In Search of the Northern Lights: Day 10

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Is this a troll lying down feet in the air, asleep as the legend says

Is this a troll lying down feet in the air, asleep as the legend says

There are fewer than 200 passengers on board now and even the crew has become a bit depleted. After this voyage ends, the ferry sails to Denmark, I am told, for its annual service. Many of the people who have been here from the beginning have become nodding acquaintances as have the crew. For some we know of their families and jobs, ailments and holiday history. They borrow camera chargers from each other and notices go up seeking this or that item. More got off when we reached Bodo in the wee small hours.

It’s a brilliantly sunny day but cold. Very cold and there’s a harsh penetrating wind that makes it feel as cold as it was at Kirkenes. Lots and lots of whitecaps can be seen on the waves yet the ferry hardly rolls. When you’re between the fjords it’s like a Sunday afternoon boat ride on the Serpentine. The only vibration is the purr of the ferry’s engines.

The spoon that is a gift after you have had your cod liver oil for crossing the Arctici Circle

The spoon that is a gift after you have had your cod liver oil for crossing the Arctici Circle

Up in the bow of the ship there are few people. The wind contrives to knock you off your feet so most stay on the leeward (see how nautical you become) or in the stern which afford more protection. That didn’t stop them coming out though for when we crossed the Arctic Circle. This time it was in daylight so you could easily see the metallic dome or globe perched on a small island. To cap it off there is another crossing the circle ceremony. Last time Neptune was around. This time we get a spoonful of cod liver oil (still as vile as I remember from being a child) followed by a tumbler of cloudberry wine. You get to keep the ornate spoon which bears the legend, “I did the Arctic Circle” but I hurried away to eat something to take the taste away. The cloudberry wine wasn’t strong enough.

The globe at the point of crossing the Arctic Circle

The globe at the point of crossing the Arctic Circle

My “12 Days” remarked that, nearly 50 years ago, people came out to greet the ferry. It hadn’t happened until today when just before the Circle – and after we had passed the toilet installed as a piece of modern art on a small island – we came to a small village, Selsoyvik, which may well be the closest village to the Circle. Here was a small school and the kids were waving and shouting as we sailed past. Not to be outdone, the captain gave three long blasts of the horn to return the compliment.

Children from the school as Selsoyvik waving to us as we pass

Children from the school as Selsoyvik waving to us as we pass

After we had passed the Circle (I still haven’t lost the taste in my mouth despite a chocolate bar and a cup of tea) we had another fleeting stop at Nesna. Again in the glorious sunshine it looked attractive and more than one passenger regretted that we had no time to look around. This was the first I’ve seen with a large marina. The town doesn’t look that big and it’s hard to see what it might have to offer the visitor. But the sunshine makes everything look more appealing.

The light is something that many people have talked about. You would be surprised how many different shades of white there can be. Icicles hanging from crevices or buildings vary from a very dark cream to transparent. The pine trees seem grey or green one minute, and then when the sun is on them, a very real russet colour. The sea can be brown one minute and a dark, raging blue the next. Sometimes black at times, I’ve yet to see it green. One painter I spoke to said that it had given her an entirely different view to seeing objects. Previously she had used vibrant, vivid colours. Now she could see the differences in the dark, haunting ones as well. “But,” she said,” I’ll never be able to get those whites, not if I live to a hundred!”

It’s St Valentine’s Day today. We have seen a few cards in the shops but it doesn’t seem to be as celebrated as much as back in the UK. The impression left is that the few cards that are around are for the tourists. Still, I remembered to bring a card with me. My wife had bought one but forgot to pack it. Instead she had bought me a paperweight with a carved seal’s head on it. Told it was Norwegian, the box confirms it as being Swedish. The same applies to clothes here. The cheaper ones you might by as souvenirs don’t say “Made in Norway” but “Norwegian Design” which suggests to me that it was made in China or Indonesia. Be careful to look at the label if you buy anything and want it to be Norwegian. Generally, Norwegian made clothing is much more expensive.
And this raises a linked issue. Holidaymakers are in the mood to buy souvenirs, gifts and memories. But in so many of the places we have stopped, the goods on sale can be divided into two sorts, the very expensive and the tat (which you can get absolutely anywhere in the world and no criticism is made of Norwegian tat compared to anyone else’s tat). Where is the reasonably priced souvenir relating to that town, commune or area? Yes I can get a troll but I can get that anywhere in Norway. Yes I can get a postcard and sometimes a book but that seems two of the few items unique to the area. But unless I want, say, Sami goods the availability of regional tourist souvenirs is limited. Isn’t there some budding entrepreneur out there who can come up with something unique to a town if not a commune and at a reasonable price? Or have I just been missing them. Certainly at Sandnessjoen and Bronnysund today there is nothing suitable. There is a gallery open but personal as art is, a lot is a northern lights theme, a Viking or troll theme. Are there no local sights worthy of a painting or a print outside of these subjects?

The cold weather has persisted throughout the day. Even though the sun shines, the wind is there, forever lashing your face with another painful smack of snow particles. So at Sandnessjoen we limited ourselves to a short walk through the main street. It seems to have little for the visitor but then again, the main purpose of the coastal express is to link towns. Not for nothing does the flag at the stern of the ferry carry the word “post” superimposed over the Norwegian flag. From here we pass a mountain range called The Seven Sisters which are plainly visible today because of the clear skies. Most of us see it from the comforts of the lounges rather than venture outside where one “expert” guesses the wind chill factor means the temperature feels like minus 10.

The scenery is starker and there is less snow around

The scenery is starker and there is less snow around

The final port of the day is Rorvik. When we were here on day 3, we had little time other than to visit the MS Trollfjord which was moored in front of us. Today the MS Midnatsol will be in the same position. But we have an hour so into the town for a look. As we won’t leave until 9.30 pm it probably means any last sighting of the northern lights will be quite late in the evening. There is less snow down here, much has been cleared but the ice on the roads and uncleared areas is much more of a danger than it is in the north where packed snow still provides grip. Once or twice I nearly slipped. This is the first place that I have felt I needed those spiker attachments on my boots. If you stayed at the quay, this town would be like many others. Get north of the main around along the waterfront and Rorvik is different from many places we have been to. The roads are narrower and some are more like lanes with houses close together. The houses are wooden whereas some may be wooden but are metal clad which makes them look as though they have a wooden finish. The town looks more like you might imagine Norwegian towns were in older times.

The marina at Nesna

The marina at Nesna

At dinner tonight we were given an aperitif and the crew awarded a prize to the only man who swam whilst we were north of the Arctic Circle in Vardo. It was a competition that I didn’t mention since I thought no one would try. The water must have been icy. Why do it? Because it seems many passengers are leaving the ferry tomorrow at Trondheim, it became a farewell dinner. The crew thanked us for sailing, toasted us and one member of the crew sang a song. Throughout the voyage the crew has laid on a brief celebration for those with birthdays and tonight ended with us toasting the head of hotel services as it was his birthday as well. The crew has rarely been anything other than helpful with second helpings, joking about and good service. It was a nice opportunity to thank the man responsible for it all.

Back out just before 10pm as the northern lights were performing again. This was a good show covering half the sky and more movement as well. I thought I detected some green a hint or pink in the display but after a while you see what you want to see rather than what’s there. But the best display so far with swirls moving quite quickly and waterfall shapes coming suddenly from seemingly nowhere. Considering that up until day seven we had seen nothing and that now we have had four days, we have been so lucky. There are those who left the ferry as soon as arrived in Kirkenes who flew home seeing nothing.

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