A disappointing steak, Norwegian coastline and the North Cape, Honningsvåg: Home to gale-force winds, Bouncing Bird Safari, North Cape Midnight Sun Show, World’s shortest walking excursion, Help leaving the dock

Yesterday (July 10), we cruised off the northwest coast of Norway. It was actually quite pleasant, with partly cloudy skies, calm seas, and temperatures in the mid-50’s. Steve posted some pictures yesterday while we still have Internet service. We will be out of range of the INMARSAT satellites and MTN service, due to the low angle of the receiver on the ship and our high latitude, starting on Sunday and likely through Thursday of next week. We should still be able to post stuff about Honningsvåg, Murmansk and Hammerfest, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for a while!!

Tuesday night (July 9) we had dinner in the Polo Grill, the specialty restaurant steakhouse on Nautica. We both ordered the 7-oz filet and started off with soups. I had the lobster bisque, which was excellent, and Steve had a passable clam chowder. However, the entrees took a long, long time to get to us (we were at a shared table for six and three of them had to get the whole Maine lobster). By the time we got our steak and waited for the staff to shell the lobsters, our steak was lukewarm and dry. We decided not to complain and ask for another one, as they seemed to be somewhat chaotic getting orders done and we didn’t want to wait longer. In contrast, my Jacques Pepin NY strip steak in the regular old Grand Dining Room the other night was perfect. Well, it is time to fill out the mid-cruise comment cards, so we will note our disappointment. The food in every other venue has been consistently good to excellent.

Our ship is under the command of Captain Hansen; he is from the Faroe Islands and is very youthful-looking and is really sweet with his fractured English, but he does have a lot of good information. He steered our ship close to the base of the dramatic cliffs at the North Cape (Nordkapp). Our final sail-in to Honningsvåg was spectacular as we maneuvered into the narrow bay, did a nearly full turn and pulled into the dock.

The North Cape is on the same island as Honningsvåg (the island is called Magerøya). We had a private tour for 14 of us that departed 7:30 pm; everyone was dressed in many layers, but the cold, biting gale-force wind was challenging and we had occasional rain and sleet showers all evening. We all piled into a nice little mini-bus with our wonderful guide Ronald. Our first destination was the tiny fishing village of Gjesvaer, where we boarded a small vessel for a journey to the some islands nearby that are home to millions of birds, including arctic terns, puffins, kittiwakes, black-backed gulls, razorbills, guillemots, shags, cormorants, and sea eagles, to name a few. We descended into a lower seating area and were told to put on thermal suits. After experiencing the slippery deck at the dock, I decided to play it safe and stay inside, so I did not don a suit. We headed out of the village and had a “fun”, very bouncy ride out to the islands.

Steve went out on deck with his camera and hung on for dear life. I sat on a bench in the mid-deck area, but was soon offered the second pilot’s seat on the bridge deck (awesome). Our captain and guide was very nice and quite knowledgeable and his red-haired teen-aged son was the crew hand. We cruised back and forth and saw literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of birds; the seas were littered with cute, tiny puffins who scattered as we approached. We also some sea eagles and many of the other birds noted in the list above. After about an hour, we headed back to the dock. Walking back to mini-bus, we passed a drying rack for cod (nice aroma!).

We boarded the bus and took the highland route to the North Cape. On our way, we stopped at a Sami camp; the Samis are the indigenous people of the Arctic regions of Norway, Finland and Russia and used to be known as Lapplanders. The Sami herder at the camp was dressed in full costume, standing next to a beautiful white reindeer who got upset when he ran out of dried lichen to eat. We also saw several herds of reindeer in the area. We arrived at the North Cape at 11:00 pm and were told to meet the bus at 12:30 am. This beautiful facility was jam-packed with loads of tour buses, apparently from land tours, as we were the only cruise ship in Honningsvåg (at least until today). The North Cape center charges 240 NOK for a car entry, which is about $45. We ventured out first to the viewpoint; I got about 3/4 of the way there and gave up, feeling like the howling wind was going to knock me down. It was cloudy and the intermittent rain came in sideways, sometimes mixed with snow. We went into the facility and found a seat at the restaurant right by the windows. Steve grabbed two Ringnes beers and a dessert (about $40) and we watched people going out on the cliff top fighting the winds. This large place also has a cinema, a massive gift shop and a museum that includes information about the Allied convoys to and from Murmansk in WWII. The battle of the North Cape took place in this area in December, 1943, resulting in a devastating loss for the Germans. I honestly can’t fathom what the weather would have been like, seeing how miserable it was here in mid-July. Honningsvåg was one of the many towns in this area that had a forced evacuation at the end of WWII. All the people were ordered to suddenly leave with what they could carry on their backs. As the Germans retreated, they torched towns, businesses, boats, churches and homes, leaving complete devastation in their wake. How sporting of them..

As we sat in the restaurant, we noticed that the clouds were getting lighter. Lo and behold, just before midnight, the sun emerged, resulting in cheers from the visitors and a mad dash to the doors to get photos. Steve got some great shots, I watched from inside, then we bought a cheap ($8) magnet to hold up our refrigerator. Just before we left, the sun appeared again, even more beautifully, and the crazy rush outside occurred one more time.

Our drive back got us to the dock at about 1:00 am, where we fought the gale-force winds to get to the gangplank. We enjoyed our tour, however, and are in awe of the hardy people that actually live year-round in this scenic, but godforsaken place with miserable weather. We slept in a little late, then contemplated going out for a stroll around the town. We bundled up, headed down the gangplank, then walked almost all the way down the dock with the frigid wind nearly lifting us off our feet (I almost lost my cane several times). We looked at each other, and immediately turned around and fought our way back to the gangplank and re-boarded. Apparently, we didn’t miss anything, except for a few crapola emporiums, an Ice Bar that charged a small fortune to go in to have a non-alcoholic drink (you needed a second mortgage to get a real drink), and a few quaint fishing facilities.

The time came for our departure. The Captain actually got help from a local rescue boat group that had a large supply ship, which roped up on the starboard side and helped us break free from the dock in the high winds. Otherwise, our departure would have been delayed three hours until a tug service showed up. Folks who saw the Seabourn Pride arrive this morning said that they had great difficulty docking, having to try several times. However, the Hurtigruten ferry seemed to cruise right in. Hmmm – pays to cruise these waters regularly. What an experience!! This is certainly not a deck cruise, although we did eat lunch outside at Waves Grill, which is quite sheltered.

Tonight, we are cruising east towards Murmansk in the Barents Sea. We have to set our clocks forward TWO hours tonight to Russian time (bizarre). Tomorrow will be the general scrum with the passport approvals before going on our ship excursion. Quite honestly, this has been a very, very interesting cruise so far (and not too tiring).

Stay tuned…

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