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If you’re tired of five-star cruises, do not give up � until you’ve taken a vacation aboard a Norwegian Coastal Voyage, the anti-cruise. There’s no casino. No entertainment. No captain’s gala. You’re comfortable at all times and not worried about clothes (sweaters and jeans are the norm, from breakfast to dinner). You’re with people from all walks of life. The outdoors is what brings everyone together. It’s an active crowd, into camping and the environment. Nothing comes between you and the spectacular scenery: the Norwegian coastline, the longest (1,550 miles) in all of Europe. We took the M/S Nordnorge in Bergen, Norway, riding for six days, northern-bound, in the Atlantic Ocean and the Norwegian Sea to Kirkeness on the Russian border. This is a working ship. Going north, sailors unloaded cargo at 35 ports of call, including dry goods and chilled goods. On the southbound journey, fish and other frozen goods were unloaded. Our ship was a Tower of Babel with a symphony of tongues. Announcements on the loudspeaker were in four languages: Norwegian, English, German, and French. In fact, only 10 percent of those on board were Americans. World news (posted in the library) came in Spanish, French, and English. CLOUDBERRIES AND VENISON The ship was spacious. Its best feature was its huge windows. The dining options involved plenty of fish, especially herring. There’s also traditional Norwegian food, such as cod from Svolvaer and cloudberries from Hammerfest. For meat eaters, there was reindeer, elk, venison, and grouse � all served in creamy sauces. Our favorite dinner was fish topped with mashed potatoes. At the bar we met a couple from Arkansas, born to a family of Norwegians. They were here to visit his family’s farms. There were 490 passengers and 45 cars on board � a ship being faster than driving to get isolated coastal people to where they need to be. In one stop at Honnigsvag, we saw reindeer grazing as we drove along the road to the North Cape, the northernmost point of Europe, to see the midnight sun. From the middle of May until the end of July, the sun still shines at 10 p.m. You’re only two miles from the North Pole. The North Cape, in fact, is the ship’s most popular destination, and we saw many visitors getting married at St. Johannes Chapel. Kirkeness is the only town in Norway where East meets West on the Russian border. It’s here you meet the Sami people (formerly called Laplanders), the original natives of Norway, who breed reindeer. After 130 years of restoration, you can now see the splendor of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city. It’s here that King Olav, who brought Christianity to Norway, is buried, which made the cathedral one of Northern Europe’s most important pilgrimages during the Middle Ages. After crossing the Arctic Circle, we visited the Polaria Experience Center in Tromso. It has a walk-through seal aquarium. The big show involved jumping seals butting their heads against balloons. Afterward, all the passengers gathered in the ship’s bar to receive their commemorative Arctic Circle certificates (from one of the officers, dressed as the Roman god Neptune). But first you had a choice: Sing a folk song from your country, with everyone joining in. If you declined to sing, Neptune would drop an ice cube down your back. Tromso is also the place to witness the aurora borealis (known as the Northern Lights), given its name by Galileo. From September to April, ribbons of light shoot across the sky, changing shape, intensity, and color, from green to blue to purple to red. This natural phenomenon occurs when electric particles from the sun collide with the upper atmosphere on their way to the earth’s magnetic field, causing a storm of phosphorescent gas to move across the sky. Land tours included visits to seven waterfalls, cascading down from jagged snow-capped mountains; huskies leading a three-hour dog-sledding safari from Tromso; or bird-watching tours (to see puffins and kittiwakes) from Honningsvag. And finally, there’s a riverboat tour to the Russian border along the Pasvik River.
Fredric Stuart and Diane Charlotte Lampert are freelance writers living in New York.

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