Country Archives: Norway

Kirkenes - Заполярный (Zapolyarniy)

No rain this morning, yeah!

Clearing Norwegian customs was easy enough. One gate, one guy, one minute, and I was in no-man’s land.

On the Russian side, I got the immigration card at the first gate. Then I had to leave the bike at the second gate, fill in the immigration card, hand it over to some officer along with my passport. It took him ages to give them back to me, and he hardly looked at me at all (I’d thought of getting rid of my beard to make me look more like the photo in my passport, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all). Then the actual customs counter. Nothing to declare, of course. The guy asked me if I’d cycled here from Germany and muttered something into his well-shaven beard when I acknowledged, prolly ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’, or something along those lines. Same for my where-to. Then we stepped outside and he had a look at the bike. He wasn’t really interested in my bags; all he wanted was alcohol! Regrettably, I hadn’t brought any. He seemed to understand, though, and let me go anyway. The third gate was just for show. I was in Russia.

And Russia greeted me with rain.

First port of call: Никель (Nikel). An ugly assembly of run-down typical Sovjet rectangular multi-story buildings. Next to it, a huge and desolate-looking nickel plant and smelter, with their chimneys rearing their fuming heads high into the sky. The rain and the low-hanging clouds made everything even more depressing.

All of a sudden there she was. A long-legged beauty, standing in the rain at the curb, waiting for some cars to pass so she could cross the road. I felt like ripping off my fake beard, and asking her, begging her, to marry me, if only to get her out of that miserable place. Of course, things weren’t that simple, mostly because the beard wasn’t fake.

Found a bank and pulled a small fortune from the банкомат. Also found a book shop and went in in order to ask for some maps of the region. The lady behind the counter looked at me as if she was about to throw something sharp and heavy at me, and I realized that I was dripping wet, too wet to be allowed anywhere near anything made of paper. So I retreated, from the book shop and from Nikel as well.

The landscape is very hilly and so far was mostly green (pines, etc) and yellow-golden (birches, etc). Here, however, near the nickel plant, the hills were mostly bare and the grey-brownish sand and rock lay open for wind and water to play their mighty games with them. There’s also some black stuff that looked like it used to be, uhm, some sort of plants, maybe. In the last century, maybe. ‘Scorched Earth’ was the first expression that came to my mind.

Zapolyarniy isn’t much different from Nikel. The same type of buildings and a massive nickel plant in the backyard. Checked into a hotel (the hotel?) to get my first registration stamp, and had a 5-course dinner for a very reasonable price.

Some of the Russian which I’ve learned for 6 years back in school, is slowly coming back to me, however. English seems to be helpful only to fill in the most important bits.

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Still Kirkenes

Well, the weather was so bad in the morning that I didn’t manage to get my ass out of my sleeping bag.

Looked at some maps I’d found on the ‘net and am now considering going down as far as Apatity and Kandalaksha, and to visit the White Sea. The visa expires on 9/11+1, so I don’t have a lot of time and things will mostly depend on road conditions and weather.

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Kirkenes

Picked up my passport, did some shopping, laundry, etc., and am now ready to pay Russia a visit.

Met three German cyclists in the evening, who’d cycled here from Göteborg, Sweden. They were bound to fly back to Germany early tomorrow morning. One of them had been to Russia a couple of times and he, too, said that there’s no need to be paranoid about these bloody registrations. As long as there’s at least one stamp on the immigration card things should be ok.

They left me a spare tyre, a reflective vest, and some food. Thanks!

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Kirkenes

A lazy, windy, and rainy Sunday in Kirkenes, with nothing to do. Everything is closed. Temperatures are just above 10°C.

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Ellenkoia – Kirkenes

Since Øvre Pasvik National Park was a dead end for us, we returned to the bikes and cycled back to Kirkenes today.

Autumn is here already. Most of the birches’ leaves have turned yellow and orange, or have fallen to the ground.

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Ellenkoia - Piilolakoia - Piilolaporten - Ellenkoia

Today we wanted to go to the border, and possibly a bit beyond. However, we managed to take a wrong turn, as it were, and walked on the wrong track for about an hour before we realized our mistake.

Reached Piilolakoia, another open cabin very close to the border at half past 2pm – and had a nap there. Then we crossed into Finland at Piilolaporten, ate a few blueberries there, went back to Norway where the blueberries taste better, and walked back to Ellenkoia.

The countryside was relatively flat and the track follows the shore of the Ellenvann most of the time. There were a few muddy places and rivers to cross (either by hopping from stone to stone or, where that wasn’t possible, by using some rudimentary bridge the maintainers of the track had put there). We never got wet feet.

There’s a number of info posts along the track that tell about e.g. an old partisan hut that was used in WWII by Norwegian and Russian resistance; hunting methods; farming; and wildlife.

Very much to our surprise we didn’t see any of that wildlife. No reindeer, no elks, no lynx, not even a tiny bear. Most of the time, there weren’t even any birds to hear and it was frighteningly quite in the forest. The only seriously dangerous (due to their numbers) predators we encountered were the local mosquitoes.

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Kirkenes - Ellenkoia

David and I left for the Øvre Pasvik National Park. We cycled along the Pasvik river, close to the Russian border. At one point we could see the fuming industrial exhausts of the Russian town of Никель (Nikel) on the far side of the river.

We rode about 92km to the village of Vaggetem, and then took a forest road for 10km. At its end the track to Finland starts.  Unfortunately, there was no way to take the bikes on that track; it would have taken ages. Plan B: Hike the track to the Finnish border without bikes, then go back.

We walked only the first 4.4km to the Ellenkoia cabin, an ‘open wilderness hut’ at the Ellenvann (Ellen is the short Sámi form of Elias, so Ellenvann means Elias Lake). A Norwegian couple and their beautiful Alaskan Malamute Aiki were there already. David decided to sleep in the hut, I pitched my tent a few meters away.

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Kirkenes

Another lazy day in Kirkenes. We met a French couple in the kitchen who are travelling by car in Northern Norway, as well as a German girl who’d just arrived here by plane and now wants to cycle back home. Without tent, sleeping bag, mattress, air pump, and all the other useless stuff. That’s quite … brave. :) The most useless thing that’s left in her luggage are speakers for her ipod that can be attached to the bike.

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Kirkenes

Checked with the travel agency, and the visa should be ready on Friday. Not much else to report.

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Киркенес

I went to Kirkenes to find out whether it’s possible to get a visa for Russia. There’s a Russian consulate here, but I went to see the two local travel agencies to ease and speed up the process.

One of the agents told me quite daunting stories about the (lack of) freedom one enjoys when traveling in Russia. It would be necessary to stay at hotels as opposed to camping or staying at private places. And cycling in Russia – oh me goodness – that’s absolutely impossible. That contradicted some of the info I’d read previously, and the image the other agent painted was more friendly (not exactly great, though). Apparently it is still necessary to stay at hotels every now and then to have a track record of one’s journey, or to get such a (fake) record by other means. In any way, I applied for a 2-week-visa to go to Мурманск, the world’s biggest city north of the Arctic Circle.

Tried to find road maps of Western Russia or the Kola peninsula in the local bookshops, to no avail. Went to the library and the friendly librarian dug out a map of the region right next to the Norwegian/Finish border. It turned out to be Cold War material: a “Joint Operations Graphic (Ground)”, compiled by the U.S. Army Topographic Command in 1969 “from best available sources”. There were several white or whitish spots on the map where the sources weren’t all that good, apparently.

David and I were thinking about going to the Øvre Pasvik National Park while the consulate is processing the visa application. The park is said to have a lot of bears, and also hosts the point where the borders of Norway, Finland, and Russia meet. The idea is to cross into Finland with bikes, which may be difficult, and cycle back to Kirkenes to pick up my passport, hopefully containing the visa.

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Båtsfjord - Kirkenes

Boarded the M/S Trollfjord, one of their newest boats, around 1am. Paid about 780 Norwegian Crowns for the passage to Kirkenes, including a cabin and breakfast. That’s less than I paid for the hotel in Vardø AND it carried me across the Barents Sea for several hours!

Arrived in Kirkenes around 10am. Lots of Russian fishing trawlers in the harbour. The town seemed almost deserted, very few people out and about. Streets, hotels, and public buildings have their name written using Latin characters and underneath again using Cyrillic ones. E.g. library: библиотека. The Russian border is at most 12km away. Found a campsite a few kilometers outside town.

The French guy I’d met near Vadsø, David, is staying here, too, as well as yet another Swiss cyclist, Cyrill. We had a long chat over dinner and beyond, about our previous trips and experiences, as well as ideas for future tours and adventures. We’ve all done more than 4000km on our current journeys.

We also listed the most useless things we’re carrying around on the current trip. David is carrying a spatula, Cyrill’s got a second mobile and rubber boots (even though he thinks they might be useful at some point), and me, I’ve got two tents in my luggage as well as pills against sea sickness.

The weather was awesome today. Warm and sunny. Forecasts are not that good for the coming days, unfortunately.

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Vardø – Båtsfjord

Definitely found my limits on this trip. Getting up at 3am to catch a feery at 4am is one of them.

So I had breakfast at the hotel. I had only 2 main options now: stay another night in Vardø and attempt to catch the next boat to Kirkenes again at 4am, or take a boat to Båtsfjord or even Berlevåg and hop on the ferry bound for Kirkenes already in the late evening. I chose the latter option and boarded the M/S Nordstjernen, built in 1956 and one of the older Hurtigruten boats still in service, at 4pm, and arrived in Båtsfjord around 8pm. Had dinner on a bench near the harbour, and waited for the Kirkenes-bound boat.

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Ekkerøy - Vardø

Left around 8am and arrived in Vardø around noon. No campsite available and I’m gonna catch the Hurtigruten boat to Kirkenes tomorrow morning at 4am, so I checked into a hotel. Freaking expensive for what’s on offer, even after a discount, but I’m used to that by now.

After exactly 10 weeks of traveling and 5500km of cycling I’d arrived at the easternmost point of Norway as well as my trip.

Update: Murmasnk is even further to the east, but at that time I didn’t know I’d go there.

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Tana bru - Ekkerøy

The day promised to be beautiful, not a single clound in the sky, and a cooling and strong tail wind blowing.

Crossed the Tana and rode further to the east, towards Vadsø, the capital of the Finnmark fylke (county), along the northern shore of the Varangerfjord. Stopped at a museum showing Sámi art and which is built close to an ancient Sámi settlement and burial site.

Camping wasn’t possible in Vadsø, especially the island of Vadsøya, so I cycled on eastward. Right outside the town I met a frenchman pushing his bicycle. He had cycled here from France, approx. 6500km, and now had a flat tyre and flat spare tubes. He didn’t want any help as he was heading to Vadsø anyway to catch the Hurtigruten ship to Kirkenes in the morning.

After 90km I stopped on the peninsula of Ekkerøy and camped near a nature reserve.

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Ifjord - Tana bru

Rode east from Ifjord. Crossed the Ifjordfjellet, which was amazing. Watched Sámi people drive reindeers in the village of Skadjájávri. At the river Tana the road turned south, towards the town of Tana bru, which I reached after 91km of cycling.

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