The seas are rough, the winds are howling, it is dark, the chill is settling into my bones and very soon we will reach our northern most point of this voyage.
Soon after waking on Day 6, it is announced that the planned excursion to the North Cape will not be running – the roads are far too icy & the winds too strong to attempt buses on the road. A large number of people are disappointed – it is their one chance to be on the top of Europe! We are on our way however to Skarsvag, the northernmost fishing village of the world & currently resident to only 45 people. We’re in the home of a local fisherman’s enterprising wife, who is attempting to revive her tiny village, convince people not to leave her hometown and restore some industry into this small corner of the world.
The fisherman sell their catch for very little, in the summers seafood of all shapes & sizes are given away free to anybody who wants it, such is the low value of their catch. Houses are largely summer holiday properties and sell for as little as 32,000 NOK (Or £3,200)! This lady however is undaunted and continues to campaign for her cause, inviting tourists into her home to have a glimpse of rural Norwegian life, sup on some Gluhwein & gingerbread biscuits and leave several Krone later, charmed into buying the Christmas ornaments & decorations sold from her year-round Christmas house. Next Christmas, I too shall hang my Norwegian ornaments from the tree.
Unfortunately, the weather is too unpalatable for a walk to the harbour to watch the men bring in their catch, which is a shame as we miss out on a key component of the tour but it is an interesting afternoon spent.
And although I didn’t think it possible, the weather has worsened and although we’re glad to be off the roads, we’re onto an even rockier ship heading now eastbound for Kirkenes.
That evening we’re treated to a display of Alaskan King Crabs – these beasts are prolific and in certain seasons, the quota on these bad boys is removed so that they don’t eat everything in their path! I hope they’re for dinner soon!
The next day dawns bright and clear and we are in Kirkenes, sharing a longitude with St Petersburg & Istanbul, we are as east as we will be heading before we turnaround and make our journey back whence we came, to Bergen. The day is beautiful here, some brave sunshine poking through over this snow covered city.
Kirkenes is home to 10,000 inhabitants and located only 10km from the border with Russia, is a fascinating place to visit. My guide en route to the Snow Hotel cannot help but brag about his beautiful hometown, telling us that summers here can reach up to 30 degrees and in his boyhood in 1968, they recorded lows of -52! Russia & Norway have an agreement that those resident within 30km of the border can come across freely up to the 30km boundary in the next country and each side use it to their advantage. 9,000 Norwegians live in the 30km boundary but 40,000 Russians live on the other side and together they make up to ½ a million trips over to Norway a year bringing up to £100m into Norway’s economy. Kirkenes, it seems, sells the Russians more nappies than all of Norway put together & Norwegians in turn make the trip over to the other side to refuel – prices there being less than ½ of Norwegian fuel.
But today I am here to see the Snow hotel & Reindeer park and maybe sneak in a visit to play with the Huskies again. The snow hotel is created by blowing up a large balloon, covering it in water carefully to ensure a solid ice structure & then the balloon is removed and the interior formed – it takes Chinese sculptors two weeks to construct the interior and the hotel is open and ready for business – they open at the Winter solstice and shut down again when it starts to rain inside!! Each room is decorated in a slightly different fashion, you are provided with super warm sleeping bags & you curl up admiring the different icy characters watching over you as you sleep.
The hotel itself is situated in a beautiful park and a lot of my time is spent marvelling at the pure pristine landscapes. The reindeer are very used to people & poke their noses into you inquisitively, hoping you have some feed for them. The albino reindeer, Rudolph, is a special favourite but he’s often beaten to the quick for food by his mother so he stands patiently by.
Since it’s a clear day, it’s far easier to get some good shots of the huskies and the sleds. It’s pretty icy underfoot so some of the dogs are wearing little booties to protect their paws, a sight just far too adorable for words.
My time in Kirkenes has gone all too quickly and after a detour past a viewpoint we head back on ship. Husband has been snowmobiling and it seems his excursion too has been a great success! As we make our way southbound back to Bergen, dinner tonight is those Alaskan Crabs (Along with a mind boggling seafood selection). I’m a happy girl seeing in a happy new year.