Icebreakers and Russian Northern Fleet, Hammerfest: A charming and prosperous town, Membership in a unique society

Our departure from Murmansk was fascinating yesterday. We slowly headed out past the industrial docks, where coal trains were being unloaded onto ships. The “Lenin”, the first nuclear icebreaker (commissioned in 1957 and decommissioned in 1989) was visible in a dry dock at Atomflot, the home of the nuclear icebreaker fleet. A large group from our ship did a private tour to the Lenin, which was characterized by some of them as a very long walk on a rusting and unsafe pier to the vessel, long climbs of vertiginous and unstable stairs into the Lenin itself, and lots of cramped mazes of compartments where you stood and listened to someone droning on about the vessel for long periods of time. Hope they all had their dosimeters on.

Near the Lenin, there were other nuclear icebreakers, including the Arktika, which was the first vessel to reach the North Pole in 1977. We saw other ships in dry dock, including a small aircraft carrier. We also got another view of Alyosha, the huge Russian soldier statue. Finally, we arrived near Severomorsk, the closed city of the Russian Northern Fleet. Sadly, there were no submarines visible in the area, but we did see a new destroyer, other types of naval vessels, and a strange construction zone being developed underneath two huge towers.

We had dinner last night at the Terrace Cafe, and they had Russian favorites, including venison stew with Azerbaijan rice, two types of cabbage, pierogis, and other yummy stuff. Everyone enjoyed the backwards time change, where we gained back to two hours we lost going to Murmansk.

We had a great night’s sleep on smooth seas going westbound again, then got up to a few activities before we arrived in Hammerfest at 1:00 pm. We are locked firmly into the Team Trivia nonsense and usually we end up in first, second or third. I am planning to pick out my crappy white t-shirt as my fabulous prize for all of the Big-O points. .

Hammerfest is at roughly the same latitude as Honningsvåg and Point Barrow, Alaska, and has laid claim to being the northernmost Norwegian “city” (I wonder what Longyearbyen has to say about that?). We slowly made our way into port, waiting for the Hurtigruten Polarys to leave. Many of the residents of Hammerfest make their living at a nearby huge Liquified Natural Gas facility. Another cruise ship was docked across the bay, the AIDA Cara; AIDA is a cheap cruise line in Europe, mostly with German customers (they probably have good beer, though, an area lacking on Nautica). The town looked very charming, with beautifully designed new apartment buildings (no grey Stalin blocks here, thank you very much).

We disembarked, hoping to find the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society. The building was right by the ship (how convenient) and we entered to explore the free(!) small museum, documenting early life in Hammerfest, hunting in the Arctic Regions, and modern concerns for those pesky human beings. We decided to join the society, which came at a nominal cost of about $35 a person. I’m sure we will be on some annoying mailing list for the rest of our lives. You can only join in person in Hammerfest and the membership includes a certificate, a card, stickers and a unique polar bear pin. Obviously, polar bears are not in mainland Norway, but the town of Hammerfest has adopted the Polar Bear as its city symbol. We also bought T-Shirts and I got another fleece shirt, as I have run out of them and we may not get our second load of laundry back until Monday.

The temperature in Hammerfest today was in the low Fifties, with overcast skies and (blessedly) no wind. We walked around the town for a while after visiting the Society. We passed by the big Lutheran Church, where a wedding was underway, then went into the cemetery (Steve did not find any Sandes) and headed back to the main shopping street. We debated visiting the Museum of Reconstruction, about how the town was rebuilt after WWII, but we weren’t in a museum mood. We returned to the ship after slowly walking through the main street to have a late lunch at Waves. The contrast between Hammerfest and Murmansk is stark. This small town has thriving stores, restaurants, art galleries, neatly tended gardens, gorgeous Scandinavian design apartment buildings that look very roomy, and seems quite prosperous and even happy.

We sail at 7:00 pm to head north to Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen (one of the Svalbard islands). Tomorrow is a day at sea. My back has been bothering me a bit because of all of the stairs, hills and uneven ground that I’m walking on, so I will rest tomorrow before our doggy cart ride in the far north of Arctic Norway on Monday. We’re heading to Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Narwhal, Beluga, seal and Walrus country, but we probably won’t have Internet until we get back in the region of Finnmark (northern mainland Norway) on July 17, so you may have to wait for the exciting results of our exploration.

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