What was once the prov­ince of dar­ing ex­plor­ers was co-opted by the less in­trepid trav­eller who only wanted to un­pack once. But new trips to far-flung places are putting the art of the voy­age and the thrill of dis­cov­ery back into cruis­ing

Condé Nast Traveller Middle East - - Contents -

With new trips to far-flung places putting the art of the voy­age and the thrill of dis­cov­ery back into cruis­ing, it may just be the best

way to see the world


My hus­band would like you to know that his grand­fa­ther was from a tiny town in Nor­way called Odda. His grand­fa­ther im­mi­grated to Amer­ica a cen­tury ago and wound up in Mis­sis­sippi, where he mar­ried, fa­thered three chil­dren and died long be­fore my hus­band, Karl, was born. Karl be­lieves that he in­her­ited a deep love of boats and a need for large bod­ies of wa­ter from this grand­fa­ther he never met. He be­lieves this wa­ter/boat thing is wrapped in the dou­ble he­lix of his DNA, which makes it a shame that we now live in land­locked Ten­nessee. At night, he looks at boats on the in­ter­net and falls asleep to dream of fjords.

Af­ter 22 years of watch­ing my hus­band wres­tle with his in­ner Nor­we­gian, I de­cided to do some­thing about it. I de­cided to take him to the moth­er­land on a ship. The boat­lov­ing, wa­ter-lov­ing part of Karl is drawn to a life that is prac­ti­cal and rugged. The kind of boat that should bear him to his an­ces­tral home would not be the sort that fea­tures a karaoke bar or spa pedi­cures. When go­ing to the land of the Vik­ings, one should not ar­rive on a ship that twists one’s bath towel into the shape of a goose at bed­time. So I booked our north­ern pas­sage on Hur­tigruten, on the MS Nord­kapp.

This is not to say the Hur­tigruten ships are any­thing less than com­fort­able, but this is not a silly op­er­a­tion. Founded in 1893 to trans­port pas­sen­gers and post through in­tri­cate wa­ter­ways, the ship­ping line was an es­sen­tial part of ru­ral Nor­way’s even­tual moder­nity. Thanks to Hur­tigruten, a let­ter writ­ten in Ber­gen (at the bot­tom of the coun­try) could be de­liv­ered in Kirkenes (at the very top) in a week rather than half a year, and the young per­son hop­ing to flee Kirkenes would have a way to do so.

It was sunny when we ar­rived in Ber­gen, and it stayed sunny for about 20 hours a day. The weather was warmer than any­one had ex­pected, and my hus­band said he wanted to buy a shirt or two just to have some­thing lighter to wear. He got some trousers, too, and a belt and some socks.

When we were fin­ished, I rev­elled in the cherry blos­soms and the wide swaths of yel­low tulips, while Karl stood at the wa­ter’s edge and looked at the boats. Then the ship came to har­bour and we boarded.

By the stan­dards of cruise ships, this one was small, hold­ing 622 pas­sen­gers when booked to ca­pac­ity, but by the stan­dards of the old Vik­ing ships, or Nansen’s no­ble Fram, the fa­mous Arc­tic ex­plo­ration ves­sel, it was still big. Our cabin was styled with a sturdy Scan­di­na­vian sen­si­bil­ity. There was a place for ev­ery­thing, and so we put ev­ery­thing in its place. My hus­band, that hap­pi­est Nor­we­gian, then went out on deck to stare at the fjords and the pass­ing boats.

A Hur­tigruten ship leaves Ber­gen ev­ery day of the year, which means 12 ves­sels pass­ing each other on their way to Kirkenes or back, each ship stop­ping at a to­tal of 34 ports on the 12-day round-trip. While the mighty Nord­kapp no longer de­liv­ers the mail, it is still a freighter. Wrapped pal­lets of car­bu­ret­tors were put into the cargo hold in Molde and taken off in Bodø, kitchen­ware was loaded in Stam­sund and came off in Ham­mer­fest. In some ports the ship stayed for hours, in oth­ers it was 20 min­utes. And it wasn’t just pack­ages that Hur­tigruten picked up and de­liv­ered, it was Nor­we­gians. They use the ship as a ferry to the next town or maybe five towns up the line. One day on deck I saw two small blond girls with their mother, the next day it was a group of older men in match­ing vests. They were on the ship and then they were gone. It made sense, be­cause run­ning a cruise line for pas­sen­gers up to the top of Nor­way was one thing in sum­mer and some­thing else en­tirely in win­ter. Hur­tigruten had found a way to stay afloat year-round.

While the pas­sen­gers and pal­lets came and went, we watched the never-end­ing film of rocky atolls, small is­lands, lit­tle vil­lages and fish­ing boats that slid past the win­dows. It was al­most im­pos­si­ble to look away be­cause ev­ery frame in the ever-chang­ing view was so sin­gu­lar: a lit­tle red wooden house perched atop a rocky crag, with no other houses in view. Who were these peo­ple, and what were they do­ing out there?

The Ger­mans we met – as well as the English, the Swedes, the Swiss – had all spent their lives dream­ing of ex­actly this Hur­tigruten voy­age through the fjords. “My grand­fa­ther was from Odda,” my hus­band told one of the Nor­we­gian pas­sen­gers be­side him at the win­dow.

The man squinted. “Bodø?”

“Odda,” Karl said.


Odda, it turned out, was ob­scure by even Nor­we­gian stan­dards, and Karl’s pro­nun­ci­a­tion wasn’t the best. In

Åle­sund, we dis­em­barked to walk through town and ad­mire the Art Nou­veau flour­ishes. Here’s the thing about Nor­way: It has burned to the ground more times than can be counted – blame this on the wooden build­ings or the long win­ter nights that re­quire too many can­dles. It seemed that ev­ery city in the coun­try had been re­built at some point. Åle­sund was so con­sis­tently per­fect, it looked like it had been snapped to­gether with Art Nou­veau Le­gos, if such things were to ex­ist. When it started to rain, my hus­band noted that his rain­coat wasn’t up to the job and dashed into a ship sup­ply store, where he found one bet­ter suited to Nor­we­gian weather. He got some proper rain shoes as well and a Helly Hansen duf­fel bag be­fore we headed back to the ship.

Ev­ery day, we got off the Nord­kapp. In Trond­heim we vis­ited the Ni­daros Cathe­dral, which was built by Catholics and later lost to Protes­tants – mean­ing that Saint Olaf, the most es­sen­tial of Catholic Nor­we­gian saint-kings, was buried be­neath the stone floor of a Lutheran church. We vis­ited the Ringve Mu­seum of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, and our guide played the harp­si­chord and the piano forte, look­ing like he had just stepped out of an Ib­sen play. My hus­band ducked out to buy a hat and gloves be­cause it had got­ten cold. At the next stop he found a warmer jacket.

It wasn’t un­til a few days later, when I was look­ing for Karl on deck, that I re­alised I could no longer find him. He was dressed like all the other Nor­we­gian men. They stood to­gether, backs to the room, ad­mir­ing the wa­ter and boats.

We kayaked with two English guides who had come to Nor­way to visit and never went home. In our kayak I un­der­stood that de­ci­sion, be­cause the light on the wa­ter and the high, snow-capped moun­tains were more beau­ti­ful than any­thing I’d ever seen.

The guide who took us to the North­ern Cape had left Zim­babwe for Nor­way. Karl told each of them that his grand­fa­ther was from Odda, and each asked him to re­peat the name.

The far­ther north we went, the shorter the trees, un­til there were no trees, only rein­deer. The end­less rocks that popped out of the wa­ter like un­ex­pected wis­dom teeth were furred with noth­ing more than moss. Once we passed into the Arc­tic Cir­cle, there were fewer vil­lages, fewer lonely houses, fewer birds. Karl paced the deck, lean­ing into the bit­ter wind. “We should live here,” he said, look­ing out at the rocks and the cold grey sea, no doubt think­ing that Odda must be a place very much like this.

Have you ever given some­one the moon, only to dis­cover he wanted the sun and the stars? I aimed to show my hus­band how much I loved him by tak­ing him to Nor­way, which was very dif­fer­ent from show­ing him how much I loved him by agree­ing to move to Nor­way. He was right, of course – it’s a spec­tac­u­lar coun­try, even when the freez­ing rain blows side­ways over the bar­ren land. When I told him we weren’t mov­ing, he looked across the fjords and nod­ded sto­ically. Maybe if I’d said yes he would have laughed, but I don’t think he was bluff­ing. There were sirens in those rocky wa­ters singing love songs to the men in their pass­ing boats. They wanted their Nor­we­gians to come home. - Ann Patch­ett

2. You can spend days on end do­ing what you love

– in amaz­ing places

Drink a Bur­gundy in Bur­gundy, no des­ig­nated driver re­quired. Bel­mond’s four- to 12-per­son canal barges sail the re­gion, with daily stops for tast­ings at vine­yards like the al­most-300-year-old Château de Pom­mard. And last year, SeaDream Yacht Club’s 112-guest ves­sels launched Wine Voy­ages in the Mediter­ranean, with ports in Italy, France, Greece and Spain – plus on-board tast­ings from the likes of Tait­tinger and Mai­son Louis Jadot. Cook with a top chef. Jac­ques Pépin is host­ing classes on an Ocea­nia Cruises trip from Am­s­ter­dam to Lis­bon in Septem­ber, and Wind­star Cruises is bring­ing James Beard Foun­da­tion chefs (like Pitts­burgh’s Jamilka Borges) on ship for demos. If you’re more into eat­ing a celebrity chef’s food than cook­ing it, try The Grill by Thomas Keller aboard Se­abourn’s ships, which sail all over the world.

Golf France’s clas­sic cour­ses (with­out lug­ging your clubs). Hop Uni­world’s SS

Joie de Vivre, which started sail­ing the Seine last year. They’ll lend you clubs and ar­range tee times at Nor­mandy’s Golf de Rouen Mont-Saint-Aig­nan and Golf d’Étre­tat, which over­looks the English Chan­nel. Soak up knowl­edge from bril­liant profs. Re­live your junior year abroad on Smith­so­nian Jour­neys’ ex­pert-led cruises, like next year’s trip around Ja­pan with a lec­turer from the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria spe­cial­is­ing in Asian Stud­ies, who will ac­com­pany pas­sen­gers on vis­its to Ky­oto’s tem­ples and the Adachi Mu­seum of Art in Mat­sue.

Fill your In­sta feed with ex­otic wildlife. UnCruise Ad­ven­tures’ su­per­s­mall boats are dou­bling down on ma­rine bi­ol­ogy (with new routes to Panama and an up­dated Galá­pa­gos itin­er­ary) and bird-watch­ing (along Costa Rica’s Pa­cific coast). And this sum­mer, Holland Amer­ica’s MS

Prin­sendam, known as the “El­e­gant Ex­plorer”, will em­bark on its fi­nal voy­age, sail­ing for two weeks along the coast of Nor­way to the Arc­tic Cir­cle where pas­sen­gers can sight po­lar bears, seals and whales.

Let world-class mu­si­cians give you a semi-pri­vate concert. Look for Po­nant’s “Mu­si­cal Odysseys at Sea”, like their au­tumn sail­ing in the Mediter­ranean, which has a quar­tet on board who will play in Si­cily’s me­dieval Cathe­dral of Taormina.

From tricked-out ships to

life-chang­ing meals, fur­ther proof you’ll want to

get on board

3. You can get VIP treat­ment – even on a mas­sive boat

“Ship within a ship” pro­grammes of­fer the perks of a smaller line (from pri­vate but­lers and first dibs on spa ap­point­ments to ac­cess to ex­clu­sive shore ex­cur­sions) aboard huge ves­sels like the Nor­we­gian Break­away, the Celebrity Re­flec­tion or the MSC Div­ina.

4. Rivers are the new oceans

Drift­ing past cas­tles on the Rhine (or vine­yards on the Rhône) is lovely. But now that river cruis­ing – which once au­to­mat­i­cally meant vis­it­ing Europe – has gone global, itin­er­ar­ies have got­ten much more in­ter­est­ing. You can hop a small ship to sail the Ama­zon or the Mekong (with Aqua Ex­pe­di­tions), the Ir­rawaddy (on the Bel­mond Road to Man­dalay), the Ganges (on Uni­world’s Ganges Voy­ager II) or Africa’s Chobe River (spot ele­phants from the deck of AmaWater­ways’ 14-suite Zam­bezi Queen).


THE SAME BED AT NIGHT – BUT WAKE UP IN A DIF­FER­ENT CITY EACH MORN­ING 6. You’ll check off a bunch of far-flung places in one trip

The In­dian Ocean The Se­abourn En­core stops in In­dia, In­done­sia and Sin­ga­pore – a sin­gle-trip itin­er­ary you could other­wise com­fort­ably ac­com­plish only on a pri­vate jet or yacht.

The Baltic Sea Vik­ing Ocean Cruises is dom­i­nat­ing north­ern Europe, re­cently adding the Vik­ing Sky to sail to the his­toric towns of Es­to­nia, the de­sign hubs of Fin­land, the fjords of Nor­way and the is­lands of Swe­den. The Po­lar re­gions In Au­gust,

Po­nant’s L’Aus­tral will tran­sit the North­west Pas­sage, with a 23-day trip from Green­land to Alaska. In the South­ern Hemi­sphere, Sil­versea’s Sil­ver Ex­plorer sails the Antarc­tic Penin­sula for vis­its to glaciers and pen­guin colonies.

The South Pa­cific On Paul Gau­guin Cruises’ 166-cabin Paul Gau­guin you can visit five is­lands in a week.

The Caribbean In a week-long cruise, Wind­star’s 106-suite Star Breeze sails to seven or eight is­lands – in­clud­ing Montser­rat, which got its first cruise ship in 20 years when the line first ar­rived just a few years ago. South­east Asia You could hop­scotch flights to hit Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Si­hanoukville in one go. Or sail into each aboard Ocea­nia’s Nau­tica.

See the Po­lar re­gions and tran­sit the North­west Pas­sage

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