Encyclopaedia Fennica

Nord-Norge '16. II. Our trip in brief

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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:

Trip map
Trip map

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.

Trip Map, Zoomed
Trip Map, Zoomed

Now let’s do a slightly longer overview of our entire trip.

Day 1: Leaving St. Petersburg. Beginning of Kola Route. Petrozavodsk

Kola Route (Russian Federal Route R-21) begins at an interchange with St. Petersburg Ring Motorway
Kola Route (Russian Federal Route R-21) begins at an interchange with St. Petersburg Ring Motorway

1. I got up early in the morning, got all my stuff into the car, picked up my friend, and we had breakfast at a cafe in the center of St. Petersburg. Then we began a 420 km drive to Petrozavodsk, on Kola Route.

Kola Route (трасса "Кола"; Federal Route R-21, more often signposted as M-18, and also commonly referred to as Murmansk Highway) is the main road to Russian Karelia and to the Kola Peninsula. Pretty much the only road, actually (unless you go through Finland). It starts in the southeast of St. Petersburg, and initially goes to the east, then curves to the north around Ladoga Lake. The road is nice enough as far as Russian roads go, and once you pass the turnoff towards Vologda, the traffic becomes relatively light. It looks fairly bland, just a highway through an endless forest, but livens up a bit in Karelia; you begin to see denser woods, some mires, and sometimes some rocky outcroppings (the latter are nowhere as common as in Finnish Karelia though).

The section just outside St. Petersburg is known to be very heavily congested on Saturday mornings in summer, due to everyone driving to their dachas, and I expected to spend hours in traffic jams. Suprisingly there were none; it appears we managed to set out early enough in the morning to avoid these. So by midday we were in Petrozavodsk already.

Fishermen scuplture at the Onega Lake waterfront in Petrozavodsk, Russian Karelia
Fishermen scuplture at the Onega Lake waterfront in Petrozavodsk, Russian Karelia

2. We spent most of the rest of the day exploring Petrozavodsk (Петрозаводск). It’s a city of some 300 thousand; its name means "Peter’s Works Town", as it was established by Peter the Great as a metalworking factory. I’m not sure why it became the capital of the whole vast Russian Karelia ("Republic of Karelia") region. There is hardly anything particularly Karelian about it, apart from some streets named after Karelian and Finnish communists.

Petrozavodsk is located at a beautiful place, on the shore of Onega Lake (Онежское озеро), the second huge lake of Russian Northwest, after Ladoga Lake. The waterfront appears to have been recently renovated (borrowing some ideas from common Finnish town decorations, I believe), and it shows.

Zareka ("Beyoud-the-River") neighborhood in Petrozavodsk, Russian Karelia
Zareka ("Beyoud-the-River") neighborhood in Petrozavodsk, Russian Karelia

3. Most of the rest of the city appears very dilapidated and underfunded. This is sadly pretty much expected for a Russian city of that size. Despite this, I found myself oddly attracted to Petrozavodsk. It certainly has its own character (even if it’s not very Karelian), and it doesn’t really seem depressing. I particularly liked people in the streets. It’s hard to describe, and it certainly might be due to my own perceptions and history, but whenever I visit my hometown of Yekaterinburg, it always looks to me as if it’s populated mostly by alcoholics; on the other hand, people in Petrozavodsk look just like they do in St. Petersburg.

A funny thing about Petrozavodsk (and about most of other smaller Russian cities I suppose) is that it’s significantly cheaper than in St. Petersburg. And if you’re used to Finnish prices, and trying to mentally prepare yourself for Norwegian prices, everything in Petrozavodsk seems just dirt cheap. We lived in what is probably the best hotel in town, yet it felt very affordable for us.

Day 2: Petrozavodsk to Murmansk. Kandalaksha. Evening Murmansk

Arctic Circle sign at the Kola Route, somewhere near the border of Russian Karelia and Murmansk Oblast
Arctic Circle sign at the Kola Route, somewhere near the border of Russian Karelia and Murmansk Oblast

4. The distance between Petrozavodsk and Murmansk is 930 km, and we intended to cover it on that day. So we set out fairly early and didn’t do much sightseeing.

There is hardly anything to the north of Medvezhyegorsk (not far from Petrozavodsk) in the entire Russian Karelia. Well, there are some towns like Kostomuskha (not to be confused with Kandalaksha), but all of them are located pretty far from the Kola Route itself. Due to the length of Petrozavodsk-Murmansk drive and the lack of gas stations and overall civilization, you have to plan your refuelings in advance (this is the only time we needed to do that on our trip). There are in particular no gas stations on the entire Pushnoi-Zelenogorski leg (over 300 km), so we had to refuel near Pushnoi (Пушной; Russ. Fur Village), waiting in a long queue.

The traffic remains light, but there are lots and lots of semis, so you’d better get used to overtaking. The road is 1+1 lane of course, but it’s mostly very straight, so there’s nothing dangerous. Although we drove through sudden huge rainstorms twice on that day, and driving between two semis in a rainstorm is a bit scary.

At about the same place Karelia changes into Murmansk Oblast (Мурманская область; Russ. Murmansk Region), there’s an "Arctic Circle" sign. For the next two weeks, we remained above the Arctic Circle, in the midnight sun zone. So we didn’t see any proper night for quite some time after Petrozavodsk.

Fishing sheds at the White Sea in Kandalaksha, Murmansk Oblast
Fishing sheds at the White Sea in Kandalaksha, Murmansk Oblast

5. Murmansk Oblast definitely feels more populated than Russian Karelia, or at least the part of it along the Kola Route does. (In fact most of the Kola Peninsula is all but uninhabited; Murmansk and the Kola Route are not located on the peninsula proper.)

Of the towns on our way (Polyarnye Zori, Kandalaksha, Monchegorsk) we chose to drop by in Kandalaksha (Кандалакша), to refuel again and to have something to eat. Kandalaksha is an old town of 33,000, not very exciting but not a hellhole either. We had some cheap microwaved food at some random restaurant, and refueled at a StatOil gas station. Murmansk Oblast seems to have a fairly good coverage of those, probably due to proximity to Norway (StatOil is the Norwegian state oil company).

Kandalaksha is also a seaport on the White Sea, and of course we tried to have a peek at the sea, which neither of us had ever seen before, or was likely to see any time soon again. This wasn’t an easy task; the whole city is almost entirely cut off from the sea by railroads, cargo seaport, and other industrial areas. In the end we found a small unmarked dirt road to a local beach, and finally managed to glimpse a tiny bay of the White Sea.

Kola Route in Murmansk Oblast
Kola Route in Murmansk Oblast

6. The Kola Route in Murmansk Oblast becomes much more scenic, to the degree I declared it the prettiest road I had seen so far (the title was later surpassed on the very same trip by many Norwegian roads, of course). Geographically, Murmansk Oblast and Kola Peninsula are pretty much the extensions of Lapland region, and they feature the same majestic treeless fells. These include Khibiny Mountains, a very popular hiking and skiing destination. The fells are actually on average taller there than in Finnish Lapland, I believe. The road has some steep gradients, but it remains very straight, and nearly all the uphill sections have an extra climbing lane. All in all, a very pleasant driving experience.

Midnight sun (11 PM actually) in Murmansk
Midnight sun (11 PM actually) in Murmansk

7. We arrived to Murmansk at about 9 PM, and, after checking into a hotel (a small one, on the first floor of an apartment block on the outskirts of the city) we decided to have a short walk, and saw our first midnight sun.

Murmansk (Мурманск, Russ. Murman Town, "Murman" being an old word for "Norwegian") is the largest city above the Arctic Circle in the world, with the population of about 300,000. It is built pretty much around a huge seaport on the Barentz Sea (or actually on the Kola Bay, a 57 km long fjord, although not known as such). The city is fairly young, founded just before the Russian Revolution, and lacks major sights. However it looks very developed for its size, certainly in a much better shape than similarly-sized Petrozavodsk. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the bases of the Russian Northern Fleet are located in its suburbs (which you cannot easily visit, these are closed cities), and our Northern Fleet is the most important one, as it’s the one with most of the nuclear subs.

Day 3: Murmansk. Pechenga and Zapolyarny. Norwegian Border. Pasvikdalen

Kola Bay and Murmansk apartment blocks, as seen from the base of the "Alyosha" statue
Kola Bay and Murmansk apartment blocks, as seen from the base of the "Alyosha" statue

8. We spent about half of the following day exploring Murmansk. We liked it but there’s not that much to show. I ate a cheeseburger at the northernmost McDonald’s in the world (pretty much by accident), my friend exchanged some rubles for Norwegian krones (which turned out to be entirely unnecessary as we were able to pay by card everywhere), and we dropped into an Okay supermarket (which looked exactly like Okay supermarkets in St. Petersburg — "Okay" is the name of the chain) for some final grocery shopping before the Norwegian border.

Kola Route between Murmansk and Pechenga
Kola Route between Murmansk and Pechenga

9. Beyond Murmansk, the Kola Route turns to the west, parallel to the sea coast, and there are some 200 km more of it. It becomes more curvy here, but the traffic drops to nearly zero to compensate for it. The landscape becomes tundra-like although not entirely treeless.

There are a few small towns between Murmansk and the Norwegian border: Pechenga, Sputnik, Nikel, and Zapolyarny. We had a very brief look at Pechenga (Печенга); it’s an old town, but it’s barely more than a military base nowadays. It looks thoroughly miserable.

At the insistence of my friend we stopped at Zapolyarny (Заполярный, Russ. Beyond-the-Arctic) to eat, and I hated every minute of it. Zapolyarny and the nearby Nikel are built next to nickel mines and smelting plants. Zapolyarny (pop. 15,000) is scarcely more than a collection of ugly Soviet apartment blocks, and the people there look nasty. I was actually afraid we would get mugged or someone would break into our car. I’m likely exagerrating, that’s just the impression I’ve got.

Anyway we had our last dinner in Russia, and drove on for the final kilometers of the Kola Route. Which after Zapolyarny first gets very straight, and then turns into a construction area where you have to drive on top of broken stone for ten or fifteen kilometers. Presumably the road adjacent to the border is being rebuilt.

The sole border crossing between Russia and Norway is called Boris Gleb (Борисоглебск, after St. Boris and St. Gleb, Russian saints) on the Russian side, and Storskog (Norw. Big Forest) on the Norwegian side. It looks very quiet and peaceful, and both Russian and Norwegian personnel were extremely friendly. Our car was the only one at the crossing, and we got some rare stamps in our passports without any difficulties.

Långfjord in Pasvikdalen area
Långfjord in Pasvikdalen area

10. A large fraction of the Norwegian-Russian border follows the Pasvikelva (Paz, Паз, in Russian) river. Norwegian side of Pasvikelva valley (Pasvikdalen) forms a 150 km long wedge between Finnish and Russian territory. Its landscapes are more similar to Finnish Lapland lowlands (basically just vast pine and fir forests), rather tame by Norwegian standards. But in any case our first place of overnight stay was in Pasvikdalen, in Melkefoss (Norw. Milk Waterfall) village near the eponymous hydro power station, in a nice small cottage. We had to drive 60 km kilometers into Pasvikdalen, but at least we got to see a (tiny) fjord on our way.

At the Melkefoss campsite
At the Melkefoss campsite

11. The place was advertised as B& B (Birk Husky — they actually specialize in dog sledge tours), but the accomodation was more like a typical Finnish camping, with a small hut which had electricity and a small kitchen, but no bathroom. Pasvikelva river was just a short walk away.

The cottage would have been perfect if not for mosquitoes! We were aware that mosquitoes get extremely nasty in the northern summer, and we had a plug-in mosquito repellent with us which helped us sleep. However that meant we had to keep windows almost shut, and we got up with some bad headache in the morning.

Day 4: Grense Jakobselv. Neiden and Näätämö. Varangerfjorden. Vadsø

At a mountain plateau near Vintervollvatnet Lake, by the road to Grense Jakobselv village
At a mountain plateau near Vintervollvatnet Lake, by the road to Grense Jakobselv village

12. That was one busy day. After an aborted (due to rain) attempt to visit Melkefoss power station on foot, we drove out all the way back to the border crossing, and right before the border crossing we turned onto a narrow road leading through a low mountain plateau to Grense Jakobselv village. That plateau was our first taste of Arctic landscapes, and the first place we got to see reindeer (spoiler: not in the picture above, don’t bother to look).

King Oscar II Chapel at Grense Jakobselv
King Oscar II Chapel at Grense Jakobselv

13. Grense Jakobselv means "Jakobselv river border", and it’s the name of the village located at the very end of Norwegian-Russian border, where it meets the Barentz Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. That was the first place we got to see open ocean. The village itself is tiny, but it has a very cool sight, a stunningly beautiful chapel, built in the middle of nowhere pretty much specifically to mark the border. I’ve never seen any construction which looks as much right out of a fantasy movie as this chapel does.

Car after driving on the road to Grense Jakobselv in wet weather, on the Route E6 near Kirkenes
Car after driving on the road to Grense Jakobselv in wet weather, on the Route E6 near Kirkenes

14. After getting back from Grense Jakobselv we didn’t stop at Kirkenes, the border town, instead just driving on onto Route E6, the main road of Norway. It’s amazing how dirty a car can get from driving just 20 km on a gravel road (most of the Grense Jakobselv road is paved but the final section is not) in rain.

Varangerfjorden arm behind Skogerøya Island
Varangerfjorden arm behind Skogerøya Island

15. Soon we got to see the first great fjord of Norway (counting from the northern end), the Varangerfjorden. It is vast, 100 km long and 50 km wide at the mouth, but its shores are not very tall or steep. Varangerfjorden separates the Varanger Peninsula from the mainland. This is only a small arm of the fjord, blocked by a large uninhabited island named Skogerøya, but there would be more to come.

Skoltefossen waterfall in Neiden village
Skoltefossen waterfall in Neiden village

16. Neiden is the only village in Norway where the Skolt Sami live, and we had a brief look at their old houses and chapel. There is a beautiful waterfall right in the village, appropriately named Skoltefossen.

Reindeer running along Norwegian-Finnish border fence at Neiden
Reindeer running along Norwegian-Finnish border fence at Neiden

17. Finnish territory is a very short drive away from Neiden; in fact the village on the other side, Näätämö, is considered an extension of Neiden. We decided to visit Näätämö for some cheaper grocery shopping (we could not bring everything from Russia in advance as some foods cannot be brought across the border) and fuel.

At Gornitak rest area near Varangerbotn
At Gornitak rest area near Varangerbotn

18. In Varangerbotn village we turned to the east, driving onto Varanger Peninsula. The road here (the final section of Route E75) is considered a National Tourist Route, and as such it got some nice rest areas in scenic places, like this one called Gornitak (more properly Gorgŋetak, it’s a Northern Sami name).

Harbor in the town of Vadsø
Harbor in the town of Vadsø

19. Vadsø, the capital of Finnmark County, is actually pretty tiny. It’s the first town we got to see in Norway, and we walked a bit around it. Perhaps due to the weather which cleared by that time the town seemed very idyllic.

Varanger landscape closer to Varangerfjorden mouth
Varanger landscape closer to Varangerfjorden mouth

20. Beyond Vadsø Varanger Peninsula becomes a tundra; any trees cease to appear completely. It still felt idyllic but the weather worsened again very soon, and we drove the last kilometers in a thick fog. Our destination was Vardø, a tiny town on an island at the very end of Varanger (connected to the mainland by a tunnel). We had an AirBnB apartment booked there for two nights. As we were pretty tired by that point, we left Vardø exploration for the following day.

Day 5: Vardø. Hamningberg

The town of Vardø
The town of Vardø

21. Well, Vardø looked completely unlike Vadsø. A tiny (2,000) town on a tiny Arctic island, completely lacking any trees, and inhabited mostly by fishermen it seems. This place really got character. There’s hardly anyone in the streets, and the two or three tourists we saw looked frozen half to death and miserable. We explored the town, including both sea-facing cliffs and its Rema-1000 supermarket, briefly returning to our apartment to warm ourselves up with some tea.

Vardø witch burnings memorial
Vardø witch burnings memorial

22. Vardø has few sights but they’re quite memorable. There’s a huge memorial to witch burnings, for example. For some reason Vardø citizens were really keen on witch burnings in the 16th century or so (yeah, Vardø's pretty old — the oldest town in Northern Norway, in fact). Inside a construction in the background is a long dark corridor, with a section devoted to each woman burned at the stake, with a short description of the accusation, and a tiny light, visible from the outside from small windows.

Hamningberg Road along the northern coast of Varanger Peninsula
Hamningberg Road along the northern coast of Varanger Peninsula

23. The road from Vardø tunnel continues on along the northern coast of Varanger, facing the open sea. The landscape here is wild and harsh, with endless jagged rocks, and some snow patches occuring right at the sea level — in July. The road itself (some 35 km long) is very narrow, basically one one lane wide, and passing oncoming traffic is always a little adventure in itself (although it’s not especially difficult in most places). This road which ends at the tiny village of Hamningberg is officially the most scenic road I’ve ever driven on.

Destroyed Nazi fortification at the top of Hardbakken Mountain in Hamningberg
Destroyed Nazi fortification at the top of Hardbakken Mountain in Hamningberg

24. Hamningberg is a small village, only inhabited in summer; supposedly one of the very few places in Northern Norway which survived the World War II intact. Truthfully it wasn’t all that fancy to begin with, though. We climbed a small mountain named Hardbakken right next to the village, and were surprised to find the remains of bunkers, pillboxes, and gun mounts. It turns out Hamningberg with Hardbakken was one of the many places where the Germans built their sea-facing fortifications during the war. I had been completely unaware of that.

Vardø and Vardøya Island, as seen from Hamningberg Road
Vardø and Vardøya Island, as seen from Hamningberg Road

25. Going back to Vardø from Hamningberg, you can see Vardø's most obvious landmark clearly: a huge white ball-shaped NATO radar installation.

Day 6: Kibergneset. Vardø to Honningsvåg

Tiny automated lighthouse at Kibergneset Cape
Tiny automated lighthouse at Kibergneset Cape

26. We planned a 510 km long drive from Vardø to Honningsvåg on this day. 510 km might not sound that out of place, but driving 510 km in Norway is usually very different from driving 510 km in Finland or on a very good Russian road like the Kola Route. Norwegian roads, even the trunk ones, tend to have a lot of slow and narrow sections. So the only place we intended to visit on that day was Kibergneset Cape, a few kilometers south of Vardø tunnel. Kibergneset is the easternmost point of mainland Norway (the easternmost point of entire Norway is an island next to Vardø).

We drove about a kilometer uphill on a mountain road from Kiberg village, then got scared of the possibility of damaging car’s underside on some rock, left it at a suitable place, and walked the rest of the way on foot. Saw a great number of Nazi fortifications again, even peeked into one of the huge inviting caves left by them in a mountainside. Sadly we lacked a suitable light source.

The cape itself, also informally known as Østkapp, is quite easy to reach, on foot or even with a car if you feel brave enough. There’s a standard tiny automated lighthouse there. Similar lighthouses are common in Northern Norway.

Tana Bru bridge
Tana Bru bridge

27. After that we left Varanger Peninsula, driving all the way back through Vadsø and Varangerbotn, and then reached the town of Tana Bru. Tana Bru means "Tana Bridge", and indeed this is the location of the only bridge in Norway that crosses Tana River. Since the river itself flows right from the Finnish border, this bridge is in effect the only link to the northeasternmost parts of the country, including Varanger, Kirkenes, and Pasvikdalen.

By that point we got hungry and had to resort to eating some hot dogs at a gas station. Even such a simple meal is inordinately expensive in Norway. That’s why we (well, my friend actually) mostly cooked ourselves in AirBnB apartments and hostel kitchens. Supermarket prices are also high, but not all that higher than the Finnish ones, and we were okay with the Finnish ones.

Finnmark County Road 98 in Ifjordfjellet Mountains
Finnmark County Road 98 in Ifjordfjellet Mountains

28. Instead of driving on Route E6 through Inner Finnmark region, we chose Finnmark County Road 98, which provides an alternative to Route E6 on Tana Bru-Lakselv leg. Road 98 is shorter, but the landscape is much more difficult; it alternately goes along fjord coasts and over mountain passes between fjords. But that also means it’s the more scenic one, and that’s why we chose it. The road has both very good new sections, like this one going through Ifjordfjellet Mountains, and some very poor (narrow and curvy) old ones, although some of the old sections are being rebuilt. Driving on Road 98, we managed to see (if briefly) three great fjords on that day: Tanafjorden, Laksefjorden, and Porsangerfjorden.

Route E69 on Magerøya Island along Porsangerfjorden, approaching Honningsvåg
Route E69 on Magerøya Island along Porsangerfjorden, approaching Honningsvåg

29. In the town of Lakselv we rejoined Route E6, and drove on to the north on the western coast of Porsangerfjorden. Our destination was Honningsvåg, a town of 2,500, which is the northernmost town in Norway, and, more importantly, the last town before the North Cape. As such, it serves as a base of sorts for North Cape visits for a lot of tourists. We had a hostel room booked for two nights there.

At Olderfjord village, Route E69 splits off E6 to go farther north, and along the E69, the landscape rapidly gets that "Arctic tundra" look that had gradually disappeared since Varanger. Then there is an almost 7 km long underwater tunnel to the great Magerøya Island, where Honningsvåg and the North Cape are located. The rest was easy enough.

Day 7: Honningsvåg. North Cape. Kirkeporten

Honningsvåg harbor
Honningsvåg harbor

30. We started the next day by exploring Honningsvåg. It’s a tiny Arctic fishing town like Vardø, but it has been heavily affected by all the tourists passing through it to the North Cape; after all, the North Cape is pretty much the best known sight of the entire Northern Norway, while Vardø is very much an out of the way place. There are many suprisingly big hotels and shops in Honningsvåg (Vardø had only one hotel, and it didn’t appear very nice). That’s not a bad thing of course, it’s just different.

Globe statue at the North Cape
Globe statue at the North Cape

31. The North Cape (Nordkapp) is sort of the northernmost point of Europe. It’s not exactly 100% northernmost, but it certainly nailed that "end of the world" feel, being a huge cliff over the Barentz Sea. You can drive all the way there on Route E69, and there is a museum with a restaurant built there. The entry is not free, and is actually fairly costly, although not outrageously so by Norwegian standards. You may think it’s a tourist trap (I don’t know of any other places in Norway which charge money simply to enjoy the view), but it’s still worth seeing at least once. We in particularly enjoyed some fun weather at the North Cape, with gale strong enough to rock a parked car and to make the rain fall almost horizontally.

Kirkeporten rock near Skarsvåg villange
Kirkeporten rock near Skarsvåg villange

32. The actual northernmost point of more-or-less contiguous Europe is Knivskjellodden Cape, relatively close to the North Cape, sticking 1.5 km farther north. It looks less dramatic and it’s only accessible via several hours long hike. We really wanted to go to Knivskjellodden too, but decided that the weather was too nasty, and the hour too late. (That was a correct decision.) As a compensation, we made a much shorter hike from Skarsvåg village (the northernmost settlement of Norway, excluding Svalbard and Jan Mayen Island) over a small mountain to Kirkeporten Rock, which is a rock with a hole tall enough to stand inside. North Cape cliffs are visible from it in the distance. That was all for that day.

Day 8: Knivskjellodden Cape

Knivskjellodden trail
Knivskjellodden trail

33. The next day we planned to depart for Alta, possibly visiting Trollholmsundet Rocks on our way. But in the morning we were greeted by perfect sunny weather, and decided to make an attempt for Knivskjellodden after all.

The trail to Knivskjellodden starts from a parking lot some 5 km from the North Cape, and goes over tundra plateaus with occasional small lakes, streams, and reindeer wandering about, before descending from 300 m elevation almost to the sea level, where its final stretch goes across a fairly steep rocky slope. It’s fairly demanding, and it was especially demanding as I for some reason believed it was 7 km long in one direction, while it’s actually about 9 km — so a 18 km walk in tundra in total. Took up about seven hours to hike there and back again.

Noodles at Knivskjellodden Cape, with a view of the North Cape
Noodles at Knivskjellodden Cape, with a view of the North Cape

34. At the cape there is a "northernmost point of Europe" sign and a guestbook but not much else. Its prettiest part is the view of the neighboring North Cape. We tried to have some noodles at the northernmost point of Europe but failed to get the water hot enough on my small camping stove, probably due to the wind.

After getting back from Knivskjellodden and some brief grocery shopping in Honningsvåg we were too tired to do anything but drive straight to Alta. I don’t even really remember anything from that 210 km long drive. We were staying in Alta for just one night, and instead of hostels we had a room in a fairly nice hotel booked there.

Day 9: Alta. Tirpitz Museum

Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta
Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta

35. Alta is the biggest town in Finnmark County (pop. 20,000), but there’s very little to see here. Its only sight is its modern-looking Northern Lights Cathedral (not to be confused with the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø). Otherwise it’s just a few downtown blocks and huge suburbs, not really much different from any random nondescript small Finnish town. Even the nature (the Altafjorden coast and the mountains) seems difficult to reach from the town.

Tirpitz Museum in Kåfjord near Alta
Tirpitz Museum in Kåfjord near Alta

36. Kåfjorden is a small arm of the Altafjorden, and in WWII it served as a harbor for the German battleship Tirpitz for quite some time. The British made several raids on Tirpitz; the most daring one used midget submarines, which sneaked into the fjord and launched divers who attached explosives to the hull. Ultimately Tirpitz was sunk (by bombers) in another location, at Håkøya Island near Tromsø. The museum devoted to the Tirpitz is still located in Kåfjord village though. It’s small but fairly interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. It shows a short movie in English telling about the attempts to sunk the battleship, and has a large collection of things raised from the shipwreck. My dad, who is a fan of WWII naval history, specifically requested me to visit this museum.

Kvænangen Plateau over the sea
Kvænangen Plateau over the sea

37. After the museum we drove on to our next destination, Lyngen Peninsula, a 350 km drive where we finally crossed from Finnmark into Troms Country, the second county of Norway from the north.

Driving around Lyngenfjorden, with Lyngen Alps in the background
Driving around Lyngenfjorden, with Lyngen Alps in the background

38. The Lyngenfjorden, next to the peninsula, is long and relatively narrow and annoying to drive around, so we originally intended to board a ferry over the fjord, which cuts the travel distance by 120 km. We missed the ferry though, and waiting for the next one would have taken too long, so in the end we just drove around. At least the views there are great, with jagged and glacier-capped Lyngen Alps looking much more imposing than all the Northern Norwegian mountains we had seen before.

We intended to so some hiking in the Lyngen Alps, and so we booked a hostel room in the biggest Lyngen village named Lyngseidet for two nights.

Day 10: Steindalsbreen Glacier in Lyngen Alps

Steindalen Valley in the Lyngen Alps
Steindalen Valley in the Lyngen Alps

39. Lyngen Alps (this is the actual name — Lyngsalpan in Norwegian) are up to about 1800 m high, and most if not all higher peaks can of course be reached only with proper moutaineering equipment and skills. At the same time, there are many fairly easy hiking trails. We decided to chose one that leads up the Steindalen Valley, along the milky blue Steindalselva glacial river, up to 450 m elevation to the edge of Steindalsbreen Glacier (Norw. Stone Valley Glacier), one of the many Lyngen glaciers.

Steindalsbreen Glacier
Steindalsbreen Glacier

40. The climb was indeed not very difficult (compared to Knivskjellodden trail, for example), but by the time we reached the glacier, it was raining heavily, and we were beginning to get drenched. So we didn’t spend much time at the glacier (in particularly we didn’t try to walk close enough to touch it), and just got back and called it a day. Still, that was the first time any of us saw an actual glacier up close, and that was quite memorable.

Day 11: Blåvatnet Lake in Lyngen Alps. Some Tromsø

Beginning of Blåvatnet Lake trail in the Lyngen Alps
Beginning of Blåvatnet Lake trail in the Lyngen Alps

41. For the second day at Lyngen we chose an even easier trail, pretty much just an extremely gently-sloping climb across tundra and a scree field to Blåvatnet Lake (Norw. Blue Lake), a glacial lake at the foot of several mountains, known for its brilliant blue color. Unlike Lyngseidet and Steindalen, Blåvatnet is located at the western side of the mountain chain, which looks significantly more harsh and Arctic (eastern side on the other hand is pretty lush).

Blåvatnet Lake in the Lyngen Alps
Blåvatnet Lake in the Lyngen Alps

42. The lake as it turns out is indeed very blue.

After this hike, we drove towards Tromsø. This time the distance was not very great, and moreover we managed to catch the ferry across the next fjord (Ullsfjorden). So we were at our AirBnB apartment in Tromsø (booked for three nights) by 4 PM already.

Tromsø downtown
Tromsø downtown

43. We took a walk around Tromsø in the evening. Tromsø (population 60,000) is the capital and the biggest city of Troms County, and in effect the center of the entire Northern Norway. It is an old and quite interesting town, located on an island in a maze of fjords and straits, with a cozy-looking wooden downtown.

Day 12: Senja Island

Senjatrollet Park on Senja Island
Senjatrollet Park on Senja Island

44. Since the weather on that day got great again, we decided to spend it by driving to Senja Island, said to be one of the prettiest places in Northern Norway, somewhat resembling the famous Lofoten Islands. Our first mistake was trying to drive there through backcountry roads, west from Tromsø (through Kvaløya Island and Malangen). That turned out to be a long and exhausting drive, with pretty much nothing to see along the way. The hour was pretty late when we finally reached Senja; the first thing we saw there was Senjatrollet Park, with supposedly the biggest troll sculpture in the world.

View from Bergsbotn rest area on Senja Island
View from Bergsbotn rest area on Senja Island

45. We didn’t make many plans about what to do on Senja, and ended up just driving around its coast, stopping here and there to take some pictures. So I’ve got some nice Senja pictures, but our actual time there wasn’t all that exciting. I wanted to hike up some small mountain, but we didn’t really have the time for that either.

Tungeneset rest area on Senja Island
Tungeneset rest area on Senja Island

46. Senja is actually a very big island (second largest in Norway, and three times larger than Magerøya), and most of it is also not especially notable. There’s a small national park in the southwest of the island, but the best known and the most accessible part is its small fjords on the western and northwestern coast. The road along this coast which we drove on is also classifed as a National Tourist Route.

Our overall impression of Senja was that it is certainly very nice and beautiful, but deserves a more in-depth look. Senja was the only part of our overall trip that felt too rushed. Anyway, after driving around Senja we returned back to Tromsø on the main E6 and E8 routes, and found this road to be not only shorter and easier to drive, but more scenic as well. So not every alternate backcountry road in Norway is actually worth driving.

Day 13: Tromsø. Arctic Museum. Storsteinen

Tromsø harbor
Tromsø harbor

47. The next day we explored Tromsø itself, and liked it a lot (the good weather persisted throughout the remaining days). After a walk at the waterfront and buying some postcards, we decided to go to the three main museums of Tromsø, which share an entry ticket: Arctic Museum, Tromsø University Museum, and Polstjerna museum boat.

Tromsø Arctic Museum
Tromsø Arctic Museum

48. We only could visit the Arctic Museum on that day (they close fairly early), but that was the best one of the three. It has a very comprehensive exhibition mostly about the exploration of the Arctic (particularly focusing on Norwegian efforts, by Amundsen and Nansen), and also whaling, seal trapping, and similar subjects. I ended up buying a thick book in the museum shop, a copy of the old English translation of Amundsen’s own account of his journey to the South Pole.

Arctic Cathedral and Tromsdalen Valley
Arctic Cathedral and Tromsdalen Valley

49. After the museum, we crossed Tromsø Bridge on foot — a long, narrow and tall bridge, one of the three ways to get to Tromsø from the mainland. At the end of the bridge on the mainland side is the Arctic Cathedral, a big Arctic-themed church. It’s not really very interesting on the inside, hardly worth the entry price of 40 krones, but hey, at least it had free Wi-Fi.

Behind the cathedral is Tromsdalen Valley, home to an eponymous suburb of Tromsø. It ends with a 1200 m tall mountain with visible snow patches, the Tromsdalstinden. Sadly we didn’t go to Tromsdalstinden, but at least we climbed the Storsteinen, a much smaller mountain, its slope visible in the right side of the picture.

View of Tromsø, Tromsø Bridge, and Hurtigruten ferry from the Storsteinen slope
View of Tromsø, Tromsø Bridge, and Hurtigruten ferry from the Storsteinen slope

50. Climbing Storsteinen is relatively easy in itself, although the forest on its side has lots of mosquitoes (the first time we met them since Pasvikdalen), and we were dressed for walking around the city rather than for hiking (hiking boots make most of the difference). There’s actually a cable car going to the top of this mountain, but we didn’t want to pay for it, and anyway conquring a mountain (if a small one) by yourself is more fun.

Storsteinen viewpoint above Tromsø
Storsteinen viewpoint above Tromsø

51. The views from Storsteinen viewpoint are great, and it’s easy to see why they built a cable car and a restaurant at the top here. We didn’t use the cable car to get down again either, instead picking a very steep trail which goes right under the cable car — it was particularly easy to slip there without hiking boots. After a sigh of relief when we reached Tromsdalen again, we walked back to Tromsø, and enjoyed a burger and the beer at some bar. That was the only time throughout our entire trip we ate out in Norway (excluding gas station food twice or so).

Day 14: Tromsø University Museum and Polstjerna. Treriksröset hike

Tromsø University Museum exposition
Tromsø University Museum exposition

52. On the day we had to leave Tromsø — and the entire Norway, actually — we started by visiting the remaining two museums. For some reason I thought Tromsø University Museum was about Tromsø itself; it’s actually more about Arctic nature and the Sami people. Of course I love the Sami people, so that’s awesome too!

The last museum, Polstjerna Boat, is literally just a preserved seal hunting boat, kept in a drydock under a glass roof. You can explore most of its interior and see how the seal hunters lived on duty, and where they kept all those seal carcasses.

Norwegian-Finnish border crossing at Kilpisjärvi
Norwegian-Finnish border crossing at Kilpisjärvi

53. Our final stop in Norway was a Burger King next to Tromsø airport, where we got some double cheeseburgers. If Murmansk McDonald’s is the northernmost McDonald’s in the world, this Burger King is the northernmost Burger King in the world, or so we understood; unlike that McDonald’s, there’s no plaque. (Tromsø is located a bit farther north than Murmansk, but there are no McDonald’s restaurants in the entire northern half of Norway.)

After that we drove on to the south, to Finland, on Route E8, also known as Northern Lights Road. The border is not that far from Tromsø, 160 km away.

View of the Kilpisjärvi Lake from Treriksröset trail
View of the Kilpisjärvi Lake from Treriksröset trail

54. Our final destination in the entire trip was Treriksröset border stone, at the place where Finland, Sweden and Norway borders meet. I’ve already been there last autumn, of course. This time I wanted to see what it’s like in summer, and additionally, we had booked a varaustupa reservable wilderness hut near Treriksröset, and intended to stay the night there. That would be our first experience with wilderness huts.

We picked up a hut key from the border station at Kilpisjärvi village, and set off towards Treriksröset. The trail is 11-12 km long, going through Malla Strict Nature Reserve. It first climbs the side of the Malla Mountain, goes along it for some time, then descends again towards Kuohkimajärvi and Golddajávri lakes. I was carrying most of our bedsheets and food it my backpack, and the initial ascent hit me hard, to the degree I considered giving up, going back, and just finding any random hotel to sleep in. Still, I went on, and felt somewhat better afterwards.

Treriksröset trail
Treriksröset trail

55. In this region, pretty far from the sea, mosquitoes were really the worst. Without a repellent it’s tolerable while you walk, but as soon as you stop for a second they just cover you. The repellent (provided you re-apply it regularly) provides something like a 90% resistance; there are just enough persistent mosquitoes remaining to be hugely annoying.

Kuohkimajärvi Reservable Wilderness Hut
Kuohkimajärvi Reservable Wilderness Hut

56. We were tired enough that we didn’t bother to look at the border stone itself, just going straight to our hut. It had beds enough for ten, but no one except us was inside, although we saw some people using the nearby free wilderness hut (autiotupa).

The hut was furnished well (with more than enough dishes in particular), and had a wood and a gas stove (although we failed to get the gas one to work), but otherwise it’s pretty basic. No water, toilet, or electricity of course. The water is available from the nearby stream, there’s an outhouse, and as for electricity, well, too bad.

Sleeping in the hut turned out to be difficult due again to the mosquitoes. Of course they were much less numerous here than outside, but still numerous enough to make sleeping without covering yourself entirely impossible.

Days 15 and 16: Return from Treriksröset. Back to St. Petersburg

Treriksröset border stone
Treriksröset border stone

57. After killing some thirty mosquitoes in the morning, and having a breakfast of sorts, we went to see Treriksröset itself before setting out back. Here it is, a rock by the coast of Golddajávri Lake. You can hike onwards to Norway or Sweden from here, if you feel like it.

Reindeer encountered on Treriksröset trail
Reindeer encountered on Treriksröset trail

58. Hiking back to Kilpisjärvi was slightly easier. There were fewer mosquitoes, but the weather got extremely hot for what is pretty much the coldest place in Finland.

Finnish National Road 21 (Northern Lights Road) somewhere between Kilpisjärvi and Palojoensuu
Finnish National Road 21 (Northern Lights Road) somewhere between Kilpisjärvi and Palojoensuu

59. We ate at a restaurant in Kilpisjärvi (finally a country where we can afford eating in restaurants!), and drove south on the Northern Lights Road. The road seemed very boring in summer, although much easier to drive than Norwegian roads.

Crossing the Arctic Circle again on the Northern Lights Road, in the vicinity of Pello
Crossing the Arctic Circle again on the Northern Lights Road, in the vicinity of Pello

60. We took a few pictures on the Finnish-Swedish border bridge at Karesuando, and at the Arctic Circle crossing in Pello Municipality, then drove non-stop to a motel in the town of Keminmaa in Southern Lapland. It sure was nice to sleep in a room without any mosquitoes!

There’s not much to tell about the last day. We just drove through entire Finland back home, on Roads 4, 22, and 6. We hit a duck somewhere near Muhos, but it apparently still flew away. Overall, we drove 470 km on Day 15, and about 900 km on Day 16.

And that’s all with the brief version of the trip report! Detailed posts about all these places are to come.

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