April, 2024: The Arctic Circle. In Winter. (Part Two)

By Corey Sandler

So our trip by ship from London to the top of mainland Norway in search of the Northern Lights had started out with a few glitches.

An historically strong winter storm had all but shut down coastal Norway the week before our planned starting date, and that meant our ship Viking Venus had been unable to escape relative shelter in Alta and Tromsø. Guests had boarded in Bergen and headed north, but missed out on most of their cruise ports of call. And those of us arriving in London to board the ship were all dressed up with no vessel to board.

There’s a saying in the cruise industry: Ship happens.

By the time we reached Viking Venus in Tromsø, she was ready to set sail for Alta, the farthest north port on the much-amended itinerary. It was plenty cold and windy in Alta and though the winter sights were lovely, sightings of the Northern Lights were few and far between.

Sailing south toward Bergen, we added a port call in Ålesund, a handsome fishing and trade town. I’ve been there many times in summer, but not so much in the much quieter seriously cold season. Our ship was among the big events of the winter.

A memorial to the Norwegian resistance in Ålesund notes Operation Gunnerside, which was the code name for the successful sabotage of Nazi Germany’s heavy water factory in 1943. The Germans were preparing their own atomic bomb and using abundant hydroelectric power and the relative security of Norway to hide their efforts. The plant was sabotaged and damaged several times before work was eventually moved back to Germany. And then, Hitler was said to have decided that the project was not all that important. Without the sabotage and the flawed thinking of the German leader, World War II might have been an even greater global disaster. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
A combination ship chandlery and home goods store in Ålesund. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Due to Norway’s homegrown version of cabotage regulations, Viking Venus was obliged to make two port calls outside of Norway. A pair of short courtesy calls were made at IJmuiden (the port of Amsterdam in The Netherlands) and an unusual touch-and-go across the North Sea at Newcastle upon Tyne in the northeast of England.

The Victorian-era train station at Tyneside is defiantly out of date. The people of Newcastle, with a distinctive and sometimes incomprehensible dialect and accent, are nicknamed “Geordies”, by some accounts because local miders used George Stephenson’s safety lamp down in the mines. We brought no coal to Newcastle. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

The jumbled cruise ended in Bergen, Norway. Guests departed in the morning, and a new group boarded a few hours later. The turn-around day was an unusually bright and sunny day in Bergen; our departure day that followed was a more typical rainy and blustery February day.

Blue skies on the turnaround day in Bergen, Norway; the skies would go back to clouds and fog soon afterwards. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
A storefront in Bryggen, the ancient Hanseatic trading kontor in Bergen. Most of the fishermen and traders were illiterate, and businessmen identified themselves with carved effigies out front, this one a version of a unicorn. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
The University Museum of Bergen–Natural History is one of my favorite places, emerged from a major renovation but still thankfully cast in the past. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
A working part of the museum, thankfully unmodernized, is its antique elevator. One of the oldest still in use in Europe, the staff calls it “The Titanic.” We survived. Twice. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
As we prepared to head back to the ship to begin the next cruise up north to the top of Norway, we enjoyed blue sky framed in the museum’s old windows. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Next month, I’ll take you back up north on our resumed search for the Northern Lights.

All photos and text copyright by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you’d like to obtain an image for personal or commercial use please contact me.