The Norwegian coast is known for Hurtigruten, the coastal express that has been connecting people and places along the rim of the arctic since 1893. DHH is not quite that old, but he did go on his first trip more than 60 years ago!
The ships used to be black and small, now they are red and black and rather huge. At least they look huge, when seen in some of the narrow straights and harbors they have to pass.
«Hurtig» is the Norwegian word for «fast» or «speedy». Hurtigruten was fast because in 1893 this was the first shipping line that sailed the coast 24/7, also through the months-long pitch black arctic nights. No bad achievement at a time when the lighthouses were scarce and the navigation tools one hundred per cent analog.
Today the ships are tourist machines. Originally of course, they were the link that tied people and places together. Travelling to the north of Norway always meant travelling by sea, and going back in time this was not always comfortable. People could take local steamers between local ports and change if they were going long distance, or they could go down to the port and try to hitch a ride. Hurtigruten – was more expensive and more comfortable – but also faster and more reliable. You took a cabin if you could afford it, or you slept on the deck if you could not. Hurtigruten was always there and you always got where you wanted to go.
DHH grew up in Trondheim, and going on holiday to visit the grandparents in the north meant travelling on the Hurtigruten. Later he went to live in the north as a local journalist, and Hurtigruten would be a way of getting to some of the islands and towns that the paper covered. And if he wanted an all night party with his friends? Well, one option would be to board the Hurtigruten for instance in Sandnessjøen, drink his way south to Brønnøysund, spend the evening at some local pub and then drink his way back again north again in the small hours of the next morning. It has all been done more than once, and it is still being done. The ships sail to the same schedules that they had decades ago, and if you live along toe coast you know these schedules by heart!
DHH and ES still use the Hurtigruten as local transport. This year, after driving from the top of Norway and down the coast to our summer house in Dønna on the Arctic Circle, we left our car and took the Hurtigruten from Sandnessjøen to Trondheim. This trip is less than 24 hours, and we did it because we were going the same way up again on another boat. The big Hurtigruten cruisers offer space and light and comfort, and we will in no way deny that we enjoyed them even though we remember the older and smaller vessels of the 1970ties with much fondness.
When we travel the Hurtigruten we some times envy the tourists who do the 11 day round trip from Bergen to Kirkenes and back again. We know it is a great experience, even though we have not done it ourselves yet. On the other hand, travelling locally, we feel part of the tradition because we use the ships the way they were originally intended. The coast of Norway would never be the same if these great vessels one day stopped coming!