A Travellerspoint blog

25: Thongs in the Arctic Circle?

sunny 27 °C
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Had an early wakeup call by Conductor (5am) to see some port near the North Cape (that was only a 30min stop). Needless to say the feedback from Weary was less than flattering and both her and Bookie stayed in bed. Woke up a few hours later to discover Conductor back in bed asleep! Fraud!

After brekky we pulled into Hammerfest and spent the morning wandering around the town. The town itself is built on the side of a mountain (although all towns on the west coast are pretty much all on mountains) and surrounded by a beautiful fjord. We went for a walk up to the top of the town to see an old church (the only building left standing after the second world war) and to check out the view from the top of the town. Today in Hammerfest is probably the hottest day they will get all year at 27 deg so we were pretty warm considering we had jeans, long sleeved t-shirts and jumpers on! So when we got back to town we stopped in the market square and had a beer and ice-cream.

Returned back to the boat and went for a swim in the jacuzzi (which didn’t do much to improve how hot I was feeling). It was nice to get changed afterwards into shorts and a t-shirt and thongs! It’s been awhile since I’ve donned any clothing that reveals more skin than my hands and face!

Spent the afternoon relaxing around the boat and spent the evening playing cards. Conductor hopped off the boat at 11pm to go to the Tromso Cathedral to hear the midnight concert. By all accounts was a great night out.

Time for bed. Off through Loffeten and the Trollfjord tomorrow!

Posted by weary_feet 11:50 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

24: Swedish Chef

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Later start today as today is Day 1 of our Hurtigruten trip from Kirkenes to Vardo. (I still laugh every time I hear the name Hurtigruten—all I can think of is the Swedish Chef from the Muppets!!) Got on the ship mid-morning and spent the first few hours exploring the ship and reading our books on the top deck. Just before lunchtime we were able to move into our room (much smaller than the one we had on the Exhibition!) and then we went to discover the tasty treats in the dining hall.

Definitely the Hurtigruten is a cut above the Exhibition in both looks and amenities. Unfortunately it really lacks in the character and atmosphere of the Exhibition boat and the mean age of the passengers would be at least 65. This means the excursions off the boat are very tame and the key activity for most passengers is securing their deck chair or lounge chair early in the morning and then planting their bums for the next few hours!

Straight after lunch we had an introductory meeting and then stopped for our first port- Vardo. Here we decided to just go for a walk around the town. The town itself is very quaint and has the picture book “Norwegian” look. Strangely we saw hardly anybody about.. all we can think is that it was late in the arvo and they were all inside or on holidays.. We stopped at an old fort and took a look at the fortifications (star shaped) and admired the old WW2 guns.

It’s another thing I’ve learnt on this trip.. I had no idea how much Norway was impacted by WW2. I knew that there was a Norwegian resistance (and therefore Norway must have been occupied by the Nazis) but I had no idea to the extent that Norway was involved with the war. Norway seems to have been one of the key areas that the Nazis wanted purely as a staging ground for their attacks against the Soviet Union. Thousands of Russian POWs were brought to Norway and forced to build railways and road ways through the north of Norway!

Finished the day with another meal (lucky this is the last of my all you can eat trips as I will definitely be 10kgs heavier when they are both over) in the dining room and headed off for an early night.

Posted by weary_feet 11:36 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

23: Lasoos and Fairy Lights

sunny 16 °C
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Our last day on our tour across Sapmi was from Karasjok to Kirkenes. You can drive to Kirkenes one of two ways; through Norway via many of the Fjords or through Finland via Lake Inari, the largest lake in Northern Europe. We decided to return to Finland and see Lake Inari (we figure we are going to see lots of Fjords on the Hurtigruten).

Before we started on our trek we spent the morning in Karasjok checking out the local Sami cultural sites that we were unable to see the previous day. Our day started with us watching our hosts at Engholm’s feed their husky dogs. They must have close on 50 dogs that all live on the property. When I say live I actually mean chained up to their own dog house by a length of chain. It doesn’t seem super humane to me to keep the dogs chained up but apparently there are reasons. The huskies on the property are working dogs and have a very strong sense of being members of the pack. To ensure that the human’s stay as the masters of the pack they need to show the dogs who is boss (hence being chained up). The other key reason is to stop the dogs fighting amongst themselves for dog supremacy (apparently this happens if they are kept of leads?). Feeding time is interesting in that you can hear it before you can see it. The dogs all got fed a good few hundred grams of dry feed and fresh water. The huskies are currently on holidays so aren’t required to do anything except eat and sleep (they don’ t even hop off the chains for a walk each day!)

After feeding time at the zoo we took off to see the Sami Parliament. The parliament is actually an advisory service to the Norwegian government and doesn’t have any status as a parliament but it is a way for the Sami people to ensure they have a voice in the policies of Norway. The “parliament” sits 4 times a year in this purpose built parliament building. The parliament has a president, advisor to the president and secretary as well as the rest of the sitting members. Seemingly the members (even the president) aren’t actually Norwegian members of parliament so I’m not sure how the link works but the Sami people seem happy to have their own parliament! There is a Sami parliament type setup in Sweden and Finland but the Russian Sami’s have no political say in Russia (surprise, surprise) and are apparently treated quite poorly.

We then returned to Sapmi park to learn more about the Sami people’s and their beliefs (although they are mostly Lutheran Christians….) We spent half an hour or so wandering around the park checking out traditional Sami dwellings (tee pee style). We spent quite some time chatting to a local Sami guy who is actually a nomadic Sami! During the summer the reindeer all travel north to the coastal areas to graze and to look after their babies. The nomads follow their herds and move to the coast with them. As the weather starts to get colder the Reindeer know that they need to move to other pastures and so start to trek back southwards (inland). I didn’t realise that Reindeer were so attuned to the changing of the seasons, I assumed that the Sami herders just started to herd them to a different pasture or whatever.. This is not the case. The Sami spend their time following the herd to wherever they want to go. The herds know where they go every year for their winter and summer pastures.

The way of life has also changed for the Sami. In the past, the Sami would have lived in their tee pees (called Luavu) all year round and would have travelled on sleds being pulled by reindeers or by walking. Now days, the Sami have houses at their summer and winter pastures and really only use their tents for the travelling in between. They also use snowmobiles and motorbikes or 4wd bikes to herd the reindeer. One thing that hasn’t changed is that the Sami still use reindeer skins for keeping themselves warm during winter. The Sami guy we were talking to was telling us that last winter it got down to -58 deg and when they heard in that sort of weather they do not use any face coverings!!!! He said they have to be careful to not get frost bite but that they don’t have any issues with their lungs etc!! INSANE! They don’t use face coverings because they block your vision. Blocked vision could lead to his reindeers being taken by wolves or wolverines which are hungry!

Another interesting fact is that you are not allowed to be a reindeer herder (or farmer I think) unless you are Sami in Norway! So you cannot go down to the Bunnings equivalent and pick yourself up a nice Reindeer baby and start growing it! You must be Sami to look after reindeers!

After leaving Karasjok we started our final leg to Kirkenes. The trip itself was fairly uneventful (no more damage to the beast!). The terrain started off quite similar to previous but soon became much more wooded with pine forests and largish mountains. Our drive along the lake was also quite uneventful as most of the lake couldn’t be seen by road! Saw more reindeer (we’ve stopped taking photos by now) and disappointingly didn’t see any moose, wolves or bears… Fingers crossed we might see them further along in our journey..

On our arrival into Kirkenes we decided to do a pit stop to the Russian border to it out. V unexciting… All we could see was the Norwegian check point and the Russian check point must be further into the mountains… V disappointing for Conductor and Bookie as they had both hoped to see something of the Russian border crossing (especially after my story of crossing into Russia from Mongolia).

Finished the night with a wander around Kirkenes and some local pizza for dinner (only 80 dollars for the three of us for tea.. bargain!) Onto the Hurtigruten tomorrow for the start of our last leg of our Arctic Adventure!

Posted by weary_feet 11:27 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

22: Rustic Living

sunny 15 °C
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Great drive today from Karusevanto to Karasjok! We drove in all three countries today; Norway, Sweden and Finland! Day started at the usual time of around 8ish with a nice (albeit plain) breakfast in our hotel. Mozzies continue to be the bane of my existence which meant no open windows last night….

Terrain is similar to that of yesterday. Relatively flat with small stunted birch tree forests, marshy ground and of course lakes! If you look on a map of Northern Norway/ Sweden/ Finland it is one big lake with the occasional piece of ground! We saw two different reindeer today jump out at us and we’ve seen Lemmings.. Yep those things the computer game of the 90s was made about.. They look (from a distance in the car) a bit like a guinea pig and we weren’t sure if we were seeing Lemmings but we spoke to some locals today and they have assured us that Lemmings is indeed what we have seen. Apparently they are really quite stupid animals and have been known to jump off cliffs—hence the computer game!

We stopped at a town almost half way between the two called Kautikino. Kautikino is one of the main Sami towns in Norway and so we stopped to check out the Sami Museum. The museum itself wasn’t super impressive, it held artifacts from when most Sami’s were nomadic. Interestingly, there are about 100,000 Sami peoples living across Scandinavia of which about 2,000 are still nomadic! I was quite surprised to hear that so many are still nomadic and follow the reindeer herds!

We also stopped in Kautikino and saw the Juhls Silver Museum. This museum is more an art gallery and is one of the more impressive jewellery galleries I’ve ever seen. The owners make all of the jewelery on site and the jewellery is made using Sami techniques meaning each piece of jewellery is quite unique and is really beautiful.. If I had plenty of money I could have spent quite a bit in the gallery.. really really nice jewellery.

Unfortunately, later in the afternoon I was driving along when a truck came hurtling around the corner and flicked up a large rock… Of course this turned into a large half-moon crack in the windscreen! Damn… when you know everything is at least double the cost (and often closer to triple) the new windscreen is going to be exy!

Arrived in Karasjok later in the afternoon and spent an hour or so checking out the town. Karasjok is the home of the Sami people in Norway and is the place where the Sami parliament can be found as well as the Sapmi Park (Sapmi means the Land of the Sami and is the name for Northern Norway/ Sweden/ Finland etc.. Sapmi is what the Norwegian Sami’s call the land.. Lap is what the Finnish Suomi’s call the area!) Anyway we tried to get into the Sapmi park but discovered that the English viewing of the Sami movie had ended for the day so instead of entering the park we decided to come back first thing tomorrow morning.

Arrived at our digs “Engholm Husky Design Lodge”. This lodge is as rustic as you can get… At a cost of 300 dollars a night for the three of us it is also one of the most expensive. It is little log cabins that are made up to be authentic hunting lodges. Skins are on the chairs, reindeer antlers are used as hooks, reindeer stomach as a lamp shade etc. The cabin is made out of logs, has a wood stove and has grass growing on the roof! A couple of interesting points about the cabin—
• no running water—you have to collect it from the main house (about 100m away)—this is fine in the summer but in winter?????
• No bathroom facilities—again have to go to main house
• Mozzie city.. more mosquitos in one place than I have ever seen anywhere (no fly screens on windows and no fly screen on door………………. (we had to go and buy some Raid))
• Wireless internet and an iPod dock are installed in the rooms?????

Needless to say I struggled with the concept of having wireless but not having any hot water………………. The stay was pretty fun though as it isn’t’ every day that you stay in a place with a lamp shade made of granite, a swinging chair made of rope and wood, a shower with a granite mirror and rope holder for your toilet paper!

Off to bed now in my log bed with an ikea mattress!

Posted by weary_feet 11:17 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

21: Killer Insects

overcast 14 °C
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Early start as we had the Europcar dude picking us up at 9am. Got our beast (equiv to $1k for 3 days—probably one of the most exy car rentals on earth!)—a VW Golf Station Wagon—and started driving to Karuesavanto.

The VW Golf is a manual diesel, so it was interesting driving out of the car park in a manual on the wrong side of the road! Actually it is probably easier for us to drive a manual on the wrong side than it would be for Europeans or Americans (mainly because as a right hander it isn’t too bad for us to change gears with our right hand as opposed to changing gears with your left..)

Anyway off we went for our first drive through the Norwegian wilderness. The terrain leaving Tromso is just beautiful- huge granite alpine looking mountains (that are still snowcapped!) with large tracks of spruce and pine trees and of course lakes! This part of Norway (and Sweden and Finland for that matter) is just covered in lakes and rivers. Every valley has some sort of stream.. And where you get streams and boggy marshes you get mozzies..

Let me tell you that they grow their insects up here, BIG. The size of the mozzies, bees and other flying things are just huge, and on top of their size there are so many bugs that you are constantly swishing your face, swatting your arms/ legs/ face etc.. It actually makes sitting outside in the sunshine unpleasant!

The terrain did subtly change throughout the day to by the time we arrived in Karasuvento the huge mountains had all disappeared and we now had fairly flat terrain. The soil is quite poor and arid looking (rocky, sandy soil) covered in huge birch forests (although the trees are probably only half of the size they would be anywhere else.. we think the cold stunts their growth) with plenty of lakes and marshy sections. We were stoked this arvy because we had a reindeer jump out in front of the car! Luckily it jumped out far enough down the road to give us breaking distance, but it was pretty awesome to see one of Santa’s helpers up so close!

Gee one other thing is that we can’t complain about the weather here. Here we are, well above the arctic circle, sunshine is streaming down and the temp is probably about 18 deg! Who can complain about that??? Apparently the mean temp for the year in the arctic is 0 deg!!! So much for polar! (If you are interested, the mean temp for the year in the Antarctic is -58 deg!!)

Stayed the night in this one horse town called Karasuvento on the Finnish/ Swedish border. Quite amusing but one of the street names in this town is “Dargys’s” which we decided was pretty funny as it looks pretty much like Daggy and man that sums up this town pretty well!

When we checked in we were the only visitors in the whole hotel! Completely dead! Eventually others did arrive but you couldn’t say that the hotel was packed! The town itself is right on the border so one street is in Finland and the street running perpendicular is Sweden! We spent a sum total of about 15min checking out the town and then returned to our hotel for a night spent playing cards… Gazz you’ll be interested to know that bookie can actually play Euchre!!! I know surprising what?

Anyway off tomorrow for our second car leg- Karasuvento to Karasjok (back in Norway)….. For all of those monetarily interested the comparison on fuel price between Finland and Norway is interesting.. Fuel in Norway is close to $3/ litre as compared with just over $2/ litre in Finland! Needless to say that we are going to fill up the car in Finland before we take off again tomorrow.. So all of you Aussies whinging about $1.50/ litre……

Posted by weary_feet 10:52 Archived in Finland Comments (0)

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