It was a memorable day…I had gone to the end of the earth

August 15, 2012 

ABOARD THE MS NORDLYS – I woke up this morning at 7:10,  the grey light of dawn filling my cabin.  At least that’s what time I thought it was as I looked at my watch. But when I looked again, I discovered I’d made a little mistake.

Actually, it was 3 a.m.

The northernmost town in Europe, Honningsvag

Weird business, this land of the midnight sun.  As of the summer solstice on June 21 up here in northern Norway, the days begin to get shorter, just as they do in Boston. The only difference is that on June 21 the day lasts 24 hours, the sun never sets. So dawn still breaks here very early the second week of August. There’s still enough daylight at the top of Norway to make us rise and shine in the middle of the night.Early or late, it was a memorable day.  Before it was out I had gone to the end of the earth.

That’s what they call the North Cape here.  It’s actually the northernmost point in Europe — 71 degrees, 10 minutes and 21 seconds north, according to the sign and metal globe that marked the spot.

To get there we drove from the dock in the small town of Honningsvag  -– “the northernmost city in the world,” our guide told us, exaggerating a bit, leaving out rivals for that honor in Asia and Russia.

In any case, as our bus climbed the narrow twisting road towards the Cape, we were soon above the tree line, traversing a lunar-like landscape of tundra and rock, a stark, desolate part of the world with a silent majesty all its own. Empty. But not entirely, as it turns out.  This is where the indigenous Sami people live — the second oldest inhabitants of Europe — along with their 5,000 reindeer. Only the Basques have been in Europe longer.

A Sami mam with his albino reindeer

The native dress of the Samis is colorful and distinct. Handsome four-pointed hats and multi-colored embroidered tunics. Many of their reindeer are snowy white, on the other hand. Twenty percent of them are albino and their DNA is programmed to keep them that way, the guide told us.  Pretty, but they don’t look like Rudolph.

Walking around the North Cape tourist center, which has an attractive museum, chapel, and gift shop, we felt the coldest temperature of the trip and were glad we had brought heavy jackets, mittens and wool caps.  It’s hard to imagine what it must be like on this windy plateau in December. By the time we returned to the ship, we were looking forward more than usual to our afternoon hot tea.

The MS Nordlysis a comfortable, clean ship with seven decks, an attractive restaurant, a café, a fitness center with windows looking out to sea, three computers with Internet capability (which comes and goes depending on what town we’re near), a tiny theater for videos, and a lounge with more floor-to-ceiling windows that allow one to see the full panorama of fjords and mountains.  This is where we found some of our fellow passengers who told us what brought them to this cruise:

Delia and Sandra Nahablan of Argentina

Sandra Nahablan of Buenos Aires, Argentina, accompanied her elderly mother, Delia, on the cruise, their first trip to Norway. “My mother cannot walk well,” she explained, “so this is a perfect ship for her.“ Sandra went on the physically challenging kayak expedition with us yesterday while her mother remained happily onboard the Nordlys.

Raffael Greminger and Sarah Blank of Frauenfeld, Switzerland, were also in Norway for the first time, and said they enjoyed the small villages, the colorful houses, and  especially the warm weather on the trip. Would they come back?  “Absolutely. I ‘d love to come on this same trip again,” said Greminger.

“The mountains here are a little like our Alps, if smaller, but the fjords and cottages are new to us,” Blank added.

Raffael Greminger and Sarah Blank of Switzerland

Trine Andreassen of Honningsvag, Norway, had gone to Tromso for a hospital visit and was returning home.  “I love this town,” she said, adding that she had moved to Oslo for a couple of years, but got homesick for her little town that goes completely dark in December and January, and returned.  “We just save up the sunlight in summer” she noted, “and it’s quiet and easy in winter while we wait for that first sun of spring.  I like it better than busy Oslo.”

Anders Ecg Rogstad is a retired SAS pilot who lives in Moss, a town just south of Oslo.  He drove from Oslo to Bergen and put his car on the ship so that he could visit his son and several friends on the way home.  This was his second cruise and “there will probably be many more of them with Hurtigruten in the future,” he told us.  “I like the calmness of this cruise,” he said.  “There’s no stress at all.  In my years of flying over this same area, I’ve seen it all from above.  There were long days.  It’s nice to see it from the ground.”

Photos by Timothy Leland

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