Norway not such a bad place to be stuck?

Alas the trip through lovely Norway has ended. What a magnificent part of earth this is. It would be wonderful to return in the days of the Midnight Sun.

I’m supposed to go back to the US tomorrow, but supposed to are key words here: I’m scheduled out of Gatwick, which you may have heard is a mess.

We shall see what we shall see.

One last photo above: I noticed the padding on the ship’s deck resembles snowflakes. How cool is that?

As Days Go, This Was a Pretty Good One

Possibly because the weather was pleasant, the water smooth; probably because of the pristine beauty of the Lofoten Islands; and most certainly because it was the best night so far for Northern Lights, it was a rather pleasant day.

(I actually did take these Lights shots. As well as about ten thousand more.)

I hope you enjoy these photos. They say so much more than words can, but I did want to offer one not-very-helpful guide to Norwegian pronunciation: Skjervøy is pronounced Shareway.

Live all you can, and try to see the Northern or Southern Lights in person.

Hammerfest

Welcome to Hammerfest, land of The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society and a ginormous gas refinery Norway does not need (all those electric lights to keep winter blues at bay are generated by hydroelectric – the gas is shipped to Europe and the US, and is an economic boon to the area). How’s this for cunning marketing: the refinery is called Snøhvit (Snowhite)?

Knowledge I Have Gained On This Trip I’ll Probably Never Use Again: with my current gear, I can last outside on land in the Arctic for 45 minutes before the toes and fingers start to go solid. On deck: quite a bit less; say, 10 minutes?

Hammerfest is the hometown of A.H. Lindstrøm, an in-demand expedition cook who, it turns out, went on more polar expeditions than all the famous explorers.

The docks are lit up underwater, and mostly it’s cool to see into the frigid water, although it was sad to see that vandalism knows no geographical bounds.

Lastly, look who I ran into, and, yes, the boat has a jacuzzi. Which I will not use.

Here are photos from today; I hope you enjoy them.

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

And this was in -10 weather

I stood on the aft deck, covered in layers and layers of clothing, and within minutes, my fingers were numb. I yearned to return to the warmth of my cabin, but staying was the least I could do: some of my intrepid boat-mates had opted for “ice dipping,” and I felt compelled to witness their bravery. First they trooped down the gangplank and made a stalwart march to the changing room on the icy pier; eventually they emerged in a variety of swimming costumes and made their way down to an enclosed bit of the Berents Sea. All was quiet until the first dip, when the whooping and yelping rang out. Yowza.

If any of them write blogs, they’ll have a fantastic entry tonight; that is if they are ever capable of typing again.

Live all you can, but do be sensible!

Almost Russia

Today’s arrival in Kirkenes marks the turning point of the journey; it is also the most eastern, only 17 K from Russia. It’s a chilly -8C out there; “a bit bracing” as a crew member remarked.

The town has 10,000 inhabitants, and two very large Lowe’s-like stores right near the port. There is also a memorial marking the Liberation of Kirkenes by the Russians; the place was heavily bombed during WWII.

Because we turned south in the night, daytime was longer, and the sky was mostly clear of clouds. Very, very nice.

Here are some photos for you.

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

How to Have an Exciting Morning in Finnmark

[I don’t know if this actually happened, but I have a memory of being picked up by the wind and carried a few feet when I was a wee lass in Virginia. Whether it happened or not, the “memory” no doubt is behind today’s misadventure.]

I can now add Arctic gale-force winds to my experience bank, as they were very much present as the ship approached the docks at Honningsvåg. As usual, I went out on deck to watch the amazing feat of gently positioning this huge hunk of marine metal alongside a stone pier. Only today, those winds prevented that, and the ship was held in position out in the channel, turned to face the force and wait for a break. And there I was, at the bow (alone, braver/wiser folks having already gone indoors) plastered against metal, holding on to whatever I could. Attempting to turn back on either side meant dealing with even stronger gusts coming around the corners, and so I was stuck for over an hour, myself staring into the wind. I had to remove my glasses for fear of them being blown off my face. At one point I crouched down and crawled across the decking to huddle on the ground against the solid metal barrier. Eventually a kindly stranger appeared on the bow, told me in his German accent, “I love the wind,” and escorted me to the safe inside. Not a boring morning at all.

At one point, up there alone on the bow, I wondered if that was how I’d meet my end, and it’s the third time this year I’ve had the opportunity to consider that: first with the false nuclear attack announcement in January, next during the 6.9 earthquake in May, and now today in Finnmark, up at the top of the world, by nearly being blown overboard into that roiling wet darkness, no one around to toss me the red ring. I need to come up with a special name for 2018. Suggestions welcome!

Earlier, at sunup (11:45!), we passed through the Magerøysundet strait (see bottom photo), the place where reindeer herders have their charges swim across to change pastures. Avalanches are commonplace, it’s pitch black at 2pm in the winter, temperatures of -40 usual, yet 75,000 people call it home. Hard for me to take in.

FYI, blurred and off-kilter photos compliments of the wind and waves.

Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to.

Tromsø, I Don’t Think So

Tromsø is another rare long port visit, but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to explore the city in the dark and rainy night – at 2:30 in the afternoon (see the first photo below, snapped at that time of day). Instead, I shopped in the stores in the ferry terminal, requiring only a brief foray into The Weather and buying all of my trip gifts in one fell swoop. I asked the kind clerk who helped me fill out the tax refund form how she feels about the total darkness. “It’s very hard for me,” she said, tears welling, “I need to buy one of those lights.” She spent a semester in southern England and was confused by its bright wintertime. I do not consider the English winter bright; I cannot begin to imagine what fulltime life up here is like. Icy rain; icy streets; darkness at midday. Yikes. Although I now get why there are so so many knitters around here; it’s a warm distraction.

Speaking of rain, it does not bode well for a date with the aurora borealis.

Live all you can (hopefully in daylight); it’s a mistake not to.