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.