July 26, 2014
We were up early this morning because we wanted to be on deck when the ship passed the Arctic Circle monument. This was supposed to be not long after 7 am, so that’s when we got upstairs. There were only a few of us out that early, on a cool foggy morning with the occasional rain shower. Before long the monument appeared on our left, a metal globe standing on a small island right by the coastal route. (Actually it’s a bit south of the Arctic Circle, but there’s no good place to put it at the correct latitude, so everybody just pretends it’s in the right place.) We passed it at about 7:10 am, so neither of us would win the pool for guessing that.
After that we went in for breakfast. There were only a few of us in the dining room that early as well, so it was quite empty. Out on deck the weather was still mixed, with low cloud and some sunny breaks and rain showers. It was amazing to see all the trees along the shore, not dwarf ones but regular-sized ones. The Gulf Stream definitely affects the vegetation here. We also saw our first White-tailed Sea-Eagle flying high up in the mountains, shortly before arriving in Ørnes, a small town in a nice sheltered location. Here we were allowed to disembark for 5 minutes, so off we went for a quick walk. There was no extra police presence, so perhaps the situation had cooled down.
At 10:15 am we witnessed the Arctic Circle ceremony, where King Neptune arrives to certify that we crossed the Arctic Circle and entered his kingdom. The ceremony involves having water and ice cubes poured down your neck; a lot of people went through the baptism but we didn’t, rationalizing this by saying that we had already crossed the circle when we went camping up the Dempster Highway. The final part of the ceremony was to initiate a new crew member by dousing him with the rest of the ice and water left in the barrel. The poor guy was absolutely drenched!
We had an early lunch so that we would be able to have plenty of time to walk around Bodø, where we had a two-and-a-half-hour layover. First stop was the Tourist Information centre, where we picked up some information for when we would return to Bodø on our own in about a week. Next we walked up the hill to the town’s church, which like almost everything else in Bodø had been bombed flat in World War 2. We sat and listened to a singer who was rehearsing the song she was going to sing for the wedding which was about to take place; she had a very lovely voice which sounded really good in the church.
Across the street was the city museum, recommended by Lonely Planet. We paid our 50 NOK each for admission and the lady at the desk gave us a brochure in English (grade for the translation: C+) and a lot more information about how the museum was organized. Upstairs there was a brooch, or blanket pin, made of silver and weighing 1.2 kilograms, which had been excavated nearby. There were also historical exhibits ranging from the Viking age through the herring fishery and World War 2 up to the present day. The last exhibit, downstairs, was about the indigenous Sami people. And there was a 25-minute movie in Norwegian with English subtitles which told the history of Bodø from one family’s perspective. The whole museum was very well done and good value for the money.
Back on the ship we departed at 3 pm for the four-hour trip across the Vestfjorden to the Lofoten Islands. At Stamsund there were armed police officers at the dock, watching for danger. We disembarked and met our tour guide who would take us to the Viking Feast. The drive to Borg took about 20 minutes and en route we were told about the discovery of the Viking longhouse. It measured 83 meters long by 9 meters wide, so the replica was built to be the same size. Inside were tables set up on one side while other sections had a bed, weaving loom, kitchen, and so on. Our meal was fresh lamb, carrots, turnip, bread, barley, cloudberry jelly, and sour cream, lots of food but really well-cooked and tasty. All ingredients were things which the original inhabitants would have had available. There was also mead, which we used for repeated toasts. It was very smooth despite its high alcohol content.
Once done with the meal we did a line-dance while they sang, then it was time to get on the bus to catch up with the ship at Svolvær. This bus ride took 50 minutes and went through beautiful scenery: shorelines, farms, tall mountains and lakes. We were blessed with good weather so the trip was all that much more enjoyable. The ship was waiting for us, along with two police officers, and we checked in and went up to the deck. As we went farther north past the spiky mountains of the Lofoten chain we could see in the distance large mountains with snowfields, and also more spiky mountains.
But the day wasn’t over yet. At 11:30 pm we met on the back deck for “troll soup”, which was a tasty kind of split pea soup, and then the ship made a small detour into the Trollfjord, which was a dead-end channel not much wider than the ship. The amazing thing was not so much that the ship could go along the fjord; it was that the ship could do a precise U-turn at the end to get out.
July 27, 2014
The ship docked in Harstad early this morning, but we had read that the town was dedicated to the production of military equipment so we decided not to get up for an early walk on shore. Instead we slept in until 8 am. Staying up late under the midnight sun is becoming hard work.
Even this far north (nearly 69° N) the Gulf Stream was having an effect. There were many farms along the shore and most of them had harvested their hay. Up the hill from the farms there were still tall trees and behind those hills the mountains rose steeply. No snow on them, but in the distance we could see snow patches.
After a while there was a movie in the lounge, a short feature about the short history of the city of Tromsø. The city really only started in the 19th century with fishing and then polar exploration, and it’s only lately that it has acquired the most northerly of many things including universities, Burger Kings, and Catholic bishops.
At 11:15 we docked in the small town of Finnsnes. We had half an hour so we decided to take a quick walk into town. We had plenty of time to wander around, including a stop at the statue of Ottar the Viking. Ottar sailed to England in the 9th century and told King Alfred that he was the northernmost of all Norwegians. At the other end of the town was a pond with a colony of Arctic Terns. They weren’t bothered by us but a pair sitting on a nearby building were, swooping down at us as we walked back to the ship.
We continued sailing north and arrived at Tromsø at 2:30 pm, where we had a four-hour layover. Rather than pay for the ship’s excursions we chose to walk around the town on our own. First we went to the Polar Museum, which wasn’t far from the pier. It took us well over an hour to go through it; we had a booklet in English which described the displays. They told us about polar exploration (Nansen and Amundsen) and hunting seals and bears and walrus on Svalbard, and there was a special exhibit about seabird ecology. There were also life-size models of the various seals found in the area as well as musk oxen and polar bears.
Next was an art gallery which featured photographs of innocent victims of the war in Gaza in 2008. Each of them had been maimed by bombs or shrapnel, and each black-and-white photograph came with a description of the person’s injuries and how their lives had been affected. Although the photographs were very well done, reading the descriptions was very distressing.
Back in the sunshine we went looking for an ice-cream shop. We didn’t find one, but we did find a sweet shop which sold soft ice cream cones that were dipped in a topping of your choice. Rosemary chose raspberry and Paul chose sweet licorice. We had to eat the ice cream quickly as it started to melt.
Once we returned to the ship we sat on the deck for a while, and a couple of police officers came on board. It was getting colder, and as the ship headed out of Tromsø we started to go through some foggy patches and caught glimpses of the Lyngen Alps. Tonight’s buffet dinner featured king crab (which we both avoided), reindeer stew, and smoked halibut. Late in the evening we stopped in Skjervøy and went for a quick walk up to the town’s church.
July 28, 2014
After a quick breakfast we headed off the ship for a short walk around Havøysund. This was the smallest place we had stopped at so far, but even here the police were watching. We were farther north so the vegetation was starting to get more stunted, but one of the houses still had a colourful display of orange poppies in the yard.
Soon after the ship carried on we had a meeting about what would happen tomorrow when we got to Kirkenes—things like checking out of the room, paying the bill, and so on. Then since our bus trip to the North Cape left the ship at 11:15 am, we had to have an early lunch at 10:30 am. So when the ship arrived in Honningsvåg we were ready to go. The weather was cool and cloudy with a chance of rain, in other words normal, so we dressed accordingly.
Our bus trip took us up the E69 highway out of Honningsvåg and into the fog. Along the way our guide pointed out the northernmost gas station, hotel, medical centre, etc. There were also stockfish drying on racks near the road. About halfway we stopped at a Sami tent to see some reindeer and also to visit their gift shop. Surprisingly their prices were quite reasonable for Norway.
Carrying on along the road we soon came to the North Cape, where we stopped for our visit. North Cape is supposed to be the northernmost point in Europe; it isn’t really, there’s a nearby peninsula which is a kilometer farther north. But it’s where the Globe monument and the visitor centre are, so that’s where the tour buses go. North Cape is at the edge of a 300-meter high cliff, and the monument is a globe-shaped sculpture near the cliff.
We were lucky that our bus was the only tour bus there, so there weren’t that many people clamouring to have their photos taken at the monument. So it didn’t take long for us to have the mandatory picture of us taken there. We were still in the fog, but luckily it wasn’t raining. The centre was very large, consisting of a restaurant, gift shop, cinema, and a small chapel built into the rock underground. Besides that there was a small museum about King Chulalongkorn of Siam, who visited the cape in 1907. (That reminded us that Norway was specifically mentioned in The King and I.)
Of course we visited the gift shop, where Rosemary bought a light-weight down jacket which could be compressed into a very small bag. It was actually cheaper than a comparable jacket from MEC, and the MEC jacket was filled with polyester fiberfill, making this jacket a very good deal. Before we got back on the bus we went over to have a look at the small monument commemorating the visit of King Oscar II of Sweden, who visited this remote part of his domain in 1873. (That visit is the actual reason why the North Cape complex is located where it is.)
The trip back to the ship went by quickly, and the ship left board right after we arrived. We passed by the northern coast of Norway—no more farms here! Arriving in Kjøllefjord at about 5 pm we had an hour to explore, so we headed along the main road towards the church, which was at the far end of the town. Like much of northern Norway, the church has been burned down in 1944 and rebuilt after the war. The inside of the church was beautiful, with fishing nets painted around the border of the ceiling and an old fishing boat and stars painted in the centre of the ceiling. At the end of the church opposite the altar was a beautifully painted pipe organ.
We walked a bit farther up the hill before turning around, and then we realized how far it was back to the boat. We went into high gear and headed back, and were one of the last to return, but we still had several minutes to spare. On we went to the next port.
On tonight’s menu we had baked Arctic char with asparagus and small potatoes, which was really good. After we got our tea we sat in the lounge with Karsten, a Norwegian who cares for Alzheimer’s patients, and two Australians, Michael and Neville. Michael was a soft-spoken cardiologist and Neville was a very loud and outgoing person. He was full of stories and such a talker that it was hard to get a word in edgewise. We stayed up until about 11:30 pm and then went down to our room to organize our packs for tomorrow’s departure.
We had calculated that tonight would be the perfect time to see the midnight sun in action. After the ship leaves Båtsfjord about 12:30 am there is a sea horizon to the north, and today is the last day without a sunset at that latitude. So the sun should come right down to the horizon and then start climbing upwards again. Only one problem: It’s cloudy. So we went to bed instead. We did wake up when we arrived in Båtsfjord and noticed that it wasn’t dark at all, then went back to sleep.
July 29, 2014
We arrived in Kirkenes on time at 9 am, with the standard two armed police officers keeping an eye on things. We said our goodbyes to some the people we had gotten to know at the airport, disembarked, and got onto the bus which would take us to the airport to pick up our rental car.