The trip back from Lyngen to Tromsø was longish, if uneventful. Besides the driver, we were accompanied back to town by one of the young (Australian) staff, who needed to get some tax-related paperwork sorted out, so that they could pay her. Even though it was “day light” (really civil twilight, but brighter than night) and there were sights to see, I dozed off from time to time. Probably from being fully rugged up in parka and beanie and what-not.
Back in Tromsø we went to have lunch at a hotel restaurant, on the grounds that they would probably look after our suitcases for a while. Unfortunately the first two that we tried were just doing smorgasbord, and we didn’t really feel like that. The second hotel (Radison Blu) told us that the Pizza place around the corner was attached to the hotel, and we could eat there while leaving our bags with them, if we preferred. We did. So I had a beer and a very interesting “arctic” pizza, with stockfisk (ubiquitous reconstituted dried cod) with some chives and pepper and other things that made it really quite tasty, but not, I suspect, that a citizen of Rome would recognize as a pizza. Cath had the house “supreme”, which was a bit more conventional, but still feeling every inch of its thousands of miles distance from Napoli.
The nice people at the Radison agreed to hold on to our luggage for a bit longer, while we went for a walk, so we walked back over the bridge to have a look at the Arctic Cathedral again (it was closed until three), and perhaps see the boat as it came in (we missed that too, by a small margin.) With some more time to kill we decided to have another beer or so in the “Kino” bar, the one with the record collection and record player. It is really a very nice bar: much groovier than the “historic” bar attached to the Mack brewery (the most northerly brewery etc…) which was basement situated and quite dour. Anyway, I thought it amusing that the record they were playing at the time was “Girl” by Pharel Williams, which was almost certainly digitally recorded, mastered and what-not. So much for analog purity 🙂 Still, sounded great.
Checked in to the MS Finnmarken as soon as was possible, around 14:45, just after the disembarkation had finished. We were informed that our room wouldn’t be cleaned and ready until four, so the best plan was to leave our bags in the luggage room on board, go back into town for some errands, and get back on board and into our room some time after four. Which is what we did.
Our cabin is quite large and comfortable. The shower and head has a heated floor, the thermostat in the room seems to work, so we aren’t too hot, although still too warm for doonas, really, but that’s all they have. We’re on the fifth deck, which is the deck of the main walkway. So our window mostly has curtains drawn, so the passers-by can’t see in.
The first activity on board was the evening meal, which was quite a shock to the system. The dinner sittings (unlike breakfast and lunch) have assigned tables, and so far (luckily) we have had a table to ourselves. On the first night they hadn’t actually put our room tag on the table yet, so there was a moment of doubt that we were at the correct table, particularly since there was another couple sitting there when we arrived. It turned out that that had been their table, but they had been moved when they expressed a desire to sit together with another couple. That confusion past, there was the stand-off with the waiter about the availability of water (none, unless you order a bottle of wine, or pay for it separately.) Ultimately that was resolved by ordering a bottle of wine, but dinner got off to a rocky start. The food wasn’t bad after that though, despite the fact that they were clearly catering to a seating of several hundred.
The second night on board was “little Christmas eve”, a big deal, and a (mostly) seafood smorgasbord, which included the king-crab that had been brought on board, publicly, earlier that afternoon. This was a bit of a scrum and queuing situation. Food was good, but the organization lacked. Christmas eve was the same again, but with some extra hot food and meats, and the queuing seemed a bit more orderly. Included rakfisk(?) and lodefisk(?) this time, traditional delicacies. I tried both, but wouldn’t go out of my way to eat either again. Rakfisk is the one that they ferment by burying in barrels for several months – really quite bad smelling, and strong but not too bad tasting. Lodefisk is some sort of cod preservation in lye, which requires lots of washing (because the soda is poisonous), and leaves the fish kind of soft and jelly-like. OK, I guess. I prefer my stockfisk plain, I’m afraid. Luckily, there was more than enough of everything else to make both of these an only-if-you-want-to item. Christmas was the same again. Last night was back to a set menu, which was four courses, but they had clearly started to run out of the roast by the time we were served (towards the last), because our slices were considerably thinner than the ones we had seen earlier. Still, it was four courses, so we weren’t going hungry in any sense. The desert, a simple dish of warm stewed blackberries over cold panacotta was terrific.
Towards the middle of the second day on board (Tuesday) we reached the port of Honningsvåg, where we had booked an outing to Nordkapp, about half an hour each way by bus, and at 71 degrees, 10 minutes and a bit North, the northernmost piece of Europe, I believe. Nothing there except a great big restaurant, coffee shop, hotel and souvenir shop, but apparently it gets totally crowded in summer. As we were there in winter though (all-year tourists are a relatively new phenomenon, apparently) the three buses had to travel the last third of the way in close convoy behind a snow-plow, there and back.
Later that afternoon there was a deck-side show of a fisherman coming aboard with a couple of buckets of king crabs, in the snow. Apparently king crabs are an introduced species to the area, and a bit of an eco-disaster. They were transplanted from the east, near Alaska, by the USSR in the 60s, as an extra food supply for their western provinces. Needless to say, they didn’t stay in the Russian sea in which they were put, and are heading west at a rate of knots. We were told that Russia still claims to own all of them, so the Norwegians have limited their catch to relatively few, despite their proliferation. Delicious.
From there our next stop ashore was Kirness (pronounced Shirkness, and meaning exactly “church on the isthmus”, as there is one, and it sits at the junction of two fjords. We had booked a trip to see the snow-hotel (a relative of the Swedish ice-hotel, I think, and probably made by the same group of professional Finnish ice-building merchants who are flat-out making similar structures and ice-bars in several places each year). A dozen Chinese sculptors had been commissioned to make the interior decorations. I doubt that it is that great an accommodation experience, particularly if you are in one of the rooms furthest from the “warm building”, where the toilets and bathrooms are located — quite a dash, perhaps, and at a constant -4 degrees. Still, very interesting place to visit. The snow-hotel was also the site of the local dog sled expeditions (which we didn’t go on, having had two goes already), but we did say hello to the dogs. They also had some four month puppies and some several week puppies, which were still all rolly and cute. Cath was allowed to play with them. Kirkness was very much the picture-perfect white-Christmas that we had been looking for.