In contrast to the natural wonders, industrial Bodo was on our list of stops. It was bombed by the Germans, who occupied Norway in April 1940. The Germans and the Allies both coveted neutral Norway, strategically located with its long Atlantic coastline. German occupation lasted five years.
Among memorable sights along the route was Finnkirka (Finn church), a cathedral-like formation carved out of a cliff. Legend has it that it was the site of ancient sacrificial rites.
One of the less intriguing shore excursions was on Day 5 in Tromso, whose claims to fame include being the gateway to the Arctic (it's 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle) and site of the world's northernmost Burger King.
I thought Tromso's Polaria, an interactive center showcasing polar research, was ho-hum, with an overly long trained-seal show. But I did love the absolutely dizzying Arctic wilderness film on a wraparound screen. We zoomed with the camera through canyons of ice and met walruses and other creatures up close. I also enjoyed the city's contemporary Arctic Cathedral, with its steeply pitched roof and stunning triangular stained-glass mosaic depicting the second coming of Christ. Its crystal chandeliers sparkle with icicle-like prisms.
On the last day of our voyage, we docked at the town of Honnigsvag, where Pat and I chose to take the bird safari.
The charter bus took us over a rocky, treeless landscape to the tiny fishing village of Gjesvaer. This is the land of the midnight sun. It's also home to the Samis (or Lapps) who herd the reindeer we saw grazing.
At Gjesvaer, where cod was drying on wooden racks outside the brightly painted houses, we boarded a small boat for a choppy ride to the Gjesvaerstappan nature reserve.
The island is home to numerous species, including about 800,000 puffins, those fetching black-and-white seabirds with brightly colored beaks. They return each April 14 after spending the winter on the polar sea. The birds are plump, with short wings that they flap furiously, and were fun to watch in flight.
As our boat drew close to the island, we also spotted black cormorants, sea eagles, oystercatchers and razorbills, which looked just like miniature penguins sitting on the rocks.
In the morning, our journey would end at Kirkenes.
If I made the trip again, I'd board at Kirkenes and travel south, to see the picturesque Lofoten Islands by day. (The trade-off: Southbound voyagers miss Geirangerfjord.) And I'd pencil in several days to revisit the charming Bergen, to walk its crooked cobbled streets, browse its galleries showcasing Scandinavian design and — if I were lucky enough — take in a concert at Troldhaugen.
From LAX, KLM and United offer connecting service (change of plane) to Bergen, Norway. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $980.
ABOUT THE TRIP:
The Finnmarken makes the coastal voyage year-round. Cabin prices for double occupancy range from $1,149 to $4,173 per person for the six-night voyage, depending on the season. A single supplement is in effect from April through September, ranging from 25% to 75% of the double-occupancy fare, depending on season and cabin category.
The ship will sail northbound from Bergen to Kirkenes on July 10 and 21; Aug. 1, 12 and 23; Sept. 3, 14 and 25; Oct. 6, 17 and 29; Nov. 9 and 20; and Dec. 1, 12 and 23. The southbound sailings, from Kirkenes to Bergen, will be July 5, 16 and 27; Aug. 7, 18 and 29; Sept. 9 and 20; Oct. 1, 12 and 23; Nov. 4, 15 and 26; and Dec. 7, 18 and 29.
TO LEARN MORE:
Norwegian Coastal Voyage, 405 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022 ; (212) 319-1300, http://www.norwegiancoastalvoyage.us .
— Beverly Beyette