Swedish Press Oct-Nov 2022 Vol 93-06 Sample

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Swedish Press N Y A

S V E N S K A

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A Visit to Norway

P R E S S E N

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October-November 2022 Vol 93:06 $9.95

06 2022

King Crabbing in Kirkenes | Hurtigruten | In a Morning Mood for Grieg


Hurtigruten – Voyage Under the Midnight Sun

For nearly 130 years, Hurtigruten’s vessels have connected the coastal communities of Norway’s western shores. The Swedish Press sailed from Bergen in the south to Kirkenes in the far north along the 780-mile coastline known as the world’s most beautiful voyage. By Kajsa Norman

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t is past midnight, and the sun shines brightly through a glacier-blue sky. It doesn’t produce much heat, but the enchanted

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light casts a supernatural glow upon the silent, simple, vastness that is the Norwegian far north. We crossed the Arctic circle two days ago, and now

find ourselves on the open-air top deck of the MS Trollfjord mesmerized by the magic of the midnight sun. To the starboard, lies a treeless land of


stone, smoothened by glaciers, blanketed in a light moss, and rendered almost golden by this light. This rock represents the northernmost tip of continental Europe. To the port side, a gently shimmering sea borrows the orange glow from the sky as it stretches out before our eyes. Somewhere around the horizon, it blends in with the color-matched clouds, making it impossible to discern where ocean ends and sky begins… out there, some two thousand landless miles further north, is the North Pole. For over 10,000 years, this coast of Norway has been plied by all manner of vessels, but travel was notoriously unreliable and infrequent, making the journey between the northern and southern reaches long, arduous, and unpredictable. In the 1890s, authorities invited shipping companies to submit tenders for operating a year-round express route to, and from, the far north. Despite the hazards, Captain Richard With and his steamer DS Vesteraalen accepted the challenge and established the first regular sea link between the major villages dotting the coast of Norway. The service offered weekly departures, at first from Trondheim to Hammerfest and later from Bergen to Kirkenes. The journey took only seven days and became known as “hurtigruten,” – "the fast route", which eventually became the name of the company. Today, Hurtigruten continues to operate regularly scheduled “ferry cruises” between Bergen and Kirkenes. The round-trip journey takes 12 days, but one can choose to sail just the northbound route from Bergen to Kirkenes, or vice versa, as well as any subset of the journey. We board Hurtigruten’s MS Trollfjord in Bergen a few days after

From Bergen to Kirkenes, Hurtigruten stops in 34 coastal communities, most of which are located above the Arctic Circle. Photo: Matthew Wenger

The Seven Sisters Waterfall in the Geirangerfjord. Photo: Erik Norman

midsummer. 443 feet long and built to carry 883 passengers in her 335 staterooms, the Trollfjord is a capable ship with an understated charm. A few well-appointed bars, a café, shop, weight room, saunas, games room, and explorer center offer plenty of distractions, but the highlight of the ship’s design is the stunning two-story observation room at the front of ship,

replete with floor-to-ceiling windows. For us, however, the spiritual center of the ship is the upper deck. Partly covered and furnished with couches, chairs, alcoves, and hot tubs, it offers an immersive experience in the fjords and islands, the ports and open seas. As we leave Bergen and head north, out here in the freshest of air, thousand-foot cliffs pass by so close we can Swedish Press | Oct-Nov 2022 | 13


nearly touch them. Waterfalls cascade. Birds soar. Whales arc. Remote villages of red-painted houses roll past as if painted onto the verdant green backdrop. And all the while we bathe, literally and figuratively, under the ever-present sun. The itinerary will take us into 34 ports of call, some of which are less than 30-minute stops – enough to let locals on or off. Others are as much as five hours long, enough to disembark and do some serious sightseeing. Our first highlight is the stunning Geirangerfjord. Steep cliffs rise up from the sea all around us, waterfalls pouring down their stoic faces like strings of lace. The most famous are the Seven Sisters – seven delicate cascades, side by side, dropping the entire height of the precipice. On the opposite side, one wide, powerful fall calls out to them. Locals named him “The Suitor”. After our first full day at sea, we arrive in Ålesund, a town of some 50,000 inhabitants, best known for its stunning Art Nouveau architecture. In the summertime, the ship only calls here in the evening and the stop is just long enough for fast walkers like us to climb nearby Mount Aksla, which offers an impressive bird´s-eyeview of the town. Viking aficionados will appreciate the statue of Rolf the Ganger, better known as Rollo, in the city park below. The famous 10thcentury founder of the dynasty of the dukes of Normandy, allegedly hailed from Giske just north-west of Ålesund. The descendants of Rollo became known as the Normans and Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England. The following day, we sail through the Trøndelag region of Norway, marked by crumpled hills, low-laying Swedish Press | Oct-Nov 2022 | 14

View of Ålesund, known for its Art Nouveau architecture. Photo: Erik Norman

coastal settlements, and fields dotted with farmsteads. The ship stops for half a day in Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city with some 200,000 inhabitants, founded by Viking king Olav Tryggvason in 997. A short walk from the harbor sits the imposing Nidaros Cathedral, also known as “Norway’s Notre Dame,” as it is the only church in Norway built in the Gothic architectural style. Considered the most sacred building in the country, it is the destination of several pilgrim trails. The church tower offers impressive views of the city and its famous university. Beneath it flows the Nid River and across it stretches the old city bridge Gamle Bybro, marking the entrance to the old Hanseatic district of Bakklandet. This trendy neighborhood is characterized by its colorful wooden wharves propped up on stilts by the river’s edge. Up the hill from Bakklandet, Kristiansten Fort offers beautiful views of the city and fjord. On the fourth day, we arrive in

Bodø, the 2024 cultural capital of Europe, and the first city above the Arctic circle to be awarded that honor. Bodø, home to some 50,000 inhabitants, offers both stunning surroundings and unexpected luxuries such as a Norway’s northernmost Pâtisserie & Champagneria. It also houses the library with arguably the best views in the world as the multi-story, floor-to-ceiling windows provide an inspiring vista of the treeless harbor and the magnificent low, smooth, mossy stone promontories that protect this Arctic bay. From Bodø we sail northwest to the Lofoten archipelago where the imposing 1,000 metre high Lofoten Wall dominates the horizon from afar. Our first stop is Stamsund, a village of a mere 1,000 inhabitants, but home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the islands. It is busiest in winter when the Arctic cod, known locally as skrei, migrate from the Barents Sea in the north down to Vestfjord to spawn. The area is full of traditional wooden racks


Colorful wharves in Bakklandet, Trondheim.

The view from Bodø Library. Photos: Matthew Wenger

The Arctic Circle marker. Photo: Gordon Leggett/commons.wikimedia.org

Svolvær in the Lofoten archipelago. Photo: Erik Norman

called hjell, where locals hang their cod to dry the way people elsewhere might hang their laundry. The journey continues to Svolvær where we arrive late in the evening. With a population of about 5,000, Svolvær is the center of the Lofoten Islands. Rows of red, traditional fisherman’s huts on stilts, known as rorbuer, line the quaint harbor. From here we sail to Trollfjord where the entrance is so narrow that ships can only enter when conditions are perfectly calm. The stunning

2-kilometre (1.2 mi) long fjord, after which our ship was named, has a very narrow entrance between the steepsided mountains that surround it. The mouth of the fjord is only 100 meters (330 ft) wide and the mountains surrounding it are up to 1,100 meters (3,600 ft) tall so when the ship slowly enters the fjord, the steep cliff walls on either side of the boat are so close one can almost reach out and touch them. The next day, we dock in Tromsø, the largest city in Northern Norway with a population just below 80,000.

After passing through the quaint city center along Storgatan, we cross the Tromsø Bridge which connects the islands of Tromsøya and Kvaløya to the mainland. Constructed in 1960, Tromsø Bridge was the first cantilever bridge built in Norway, and, at the time of its construction, it was also the longest in Europe. On the mainland side of the bridge sits the imposing Arctic Cathedral. Made of aluminumcoated concrete panels, the church is sometimes likened to an iceberg. Not far from the cathedral, one can hike or Swedish Press | Oct-Nov 2022 | 15


take the Fjellheisen cable car up to the mountain ledge of Storsteinen, 1,525 feet above sea level. From here, one is rewarded with incredible views of the snowcapped mountains, fjords, and nearby islands that band together to encircle the town. On June 30, the day of our visit, there is still enough snow on the ground to enjoy a snowball fight. Back in town, we head for the marina for our first ocean dip north of the Arctic Circle. Unsurprisingly, the water is stunningly cold but in the heart of the marina there is a floating sauna, designed to mimic a traditional fish-drying rack, where those who dare take the plunge can heat up afterwards. As we leave Tromsø, the landscape around us begins to change noticeably. From the dense forests and high angular cliffs of the south, the land softens. In the European Arctic, Betula pubescens – downy birch – dominates the landscape. Often found together with pine and spruce at lower latitudes and altitudes, above a certain point, only the birch remain. North Americans are often surprised at just how far north the trees go here. While wind

Photo: Hurtigruten Norway

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and ocean currents make for milder winters in Western Europe than at North American destinations situated at similar latitudes, global warming is also playing a part. The Arctic tree line is currently moving north at a rate of 40 to 50 meters a year, gobbling up the tundra in its way. While more trees might sound like a good thing, the greening of the tundra is further accelerating the warming process as the trees warm the soil, melting the permafrost and releasing methane – a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide. Early the following morning, the ship reaches Hammerfest, the northernmost town in the world with more than 10,000 inhabitants. Hammerfest is situated on the barren island of Kvaløya, which in the summertime hosts thousands of migrating reindeer. By mid-morning, we arrive in Honningsvåg, which is considered a city despite having fewer than 2,500 inhabitants. It is best known as the portal to the North Cape. We catch a local bus north, driving through the heartlands of the indigenous Sámi people, past the 71st parallel. At 71.2° N, we arrive at Nordkapp center – a

well-appointed visitor’s center with a monument marking the northernmost point on the European mainland. The end-of-the-earth greets us fittingly with winds so strong, one could lean into them at 30° and not fall over, and raw temperatures of a mere 7°C, before the windchill. On our seventh day at sea, we approach our destination, the small town of Kirkenes (population 3,500). Now it is suddenly 30°C, and we are glad we have packed for all types of weather. Birdwatching enthusiasts gather on deck. The area around Vadsø is one of the most popular birdwatching spots in the Arctic, situated directly under the migration path of birds flying from east to west. Hooded crows and sea eagles are usually spotted here. When we enter Kirkenes harbor, just a few miles from the Russian border, the sun is still shining. It will not set for another three weeks. In winter, complete darkness descends on Kirkenes, punctuated by frequent visits from the Northern lights to provide relief. Their dance across the sky is another supernatural phenomenon that attracts visitors from across the world. But that is a whole other story...


Traces of War in the Far North of Norway

Kirkenes, right on the Russian border, is a must see region for any WWII history buff. The most bombed city in mainland Europe, it was the first to be liberated from Nazi occupation by the Red Army and the traces of war are still everywhere.

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n 1940, Kirkenes, along with the rest of Norway, was occupied by Nazi Germany. At first, the war seemed distant to the inhabitants of the far north, but in June 1941, when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa, Kirkenes suddenly found itself on the frontlines. Attempting to conquer the strategically important Russian port city of Murmansk, the Reich stationed over one hundred thousand German soldiers in the area, outnumbering the locals many times over. Kirkenes soon became the most bombed city in mainland Europe. The Soviet airplanes in Murmansk were only minutes away, leaving the locals little time to run to the air raid shelter in the center of town. During the war, the town was bombed 323 times, and the air raid sirens sounded more than a thousand times. As the frontline drew closer, the civilians in Kirkenes who did not want to evacuate moved into the mines where some of them lived for several months. About twenty thousand people – more than a third of the population in the region of Finnmark – hid in turf huts, caves, and burntout buildings. About three thousand people hid in the Bjørnevatn Tunnel by the iron ore mine near Kirkenes. Eleven children were born in the mine tunnels. Before the German soldiers withdrew from Kirkenes, they applied scorched-earth tactics, setting fire to

By Kajsa Norman

Our local guide Odd-Johnny Andersen showing the distance to Russia – 0.3 miles. Photo: Erik Norman

the few buildings that had survived the bombing raids so that there would be nothing left for the Soviet soldiers. However, the Red Army moved in so quickly that the last remaining soldiers had to flee before they could destroy the town completely – they left four houses seemingly unscathed. As they withdrew, the Germans burned and destroyed an estimated 12,000 homes, 150 schools, 20 churches, 200 fishing ports, 350 motorboats and many thousands of rowing boats in Finnmark. On October 24, 1944, Kirkenes became the first town to be liberated by Russian soldiers. To this day, many locals feel an affinity for their Eastern neighbor. Many streets in Kirkenes are marked with Cyrillic letters in addition to the Latin ones and many locals speak some Russian. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, co-operation with Russia grew significantly. How-

ever, Russia’s recent invasion of the Ukraine has brought both trade and tourism to a halt. Norway’s land border with Russia is 123 miles long and represents the northernmost part of NATO’s border with Russia. The only legal border crossing is at Storskog, a short drive east of Kirkenes where currently only people with family registered on either side may cross. Before the war, locals used to be able to apply for a “multi visa”, allowing them access to the cross-border towns. Norwegian locals could drive to nearby Nikel and fill up their car with inexpensive Russian petrol and Russians would come to Kirkenes to shop for things like diapers, marmalade, and clothes. These days, relations are frozen, and the effects of the pandemic followed by the war has hit the local economy hard. The rest of the border generally follows the Pasvikelva and Jakobselva rivers and is one of the most closely surveilled borders in Europe with both sides manning watch towers on every hilltop. Crossing is strictly prohibited and taking even one step across the border will result in a lightning-fast reaction and a hefty fine. Interested in a private tour of Kirkenes and the Russian border? Local tour company Booking Kirkenes offers daily tours all year round. For more information and booking visit: www.bookingkirkenes.no Swedish Press | Oct-Nov 2022 | 17


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