Nord Norge 2016. Introduction

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Hamningberg Road (Finnmark Country Road 341), going to Hamningberg village along the northern shore of Varanger Peninsula in the extreme northeast of Norway; the most beautiful road I every drove on. Vardø Municipality, Finnmark County, Norway

  • Introduction
  • I. What Northern Norway is all about
  • II. Our trip in brief
  • III. Kola Route
  • IV. Petrozavodsk
  • V. Murmansk
  • VI. Varanger. Vadsø
  • VII. Varanger. Vardø
  • VIII. Varanger. Hamningberg and Kiberg
  • IX. North Cape. Honningsvåg
  • X. North Cape. The Cape itself
  • XI. North Cape. Kirkeporten and Knivskjellodden
  • XII. Alta
  • XIII. Lyngen Alps. Steindalsbreen Glacier
  • XIV. Lyngen Alps. Blåvatnet Lake
  • XV. Tromsø. Downtown
  • XVI. Tromsø. Museums and Storsteinen Mountain
  • XVII. Senja
  • XVIII. Treriksröset
  • XIX. Return Journey

Year 2016 has finally been the year I had both the time and the means to make a kind of journey I really always dreamed about. Sure, Sweden and especially Lapland last year were quite nice, but Sweden felt too rushed overall, and Lapland trip, while a completely surreal experience for me, still had a rather limited scope. So I allocated a pretty huge sum of money for the summer of 2016, and booked three vacations in a row at work. And the first one, in July, was going to be the longest. Two weeks, or 16 days, including the preceding weekend.

This time my only companion was my friend Olga. We originally wanted to do a trip to Iceland. We drew up an itinerary and all, but ultimately, decided to go with something else. While in theory we could afford Iceland, the margin for error was going to be rather thin. Plane tickets to Iceland cost a lot, and then of course you have to rent a car there, or you’re not going to see much of Iceland*.

* Actually, there is a way to visit Iceland while driving your own car. There is a ferry line connecting Iceland with Denmark, via Faeroe Islands. The ferry trip is long and costs a fortune too, though, and just driving to Denmark isn’t a very small undertaking in itself. Of course I still want to do this someday too!

Well, our next choice was Northern Norway. We had had only a fleeting experience with Norway before, just enough to know it is utterly amazing and really the most beautiful place on earth. On my Lapland journey I actually drove a bit around a small bit of Northern Norway, but didn’t have the time even for a small bit of hiking. Well, we intended this time to be quite different!

As a matter of fact, there are two ways to drive to Northern Norway from St. Petersburg, Russia. First, you can go through Finland. It’s a pretty safe bet; the quality of the roads is very nice, the traffic is fairly light, and there are many routes you can choose. There are six border crossings from Finland to Norway. The only downside is that driving through most of Finland is relatively boring. Apart from some parts of Lapland and Karelia, the views are decidedly unimpressive. Unless you happen to like trees a lot, I mean.

The other option is, of course, going through Russia! I got my driving license in January 2013, and clocked at least some 70,000 kilometers by July 2016, but I was still very wary of driving extended distances in Russia. Narrow and sometimes poor roads, lots and lots of suicidally reckless drivers, and usually quite significant traffic with a lot of overloaded trucks do not really make for a nice driving experience too. Still, the St. Petersburg — Petrozavodsk — Murmansk — Norwegian border road, the Kola Route (signposted as M-18 or more properly R-21) was, as far as I knew, a fairly nice one as far as Russian roads go. And we’d get to visit two major Russian cities we would be unlikely to visit otherwise: Petrozavodsk and Murmansk!

So in the end we decided to go to Norway via Russia, and back via Finland. Over overall itinerary looked like this:

The letters do not mean anything, sorry. It’s surprisingly difficult to draw a non-trivial map with Google!

After a lot more of Googling, we decided that the places in Northern Norway we wanted to visit were, from east to west: Varanger Fjord and Peninsula (particularly the town of Vardø), the North Cape, Lyngen Alps Mountains, the city of Tromsø, and Senja Island. This list actually more or less matches most of the major tourist attractions of Northern Norway, with the exception of Lofoten Islands, which are probably worth a whole vacation by themselves. For most of these places, we planned a 2-3 days long stay, allowing us to visit several local attractions at a leisurely pace. The drives between these areas were on the other hand fairly long, up to over 500 km in a single day (Vardø-Honningsvåg leg), which is actually very exhausting on Norwegian roads.

Finland, while of course holding a very special place in my heart, was not going to be a major destination of us this time. The only place we planned to visit in Finland was Treriksröset three border stone, yes, again. I wanted to see what it’s like in summer, to show the hike to my friend, and to try an overnight stay in a varaustupa reservable wilderness hut. After Treriksröset it was going to be pretty much a non stop drive across the entire Finland to Russia, with a single overnight stay in Southern Lapland.

Well, our plan worked out splendidly! It turned out the pace we chose was exactly right, and we drove over 5700 km across Russia, Norway, and Finland without any incident, and we visited nearly all the locations we wanted, with just some two or three exceptions. Even our journey budget ended up being fairly precise!

Our sole means of transportation was the same as in previous year, my ’15 Renault Sandero. I love that car. Well, not literally; I make a point of never becoming attached to any possessions; but it suits me so well. Simple and trusty and reliable, never a single problem in 50,000 km apart from burned-out lightbulbs, and it allowed me to visit so many places — and even the northermost part of Europe now. I really think Renault should pay me something for the marketing!

I ended up taking many thousands of pictures, of course. I’m not even sure how many. The lack of space on my MacBook Pro (well it’s corporate but I can take it anywhere I want) with its 256 GB SSD drive was a very severe concern, and I had to remove duplicates and bad pictures, and process RAW files right on the road. And soon after I got back, my other two vacations followed, so that explains why I began to write things down only four months later.

There are going to be a lot of posts, and I plan to start with a few introductory ones, just telling about the land I saw. Because it’s really an amazing land and the most wonderful place on earth. The rest of the posts will be more chronological.

Next: I. What Northern Norway is all about