Saturday 23 June 2018

Silver Spirit Norway, Day 9 - No man, nor Magerøy either, apparently

With thanks to Silversea for this Norway cruise
More photos to follow when the wifi is faster

This morning we slid into the harbour of Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya - or is it? An island, I mean. According to Norwegian law, a channel of less than 2km means an island is part of the mainland and since Magerøya is just 1.8km from the coast, its northernmost point claims the prize of being closer to the Pole than the rest of mainland Europe, at 71degrees 10'21". Already halfway a cheat, that description conveniently ignores the fact that a nearby, much less dramatic-looking, headland is actually more than a kilometre further north - but forget all that, North Cape has been an established tourist attraction since 1664 when an Italian priest was the first foreign visitor to get the equivalent of a Been There certificate.

All of that seemed academic when I opened the curtains to yet another dull rainy day with low cloud. Still, I went ashore and poked around the nearby museum, learning that the town of 2000-odd people - in fact, the entire province of Finnmark - was occupied by the Germans during the war and, when the army was forced to retreat in 1944, they evicted everyone and burned the whole place to the ground, leaving only the church standing: their 'scorched earth' policy. Other fishing villages were never rebuilt, but the people brought Honningsvåg back to life. If that wasn't inspiring enough, when I emerged from the museum all the rain and cloud was gone, and the town was glowing in Technicolor glory. 

So I walked along the promenade and admired the dinky fishing boats perfectly reflected in the still water, and the painted houses, and the bare rocky hillsides all around. I circled around the town, happily clicking away, very much tempted by the pretty things in the art galleries, and sorry I wouldn't be able to see the live show about the town that some friendly locals were promoting outside the theatre.

Of course then, just as we gathered for our bus trip to North Cape, the clouds returned, the temperature dropped, and there was talk of fog ahead. But we set off anyway, past the harbour and cod-drying racks, into the treeless interior that looked very like Scotland: just grass and blunted rock, with lots of lakes, and also small clusters of red-painted summer houses. And reindeer! Grazing uncontained, smaller than expected, and making the most of the summer grass. Traditionally they are herded by the Sámi people, and we had a photo stop with colourfully-dressed Nils, who looked wary, and his furry-antlered reindeer which was happily hoeing into a rack of lichen. We were warned not to ask him how many reindeer he has, as that's like asking for his bank balance.

We pressed on to North Cape, which was busy with tourists and hikers and dogs, and also, happily, relatively free of fog so we could see the Barents Sea 300m below the sheer cliff. In the basement of the tourist centre we watched a movie which was beautifully filmed and showed this Finnmark province in all weathers and seasons. Spectacular. Three hundred years plus of catering to tourists means they're pretty well set up here with gift shop, museum, café and so on - but outside it's still forbiddingly natural. Apart from the big globe above the cliff, of course, which it is entirely obligatory to photograph.

After dinner we headed out of Honningsvåg to sail past North Cape and begin our slow return back to Copenhagen in a week's time, with dire warnings from the captain that weather conditions of "Norway's crazy summer" might make our next port of call, Hammerfest, a no-go. On a calm, almost sunny evening with the snow-patched sea cliffs of Magerøya spotlit here and there, and North Cape looming dramatically above them all, it seemed hard to believe.

The highlight today was trouncing at dinner the Aussie old white man, who had boringly insisted on doing that unoriginal Kiwi put-down thing, with a well-timed underarm bowling jibe. 

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