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.