Norway - Land of the Midnight Sun

By Barbara Barton Sloane

The sun never takes a break here in Northern Norway. The country, called "the world’s top destination" by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, has always been known as "the Land of the Midnight Sun" and its light never fails to inspire.

Small enough to be intimate, squeaky clean Oslo offers world-class dining and appealing attractions, including countless parks and recreation areas.

We stroll along the very bridge which inspired Edvard Munch’s famous painting "The Scream." A large, imposing modern white building has just opened, the Oslo Opera House. As the first opera house in Oslo, it has been welcomed with great enthusiasm.

There are some 45,000 students in Oslo so you can count on finding trendy boutiques, good music and clubs as well as displays of Norwegian design, important collections of the explorers Amundsen and Heyerdahl, the Munch Museum and the Vigeland Sculpture Park, a not-to-be-missed experience.

Covering 80 acres and featuring 212 bronze sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland, the artworks depict life’s stages from birth to old age. Walking through this park is a moving and poignant experience. However, thoughts right now are not on walking but sailing, which we will doing for the next several days.

Departing Oslo and boarding a two-hour flight to Kirkenes , before us we see the beautiful MS Nordlys awaiting our arrival. The gangplank lowers, spirits soar, and our six day, five night fjord cruise is about to begin!

Salute to the Sun

Four hours after departing, we arrive at our first port: Vardo. We clamor off ship and jump into a van which takes us to visit the Vardohus Fortress, built in the mid-eighteenth century for a Danish king. Today, only four soldiers and one commanding officer hold down this fort. The children who accompanied us on this tour got a particular charge out of watching the soldiers execute a special salute that is done nowhere else in the world, and when, on the twenty-first of January after two months of darkness, the sun can be seen once more above the horizon, the soldiers salute and kids get the day off from school. Sun-Day!

Breakfast on the Roof of Europe

The next morning at 5:45 a.m., we’re bright-eyed while most passengers are still sleeping soundly. We arrive in Honningsvag, and debark to board a bus to the North Cape Exhibition Center in West Finnmark. A reward for rising so early: we have the very special privilege of breakfasting 1,000 feet above the churning Arctic Ocean with dazzling sunlight dancing across the horizon. The morning is crisp, the sky a piercing blue, and the air sparkling and fresher than our citified lungs have ever known.

We hike up a rocky path leading to the Oscar Memorial, a stone monument raised by King Oscar II of the Union of Norway and Sweden in 1873 to mark the Union’s northernmost border. Here, too, we find a monument created in 1989 by seven children from different parts of the world to symbolize cooperation, friendship, hope and joy across all borders. Towering above the entire area, a mammoth globe, the symbol of this dramatic land, the North Cape.

What Makes Sami Run

One of the neatest things about North Cape – something that made the kids on our trip squeal with delight - seeing " Rudolf" up close and personal. Reindeer! Wherever we look, it’s wall to wall reindeer grazing in herds, their impressive antlers touching the ground. These animals climb steep, craggy rocks as surefooted as mountain goats. And, where there are reindeer, there must be …. No, not Santa but Sami !

The Sami are an ancient people whose main source of existence is the reindeer. They keep herds of them and make use of every single part of this animal. The site called Salen is where we find the traditional Sami goahti, (a turf hut or earthen lodge), constructed just as they’ve been building shelters since time immemorial. The Sami serve us their traditional delicacies: reindeer meat, smoked fish and local cloudberries. I find myself longing for the divine repast I know awaits me onboard ship.

Jonathan Livingston & Friends

Once through the Trollfjord, we leave our ship through an underground passage to immediately step aboard a boat, the Sea Eagle Safari. This is one of the highlights of our voyage. Happily, the crew on the safari has thought of everything. It is chilly so they give us warm jumpsuits to keep us toasty. For those that are game, there’s a bucket with fish to hand out. The kids onboard, though initially a bit squeamish about dipping into the bucket for a dead fish, quickly get the hang of it once they see the seagulls swooping low to grab the fish out of our hands.

We’re on a White-Tailed Sea Eagle watch and we’re not disappointed. One of the crew yells "there!" and soaring majaestically above us, two beautiful eagles with massive wing spreads. They glide and dip, and although they don’t come close enough to take the fish we’re proffering, they pierce the water gracefully and come up with their catch.

When we run out of fish, we return to the Nordlys tired but happy. Each day on our Nordic cruise presented us with wonderful adventures such as this. All too soon, day six arrives, and it’s time to bid adieu to the Nordlys. We have arrived in Bergen and step onto terra firma.

During the cruise, we found that, for people traveling with children, there are many programs to keep kids occupied. For them, it’s like recess, only longer, like sleep-away camp, only better. Activities are carefully supervised and events run the gamut from games, sports, crafts and parties.

Once on land, families with children will find both Oslo and Bergen fun places with loads of things to see and do, games and amusements for kids of different ages. The good news is that many of these attractions are available free of charge or at a very low price.

In Oslo, there’s the Child Planet, two floors of indoor playground for children, with ball pool, slides, climbing structures, jumping castles and much more. Kids can also Follow Fred the Giraffe. Children between 3 and 12 years accompanied by an adult can take the Nobel Peace Path, and Fred the Giraffe will guide you and help you find the fun posts along the way. There are interesting topics about what children should and should not have where they live, as well as looking at several Peace Prize winners and how we can contribute towards peace. Upon completing the Peace Path, kids will receive a small prize!

In Bergen, the Aquarium is a must and fun for all ages. Ride to the top of Mount Floyen on the Funicular or hike there and discover a playground along the way which contains a huge climbing troll and gigantic stone horse sculptures.

If you plan to travel to Norway in winter your voyage will be greatly enhanced by the Northern Lights. You’ll have the opportunity to see pods of Orca, have a dog sled safari, snowmobile across frozen tundra, check out ice caves in search of Polar Bear and for the very warm-blooded, you can spend a night in the Alta Igloo Ice Hotel. You’ll experience Polar Night and celestial displays of greens, yellows and reds that dance in the wind, all under an Aurora Borealis sky! Memories are made of this.



Average hotel rate: $150-$160
Currency: Norwegian Crown;  $1.00 = 7.04 Norwegian Crowns
Airlines to Norway:
    Icelandic Air
    SAS (Scandinavian Airlines)
    U.S. Air
 Flights start as low as $500 (depending on the season - economy class)


Noteworthy Websites:

Hurtigruten Fjord Cruises:
Child Planet: www.childplanet.no
Follow Fred the Giraffe: www.nobelpeacecenter.org
The Bergen Aquarium: www.bergen-guide.com
Mounmt Floyen Funicular: www.bergen-guide.com
Norway Tourist Information: www.visitnorway.com/us

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