Sunday, 10 April 2016

Northern Norway: Notes from the Edge of the World

It is better to visit Northern Norway in summer, when you can swim in the fjords, fish, hike in national parks, climb up glaciers and go kayaking. You will find there flawless ecology and service – Norway is claimed to be the most developed and well-to-do country in the world. 

Northern Norway

Although Northern counties of Norway are situated predominantly above the Arctic Circle, the climate on the coast is quite mild – the Arctic cold is restrained by the mountains and warm Gulf Stream. The sea does not freeze the whole year round, and summer temperatures rise sometimes above 30 degrees Celsius. 


First point of our journey is the county of Finnmark, famous Lapland, home of Saami, areal of reindeer with midnight sun in summer and flaring Northern Lights in summer. The king of Norway himself arrives here to fish salmon in the clearest river of Altaelva. 


The main tourist attraction here is Nordkapp – the Northernmost point of mainland Europe. Just ten years ago, you could get there only by sea. But the number of tourist was far above the capacity of ferries, and the island of Magerøya where the cape is located was connected with the mainland with a 7-meter long tunnel going 60 meters lower the sea bottom! 

Having overcome light attacks of claustrophobia, we finally arrive in Nordkapp. The "roof of Europe" has an extraterrestrial look: tundra, stone pyramids on top of tuffets made by ancient people and in the middle – a 300-meter rock, breaking in the sea. Tourists take photos on a viewpoint, peering into the foggy distance. The North Pole feels reachable – it is only Svalbard left on the way to it. 

Norway, Nordkapp

To return in reality, I go to a local tourist center, buy a postcard and send it to my parents. It has a stamp from the northernmost post office. After that, we receive the certificates testifying that we have visited in Nordkapp – and celebrate in Artico Ice Bar


Landscape of Northern Norway is melancholic. Nevertheless, it is a great place for active people who like movement and risk and are not afraid of long distances and wild nature: fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting and various kinds of safari wait for you. 

King crab, Norway

Our group attended King Crab safari in the town of Honningsvåg. In the office of Destinasjon 71° Nord AS they give us impervious suits, we get onboard and shoot ahead along the fjord. Our net becomes full in several minutes, although our crabs are far from those 15 kg giants that are caught here sometimes. The boat touches land, and we are followed in a Saami lavvu. Open fire is burning and we sit next to it on reindeer skins. While our hosts prepare the testiest claws, we get warm with aquavit. 


Crabmeat prepared on open fire was amazing. However, venison with Arctic berries, that we ate that evening in Rica Hotel Honningsvag, could compete with it. 

Norwegian cuisine, as any northern cuisine, is very substantial, protein-based, with meat, fish and seafood as the basis. Look for the Arktisk Meny signs on cafes and restaurants: it guarantees traditional recipes and local ingredients. Try venison steak, cod filet, sea trout, halibut, king crabs and whale meat. For the dessert, try fen berry. Here in Norway they make jam, ice-cream even honey of fen-berry. The most famous of local stiff drinks is aquavit – caraway vodka. 

Saami cuisine is absolutely special. It is based on venison. The Saami eat venison all year round in any form. They dunk slices of frozen venison in coffee or bake pancakes on reindeer blood. 


After a day in Alta – the town of Northern Lights – we left Finnmark for Troms. The Extreme North is left behind, tundra and reindeer disappear, instead greenery of the forests mixes with blueness of fjords. 

Tromsø, Norway

The county's capital Tromsø is as cozy as any old European town. In the town center you can see buildings more than 100 years old mixing with newer ones – a stave cathedral with lancet windows, a cinema, brewery Mack with polished copper vats in the windows... Street musicians play rock-n-roll on the main square, the locals drink their beers sitting at café tables, there is even a fair – people sell woolen sweaters with Norwegian ornaments and fish. 

There are plenty opportunities for shopping – here you can find shops of most standard European brands. Alternatively, you can buy a tray of fen berries, sit in the quay and admire the snow-white Arctic Cathedral – imposing and aethereal in the same time, it can be seen from everywhere in Tromsø, it resembles a Saami lavvu or an iceberg on the land. 

Arctic Cathedral, Tromsø

From here, it is a walking distance to Polaria – a must-visited place for all those who travel with children. Another very nice place is Tromsø Villmarkssenter, a Saami household in the suburbs of Tromsø. Here you can kayak in calm waters, stroke reindeer fawns and play with friendly huskies. 


I fell in love with Norway from the first day, but managed to truly appreciate it only in the last one when we found ourselves on the Senja island in a tourist complex Hamn i Senja. As the majority of similar complexes, Senja is a former fishing village. Here, mountains grow up from the sea, white-sand beaches stretch kilometers and kilometers and among moss-covered inshore rocks you can find red, white and brown fishing houses on stilts. But as soon as you are inside, you find yourself in a designed apartment with all facilities, kitchen utensils and technical equipment. 

Hamn i Senja, Norway

I wanted to stay if not forever but at least for longer in Hamn i Senja – to search for the Northern Lights in the sky at night, to meet sunrises sitting at the lighthouse, kayaking in the afternoon, drinking cognac or having water procedures in a hot barrel – badestamp. Badestamp is a Norway-style SPA when you take hot bath in the open air. To get the experience to the fullest, put on an old-fashioned striped bath suit – you can buy it on the spot. 

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