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Nordic Paradise: Volume I


I’ve spent a while now staring at a blank word document trying to comprehend how to start this blog post about my completely wonderous adventure to northern Norway. It has been a jam-packed, fun-filled 6 weeks of sea, snow and sunshine and all the laughs. I’ve decided to break my adventure down into ports to somewhat adequately try and cover the amazing experiences as succinctly as possible. But why was I heading to Norway in the first place? Well, for those of you who don’t know, I am an Ocean Conservationist for ORCA and my role is to monitor cetacean distribution and behaviour along different routes around the world. My first voyage took me northwards along the west coast of Norway for 6 weeks. I would be sailing to Nordkapp in search of wonderful whales, dolphins and porpoises, and inspiring people along the way on how to safeguard our marine environments. During this particular voyage, I would join the Expedition Team on Hurtigruten’s MS Maud and partake in the role of Expedition Team Member as well, being a part of the science team on board.

Now, it is fair to say that I’ve the experience of a lifetime. I ventured down to Dover to embark on MS Maud not knowing what to expect, but I can hold my hands up and say with my whole heart, that I have had the BEST time! The voyages between February and March have brought something new to light that I didn’t know, either about myself or about the beautiful places I have been lucky enough to visit and I am truly grateful that I can call this my job. So where shall I start? Well, it seems only fitting to dive straight into some Norwegian action… I’ll not bore you with the journey down to Dover and the choppy sea days at the beginning of the trip, because after all, we can imagine exactly how they went… (let’s just say, I had to find my sea legs pretty quickly!)

Sailing into Stavanger in glorious sunshine. Norway. 2022.

So, after one and a half relatively rocky sea days since leaving Dover, we arrived in Stavanger and was greeted with flat calm sea and glorious sunshine. The air was fresh, measuring a crisp 4oC, and the sky was a deep pearlescent blue. I was out on the helipad of deck 9 helping the science team show passengers how to collect cloud observations for NASA. This was one of several citizen science projects run on board MS Maud. Essentially, we were pointing iPads at the sky and taking pictures! These photos and additional information coincide with NASA satellites in the atmosphere and our data represents what the clouds look like from below, so NASA can get a 3D image of the clouds that they observe from above. There were no cetaceans spotted during our sailing into Stavanger, but I had my fingers crossed for some sightings further north!

NASA cloud observations on the helipad of MS Maud with the science team: Laura (left), Vivi (centre), and myself (right). Norway, 2022.

Once we arrived in Stavanger, it was time to briefly explore the city before getting back to work. Some of us had a cheeky little wander down the streets and stumbled upon the famous colourful street (Fargegaten) in the centre of Stavanger. The rainbow road was lined with fairy lights and looks like a magical little spot for a coffee and a nibble. After walking down the colourful street, we headed to a supermarket to get some much needed snacks and finally headed back to the ship.

Fargetaten, the colourful street in Stavanger, Norway. 2022.

During our time ashore, we also took Dora the Explorer, our underwater drone, out for a swim. Some passengers had also signed up to come and explore the depths of the harbour with us, so we took some iPads so they could watch Dora’s view in real-time. We reeled her out on her tether and watched as she zoomed off underwater. She is controlled by the main iPad and can be moved left, right, forwards and backwards, as well as having the ability to dive. She also has a light at the front so we can see what she sees, which is especially useful if the water is murky. We were delighted to find sea stars, urchins, some small fish and barnacles attached to the harbour walls.

Myself taking Dora the underwater drone for a swim. Stavanger, Norway. Vivi Bolin. 2022.

Much to our dismay, we could also see plastic debris and other litter like aluminium cans and abandoned fishing rope on the seabed. This really highlighted our marine pollution pandemic, something I spoke about passionately on board during my science lectures. It was a stark reminder to passengers that macroplastics and litter travel far and wide in our oceans and take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade (if at all). We also took a plankton net out and towed it along the pier to gather some plankton samples to be looked at under the microscopes in the science centre. Phytoplankton are the basis of the ocean food chain and are incredibly important to the functioning of our oceans, so it was good to see them up close. There were also some weird looking zooplankton, diatoms, and dinoflagellates, and it was interesting to see these little guys in action.

On my final trip to Stavanger, I had two things that I desperately wanted to do. One being find the magical chocolate snack that is called Smash (if you know, you know). Smash is possibly one of the greatest chocolatey treats to have ever touched my lips, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s a combination of chocolate and wafer-like goodness that tastes like choco-coated popcorn with a hint of salt. It’s amazing and I highly recommend trying some! (I have Smash withdrawal symptoms already). I also really wanted to see the big famous swords that stand tall and proud in the centre of the city. I’d seen them on postcards and the story behind them had intrigued me, so I fancied seeing them for myself in the flesh. Espen, my lovely local tour guide (Pro photographer by trade) drove me down to see them and told me a little bit about the history behind them. They represent the Battle of Hafrsfjord (Slaget i Hafrsfjord) which was a naval battle fought here between 872 and 900AD, which resulted in the formation of the Kingdom of Norway. Viking chief Harald proclaimed himself the first king of the Norwegians, merging small kingdoms into a single monarchy for the first time. Some believe the unification of Norway took several centuries and did not occur after just one battle, but it is believed to be one of the decisive events to have led to the unification of Norway. The Swords in the Rock (Sverd i fjell) were installed in 1983 to commemorate the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Shout out to Espen, cheers for the ride!

Sverd i fjell, Stavanger, Norway. Espen Mills. 2022.

Stavanger is one of many places I visited during my Norwegian voyage that has stolen my heart in so many ways. I hope to be back again soon, maybe in time for summer. Check in with me soon for my next instalment of Nordic Paradise, where I cover Ålesund and Brønnøysund!

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