Thursday, July 22, 2010

Honningsvag, Norway

Map picture

Honningsvag: The End Of The Road North

Note: I am writing this on July 19, 2010, even though the ship has no internet. We have been advised that limited internet will return on the 24th, so until then I will continue to write and save these for later transmission. Enjoy!

We finally did it – we have now traveled to the city which claims to be the northernmost city in the world, Honningsvag, Norway. It is a quaint, peaceful and colorful small town with a population of 2,600. DSC_1784 Fishing is the primary industry, although in recent years tourism has become increasingly important in the summer months. Last year over 100 cruise ships visited the harbor, and the city has built its one and only hotel of 500 rooms, open in the summer only to accommodate all of the Europeans who drive north to the end of the highway at the top of the world. In fact, yesterday our bus stopped to talk with a family of six who were just about to complete their bicycle journey from the bottom of Norway to the very top, a trek  of over 3,000 miles.

In spite of its isolation, the city has two grocery stores, a hardware store, two theaters, one gas station, and all in all it is very up to date with cell service all over the island with 3G internet. They also have an airport from which 4 flights per day operate. However when I saw the runway I could not believe how small it was and so I looked it up. It is only 2,887 ft long – not much and yet they operate 19 seat Dash 8’s from here.

If all the dwellings look similar, it is because they are. At the end of the Second World War, as the Germans retreated in advance of the Russian Army, they conducted a “scorched policy” in which they destroyed and burned everything. The only building to survive that period is the old church which was built in 1884. DSC_1806 Immediately after the war, the government was faced with the daunting task of quickly providing shelter for its citizens, and so they held a national contest to solicit designs for simple, functional dwellings that could be quickly constructed. At the end of the contest, 5 designs were selected, and so as the city was rebuilt, you could only build a home using one of the 5 designs. The only way people could show any individuality was the color they choose to paint their homes, and for this reason, even today, all of the homes are painted different and vibrant colors.

When we arrivedDSC_1811 into port at around 10am yesterday, it was an absolutely beautiful sunny day. It was a Sunday, and the streets were empty and the stores closed. Everywhere you looked there were colorful pictures to be had, so Lisa and I could not wait to get off and walk the town. All of the ships tours started very late in the day, around 4pm, because there was already one cruise ship in the harbor ahead of us, and all of the busses were tied up with that ship until the afternoon. By the time everyone had been cleared to go ashore, there was just time for us to grab a quick hamburger before going on our walk, when the Captain came on the PA system. He said that the weather was looking bad for the remainder of the day with strong winds approaching.

Therefore, he was moving our departure time earlier and shortening some of the tours. As we stuffed down our lunch to get going, I looked around and all I could see were clear sunny skies. Who knows?

By the time we got off the ship, which was not long, I could see out to our West a dark line of clouds, but they were far away, so of no concern, or so I thought. Before we could finish our short walk through town up to the old church and return to the ship it had not only turned cloudy, but also cold and a steady rain started falling. Apparently rapid weather changes are the rule in this part of the world.

As far North as we were, there was still one place still farther North that we could reach by land, the North Cape. The North Cape is the northernmost point of Europe. It is located at 71degrees 10’21” North. Standing on the cape you are only 2100km from the North Pole. The 60 minute drive to the Cape took us across some of the most breathtaking scenery I have seen. DSC_1848 There were no trees, just massive hillsides, lakes and valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. There were also reindeer everywhere. In fact, in this part of the world there are more reindeer than people. Sadly, I was not able to get any usable pictures because it was pouring down rain and the fog was moving in.

On our way to the Cape, our busses did make one stop at the home of a Laplander, or as they prefer to be called, the Sami people. The stop was a little cheesy, but interesting none-the-less. DSC_1823 On the left side of the road was a small area where Sami tents were sitting, behind which was a fenced in pen for a few reindeer. An old Sami man was standing there all dressed in his finest and holding a reindeer by a harness, waiting for you to take his picture. Next to all this, of course, was the small souvenir shed. Immediately across the street were two modern homes and a van, which is where the Sami live today. Anyway, it was interesting to learn that the Sami people are a nomadic people who spent their lives following the reindeer on their annual migrations, something they still do to this day. They are not of Norwegian stock. Their DNA shows that they come from Eurasia, and their language is unique in the world. Indeed, after a misguided attempt by the government to insist that all Sami children be taught only Norwegian, their education today is bi-lingual. They have 52 different words to describe reindeer and 34 different words for snow.

Finally we reach the North Cape, where a huge reception center awaits us. The center is literally blasted into the hillside, and while you enter at ground level, the center goes down for three levels into the rock. It has cafes, a souvenir shop, a movie on the Cape, a souvenir shop, a museum about the Second World War, a souvenir shop, and a panoramic window facing the Arctic Ocean; and oh, did I mention the souvenir shop? I tried to go outside to the Cape itself, but only got so far as the edge of the cliff. The winds were howling, the rain coming in sheets and it was cold- so I snapped a couple of half hearted shots and scurried back like a rat into the warmth of the center. DSC_1843

We arrived back at the ship around 7pm, and thus ended an interesting but long day. I learned yesterday that Crystal has been making this once a year trip to the North Cape for many years, and until a few years ago that is where the cruise ended its northward journey. As global warming has changed the environment, it has become possible for the ship to travel even further north. So today we have crossed the 73 degree latitude on our way to a remote island, Bear Island. In the winter, the island and all of the waters north of that are part of the Arctic Ice Pack. But wait, after Bear Island, the ship will go even further North to another island, Spitsbergen and actually stop at the small settlement of Longyearbyen. Then, the ship will go even further north. In fact the goal of this cruise is to reach the edge of the Polar Ice Cap.

However, our Captain just came on to announce that because of global warming it appears that the edge of the Polar Ice Cap is farther North this year than the ship has time to reach. He has been in contact with two ships that are apparently out in front of us and they have discovered a massive iceberg, so we will attempt to at least reach that. Pooh – I had hoped to see the edge of the Polar Ice Cap, but it is still exciting to be this far North – not many people can claim to have been this far North.


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