Tag Archives: Northern Lights

Hunting the Light Continued …Part 6

On Day 7 of our voyage, around 9 o’clock in the morning, we arrived at the border town of Kirkenes (KIRE-ken-iss), the turn-around point of our journey.  For maybe 1/3 of the passengers on the ship, this was where they left the ship to go home.

We may have been the only Americans on this voyage.  We didn’t meet anyone else from the United States, nor did anyone we talked to mention that there were any other Americans on board.  There were, however, many people from Germany and from the United Kingdom.  We also met people from Australia and Switzerland.  All shipboard announcements were given in Norwegian and German and English.  Many people take either the northbound trip Bergen-Kirkenes, or the southbound journey Kirkenes-Bergen.  I felt especially lucky to be on board for the full, round-trip adventure.

About 5,000 people live in Kirkenes and the surrounding area.  The town is located at the mouth of the Pasvikelva River, which forms part of the border with Russia.   100_4446It began to snow hard as we gathered on the quay to board the bus taking us to the Snow Hotel and the Gabba Reindeer Park, where we would get to experience a husky sledge ride out onto a frozen fjord. 100_4450  One could also take snowmobile rides from here, as well as half-day and full-day dog sled tours and then stay overnight in the Snow Hotel!100_4458We were given hand-fulls of lichen which the reindeer ate from our hand, and was a treat for them…and us.  They were smaller than I expected, about the size of a deer.  Only the Sami, the indigenous people of Norway, are allowed to keep and herd reindeer.

100_4453Next we got to meet the dogs, who were barking and yelping and straining against their chains in excitement.

Then, we were given warm snowsuits to zip ourselves into, if we wished, and finally it was time to start loading the sleds.

100_4462 As you can see, I lost the spikes from my right boot.  I looked around everywhere, but never did find them.  It was good that I had a second pair back at the ship.  They came in a pack of two, and I luckily I brought both pairs along.100_4463Here we are, with Janet, my companion and sledge partner, as we are ready to depart on our ride.Kirkenes (N69.46) - Husky sledging - 2/1/2015It had stopped snowing and the sky was beginning to brighten as we took off through the woods and out onto a frozen fjord.  Our ride lasted about 20 minutes or so, and it was such fun as we sped along, the snow hissing beneath the rails of the sledge.

???????????After we returned, we got a cup of hot chocolate to warm us — yum!  Then we had time to visit the Kirkenes Snow Hotel.  I had seen something about it on a travel program, but that had not prepared me for the real thing!100_4466The batteries in my camera gave out at this point, so the next pictures I have found that other people have taken of the inside.  Be sure to click the link to the Snow Hotel to learn more.snow hotelsnow hotelEach room was decorated differently, with snow sculptures on the walls and different colored lights illuminating them.  The beds look like they are resting on blocks of ice, but actually the ice is just placed around the outside of a regular bed, for effect.  Guests sleep inside a warm sleeping bag and report that they are actually quite cozy.  I would certainly be up for trying it!Snow Hotel2The whole thing was absolutely incredible and I would highly recommend this excursion to anyone who was considering going on it.  I would have to say that it was one of the highlights of the entire trip!

100_4469Our next stop was at Vardø (VAR-duh), a fishing and fish processing town with a population of about 2,100.  Here, the Captain invited anyone who dared to take the Polar Bear Plunge.  I chose to watch from outside on Deck 6 as about ten hardy souls threw off their towels and leaped from the quay into the frigid water, with shrieks and laughter.  I got the shivers just watching them and headed for the hot tub as soon as we cast off.  After dinner people began to gather out on Deck 9 again, talking quietly among themselves and searching the skies for glimpses of the lights, when suddenly they appeared again, dancing magically in the sky.  With new batteries in my camera, I tried to get a video of them, which did not turn out. ?????????????????I did not take the photo below, it is from the “Visit Tromso website”, but this is what it looked like.  With the full moon and the clouds in the sky, the lights weren’t quite as vivid as those you see in other photographs, but they were still awe-inspiring and an experience that I will remember forever.the-northern-lights-somewhere-near-tromso-norway-2

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Hunting the Light Continued … Part 5

Happy New Year!  Day 6 of our voyage we were approaching the northernmost point of our journey — Nordkapp ~ the North Cape, on the Barents Sea.  mapAbout 3,500 people live in the North Cape area and about 2,800 of those people live in the capital town of Honningsvåg, (pronounced HAW-nings-VOG), which is located on the map above right below the orange square marked Nordkapp, (pronounced NODE-cup)

Previously, when we were here in the summer, the whole North Cape area seemed very remote to me.  It was interesting to see the town again in the winter.  Surprisingly, it seemed almost as busy this time as it had during the summer.  Approximately 110 cruise ships call annually at Honningsvåg, making it among the five largest ports of call in Norway.  During the summer, the biggest draw is to enable cruise ship passengers an opportunity to view the midnight sun.  Two Hurtigruten ships per day call at Honningsvåg year-round, as well as numerous cargo ships and fishing vessels.

100_4427It was snowing when we arrived, and very windy.  Although it was about 11:30 in the morning, it was already full dark.  Notice the avalanche fences on the hillside rising straight up from the main street in town.  Thank goodness for spikes on our shoes — the street was a sheet of ice!   The shops were closed, as it was New Years Day.

100_4428Two shore excursions were offered at this port of call– a bus trip out to the North Cape (Nordkapp) plateau, 1007 feet above the water, where a concert was being performed in the North Cape Museum, or a mini bus trip to the little fishing village of Skarsvåg.  I chose to visit the fishing village, as I was curious to see what life is like this far north in this remote a location.  Skarsvåg, with a population of about 60, claims to be the northernmost fishing village in the world and the northernmost settlement accessible via a major road network.

As we stepped off the bus, we were hit broadside by gale-force winds.  Those without spikes on their shoes were blown sideways as they skated across the icy path to the Christmas Cottage, glowing warm, cozy and welcoming.  The smell of hot spiced cider greeted us as we stepped inside the cabin, filled with Christmas decorations, and found a place at the table under a huge chandelier that looked as if it were made of icicles.100_4436Heidi, our hostess, immediately began passing plates of hot waffles and Christmas cake and spiced cider.

100_4438While we ate, she explained what it was like to live in a remote fishing village your whole life.  He husband, now in his 70’s, had fished his whole adult life, mostly for cod.  He had recently switched to catching king crab, which was also plentiful in the Barents Sea and brought in more money.  He had built the cottage for her to display and sell her handmade items as well as providing a way for his wife to earn a little extra money for the family.  She said that they eat fish every day except on Sundays and Christmas.  There were no more young people left in the village, just a declining number of old fishermen still eeking out a hard-scrabble living from the sea.  She loved the village though, and the tight community formed by necessity and mutual dependence.

Before it was time to leave, we had a few minutes to admire all the handicrafts and other Christmas items she had for sale.  100_4434 100_4435

As we stepped outside, I stopped to take a picture of the outside of the cottage when suddenly, the gusting wind snatched my hat from my head and sent it careening over the snowdrifts.  I chased after it and promptly sunk up to my thighs in a heaping mound of snow.  As I pulled my foot out my shoe was left behind inside the snow drift.  I plunged my arm into the drift, all the way up to my armpit, reaching for my shoe and the spike that had popped off and instantly frozen inside the drift.  People were boarding the bus and I momentarily panicked, hoping I wouldn’t be left behind, shoeless in a huge mountain of snow.  The gale wind would carry off any cries of “Wait for me…I’m over here buried in a snowdrift!”  Grabbing my shoe and my spike I skidded and staggered to the bus, saying good-bye forever to my hat and wondering who would find it in the spring.

On our way back we had to stop and wait for a car to be pulled out of a snowbank, where it had maybe blown off the road.  Our driver was annoyed at the delay, as the ship must stay on schedule and would not be happy at all to have to wait for us if we were delayed.  Once we got past the tow truck, we sped along the roads that were all but invisible in the deep snow.  We all breathed a sigh of relief that the ship was still there.

It turned out that even though the other busses were following a snowplow on the road to Nordkapp, the weather was too dangerous to continue and they had to turn around and abort their trip out to the cape, returning instead to the ship.

100_4442We said good-bye to Honningsvåg and continued east and then south, along the Barents Sea.  After dinner, the snow had stopped and the sky had mostly cleared and the wind had died down as people began to gather out on deck 9, gazing up at the sky.  Suddenly, there they were again…the Northern Lights! The pictures below were taken by someone who was on our ship that night.

Suddenly a cloud that simply seemed to be illuminated by the moon, would begin to glow and slowly snake its way across the sky before slowly fading away.  And then suddenly, in another direction, another aurora would begin to form and a collective gasp would alert the others to look where people were gazing and pointing, in reverent fascination and awe.   Still MoreMoreSometimes they looked like fire on a log in the fireplace, dancing and undulating before streaming across the sky and disappearing.  The display went on for over an hour, while we stood there mesmerized by the sight.  None of my pictures turned out, so I was thrilled to discover these that had been posted to the Midnatsol’s webpage.  What a fabulous day it had been!

Hunting the Light continued … Part 3

Early on the morning of Day 3 we arrived in Trondheim, a city of 175,000 inhabitants, situated on the River Nid, which winds right through the town.

100_4356I signed up for a city tour of Trondheim and a visit to one of the most famous sights in town — Nidaros Cathedral, built over the burial site of Saint Olaf, king of Norway in the 11th century, and patron saint of Norway.  100_4365My picture of the cathedral did not turn out very well, as it was still pretty dark and the batteries in my camera were not liking the snow and cold weather.  But you can still get a sense of how gigantic this place was by looking at the size of the people walking in front.  We had a tour of the inside which was just as spectacular.

After leaving Trondheim we traversed a stretch of open ocean and it suddenly got very rough.  It was right when dinner was being called and I had to hurry back to the cabin — quick!  We tossed and bucked and I ended up puking my guts out into the wastebasket, which was lined with a plastic bag, thank goodness!  Then both Jack and I fell asleep and when we woke again, everything was calm.  Later, we bought an ice cream bar for dinner, as it took quite a while to feel hungry again.

It was raining when later that evening we stopped in Rorvik.  Supplies were being loaded on board and a couple cars drove onto the ship, as well.100_4367???????????????????????????????????Our sister ship Polarlys was in port at the same time we were.??????????????????????????????????This trip was made more special because we were visiting at Christmas time.  There were decorations h100_4352ere and there all over the ship, adding to the festive atmosphere.100_4350

Since we had taken naps instead of eating dinner, we were ready to stay up late.  The sky was overcast, so there would be no Northern Lights tonight.  A piano player in one of the lounges was very good, so we decided to splurge and have a drink, while enjoying the music, until everyone headed to bed.

100_4378On day 4 we crossed the Arctic Circle, an occasion which always begs for some sort of silly celebration.  Those who were game were “initiated” by having cold water and ice cubes poured down their back.

A surprising number of people, including myself, volunteered for this bit of madness.  The last guy in line got the remainder of the bucket dumped over his head, while old King Neptune reigned over all.

Our next stop was Bodø (pronounced BOW-duh), with a population of about 48,000 ~ making it the second largest city in Northern Norway.  I was very interested in exploring here, as this is where my great-grandfather was born.

One had to be pretty determined to leave the ship on this day, as a stiff wind was blowing the drenching rain sideways.  I put on long underwear, a thick sweater, a scarf, gloves, mittens, boots, a hat and a raincoat.  Within one block I was soaked through to my underwear.  Luckily, it wasn’t that cold.  I would guess that it was about 39 degrees or so.  It was a good thing that I had my spikes on my boots because there was still ice and snow on the ground and the rain on top of that made it quite treacherous.  I wanted to visit the Bodø domkirke, or Cathedral, while getting a chance to walk through the center of town.

100_4381 100_4382

Again, being here at Christmas time and getting to see the decorations and nativity scenes in the churches, made it a very special time to visit.  At the rear of the church was a huge pipe organ illuminated by a beautiful rose window.100_4384

By the time I got back to the ship, I was ready for the sauna and the hot tub.  They had separate saunas for men and women.  Now, I had never been in a sauna before, so I wasn’t quite sure of sauna etiquette.  Luckily, someone was coming out of the sauna just as I was entering the changing room, so she clued me in.   You go in naked and sit on a towel.  When you can’t stand it anymore, you come out and take a cold shower!

sauna

So… I tip-toed into this beautiful room and luckily I was the only one in there!  I relaxed and warmed up and gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows, totally stress-free.  When I was as hot and sweaty as I could stand, I walked into the shower room, but just couldn’t bring myself to stand under the cold water.  Instead, I pulled on my swimsuit and walked outside, which WAS cold, and made my way across the deck to the hot tubs.  ????????????????????????????

There were two outdoor showers, with colored lights on them that made them look like the Northern Lights.  The domed building was a changing cabana, and then there were two jetted hot tubs.  I thought for about three seconds about using the outdoor shower, but permanently changed my mind and quickly made my way to the hot, steaming hot tub and slipped beneath the water.  Ahhhh, it felt so good!  ?????????????????????????????????

The rain had stopped and the sky had cleared and a bright moon was out.  As I was lying back, staring up at the sky, I thought I saw a stripe of pale green and gasped to myself, wondering if that was the Northern Lights.  It lasted for about a minute or so and then was gone.  Nobody else was around that I could ask, so I couldn’t be sure…but I was pretty sure that that was what it was.  Later, after seeing the Northern Lights, I knew for sure that that was what I had seen.

My fingers were turning into prunes and my cheeks felt like they were getting frostbite, so it was time to reluctantly get up out of the tub and quickly make my way back across the deck and inside the ship.TrollfjordLater that night we entered a very narrow fjord, shown above.  It was dark, so my photo did not turn out.  I did want you to see where we were, though.

The sky had mostly cleared and the moon was illuminating the snow on the mountains,  towering on either side of us.  They were serving hot fishcakes out on deck and music was playing and they were searching for the entrance to Trollfjord.  Suddenly there was a collective gasp, as a band of clouds above us began to shimmer and glow and undulate and there they were, the Northern Lights, dancing in the sky above our heads.  The show went on for about half-an-hour.  As soon as one band would begin to fade, another wispy cloud would suddenly start to glow and ripple and unfold across the sky, leaving one speechless.100_4562100_4561

I just have a point and shoot camera, so of course my photos are really lame, but when I look at them, I remember how it really looked, and I am still amazed.

That was a magical night that will be forever in my memory.  And more magical nights were yet to come.