Norway Arctic Cruise – Day 1: London to Bergen

Sunday morning, 6am, and I’m leaving the hotel in a taxi. The ground outside is frosted up so much and the taxi driver mentions to me how cold it is and hopes I’m going to a warm country. I think he’s shocked to realise I’m going to the arctic circle.
I booked the flight through Hurtigruten, and it’s a scheduled British Airways flight that is surprisingly busy. The plane journey is routine, but we get to see some lovely little islands and rocks as we come in to land in Bergen.
The airport has the small airport feel as you get off and they check your passport almost just inside the door. I get my bearings after collecting my luggage and then head outside to the coach for the transfer to the Hurtigruten terminal. I’m the first to the coach, with a very friendly driver.
In fact, I’m the only one on the coach at all. So I spend the 30 minute journey from the airport to the terminal talking to the bus driver about economics, immigration and Thailand. Amazing how deep and detailed you can get in the few minutes of travel.
Once at the Terminal we say our goodbyes and then there is a short wait while another cruise is assembling and the Hurtigruten desk opens. A lovely takes my details and checks in my bags so I am able to go for a walk. The boat does not leave until 10pm, so I have a full day to spend taking in the sites.
The terminal location is somewhat industrial, so I start walking towards what I hope is the old town. Everything is shut. And I mean really shut. At first I walk up and over the a hill that overlooks the terminal and sit down from another woman who is obviously doing her Sunday morning ritual and enjoying the view, while a girl in the distance plays with a dog. I can see a boat at the terminal, but it’s obviously not the MS Lofoten.
I realise, after checking my location, that I’ve got a way to walk, this time down a steep hill until I reach the quayside opposite Bryggen, the old medieval quays of Bergen. The old buildings are colourful and very recognisable and are much better viewed from the other side of the port so that you can take in the full vista. This is not where I’m headed, I want to get up to the top of the nearby mountain.
I take a walk around the port, passing the fish market and an impressive array of fish and shellfish. As I round the corner I’m tempted by a few of the restaurants but I know there is one at the top of Fløibanen, one of the seven mountains that surround Bergen. The Funicular starts at the bottom of the hill close to the main port – literally a few hundred years from both Bryggen and the fish market. The roundtrip ticket (up and back down again) is 90NOK, so about £7 or $10.
The hill is steep – the funicular itself is stepped inside so that you have a variety of different levels to stand on, which not only makes because of the physical layout of the carriage, but also means every single level gets access to the same unrestricted view. The journey is quiet and takes a few minutes to get the side of the mountain, passing the downhill carriage in the process. The views quickly became amazing, although a good chunk of the route that still lies within the city is actually walled and covered,  suspect to provide some barrier for the people who live and work in the building, The funicular runs every 15 minutes and although it’s silent is probably quite a distraction. Not to mention tourists looking into gardens and through windows.
At the top as we exit you are presented with a massive stepped viewing area that looks out directly over Bergen and the fjords beyond, and from where you can see the other mountains and surrounding landscape. To see the views are magnificent is an understatement. It is a beautiful crisp, blue skied autumn day which makes the view and atmosphere perfect. It takes a while to sink in just how majestic the landscape is.
I head for some lunch in the cafe at the top – it’s self service and the food is excellent and traditional fair, although it takes me some time to get used to the currency as I’m trying not to end up with so many coins. It is very busy, and this is obviously the place to be for locals and tourists. I have some trouble finding a table and eventually have to share with a group of Norwegian having a deep conversation I obviously cannot follow.
After lunch I decide to go for a walk with the hoards of locals, entire families, friends, out for a similar walk in the afternoon sun. There are people running, hiking or just out for a stroll. The top of Fløibanen is covered in pathways that you can follow without needing to be too fit, and also off-track routes.
There are also a number of lakes and ponds, most with picnic areas and even barbecues if you’ve come prepared.
After years of walking in the lake district on paths and crags that are very similar I take a route off the beaten track and switch into what I can only call ‘mountain goat’ mode, stepping quickly from rock to rock and crag to crag as I go both up and down the hills and terrain. This is what I’ve missed – it’s been a long time since I was able to go on a hike that felt so wild and rough and I’m loving it.
Still the views are magnificent and I find myself stopping frequently just to take in the views and breathe in the very fresh and clean air.
There are various wooden carvings around the forest at the top, and near one I spy a family and their children walking out over the ice. Although I wouldn’t like to try it, I’ve already seen that the ice in places is several inches thick so I’m not worried.
After trekking for a few hours, both on and off track, I head back to the steps and start to look out at the setting sun. It will set at 15:55 and I make it back to the view just after 3pm. I watch as the sun slowly sets – takes a long time due to combination of the northern location (we are 60º north here), the time of the year, and the elevation, but the view is too magnificent to miss.
I stay until just before the sun goes down, and then take the funicular down the mountain and walk back to the Hurtigruten terminal in the twilight.