Thursday, June 22, 2017

Honningsvag, Norway

As we were zipping our suitcases for the final time before leaving Phoenix in May, I asked Cheryl…” honey, did you pack your bathing suit”? Her sarcastic response…” yeah, right”! Ultimately, we packed them…valuable space that should have been occupied with more layers of long underwear. Why don’t I listen to her more? I guess because I’m still just a big kid in many respects. I can’t recall in recent memory when we’ve been this cold. As I write, we’re still about 4 hours from docking in Honningsvag – outside temp is 36, winds are 40, & rain is in the forecast. I was up in the Lido earlier (about 4am) and noticed ice formations on a few of the windows…are you friggin kidding me?! It wasn’t this cold a few years ago in Antarctica, and we had a dusting of snow on our deck. The big difference are the winds – just relentless for the past few days. At this point, we’re not sure if we’ll even get off the ship. The Captain says we’ll be sailing past the North Cape before docking…so if that’s the case, WHY would we want to go 1,000 feet to the top when we can use a zoom lens from the warmth & comfort of our cabin? Hellllooooo!! I’m wrapped so tight and in so many layers right now that if I were to pass gas, my ankles would bulge 😊
To our friends Sandy & Jack from Florida who will be sailing this same route late July…pack heavy & warm. You won’t regret it! 


Our sail-in was truly beautiful, though we only saw the sun intermittently. With such harsh weather conditions, it’s hard to imagine how folks can live up here, but then we’ve had people ask us how we can tolerate the heat in Phoenix. I guess it’s all what you become accustom to in life. I remember as a kid growing up in Iowa how brutal the winters were – yet if it hit 32 degrees I’d be outside riding my little bike through the melting snow without a care in the world. My mother had a differing outlook & attitude when I walked in with wet shoes, socks & pants. I was often handed a mop as she threatened me with “the” wooden spoon! I think I was about 5 years-old before I realized my first name wasn’t Dammit. In fact, it was my kindergarten teacher who said, “no, now c’mon, that can’t be your first name”.

We docked at high noon, right on schedule. Honningsvag is situated at a bay on the southeastern side of the large island of Mageroya, while the famous North Cape and its visitors center is on the northern side of the island. The status of Honningsvag as a city is a point of contention between the inhabitants of Honningsvag and Hammerfest, which many foreigners may find strange, given the small size of both of these places. In Norwegian, the word "by" can mean both town and city and Norwegian does not distinguish between the terms in the same way as English or other languages do. The translation of the word into English is thus ambiguous and can be chosen as one sees fit. If both Hammerfest and Honningsvag were to be defined according to British tradition, neither of them would be considered cities, as neither has a university or a cathedral. Both of them would, however, be considered towns, given their status as municipal centers and function as economic hubs of their respective surrounding areas. Having said that, Honningsvag was declared a town in 1996 by the municipal council of Nordkapp. Thereafter, National legislation was passed in 1997 that states that a Norwegian city must have at least 5,000 inhabitants, but since Honningsvag was declared a city in 1996, it was exempt from this legislation. This makes it one of the smallest cities in Norway.

Even though Honningsvag is located at the northernmost extreme of Europe, it has a subarctic climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Also, there is no permafrost because the mean annual temperature is 36 °F. The July 24-hour average temperature is just over 50 °F. We should have waited another month! Weather in winter is softened by the ice-free ocean, and the average temperature is not as low as that of most other locations around this latitude. In fact, they say winters are warmer than those of Oslo, 880 miles to the southwest and eleven degrees of latitude farther from the north pole. Summers are cool and short. Mean annual precipitation is 30 inches. The wettest months are from October to January, with around 3 inches average precipitation per month, while the driest months are from May to July, with just under 2 inches average precipitation. Just our luck to encounter rain today! The sun is up for 24 hours per day between May 13th & July 31st, and remains below the horizon continuously from November 21st to January 21st. I can’t imagine living in complete darkness for two solid months.

We were off the ship by 12:15pm. We hadn’t booked a North Cape tour through the ship as the asking price per couple was $341.00…which buys you a 3-hour tour. As I’ve mentioned several times elsewhere in our blog, ship-sponsored tours are typically double that of what you can find on your own – not just Holland America, but all cruise lines unless you’re on an all-inclusive voyage. After walking the length of a football field, we were at the local tourist information center. Sure enough – they had a mini-van leaving in 15 minutes for the Cape – price per couple = $120.00 - we saved $220.00. Not only that, our small van left the port long before the ship-sponsored busses pulled out.

Though the wind was brutally cold, it was a warm ride with a friendly driver and some good music as we made our way about 21 miles up to the Cape. The scenery along the way was fantastic, passing small lakes, rolling snow-covered foothills and deep canyons several hundred feet straight down. Grazing along the roadside in several areas were beautiful reindeer. I must admit to you – I thought maybe they were large goats or some other eccentric animal found only this far north, because they were WHITE! Pardon my ignorance here, but I’ve always known Dancer, Prancer, & Rudolph to be brown…right? I mean, have you ever seen Santa’s sleigh being pulled by WHITE reindeer? I need to do a little more research on this one because obviously, I missed something over the years. Even the pelts sold in the local gift shops were white. Go figure…many other ‘dumb’ folks were surprised too! One other unexpected find – there are very few trees in this part of the world because of continual high winds. The only trees you’ll find are those planted next to homes, but none exceed the roofline and again, because of the winds. Notwithstanding, still a very beautiful drive and landscape.

Finally, the North Cape. We thought it was cold at sea level – little did we know! We had four layers of clothing, including thermal underwear, and we were still uncomfortable. At a thousand feet and nothing to obstruct them, the winds were savage and bone-chilling. We immediately headed for “The Globe” – a monument erected in 1977, which has become the symbol of the North Cape. Photos are a must…it’s the ultimate northern-most destination. Pelted with light rain, we then walked over to the “Children of the Earth” monument – a series of seven stone shrines designed in 1989 by seven children from various parts of the world to symbolize friendship, collaboration, hope, and happiness across all borders. If only…

The North Cape complex itself is a very modern structure complete with a reception area, restrooms, small restaurants, a gift shop, chapel, post office & theater. A ‘must see’ is a 20-minute video on giant surround-screens that takes you on a four-season journey through the North Cape countryside filled with contrasts, changing light and magnificent natural beauty. Watching this production makes you quickly realize…you’re not in Kansas anymore. As I reflect on many of the iconic destinations over the years, the North Cape definitely makes the top ten list. And in hindsight, I’d probably pay the ship’s full tour price if unable to make less expensive, individual plans. It was THAT good! 

Pardon many of the photos – taken in the wind, rain, & through foggy van windows…