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4th March, 2014

Alta, Norway

We ran through the night up the snow covered mountains of the fjords, which for me is always spectacular. Having to spend long hours on the bridge is a pleasure in these latitudes and in this scenery! The day of arrival was bright sunshine and the berth at Alta can be a little tricky with it being so exposed and no tugs to help if required. . We called in the Air Traffic Control as our berth is at the foot of the Alta Airport Runway, and they asked us to keep a wide berth on approach as there was a Boing 737 about to depart. I didn’t think having a passenger Jet, take my foremast light off was a very prudent thing to do so we kept clear and made a wide sweeping circle to get alongside.

It’s one of those days when you feel good about the day, great to be alive. Beautiful scenery, very crisp morning, bright sunshine and I get to manoeuvre the ship! We were all docked in Alta at 8:00am this morning and we will remain alongside in this port for the next three days. People have been attracted to the community of Alta for thousands of years. Prehistoric rock carvings discovered in 1973 can be seen at the Alta Museum. During winter, with heavy snowfalls, sub-zero temperatures and clear dark nights, Alta becomes the arena for dazzling displays of the elusive Aurora Borealis.

The next three days are packed full of exciting tours with ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities for passengers to enjoy. The first tours departed the ship shortly after our arrival at 8:30am. Passengers on tour today went ‘Reindeer Sledding in the Maze Sami Village’. This tour travelled to the village of Maze which is reputedly the purest Sami village as all but a handful of the 350 inhabitants are Sami. Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of Lapland which covers northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Their culture is very traditional and their isolated way of life is a distinctive characteristic to their nomadic and subsistence lifestyle. A small herd of specially trained reindeer took passengers on an old fashioned sled ride, travelling through the pristine winter landscape. After the sledding, passengers enjoyed a traditional Sami meal and listened to stories about the Sami people, their history and their way of life.

The ‘Tirpitz and WWII’ tour took passengers to the Tirpitz museum in Kafjord which exhibits a host of World War II artefacts including many associated with the Tirpitz. Tirpitz was a German battleship which spent much of WWII in Nazi-occupied Norway. Known as the ‘Lonely Queen of the North’, she was the sister ship of the Bismarck and at 52,600 tonnes, was the largest battleship ever built in Europe.

A very popular tour was the ‘Dogsledding and Sami Adventure’ which began with a visit to the Holmen Hundesenter dog sledging centre where passengers were taken on a ride in a wooden sledge pulled by a pack of huskies under the control of an experienced ‘musher’. After the exhilarating ride, passengers learnt how the energetic huskies are trained for the annual Finnmarkslopet, a true test of stamina in which the dogs compete in a 600-mile race, the longest in Europe. Passengers enjoyed hot refreshments and cake in a ‘lawu’ tent and after this, passengers boarded their coach and visited Boazo Sami Siida, a traditional Sami settlement of reindeer herders located close to the Alta River. During the tour of Siida, passengers learnt about reindeer herding, looked at the utensils used by the herders and met the reindeer themselves.

Alta, Norway

After a busy day of Shore Excursions, the highlight of the day for many was yet to come. Passengers had just enough time to have dinner before getting ready for the ‘Hunting the Aurora Borealis’ tour. At 6:45pm passengers on this evening’s tour met in the Britannia Lounge for an Introductory talk by Trgve Nygård about the Northern Lights as well as an in-depth look at the weather forecast. For this tour, there are three possible sights to go to, depending on the weather forecast and which sight has the clearest skies. The ‘Hunting the Aurora Borealis Tour’ is included in the cruise and available for all passengers to attend. The ship was split in half and the first half of the ship went on tour this evening. The first coaches left at 8:00pm and the second group left at 9:00pm. The site was perfect and with no light pollution, it gave us the best chance to see the lights. There were camp fires and a never-ending supply of hot chocolate and cake. Not only was this the perfect site to see the Northern Lights, but also a great place for star-gazing. This tour did not disappoint and on both evening’s, passengers witnessed the incredible natural phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. On returning to the ship, The Food & Beverage Department had prepared a special late night buffet for those who were peckish or wanted to enjoy some hot food and drink after a chilly night of sub-zero temperatures.

I had told the passengers as soon as I saw the lights we would let them know and this evening was no exception. We had a wonderful display around the ship and harbour so I called everyone to “Action Stations” to witness the lights so many came out to see this phenomena.

After what was a very late night for many, passengers were up early and ready for another exciting day in this beautiful port. The first tour departed the ship at 7:30am and was a visit to North Cape. The tour began with a sight-seeing tour of Alta alongside the River Altaelva which is one of the best salmon rivers in Norway. Passengers travelled through the North Cape Tunnel to Magerøya, home to the North Cape and is Europe’s most northerly point. Passengers were able to walk around the famous globe monument and take in the breath-taking ‘lunar-like’ landscape.

A very popular tour was to the ‘Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel’ Passengers could choose to simply the visit the Hotel during the day or if they wished, they were able to spend the night in this magical ice-built hotel. The structure is made entirely from ice and snow and can accommodate 60 guests who sleep on reindeer furs to keep warm in the icy temperatures which usually average between minus 4 and minus 7 degrees Celsius. The hotel is decorated with ice sculptures carved by local artists and has a bar, lounges and even a chapel. Passengers who visited the hotel during the day enjoyed a drink of vodka served in a glass of ice. And those passengers who were staying overnight were served a two-course dinner of either locally sourced reindeer or salmon.

I decided that it was time I went on tour as normally I find myself being immersed in the job. I was put down for the Snow Mobile trek and went ashore with 9 other passengers, and Dan, Assistant Shorex Manager. Being a motorcyclist I was very excited. When we reached the Ice Hotel, which was where the Machines were situated, we all got dressed up in our snow suits, (A bit like an all in one baby grow!), furry boots, gloves, balaclava and helmet. We looked like something out of Securicor!!

Anyway after an induction we set off for what I consider to be 2 hours of sheer bliss. Driving these machines in convoy through the forest, with the sun shining through the trees, with virginal snow all around, I hope you get the picture. Then after about an hour we plateaued at the top of a 500m mountain and stopped for a rest. What a view all round, it was as if you were on top of the world!

Then sadly we had to make our way back as the sun was setting low in the sky but again magical moments.

Then once back at base, we had a look around the Ice Hotel and what an unbelievable structure it is. As we were not sailing I decided to partake in the special drink they offered, Vodka and Blue Curacao I believe. It looked like antifreeze to me but my goodness, warmed the cockles

After a very pleasant day, we set off back to the ship. I hope the rest of the passengers all enjoyed as much as I did.

For those passengers who stayed on board today, we were delighted to welcome children from Elvebekkan School. The adorable children talked about their lives in Alta in the Britannia Lounge, before exploring the ship with a special visit to the bridge. There was also a selection of entertainment for passengers to enjoy in between their trips ashore. In the Britannia Lounge we had a ‘Movie Night’ screening ‘Iron Will’. And in the Drawing Room, The Cairn Quartet performed a concert entitled ‘Celtic Reflections’ which included works by Eric Rice, Duncan Chislhom and a selection of Scottish and Irish pieces.

Again that evening we saw the lights back at the ship so all were called on deck. The tour that went off to see the lights inland, also had a spectacular view and I enclose a couple of the photos taken by the ships photographer to give you an idea how lucky we have been!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.