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!)

Winter on the Vesterålen

I’m sitting in a small mobile home in Nordnes near Røkland, Saltdalen, Norway. This morning Annika and I left Haukenes on the Vesterålen, where we had visited friends for some days. It had been gorgeous days, not only because it’s always fun to visit friends, but because of the fabulous winter weather we got those days.

Arrival

Last friday we left the Hurtigruten ship in Stokmarknes that we entered in Vardø two days before. My friends told us that there hadn’t been any snow one week before, but since then almost half a meter snow had fallen and snowfall hadn’t stopped yet.

Saturday

It snowed another ten centimetres the night and it continued snowing in the morning.

Sometimes the Norwegian weather forecast is right and so it was this day: As predicted it cleared up and promised to be a nice and sunny day later on. Annika and I took our skis and joined J. and B. together with Frits, the dog, on a ski promenade right behind their house . J. and B. returned after a while, we continued through the forest to the boggy valley Dalmyra over which we returned. Two small streams we had to cross with our skis but they were narrow enough to be crossable without problems.

Back again I looked at the snowy mountain range of the Lofoten that you can see from my friends house. The sinking sun changed colours of the snowy peaks every moment, from bright white to pale yellow, to “peach”, to orange, to colour shades I’m not able to name.

Sunday

Another sunny day awaited us. Annika and I planned to ascend the Hovden, a mountain, not high (285 – 323 m) but steep. So we left home our skis and took snowshoes, first to hike on snow covered ways and paths to Marka, were we went up the Hovden. Phew, that was quite exhausting.

Annika went back while I continued a bit, first along the waymarks, then using my GPS.

I just love being above the treeline in Norway, where the view is wide and includes snow covered mountains and solitary trees just as blue coloured open fjords.

I descended the top and came to the small lake, where I took a break with water and „Kvikk Lunsj“ chocolate.

The descend from the lake was far from being optimal, I chose a very steep passage and it took a while and some concentration until I was on sea level again, were I walked back to my friends house, first on a minor road, than across a snow covered bog.

Monday

I might bore you, but even this day the weather was fantastic. Annika and I followed a tip of J., took the car to Sandnes and skied to Årneset, a place by the bay Årnesbukta. Here’s a cosy cabin were you can seek shelter, when weather is bad and a row of beautiful sandy beaches. I never ever skied along sandy beaches and open water and I really enjoyed this ski premiere.

Tuesday

Our last day on the Vesterålen and guess what: Weather was great again! Anyway I was quite lazy, so Annika and I didn’t use skis or snow shoes but the car to drive round the southern part of the island Langøya on which my friends – now our friends – live. Some impressions:

That was our last day on the Vesterålen. Thank you, J. and R. for your hospitality. I hope, you’ll visit us in Sweden someday. You’re more than welcome!

Tomorrow we’ll continue our return journey, first 40 km to the Norwegian—Swedish border, than round 380 km home to Skelleftehamn.

 

Home again

After a fantastic two week journey through the wintry Northern Norway Annika and I have arrived in Skelleftehamn today. But before I could park my car on my property we had a bit work to do: skotta snö – snow shovelling. A lot of snow came the last days and especially the 70 cm high plogkanten – the hard pressed snow of the snowplough – gave a good workout. I guess that 60-70 cm of snow lie on my backyard now, but I didn’t have measured yet.

In Sweden people use to say “borta bra men hemma bäst” which means “being away is good, being home is best”. I however like to be home but I’m fond of travelling at least equally and one of the reasons why I live in Northern Sweden is that it simplifies travelling to all known and unknown places in Northern Scandinavia.

Addendum

We arrived too early. We had an appointment in Skellefteå in the evening and when we came back two hours later, someone has taken away all the snow on and round my garage driveway. I guess, it was a neighbour. I have to find out who it was to thank him or her.