We crossed the Arctic Circle and the sun came out - it was like magic. It’s amazing how spirits rise when the colors are bright! We celebrated the crossing about 9:00AM with a spoon of cod liver oil - yuck! I understand the tradition is either cod liver oil or keel hauling. I think I prefer the former!
We’ve seen beautiful scenery but surprisingly few fjords. We did pull into one impossibly narrow fjord and the ship turned in an area hardly wider than the boat is long. At the end of the fjord we discovered a lovely waterfall and kayakers. I kept thinking how much fun the kayaks would be but how I’d hate to roll a one in this cold water!
Our ship Internet service has been out of commission for 3 days so I’ve been unable to post a blog. That means this one is late and all the subsequent ones will be too.
We spent 3 days on the Kong Harald above the Arctic Circle. The scenery was spectacular, the weather cold (in the 40’s) and unfortunately the skies were gray nearly all the time. The only time I saw bright sunlight was at 11:30 PM in Tromso. It was an incredible view, but not enough to get me out of my cabin. After a quick look out the window, I turned over and went back to sleep.
On board the ship we alternatively watched the scenery, listened to Matt’s “Scandi-talks” (short lectures about Scandinavian culture, economics, language, etc), exercised (walking around the 5th deck or using the small on-board gym), conversed with new friends, read, slept and ate and ate and ate! Who’d have known there were so many kinds of fish and ways to prepare it? Each time we docked for 30 minutes or more Matt lead us on a tour around the town, pointing out the highlight - such as they are in these coastal villages. We saw a WWII and the Hurtigruten museums, cod drying racks, the best ice cream north of the Arctic Circle and the like.
Reviews of this journey are filled with complaints about too much time onboard, not enough shore time, no entertainment, etc., but none in our group concurred with these feelings My advice – if you want all the amenities of a big cruise ship don’t take the Hurtigruten. Like an intimate (300 passengers) and international atmosphere (mostly French, German and Scandinavian passengers) and a chance to see some interesting small towns and beautiful scenery? Take this trip!
The Hurtigruten (which translates to “the express route”) was founded in 1893 to service the remote settlements along Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Today it provides daily passenger and freight shipping service. The 11 day round-trip has been described as the "World's Most Beautiful Sea Voyage," with highlights including thecity of Bergen, the Geiranger fjord , and the Lofoten Islands. The company has nearly 2% of the worldwide cruise market.
We boarded yesterday in Kirkenes, Norway. We’re on the northern-most portion of our journey which will end in Bergen. This is the Arctic and we’re as far north as Barrow, Alaska, at about 70° N. The Gulf Current keeps the coastal climate relatively warm so there is no permafrost, as the average annual temperature is approximately 36 °F, about the same as Anchorage, Alaska which is located at a latitude of 61°. So far we have experienced 50 degree weather and skies overcast with clouds so low we generally can’t see the mountain tops on the nearby land. We see small settlements with bright colored houses along the shore and stop every hour or two in the larger towns (a thousand or so inhabitants) to on and off load cargo and mail.
This is a working boat, but carries 200-300 passengers. The common areas are comfortable, but not lavish. There is little entertainment on-board except the exceptional scenery, frequent lectures by our tour guide Matt, short walks when we stop in a town for more than 30 minutes, and evening “happy hours” for our Travel Our World Group! Our rooms are small but comfortable, with black-out curtains to allow sleep during the days’ 24 hours of sunlight.
The Sami people were previously called Laps. Today they prefer to be called Sami. These are the indigenous people of what was known as Lapland (now Samiland). Samiland is an area not a country. It’s the area north of Arctic Circle in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. These people have been here thousands of years, since the end of the last ice age. It is not agreed where they came from, but most evidence is the Ural Mountains. They are not Inuits and don’t look at like them nor do they share their cultural heritage.
There are about 80,000 -100,000 total pop, though only about 1/5 of them live in Samiland. The constitution of the countries the Samis live in recognizes them. Legally, in order to be considered a Sami it’s a qualification based on language. You must consider yourself Sami and speak the language as your “mother” tongue or be the child or grandchild of someone who does. This is different than genetic inheritance and I wonder if the intent was to ultimately see the extinction of this group as they become assimilated into the broader culture.
Reindeer are important to culture and family is central. You do not ask Sami how many reindeer they own. That is considered the height of rudeness. Their extensive herds are allowed to roam, but are gathered and ear marked in the spring then allowed to roam again for the summer. They are gathered again in October for slaughter. Every part of the reindeer is used for food, household goods or clothing.
Like many indigenous peoples, they have their issues - alcohol abuse and their relationship to the nation states they are a part of. There are several distinct Sami groups. These elect a Sami Parliament within each country which interacts with the country’s parliament to ensure their interests are met. There is also an inter-national Sami Parliament which meets with representatives of Sami’s in each county - Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. Complicated? Yes!
Today we left the city and headed north. We landed in Rovaniemi, where the airport is just a few meters south of the Arctic Circle. After a quick lunch and a few photos on the 66.5628° N latitude we boarded the bus for the 170 mile drive to Ivalo and Sami country.
I was amazed by the beauty of this boreal wilderness. This is not the barren tundra I’ve experienced in northern Canada and Alaska but rather verdant forests, small farms and villages. The highways are first-class, the hotels and restaurants very nice, it’s a popular hideaway for skiers and hikers alike.
Ivalo is also a gateway to Lapland, the home of the Sami, the indigenous people who have lived in northern Scandinavia since prehistoric times. Lapland, also called Samiland, spans northern parts of Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Although the Sami are a minority of today's population in northern Finland, their cultural traditions endure. The Sami have a proud tradition of nomadic reindeer herding and been a much maligned for centuries. I understand that is rapidly changing, but we’ll learn more about that today…
Follow our travels with stories and photos.
You can unsubscribe at any time.
Prefer Facebook Updates?