What does it take to get a non-cruiser aboard a ship in the dead of winter? Offer a guaranteed view of the northern lights and you're half-way there. Hurtigruten, the Norwegian coastal steamer which crosses the Arctic Circle and follows the coastline all the way across the top of Sweden and Finland to the Russian border, offers the promise.
The passengers on the Classic Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes, are normally a self-controlled, restrained sort of group: mostly middle-aged, well-educated professional types, seeking culture and history and the natural world.
If there is one thing that sends me hurtling back to childhood it is travelling with my mother. But she needed a break, and a five-night cruise sailing from Tilbury (no stressful airports) to Amsterdam, Rouen and Antwerp, seemed to fit the bill. And I thought I would take the risk and tag along.
As we were waiting to board, a man in a spiffing white uniform bounded up to us. He turned out to be the Captain. “I’m sorry for the queue” he said. There were just eight of us checking in at the time. And no, he wasn’t taking the mickey.
“Welcome to the Wind Surf,” he said. “I hope you have a wonderful cruise.”
We felt as if we were being ushered on to a private yacht and that feeling remained throughout our week-long voyage.
Any shipping line that brands a cruise “the world’s most beautiful voyage” is surely inviting contradiction. As a cruise virgin, I can neither verify nor refute the claim made by Hurtigruten for its round voyage up and down the Norwegian coast. But if there is a lovelier boat trip than this, I’d certainly like to hear about it.
I have to take it on the chin. If God decided to have another go with that flood thing, He wouldn’t pick me as Noah. I don’t think that it is so much because of my moral failings, which are many. It is more that he would correctly calculate that I would be rubbish at the helm of the Ark.
I’ve always admired Noah. All those hours at sea with the animals fighting like cats and dogs in the back.
It wasn’t the first time I’d sipped champagne mid-ocean, shaken hands with a captain or made small-talk with a diplomat in a ship’s ballroom. But it was the first time I’d stood there and applauded a complete stranger — just for being rich. Honestly. That’s what I did, mid-Adriatic, one balmy night somewhere off the Italian coast.
The stranger was a Japanese businessman who had just completed — wait for it — more than 250 cruises on the same liner.