Cruising
The Silver Wind in Fjaerland fiord

 

Cruising the Midnight Sun
aboard the Silver Wind
Text and photos by Toby Saltzman

At two in the morning, far above the Arctic Circle, night mimics day. Cuddled in thick terry robes, sipping warm brandy, we lingered on our balcony. Sleep, tugging at our eyelids, was no match for the magical panorama, the mesmerizing scenery fleeting by: soaring, snow-capped mountains, emerald valleys scattered with red cottages, flat faces of sheer grey cliffs, fishing villages tucked into craggy bays with skerries straddling the sea. Sailing back from a voyage to North Cape, Norway, we still felt the spell of the midnight sun, the ineffable beauty of the fiords.

Passengers view the glacial countryside
on the overland tour from Sognefiord.

When we boarded the Silver Wind in Leith, Scotland, cumulus clouds rolling across the sky evoked visions of Viking galleons braving storms with unfurled sails punched by the wind. We paid little heed then to scant recollections that our ensuing North Sea crossing to Bergen also traced the famed route of the "Shetland Bus" and its Second World War heroes: British soldiers and Norwegian volunteers who sailed in perilous resistance, under Nazi noses, to become the "heroes of Telemark". Since Norway's rugged terrain is populated predominantly along the coast, many places were destroyed during the war. And though time heals in Norway as elsewhere in Europe, time and again locals noted "the war" in the same breath as the Viking escapades, as if it was yesterday.

No doubt, Vikings and Allies alike would have swapped vessels for the Silver Wind, a a 16,800-ton ship that scores 20 knots yet, with a 17-foot draft, maneuvers deftly in small harbors.

The Silver Wind berth
in historic Trondheim
If summer is the most brilliant time in Norway, the people in Bergen - "the gateway to the fiords" - barely see it. Their coastal enclave has rain most of the year. If they seem oblivious to gloomy weather, it is because, in drizzle Bergen is beautiful, when the sun winks it is glorious.

Set on a peninsula, with houses terraced into seven hills circling an ancient harbor, which has been the city heart since 1070, Bergen was the first capital of a united Norway, a trade center of the Hanseatic League. Rows of peaked, wooden Hansa houses lining Bryggen, the medieval harborside, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Bergen's institutions and tidiness speak volumes of the Norwegian lifestyle. The outdoor fishmarket proffers glistening fish, seafood and gravlax sandwiches "to go", neatly displayed for folks who queue in orderly manner. On side streets, women vigorously scrubbing their steps and paths, pause to bid greetings.

The Ringve Museum of Musical History houses some 200 musical instruments.
For a coastal city known for hiking, fishing, sailing, fiord cruises - and as a haunt of ugly trolls - it harbors remarkable gallery collections. The Stenersen includes works by Picasso, Hockney, Klee, Kandinsky, and Miro. The Rasmus Meyers Samlinger has paintings by Johan Dahl plus the best collection of Edvard Munchs outside of Oslo.

The Silver Wind saved the most dramatic fiords for the southbound trip. En route north, we visited Molde, a small town banking a glassy, turquoise fiord sheltered by a majestic range of 222 snow-capped mountains. Rebuilt in the '50s, it has modern, brightly painted houses. While some passengers toured an outdoor folk museum, we rode to the mountaintop then hiked to a breathtaking view.

Sailing north of the Arctic Circle, we arrived during midnight sun at the Lofotens, a smattering of bizarre islands with giant skerries, tooth-edged mountains gnawing at the sky and camelback hills fringed with lush valleys. Exploring the next day, we saw banks strung with poles of drying codfish heads. The lifeblood of fishermen, yet putrid in this state, they would later be ground for fish cakes or fodder.

Officers on deck as the ship
approaches Kristiansund at dawn.

Unseasonable weather played havoc at the top of the world. Hiking in rain to the mountaintop of Hammerfest (the world's northernmost town) was out. Luckily, the skies cleared midday, and we embarked on a fishing expedition. As our hold filled with cod, clouds of seagulls squawked overhead.

In Honningsvag that night, mist dimmed the splendid, scenic drive past Sami reindeer farms to North Cape, Europe's northernmost point. Even so, mystical colored landscapes faded in and out of view through the monotone washes of grey and blue.

By morning, brilliant sun illuminated the narrow mouth of Svartisenfiord. Created during the Ice Age when glaciers carved deep grooves into the mountain valleys toward the coast, fiords are inlets or fingers of the sea extending far inland toward narrow bays. Svartisenfiord has calm, reflective waters, stunning scenery and the lure of Europe's second largest glacier, its wide, icy tongue crushing its way down the mountains to the sea. En route, passengers sketched pretty scenes or chased wild herons and eagles with binoculars and cameras.

A Sami woman in Lapland
Amid the hilly bay of Trondheimfiord, we visited the 1000-year-old city of Trondheim. Though modern, Trondheim boasts renowned institutions. We were smitten by the Nidaros Cathedral (reminiscent of France's in Chartres); the harbor of 18th century wooden warehouses now converted to bistros; the gorgeous little Ringve Museum of Musical History which houses some 200 musical instruments; and the 90-meter, porcelain Granansen Ski Jump.

Farther south, Kristiansund's cluster of weather-beaten, rocky islands was a charming hub of preserved buildings, shipping memorabilia, shops and cafes. The day spent cruising Sognefiord (Norway's longest, deepest fiord) and following its arm to Fjaerland - a village nestled at the base of magnificent mountains, straddled by the mammoth Jostedals Glacier (Europe's largest) - delivered every visual promise of Norway.

Fishing boats in the Lofoten Islands

On an overland trek that wound through deep mountain tunnels, across glacial countryside marked by crystal lakes and roaring waterfalls, and to a mountain peak where tiny flowers bloom against the snow, the scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful.

Artisan sells homemade crafts at
a morning market in Bergen.

The final day at sea, passengers tossed superlatives on the breeze for the voyage and the vessel. The Silver Wind and her staff had provided the comfort, attention and deference befitting a private yacht. Launched in February '95, this all-suite, 296-passenger ship (sister to Silversea's Silver Cloud) flaunts a sleek, dynamic grace from stern to pointed bow. Her opulence lies in genteel ambience, elegant art, soothing shades of heaven and earth, and tactile luxury in velvety banquettes, buttery leather chairs and rich woods. Every public space, from the show lounge (the grandest of any small ship afloat) to the bar to the open-seating dining room invites intimacy. The suites are comfortable. Most have balconies. A woman's touch shines in little things, like portable make-up mirrors. The cuisine was consistently excellent. Credit is due to the classically trained culinary team who elevate food to delectable art. In regard to personal diets: the chef prepared one man's rigid diet down to special breads. Silversea's elegant, well-traveled clientele hail from international spheres. A common, favorite trip? Silver Wind's cruise from Montreal to New York: they "loved the Gaspe."

Details:
Silversea Cruises' rates include airfare, transfers, port charges, pre-cruise hotel, gratuities, drinks and a "Silversea Experience." (Ours was fishing north of the Arctic Circle and a trip to North Cape; Baltic passengers saw a Bolshoi Ballet performance in St. Petersburg.)
Silversea Cruises: 800-722-9955

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