Hurtigruten Day 7: Batsfjord - Vardö - Vadsö - Kirkenes - Vardö - Berlevag
Today, the Hurtigrute reaches its turning point. The 7th day began between Berlevag and Batsfjord. Vardö is the next destination. The city still sleeps, only at the Hurtigruten dock, the fork-lifts are active. On bord of the ship, there is also still calmness. Only few will stand at the railing, when the ship leaves with southern course from then on.
With Vardö, the fast steamer has reached its most eastern position. This most eastern point of Norway is located in front of the city on the islnd Hornöya, at 31° 10' 10'' eastern longitude, thus, further into the est as Istanbul or Kairo. The most western point of the country is approximately located at the degree of longitude of Amsterdam. This indication should make clear that the Hurtigrute has also to do a considerable way in eastern direction.
The next harbour is Vadsö. Vadsö is located at the north side of the 95 km long Varangerfjord and, with its 6.000 inhabitants, it is the administration centre of the Finnmark. The old fishing village was located once on the little island. In the year 1717, its church was removed to the minlnd in front of it. Soon, a new village was originated in its immediate environment that obtained in the year 1833 the municipal law. Of course, the economy is here also strongly linked to the fishing, but also the agriculture contributes with its numerous farms. This is amazing, considering these high latitudes.
Also the island Vadsöya awake in the past years from its long sleep. There is a fish proceeding industry as also a deep water harbour, in which also the Hurtigrute moorages. The stay in Vadsö is only short, the sightseeings are at most visible through the binoculars from board. For example, the church of the year 1958 with its architectural headstrong double tower and the mooring tower, used in the year 1926 by Roald Amundsens airship "Norge" and in 1928 by Umberto Nobiles "Italia" for their trips over the Actic.
Alongside the flat coastal strip of the peninsula Varange between Vardö, Vadsö and the end of the fjord, little fishing villages string together. Here, mainly Norwegians with Finnish origin live. Due to a dearth in Finnland during in the 19th century, finnish citizens populated this costal region that is rich of fish. In the year 1875, two thirds of the population spoke the finnish language.
The further way of the Hurtigruteleads over the wide estuary of the Varangerfjord into the narrow Bökfjord, at which end soon Kirkenes is reached, the turning point of this trip. Again, we are approximately at the geographical latitude of Tromsö.
The first half of the journey is over! But we come up against this with optimism: the glass is not half empty but still half full. And the remaining content tastes better by each swig; When the ship leaves Kirkenes, there are still 121 fascinating hours ahead of the passengers.
As a city, Kirkenes is not neccessarily a big event for a Hurtigruten passanger. As many other Norwegian coastal villages, it was completely destroyed in the second world war, thus, its sightseeings are limited. Soonest, there is the possibility to cover oneself with any kind of holiday souvenirs during a shopping tour, from kitsch to arts, there is everything available at the pedestrian area. To the centre, there are approximately 20 minutes to walk.
Including the circumjacent villages, today, the city counts 6.000 inhabitants; Also here, finnish settlers came first around 1870 to the well-wooded Pasviktal. The same named river forms - at a distance of 15 km - the border to Russia. During the cold war, it was a insuperable obstacle. Since 1992, an official crossover exists and the border traffic almost exploded. This is an economic godsend to the city. The most important Norwegian cities, Oslo and Bergen, are more than 2.500 kilometres distant to each other, but Murmansk only 200. Due to the open border, the east finnmark has again a hinterland. The trade with the East, that has a long tradition at the Arctic Sea coast, but was interrupted in the year 1917 by the October Revolution, has now a future again.
For the passengers of the Hurtigruten, a trip to the border is offered duting the whole year. This trip leads first through the city centre, then it goes in the direction of the border where the border river Pasvik is crossed. In the winter, a further border excursion is offered under the name "Barents Safari". The border is explored by slate and snowmobile. In a Sami tent, a dish made of local viands is served. This is at least the way it is described in the Hurtigruten brochure.
At 01.30 p.m., the fast steamer starts again its way. Up to shortly before Vardö, the ship remains distant to the coast and the views are not spectacular. Once the coast gets closer, soon the island Vardöya appears at the backboard side. Shortly afterwards, the harbour of Vardö is reached for the second time this day, the most eastern city of the country.
During the second world war, two thirds of the houses on the Vardöya were destroyed, this is why there were plans to move Vardö to the mainland. Then the city was rebuilt at its old place. The old dream to communicate Vardö with the mainland came true in the year 1982 with the first sea tunnel of Norway. The tunnel of a length of nearly three kilometres has its deepest point with 88 m under the sea level.
The undisputed attraction of the village of 3.000 inhabitants is surely the fortification of Vardöhus built from 1734 to 1738. Structured as an octagonal star jump with four bstions and 10 cannons it is the only fortification of the world from which there was never shot for warlike purpose. But if on January 21st, after 59 days of darkness, the sun reapears at the horizon, gun salutes resound from the fortification. The the kids are off school and everybody looks forward to the time of bright nights; Each day, the sun stays longer time over the horizon until it does not go down from May 16th to July 29th - 74 days. From the Hurtigruten dock, the fortification is at approximately a 10 minutes walk.
In the city, a monument was raised to the polar scientist Friedjof Nansen. With good cause, as Nansen and his accompanist Johannsen returned back to their home place Vardö on August 13th, after they left on March, 14th 1895 the "Fram" on the famous drift expedition in order to expand to the North Pole by dog sledge. Unfortunately, it was not granted to both men to reach the Pole. But their march of 17 months equals a real odyssey, that Nansen describes in his famous book "In night and ice". Due to his lifework, Nansen, born in the year 1861, is undoubtedly one of the biggest Norwegians in history.
Already as a student, the long bloke with his defiant blue eyes and the wild blond hair stood out when he hurried through Bergen. A loner that was soon supposed to conquer the most adverse angles of the world. An adventurer and pioneer of the polar science. His expeditions were daredevil, but planned and calculated into detail. As an investigator, Nansen set standards. He was not focused on fame but in the science. Herein, he elementary differs from Amundsen.
Then the first world war came with all its terrors. Millions died, millions were banished, millions were starving. Therewith, for the man who is elected to, in the truest sense of the word, investigate the white spots of the earth, the adventure of humanity begins.
As a high commissioner of the League of Nations, he organizes help for 20 million people that are close to die of starvation in Russia and Siberia, then he assures that the disrooted rest of the Armenian folk gets a new homeland assigned and organizes the return of thousands and thousands of war prisioners that are spread over Europe and Asia. The Nansen-passport, that was named after him and initiated for refugees and expellees. Without this official identity, there was no right of abode, no work, no human way of life. Mighty deeds that were honoured in the year 1922 with the nobel piece prize. Before the turn of the centuries, 70 years after his death, the Norwegian people choose Fridtjof Nansen to be the man of the century.
A monument of a very different kind is in Berlevag, the last harbour of the day. Here, a common block of concrete - a so called tetrapode - was put on a basement. This tetrapode symbolizes the victory of the population of Berlevag over the sea. It took three generations until this victory was achieved.
Strong storms at the coast repeatedely destroyed the unprotected harbour facilities and a major part of the fishing fleet of the village. The building of an assumely storm safe harbour facility began. 20 tons of heavy stone blocks were blast from the rocks and brought to the harbour with a rail that was specially made for those kind of works. But again, the storms destroyed the dock facilities, the blocks that weighted several tons could not resist the raging Arctic Sea. In the year 1959, 90 m of the mole were teared away by the sea. The result of a work of decades was destroyed and Berlevag was again without a protected harbour.
Now, the five-arm concrete blocks with a weight of 15 tons each were brought from France. In the year 1973, the habour mole was finished and sice them, it resisted the sea. The harder the sea blusters and pushes against the tetrapotes, the more the arms wedge into each other; Now, the place of currently 1.300 inhabitants has a protected harbour, but still no Hurtigruten dock. As usual, the Hurtigrute anchored far away in front of the harbour, a barge took the passengers and the freight on board. This was an adventuresome task in case of bad weather.
But then, a few years after finishing the mole, this problem was also solved. After a performance of decades, the barge was brought to land, and a museum was built around it. This gesture shows how important the connection with the outside world through the Hurtigruten ships was for the little places of the far North, when there was no network of roads developed and there were no regional airports. With these thoughts, we leave Berlevag. The 7th day on the Hurtigruten ends. We look forward to the gorgeos coastal landscape of the next day and to the most northern city in the world.
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Author: Manfred Hofmann; Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz