Norway from A to Z

By James Hansen
This article appears on page 42 of the April 2018 issue.
A view of Bergen and its harbor.

In mid-2017, my wife, Linda, and I set out on a cruise around Norway and Scotland on an oceangoing ship called the Viking Sky. This 2-week cruise from Viking, “Into the Midnight Sun,” departed from Bergen, Norway, and ended at Greenwich, England.

There were so many unforgettable events on this trip that it seemed right to describe the journey in the A-to-Z format I have used in previous travel summaries. The text is not in chronological order, but, rather, in alphabetical order, and most of it is devoted to Norway, which made up the majority of the cruise itinerary.

Arctic Circle

Steaming to the north, we crossed the Arctic Circle at 1:40 p.m. on June 21. It was the first time in this remote region for Linda and me. 

The position of the circle is set at 66 degrees, 33 minutes, though its position changes slightly with the planet’s axial tilt. The land within the circle is divided among eight countries, and it separates the northern half of Norway from the southern half.


We spent more time in Bergen than in any other Norwegian city, arriving there by train from Oslo. It has plenty of attractions, and we saw as many as possible on our first day, including a castle, a stave church and the open-air Old Bergen Museum. 

On the second day, we took a ride up on a funicular for a stunning view of the harbor, then visited the quirky fish market and walked around Bryggen, the city’s famous wharf area. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a “must see.” 

Cruise line

The open-air Old Bergen Museum.

Viking (Woodland Hills, CA; 855/338-4546,, known for its river cruises, has been operating open-ocean cruises since 2015. It now has a fleet of six ocean ships, each identical and built to carry up to 930 passengers. (The typical river-cruise ship carries about 200.) 

Our first impressions of our ship, the Viking Sky, was that everything was very clean and tidy all around. There was a spectacular atrium with a string trio playing; instant responses to requests for more hangers and ice; free launderette on our deck, and reservations available at the (included) premium restaurants on board.

Dragon ships

We visited Oslo’s famous Viking Ship Museum, learning about the “dragon ships” that dominated the seas of Northern Europe for three centuries. These ships were technological marvels at the time and were used for trade, exploration, warfare and even burials. 

The ships allowed the Vikings to travel farther than earlier researchers ever suspected, and it is now believed that they journeyed to lands that make up 37 or more of today’s countries. 

Explorers’ Lounge

The Viking Sky’s Explorers’ Lounge is a spacious 2-story panoramic area facing the ship’s bow, and it was the favorite resting place for us when outside our cabin. Its amenities included overstuffed chairs; a faux fireplace; a library of travel/exploration books; a bar; a kitchen to prepare snacks and light lunches, and warm, personalized service. It was also the best place to be for 180-degree sightseeing. 


Cruising into Norway’s amazing fjords, we discovered that these passages were created millions of years ago, when the Atlantic Ocean spread out to its current configuration. Norway has approximately 1,190 fjords in all. 


The tiny town of Geiranger sits at the end of a deep, long fjord and is a short hop north of Bergen. Geirangerfjord, itself, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, measuring nearly 10 miles long and surrounded by mountains about 5,000 feet high. 

On our first of the ship’s excursions, we visited two spectacular lookout points — Eagle’s Bend and Flydalsjuvet — as well as Djupvatn Lake, which was frozen over. We also saw some stunning waterfalls.


Gokstad ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

The ship docked in Honningsvåg, which all travelers to the North Cape must pass through on a short 20-mile drive. It hosts many cruise ships during the summer months. 

“Into the midnight sun”

Featured in the name of our cruise, the midnight sun does take getting used to, especially as you try to sleep at night. I needed to use a sleep mask in addition to the blackout curtains in our cabin. 

Just beyond the border

The Russians have a string of bases on the Kola Peninsula, starting a very short distance east of the North Cape. The armada there includes seven ballistic-missile submarines, Russia’s only operational aircraft carrier and its only nuclear-powered cruiser. 

King Harald V

We learned that Norway has been independent only since 1905, and it is a constitutional monarchy, which means that its current king, Harald V, is the head of state but has no political power. 

According to local people we met, the royal family is considered to be very “down to earth,” and they socialize with people from all walks of life. 


Our last stop in Norway was at Lofoten, an amazing archipelago consisting of six major islands and a few smaller ones. Its climate is surprisingly temperate, as it is warmed by the Gulf Stream. 

Lofoten is known for craggy peaks and rocky shores, and its thriving biodiversity includes the world’s largest deepwater coral reef, which stretches more than 20 miles. As strange as it sounds, there are places there for diving and surfing.


After Geiranger, Molde was our next stop as we headed north. Though it was the last day of spring, it began as a cold, rainy and windy day with a high of 47°F. Our spirits still high, we visited the open-air Romsdal Museum, which featured traditional, rustic “living at home” settings, complete with grass on the roofs. 

The highlight there was a children’s folk dance, and we chatted with the performers afterward. 

North Cape

An excursion entitled “Drive to North Cape” proved to be one of the most dramatic of our entire venture. 

On the way from Honningsvåg, we stopped briefly at a tiny Sami (Lapp) village to meet a herdsman and one of his reindeer. But the crown jewel was the North Cape, often claimed to be the northernmost point of Europe (identified by a globe-shaped marker), where we spent more than two hours. 

This rocky plateau overlooks both the Norwegian and Barents seas from a height of 1,000 feet and is a mighty end point for the European mainland. 


Our arrival in Oslo marked the beginning of our adventure. We had just enough time to visit the world-famous Viking Ship Museum (a short ferry ride away on the Bygdøy Peninsula) and to relish the 1920-era Hotel Bristol, where we enjoyed a “bon voyage” dinner before boarding our ship. 

We had visited Oslo about 15 years before, and at that time the city was quite forgettable. In the intervening time, however, the city has undergone considerable modernization and has become much more interesting and colorful.


Through our visits to museums, we learned that those cute little birds known as puffins are members of the auk family. Found in the coastal waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, Atlantic puffins stand almost a foot tall and are expert swimmers and divers. 

Equally fast in the air as underwater, they can attain speeds of 40 miles per hour and more. 

During June and July, they come to the land to breed.

Quotes from and about Norway

“Only one who wanders finds new paths.” — Norwegian saying

“He is truly wise who has traveled far and knows the ways of the world.” — Hávámal Viking proverb

 “The sun never sets, the bar never opens, and the whole country smells of kippers.” — Evelyn Waugh

Railroad trip 

The day after we arrived in Oslo, Linda and I began a 7-hour train trip to Bergen. Called the “mountain track to the fjords,” this railway is one of Europe’s highest and most scenic railway routes. 

Along the way, we saw villages, narrow valleys with frothing rivers, high mountains and some fjords, as well. 

Scotland and its island groups

Three ports of call on this cruise were in Scotland: the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands and Edinburgh. We took excursions at each.

In the Orkney Islands, we elected the “Highlights of Historic Orkney” excursion, which included a stop at the Standing Stones of Stenness (a poor man’s Stonehenge), a stop at the town of Stromness and drive-by visits to other scenic places. We also did a walking tour on our own through the islands’ capital of Kirkwall.

In the Shetland Islands, we chose “Shetland Panorama & Ponies.” This included a visit to a pony breeder and keeper and stops at several rustic, scenic places. 

At the Edinburgh stop, we elected an optional excursion called “Braveheart Country.” It included a visit to spectacular and historic Stirling Castle, a stop to learn about the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and a visit to the towering William Wallace Monument. This was the only optional excursion of the entire trip, taking 7½ hours and costing $149 per person. It was well worth it.


Our stop in Tromsø came after a full day’s sailing north of Molde and marked our introduction to the Arctic. We took a Viking excursion inside the city, with its blend of wooden and neoclassical buildings, as well as outside the city to see some wild landscape. 

Young dancers at the folk museum in Molde.

Afterward we were off on our own to see other areas, including the Polar Museum, which celebrates famous explorers such as Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen. (Tromsø has always been the main jumping-off point for polar expeditions.) 

Unions with Denmark and Sweden

Some shipboard research revealed that the Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were not always separate entities, and for many years Norway was part of either Denmark (earlier) or Sweden (later). These days, Norwegians are far more content with independence. 

Viking misconceptions

Helmets with horns — Many Vikings wore simple leather helmets, and rich ones could afford iron or other metal, which better protected their heads. Excavations of burials have revealed examples of a simple helmet with a nosepiece to protect the face. No warrior in the age of violent hand-to-hand combat would wear a helmet that an enemy could grab onto. 

The horned helmet myth may well have come from operas about Norse mythology. (Sorry, Minnesota Vikings fans.)

Vikings were filthy, wild savages — In fact, Vikings were some of the cleanest people in Europe at the time. Common items found in Viking graves include combs, tweezers and other grooming utensils.

Raiding was how they made their living — Soon after the Viking Age began, targets such as churches and monasteries either moved inland to safer locations or they were fortified with walls, towers and protected harbors. In general, Vikings interested in quick loot did not attack such fortifications.

As the years went on, they were more interested in establishing trade and settling new lands.

Women of Norway

Viking women often had to perform work traditionally done by men and took an active part in far-flung exploration, as well. In Sweden, some researchers have been examining the remains of a female Viking commander, which sheds light on the role of women in warfare. 

Experts remain divided on the extent to which women took part in combat. It is clear, though, that Norwegian women today have a prominent role in government and politics, more so than in many other nations. 

X factor — ethnicity

The only recognized indigenous population in Norway is the Sami, who were earlier called Lapps in English. Their territory also extends into Sweden and Finland.

Yummy food

We ate well during this trip, both in our own wanderings and on board the ship. We chose venison and lamb at the stately Hotel Bristol in Oslo before sailing and had fish-and-chips at the Bergen fish market. 

Popular Norwegian snacks include thin waffles, open-faced sandwiches and brown-colored goat cheese, all of which were available on the ship. There was also fish soup, smoked salmon and pickled herring readily available — no surprises there! 

On board, we took most meals at The Restaurant on deck 2 and at The World Café on deck 7, but the Viking Sky has several other eateries.

Zigzag road 

In order to reach the Eagle’s Bend at Geiranger, you must pass through 11 breathtaking hairpin turns. This is a marvelous test for any bus driver, and the 180-degree turns form a zigzag pattern that you can see easily from the ship.

Summing it all up

For the base cruise, the cost was $5,999 per person, which covered 15 days aboard. The airfare of $995 (Viking-arranged), the railroad trip and prestays in Oslo and Bergen added more. 

In return, we experienced a top-rated ship, superb food and service, exotic destinations and unforgettable cross-cultural experiences. Viking has taken its place as one of the world’s premier lines, and we look forward to further adventures on its ships.