.

Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.” - Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, historian, social critic, 1870-1972

A Shepherd and his Flock, Wright Barker, American 1891-1941

I started blogging last year and find it terrific to be able to visit friends virtually all over the world. But it is not the same as travelling. Traveling for me is a way to get away from the prevailing pessimistic atmosphere in the US right now. I was raised, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., to judge my friends by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. I watch with dismay the hidden racism which is still within the old majority and the ugly denial of freedom to people of different sexual orientation in a country which claims that everyone is free. Intolerance makes me sad as typified by the rejection of other religions than Christianity or of people with no religion. It seems that people have changed since the 60's – what a decline – ignorance, prejudice and resentment are blanketing the land in many areas (I did not say all areas as, I hope that in some parts of the US, it is not the case.) Greed is omnipresent on many levels. The religiosity is oppressive. The hate coming from talk-radio hosts and some TV channel is palpable. I feel uncomfortable with Glenn Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s narcissism and their speech tying religion to politics to the disoriented white mob following them. So I travel to stay happy, to get oxygen from other parts of the world, to have intelligent conversation with kind citizens of foreign lands. That is my second reason – and if I have to go past the Arctic Circle to find that, then I go – no problem.

Postcard of the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe

And as I've gotten older, I've had more of a tendency to look for people who live by kindness, tolerance, compassion, a gentler way of looking at things. “ – Martin Scorsese, American film director born 1942.

Photo taken aboard the MS Lofoten in August 2010


""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Coucou Vagabonde !!!! J'aime beaucoup ce post plein de sincérité.
Votre "Norwegian Coastal Voyage", l'impressionnant et beau bateau,
les citations de Roland Dorgelès, de Martin Scorsese et de Bertrand Russell... Les photos de toi à San Francisco, les illustrations et les explications... TOUT CELA M'A BEAUCOUP PLU.
MERCI VAGABONDE, c'est un plaisir de venir chez toi !
GROSSES BISES et bon week-end ! :o) ***

Pondside said...

It takes a certain amount of courage to be so candid in a blog. I love your adopted country, but am saddened by many of the things that you point out - but I still believe that the greatness that is the essential 'America' will prevail.
Your Norwegian trip sounds fantastic. It is on my list of things to do - who knows when?

Jeannette StG said...

I agree: to travel is "to go"! MY kids have caught the same bug:)
Sounds like you're not happy with what happens in this country...why not live in another country? (more of a rhetorical question than that I need an answer). Hope you'll find some middle ground!

Fennie said...

That was an exceptional and life-affirming post, Vagabonde. Your remarks about the US are profound and it's deeply worrying that the bleak philosophy that you paint should be the philosophy that guides the most powerful country in the world. I am not pessimistic, though, for I have met so many Americans who have a wonderful vision of life and who are the most tolerant and broadminded and intelligent people that you could ever hope to meet. Sadly though, as you point out, they seem to be in a minority.

If you ever travel to Wales, Vagabonde, then do come and look us up. The scenery may not so grandiose as Norway but you don't need to take a ship from one end of the country to the other. (Personally I dislike ships - the feeling of being cooped up and thrown about to boot). But I love hearing other people's descriptions and experiences.

alaine@éclectique said...

I am in awe of your travels; you've been so fortunate. We are visiting Norway for only four days in November; have no idea of what to expect or what we'll see. So looking forward to it. We'll leave it all up to our friend, Ole.

Jojo said...

I LOVE YOUR POST!!!! We have much in common and I don't think we live far from each other. My husband and I are headed to Iceland next week but when we get back can we meet up? Please send me an email. I would love to have you over. I'm in East Point.

Deborah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Deborah said...

Vagabonde, what you have written here needed to be said. The impression I have had of you since your blog first came to my attention is of a straightforward, open, highly-principled person who avoids giving offence or being unkind. If you remain at all concerned that you might have done either of these two things, please be assured that - from my point of view - you have instead shown courage and integrity in stating what you see and fear as the future of your community.

You speak as a citizen of the world, and the narrow, tribal perspective with which some people might interpret your words will be to their disadvantage, but not - I hope - disturbing to your own peace of mind. Raising your voice to speak against intolerance and ignorance is neither inflammatory nor unfairly critical. Certainly not in the way you have done it here.

Thank you for speaking out. I hope this post is widely read.
(And, having not referred at all to the first part of this post, I would also add that your journey by ship along the Norwegian coast sounds exactly right. Thanks for all the information, useful and detailed and interesting as always.)

DJan said...

You are an amazing person, VB. I am glad to count you as a friend, even if we have never met in person. Your post is thoughtful and perceptive without the least bit of bitterness, which it seems is everywhere around me these days. I also have difficulty watching TV and finding nothing positive to fill my soul. I travel vicariously through your posts to places I've never been. You have said it well, and as usual I leave your blog with a broader viewpoint than before I read it.

Loulou La Poule said...

"I watch with dismay the hidden racism which is still within the old majority and the ugly denial of freedom to people of different sexual orientation in a country which claims that everyone is free."

Dropped in to clear up a confusion and found an ideological compatriot. We live in adjoining states and struggle with similar dissonances. This was a beautiful post, visually and existentially.

You left a kind comment on Hen's Teeth, were confused by the cross-post of the "My Lowcountry" post. Voila`! I am Loulou and I am Nance. Hen's Teeth is one of my group blog affiliations. We hope to see you there often. We are Liberal Southern Women living in solidly red states and we need all the friends we can get! Thanks for reading. You're not alone.

Darlene said...

I do hope that you don't think that the majority of Americans are intolerant. The Sarah Palins, Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaughs are just noisier. They get all the attention and that makes the rest of American appear to be like them. Vagabonde, take heart. The majority of Americans elected a liberal president and we are not intolerant right-wing idiots like the ones who scream the loudest.

You live in the Bible belt and it has always been a region of fundamentalist Christians who are also fighting the Civil War nearly 200 years later. Bigotry is rampant there, but it is not a new thing; it is just more visible with the emergence of the Tea Party. These things come and go and America will still be a nation of hope.

Arizona has it's visible nutcases as you know, but that does not mean that we are all right wing idiots. Our former governor, Janet Napolitano was very liberal and she is now head of Homeland Security. Arizona swings from good governors to bad and back again. We're not all as crazy as the media makes us out to be.

You lived in San Francisco and you know it is a very liberal city in a liberal state. It is a very large state and leads in many ideas.

Lonicera said...

Darlene sums it up in her first paragraph I think. The fundamentalists - of religion or race - are the ones that make all the noise. I'm quite prepared to believe that the quiet majority are people like us who believe profoundly in tolerance, kindness and peace, and who are interested in the rest of the world and celebrate our diversity.

The worrying note is that we're probably not by nature as assertive as we should be with those who are intolerant and bigotted. We hate the noise they make, so we cover our ears and turn away, instead of standing up to them and not letting them strike fear in the rest.

Your post is very relevant today of all days, and particularly thinking of the pastor in Florida and his aborted plan to burn copies of the Koran. It all had a whiff of "Well, they started it", about it, and I felt physically sick hearing what he was going to do. Thank goodness sense prevailed.

Anyway, thank you for such an honest post, and if there's a bloggers reunion in the UK, I'd love to go to it!


Dutchbaby said...

At last I am here to read about your southbound trip down the Norwegian Coast. I've written two posts about our northbound Hurtigruten trip on the Midnatsol. Perhaps we shall meet somewhere in the middle :-)

I love the postcards and artwork you've gathered here. My favorites are the Tissot and the Bacon.

The photo with the ship's railing is very artist and typical of the sights. Nice work! I think you had much better weather than we did in Kirkenes. It was soupy and generally miserable, so we were happy to board the airplane to Oslo.

The B&W photos of San Francisco are wonderful, especially the one of you on the beach with that elegant hat.

We are kindred spirits, Vagabonde. Not just because we both have a passion for travel,(I wrote a guest post about this over here:, but also because we view the world similarly.

Anonymous said...

What a great way to travel! To me, the fact these were working ships and not cruise ships is a plus.

Elaine said...

Your Norway cruise looks delightful. I think I would like that kind of cruise without all the glitz on the big cruise ships. Great photos of you in Frisco!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your personal story as well as the photos and travel story of Norway. As one who asked the question, I did not truly expect an answer, but found your intimate answer very moving. I also love to travel, have no budget, and despair of the attitudes in the very conservative area where I live. I think I will try to use travel as a way to keep in touch with the sanity of the rest of the world. And, boy, do I need a trip right about now!
Thank you once again for a wonderful blog.

Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with you that without travel life's so much flatter. But luckily you got to go to the Blogger Gathering and see the beautiful coast of Norway.
Thanks for the story about your life too.
Bon courage in Georgia, I'm sure you'll need it.

sweffling said...

This takes me back: in my young married days we went on a camping trip to the North Cape where we few our kite! We picked up a Japanese hitch hiker on the way,a gentle but so tough son of a shinto priest. He sat in the back of the car and made me origami butterflies when we passed a huge gathering of reindeer which were being slaughtered. For one part of our journey we took the little boat down the coast, as passengers but also to hop off for a few minutes at various ports to look around. But we did not go down the whole coast as you did. My great grandmother came from Norway, and her husband came from Sweden. I love being there and am so pleased you had a good trip.

I enjoy, or used to, the equality between the sexes in that region. Thanks again for the superb posts. Lovely to have you home again though!

Ginnie said...

Thank you for saying what you have said, Vagabonde, because it needs to be said and couldn't have been said better. Maybe that's why it hasn't been hard for me to move to The Netherlands! Atlanta is in the Bible Belt, of course, in spite of being a cosmopolitan city of the world. I wonder if it'll ever see the light? I sure do hope so.

I love how you said "The opportunity is often the destination." Once Astrid retires, I have a feeling that's how we will do it as well. Find the good deals and just go at a moment's notice. And why not? You'd be plain stupid not to. The traveling bug is in me, too, with 2 of my planets in that House of long-distance travel. I love it. It's in my blood.

Unknown said...

I met you in Oslo in those three nice days of the Oslo Blog Gathering. I became your 92d follower. I invite you to visit my Blg too:
I hope to meet you in the blog gathering! :-)

Kenza said...

Bonjour Vagabonde,
Quel magnifique billet! Et quel périple! J'admire ta manière de préparer, de vivre puis de raconter tes voyages. Toujours beaucoup de d'illustrations et de récits qui me font rêver...
Je ne connais pas la Norvège, je me suis arrêtée au Danemark, de l'autre côté du pont que relie les deux pays!
Très belle soirée et agréable semaine

Jeanie said...

First of all, before I forget, you have won "Anything Considered" on Chopsticks and String. I sent an email, but please send me your address and I'll get it to the post!

Now, speaking of posts, this is a gem. I can see why they would call that one of the most beautiful cruises in the world, and how exciting your visit to Norway will include meeting blog friends abroad. I was fortunate to meet one when I visited Paris last year, as well as many from the US and it is always such a treat to come face to face!

I so agree with what you posted about the nature of our country and I was also pleased to learn more about you -- how you came to the US, what you did and how and why you travel. Truly a gem of a post and a wonderful way to know you all the better!

maría cecilia said...

Dear Vagabonde, thank you so much for the lovely comments you left in my blog.

I can see that you have been traveling far into the attic which must have been a wonderful experience... I red here and that just a little, and sorry for this but I have some eye condition that is not allowing me to read so much, just have a view at images is easier for me.
So good to know you like traveling a lot.
maria cecilia

claude said...

Coucou Vagabonde !
Je suis très en retard sur ton blog.
Je repasse ddemain, je suis de repos. Cela commence à m'énerver d'être obligée d'aller bossser alors que je suis à la retraite.
Bises !

Linda Reeder said...

I was one who asked why you went there!? Now I know. and after visiting Sweden and Norway, I have been intrigued by that costal cruise. I am not a s adveturous as you, notr as experienced a traveler, so I would most likely book a more expensive cruise, but I think it's now going higher on my bucket list! And as for the fresh air the travel brings, I agree. And your explanation is fresh air to me.

claude said...

Quelle grande voyageuse tu es, Vagabonde !
C'est un vrai plaisir de voyager avec toi.
Tu sais, la Norvège est le pays d'orgine de mon ami Américain. Son grand-père a émigré aux States. Larry a bien un nom nordique et le physique assez viking. Je l'adore.
Que de beaux bateaux en Norvège (un regret nénamoins, qu'un jour le France se soit appelé le Norway)
Les huskies sont de beaux chiens et ils ne devraient vivre que dans leurs contrées d'origine.

Vagabonde said...

Nancy, Claude et Kenza – merci mes chères amies pour vos commentaires. Je suis toujours très contente de les lire. Je ne suis pas à la maison mais encore dans un petit voyage. Je viendrai lire vos blogs bientôt.

Vagabonde said...

Pondside, Fenny, Alaine, Jojo, Deborah, DJan, Loulou la Poule, Darlene, Lonicara, Dutchbaby, Zhu, Elaine, Dedene, alwaysinthebackrow, sweffling, Ginnie, Jeanie, maria cecilia and Linda Reeder – I am away from home on another trip (small) and I have not been able to visit your blogs, but will do so soon. Thanks so much for all your nice comments. I enjoy reading your thoughts about the post and any personal item you may add. Thanks for taking the time to read my posts.

Vagabonde said...

Jeanette – thank you for your comment. I wish I had the time now to answer your question more fully but as I said above I am away from home. You asked if I am not happy in this country why don’t I live in another country. I think that many people would like to have that choice – to go and live in an ideal society, but that is utopia. I read the Constitution when I became a citizen and the history of the United States, how it was founded and why and I liked what I read. A country based on freedom, on the individual, on unalienable rights, on diversity, on separation of church and state, etc. What I don’t like is that some people are trying to change this country into a theocracy – they are the ones who should move to the Vatican or Saudi Arabia. Some people wished that only their views, their choices were the law and take away the choices of others – they should move to Iran. It is the vocal extreme conservative Right minority who is unhappy. They keep saying they want this country to go back to a mythical past; they should leave as these are not the principles on which the USA was founded. It is a good question, even if it is rhetorical. Thanks for commenting.

fly44d said...

This cruise looks real nice. Someday I'd like to do that, I love ships and hardly ever get on one. Lofoten sounds perfect. When I was backpacking Europe in 1979, my friends and I took the train from Oslo up to Bodo, we watched the sun not set and then made our way via train to Stockholm. Very fond memories. Thanks for reminding me of them.

Ruth said...

I wish all Americans, especially those who feel the way you described the right in this post, would read your words. It's good to hear someone who was not born here reflect what she sees, especially since you settled here in the 60s. You know, I think, that I feel much the same way you do, although I don't feel the extreme of it here in Michigan as much as you do in the South. For me, it is mostly hearing about it in the media. It does make me very sad. But I hope you understand that there are many of us that are like minded with you, in other parts of the country, but also close by you there too.

Your trip on the coast must have been very beautiful. I like those smaller ships. We took a small ship like that from Istanbul to Izmir and enjoyed it very much, but it was so windy, my sister Nancy fell and tore her skirt on a deck chair.

I always enjoy when you write about travel, especially the past and how you started so young. And I love hearing about your deals and all your hard searching for special packages.

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