On the first days, you’d wonder if the water was actually glass. Even where it curled and broke the plain with its transient swaying, the sea’s density was such that you doubted its nature. You also wondered if the ruby or lemon farms were inhabited. Had someone been born along that strip of granite, grown up on that Caledonian range, learnt fishing in Trondheimsfjordel, and then not decided to grow into an adult somewhere else? You knew that glaciers had melted, allowing the sea to take their place among the mountains, and the lace-shaped coast had formed, so thick you were not able to follow its edge on the map back at home. An elaborate succession of spontaneous moorings with cracked edges. In Norwegian, ‘fjord’ means ‘landing place’. Two basic elements, earth and water, filled the eyes of the mail boat’s passengers for miles and miles. Water and earth slid slowly one onto the other, dividing into perfectly balanced geometrical shapes in their fields of vision. If you appreciated one thing while sailing, it was that proceeding through remote places caused time to stretch and intensified the all-human quality of grasping subtleties. Doubts were just the consequences of a meticulous look at the northern periphery. You had been attracted by it, but were you ready to step into it? Then, the sea had started to break into adolescent waves, and the naked hills had covered in life and strips of earth. Scots pines, spruces, beeches, oaks, elms and dwarf birches. Green and blue destinies under salty skies. The world had lost its initial austerity, it had grown and was now vulnerable again, similar to the world you used to know. A hospitable horizon, a landing place.
Each night, the ferry Hurtigruten (‘quick route’ in English) sails from Bergen and heads north, beyond the Arctic Circle. Kirkenes is the last harbour, right before the border. Seven nights, six days, thirty-five ports, one thousand two hundred and fifty sea miles. A round trip. Kirkenes becomes the starting point and Bergen the destination. On July 2, 1892 Ms Vesterålen sailed on the first quick trip from Trondheim. Not a trivial innovation at the time: before then, it took three weeks in summer and five months in winter for the mail to get to Hammerfest; thanks to the Hurtigruten fleet, that reduced to seven days only. For this innovation and for our ‘quick route’ journey we are thankful to Mr. Richard Bernhard With (1846 – 1930), a Norwegian captain, businessman and politician.