If I am to be perfectly honest I have to admit that Norway was never at the top of my bucket list. In fact, it was not on my list at all.
Iceland was my country of choice. It seems to be the flavour of the month with quite a few travellers, (for good reason), and I still plan to get there one day. But Norway, not so much.
So how did I come to find myself there, and why is it now that I can’t stop dreaming of this land of myths and legends? Read on dear reader, read on.
Norway may not have been on my list, but seeing the Northern Lights was. Pretty much right at the top. When the chance came to do an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten that almost guaranteed an aurora sighting, I jumped at it.
Sailing on the MS Finnmarken I played postman for nearly two weeks, calling into 34 ports both large and small, and delivering mail to some of the most remote outposts in the world. All the while being wined and dined and sleeping in relative luxury.
With 22 of those ports north of the Arctic Circle, what an adventure it was. I went dog-sledding at sunset over a frozen lake; rode gentle Icelandic ponies in the Lofoten Islands; snowmobiled through the arctic wilderness; visited an ancient viking grave; witnessed incredible sunrises bathing the mountains in a pink and golden glow; swam in the icy Barents Sea and walked to the northern most edge of the European continent.
I visited countless postcard worthy villages. Back in the day in Norway the colour of your house was a status symbol. White, yellow or cream were used by the rich and red by the hoi polloi. And if you were trying to keep up with the Johansens you painted only the front of the house in the more expensive colour. Clever. These days everyone's a rebel and anything goes.
During the darker months, there is a lovely tradition of hanging a lamp or some sort of light (candles, candelabras etc.), in most windows of a house. It's designed to add as much light as possible to the long winter, and to see the villages all lit up was magic.
The landscape changed almost daily. The mountains started off looking like brownies dusted with icing sugar, and as the ship sailed north they progressed to snow covered lumpy pillows and ended up as brooding hulks, all tall, sharp and angular.
But back to the Northern Lights. Did they make an appearance? After all, this was originally the sole purpose of my trip.
You betcha they did. I was only 3 days into the voyage and sitting down to dinner when the announcement was made that the Northern Lights were on display. The dining room cleared faster than you could say Aurora Borealis.
What a spectacle they were. It doesn’t matter how many photos you see or how many people tell you how wonderful they are, nothing can prepare you for the real thing.
I stood mesmerised, watching the lights do a drunken dance above my head. Whilst doing a dance of my own as the ship rolled and lurched beneath my feet.
This was a scene that played out many more times during the trip, including early one memorable morning when I raced to the deck after spotting the lights through the cabin window. Words cannot adequately describe how it feels to be sailing the inky seas, alone in the dark and having the lights put on a display as though just for me.
In the end, I lost count of the number of times the lights came out to play, just as I lost count of all the other highlights that made me fall in love with this great northern land. Resistance was futile.
Such is the power of Norway.
(click on photos for more info)