Thursday 27th September - Day 7
Today we arrive in Kirkenes and we have reached the turnaround point of our voyage. There is definitely change in the air and you can feel a different energy on the boat this morning. Some people will leave us here to catch their plane home or to continue their journeys elsewhere. Later in the Library I notice that the American domino-playing women are gone as is the Dutch man that joined them most days.
We discover that as it is the last Thursday of the month, there is a Russian market in town. Ten or twelve stalls are set up selling hand knitted socks, lace-edged tablecloths and of course Russian dolls. The colours are somewhat garish to our eyes, but it brings a vibrancy to the town square. We wonder if this is just for the tourists, but no, we see locals haggling with the Russian market stallholders to get the best deal. As we wander, we notice that the road signs are in both Norwegian and Russian and we see a sign directing us to Murmansk. This really is very different and unlike anywhere that I’ve ever visited before
Kirkenes had the life bombed out of it during the Second World War and as a result is full of pre-war architecture once it was rebuilt. A sign tells us that there were over 1000 air raid announcements here during the war and the Andersen shelter can still be seen on the walk into town.
We stop in the centre for a delightful cup of coffee and a piece of banana cake, jauntily decorated in bright yellow icing. It is good coffee and very welcome after drinking predominantly herbal tea on board.
Later today we stop at Vardo. As we arrive, the words, "Eternal Light, Eternal Night" are painted on the quayside. It tells you all you need to know about Vardo. As we walk up towards the church, we get chatting with a local Norwegian lady called Elsa, who is out walking her dog. She grew up here and then moved to Oslo where she met and married a Texan. They returned to Vardo and he fell in love with it and so they moved back here. She tells us that she’s just about settled again, but it took some time. We ask her what it is like when there is no light at all during the winter months and she surprises us by telling us how absolutely beautiful it is. She says that the light comes from the moon, the snow and of course the Northern Lights. It is a magical time of year and sometimes when a big storm comes, she is unable to see her neighbour’s house, which is only a very short distance away. It makes me want to experience this life. I’d like to step into her shoes for a short period of time, during the middle of the Winter, to know what it feels like, to experience the darkness and the cold. But only for a couple of weeks. I certainly don’t think I could make it through a whole Winter. Once again, I am in admiration of the Norwegian spirit and the town already seems lighter with people like Elsa living in it. I muss with Jasper her dog and at the same time Elsa’s daughter Daniella comes outside to greet her mum and say hello. Again I’d love to know more. There are so many questions I’d love to ask this lady and I’d definitely forego a trip to the town to stand and chat. Once again we have a snapshot view of each others' lives and then we move on.
The sunset tonight is absolutely spectacular. I've seen some good sunsets over the years, but I'm not sure anything compares to these with the Norwegian mountains as a backdop.
We decide on an early night tonight, only to hear an announcement that there has been a spotting of the Northern Lights just as we have snuggled down under the quilt. I don’t think I’ve moved so quickly in a long time as we struggle into our clothes and head out on deck. There is a green hazy light hiding mischievously under the clouds and it is definitely not moonlight reflecting on the clouds. We get an occasional burst of green light moving into an arc and there is a slight pixilation as the lights breaks into rays. We are on deck for a couple of hours taking a die-hard approach, straining to see more. Eventually at 12.30 am, the cold finally beats us and we decide to head back to our cabin. But nature has one more delight in store for us. Before we turn in, we sit with a mug of tea at the back of the boat on deck 6 and as we stare at the night sky, we are blessed with a shooting star.