Kirkenes, bordering Russia
Kirkenes is the capital of the municipality of Sør-Varanger. It is also the end stop for the Hurtigruten cruise, after which the cruise ship will sail back down to Bergen. Kirkenes has the privilege of being ice-free as a port-of-call even during winter, with all year access to the Barents sea.
My first impression of this small city was its close association with Russia. Kirkenes was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War 2, suffering almost a total destruction as the Germans retreated from the area.
Crossing into Russia?
Kirkenes is only 17km away from the Norway-Russian border. There were tours that would bring curious visitors to the border, and then visit a small souvenir shop to buy some mementoes. However, at 700 NOK, it was very pricey hence I decided to save some money.
Eating cheap for dinner
Since I have been eating really well onboard the Hurtigruten, it was time to eat simple and affordably. In the afternoon, we went to the REMA1000 supermarket to get some wraps, potato salad and sausages for dinner. An a bottle of fine organic Malbec!
To the Edge of the World
To a certain extent, the trip to the North Cape is the culmination of all the highlights of the trip. More symbolic than anything else, this would have brought me from the southern parts of Oslo and Bergen to the northern edges of North Cape and Kirkenes. The North Cape is the northernmost point on the European mainland. At 71 degrees North, it is on the same latitude of Siberia and also the top of Alaska.
The Hurtigruten Richard With docked at Honningsvåg, a small functional port. A flock of seagulls were basking at the quiet pier area. We packed the buses and then it was a 40km journey towards North Cape, traversing the area of Mageroya.
Along the way, we passed the "northernmost beach of the world", a small sandy bay that look utterly unimpressive. I caught a reindeer grazing on the tundra plains. While the tourists stood up on the bus to have a good photo shot of the reindeer, the tour guide remarked, "don't worry, you should be seeing more reindeers along the way."
True enough, there were more reindeers to be seen, grazing on the green grassy tundra. Apparently, all the reindeer in Norway are domesticated animals owned by the Sami farmers, who were indigenous to this region.
Every family of reindeer farmers has summer and winter pastures, which they switch between to ensure that their reindeer have enough food. Early in the spring, before the reindeer calves are born, the herd starts to head for the coast. The animals spend the whole summer here under the midnight sun, and when autumn rolls around they begin the long trek back to their winter pasture farther inland. I understood from the guide that in a week or two, the Sami farmers would be guiding the herd back to the mainland. It would either be a 2km swim by the reindeer or through the specially constructed tunnel.
At the Northern Most Already
A while later, we arrived at the North Cape. It was the usual photo-taking at the symbolic North Cape Globe. What was more memorable for me was the walk along the cliff at the edge of the world. It was yet another sunny day, and with the cool breeze, it was a great day for walking.
I walked as far as time allowed, and standing on the edge of the world, I took all the sights in. I gathered some of the larger rocks and stacked them together. Now, I have created the northern-most rock deck! For world peace, perhaps. The overnight winds would destroy it in no time, in any case.
The Northern City of the Northern Lights
The cruise ship brought us all the way north to Tromso, one of the northern-most cities of Norway. We had a few hours to spare at Tromso, so we disembarked and decided to roam around a bit in Tromso.
Located 400km north of the Arctic Circle at 69 degrees North, the small city of Tromso is also known as Norway's gateway to the Arctic. It's surrounded by chilly fjords and craggy peaks that remain snowcapped for much of the year. Even in this late summer, I could see some remnants of snow that's unlikely to melt away, since the temperatures would be dropping once again when summer ends.
To the Arctic Cathedral and the Cable Car
We walked through the town, and then crossed the iconic Tromso Bridge over to have a look at the Arctic Cathedral. Nearby, within walking distance, there was also the cable car that brought visitors up to the Fjellheisen, 421 metres above sea level for a small fee of 210 NOK. After the funicular in Bergen, I did not see a need to go up to another peak again, so M went ahead to the peak, while I waited at the foot of the cable car station and I read my Kindle book and relaxed a bit instead.
The rain clouds started to gather, and as it started to drizzle, we made a beeline back to the cruise ship, and by evening time we were once again on our way.
30th August 2019, Friday
Day 11 of the Norway in a Nutshell Cruise
From Cruise to Lofoten Islands
Before we arrived at the Lofoten Islands, we were already out in the deck. The sun was back again, and the sea glittered in the rays of the sun. It was warm, but the cool winds balanced the heat. The Lofoten Islands appeared in the distance. It was great weather, and being on the cruise ship for the whole day, I was looking forward to visiting the islands.
The Hurtigruten docked at almost 7 pm. But because it was still late summer, the skies were still bright. The Italian guide remarked that we were the second last island tour for the season - as summer has ended and there would be no further tours. We quickly boarded the coach that would bring us through the various connected islands of Lofoten all the way from Nusfjord to Svolvaer.
Chasing Daylight at the Lofoten Islands, Norway
Perhaps we were trying to chase daylight, and the sun was gradually setting, the landscape changed as the hues of pink covered the skies. Lofoten's landscape was a mixture of rolling hills with occasional peaks, and surrounded by water, of course.
Personally I expected a little bit more from Lofoten, and maybe because it was already getting dark, the overall experience was not as fantastic, as compared to the Trollstigen tour. Eventually, I was happy to get on board the ship at about 11 pm, after a quick dinner at Svolvaer.
Arriving into Trondheim
It was a rainy day today. I supposed the rains have finally caught up with us as we arrived in Trondheim. The cruise ship would be stopping by at this City for 3 hours, and we would be skipping the organised tours to walk around the city on our own.
Walking from the Hurtigruten to the Wharf Area
Trondheim is the third largest municipality in Norway. The key highlights, if you have got a few hours to spare, would be the colourful houses along the wharf area and also the Gothic Cathedral. Fortunately, everything was within walking distance and the cathedral was only 1.7km away from the Hurtigruten terminal, which was about 20 minutes of leisurely walking.
We joined the group of visitors who disembarked and quickly outpaced them, since their median age was probably about 60. We soon arrived at the canal area. What was nice about Trondheim was that it wasn't swarmed with tourists. We managed to find a floating platform where we can take nice photographs without having to jostle for space with other similar enthusiasts.
There was an old bridge called Gamle Bybro that connected both banks, and if one went to the middle one could possibly take wide angle shots of the entire area. The river was flowing rapidly but without turbulence. This helped reflect the colorful houses, making the scene even prettier.
Nidarosdomen Gothic Cathedral
From the bridge, it was just a short stroll over to the cathedral, Nidarosdomen. This Gothic-style cathedral was the most impressive cathedral that I've seen from the trip. It's towering high, and had the usual gargoyles and buttress supports. Due to the lack of time we decided to look okay the exterior and not pay the extreme fee. The Archbishop's Palace was just beside the cathedral so we took a quick look too.
Then we walked down Munkegata towards Stiftsgarden, the small Royal palace of Trondheim. As the weather was turning bad we decided to return back to the ship.... Just in time before it started to rain. The rest of the day was spent on the cruise where I did some work.
Waking up to a sunny morning in the Hurtigruten
The morning started in the cruise ship. I was naturally roused from my slumber by the alarm clock at 7am. Somehow I recalled the ship being rather turbulent early in the morning, and I actually wanted to rest a little bit more. But I decided to get up anyway, and then after washing up we went for breakfast. M wasn't feeling too good because he had a bad headache. It was so bad that he didn't eat much for his breakfast, which was unusual. Fortunately he wasn't in a bad mood.
Strategising while Travelling
Weather-wise, it was another sunny day. I'm certainly not complaining, knowing that the good sunny days would not last long. Make hay while the sun shines. Post-brekkie, I found a cosy corner at the deck to do some work, while M nursed his headache in the room. I've been rather busy planning the strategies for the following two months, and while I am overseas there was still much to do. It's always more difficult when there's a need to strategize, and in formulating new strategies, there are no yardsticks and benchmarks. It's like swimming in the open waters. The wind, the current, predatory sea creatures.... They all could disrupt the best possible plan. Hence there's a need to think through the strategy, and then go over it yet again. The dynamic nature of market forces are such that if one is unable to catch the wind and ride the wave, one sinks.
From Geiranger to Trollstigen to Molde
Soon we got ready for our 7 hour long day trip. The ship arrived near the bay of Geiranger, and we went up the zig zaggy road to stop by at a vantage point. The bus took us across valleys carved away by ancient glaciers. We reached a small canyon area and then entered a nice fjord valley flanked by sheer slopes with thick vegetation on both sides. It was worth the trip. We then crossed a channel via a ferry and then reached the main highlight. This was the Trollstigen, which was a high point overlooking several hairpin turns. There was also a glacier-fed waterfall that contributed to the magnificent scenery. As usual, photographs do not do this justice.
I covered more details about this scenic route at the travel section of my blog. Click on the Read More button to get to that page directly.
27 Aug 2019
Getting ready to board the Hurtigruten - Richard With
With most of Bergen sightseeing cleared, we got ready to check out of Bergen Bors. It was another sunny day at Bergen, and despite lugging along all our baggage with us, we stopped for a while at the foot of St Mary's Cathedral for M to head up to take a few shots. As usual, the cathedral was not open so there was no entry into the building. Fortunately, the cruise terminal was not too far away. Bergen is generally a compact city (at least where the important landmarks are).
We arrived at the terminal with a couple of hours to spare and decided to hang out at the cafeteria. Bought a ham and cheese sandwich and ate it with the leftover pate and potato salad. The apple juice was too sweet so we threw the carton away (wasted!) I then took the time to do some October planning while waiting for 4pm to board the cruise ship
Soon it was time to board the ship.
The Hurtigruten ship Richard With was a fine modern ship, having undergone a retrofitting just a year ago, in 2018. It wouldn't be fair to compare it to Genting Dream (which was way bigger) but maybe compare it to St Peter Line Anastasia, which was part of the Baltic Cruise that I took in 2014. Richard With was spacious and had lots of seating areas with sockets to charge one's devices -- something definitely relevant in this modern day.
I did some Wella work while waiting for dinner time. While we had an allocated table, the first evening's dinner was a buffet. And oh my they did have a good spread.... I guess I wouldn't need to use the instant noodles which we brought with us for this segment of the trip.
Sunny weather in Bergen, Norway
Today is quite a chillax day as we have seemingly covered most of Bergen already. The weather was fantastically sunny - it was the hottest day of our visit, such that I decided to get out with just a pair of berms and a tee.
Today was supposed to be museum day, so we went to the lake with the fountain, and then bought passes for Kode. Kode art museums collection is one of the largest museums for art, craft, design and music. It is divided into Kode 1, 2, 3 and 4. Kode 1, 2, 3 and 4 offers temporary exhibitions of art and design as well as extensive presentation of works by Edvard Munch, JC Dahl, Nikolai Astrup and many others.
Forces - Drydal Kvaso Tingleff at KODE, Bergen
The current featured exhibition is themed: Forces - Drydal Kvaso Tingleff. One of the artists is a sculptor that does clay pipes, which looked really distinct, and nicer when painted a bright colour (otherwise it would be dull and dreary). We visited Kode 1 and 2, and since we were not feeling really hungry, I bought a pack of tacos and a bottle of salsa sauce (note: Medium spicy) as well as a can of watermelon cider and we sat at the bench overlooking the fountain and we had our lunch break there.
Kode 3 and 4 were only hosting a small area for the exhibitions, and soon the museum tour ended. We went back to the hotel, and I continued with my writings.
There's actually a lot of do and write about; a lot of things to plan. There's always so much to do if we know what we want to do. And there's usually not enough time for all these. Having some time on the cruise boat meant that I could allocate (and dedicate) some time to what I enjoy and used to do, write and journal.
Bergen Food and Cultural Tour
Booked the Bergen Food and Cultural Tour as part of the Norway In a Nutshell add-on package. Looking forward to it to see what exciting things I'm going to put in my mouth haha!!
Turned out that the Bergen Food and Drink Cultural Tour was a fun three-hour experience. We registered punctually at 1230pm at the Bergen Base Camp, located near the Bryggen Wharfs. Turned out that we were the only guests who booked this experience for the day. Our guide was this 22 year old Bergen lady named Victoria. She started by explaining about how the Norwegiens dried their fish. We were able to sample some, and interestingly it tasted familiar, somewhat like the dried fish strips that we can get from our local grocery stores as a snack of sort. Apparently the locals in Norway pack this for their hiking trips, as they are high in protein and is easy to carry as energy snacks. We also tried the apple must, a cold-press apple drink from the apples from the eastern part of Norway.
Friendly Victoria gave a great commentary for the tour
We then went though the famous wharf. Victoria gave us a brief on the history of the wharf, and showed us some of the more interesting areas, such as the "elevator" which the locals used in the past. We crossed a street to see the former hospital grounds, and the Mariakirken.
I learned a new word from Victoria, "hanseatic". Apparently, the Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds a market towns in Northwestern an Central Europe. Growing from a few German towns in the late 1100s, the laegue came to dominate Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the coasts of Northern Europe. Bergen was not a Hanseatic down as such, but actually one of the four Hanseatic quarters, which includes Brugge, London and Novogorod. Notwithstanding, listening to Victoria, I realised that the local residents of Bergen did not like the Hanseatic as they took away buildings and possessions from the locals.
We then went up a flight of steps to this octoganol pub and eatery that was definitely off the beaten track, as we only saw locals here for their sunday coffee and beer. Called Dr. Wiesener, we had some local soup with diced vegetables and lamp, and tried the local beer. It was a really sunny day and we decided to sit outdoors. Victoria shared a bit about her family and her Portuguese Waterdog. The pub apparently used to be a bathhouse, designed by Dr. Wiesener to promote local hygiene amongst the locals in the earlier days.
Street art in Bergen, and Banksy too!
From the pub, we walked through the neighbourhood and Victoria pointed out all the interesting street art to us. We came across one by the famous Banksy. There was another interesting backstory to Banksy in Bergen.
In 2000, Marcus Smith Hvidsten invited the anonymous contemporary artist Banksy to Bergen where he created 8 pieces for Marcus' new nightclub. Banksy, in his stay in Bergen also left behind some traces of his work. Unfortunately the Bergen municipality whitewashed away most of the signed works. This has not stopped Bergen from starting to get a new reputation for its street art.
There is another famous artist called Dolk. Dolk claims he was inspired by the British street artist Banksy to start with stencil art. Dolk started with stencil art in Bergen in 2003, where several of his works still are visible on walls in the city. He soon started travelling the world, and in London people have mistaken Dolk's works for being art by Banksy.
Into the local scene in Bergen. Bar and Barista
We then popped by at this bohemian place called Bar and Barista for the local waffles. The place had all kinds of toys and paraphenalia hanging from the ceiling, making it quite a feast for the eyes. There was also a DJ stand, and the overall vibe was relaxed and casual.
After Bar and Brista, we crossed the famous fish market to the indoor section (Fish Me) when we got the chance to taste some local fish cakes, which were made from potato flour and cod fish. The final stop was at this pub called Dyvekes. Victoria brought us down the basement cellar for a drink of their unique beer, and she gave a long history session about the place. The lower part of the bar dates back to 1305 and the special beer was once the sole nourishment of King Christian II after his jaw was dislocated in a revolt. It was a superb way to conclude the walking food and culture tour with our great host Victoria.
Up to Floyen via the Funicular
After the tour, we decided to take the funicular (costing 125 NOK return per person) to Floyen. The top of Floyen gave a breathtaking view of the Bergen city. There was a viewing deck packed with locals and tourists alike. For me, the fun part was the stroll to the lake. The lake was so so only, but what I enjoyed was the stroll through the forest, enjoying the cool air and the lush greenery, especially with the sunlight seeping through the foliage. I also managed to see the small herd of local mountain goat residents that live on Floyen.
I decided to post this entry specially because it was Day Two of the Norway trip, at Oslo, and at the tail end of the day, while I was about to get back to Thon Hotel Opera, I chanced upon this lovely fountain at Akersgata and decided to sit for a while.
It was a reminder that not all trips must be packed to the brim, and filled with activities. Sometimes, the best trips are the ones where we give ourselves time to do nothing. It's something good to simply plan nothing, but take a chance and do something random. Maybe sit by the bench at the fountain like what I did. Or read a book at the cafe and watch the world go by. Or buy a pencil and a sketch book and doodle or draw something that you see.
Life can be filled with wonder when we experience things that we don't plan to experience.
I am MrWildy and I am trying to journal more about my life and also my travels. Find out more about me here.