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. It 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. 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!We 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.
Next 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.
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.Here we are, with Janet, my companion and sledge partner, as we are ready to depart on our ride.It 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!The 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.Each 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!The 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!
Our 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.