The Old Fogies go to Honningsvåg in Norway

 

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We had finally reached the northern edges of the European coast and was now in the Barents sea, enjoying the spectacular Norwegian coastline. Our last stop before Russia was the small city of Honningsvåg .

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Honningsvåg is the northernmost city in Norway. It is very unusual because legislation effective in 1997 states that a Norwegian city/town must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but Honningsvåg was declared a city in 1996, thus exempt from this legislation, so it is also one of the smallest cities in Norway.

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In reality it is a small fishing village which is famous as the dropping off point for visitors who want visit North Cape which is a tourist attraction on the northern tip of the European mainland. It’s claim to fame is that it is the northernmost point in Europe but the reality is that it is not, that title goes to nearby Knivskjellodden.

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However that has not stopped busloads of visitors from taking the ride from Honningsvåg and the North Cape attraction organisers to charge visitors £19 to enter the complex. If it had been the northernmost point, we may have decided to join the tourist crush, however it isn’t so we decided to investigate this charming little fishing city.

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When we get off the boat, we are surprised to see a life size statue of a St Bernard Dog, reading the information board gave us some information about this remarkable animal. The dog was called Bamse and he was the mascot of the Free Norwegian Forces during the Second World War and a symbol of Norwegian freedom during the war. In its early days, the dog was a well known character in pre-war Honningsvåg before joining its owner on Royal Norwegian Navy as a coastal patrol vessel. When the Germans overran Norway, the vessel and Bamse moved to Scotland stationed in Montrose and Dundee. Bamse became a celebrity to the local Scottish population and often rounded up the Norwegian sailors from the local pub and escorted them back to his boat. When Bamse died in 1944, he was buried with full military honours. Hundreds of Norwegian sailors, Allied servicemen, schoolchildren and people from Montrose and Dundee attended his funeral.

In 2006, a larger than life sized bronze statue of Bamse, made by Scottish sculptor Alan Herriot was unveiled in Montrose. A copy of that statue was commissioned and in 2009 with hundreds in attendance, the statue was unveiled on Honningsvåg harbour.

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When we entered Honningsvåg it was teeming with birdlife over the cliffs and on the waterfront and when we set out to walk through the town it was only the sound of birds that you could here.

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We slowly made our way past the closed shops to the small Honningsvåg church on the hill, built in 1885, it was one of only twelve churches in Northern Norway that escaped destruction by the Germans in the Second World War. As we sat on a small bench within the small cemetery attached to the church, even the sound of the birds had disappeared.

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The silence was deafening and quite eerie as we looked at the small but beautifully formed gravestones. How many souls beneath our feet had been born and lived their entire lives in this northern outpost ?

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As we walked quietly passed the small wooden buildings, we began to notice that the local population displayed their sense of humour with interesting little figures dotted here and there.

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There was dressed little trolls, stone people and dolls in a little window box. Many of the gardens have flowers or colourful furniture, even the main street had an interesting selection of plants in wellington boots.

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Honnigsvag certainly had a quirky quality that added to its picturesque setting and has we made our way to the harbour we could see it was a working port.

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There were plenty of small to medium size boats which are used to fish the rich fertile waters of the Arctic Circle. Honningsvåg is considered one of the busiest fishing ports in Norway.

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The waters are remarkably clear and Mrs Nice was quite excited by all the starfish in the harbour.

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Honningsvåg does have a few other attractions including a small NordKapp museum and Icebar with gift shop where a massive husky stood guard. But we were content to get away from the crowds and take a little piece of downtime enjoying the (city) and the wonderful scenery.

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Whilst enjoying the late summer sunshine, we noticed the arrival of one of the Hurtigruten coastal ships, these ships have been a familiar sight on our travels up the Norwegian coast and Honningsvåg is one of the main stops before Kirkenes in the north.

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Honningsvåg may be seen as a gateway to North Cape but possesses a charm all of its own. The local population take a lot of pride in their houses and town and display a quirky sense of humour which no doubt brighten up the cold winter days.

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It is a place to enjoy the birdlife and scenery in a peaceful setting without too many distractions.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go to Tromsø in Norway


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Our arrival in Tromsø was even more spectacular than our arrival in Trondheim with stunning scenery and passing under the bridge,  we were now well inside of the Arctic Circle and Tromsø is one of the major northern cities.

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Like many places in the far north, Tromsø was occupied by the Vikings in the 7–8th Centuries but there is evidence that people lived here over 10,000 years ago. This area has also been the home of the Sami for centuries.

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Tromsø was issued its city charter in 1794 by King Christian VII and gained in importance due to fishing and hunting for furs. By the end of the 19th century, Tromsø became a major Arctic trade centre from which many Arctic expeditions originated. Explorers like Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fridtjof Nansen often recruited their crews in the city.

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When Germany invaded Norway in 1940, Tromsø served briefly as the seat of the Norwegian government. In nearby Tromsøy island, the German battleship Tirpitz was sunk by the RAF off the Tromsøy island in 1944, killing close to 1,000 German sailors.

The population of Tromsø municipality today is around 70,000 and despite its location it is an increasingly popular place to live with plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to cater for the locals and a lively student population. 

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We arrived fairly early in the morning and the deserted streets gave us the opportunity to explore before the city comes to life. Like Trondheim, Tromsø has lots of picturesque wooden buildings and has one of the largest wooden cathedrals in Norway. Interesting travel fact, the city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway, the oldest house dating from 1789.

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Talking of cathedrals, we were anxious to visit the Arctic Cathedral which involved crossing over the river. The Arctic cathedral is a major landmark of the city and is easily seen from many vantage points in the city. From a distance it does not look that large, however when you get closer you begin to understand its scale.

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Mrs Nice mentioned that it does look a little like Sydney Opera House and you could see some similarities. Unfortunately the cathedral was not open but peering through the window, you could see the magnificent stain glass window and the simple layout of the church. Whilst on this side of the river, you can go to the Fjellheisen cable car that will take to the top of Mount Storsteinen. With limited time we decided to decline this attraction to explore the main city.

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 The centre of the city is located around the large wooden Lutheran cathedral and the statue of Amundsen with the cultural centre close by. The main square was set up for a concert, Tromso has produced a number of famous rock stars and has a number of festivals throughout the year.

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The quiet start to the day was now gone and locals began to fill the main shopping areas mingling with visitors. For a small place, Tromso seemed to have large number of hotels in the centre which is perhaps an indication of its popularity.

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Up the hill slightly is the wooden Catholic cathedral which was built at the same time as the Lutheran one which was probably part of a battle for the local souls in the 19th century. The cathedral was a bit of a surprise inside being blue and white with little of the ornamentation you associate with Catholic churches. There was also a series of symbols on the ceilings that was rather unusual.

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 Deciding it was time for a break we headed for the northernmost branch of Burger King, we are not usually great fans of burger joints, however after the rather rich food of the ship we thought it was a pleasant change. Obviously fast food means something different up in the frozen north because it 20 mins for our meals to be produced.

 How much was that? I asked Mrs Nice, don’t ask she replied before I saw the bill for around £16. Coming from London we are used to expensive food and drink but Norway takes it to a different level, if you ever come to Norway be aware of the high price of particularly everything.

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One location I was looking forward to seeing was Olhallen which is the city’s oldest pubs and one of most famous pubs in Norway and is attached to one of the northernmost breweries in the world. After a walk along the Storgata, we found the pub which is attached to the famous Mack Brewery established in 1872.

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Mrs Nice went inside to get a drink as i found a table outside, suddenly Mrs Nice appeared and said you must come inside, there is a polar bear in here. Intrigued, I followed her in the pub and there was indeed a life-size (around nine feet) stuffed polar bear. Looking around the inside of the very attractive and interesting pub we decided to find a seat and enjoy the ambience. Mrs Nice came back with two halves of Mack’s Pilsner and we settled down to enjoy our drink. It was obvious to the various languages being spoken and photographs being taken that the pub is a bit of pilgrimage for beer drinkers and it certainly does not disappoint with lovely wooden fittings and plenty of pictures and other paraphernalia on the wall.

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Our next stop was the nearby Polaria museum in the most unusual shaped building; it looks like a row of books toppling over. Nearby was the historic sealing vessel MS Polstjerna.  We visited a number of arctic type museums when we were in Bergen and Oslo some years ago, so did not feel the need to reminded that the Arctic is a cold and hostile place.

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On the other side of the city, we had seen the Polar Museum which was in an attractive old building with a number of items outside.

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By now, the city was really coming alive with buskers on the main streets and plenty of shopping activity, it was nice to see that many of the shops were local not global luxury brands, although the prices were probably have been roughly the same.

 Although Tromsø is in the Arctic Circle it seems to be thriving with lots of places to eat and drink, hotels, shops and cultural events. On a bright summer’s day, everyone was enjoying the sunshine, however it might be a different story in the winter with the cold polar days, although strangely the city does not suffer from extreme cold associated with this latitude very often due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.

The Old Fogies go Cruising

 

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Before we took the grandchildren to Lalandia, Mr Curmudgeon had in his words ‘found an expedition for us to go on’, as you are aware I am always worried when Mr Curmudgeon says something like that.

‘Okay’ I say, ‘what is it then’?

‘It is a cruise’ he piped up.  I looked at him because we had always said we would never cruise again after our last P and O cruise where we did not really enjoy our life on the ocean wave.  Having saw my expression he continued, ‘It is not like the last one, this one is more of an adventure into the Arctic Circle’, he proclaimed.  ‘It is for 17 days, and it goes to northern Norway and northern Russia, it will be fantastic’ he says gleefully.

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Having given me the details he looked expectantly for my nod, so he could book it, ‘it is really good value’ he says, to make me decide in its favour. Having agreed, we booked the holiday it is with Cruise and Maritime Voyages on their ship, the Marco Polo.

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Arriving back from Lalandia on Friday, we give the grandchildren back and we have Saturday to prepare for our cruise!  Sunday dawns bright and clear, and we start packing, luckily, we are taking different clothing on the cruise as I suspect it will be quite cool in the Arctic Circle and we will need our thermals.

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Having packed and cleaned up, I do so hate coming back to an untidy house, we are now travelling to Tilbury docks.  We take the DLR to Limehouse and catch the C2C train direct to Tilbury Town.  It is quite a pleasant journey passing Lakeside shopping centre, going through Grays and finally reaching Tilbury, it doesn’t look to salubrious, no taxi rank so I phone for a taxi and we wait for it to arrive to take us to the London International Cruise Terminal.

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When we arrive at the Cruise Terminal, our cases are taken from the taxi by a nice young man who then points us in the direction of where we need to go.  Luckily for us, there are not many people waiting about, so having completed our medical questionnaire, we proceed to check in.  Getting our shore passes, and then registering our passports we proceed on to the ship.  I have got to say that the checking in process was excellent, and although the terminal building looked a bit run down on the outside, inside it was quite pleasant.

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Having checked in, embarked (that is the correct word) and located our cabin, I was most surprised to find that our suitcases, were already there.  This was quite unexpected as I thought it would be like P and O where we had to wait about 2 hours for our cases to arrive.  Jose our cabin steward introduced himself and we all shook hands.  Jose is from Goa and was very friendly and helpful explaining the way the cabin stewards worked.  I cannot say I was too impressed with the cabin, it was small and had port holes rather than a window, but on the plus side it had good storage and we were able to stow away all our clothing successfully.

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Jose had told us that lunch was being served in the Marco Polo restaurant, so we went aloft to find the way and eat a little before our dinner tonight in the Wardolf restaurant.  After a spot of lunch, we wandered around the ship or is it boat, I always get confused, to locate everything.

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The Marco Polo was built in the 1960’s so it is not one of the blocks of flats on sea type of cruise ship, it has more character and is all the better for it.  Quite small in comparison with the P and O liner we went on, I immediately thought this will be okay, even at first glance the passengers seemed less precious and looked like a more diverse mix of people.

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Eventually the ropes are released and the Marco Polo glides into the Thames Estuary and we are off on our great ‘expedition’.

Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.

Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.