A Weekend with King Crab & Northern Lights in Kirkenes in Norway
Suddenly I discover myself looking again through the window of the boat, self-absorbed. It's amazing how this landscape affects me, after crossing the Arctic Circle days ago. The closest mountains and fjords have a small white layer on their summit. It's been a couple of days since the snow is making an appearance. You can tell that winter is coming. I keep thinking of reaching Kirkenes in one of the most remote cities of peninsular Norway.
Without hardly realizing it, it has been getting dark. It is still early but the sun has just set and the darkness is taking over outside. My stomach roars. I look at the clock and see that it's time for dinner. So while I try to guess what it will be like to eat tonight, I pick up my things and start going down to the fifth floor. There is the restaurant.
It does not matter, everything is absolutely delicious in the ship's restaurant! I order one of the typical foods of Norway that we could try on the boat: reindeer meat. It was exquisite. Sometimes the hours on the boat are enlivened with performances. A military band offered several concerts during my stay at the Trollfjord.
When I arrive I see that it is overflowing with people. Sure, it makes sense. The excursion we have made today to North Cape has made us have lunch earlier than we expected. So at this time we're hungry! I did well to bring some cinnamon cookies for the road. I could eat them while we were going by bus on those lonely and winter roads to the northernmost point of all Europe. I cannot believe I was there! At last one of my biggest dreams has come true.
After dinner and after a while chatting with my travel companions, I go to my cabin. I put on my pajamas and go to bed thinking about what awaits us tomorrow. We will arrive in Kirkenes, already on the border with Russia, on the Barents Sea coast. That will be our final destination. As I have been told, it is a very special place, where Russians and Norwegians mix, making the town a rather curious place. I have read that it is the perfect destination for king crab fishing. I'm sure it must be a real delicacy.
Without even realizing it, at some point, the gentle rocking of the boat makes me fall asleep. Then I begin to dream. I imagine myself in a small cabin in a fjord. Dozens of crabs surround me. Someone is responsible for cooking them in a large pot of boiling water. I enjoy a gigantic gastronomic tribute. Of those that I know will take me to repeat in my life.
Suddenly the alarm sounds. I open my eyes and jump out of my bed. I shower and, as I put the last things in my suitcase, I look for the last time at the landscape through the window. How lucky to have woken up with these views during the last week.
I take the opportunity to make the last photographs from the highest deck of the ship. At 9:45 am, according to the schedule, the ship docks at the port.
We are at the mouth of the Pasvikelva River, which acts as a natural border. The port is very much within the fjord, so the Gulf streams do not arrive easily and their waters often freeze. Outside there is -10º, it's still autumn and it's not cold. During the winter they can reach -45º . However, our guide tells us that from -35 º the thermal sensation does not change, it does not matter!
I leave the cabin and go with my suitcase to reception. While under the stairs of the ship I meet those who begin their journey today. I stare at them, envious. The wheel keeps turning and the ship will sail towards Bergen in a few hours.
I move forward little by little, getting further and further away from him. I stop for a second. I look back and see it, imposing docked in the harbor. It dawns as we cross the Varanger fjord where remains of buildings from 9000 BC have been found. We are waiting for the imminent arrival in the city of Kirkenes, the end of our trip and the border with Russia.
The most beautiful cruise in the world has come to an end, but we still have an intense day in Kirkenes. Well wrapped up we said goodbye to what has been our home the last five days. There is a feeling of sadness. The good old moments make an invisible arm pull me inside. The group barely speaks. This time we will leave to not enter again. We liked to hear that metallic voice of the ticket checker when he said: Wellcome.
The first thing we had to do was pick up the new rental car. And there I meet Jan. Even if Jan was not the only person on the pier, I would have identified him anyway. He has a long white beard and a round belly, who lives in Scandinavia. He is not Santa Claus, but is still a legendary figure in the Norwegian region. Jan is the one who saved a tradition already widespread at the time of the Viking kings: the smoking of herrings.
Jan, then offers me a coffee. As I try to swallow the drink too hot and too light, Jan starts telling me the story of the Norwegian herring. He struggles to express himself in English. Sometimes he uses words in German and Norwegian, but the passion for that does not prevent him from being understood.
He tells me how one of his earliest memories is that of the smell of herring that his mother roasted directly on the coals of the kitchen fire. He tells me about big silver fish that were first roasted, then hung above the fireplace to smoke. The herrings were served in salads, or together with boiled potatoes.
We begin by visiting the city, its colored houses surely to brighten the darkness of winter. Kirkenes was invaded by the Nazis during the Second World War and there they established their Navy base with a view to entering Russia. The allies bombed the city until it was completely destroyed. Little more than 10 houses remained standing.
However, the Germans built a large anti-aircraft bunker 8 meters deep and there the inhabitants of the city took refuge during the bombings. They say that only 8 people died as a result of the attacks. It is the Andersgrotta bunker where they showed us a video explaining the tragedy lived by Kirkenes during the World War.
Next to the bunker is the famous sign that the Germans put in that place pointing out the distances to other cities. The border of Storskog, the official border with Russia, is 15 km away . It was in 1926 when borders and border crossings were delimited. And this was a very tense area during the years of the Cold War.
But what really interest us about Kirkenes is the portentous nature that surrounds it. A snowmobile allows us to enter the icy surface of a fjord. Up there a real crab fisherman takes us. In the middle of the fjord, it has its own hatchery: a hole in the ice under which its Arctic "punt" is installed.
From it, she extracts half a dozen of these crustaceans, huge specimens from a Soviet experiment. In 1961 they introduced crabs from the North Pacific into the Barents Sea. The environmental conditions did the rest, until giving rise to these crabs that can reach two meters in length, from end to end of their legs, the only thing (and enough is) that is eaten.
The stop in Kirkenes also provided for crab fishing but was canceled due to the low temperatures. This cold so strong, however, gives us a show even more special than the previous ones. In fact, the snow is so strong that it stops on the branches and completely covers them. The effect is to move in an artificial forest. The banquet takes place in our fisherman's restaurant.
It is an isolated wooden house in the middle of an Arctic forest covered by more than half a meter of snow. No more is needed as the legs of the crabs are sufficient source of protein for the rest of the day. The snowmobile serves us to leave the mountain and return to the road.
My next appointment is the Gabba park, near the ice hotel in Kirkenes. Here we can see some reindeer and some typical Sami shops , but, above all, I expect a hundred husky dogs. They are beautiful, restless and nervous already tied to the harnesses for a race through the ice.
We sledge through the frozen lake next to the snow hotel. They tell me that the layer of ice that separates us from the water is about 25 centimeters thick. Too thin, I fancy, for the weight of a sled. But it is normal.
The barking of the dogs and the sledding of the sled in the ice is the only sound I hear as we glide across the frozen lake. Despite being driven by an experienced Norwegian driver, we turned in one of the turns. Fortunately, the snow is soft. We just have to recover verticality and continue the spectacular ride. The huskies receive their reward in the form of nutritious fish.
Seeing how the ice cracks in each of our footsteps is something that worries a little when we know that below there is a lake of icy water. A quiet snowshoe ride serves to relax the adrenaline of the speed of the sled. Now it is us and the frozen nature, and nothing more. It is the most direct contact. I walk in the middle of a frozen landscape and understand the enormous difficulty of everyday life above the 70th parallel.
Who'd say! Admiring the views and the reflection of the clouds and mountains in the waters of the fjord there is so much peace. How much beauty! It's late, or rather, during all the hours of light on our trip it's been getting dark. The sun stays almost on the horizon during the time it accompanies.
As of November, it will not show up again until January. Then during the summer months you can enjoy, on the contrary, the midnight sun. The icing on the cake is left. Now the northern lights can appear at any time since the king star says goodbye. The clear day, the arctic winter and temperatures around 12 degrees below zero make it possible for the northern light to illuminate the night.
So before nightfall we have to follow the route because we are waiting for a quick boat trip to pick up King Crab pots and prepare lunch. It was a great experience and a beautiful evening from the cabin where we went to prepare the king crab. Walking along the coast of the fjords we were taken to see another German bunker dug in the fjord stone.
While the colors are changing, the afternoon light is reflected in the snow. We see the miraculous rock of the Sami and where they used to go before harvesting the crops. Two silhouettes were very important to them. A woman prostrate to give birth and a finger pointing to the sky.
Then in the cabin our guide explains many curiosities, the origin, and other information about the king crab. The moon came to the small wooden hut. It seemed between trees to say until soon. Already back to the city we expected the best of surprises. The farewell award. The illusion of anyone traveling to the Arctic Circle at this time of year. The northern lights!
The first one appeared in the concourse of the hotel while we waited for the car to go to dinner. Everyone was starved of hunger. We could see how the aurora came out after the snowy mountain spreading its green. I think I've never seen anything so beautiful.
The second aurora surprised us while we dined at the fabulous ice hotel. But I could not photograph it. The third aurora, the one that made us scream with more enthusiasm, because we no longer had her, was the one that came to say goodbye between clouds while we walked towards the hotel after a final beer. This time it looked like a big worm that stretched and shrunk in a capricious way.
Only the lucky ones who have witnessed this spectacle of nature know what I mean when I speak of emotion. For the rest, I promise you that it is something unique, magical and very special. I'm lucky! But tonight we wait for them on top of a hill, with an icy fjord in front of us. From midnight on, the northern lights begin to dye the sky green on us . It is one of those shows for which we must give thanks to nature.
Just 15 kilometers from Kirkenes, Russia begins. Tonight we are approaching the border post. At this time it is closed and we cannot see a soul. A poster in three languages tells us that the Schengen territory ends here and another world begins. It is also the end of the trip.