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Explore More - Expedition Cruising

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Opposite: Highlights of

Opposite: Highlights of Sarah΄s journey included encounters with reindeer, stunning seascapes and the inviting interiors on board Viking Sky My father (John, 69) and I have been talking about a trip to the Arctic for the past decade, but my mother (Carole, 70) has bad knees, so we did not think such a physically demanding expedition would be possible. However, when I learned that Viking was cruising up the coast of Norway looking for the northern lights it seemed an ideal solution, giving us all the chance to be as adventurous or relaxed as we felt like. Our 13-day journey would begin in Bergen, then cross the Arctic Circle to Narvik before venturing farther up to the world’s most northerly city, Alta. The return would see us pass through Tromsø, Bodø and Stavanger before sailing home to Tilbury in London. On the first day I spent a peaceful evening in the beautiful Explorers’ Lounge, while my parents arrived on board later that evening to be greeted by welcoming glasses of champagne and reviving soup and cold cuts in Mamsen’s, the ship’s cozy deli named after the mother of Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen. In fact, the whole ship is designed with comfort in mind. The Scandinavian-inspired lounges, with their reindeer pelt–covered chairs, are perfect for hunkering down during the star-studded Arctic nights when temperatures plummet and a cold wind blows outside. All around are bookshelves stocked with exciting tales of Shackleton, Amundsen and Nansen. The Nordic theme continues in the excellent restaurants and even The Spa, where a steam room, sauna and Snow Grotto allow for the full Scandinavian bathing ritual of fire and ice. But it is the chance to see the elusive northern lights which is the big draw to this voyage. Witnessing the phenomenon is by no means guaranteed. Conditions have to be just right, with the sun ejecting enough plasma toward a cloudless, moonless night on Earth for the lights to firstly form, and then be visible from below. The whole crew is permanently on aurora watch, with even the bridge officers poised to announce sightings via the ship’s public address system. Yet even without the northern lights the scenery is spectacular. We left Bergen on a sunny afternoon after spending a relaxing morning listening to a piano recital at the home of Edvard Grieg, and our first chance to explore the sleepy snow-dusted Arctic wilderness came at Narvik, the little shipping port which saw the first victory against the Nazis during World War II. My dad and I chose to visit the nearby 110-acre Polar Park, home to lynx, wolverine, brown bears, musk oxen, elk and, most excitingly, wolves. Wolves that can be petted. So on a bitterly cold January morning we found ourselves kneeling in their enclosure, gloveless and hatless (wolves will pilfer anything that is not firmly attached to your body), awaiting the pack. Sadly the wolves seemed uninterested in hanging out with a semicircle of shivering humans, but luckily the keeper had a trick up her sleeve. Cupping her hands, she howled an eerie call into the wilderness. Within seconds the wolves had answered, baying in reply and hurrying over to let us warm our frozen fingers in their fur. The next port of call was Alta, which, at nearly 70 degrees north, is the world’s most northerly city. It is known as the “City of Northern Lights”—a good sign, if any, that the aurora may show itself. This time my mother joined us as we took a nighttime excursion into the mountains, where the sky was pitch black, offering the best chance of a glimpse of the spectacle away from the lights of the town. But although we had an enjoyable evening, lounging around birchwood fires and sipping hot chocolate under a blanket of stars, the aurora remained absent. The following day we visited the Sami—the indigenous people who still herd reindeer in the mountains and believe the northern lights emanate from the souls of the dead. They traditionally refused to go outside when the aurora was in the sky. After bouncing along on a reindeer sleigh ride across a frozen river, we were served a warming bowl of bidos, or reindeer stew, inside the Sami communal tents, called lavvu, where we were entertained with fascinating tales of life in the frozen north. Although the aurora again remained hidden, as we sailed further south toward Tromsø our hopes began to lift when the forecast showed a spike in the solar winds, indicating that the light-generating plasma was on its way to Earth. We were playing Scrabble in the Atrium when the announcement everyone had been hoping for came from the bridge. “The northern lights have been sighted on the starboard bow.” There had been several false alarms that evening already and this time my mother was not budging. However, my dad and I snatched up our coats and headed out onto the deck. The wait was worth it. Glowing streaks of green darted and swept across the sky, then vanished in an instant to be replaced by swirling ribbons of blue and purple. Arcs framed the mountains and great 56 VIKING.COM EXPLORE MORE 2020