Day 8 on our journey on the Midnatsol and we were still in Finnmark, in the most northeastern part of Norway. Around 10:45am we arrived at the port of Hammerfest (HAWMER-fest), one of the oldest settlements in Northern Norway, which also claims to be the northernmost city in the world, as opposed to Honningsvåg, which we visited yesterday. Hammerfest claims this distinction because it has a population of over 5,000 as compared to Honningsvåg’s population of 2,415. However, in 1996 Honningsvåg was officially declared a city, despite their lower population, and Honningsvåg is actually further north than Hammerfest, so the debate continues. Barrow, Alaska is actually further north than both, but they have seemingly declined to join the fray. Nevertheless, we are very, very far north in the land of the Polar Night and the Midnight Sun. Both Jack and I opted for a bus tour of this interesting city, which despite it’s far northern location, has an ice-free harbor and a climate very similar to Anchorage, Alaska. For this reason, it has always been a very busy fishing and trade center. In 1881, Hammerfest was the first urban settlement in Europe to get electric lights. The city receives heavy snowfall in the winter, so one sees avalanche fences all along the hillsides to help protect the homes below. Hammerfest was used as an important base for German operations in World War II. After the war it was subjected to the German’s “scorched earth policy”, as was all of Finnmark, and was looted and burned to the ground. The only building left standing was the chapel, pictured above.
From up on this hillside we had a nice view of the surrounding area and the large liquified natural gas site on the adjacent island of Melkøya, which opened in 2007 and has provided an economic boom to the area. The bus passed lots of people hiking up to this viewpoint. Hiking is a favorite activity of many in Norway and hiking paths are lit up so people can hike in the winter, as well.Our tour continued around to the other side of the harbor where we were treated to another beautiful view of the city and our ship in the harbor. The building you see lit up on the hillside is a restaurant and the viewpoint from where the previous photographs were taken.Here we visited the Struve Geodetic Arc, one of a series of meridian markers that were established by German-Russian scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, between 1816 and 1855 to measure the exact size and shape of the earth. Years later, when we had more exact measuring devices, it was found that this marker was only off by a teeny amount. How somebody in that period of time with very primitive methods of calculating could figure this out is just mind-boggling to me! This guy was ‘way smarter than I am, to even think something like this up. These monuments are now included on the World Heritage List.The bus returned us to the quay, but I had one last place I wanted to visit before we left Hammerfest — The Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society museum! The Polar Bear Club is a small, historical museum featuring the hunting and trapping past, with a good collection of stuffed animals and birds that live in the area. One can only join the Polar Bear Club in person, by paying a small fee, as proof of visiting their only location, in Hammerfest.
Leaving Hammerfest, we made brief stops in Øksfjord and Skjervøy before arriving back in Tromsø, the city where we had spent New Year’s Eve, with the fireworks. Tonight, we were being treated to a midnight concert in the Tromsøysund Church, also known as the Arctic Cathedral.
I did not take this photograph, but it shows exactly how it looked that night. We crossed the snowy bridge and from the bus, walked up to the brilliantly lit cathedral.
My camera did not like the cold, so this photograph is not as crisp as I would have hoped. This church is beautiful inside, with dazzling stained glass and chandeliers that look like illuminated icicles. The acoustics were fabulous, making for a magical evening of entertainment. After the concert, we returned to the ship and I took up my place on deck 9, hoping for one last glimpse of the Northern Lights. But it was not to be….the sky was overcast and still, as we cast off and silently slipped away, under the bridge and past sleeping houses, saying good-bye to Tromsø.