Tuesday, Sep 24
We set out this morning for the top of the world, at least as far as you can drive north in mainland Europe: Nordkapp. It was a 3+ hour drive from Alta. For the first hour or so, we drove through a section of high land with no trees. It appeared a barren wasteland, but we did see small herds of reindeer scattered around. They were difficult to photograph because their fur blends in with their surroundings to some degree (except the beautiful white reindeer). And they were pretty skittish when the car approached. But I did manage to get a decent video of a small group of them crossing the road. Click here to see the video. Such beautiful creatures!
After about an hour, we left the barren highlands and settled in to the usual Norwegain roads that hug the coastline as mountains rise directly to the right of left. These mountains are lower than the ones around Tromsø and Alta, and thus not snow capped. It turns out, I sort of missed seeing the snow capped mountains in the distance. At one point, Jeff called from the back seat, “There’s something in the water.” Sure enough, there were a few dolphins swimming along, their fins poking above the water like old fashioned typewriter keys. We glimpsed another group of dolphins later in the day (thanks again to the watchful eye of Jeff).
As the road wound along the coast, we went through several more tunnels, including our longest one so far. It was 6.6 km long (4.1 miles) and went under a fjord to take us to our destination island. Because it was a tunnel, I didn’t even realize we were heading on to an island until we looked back at the map later. We also passed a construction site where they are building a new tunnel farther inland than what looked to be the oldest and most disrepaired tunnel we’ve seen so far. I guess tunnel work just never ends here in Norway.
We reached the top of the world (Nordkapp) around 1:00. It was only 41 degrees outside, and very windy. We took our obligatory photo next to the King Oscar monument. He came here early in Norway’s history and an obelisk was erected to commemorate his visit. We also took the obligatory photo farther out on the rock peninsula at the globe monument, erected much later. That one we had to wait until the tour buses left so that we could get a shot without Chinese tourists proudly holding up their flag, each taking a turn with the flag and wrestling comically with it in the wind. We also enjoyed watching as one guy proudly jumped off the monument, flag waving, and slid right onto his butt. : )
Inside, we mailed a couple of postcards from the top of the world and had a bite to eat in their not-so-awesome-in-the-off-season cafe. Literally the only “real” food options we had were a tomato based soup, a smoked salmon wrap, or a hot dog. The rest were pastries and coffee. We were not impressed, especially later when I read the brochure they’d handed us on our way in claiming we could “tuck into an exquisite meal” with a “wide range of hot and cold dishes.”
Below the restaurant, they had dug into the bedrock and created an underground cavern that included a pretty cool panorama film. This was a 15 minute film of gorgeous scenes from Nordkapp and the surrounding area with soaring music worthy of Game of Thrones as background. My favorite scene (and a somewhat baffling one) was of a herd of reindeer disembarking from the belly of a ferry boat and running off into the hills. Not sure why reindeer needed to ride a ferry, but hey. There was also a Cave of Lights with several dioramas of historical significance to the area, such as when the King of Siam visited in 1907 and carved his signature on a rock (what? Graffiti by a king?). At the bottom of the sloping ramp was a large room with a light and movie show. It was a bit arty for us, but I did enjoy lounging on the big, cushy rock shaped chairs that they had sitting around. The brochure shows a bank of windows looking out of the rock wall toward the north, but we didn’t see any such thing. That would have been really cool. It seems maybe they decided not to put them in, but still use the artist’s rendering in their brochures.
On the afternoon’s 3+ hour drive to our next destination, Hammerfest, we saw even more reindeer. And the views were more beautiful than they had been on the way up. They seemed more expansive when viewed from the north. As we approached Hammerfest, we drove through a few small villages hugging the fjord. In one of them we saw about 50 reindeer scattered through the village. They were lounging in people’s yards and eating their carefully manicured bushes. They were as numerous as squirrels in Asheville. I suspect they can be quite a nuisance. We arrived at our hotel (we’re staying in a hotel for these 3 nights in Hammerfest since the Airbnb listings were a bit sparse in this part of the world) around 6:00pm. The guy at reception announced that it was Vaffle Tirsdag (waffle Tuesday). I was pretty exhausted from all the driving (even though I was just a passenger) so I opted for a vaffle with cream cheese and jam, folded in half to make a sandwich for dinner, rather than head out to find a restaurant.