Sing a song of Nor­way

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - ROSE­MARY HALL HYDE PARK, SOUTH AUS­TRALIA

In early March, I ar­rived in Nor­way as the world biathlon (ski­ing and shoot­ing) com­pe­ti­tion be­gan in Oslo. I took a train from Oslo to Ber­gen to board the Hur­tigruten ferry, MS Nordlys, for a round-trip coastal voy­age above the Arc­tic Cir­cle, to see the aurora bo­re­alis (north­ern lights).

When the train halted pre­ma­turely in Hau­gas­tol be­cause pow­er­lines were down in a tun­nel, we trans­ferred to a minibus. We waited while a snow plough cleared 25km of road, then joined a con­voy of ve­hi­cles to cross the moun­tain plateau. It was no in­con­ve­nience as I mar­velled at Nor­we­gian en­gi­neer­ing in the long road tun­nels, re­plete with round­abouts, and we even­tu­ally ar­rived in Ber­gen af­ter dark, about four hours later. Above the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the aurora bo­re­alis was vis­i­ble on con­sec­u­tive nights from the ves­sel’s ob­ser­va­tion deck. When the ship ar­rived at Kirkenes, near the Rus­sian bor­der, at the end of the north­bound jour­ney, we went ashore in spring sun­shine and mild, above-zero tem­per­a­tures.

Nat­u­rally, pas­sen­gers made the most of this weather, en­joy­ing a sled ride pulled by huskies as well as to­bog­gan­ing on the snow mounds near a re­mark­able ice ho­tel. Af­ter re­board­ing the ship for the south­bound jour­ney, three of us elected to take an ex­hil­a­rat­ing Arc­tic dip in the ocean at the next port of call, Vardo. It was an easy choice, al­though the ma­jor­ity elected to visit the Steil­ne­set Me­mo­rial, ded­i­cated to 91 peo­ple who were tried and ex­e­cuted in the 17th cen­tury for witch­craft.

It was sur­pris­ing to see or­chids and other trop­i­cal flow­ers bloom­ing in florist shops and on win­dowsills. Clas­sic can­de­labras were an­other fea­ture in the win­dows of ho­tels and homes, so I smiled at the rain­bow of coloured can­dles in a can­de­labra at a church in Bron­noy­sund. The Nor­we­gian peo­ple are in­ge­nious. The town of Harstad has an un­der­ground wa­ter­park, the Grot­te­badet, in a large cave un­der the city, and res­i­dents enjoy aquatic sports in trop­i­cal con­di­tions all year. Out­side in win­ter the temper­a­ture is be­low freez­ing and it’s dark.

Af­ter re­turn­ing home, I was re­im­bursed $80 by the Nor­we­gian State Rail­ways for the de­lay to my sched­ule. Why was I not sur­prised? What a joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ence is Nordic travel. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive L’Oc­c­i­tane his-and-her treats of Ce­drat AfterShave Cream Gel with notes of berg­amot, nut­meg and cedar; and a lim­ited edi­tion Rose Shea Hand­cream soon to be re­leased to mark L’Oc­c­i­tane’s 40th an­niver­sary this year; $82. More: au.loc­c­i­tane.com

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