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Cruising Through the Icy Wonderland of Norway

<i> Peter Grant is a free-lance writer living in Van Nuys. </i>

Natural beauty unfolded in layers as we cruised along the western shores of Norway aboard the Royal Viking Sky.

We sailed beyond the Arctic Circle to North Cape, land of the midnight sun, through spectacular fiords where nature had prepared a scenic tableau that began 2 or 3 million years ago.

Formation of the fiords began during the last Ice Age as glaciers sliced through mountains, leaving sheer-walled inlets, many with waterfalls cascading from the split mountains into clear pools.

These awe-inspiring fiords are part of the passing scene as the Royal Viking Sky travels the 1,088-mile length of Norway.

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Clusters of small farms, spaced far apart, hug the shore in the valleys of many of the fiords. Most of the inhabitants earn their living from fishing and light farming.

We saw a few farms high in the mountains in what seems like impossible terrain.

Only 4% of Norway is farmland. Almost 75% is mountains and the rest is forest. Norway’s population is 4.2 million, about a sixth the size of California but in a country almost as large in land area.

Island Shorelines

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The big difference is that Norway is made up of about 50,000 islands. Their combined shorelines measure 13,000 miles, more than half the distance around the world.

The country’s proud history goes back more than a thousand years to the time of the Vikings. That history and culture are on display in museums throughout Norway.

On shore excursions, buses took us almost everywhere. The one exception was here in Oslo where we strolled through the remarkable 75-acre Vigeland sculpture exhibition in Frogner Park.

The land trips provided varying and extraordinary vistas as well as an opportunity to meet some Norwegians, including Laplanders at our most northern layover.

Spectacular Climb

Before crossing the Arctic Circle the ship sailed into Geirangerfjord. Motor launches took us to shore at the village of Geiranger where buses took us up Dalsinibba mountain. The 13-mile ride up a road that is only open from May to August is steep and spectacular and includes 118 hairpin turns.

The bus broke through low clouds into brilliant sunshine. Soon we were looking down on a flat, billowy cloud that straddled and hid the fiord. As we climbed, a lake glistened at the 5,000-foot level, reflecting higher surrounding mountains and distant glaciers.

At Honningsvaag, a major fishing harbor, we debarked in the daylight hour of 10 p.m. Buses took us for an hour’s ride across barren terrain to North Cape, land of interminable winters and the midnight sun.

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The bleak landscape was dotted with lakes and we could see reindeer foraging and running on the distant plains.

A group of Laplanders were operating a roadside souvenir shop. Their living quarters were two tepees with open fires inside.

Crown and Globe

At North Cape we walked along a 1,500-foot cliff that juts into the Barents Sea. There are two monuments on that point of land. One is a bust of King Louis Phillipe that he donated to commemorate his visit. The other is a wrought-iron globe, a replica of one on the island of Vikengen, which marks the Arctic Circle at latitude 66 degrees, 33 minutes north.

Tromso, our next port, is the capital of the north and was an oft-used base for Arctic explorers. The Tromso museum houses an exhibit including a life-size sculpture of a Lapp family on a sled pulled by reindeer.

After almost two days of cruising we arrived at Flaam, where we boarded a train for a breathtaking ride up the mountain through 20 tunnels, adventurous switchbacks and exquisite scenery and waterfalls.

Then on to Bergen, Norway’s second largest city with a population of 200,000. Its rustic charm includes the Fantoft Stave Church that dates from 1150, tiny white-painted houses in the old section and gabled houses along the renovated waterfront.

Through the ages, Bergen, a city built mostly of wood, has been plagued by fire, from “the great fire of 1268" to the more recent 1955 fire that ravaged the waterfront and many conflagrations in between. But some of the old structures have survived and are still in use, along with the renovated buildings.

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My wife and I had a twin-bed cabin with a spacious sitting area and two large windows for a view of the scenic panorama. There were light-proof curtains, for we sailed to lands where the days were getting longer and longer until at North Cape there was no night.

Amenities included a bathtub with an overhead shower, TV, ample closet space to hold clothes for the four formal nights planned during the 12-day cruise, and one drawer in which valuables could be locked.

The list price for these accommodations, per person double occupancy, was $7,528, including air fare. Other cabins ranged from $3,832 to penthouse suites at $11,368, per person double. For more information, contact Royal Viking Lines, 750 Battery St., San Francisco 94111, phone (800) 422-8000.


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