Through the Finnmark to Alta

Day 47

After a nice stay in Palojärvi i continued my trip. Just 10 km later I crossed the Finnish-Norwegian border and entered the Finnmark, the northernmost part of Norway. It was still very grey, very windy and quite warm with temperatures round zero. And that’s how the road looked like in the open, where the wind covered parts of the roads with snow drifts.

Soon I arrived in Kautokeino, where the Sami culture is quite big. Most signs have the Sami language first, in some of the front yards are fenced reindeers, women wear traditional Sami dresses and on the outside of many houses are reindeer skins hanging for drying.

I made a short break to make some photos of the church and the graveyard.

After a short rest I continued northwards. The landscape was first as flat as a pancake but gradually started to become hilly. Almost all I could see was grey birches and white snow, almost like a black-white painting. The yellow central dividing strip of the road and here and there a traffic sign were the only visible colours.

After an hour the hills got larger and finally a found a parking place, that wasn’t in the middle of a birch wood. Even if the thermometer showed 0 °C it was extremely chilly due to the strong winds that even shook my parked car and I had to protect face and hands against the coldness. Just one picture into the valley showing a small village.

The hills got steeper and sheer rocks appeared, some of them covered with turquoise blue ice that seemed to glow from its inside. The landscape started to get a bit colourful.

Now the most interesting part of the road began. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t make any photos, but the road had so many curves and bends and not a single parking bay, that I didn’t dare to stop. Suddenly the road was bordered by steep black-brown rock walls, it was almost like driving into a canyon. Then the road went down, the landscape opened again and suddenly I was surrounded by a green pine forest. After some hours of seeing only black-white it was amazing and felt like driving into another country with another climate. Minutes later the cloud layer broke and the sun lingered through the gap illuminating a snowy mountain at the horizon making all finally colourful again.

This looked so nice, that I decided to stay to nights in Alta. Now I only needed a cheap room. The employees at the  tourist information had some difficulties in understanding that their job is to help tourists, but that’s another story … . Finally I could convince one of them to find a room for me. I drove back to the camping place in Øvre Alta, where I stay in a nice, small cabin without water but with internet (that’s more important!) for two nights. But before it went dark I returned into town and took two images near a partly frozen bay.

Ascent of the Komsa

The second day in Alta. The afternoon I parked my car at the end of the street Tilfluktsveien. My plan was to go up to the top of the hill Komsa. The winter ways turned out to be ski trails and I since I went afoot, I went beside the trail. First I thought about getting my skis, but soon I found a trampled path that brought me to the top of the Komsa. Thank you, locals, for knowing the best way and tramping this path! On the top of the Komsa it was very windy and I sought shelter behind the radio station to change the camera lens. Nearby stood two sheds with parabolic antennas. The green camouflage pattern revealed the military usage. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous standing there with my camera and the long telephoto lens, especially when I aimed directly to the sheds to catch the mountain view above. I’m quite sure that it’s strictly forbidden to take pictures of military installations in Norway as in many other countries. After taking some images (landscape, no military installations!) three soldiers appeared and approached. They went into my direction and they seemed to be in a hurry. (Gulp!) But they just said “hoi”, passed by and entered the wooden house of the radio station. (Phew!) There were not at all interested in my photographing and probably just wanted to avoid the chilly wind. I was reliefed and wandered around a bit. The stormy wind was chilly but the views where so beautiful.

Two other photos of today.

One: The Nordlyskatedralen (The Northern Light Cathedral) in Alta, a remarkable building.

Two: Wakan, an Alaskan Malamute, that will participate the Finnmarksløpet, a 1000 kilometre dog sled race that starts in Alta in a few days. Good luck!

Purple sandpipers

Day 49

Today in Olderfjord: I only went to the beach to make a photo of the mountain reflecting in the fjord …

… when I came across a huge flock of resting birds that turned out to be Purple Sandpipers. Cautiously I changed the lens and tried to get nearer, nearer, nearer. The birds got a bit nervous but didn’t fly away. But suddenly – I didn’t move at all – the whole flock arose into the air, wheeled over the sea in a large circle, divided into two minor flocks and one of them came back to the place where I stood landing just some metres in front of me. Just great!

 

 

Hammerfest and Honningsvåg

Day 49

Quite early I left Alta yesterday and continued the E6 in direction Kirkenes. To the left I could see the Altafjorden but soon the street turned right and went a bit up. Half of the Finnmark is above the tree line and so are parts of the E6. But it’s still amazing that you leave the coastal area with green pine trees and wet snow and after a bit of driving up you are in an area with snow covered mountains and just some downy birches here and there.

But after a while the road went down again and I turned left to visit Hammerfest. I made a short stop in Kvalsund before I drove over the bridge onto the island Kvaløya where Hammerfest is situated at the western coast.

I know the name Hammerfest for ages, I guess it was mentioned in my children’s encyclopedia. As many other towns in Norway Hammerfest is a modern town, since it was destroyed almost completely in WW2. For me the name sounds quite German, both “Hammer” and “fest” are German words as well. When I had a look in the tourist information I thought, that Hammerfest is a German town, because all people talked German. But that’s probably only because the Hurtigruten was just in town and many tourists that make a cruise with one of these ships come from German speaking countries.

After a shorter strolling through town I continued the road to Forsøl in the north of Kvaløya. Again the road went through treeless, snow covered hills and mountains. But the rocks at the coast showed moss and other creeping plants due to the mild coastal climate.

I returned and planned to continue my journey to Honningsvåg, one of the northernmost towns in Europe. Driving back was not easy in the beginning because the streets where wet and it was hard to see something against the low standing sun, even with sun glasses and flapped down sun shields. But soon the road changed direction and driving became easier. Now I continued the E6 a bit and turned left into the E69 (that’s where I made the pictures of the Purple Sandpipers) that leads to the town Honningsvåg and to the Nordkapp. It started to dawn and even to snow a bit.

After a while it was dark. I could see grey snow, dark rocks and the dark sea. After a while I couldn’t see anything anymore, just the reflecting tape round the plastic marks and the tunnels. Meanwhile we had +3 °C and it rained. (I guess, it can be alike in summer …) Already from distance I could see the lights of Honningsvåg. The last tunnel went beneath the sea and came out again on the island Magerøya. Some minutes later I was in Honningsvåg.

Now I had three wishes: Food, internet and a room. It took a while to find the only open restaurant, a pizzeria. Check! There I was allowed to use the private WiFi to get internet. Thank you, guys! Check! And there, with the help of Annika who was online I found a room in a hostel. Expensive but hey, we’re in Norway. Check!

Now, the morning after, I will have breakfast and then I will pretend to be a real tourist and visit the Nordkapp, the northern most point in Europe you can reach by car.

5000 km

Day 50

Hooray, I had a travel jubilee today! My journey Nordkalotten 2015 turned 5000 km this morning. My car found a fine place for the jubilee and I just stopped on the road to take some pictures (when I took the picture of the 000.0, the car was still rolling). Dear Saab 9-5, thank you for supporting me on this long trip. What would I do without you.

By pure chance it is also day 50 of the journey, that means I had an average of 100 kilometres a day (including all the days where I didn’t even touch my car).

Finally: The North Cape

Day 50

To be honest: I never planned to visit the Nordkapp (The North Cape), but when I was in Alta I continued to Hammerfest and after that I travelled to Honningsvåg and from that place it’s only 29 kilometres. So I visited the North Cape yesterday.

The first part is a normal road showing some beautiful views. I also completed 5000 km on this road.

If you go to the North Cape in winter by bus or your own car, you have to drive the last part in convoy. Convoys are starting at 11 and 12 o’clock.

When I came to the convoy place I was an hour too early. Time to try to make a rest on a wooden bench (it was degrees above zero again), but the wood was too wet to stay.

11 o’clock we started. The snow plough came first, then two minibusses, then me and two other cars. The street seemed to be alike as the first part: Snow and mud, partly frozen and some steep passages. The weather changed every single minute and I looked into a rainbow while following the other cars.

When we arrived I parked my car, almost jumped into the building to get an entrance ticket and ran to the famous landmark to make a photo with the rainbow without any other tourists. Even although the rainbow started to vanish I was lucky and I got my pictures. Only my own shadow was unavoidable.

But more than of the landmark I was fascinated by the weather. You could see single rain showers wandering over the sea like extraterrestrial animals and I never saw the weather change so fast and so often than yesterday at the North Cape.

I wandered round and made some photos, both inside and outside. I saw fog and approaching and I saw the many tourists, that came in big busses with the second convoy. I had a look into the tiny chapel in the basement and I ate a waffle with Norwegian cheese, jam and whipped cream.

And of course I made a selfie.

I took the convoy back at 1 o’clock (the earlier one) and I was alone. But so I had time to take the car on another road and drive to Gjesvær, a little fishing village in the northwest part of the island Magerøya. I had to stop again, the light on the far mountains was just breathtaking and the photo is just a poor copy of reality.

There’s apparently no tourism in Gjesvær under the winter but I could see several fishing boats going out and coming in.

After a short strolling I returned back over the fjell until I was at my hostel in Honningsvåg again.

The North Cape – is it worth a visit?

Even if I’m usually not attract by touristic attractions I do like the place somehow.

Yes, it’s neither the northernmost point of mainland Europe (that’s Cape Nordkinn near Mehamn), nor even the northernmost point of the island Magerøya (that’s Knivskjellodden), but it’s a symbol! A symbol for being at the north peak of Europe and as long as you travel by car it is the northermost place you will reach.

I wouldn’t travel far just to reach the North Cape but when you are nearby I think it is worth both the travel and the entrance fee of NOK 255. If you have your own car, take the first convoy and you will get a chance of taking pictures without a zillion other tourists, at least as long it’s not too foggy.

For me this is kind of a peak of my journey Nordkalotten 2015 and now I’ll travel southward again. Probably Karasjok today and Kirkenes tomorrow. What I will do after this depends on the weather. If winter still is much too warm as most of the time I might return to my house in Skelleftehamn and take it easy for two weeks before I drive to Finnland again the last free week. But we’ll see. No plans yet …

A first day in Kirkenes

What a beautiful morning! -6 °C and blue sky. I was accommodated near the Kirkenes Snow Hotel where my friend I’m staying with works. I had a look into the Snow Hotel first, It has an impressive lobby with tables and a bar and round about 20 rooms where tourists can stay over night.

After looking around I drove into the centre of Kirkenes and had a walk at the port. First I discovered the commercial fishing part: Big piles of traps for the big King crabs and fisher boats lettered with latin and cyrillic letters. But not far away you could see the touristic part: The Hurtigruten ship Kong Harald that landed nearby.

I walked at the shore a bit and tried to make photos of the big ice floes that lay ashore but clouds had approached and the light was a bit dull. So I took the car and took the road E105 to Му́рманск (Murmansk). No, I didn’t plan to travel to Russia but I wanted at least to see the Russian border. It’s not far away and soon I parked my car just in front of the border.

I’m child of the cold war. It was great to see, that there is a normal border now (even if you need a visa for travelling to Russia) and that you are allowed to take pictures. On the other side this border seemed to be more the “end of the world” to me than the North Cape. On the right-hand side there is the lake that is marked with orange warning signs. This is part of the Norwegian–Russian border that crosses this lake. You shouldn’t set foot on the lake, but at least I went to the shore to take a picture of the Russian custom.

Maybe I will cross this border one day and take the car or the bus to Murmansk, who knows …

It already started snowing on the way to the Russian border but on the way back the snow fall intensified. It was still easy to follow the road but hills that very a bit farer away where hardly visible.

Back at the snow hotel it was still snowing a lot and quite windy but warm as well: +1 to +2 degrees. Some of the 140 huskies were still out on tour while the rest of the dogs could take it easy.

The forecast for the next day promised sunny weather. We’ll see …

 

King crab fishing

Yesterday I was on one of the tours, that the Kirkenes Snow Hotel has in its program: King crab fishing. These huge crabs are caught in big crab traps.

First we were provided with scooter overalls, big leather mittens and helmets, because we were driven to the place by snow mobile. The crab trap of the snow hotel is located at the end of the Langfjorden. Normally it would be necessary to free the hole from new ice but yesterday it was too warm and the trap, that looks like a big cage, could be pulled up directly. And yes – we were lucky – a lot of king crabs were in the trap. Bry, the guide, took four of them and showed them to us. There are fascinating animals and looking at them closer they look like aliens.

Gry killed them with a knife and they’re dead in a split of a second. Then she took the legs, that’s the eatable parts and threw back the rests that instantly were eaten by cods swimming around. We took the snow mobile to the restaurant, Gry driving, me sitting behind her and the other seven tourists in the trailer. There’s an outside kitchen where the crab lags are steamed for 16 minutes. They look red after steaming. They’re eaten with white bread, butter, lemon and mayonnaise and they taste extremely delicious. I ate lobster twice in my life and many other types of crabs and crayfish but I liked king crabs best. And there’s a lot of meat in the legs. Three legs were more than sufficient to be full, I ate four and really was stuffed. Delicious!

 

Kirkenes: A night in the snow hotel

This is perhaps the most special place of the whole Nordkalotten 2015 journey to write my blog: On the bed in the room of the snow hotel. Behind me a warm sleeping bag, beside me a snow relief of husky dogs running.

But its a perfect match to my afternoon, where my friend had a half day of and I got a wonderful private dog sledding tour. Parts of the trail where prepared perfectly, because they were part of the Finnmarksløpet – a 1000 km dog race from Alta to Kirkenes and back again that happens right now. First I sat and enjoyed gliding through the landscape effortlessly, but on the flat sea ice of the Langfjorden I could stand on the sledges blades and steer the dogs by myself – a really easy terrain for beginners like me – and I have to admit that this is much more fun than just sitting.

A great two hour tour, thank you, C.! The only disadvantage as a photographer, most of the time you see bums and tails, but if you ignore this, it’s great fun!

Later on we got a three course dinner which was very good. To be honest, that was almost the main reason, why I booked the snow hotel night. I’ve slept in igloos before, but of course not in such a huge one with a three course dinner before.

This night is a good end of my journey. Tomorrow I’ll head home. I’m stuffed with sensations and impressions and I’m longing home. But before I went into my room, I even got some polar light again after a quite long time of abstinence.

Now I have to close, the laptop runs out of battery and I start getting cold.

Good night!

 

Crossing and not crossing borders

Hardly believable that Annika and I started our holiday trip just three days ago when we looked at the arctic landscape today.

On Tuesday we started in Skelleftehamn, Sweden and crossed the first border to Köngäs, Finland. 481 km.

On Friday we continued in Köngäs, Finland and crossed the second border to Kirkenes, Norge, where we’re visiting Christine and Ørjan. Another 387 km.

Yesterday on Saturday we took it easy and relaxed after the two day road trip.

Last night I got sick. (That’s another story but the reason, why we cancelled our ski tour today.) Instead of that we took a short road trip to the Russian border, a border that we cannot cross without a valid visa.

The only border checkpoint between Norway and Russia is at the E105, the road to Murmansk. This checkpoint is only 10 km away from Kirkenes. I’ve been there two years ago.

In Elvenes there’s another small road to Skafferhullet. This place lies at the Russian border, too. There’s no checkpoint, the small road just ends and a fence with some signs marks the border to Russia and warns of crossing it. Here I really had the impression, that the world – as known to me – had come to its end and another kind of secret part of our planet begins right after that wire mesh fence.

Only wild animals can cross borders without any harm. They don’t share my memories of the inner German border, they don’t know anything about the cold war, they don’t have to care borders at all. Lucky them!

Perhaps I’ll witness the day, when the border to Russia is as open as many inner European borders today. Who knows …?

Just before the border checkpoint on the E105 there’s the road 886 to Grense Jakobselv – another place located at the Russian border. Most of the road is closed in winter time, but the first part is open. And this way is quite beautiful. We followed it until the barrier, where only snowmobiles are able to continue. There we took the minor road to Lanabukt located at the Jarfjorden.

Some photos:

What a great day with fantastic winter weather and temperatures round -17 °C. On the way back we stopped at the petrol station to buy me salted sticks and a Coke because unlike in Sweden super markets are closed in Norway on Sundays.

Definitely a seal

Four weeks ago I saw a something on the ice at Bjuröklubb. I still don’t know, if it was a seal, a stone or a UFO.

Yesterday Annika and I saw a seal at the bay Lilla Karpbukt but I had the wrong lens on my camera and couldn’t take a picture.

Today I saw another seal right in Kirkenes at the port. It was quite far away, too, but at least I could take a souvenir photo with my telelens.

  • Taking a seal picture: check
  • Taking a seal picture near home: maybe
  • Taking a seal picture in Skelleftehamn from my kayak: not yet

4×4 winter impressions of Kirkenes

Kirkenes – the harbour

While Annika and our friends in Kirkenes enjoyed their breakfast in the Hotel Thon I took a short promenade along the Johan Knudtzens gata to take some pictures. Already the view from the hotel terrace over the fjord is quite impressive and shows the beauties of the arctic nature while the harbour shows the more practical sides of living here: fishing, both commercially and just for fun.

A hike onto the top of the Lyngberget

After the breakfast we took the car to Jakobsnes and a bit further to take a promenade up the mountain Lyngberget, which lies on the other side of the Bøkfjorden. Here you can have a wide view over the whole town of Kirkenes – at least as long it doesn’t snow, as it did on our way back. I just love these wintry landscapes where you have views over fjell and fjord, but the wind was quite chilly and soon we looked like the participants of an arctic expedition.

The Huskies of the Kirkenes Snowhotel

Today we played tourists and visited the Kirkenes Snowhotel, which is just some hundred metres away. The Snowhotel has 180 Huskies including the seniors plus 30 puppies. The huskies are like we humans – some are working, some are resting, some are curious and some are shy. But they are all very kind and friendly.

Inside the Kirkenes Snowhotel

I slept in tents, in igloos and outside in wintertime. I even slept in the Kirkenes Snowhotel two years ago. This time Annika and I enjoy sleeping in the inside of our friends house (Thank you for your great hospitality, Christine and Ørjan) but gave the Snowhotel a visit. And it was worth it – especially the lounge with it carved ice blocks is very impressive.

Tomorrow we’ll leave this fine place, take the car to Vardø in the North (yes, that’s still possible!) and take the Hurtigruten from there to our next destination.

Sjøsamisk Museum

Today Annika and I left Kirkenes and headed north to the Varanger Peninsula and the towns Vadsø and Vardø. Well, heading north it would be without the fjords. We took the E6 and followed it in almost all directions to drive round Neidenfjorden, Munkefjorden, Bugøyfjorden and the large Varangerfjorden.

Ørjan had advised us to visit the Sjøsamisk Museum – the museum of the sea sami. It is located in Byluft 30 km before Varangerbotn when you come from Kirkenes. We rang at the door bell of the private looking house and Helmer Losoa, the creator and owner opened the museum for us. We entered the large wooden building and looked stunned. We didn’t expect such a huge collection related to the history of the sea sami and the region. Almost uncountable items hung on the walls, the ceiling, stood on large tables or in cupboards. From old sami costumes to wooden fishing boats, buoys made of glass and ancient radios – I guess there’s hardly a thing you cannot find in this collection. And Helmer, who has both built the museum and has been collecting all these items for 27 years, know them all and can tell stories about them.

So that’s my tipp for today: If you ever should be near Kirkenes or Vadsø – visit this collection. If you come in wintertime, keep in mind that the rooms are not heated. Inside temperature = outside temperature minus the stormy wind.

 

The Varanger Peninsula

Never have I been so far northeast before, travelling from Kirkenes to Vardø, where Annika and I would enter the Hurtigruten vessel Trollfjord. After the visit of the Sjøsamisk Museum we were glad to be in the warm car again as it was quite stormy outside with temperatures round -12 °C.

We left the E6 in Varangerbotn and continued eastwards on the E75. While there were many trees along the E6, the landscape became more and more arctic now. Between Varangerbotn and Vadsø there were still small and scattered birch trees and thickets, but there’s hardly any visible vegetation left between Vadsø and Vardø in wintertime. On the left side of the street lay snow covered mountains, hills and tundra plains, on the right side the rough Barents Sea. Hardly believable that people live here, but they do, mostly on places quite exposed to the sea and of course near to the E75, the only street.

We had to catch the Trollfjord the same day, a pity, since there was so much to look, to explore, to photograph. Next time I would plan an additional overnight stay to have more time.

Far away at the horizon of the Barents Sea we could see something rectangular. A container ship or our Trollfjord? Coming further and the ship coming nearer we could see that it indeed was the Trollfjord that left Kirkenes some hours after us.

We didn’t have much time to visit Vardø, just a very brief run through the witchcraft trials memorial, then we had to enter the big ship by car. I was the only car boarding; most passengers are cruisers, either taking the whole tour Bergen—KirkenesBergen, or the much shorter Tromsø—Kirkenes—Tromsø.

We got our room (small, but sufficient), I bought internet for two days (quite poor, since it blocks a lot of urls and ports, among others my mail traffic) and then we left Vardø by Hurtigruten.

Since then Annika and I have been on the Trollfjord. In three hours we’ll be in Tromsø, tomorrow afternoon we’ll leave the ship in Stokmarknes and will stay on the Vesterålen for some days.

Two days on the Hurtigruten

On Wednesday we left Kirkenes and started our journey to the next destination: Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen where we planned to visit good friends of mine.

KirkenesStokmarknes would be 1000 km by car and take at least 14 hours, if you take the faster way through Finland and Sweden. Anyway there’s an alternative: The Hurtigruten express route, which connects many coastal towns, among others Kirkenes and Stokmarknes. That’s why we took the Hurtigruten ship instead of driving for at least two days. In Vardø we entered the vessel Trollfjord and 16:45 we started our two day long tour.

The first night we went to bed quite early and I only took some pictures in Berlevåg. Since the ship already was moving again I decided to make a longer exposure with the camera on a tripod. That’s Berlevåg by night seen from the Hurtigruten:

We missed Mehamn, Kjøllefjord, Honningsvåg. The first place with a landing stage I saw was Havøysund, were we anchored from 7:45 to 8:00. Shortly after we met the Lofoten, the oldest and smallest ship of the Hurtigruten fleet today. It was tiny compared to the much bigger Trollfjord (which is tiny compared to modern cruise ships).

I tried to be as much outside as possible. It was cold and quite windy, not only because of the airflow, but the gusty wind, too. First I thought, that I would be extremely overdressed in my Canada Goose expedition parka, but soon I found it quite comfortable to wear it in the chilly weather.

In Hammerfest we left the Hurtigruten, looked round in town and bought food. In Øksfjord it started to get dark and the black-white mountain ranges became blue.

… and blurred if you wanted to …

… and it got darker …

Then it started to snow. Sometimes the snowfall was quite heavy especially with the wind and I was even more glad about my warm parka.

In Tromsø we arrived at 23:35 and I made some night shots of this favourite town of me.

We could have left the ship for a visit of Tromsø but we preferred sleeping. We’ll probably visit Tromsø this summer.

The next morning came and the last day aboard began. Good for me, because even if I was glad to slip the car ride it’s not my world to be on a large ship looking at the landscape rolling by. Last night snow fall has brought much snow on the top deck. I never waded through snow drifts on a ship before.

At the same time the Trollfjord anchored in Harstad, a town on the island Hinnøya.

On our way to the next destination Risøyhamn it got extremely windy, the stabilised ship started to roll and to pitch and heavy snow showers appeared, reducing the view to some hundred metres.

Suddenly the wind calmed down, the snow showers were left behind and for the first time of the whole cruise patches of blue sky and finally the sun came out. We approached Sortland, the last stop before our destination Stokmarknes where I gazed at the beautiful mountains of the Lofoten archipelago in the south.

I generally dislike the last 30 minutes of transportation, if it’s by train or by plane. I just want to arrive, and so it was on the Hurtigruten. Impatiently I waited in the inside of the Trollfjorden for its arrival in Stokmarknes, then another fifteen minutes for the allowance to enter the car deck and another ten until I was allowed to drive the car onto the very same car elevator which I used to enter the ship almost 46 hours ago.

I could write a lot more about the Hurtigruten and its passengers, but that’s another story. Short résumé: I love those ships for transportation, but cruising is not my cup of tea. (Anyway, the outside jacuzzi on the top deck is really great!)