Everything has changed. Gone are the thousand lakes and the endless forests. Gone too, if temporarily, are the midges. We have crossed into Norway, into snow-capped mountains on the edge of the sea.
The 200km trip north from Lakselv along the E6 and E69 is spectacular, at one point diving deep beneath the sea in a 6km tunnel – exciting in a car, not so pleasant for the many laden-down cyclists heading north for world’s end.
The objective was Nordkapp via Honningsvag, a town we last saw under deep snow in December. By coincidence MS Finnmarken is moored at Honningsvag quay, the ship that brought us here over Christmas, as is P&O’s Arcadia, the ship we travelled on to the US, the Arctic and the Med. As a consequence the town is echoing to the sound of English accents and so is Nordkapp where the dreaded cruise tour buses line the car park.
Seven months on the snow has gone from Honningsvag and it looks a little rough around the edges but then most towns are improved by their winter coats. This first image of MS Finnmarken contrasts with the version shown here:
It is a long haul to Nordkapp and as you climb through cloud there is a sense of achievement on arrival. This is soon followed by disillusionment at the exorbitant entry fee – like Land’s End, Nordkapp is now a themed experience but having come this far we feel obliged to cough up. At least there is a statue which recognises our irritation – “No Kimi, I will not tell you again, it is just too darn expensive!”
In all the +1000km we have journeyed to the far north, I had not seen one UK registration plate until this appeared in the car park at Nordkapp. Only mad dogs and Englishmen would go out in the land of midnight sun in such a device – good luck to them, a fine adventure.
The snow-capped mountains come in the next post.
… and no further, from we here were heading south and back towards the light; I miss this dark place of snow, ice and the Merry Dancers. This is my diary entry from Christmas Day:
At 10:00am there is light on the horizon but the sun does not rise. The temperature is -20c and falling – everything crackles: the snow under your feet; the cars on white dusty roads; the air. A slight breeze makes your eyes ache and fingers stiffen in the search for the shutter release on an ice-cold camera. It is the perfect setting for a Christmas Day but it is strange nonetheless. By 11:30am the light on the horizon is beginning to fade; Kirkenes is returning to the dark. In truth, it does not really feel like one special day, just another in a series; Christmas started when the snow arrived in Trondheim.
All of these far northern towns have a certain similarity, particularly when seen by artificial light – life goes on despite the raw cold, the snow and the dark. There is industry and a sense of purpose which tourist destinations lack. The architecture is bright, clean, new and purposeful. It is the Alaska of my imagination.
On ship we have been celebrating Christmas since yesterday, Christmas Eve being the day of celebration and gift-giving for the Norwegians. There is no turkey but there is reindeer which is at odds with the story of Rudolph – it tastes good all the same. In the evening there is a service on the upper deck which I am dragged to like the reluctant schoolboy. It is entertaining – there is competitive carol singing as we are encouraged to sing in our own language – the Dutch tenor wins :D. This is followed by the story of Jesus in the ‘manga’ at which point we get a fit of the giggles. A joyous occasion, I am glad I did not miss it.
On Christmas Eve the northern lights appear again, right on cue.
The frozen boy is a detail from a monument to the mothers of Kirkenes.
The northern lights images have been pushed to within an inch of their lives – the first shows mist rising from the cold cold sea, the lights from a distant town and the aurora on the horizon.
Day 4: On this, the shortest day, the heavy weather shifted to the west and the skies to the north became less threatening:
In the morning, two hours behind schedule, Finnmarken sounded three long blasts on the ships horn as she eased into the Arctic Circle at 66°34′. A few miles on, she broke the silence again as a sister ship headed south into the light and we headed further north into the dark. In this part of the world, the winter solstice was actually timed at 12:03 am on 22nd December i.e. when the Sun was exactly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn.
It was no coincidence that I was reading George Mackay Brown’s A Time to Keep – short stories set in the Orkneys, they describe a culture that had strong parallels with remote Norwegian fishing communities. The Orkney bars were populated with the crews of Norwegian whalers and the older stories speak of Viking raiders.
The tale of Check Harra, a man who could not resist gambling with the fifty two cards, contains this short passage which describes his time living among the Indians of North America:
He was lord of an area as big as Britain, a white wilderness with here and there a reindeer herd on the move and at night the splendour of the Merry Dancers, swathes of heavy yellow silk swirling and rustling in the Arctic sky.
That night the Merry Dancers were wearing green:
The images were taken with a hand-held Fuji X100s pushed to ISO 25600 – better results could be achieved at lower ISO settings and a longer exposure on a tripod but, not from a moving ship – the stars streak (and don’t forget to remove the UV filter). There will be more to come.
We arrived in Bergen late on the 17th December all geared up for the cold weather – it was mild and raining a monsoon. The one thing we didn’t possess was an umbrella but we do now; it proudly bears the name Klosterhagen Hotel and was christened the next day when conditions had, if anything, deteriorated even more.
The alleyways around the hotel glistened not with frost but with rain:
The next morning was filled with another trip to the Bryggen, at this time of year, wonderfully devoid of the dreaded tourists – except us of course 🙂 Then came the dragging of cases down cobbled streets to the Hurtigruten terminal, a particularly noisy exercise made even more unpleasant by the realisation that not every item of clothing was watertight. It was a relief to escape the rain and finally board the MS Finnmarken late in the afternoon.
From hereon it was north and into the dark, the days becoming shorter with every nautical mile.
There will be more posts on this subject in the weeks to come (and no doubt some contrived photo challenges). The plan had been to post a diary of the trip as we progressed north along the Norwegian coast, if only for ourselves to look back on. However, the ship’s internal wifi connection to the Internet was unavailable throughout the voyage, only the very occasional 3G signal allowing the upload of some out-of-sequence Blips.
In the meantime I am in catch-up mode so a Happy New Year everyone!
(apologies to Mjollnir – the lack of access to WordPress and a late change to the timings for transfer to Flesland scuppered all plans to meet up. After this trip though, we are certain to be back very soon!)
This may be my last post for a while, much will depend on how good the Internet connection is on Hurtigruten MS Finnmarken. So, in case I cannot get connected, a very Merry Christmas to all my followers, many thanks for taking the time to like and comment on my increasingly random thoughts throughout the year and all the best for 2015. More importantly, many thanks for all the wonderful posts. The quality of television is in inverse proportion to the quantity i.e. the more channels there are the worse it gets – by contrast WordPress always entertains 🙂
Here’s hoping this is what we actually see: