Wednesday, 23 May 2012


19th - 22nd May 2012

A semi-frozen lake with forest
There were only five of us on the bus north out of Rovaniemi for the 8 hour trip to Karasjok, just over the border with Norway. We may have collected and dropped a few en route.

As maybe said before, initially we passed through the rather forlorn and deserted SantaLand Inc. and up lots of not very interesting forested countryside, with some parts tundra-like  ( left ).

Right: Forested countryside, plus lakes, a la northern Finland. All very pleasant in it's own way I suppose, but a touch monotonous.
Not even much animal life to see. The reindeer were mostly away somewhere in their herds and any domestic animals ( they do have cows and sheep I was told ) are yet to be let out into the fields from indoor winter accommodation. Actually I didn't see many fields in northern Finland. No elks, wolves or any other interesting wildlife on parade.

A couple of hours out of Rovaniemi we had a coffee stop at a shopping mall in the middle of nowhere at which everything was closed except, luckily, a small cafe and that was a few hundred yards from where the bus stopped. Left: Lots of these skidoos/snowmobiles were left parked around...somewhat redundant at this time of year. No risk of joyriding I suppose.  
We crossed the Norwegian border without any checks, or checkpoint for that matter, just south of Karasjok. This town's main claim to fame is that it is the 'capital' of Norwegian Lapland, and home of the Sami Parliament. The Sami ethnic grouping has become quite powerful in northern Scandinavia due to some successful challenges to Norwegian industrial enterprises which would have damaged the reindeer herding and salmon fishing interests of the Sami tribes. Good on them.
Karasjok is otherwise a very unremarkable place and gave the impression, this being a Saturday, that it was almost completely deserted and most of the few shops and facilities were closed. The major hotel here, the Rica Hotel where the bus stopped, proved to be, as most places in Norway are, iniquitously expensive.
They were expecting NOK1500 ( Norwegian Krone of which there are 9 to the UK£ ) for a single, nothing special, room. Half a pint of cat's piss lager here costs NOK80 ( which works out at about £18 per pint! ). By the cringe, that is testing one's gullibility to breaking point I thought. I had a magazine which gave the name of a local guest-house. After about a 25 min walk I found it and they were happy to put me up for NOK300 for the night. That was a bit more like it! The room on offer was fine. Admittedly I had go back to the hotel ( 20 mins ) and drag a couple of suitcases quite a distance across country, down 80 steps, through a wood ( short cut ) and 2 kms along a deserted major road ( 30 mins ) because no way was I going to pay Norwegian taxi would probably be cheaper to buy a car. I regarded it as good exercise.
Forgive me a little rant here. Considering you ( or I do, anyway ) spend about 80% of your time in a hotel room asleep, there are only a few things which really matter; a comfy bed in a clean room, a working loo, a wash-basin, a shower with hot water and....that's about it. The only major differences that are offered by a vastly expensive 5 star joint are gold taps on the bidet and a frighteningly expensive 'mini-bar' which nobody in their right mind should consider using. My little guest house was comfortable, had all the basics and even had a HD satellite TV with CNN ( not that I like CNN much, and that might become the subject of another whinge later ) and even free Wi-Fi. So why pay 5 times the price for bugger-all use extras? Who bloody cares what the wallpaper, carpets and pictures on the walls or the decor in general looks like! You can't see them in the dark anyway...not that it gets dark in this part of Norway at this time of year and, admittedly, the curtains in my guest-house did little to keep out the 'midnight sun'. In fact the expensive hotels often charge you extra for internet and other services. So, I reckon most of the time you are being completely ripped-off by very expensive hotels. On the other hand, its fine being pampered with unnecessary luxuries as long as someone else is paying! I had a comfortable night.
Off by bus again the next afternoon to Kirkenes, the most north-easterly port in Norway, not far from Murmansk, in Russia, as it happens. I had a bit of time to kill before leaving so thought I would do a recce of Karasjok. It was incredible how little life was visible, either human or animal. It was Sunday, I suppose, so much lying in was being done and there is a little church which might have been packed to the rafters for all I knew; but otherwise the only place which showed any sign of human habitation was the local filling station where I bought a sandwich for the ongoing journey. Everywhere else was firmly shut. I walked around this uninspiring town/village ( hence no photos ) and eventually saw a shambling figure in the distance. Out of curiosity, if for no other reason, I wandered across; I would ask 'where the bus left from' as a harmless and vaguely sensible question to which I hoped I already knew the answer. It was soon apparent that this gentleman, for he had a white beard but maybe that's no definite marker in this part of the world, was incredibly old and stooped with no teeth, spoke not a word of English ( or possibly any other known language for that matter ), and seemed, not to put too fine a point on it, 'one sandwich short of a picnic'. He even began to look rather aggressive and started to dribble and spit at me. OK, I know I was a stranger in town but I didn't feel prepared to stay and further antagonise the old chap, or troll, or whatever.
The bus journey initially followed the river Tana which marks the border between Finland and Norway.

Right: A series of fishing huts along the river Tana at a place called Lavajok. The salmon fishing on this big powerful river is apparently excellent in the months of June and July.
What next; we arrived in Kirkenes at about 7.50pm and, with the help of the bus driver, I booked into the only hostelry which offered reasonable rates.
I'm sorry if this journal is getting a bit boring and repetitive, and  maybe I should make up a few horror stories to keep myself, and anyone else, awake and amused, but I won't. This is for my record and I really am not going to elaborate or invent. So bear with it. Something interesting might happen soon.
I spent that, and the following night here. It is a decent place; the Barents Frokostel. Recommended ( not that there's much choice ) if you ever need accommodation in Kirkenes.
During the day I did something which, later, I did not regret. I went into the local wine shop, there is only one, and bought some victuals at quite expensive prices.
Not a lot on offer in the port town of Kirkenes, and it was grey skies, windy and cold. However, the reason for me getting here was to catch one of the Hurtigruten cruise/mail/cargo ships which sail daily on the six day north coast route between Kirkenes and Bergen calling at 31 stops in between. This was to be the last major 'leg' of my round-the-world voyage. It had better be good! All aboard.............

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