Caves and Storms in Molde
Viking Cruises’ Viking Sky pulled into Molde, Norway on a decidedly stormy Tuesday morning. Little whitecaps were being kicked up on the slate-grey sea as we spun around in the harbour, made all the darker thanks to a low and brooding cloud ceiling. Rain once again hammered down on the Viking Sky, erasing all hopes that I might get a photo of the ship bathed in sunlight.
And as it turns out, I’ve been here before.
Walking to breakfast in the World Café on Deck 7, I looked out over the town of Molde, and it looked back at me in a familiar way. And suddenly, it hit me: I was here four years ago, on a winter cruise up the Norwegian coast aboard Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol. I looked back at my photos when I got back to my stateroom; sure enough, there’s Midnatsol on a wintery evening, docked in Molde.
How bad is that? I’ve finally hit the point where I’m forgetting which places I’ve been to before.
Now, in all fairness, I was only here for about an hour on Midnatsol, which managed to stop at nearly 30 ports of call in seven days on its run up from Bergen to Kirkenes. Today, Viking is giving guests the chance to really make the most of their time here.
Today’s included excursion is a 2.5-hour long tour to the nearby Romsdal Open-Air Museum; a recreated Norwegian village that depicts rural life in 18th century Norway. A total of three departures (11:00am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm) are offered on this complimentary tour, which is nice as it gives guests a better chance to maximize their time and plan their day here. And of course, it gives the flexibility to enjoy the beautiful Viking Sky.
Today, though, I took one of Viking’s optional excursions: the 3.5-hour Bergtatt Marble Caves tour.
From the Viking Shore Excursion brochure:
Marvel at Norway’s Geological Past — Learn about Norway’s geological past at Bergtatt, a magnificent working marble and limestone mine. Your coach transports you to nearby Eide and Bergtatt, where local experienced guides welcome you and ensure you are equipped with helmets and life jackets. After a safety demonstration, the guides lead you to the cave entrance, where the temperature is always 43°F (6°C). Hear all about the interesting history of the quarry before boarding your vessel. Enjoy the magical sounds, lights and colors while you are transported across crystal clear waters and further into the mountain through illuminated tunnels toward the spellbinding caves. Return to your ship via the Atlantic Road, a scenic 5-mile stretch that connects the mainland with Averøya Island. Your route touches several small islands and skerries connected by causeways, viaducts and bridges and passes through the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel, a three-mile undersea passage.
Two departures were offered for this excursion, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. I chose the afternoon departure in order to enjoy a quiet morning aboard Viking Sky, while the rain and wind lashed the outside of the ship. Sitting in the Wintergarden on Deck 7, you’d never even know it was absolutely awful outside.
I disembarked the ship at 1:30pm and joined the coach for my tour to the Bergtatt Marble Caves, about 30 kilometres away from Molde. Upon our arrival, we drove up a switchback road before entering a tunnel carved deep within the mountain. Dark and narrow, the coach continued along a dirt road inside the mountain before finally coming to a stop at a large clearing. This is the entrance to the Bergtatt Marble Caves.
Mining has taken place here since 1938, though the amount mined is down to about 40,000 tons per year, as opposed to 500,000 tons a decade ago. While mining still continues on in other parts of the mountain, its owners have found better success using the remaining spaces as a home for high-tech data centres, and as a tourist attraction and concert venue.
The caves are always 6°C inside, and damp. Somewhere in the distance, Enya was playing indistinctly, its sound warbling off the cave walls. And at the far end, two wooden boats were moored alongside, floating atop a natural lake with waters so crystal-clear that they’re as transparent as drinking water.
Donning lifejackets and hard-hats, we embarked these raft-like boats (propelled by small electric motors) and went on a cruise through this subterranean wonder. We’re 1000 metres inside the mountain, with 250 metres of sheer rock above us at this point.
Energy-efficient LED lights have been strategically placed inside the caves to illuminate them, and – surprisingly – the entire cave is wired with superfast WiFi internet access. It’s odd to float along these caves and, then, notice a WiFi router above your head.
Eventually, we came to a clearing lit by LED candles and lanterns that mimic old-world open flames, without the noxious emissions. This event space looks like it normally serves up cocktails and whatnot, and I wondered what a G&T would taste like in a subterranean cave. I also had to continually remind myself that this was a Real Cave, and not some Disneyland attraction.
Here, we were invited to step off our rafts and enjoy some p