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As I sipped on a Mack Pilsner in the bar, I watched a young boy challenge a troll to an eating contest. The boy managed to convince the troll — typically depicted as a colossal dunce in Norwegian folklore — to cut a hole in his own stomach, enabling him to “eat as much as he wanted.” The troll complied and fell over dead. The cunning boy ran off with the troll’s gold to pay off his family’s debts. And … scene.
With a newfound knowledge of how dark Norwegian folktales can really get, the crowd applauded the evening’s actors, the Hurtigruten Expedition Team, and inquired when the next onboard storytime session would take place.
Casual, lighthearted gatherings surrounding discussions of Norwegian literature and folklore are a highlight of Hurtigruten’s Expedition Voyages. The new cruising style was launched in January with a focus on going deeper into the culture and landscapes of Norway.
“Before we started the Expedition Voyages, culture wasn’t a big part of the experience,” said Bjorn Lemke, assistant expedition leader on the 464-passenger Nordnorge. “Now, we combine different lectures and pieces of culture that are really nicely prepared for the area that we’re in.”
Each day, the Expedition Team led on-deck talks about the cities, fjords and villages we approached. Oftentimes, the gatherings on deck were complemented with local music and a tasting of regional delicacies (such as mussels picked up at the last port, fish cakes and cured ham) dished out by the head chef. All of these elements helped to tell a cohesive story about the region and the people who call it home.
Lectures, some of which were led by a biologist/naturalist, also took place daily and offered something for just about every interest, from the science behind the Northern Lights and the reign of the Vikings to the lifestyle of the indigenous Sami people. If you wonder about subjects that are often taboo — such as how much money Norwegians make per year — the lecture, “What You Really Want to Know About Norway,” tells all.
During my late January sailing on Nordnorge, I loved the nightly meetings with the Expedition Team. I admit that I, along with other Americans onboard, were skeptical at first, thinking that this gathering was Hurtigruten’s way of advertising shore excursions to us. Instead, the Expedition Team reported on the Northern Lights forecast, showed us pictures of ourselves from the day’s excursions, played a Norwegian song and explained its significance to us and read a chapter from a humorous book entitled, “How to Understand and Use a Norwegian: A User’s Manual and Troubleshooter’s Guide.”
“You will learn a lot more about Norway on an Expedition Voyage with us,” said expedition leader Peter Jensen, who has been with Hurtigruten for 18 years. “At the moment, Expedition Voyages are only offered on three Hurtigruten ships [Nordkapp, Nordnorge, Nordlys], and if it is a success, Expedition Voyages will expand to the other ships.”
If the response from guests is any indicator, this new style of cruising will likely become a permanent addition to Hurtigruten’s portfolio. In 2017, the line plans to have seven expedition ships.
“The Expedition Team complements one another really well. This is apparently only their second trip as a team, and I can’t imagine how it worked before them,” said passenger David Mitchel from Kent, England. “I didn’t come here for a budget vacation. I came to do a few very specific things — and I’ve done all them and more. We’re supposed to disembark tomorrow, but I’ve thought of calling my travel agent to push back our flights home.”