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.

INTO THE ARCTIC!

We’ve entered the Arctic Circle, and the scenery is super mega awesome (the photo above is of the sunrise, about 10am). I spent a lot of time on deck taking photos, but it’s cold out there, and in order to go outside, the program is: first the wool leggings, then the undershirt, then the fleece lined pants, then the long sleeved wool shirt, then the fleece vest, then the wool neck gaiter, then the wool cap, then the fancy REI jacket, then the gloves. And still I was cold, especially my teeth! No wool accessory for them.

To those who know snow: Hawaii dress code is based on shorts and slippers.

Today’s long port stop was Bodø, and I bravely set off on a walk to visit a museum, although I cannot prove that because I failed to reinsert my memory card in my camera before disembarking. The roads and paths were covered in snow and ice, and I tread very, very carefully: the crew said the walk would take 8-10 minutes, but I hadn’t gone far at the 20 minute mark, which happily was in front of a yarn shop. I had enviously noted a fair bit of knitting onboard, so I took the opportunity to buy supplies to create a new hat for myself (having stretched out the one I brought with me; note to anyone I’ve given a wool hat: do not toss in the washing machine!).

About ten minutes after the yarn shop, the sidewalks got steeper and icier, and anyway it was getting dark (at 1:30 pm!) so I ploddingly made my way back to my cabin, imagining it would be good to feel my toes again. That and the ever present fear of being left behind by the boat . . .

Here are a bunch of photos. I hope you enjoy them because I was almost blown overboard when taking them for you.

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

Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.

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