There is a difference between a great sight and a great trip. A sight is a singular event. A trip takes at least a week. A great trip can include a collection of not great sights. It becomes a great trip because the number of good but not great sights becomes overwhelming. Here is our list of great trips, in no particular order:
We really like mountains and we have visited mountains on 5 continents, and the bottom line is this. The most impressive trip of mountain sight seeing you will ever see is to ride the Hurtigruten along the coast of Norway. Norway is a country without country. At its widest spot, it is only 267 miles wide, from sea to sea. At its narrowest, its about 2 miles wide. Norway is sea coast with a bit of interior. The coast line is more than 13,000 miles long, and the coast is almost all mountains and the famous fjords-- flooded ancient mountain valleys reaching inland from the sea.
You get more for your money in some countries than in others and Norway is one the most expensive for Americans. PPP-GDP will tell you the hit American's take in Norway. For our trip, Norway's PPP-GDP was 117, meaning that something in Norway that costs you $117 would only cost $100 in the USA. A Big Mac cost $15. We ate at a Chinese restaurant, had tea, one order of egg roles, one small bowl of soup, and one main dish split between two-- $62. The cheapest beer was $10. Its better now. Recent PPP-GDP is only 104. Norway has what is called a strong currency. The main reason why travel in Norway costs an arm a leg is the horrible economic policies of the Republican Party.
Our trip was at the end of shoulder season. When we got off the boat at the end of our trip, the price of our cabin had increased by $6,000. A four hour long land excursion at ports cost as much as $250 ( a half hour long bus ride, a half hour ride on dog sled, and the bus back to the boat).
On the other hand, I did pick up a Dale of Norway sweater (on sale) for $125. Dale of Norway sweaters are widely available in the USA. Take a look at what they cost.
The Hurtigruten (lit. , 'the fast route') is more than 100 years old. It began as a ferry boat service along the west coast of Norway. Compared to how long land travel took on the west coast, the slow ferry boat was indeed the fastest way to travel. Not so much today. Today, the Hurtigruten provides three services: its a ferry boat, its a cargo ship, and it is mostly a tourist ship. Hurtigruten operates 13 ships. 11 of them are always on the water, providing a daily stop going in both directions to 34 ports stretching from Bergen to the Russian border. The schedule for the 11 day Bergen to Bergen round trip is set up so that tourists get see the entire coast, half of it during the day going north, and the other half of the coast during the day coming back south bound, weather permitting.
Hurtigruten has to operate every day of the year, so its traveler prices are very sensitive to seasonal demand. It is really cheap in mid-winter, when the half of the trip is above the Arctic Circle with night 24/7. Reading the reviews, there are people who love this. I've never done it, but I don't get it. And then in summer, prices soar. High season prices start in mid-April, so we went in early April. There is also a shoulder season in the fall, but fall is the rainiest time of the year. Some friends took a really cheap October trip and never saw sunshine or much of the mountains for 15 days. Most of our days were sunny, with a couple light snows overnight and one or two days with occasional drizzle.
Most of everyday is spent sailing, so the Panorama Lounge (or the bar lounge) becomes the key to sight seeing. The Panorama Lounge has floor to ceiling windows (see the photo) and provides a 270 degree view. Its the top deck of the ship (see photo of passing Hurtigruten). Considering that we often spent 6-8 hours a day in the Panorama lounge (Land of the Midnight Sun), the chairs were remarkably comfortable. Of the dozen or so cruises we have taken, the comfort level of the Hurtigruten's chairs are in a league of their own.
Like everything else in Norway and then some, shipboard extras were costly-- $15 beers and the price of coffee was stratospheric, so entertain the drink package-- unlimited coffee and tea, again, costly, but a big savings over the pay by the drink price. The Coffee/tea package includes a metal, insulated, spill proof souvenir mug.
Anther reason why everybody lives in the lounges is that many cabins are tiny, and that is being charitable. Be sure to check the square footage before booking a cabin. The price per square inch of space is appalling. And the seating in the small cabins is not comfortable-- sort of a bench seat that forms when the bed is folded into the wall for daytime.
The 13 Hurtigruten ships vary a lot in age and size. Some of the recent larger ship have more cabin space, and higher prices.
A big reason why we went in April was to see snow covered mountains (and to save money. The couple who took our cabin for the next sailing paid $6,000 more than we did). At the south end of Hurtigruten (Bergen), the only snow we saw was in well shaded spots when we took the cog wheel to the top of the mountain and walked back down, but underway on Hurtigruten, the first morning at sea revealed snow right down to the water line and that lasted for the next 9 days.
No shore tours are included in the price. A 30 minute bus ride up the mountain, a 30 minute dog sled ride, and 30 minutes bus back to the port: $250 (10 years ago).
The highest coastal mountains are about 4,000 ft. above sea level, but don't be fooled. Spectacular mountain scenery depends on the height of the vertical view, not the mountain's height. For example, the mountains around Park City, UT, the famous ski area, top out around 10,000 ft, but they start at 7,200 ft, so some of what you see in the Norwegian costal mountains are 1,000 ft higher than Park City's mountains.
Hurtigruten's 34 port calls last from 10 minutes to 6 hours at Trondheim, long time capital of Norway and the second most interesting stop. While there is more to see in Trondheim, I preferred Aolesund, in part for its mansions and incredible setting on islands surrounded by the mountains.
There is, or will be, more on what to see in Norway's West Coast by Hurtigruten: The Sights
Explore the eating routines of Bulgarians while strolling through beautiful Sofia - enjoy a traditional breakfast, full on Bulgarian lunch and the best part - wine tasting session of exquisite Bulgarian wines, cheeses and meat cuts. Visit 4 specially selected food venues and munch on local specialities during a relaxed walk.