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Copyright © 1995-2001 
Linda Coffman

“Norway to Norway”

By Warren H. Davis © 2001 – all rights reserved

Norway – August 1998

"Oh My!"… "OH MY!"… "OHHHHHH MYYYYYYY!!!!!!"  This is what I spontaneously shouted when I emerged on deck for the first time after anchoring at the end of Sognefjord near the little village of Flaam Norway. And nobody thought I was a lunatic. Just yards away from the tiny S/S Norway there was a waterfall cascading down a granite cliff perhaps the height of the Empire State Building. David Seifert, a fellow periodic contributor to the Internet newsgroup and newfound friend happened to be standing nearby. His simple response was "yes, exactly" as he smiled broadly.

Tiny S/S Norway? Yes. Tiny. Those of you who have seen the Norwegian fjords understand this. I will never forget the contrast of seeing her "huge" funnels and mast against granite cliffs and lushly green mountains. Suddenly she felt so fragile.

In fact the entire cruise was full of such contrasts. The very next day in Bergen I rode the funicular up a mountain overlooking the city. S/S Norway's profile dominated the skyline. I could see the spot where the shuttle bus dropped off passengers in the center of town. From the length of the ride it seemed like the bus was a necessity. From my mountain top perspective if the ship were turned inland lengthwise with its stern at its berth, the bow would have easily reached the bus stop. Anyone with a cabin all the way forward on Viking deck had to walk the same distance when going home from Dazzles Disco all the way aft on the same deck (Viking runs almost the entire length of the ship).

Tugs were needed to pull the ship out of her berth in Oslo, yet she nimbly turned down a side arm of Sognefjord. This was an unscheduled bonus. The captain announced that he wanted to take us partially through his favorite fjord. The width of the mouth of the fjord was perhaps 50 feet wider than the ship's width. In a masterful maneuver, the skilled captain slowly turned the ship on its axis, with just feet to spare from the bow to the rock cliff. The Sognefjord is quite narrow at this point. It is a wonder that the stern didn't scrape the opposite side during the maneuver. About a quarter of the way into the fjord the ship encountered a tiny motorboat about the size of a lifeboat. Imagine being on this boat going along your merry way and suddenly this monstrous ship sneaks up behind you. In an almost comical reaction the pilot of the boat gunned his engines and swung around the ship in as if in a panic. I could just hear the words "holy sh*t!" At the end of the navigable portion of the fjord (at least for the ship) sat a tiny village of about a dozen small cottages situated around sort of a turn basin. I didn't see any roads so I am certain the only access to this village was by boat. A flock of white birds sat on a nearby cliff. The captain tooted a horn so the birds would provide a little ballet for us. What do you think the villagers thought when their dinner was interrupted by this commotion only to look outside and see the country's namesake flagship doing a U-turn in the driveway?

I expected the arrival and departure from Oslo to rival the hoopla surrounding S/S Norway's arrival in Le Havre two years ago when she returned for the first time since her conversion from the France. The ship hasn't been to Norway since the mid-1980's. It turns out that although this was the only call at Oslo listed in the North American brochure, it was in fact her third visit to the city this summer. Several cruises were marketed solely in Europe. To be sure there were crowds gathered pier side to watch the ship depart. And there was plenty of pomp when Costa Marina, Vistafjord, and Norway formed a procession out of the harbor and into Oslo Fjord accompanied by salutes galore on the ships' whistles (did you know that S/S Norway's whistles can play a 5 note tune? It sounded very Nordic). But there was nothing approaching the scope and excitement of Le Havre. That is, until the ship departed Bergen.

The ship's master was born and bred in Bergen and this was indeed S/S Norway's first visit since 1984. Just as in Le Havre in 1996, hundreds of vessels of every shape and size nuzzled the mother ship as she made her way out to sea. People on these boats were waving Norwegian flags at us. One defiant boat was waving French Flags! A tiny steamboat with a long yellow funnel started chasing us amid the slow moving flotilla. Suddenly she let out a high-pitched TooT TooT TooT with steam bursting from her funnel. This tiny little "boat that could" caused an eruption of laughter up on deck. As yappy as a toy poodle this boat was against the mighty stallion! S/S Norway gave a deep-throated reply with three blasts on her horns. The little boat: TooT!!!  S/S Norway: OOOOOOOOOOOOOGH!!! How giddy this exchange!

The armada was headed for a mini-version of NY's Verezzano Narrows Bridge. The entire length of the bridge was lined with people. As the ship passed under the bridge the captain blew one long blast on the whistle until the entire 1035 feet of ship had cleared. You could see the people run from one side of the bridge roadway to the other to watch the ship keep going. A friend I met who is from Berlin was in the glass-enclosed Olympic Fitness Center working out at the time. He told me he had to stop and leave the gym because he started to cry from the emotion of this moment. He admitted this to me only after I told him how misty eyed I had become from the spectacle which was every bit as thrilling as entering Le Havre two years ago. After clearing the bridge we entered unprotected and very choppy water for such small boats. But they held on. For at least an hour S/S Norway had an escort out to sea. One by one, as the wind picked up and the waters grew rougher, they would trail off and turn around until one lone motorboat was cruising beside us. Finally the bittersweet moment arrived when it too headed back home. S/S Norway was once again at sea. The Norwegian Sea. And dare I say it? The Norwegian way!

Here's what I did on my first European cruise: I went to the Rijksmuseum and saw Rembrandts, Vermeers, Monets, Manets, and Degas. I went to the Van Gogh Museum. I saw the Royal Palace in Oslo, Picasso's erotic etchings and Munch's Scream. I took a train ride through and up a mountain where the clouds danced around like cotton candy while having Tea and cake at a mountain top hotel. I saw a powerful waterfall up close and personal. I went up a funicular over Bergen and could see for miles. I wandered cobblestone streets and saw centuries old houses. I saw where Anne Frank hid and then watched CNN on my cabin TV later that evening as they reported on payments being made to the Nazi's victims. Over 50 years later. I drifted through canals on a boat under footbridges. I had a fish sandwich at the Bergen fish market. The fish was only hours out of the water - so fresh, my nose could only detect the flower market next door. I drank a glass of wine and ate a freshly made crepe in Honfluer on the coast of Normandy.

I discovered the disadvantage of taking a cruise to see Europe. There wasn't enough time to explore everything I wanted to see. I wanted to stay in the fjords for days and hike through paradise. I couldn't get enough of seeing waterfall after waterfall descend from melting snow caps and glaciers on cliffs soaring high into the sky. I discovered the advantage of taking a cruise to see Europe. I couldn't wait to leave Amsterdam. It just wasn't my cup of tea. Go figure.

The best thing I discovered I already knew. Many ships from various cruise lines visit Norway for very good reason. The landscape is like nothing you have ever seen. If your favorite ship visits, you simply must book a cruise. Mortgage the house if you must. But I doubt, and perhaps only a few would disagree, that nothing is as magical as sailing to Norway aboard S/S Norway.


Warren H. Davis

Photo--S/S Norway Postcard, circa 1989