Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Arctic Adventure - 3

Tuesday 3rd August 2010 (continuation)

My Arctic pictures are here.

Nordkapp is a pretty bleak location and an unlikely tourist destination - I was reminded of Land's End in England and John O'Groats in Scotland which seem to exercise a similar fascination for people. Apparently, its designation as the most northern place in Europe (at 71 degrees 10 minutes and 21 seconds North of the Equator) is also wrong - we were told a slightly more northern point exists a few kilometres away to the west but, lacking road access (and, presumably, a visitor centre) doesn't get many visitors.

The post office was deserted the first time I passed but later it was thronged with visitors buying postcards and stamps so as to advise their friends of their arrival at the unlikely spot. There were some rather nice displays of the birdlife that can be found on the cliffs and panels describing the World War II sea battle of North Cape which took place in 1943. Every half hour, a large cinema displays a film on three huge screens about the site. It looked a bit arty and was certainly extremely loud so I'm afraid I didn't persevere with it. So far, the steps led down in a large concrete-lined shaft which rather gave the impression of a nuclear bunker. Past the cinema, there was a wide tunnel with a wooden floor angled down into the cliffs. Periodically, there were dioramas showing scenes from the long history of Nordkapp. Cut into the rock is St. John's Chapel - the world's northernmost chapel. Even more unlikely, in another rock chamber, is the Thai Museum commemorating King Rama V of Thailand.

The tunnel then opens into a huge high-ceilinged theatre-like chamber, with tables and chairs arranged club-style in tiers overlooking huge windows giving a view out to sea. A number of passengers from the ship were already seated, enjoying the complimentary glass of champagne to celebrate our visit. Large loudspeakers were in evidence and behind the long bar, I spotted a cubicle of electronic equipment with impressive audio amplifiers so I imagine that, like the cinema, it can get a bit loud at times. Outside the glass windows, where you'd expect the stage in a theatre, there was a flat area exposed to the elements. This is called 'The King's View' and access is via a pair of doors, arranged like an airlock, so you can imagine the weather gets pretty violent at times. On my visit, it was quite warm and you could look over the railings at the sea below although the mist gave low visibility.

I chatted to some of my fellow-passengers before returning to ground level for the 16:30 bus. Although it was only 16:15, the bus was already full and I watched it disappear into the mist. A second bus was brought up but it was about 16:45 before it was full, causing some grumbling from passengers (including me) that we didn't expect to have to wait until the bus was full. Whilst we waited, the sun suddenly came out and the mist began to clear. One or two of us dashed across to the globe sculture to take some final pictures before the bus left.

We had one more stop on the way to rejoin the ship. At the side of the road was a large timber shed (the souvenir shop), three of the traditional Sami tents and a Sami man wearing sunglasses and the traditional clothing tending a reindeer which peacefully ate from a wooden trough whilst the tourists took photographs and asked questions. On the opposite side of the road were two modern houses which, I suspect, is where the owner and his family actually live.

We then carried on to the village of Skarsvag, still a fishing village with a fleet of fishing boats in the harbour but also now encouraging tourism with a number of motels or small hotels with names like 'Midnight Sun'. A number of our Zodiacs waited at a modern landing stage and they quickly transferred us to our ship which had anchored just outside the harbour breakwater.

By 6.30 p.m., everybody had returned by bus from Nordkapp, allowing the ship to commence the journey north to Bear Island, a further 230 nautical miles north.

Wednesday 4th August 2010

At any time Wednesday, we may lose the satellite computer connection so I may be rudely silenced!