In terms of how my cold was treating me, this was probably my worst day, but I really, really wanted to participate in one particular element of the holiday, and also the prospects of being able to sit down from time to time were good. So heavy-duty masked up in the bus, I joined my companions for a trip to the west of the island, furthest point Sigri. Here’s a reminder of the map of the island.
On the way, we stopped near Andissa, and were dropped by the bus such that we just walked just the final kilometre or so, on a fairly gentle slope, towards the Ipsilou Monastery, which stands on the highest peak of the Ordimnos mountain range.
We continued the last few yards/meters to the monastery.
It wasn’t intended that we should eat our packed lunch there, but we were invited in, and facilities were opened up to us. It was lovely to sit in the cool of the chapel’s porch.
Like the others, I wandered around after eating. I did not go into the museum.
We moved on to Sigri, to visit the Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest. This is at one of the four sites on Lesvos, all in this region, where trees fossilised 20 (as we were told) million years ago by volcanic activity may be seen. This was the reason I had particularly wanted to go out with the group that day, but had also been very happy with my morning.
A few minutes after our arrival we were given a short talk, then invited to go round the small geological museum, and the garden.
Those teeth were in the museum. They were e-nor-mous. Sadly photography was not allowed inside but it was in the garden.
I was very pleased to sit down for a while in the café there, feeling done in by now.
The day was still quite young, so Philip decided to add an hour or so to the programme, a naturalist walk in olive groves nearby, where lots of good things were seen. I stayed in the bus, where the sleep I craved eluded me.
Throughout Sunday I had been trying to convince myself that, despite a few sneezes and lots of sniffles, I had not got a cold coming. But by bedtime I had to admit the truth to myself. Despite having worn a heavy-duty mask all day Wednesday, except at Liverpool Street station and at the hotel, then on Thursday in airports, aeroplane and minibus, I had somehow picked up a cold en route. (Only now, as I write these words, am I thinking that the incipient cold perhaps explains my fatigue in the couple of days preceding.)
I had a very restless and broken Sunday night, and around 1 o’clock got up and stood on my balcony.
The morning dawned beautiful.
There was no question of my going out with the group. I was very concerned not to spread my bug, so sat outside during breakfast, our host Dimitris kindly bringing me all the necessary (and, I suspect, a little more – feed a cold), and Nick kindly came out to keep me company.
I watched my companions gather to leave for the day.
And noticed a pair of collared doves in their nest by the awning. He (I presume) had just flown in with some nesting material. It is from this region that the pretty species spread across Europe, arriving in the UK just a few decades ago.
The ‘wildlife’ that was going to impinge most on me during the day were the many delightful cats around.
When the group had left, I firstly amused myself trying to capture the many swifts screaming about, but they lived too much up to their name for my skills.
I took a walk around the harbour walls.
But I had to find a large supply of tissues. This meant going back nearly to where the coach had dropped us the previous day, to a supermarket there.
That shopping done, I turned back, but was soon glad that I had had to go so far for my purchases (which included some Greek nuts, and some honey for a friend back home). A steep road of steps tempted me inland a few meters into the village centre, and I found myself in a delightful and near deserted set of roads that were not much more than alleyways, that no doubt in the tourist season are packed. I was not surprised to find that a restaurant was named after Molyvos’s cats.
I stopped for a coffee, and found myself for a few minutes talking with a young Dutch woman who served me and a bronzed English woman customer of a certain age, both of whom lived in Molyvos.
I sat outside to drink my coffee.
I moved on upwards.
I was intending to find a way back to the up-and-down road, hoping I might find myself at its crest. But instead I kept seeing this sign, which tempted me further upwards, by relatively easy steps.
And in what seemed no time at all, I found myself near the top.
I walked round the outer walls, as far as possible, and back again to the entrance.
There I paid the entrance fee of €3, and spent the next half hour or so wandering around, referring to the leaflet I had been given. The monument’s history reflects the chequered history of the island itself. Originally a Byzantine castle, it was taken by the Venetians early in the 13th century. It was captured by Baldwin of Flanders (on his way to the Crusades, if my ‘A’ level history serves me correctly). Late in that same century it passed into the control of the Catalans, and less than 100 years later to a Genoan dynasty, the Gattelusi. (Anything to do with cats?) The Turks occupied Lesvos in 1462, and the Ottomans repaired and added to the castle in the 15th and 17th centuries. It is the second-largest castle on Lesvos, after that of Mytilene.
I was surprised to find how green it was inside.
On my way down (still hoping to find myself at the crest of the coastal double slope, not the wrong side of it), I was excited to see what I thought might be a moth we hadn’t yet seen. But scrutiny of my photo once back revealed it to be a very, very worn, so near defunct, butterfly. James identified it as a swallowtail.
I did indeed emerge from the village centre where I had hoped, and made my way back to the Sea Horse hotel, (includes good video of Molyvos) where Dimitris’s wife Stella was out front.
I ate my packed lunch in my room, then went down to have a coffee, and a bit of a chat with Dimitris. This was his boat, the St Nicholas, and (as I learned later) he had indeed caught the bream we would have at dinner that evening. Now he was removing all the stones he had picked up at the same time.
I hoped to sleep that afternoon. I didn’t manage to, but just did some restful pottering in my room. At dinner, I learned that the group also had been to the castle – though not all went in – having been dropped off, at the end of their day’s wildlife discoveries at Kavaki and Petri, at the top (!) of Molyvos by the minibus. So we’d all had a lovely day.
The first time I went to the Roman villa, ‘Villa Ventorum’, at The Newt in Somerset – I have now been four times, each with a different friend – I felt rather sorry for a bunch of volunteers, the Avalon Archaeology’s “Hands on Heritage” team. These, I knew from their blog, had been slogging away for years, every Wednesday, at a project under the auspices of the South West Heritage Trust, a not-for-profit whose work was formerly part of Somerset County Council’s responsibility, and which is now still mainly financed by Somerset and Devon councils.
At the Avalon Marshes Centre those volunteers are now creating one room of a Roman villa, on a limited budget. Although the aims of the project are very different from those of the villa at The Newt, I was concerned that they might be rather envious – to put it mildly – of the millions poured into the extremely rapid and professional job just 20 miles away.
On subsequent visits to the Roman villa at The Newt, I was delighted to learn that the SWHT had played a large part as consultants in the planning and execution of the Villa Ventorum. They also wrote almost the entire text of a beautiful book about the new villa, which covers the background history of Roman presence in Somerset (there were loads of villas), the decision to imagine a brand new villa, and enormous detail about the planning, sourcing, and construction of it. I can only hope that, given the millions that were poured, evidently, into The Newt’s project, the Trust benefited financially to a very substantial extent!
The Avalon Archaeology project has this month started offering guided tours to the public, and I joined a small group last week. It was a bitterly cold day, and I had not covered myself sufficiently, unfortunately, but the visit was still very enjoyable.
I was early, and studied the map of where I was. The area is principally known for its wildlife.
There were four items to see, and we were guided around them in chronological order, before being left to explore individually and take a longer look at various aspects. The following pictures consolidate the two ‘tours’.
The visit started with the early work by the volunteers of an Iron Age roundhouse. Natalie, of the SWHT, explained that the Hands on Heritage project is not designed to build exact replicas, but that what they carried out was experimental archaeology, that is, in this case, trying to find out by experimentation what building methods were and might have been used at the time. Although many roundhouses have been found, none has left traces much above ground level, so reproduction can only be conjectural. It was known that short stouter posts were first inserted, some weaving done, and then longer uprights added. Wattle and daub was applied, finished with a wash, and then a roof extending well out would largely protect the walls. But rot would set in from the ground, and the life of a roundhouse was only about ten years. The model for this one was those of the Glastonbury Lake Village, just a few miles away.
It was not known, because of the limited height of remains, whether roundhouses had windows, but boards of this size had been found near excavations, so these were included, in accordance with the experimental archaeological approach.
To illustrate a Roman villa, a typical dining room (triclinium) and anteroom were being built here.
Only those rooms and the bathhouse would be heated, by means of a hypocaust. This fire (the opening is about 12 inches/30 centimetres high) would heat air that would be spread underneath the rooms and through their walls.
The roof’s end tiles are purely decorative, and are based on found examples. The part of wall is left unfinished so that internal construction can be seen. It is not wattle and daub but not dissimilar. The two dark plates serve to prevent the smoke from the fire from being blown back into the house. The need for them was discovered in accordance with the experimental approach.
Laying the mosaics is slow painstaking work, and not without the occasional error – itself authentic.
Each section is shaped with a temporary ‘form’. Without such, chaos would result. The small oblong section had taken two or three people the whole of the previous day to complete.
A modern dish provides useful separation of the tesserae, made of local stone and (red) brick.
Among the wall decorations would be portraits of the mistress and master of the house.
The third building was Saxon long hall, home to the local lord perhaps, and also used as (my term) a sort of community centre.
There were seven panels altogether.
After the tour, Natalie got the fire going again. But before that there was one more thing to see.
This is full size waterline replica of a Viking trading ship from Denmark. It was built of oak by a specialist team of Viking boat builders from Roskilde. It was originally displayed in the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth. See here for a photo of it being delivered.
Finally, we learnt some etymology. This is the stern of the boat. On its side – and always on its right-hand side – is the steering board. Thus ‘starboard’. And ‘port’ is because a ship was always moored at its left-hand side, in order not to damage its steering-board. (And come to think of it, so did MS Trollfjord on my recent trip up the coast of Norway.)
The bus I took to Taunton last Friday was a single-decker one. On the way home the 29 was a double-decker, and I was fortunate to get an upstairs front seat.
Allowing plenty of time at the bus stop, as it was only a two-hourly service, I had seen the Market House, a Grade II listed building now housing a variety of bodies,
and that the Dragon would be visiting Taunton this weekend.
Once we had left the outskirts of the town, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos with my phone. The majority of the route was across the moors, along a road that had been closed because of floods – a not unusual occurrence – a couple of weeks ago. Traffic has to go a longer way round by motorway when that happens. But now it was a pretty, if mostly dull weather-wise, journey across the Somerset Moors, through countryside and villages.
Given the grubby state of the windows, and the fact that the bus was moving, I am amazed that the photos are this clear.
The Somerset Moors (the correct name for most of what are commonly called the Somerset Levels) abound in ditches, rhynes and canals, not to mention remote-controlled sluices, all part of the water management system. The initial drainage was by the Romans, much extended by mediaeval monks, and continues to this day. It’s when nature wins that roads are closed.
The Polden Hills, the lowest range in Somerset, coming into view.
The bus passed nearby starling roosting grounds, and this is just a part of the flock which flew across the window at 16.20, on its way to join millions of other birds converging for the night.
Not too far from home now, the pimple of Glastonbury Tor coming into sight.
Last Friday, 3rd February, having spent a couple of hours, and taken lunch, at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton Castle, about which I blogged yesterday, and with a couple more hours before my bus back home, I decided to visit the beautiful church of which I had caught just a glance in the morning.
I paused to look at what I imagined to be the four Evangelists – they were not accompanied by their normal symbols – at the west door, and was struck by the humanity written on the face of whom I took to be St Luke.
I stepped inside. Susan!
Susan. Susanpoozan, loyal reader and commenter on my blogs, sister to two other loyal readers and to two other siblings, died just two weeks ago. I had seen her in November on my last trip to London. My next visit will be to attend her thanksgiving service later this month.
Susan herself wrote a weekly blog, She loved travel and she loved churches, especially their ceilings. One of her last posts was of her trip to Exeter, when its cathedral figured largely in what she wrote about the city. In the early months of 2021, when we were all unable to get out and about, she wrote up 21 ‘Tales from a mid-life gap year‘ about her travels in Europe in a van, in 1984/5.
I felt Susan was with me all the time as I explored this beautiful church.
The minster was founded by the Saxon king, Ina, when he founded the town of Taunton early in the 8th century. It became a parish church in 1308, and once more became a minster in 2022, ‘to reflect its ‘widening work engaging with civic life, as a hub in the west of the diocese…; as a major heritage attraction; and in serving the community and business life of Taunton’. The present church was completed in 1508.
It was time to look more closely at those angels. These were gilded in in 1968, and are among more than 200 of the beings to be seen somewhere in the church.
And here’s her angel, facing the west door.
These were commissioned in 2008, designed and engraved by Tracy Sheppard.
I walked round the outside of the minster, clockwise.
With the permission of the two of her siblings I know best, I am dedicating this blog post to Susan Hutton, 1934-2023. I have in mind also RK, 1945-2023, with whom I sang in a London choir in the 1970s. He was very closely involved with Salisbury Cathedral. I lost touch with him when I left the great wen. He made contact again in 2016 and I have learned of his death just this morning. Also Brian, 1923-2023, a dear friend from Reading and in recent years Yorkshire, whose thanksgiving meeting for worship I was able to attend virtually last week. May they all rest in peace.
When I visited early in 2012, I had been waylaid by a large and very comprehensive ground floor geology room in the Grand Hall of the castle, and seen almost nothing of the rest of the museum. I had never been back. Now I was aware that a temporary exhibition that had caught my eye had only a few more weeks to run, so, my regular first Friday walk having been cancelled yesterday, 3rd February, I seized the opportunity to use my bus pass to get to travel free for 80 minutes (50 minutes by car) to the county town, and spend a few hours there.
After an obligatory coffee, I popped out to the courtyard for a photo,
then made straight for the room showing the display previously advertised as:
In Fashion: How a Changing World Shaped What We Wear
‘In Fashion’ explores how changes in society have shaped fashion from the late 1700s to the present day. Long-lasting traditions, social status, new technologies and media influence have all had their part in shaping what we wear. So too have the disruptions of war, the landmarks of birth, marriage and death, and the human desire to escape from old constraints.
Sadly, I felt it did not live up to its promise, so it was as well that there was no charge. From the description above, and that of the welcoming volunteer, I was expecting a chronological display and information covering more than two hundred years of developing fashion, and explanations of why. Instead, in only a certain discipline of chronology, the story was that of 20th century fashion with a few other items tacked on. I could remember three-quarters of it myself – and it was, to be fair, quite nice to nostalge.
Afterwards I had plenty of time, so spent the rest of the morning walking round at those parts of the museum I had not seen on that one earlier visit, and after lunch in the café, I went to visit the splendid church I had noticed (I don’t know Taunton well) on the short walk from bus stop to museum.
Here then is a selection of the photographs I took on my way round, of a large proportion of the items in the fashion exhibition (in the order they were displayed) and then a small selection of those I took in the rest of the museum. The splendid church will be the subject of my next post.
I can remember the times when making one’s own clothes was quite normal, and much less expensive than buying them ready-made. And this mid-fifties shape is very familiar.
I spent just a few minutes in the military history part of the museum.
There were many more rooms to the museum than I had realised.
Every now and then, a reminder one was in a very old castle.
A small, beautiful, very high-ceilinged circular room was decorated with many sayings associated with Somerset in some way.
This saying was one of four, each for a season, on the huge Taunton Cabinet, made by John Steevens for the Great Exhibition, 1851.
A few things were ‘discovered’ by Somerset people.
On Friday 30th December, three busfuls of passengers got off at 08.00 at Harstad to take a drive through the lovely Vesterålen islands, and to meet up again with MS Trollfjord two stops further on, at Sortland at 12.30. At that time, I was due to get off there for a bus ride to Stokmarknes in order to have a decent amount of time in the Hurtigruten Museum before reboarding the boat there at 15.00. I had a late breakfast as I didn’t know that I’d get any lunch, and took away with me the means to make a cheese sandwich and an apple.
The day before we had been told we would, hopefully, pass along the Risøyrenna, the 4.8 kilometre Risøy Channel.
It had been dredged and opened in 1922 to allow the Hurtigruten ships through, giving them access to its eponymous stop, and other places on the Lofoten Islands. It was narrow, and part of a beautiful passage. The channel was 7 metres deep, our boat having a draught of 5.5.
At 10.10 we were invited up to deck 9 to observe our passage through.
When I arrived:
I missed most of the opening English introduction, but did catch that we were hovering to see whether it was going to be safe to go through, given the very strong winds. Heinz then embarked on a long spiel in German.
After a minute or so I saw and felt that the boat was making an about-turn of 180 degrees. Heinz broke into English to explain that the captain had decided that the very strong winds meant that, especially with so little difference between the boat’s draught and the depth of the channel, it would not be safe to proceed. We would go straight to Svolvær, arriving at 12.55, via Harstad, missing out Risøyrenna, Sortland, and Stokmarknes. And this also meant we would not be seeing the entrance to the beautiful Trollfjord, after which the ship was named. But here’s an account (subject to permission) I’ve just found by, apparently, a North American, of their passage through the channel in 2014 at a different time of year.
A screen map showed us to be on our way back to Harstad.
We had to go there to pick up the turned-back passengers who had left for the Vesterålen excursions, and to deposit those ‘ordinary’ passengers who were due to leave the ship at one of the three ports now being missed. They would be bussed to their destinations. Later in the afternoon it was announced we would not be calling at Svolvær, but would go straight to Bodø, missing out Stamsund as well, arriving at 22.00.
All these changes meant that the trip to the Hurtigruten museum on which I was booked would not happen, nor for others, from Svolvær, three hours of horse-riding, nor another fishing village visit, nor an evening trek.
Back at Harstad, it was time for a twilight tour around the promenade deck, 6, before I returned to my cabin and had my picnic lunch. When going round deck 6, I always started on the starboard side and worked anticlockwise.
The English-language daily briefing was bought forward 45 minutes, to 14.15.
We would be crossing back over the Arctic Circle tomorrow.
Hege sought to reassure those of us who had been on the northwards journey that there would be no ice down the backs the following day, instead we would be invited to take a dose of …
A short presentation about life on the ship followed. It’s a good job there was no space for questions – I would have had far too many.
A film taking us around the lower decks was fascinating.
I can’t remember why I went up to deck 8, but for the Nth time I saw progress on the two jigsaws. One had been completed. I saw two people on the very final morning desperately trying to get the last 50 or so pieces in position before disembarkation.
At 16.30 an additional talk was programmed, the history of Hurtigruten, a sort-of replacement for the visit to the museum. It has been interesting to learn that ‘hurtigruten’ was sort-of lower case, an idea, an integral and essential part of Norwegian culture, less the name of a company, more a description of the journey. It means ‘express route’. It has been exploited by many companies over the years, but at its heart is Richard With’s initiative. The Hurtigruten Group finally came together in 2006. (Additional information from Wikipedia, inter alia.)
The afternoon was scattered with exchanges of emails with my French friend, Christine, I knew she would be following the ship’s progress on an interactive map, MS Trollfjord being ‘TF’, which, at the time of writing, is at the northernmost tip of Norway, on her second full trip since the one being described here. At the least Christine would be puzzled when she saw it way off the appointed route, so I kept her up to date with the various tergervisations. (There was also a mystery of a missing ship which apparently was going to be waiting for us a Bodø, but wasn’t and disappeared from the map, but that was never solved.)
Some time in the evening, it was announced that because of the extremely strong winds, the ship was now travelling more slowly, and we would not arrive at Bodø until 23.00. That was still 3.5 hours earlier than the official schedule. I have to say, other than feeling the gales up on deck 9 in the morning, I was very little aware of the winds. Perhaps the occasional need to steady oneself when walking around the ship, but that was all.
For some people, Day 8 started at 01.20. They had left the boat at Mehamn and rejoined at at Kjøllefjord at 03.25, having travelled some of the distance between the two by snow-scooter. I was not among them. The first announcement most of us heard was to explain a delay – we had taken on 130 tons of fish during the night at one of the stops! (Some reckoned that they could see the boat listing, but given the overall tonnage of the boat, I couldn’t – and didn’t – see that it made any difference.)
We were still at the very ‘top’ of Norway. This was taken just before 11.00.
The only lengthy stop that day was at Hammerfest, around 11.15. This claims to be the northernmost town – or was it city? – in the world. So does Honningsvåg. It seems that both can be true since one is technically a city and the other a town. This I found out when, cussedly, I said privately to ‘Onchel’ (pronounced ‘Onkle’) Heinz that I had visited the town of Longyearbyen on Svalbard, way, way to the north of mainland Norway. Ah, but that, being very small, was neither a town nor a city. OK.
The options here were: – to take a very short walk from the boat,
in order to see this;
or to take a bus to see it, then visit the town and its surroundings, including the Museum of Reconstruction of Finnmark and the Northern Troms regions;
or to go on a mountain hike.
Or of course to stay on the boat, which the majority did. I had booked on the second.
The monument was to mark the Struve Geodetic Arc, which started at Hammerfest and ended at the Black Sea. This was a chain of triangulations carried out between 1816 and 1855, which helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet.
We were taken to a high viewpoint of the harbour, passing a much enlarged former Sami dwelling.
As we were taken back to the town centre, I grabbed a few photos from the bus.
Our whistle-stop tour of the museum provided a very natural and just as sobering sequel to the visit to the bomb shelter in Kirkenes the day before. It picked up from the scorched earth policy of the retreating Germans in 1944, and covered the plight of refugees in their own country, and subsequent reconstruction of their homes and other buildings. Much of it was text and most of the rest was old photos. With little time to read and study I just hastily grabbed images to read later. Here are some.
And we were rushed on, back to the boat.
I reflected on the words of the Norwegian boatowner over breakfast a couple of days earlier, who had said that Norwegians remembered the war. And I also noted the different approaches of our local guides: the passion of that of the previous day in Kirkenes, for whom the period had been lived experience, compared with the matter-of-factness of this day’s guide, half his age, for whom all this was history. (That Norwegian referendum on whether to join what became the EU had been back in 1972, with 53.5% against membership and 46.5% in favour. They had another, I have just read, in 1994. On an 88.6% turnout, 52% were against, 48% for – no, I’ve not got my referendum results muddled. The Wikipedia article suggests that it’s fishing which for many Norwegians is a great obstacle to EU membership.)
At 15.45 we had a talk on:
with its painful reminder that the British expedition under Scott had been ill-equipped and very under-experienced compared with the Norwegian Amundsen. Indeed it’s amazing just how much Scott achieved in the circumstances.
Later in the afternoon was the English-language briefing for the next day, but how the next day panned out is a completely different story.
We would be pulling in to Tromsø at 23.45 that evening , for a nearly two-hour stay. A concert in the ‘Arctic Cathedral’ I had walked to on the way ‘up’ had originally been scheduled, to which I had much looked forward. But there was to be no concert there that night, instead another being scheduled at a theatre/cultural centre. A little bird indicated to me that the music would not be up to much. I would have coped with this just to see the inside of the church at midnight, but I decided against in the circumstances. I was tucked up in bed and fast asleep as those who went left and came back. Feedback the next day was that my choice had been a good one.
At 09.00 I was normally having breakfast. But on Day 7, along with many others, I had to be ready to disembark at that time. In the next 15 minutes, six excursions were to be underway, everyone sorted into their different buses on the quay, and another bus would be taking those passengers leaving the ship permanently to the airport. In addition to the excursion I was to do, people were variously: visiting a snow hotel, going dog-sledding, having a ‘King Crab Adventure’, hiking with the expedition team, and riding snow scooters.
The trip I was doing was a historical/political one, taking in a WWII bomb shelter, the Russian border, and a beautiful view.
Kirkenes is further east than both St Petersburg and Istanbul. It is the nearest town to the Russian border. The role of Kirkenes in WWII, second most bombed town in Europe after Valletta, is described here, as the Germans, who had occupied Kirkenes almost unopposed in June 1940, tried to take Russian Murmansk, 200 kilometres away. (They didn’t get further than halfway there.) The bombing was by the Soviet Union, resisting the German advance. The Russians were greeted with open arms as they liberated Kirkenes on 25th October 1944, and, as our guide kept emphasising, relations have been most cordial with the local Russians ever since, across the border which had been fully open until very recently. Recently, that is since Putin invaded Ukraine. Now the inhabitants of the town were very, very afraid.
Our visit was to the Andersgrotta bomb shelter in the centre of the town. Our guide, born in 1940, while not recalling much of the war but growing up in its aftermath, was passionate about his town’s history.
After showing us a short film – we sat on ranked benches with blankets he provided from a chest – in English with German subtitles, he spoke for some 10 minutes in English, followed by the same length of time in German, about the town’s experiences during and after the war. He felt that the Norwegian government had ignored the needs of north Norway – Finnmark – for reconstruction, and said that only in the 1980s did the town receive a royal visit and apology for neglect. He emphasised several times the cordial relations between the townspeople and the Russian, and indeed the many other nationalities living there, including an influx of Syrian refugees who had entered the country via the Russian border in 2015. (Imagine the desperation.)
He said that books about Norway in the war ignored the experience of the north of the country. He himself had sought to make up for that by writing a short book, translated into three languages. I regret not buying it. I have now read the whole of the Wikipedia entry on the German occupation of Norway, from which this is an extract, ‘By the end of the war, German occupation had reduced Norway’s GDP by 45% – more than any other occupied country. In addition to this came the physical and patrimonial ravages of the war itself. In Finnmark, these were considerably important, as large areas were destroyed as a result of the scorched earth policy that the Germans had pursued during their retreat. Moreover, many towns and settlements were damaged or destroyed by bombing and fighting.’
It was good to be outside again.
We now drove for some 15/20 minutes from Kirkenes to the Russian border. We were entering a different kind of vegetation, the taiga forest. I took these photos through the bus’s window. It’s interesting how the human eye accustoms itself to different light conditions, as it really didn’t seem this dark.
We got out of the bus, and were told we could go anywhere – except beyond the gateposts (though I noticed one or two did, just, with no ill consequences).
This sled appeared from I-don’t-know-where, and unfortunately I felt obliged to accept, when offered, a very short ride on it. Not short enough for me – I felt most insecure. And I’d have preferred anyway to walk on that lovely crunchy snow. The ride was to a solitary shop, which was as unattractive as most gift shops are.
By the shop was tethered this husky, and a jar of treats, which our guide dipped into – for the dog that is.
The main road signs in the area were in Cyrillic letters as well as Roman.
We were driven back towards Kirkenes, and arrived at a viewpoint over the town.
My camera zoomed, MS Trollfjord takes centre stage again.
Today’s English language briefing, mentioning excursions for the next three days, was at 14.30. Telling us again about the walk to the Vauban-style fortress at Vardø was a bit a question of left hand and right hand. The timing would already have been tight, but this scoot had already been cancelled by the rather late departure of the boat from Kirkenes. This was again due to the non-arrival on time of some passengers, but in no way was it their fault this time. Two planes bringing passengers has been late arriving at Kirkenes Airport. The boat had waited for one, but could not wait for the second, ‘so those passengers have not joined us yet’. That was the last we heard about them – presumably they were bussed to a later port.
At Hammerfest it would be possible to see this monument to the Struve Geodesic Arc, about which more in the next post.
The trip to the Hurtigruten Museum would happen on Day 9. This slide is of SS (DS in Norwegian) Irma, a Hurtigruten steamship on the coastal route, and controversially torpedoed in 1944, between Bergen and Trondheim. It received a memorial in 2002, seemingly another very belated acknowledgment by the Norwegian government of wartime suffering.
Around 10.00, we were invited to go up on to deck 9 as the ship passed through a narrow strait, the Magerøysund, on its way to our next port of call, Honningsvåg, where three excursions were due to set off.
We then learned that all three excursions had had to be cancelled. The authorities in Honningsvåg had closed the main road north out of the town as being too dangerous because of weather. So neither my trip to the North Cape, (the northernmost spot in Norway at 71° N), nor another to a fishing village, nor a hike with the expedition team were able to take place.
The ship was to remain at the port for three-and-a-half hours, from 11.00 to 14.30. So there was plenty of time for a walk within the small town. It was rather enjoyable, in effect a horseshoe walk round the harbour, out by an upper road, and back via a lower, in still air.
This was the furthest point of the walk, and where one could look straight out to sea. I must quote from an excellent little Hurtigruten book about the voyage and its stopping places. “In the spring, the Norwegian Army’s landing craft transport around 3,800 reindeer over Magerøy Strait to their summer pastures on Magerøy Island. However, during the autumn, when it is time for the reindeer to return to the snow-clad plains of Karasjok, the animals and their calves, born at the end of May/beginning of June, swim across the 1,800 m wide strait.” That must be quite a sight! (It is – I’ve just found this video. Sound on for Sami-inspired music.)
It was much darker than this video suggests. As came to the end of my swivel, I was concerned that I might have captured the couple in full embrace, but it turns out they were taking a selfie – and I can well understand why, with that backdrop.
I turned back.
Within this view…
… was this. Fishers preparing to go out for the night?
When I got back to the boat, I found that playing on a loop was a series of pictures of what those of us disappointed in our attempt to get to the North Cape might have seen.
I’ve been studying my globe to see what other parts of the world are at 71°N: the north coasts of Alaska and Russia, some of the northernmost islands of Canada, halfway up Greenland. All pretty well uninhabitable. How fortunate the Norwegians are in having the Gulf Stream flow past!
At 15.00 came a talk on…
by Hege, of the expedition team, including some anecdotes about her grandfather’s farmhouse. No top secrets were revealed.
The English speakers’ briefing for the following day was at 17.30. Meanwhile those hoping to leave the boat at Kjøllefjord for a scooter safari, rejoining it at Mehamn two hours later, had been disappointed, as bad weather meant that the first port had been bypassed.
Fingers crossed that the several excursions from Kirkenes would take place. More than 100 passengers would be leaving there, and about 80 joining.
There would be a 15-minute stop at Vardø during the night, and a rather longer one, after turnaround at Kirkenes, late afternoon, when those of us who wished to could walk to the Vauban-style fortress. The town had been of strategic importance for centuries, and the domes had been part of NATO’s early warning system (and presumably still are).
We were also given a preview of a trip to come on Day 9, a visit to the Hurtigruten Museum at Stokmarknes, on which I was already booked and to which I was much looking forward.
The Northern Lights appeared again that evening, but afforded me no great photo.