Tromso

The northernmost town, Kirkenes and returning south

As we travel north snow, sleet and rain are the usual weather pattern, and the spectacular mountains of the fjords are covered with snow and leafless birth trees. 

The ship moves northward passing the Sami church at Finnjerka, and by next morning we have reached Kirkenes, very close to the Russian border and the furthest point of our journey.
Kirkenes has a population of 5000 and is very close to the border with Russia. We chose not to take the bus to the Russian border but rather to walk into town and up the hill behind to the Border Museum. Situated on the edge of a frozen lake this museum is small, but very well organised, and presents the story of Kirkene’s history, the close relationship with their near neighbours and the Sami people, who still live as they have for hundreds of years in the area. It also shows in excellent displays, dioramas and relics, the story of the invasion of Kirkenes by the Germans in World War II beginning with a blitzkreig. The resilience and strength of the people, despite the Germans burning the town to the ground in their retreat, is shown graphically and was absolutely fascinating.
We departed Kirkenes at lunchtime and sailed to Vardo, Norway’s easternmost town. Here we had just 20 minutes to walk up the hill to the Vardohus fortress, which is situated on a strategic, and though it has never been used in battle has a long history and is used for ceremonial occasions. 
By the next day we were well on our way south, passing during the day the towns and settlements we had passed at night time on the journey north. 
Hammerfest was our morning stop. Hammerfest is 70 deg north and 39.6 deg. east. Despite the sleet we walked up the hill to get a good view of the town, and spent barely 5 minutes in the Polar Bear Society, which was a pity as there was large stuffed polar bear and many birds and animals of the region on display. The aim of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society is to preserve Hammerfest’s history and tradition of fishing and hunting. 
We sail on from Hammerfest with our next stop where we alight being Tromso, at midnight. A concert has been organised in the Tromso cathedral and many of the passengers board buses for the short journey to the church. 
Three musicians, a pianist/organist, a flugelhorn player and a bass/baritone presented a concert of Norwegian music beginning with a haunting piece by Robert Franzten based on a Sami joik. There followed folk tunes, a romantic song by Edvard Grieg – Jeg eisker dig and Sinding’s ‘Rustle of Spring’ and endingwith ‘Amazing Grace’. Back on the bus and the Kong Harald sailed around 1.30am.

A husky sled ride

Today, day 5, we headed for Tromso, Norway’s largest town with around 75,000 inhabitants, unofficially known as the capital of the Arctic. There were stops at Risoyhamn, Harstad and Finnsnes as we made our way to the sound of Gisund. Along the way we passed under the Gisund bridge which connects Norway’s second largest island Senja with the mainland. As well as the Hurtigruten ferry service, which provides a lifeline to the communities along the fjords, Norway is criss-crossed with roads, local ferries and amazingly long tunnels. 

We arrived in Tromso after another excellent buffet lunch. The food on board is always good and frequently includes local delicacies. 
We boarded the buses for an excursion to a dog sledding centre. It was cold and sleeting as we drove through the township, including one of those long tunnels, arriving at the huskies’ home in about 30 minutes. With it’s main purpose as a tourist attraction this centre is extremely well set up. We were split into groups and our group went to meet the huskies. Paired in kennels the dogs live in the open and are serious pack animals. As they waited for the first sledders to leave they howled and barked, calling to each other. But they are also very friendly and were happy to be greeted and patted. This centre breeds huskies and does not sell them.
Then a trip into a yurt for cup of warm coffee and home-made chocolate cake before visiting the puppies, who are now about 4 months old. They don’t like the rain so had to be enticed out of their kennels with a little food, but once out were happy to be cuddled and played with.
Finally we changed into super warm overalls, donned our snow goggles and climbed into the sleds. Each sled had two passengers and a driver and was drawn by 10 dogs. They were raring to go and headed into the wildernes at a steady pace. It was magical. The landscape was white and crisp and though the snow was melting we were able to glide along, with the occasional bump, at a steady pace. The dogs know the route and follow the sled in front, occasionally one trying to overtake the other, but being kept in line by the drivers and a simple, effective brake system. We were snug in our sled sitting on reindeer skins with a warm blanket across our knees. 
This excursion is a highlight for us! We simply loved it.
We returned for the evening meal and the Kong Harald headed towards Skjerboy and the open stretch of sea called Loppa.