Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hurtigruten- continued

The day after crossing the Arctic Circle marker there was a crossing the line ceremony, a poor relation to that which was performed on passenger ships when they crossed the equator. There was a ‘poor man’s’ Neptune who baptized those prepared to join in with ice cubes and water. The reward for participating was a free glass of Cloudberry wine which was unusual, it being free, as there is nothing free in Norway.
Our last day on the Nordkapp involved two excursions; the first was a bird safari. The weather was windy and freezing as we were taken around islands where large numbers of birds nest during the summer, because of this nobody is allowed on the islands. It was wonderful to see such an array of birds, puffins, gannets, razorbills just to name a few. We even managed to see a few sea eagles circling and some seals popping their heads out of the water. Trying to capture any of this on camera, especially with my little point and shoot was well-nigh impossible, though I did get a couple of shots of a large group of birds on some rocks. I couldn’t include any of them in a CV for the next David Attenborough programme.
Sami mother with baby carrier
It was good to get back to the warmth of the ship after standing outside in the Arctic wind for so long. Late afternoon we had another excursion called the ‘Taste of Lapland’ it was totally set up for tourists but the Sami couple explained about their life and customs of their people.
The area between Tromso and Kirkenes is called Finnmark which is home to 75,000 people and 150,000 reindeers in an area the size of Switzerland. The Sami people are from four different countries, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway and up to 700 years ago only Sami people lived in this area. They, like many indigenous people have been discriminated against by forced conformity and forbidding the use of their language, however in Norway there has been a more recent acceptance of their culture and there is a Sami Parliament and their language is taught in schools.
Samis are the only people who are allowed own and farm reindeer. The families who are involved in this move from summer to winter grazing. There are many islands on which the reindeer graze. Reindeers are good swimmers and can go from their summer grounds to winter quite easily on their own but in the reverse situation they are weaker and the Norwegian navy is enlisted to transport them. In the Kjorlfjord area there are 5000 reindeers in summer owned by 9 families.
The Sami now are thoroughly modern and use their traditional dress for celebrations and festivals. Some of them still produce many products from the reindeer and other traditional handicrafts to sell.
Reindeer shedding winter coat
On our excursion we learnt how they made the traditional shoes and reindeer coats for winter and many aspects of their cultural background. All very interesting. We actually got up close to a couple of reindeer which look rather moth eaten as they were shedding their winter coat. An interesting fact about reindeers is that both male and female have antlers  but the female loses hers when she gives birth and then the male grows his, also the antlers  are not symmetrical and each reindeer has its own pattern of antlers, but each year they grow in that same pattern.
We arrived at Kirkenes our last stop and where we left the ship. Kirkenes is close to the border of Russia and very much a frontier town. As we would be flying to Oslo in the evening we decided to take a final Hurtigruten excursion, a bus trip to the border and along the river and taking in scenic lookouts on the way. The signs around the town are in both the Roman and Russian alphabet as many Russians come across the border to buy products to take back to home to sell. I was curious as to what they would buy as Russia couldn’t be more expensive than Norway. It seems that salamis and clothes are the main products of these transactions.  The border control issue was very interesting as Norway as part of the EU signed the treaty for open borders but with Russia there are obvious problems with this with the illegal traffic of arms and nuclear material so both sides control the border. Still I’m sure no border is really impervious to criminals.
Norwegian-Russian Border
We were able to leave our luggage at a hotel after the excursion then went and had some lunch. The choices of places to eat were minimal and so was the menu at the cafĂ© we went into, a time warp ‘country 60’s’ Australia. It thought it was hip but wasn’t and the girl taking orders destroyed any chance of class by chewing gum. The question is, ‘Was the barrier across the stairs which led to the downstairs toilet to stop children falling down there or customers jumping to their death out of boredom?’
After lunch we decided to explore the town, which by this time left only one museum open, the others being open for just a couple of hours earlier in the day. We found the Borderland Museum without too much trouble, after all the entire town is quite small, so it would take careful planning to get lost.
The Borderland Museum exhibits were mainly about World War 2 and gave a very human understanding of what the people and the town went through during that time. Also there was a permanent exhibition of the Sami artist Savio. He had a hard life as he was orphaned as a young child and was being brought up by his uncle who also died, shortly afterwards. He had recognizable artistic talent and was able to study in this area. He produced some delightful woodcuts featuring Sami life. Tragically he died of tuberculosis at the age of 36. The museum engaged us for quite some time and surprisingly for such a tiny place it had a rather nice shop and some interesting books in English.

Mothers in the war Monument 
 We used the rest of the time to check out the crummy and only souvenir shop and the various monuments in the town and we were done. We then went back to the hotel which was minding our baggage to wait for the airport bus. We were now off to Oslo.

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