It’s one of those things we’ve talked about doing for ages - but never got round to .
So, when the opportunity arose for me to join a cruise to the Northern Lights it was a no brainer.
I’ve known family and colleagues who have been in search of the illusive phenomenon and returned home without seeing a glimmer.
So, with cruise firm Hurtigruten’s promise of a guaranteed sighting I was well and truly excited.
We were picking up the MS Nordnorge on the homeward leg of Classic Round Voyage so getting to Kirkenes right up in northern Finmark territory was a bit of a haul. But what’s a bit of wait in an airport lounge or two?
After a good night’s sleep in this quaint snow covered town we headed to port to pick up our ship.
The Nordnorge awaited in all her splendour.
Not just a cruise ship, the vessel also serves to carry a small amount of cargo, mail and also ferries ‘commuters’ to and from towns along the Nordic coast.
The interior has recently been refurbished and my home for the next six days certainly met my initial approval.
My cabin was on the outside so I had great views all the time - but then so did the people walking past -hence the need to keep the room tidy.
Facilities, including an en suite shower room, coffee making facilities, TV and wifi, three restaurants, a gym, sauna and two hot tubs,( on deck) were more than a match for many a hotel room on dry land.
Although I have been on shortish ferry/ship crossings in the past, this was to be the longest in both time and distance.
Ms Nornorge is large enough to get lost on for the first couple of days then small enough to develop familiarity.
Now to business.
After a brief guided tour of the ship an our evening meal we were summoned on deck the very first night to see ‘the lights’.
Well, there were lots of ooh-ing and aah-ing and clicking away on cameras in the bitter cold as the ship bobbed up and down. Me? All I could see was a load of wispy clouds. “That's them, that’s them” ‘yelled my companions. “Look at the green.” “What green?” was my retort followed by the sudden horror that I must be colour blind. Heck, was my blue jacket really bright orange?
I should have read the advice notice we were given on arrival.
Apparently you have to ‘acclimatise your eyes’ especially those of us of a certain age.
So, that’s what I did, night after night.
Everyone seemed to have lovely coloured photos on their cameras but mine was just black dots or grey skies. Until THAT night.
There we were, a companion and I chatting away aimlessly on an empty deck under the night sky, when I saw it... and wow what an amazing spectacular sight it was.
It wasn’t green, oh no, but a magnificent pink and yellow which lit up the black sky like an abstract painting. A sight to behold (I’m told it went green later).
That was it. Mission accomplished.
But, this cruise isn’t just about the lights.
Along the way down from Kirkenes to Bergen we were treated to the most beautiful scenery - sometimes close to land others out at sea (when it could be a bit rough).
And, as it is also a kind of local transport, we stopped at several places. Some, in my opinion weren’t long enough.
But for those where you can l disembark, the crew organise a host of excursions to suit all tastes - including a special ceremony to mark the crossing of the Arctic, a trip to a salmon farm and a four hour excursion in picturesque Vesteralen for which we disembarked in Harstaad then caught up with the ship in Sortland - which is renowned for many a spectacular lights show.
Among the early ports of call was the chance to stroll around Hammersfest, billed the northern most inhabited town, and also visited Tromso where we enjoyed a midnight recital in the beautiful Arctic Cathedral.
We had a bus tour of Trondheim, with a trek around the Nidaros Cathedral but, personally, I would have liked to have seen more of city on foot.
There isn’t an awful lot of entertainment while on board, apart from eating and drinking ( which is very expensive at £10 a pint or £50 a bottle of wine) but it is certainly not boring.
The crew regularly point out places or items of interest along the route and there's even a special ceremony on deck to mark the point of the ship crossing of the Arctic.
One of the indisputable benefits of a cruise, for me at any rate, has to be the wonderful camaraderie it brings out in people.
You can sit quietly and watch the world go by - literally - or find yourself engrossed in idle chit chat/deep discussion with a total stranger.
Travellers from all walks of life and from all over the world just seemed to lose their otherwise reserved inhibitions and strike up conversation with strangers .
I found myself deep in conversation on many occasions with people ranging from the lovely sisters from Australia and a family from the deep south of the USA to two friends from South Africa and a very nice family from Malaysia.
There were also friendly Germans, of course, and a few Brits as well as native Scandinavians.
Yep, I was very much at home thank you.
Departures for the Classic Round Voyage are available on selected dates from January 2020 until March 2021.
Prices, including flights from Manchester, start from £1,399 per person (based on sailing October 24, 2020) and include a promise of the Northern Lights.