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Our Havila Coastal Voyage, Part 2: Norwegian Cousins, Puffins and Looking for the Witches’ Monument

snowy mountains with water in the foregraound

Previously, I shared the highlights of the first half of our Havila Coastal Voyage up the coast of Norway. Today, let’s talk about the second half of the Norwegian cruise, from Tromso up around the top of the Scandinavian peninsula, to the final destination, Kirkenes. By this time, the nine-deck, 350-passenger Havila Castor was starting to feel like home. We had perfected our jacuzzi routine

(before getting in, stash jammies and robes in the sauna to keep them dry). As we approached ports, we now automatically headed out on deck, instead of waiting by the Deck 4 exit. Now that we were in the Arctic, more and larger patches of snow dappled the hills. But the weather wasn’t really colder than it had been during the first half of our cruise. In fact, since the sun shone more during the second half, it felt warmer.

Day 5: Stockmarknes-Tromso-Skjervoy

A wooden dock backed by houses in rural coastal Norway.
Just a little town we passed after Finnsness. According to my iPhone, it’s called Gibostad.

On the afternoon of the fifth day, we actually sunbathed on Havila Castor’s deck for a few minutes. But then the wind picked up, forcing me to put my fleece back on. On this evening, excursions director Askjay announced that whales could be spotted on either side of the ship. Mom and I were out on deck at the time. We rushed to one side and looked, and looked … and looked. We never spotted so much as a water spout. But Erik and Toth later told me they saw at least one whale through our cabin window.

Finnsnes

Ports: Recovering from our late-night venture into Trollfjord, we slept through four quick ports in the early hours before quickly jumping off at Finnsness at 11 a.m.

I don’t remember much about Finnsness, except that I took a photo of this statue, which was apparently of a chieftan named Ottar, who visited King Alfred of England in the 9th century and may have been the first person to refer to this country as “Norge” in the rest of Europe. “Norge” basically means “up North.” Also, Finnsness has tons of trees.

In the afternoon, we disembarked at the port we were most looking forward to, because we were meeting relatives there: Tromso. The skies, which had been partly sunny in the morning, suddenly clouded over, and as we walked toward the cafe where we were to meet our family, we noticed that there were seagulls everywhere in Tromso. Every roof line and statue was a potential roost for noisy gulls.

A statue in front of a yellow church.
The church in the middle of Tromso.

We met Marit, her husband Anders and their son Jonas, had coffee and beer, and talked for quite awhile, me taking notes as I learned things we had not known about Great Grandma Jensen’s family. (The most exciting news, to my parents: My father’s great-uncle belonged to the resistance in WWII. The most exciting news, to me: The house where my great grandmother grew up is now a vacation rental. I can’t wait to plan another trip to go stay there!) Then our relatives walked us around Tromso, which is such a sweet little town, with a lot of interesting statues and art. They pointed out the adorable little church in the middle of town, where they had gotten married. Jonas and Toth are about a year apart in age, and they walked together, talking about their respective schools and, of course, video games. While we were walking around, the sky cleared to a brilliant blue, and everything looked even prettier.

A white modern church with a snowy mountain in the background.
The iconic modern white church in Tromso. Check out all that snow on the mountain!

Tromso is on a smaller island between two larger islands. Marit pointed out Tromsdalen, the suburb just across the water, where a modern church shaped like a big white triangle stood. That was where they live now, and that is their church, she told us. They had bicycled to meet us — I guess they took a ferry across the water? We didn’t think to ask. They did tell us about their plans for the rest of the week, which was vacation time for them: They were driving down to Great-Grandma’s village, Visthus, the same area we’d passed on the ship in the middle of the previous night. The 500-mile drive would take them more than 12 hours — and they had to time it carefully in order to make several car ferries along the way. We began to understand why all these little towns have their own airstrips. We asked if they ever took one of these ships to travel domestically instead, since they are also working ferries. They said no — too slow and too expensive.

We really got on well with the whole family. Although this was a four-hour stop, before we knew it, it was time to return to the Castor. Back on the ship, I stood on deck and watched Tromso and Tromsdalen float away from us. With the sun kissing everything, it was perhaps the second most beautiful moment of the trip, after Trollfjord. The saturated colors, the iconic church … I drank it all in, took zero photos, and enjoyed the moment. (OK, I admit this is because I had just left my phone in the cabin accidentally, but still.)

Day 6: Oksfjord-Honningsvag-Berlevag

Suddenly it was our last full day on the Castor. I realized with shock that I hadn’t even unpacked the travel Scrabble set. It felt we were always doing something, whether it was eating another delicious meal, rushing outside to look at something cool, or heading out to explore a port. Today, we officially turned the corner on Norway, and began heading east rather than north.

The crew provided us with our bill, showing all the extras we’d ordered, like the drinks package, the upgrade to the fancy Hildring restaurant, any drinks that weren’t ordered through the drinks package, purchases in the shop, etc. I found a few errors — like a few drinks that were charged separately instead of on the drinks package, and once or twice when we’d been charged for mixer separately from a gin and tonic. I got those removed from the bill, but not without several round trips from the reception desk to the bar to the restaurant. It seems there was a little confusion about who was authorized to remove which charges. However, all the staff members were kind and friendly while sending me on these rounds.

A rock formation with water
Finnkirka, or the “Sami cathedral”

The sun played peek-a-boo with us again, shining most of the day, then suddenly disappearing as if a great gray curtain had just fallen over the sky. Just before we pulled into the harbor of Kjollefjord, we saw Finnkirka, which the crew referred to as a Sami cathedral.

Finnkirka, a rock formation
Finnkirka

Besides being a sacred Sami site, apparently this rock formation is a place where all kinds of sailors have made offerings for safe passage.

The first rough seas of the trip began rocking the ship. Great gushes of water flew out of the jacuzzis, swamping the deck. Erik felt seasick, and I did a little, but I put on a scopalamine patch, which helped. So did lying down.

Tiny birds skim the surface of the water.
Puffins skimming the water near Berlevag, at 11 p.m.

At around 11 p.m., as we headed into the port of Berlevag, some fellow passengers pointed out puffins skimming the water. I wish I’d had my binoculars handy, because they are small and I could barely see them, but you can make them out in the photo.

trees growing on a steep hillside above Honningsvag, Norway
Trees planted on the steep hillside behind Honningsvag are protected by snow fences.

Ports: We disembarked at Honningsvag from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Erik, Toth and I admired a statue of a WWII canine hero, Bamse. We bought some postcards, stopped at the tourist office for advice on where to take a short hike, then walked up to the hiking trail through a neighborhood, admiring gardens and their hand-labeled mailboxes.

stone steps up a mountain
We climbed a path and a lot of steps up the hill in Honningsvag.

We had to hike pretty briskly, because we wanted to eat lunch during our regular reservation back on board.

Ship in harbor in Norway
Our ship in the harbor in Honningsvag.

After admiring the view from the hill, we hurried back to Havila Castor, ate our final lunch of the cruise, then disembarked again to visit the Honnigsvag Nordkap museum. We couldn’t tell by looking around, but Honningsvag is on a large island, Mageroya, situationed north of the northern coast. Nordkap, the official northernmost point of Europe, is at the top of the island, about 15 miles north of us. We were skipping the excursion to Nordkap, since it looked cold and windy.

Sign about an attempt to introduce penguins to northern Norway.
The Nordkap Museet in Honningsvag had a lot of intersting information, but this tidbit made me laugh.

At the museum, we also learned a lot of WWII history. Apparently this village greatly as the Nazis fought Russia, and at some point the whole town was evacuated.

Late that evening, after returning from our excursion, I went out on deck to look at Berlevag, where we would not be allowed to disembark. I saw a four-wheeler drive down the long road to the port, then park facing our ship. As the crew threw down the ropes to the waiting port worker to secure the ship, a car showed up, and parked right next to the four-wheeler. The car window rolled down, and the two drivers talked as they sat and looked at our ship. Clearly our arrival was the big event of a Friday night in Berlevag.

A woman in Sami traditional dress shows a drum.
Elinor shows a Sami drum at Davvi Sida

Excursion: We disembarked at Kjollefjord, a town with a pretty white church and a few buildings, and watched the Castor sail off without us before we were loaded onto a bus to visit Davvi Siida, a lodge, shop and presentation space run by Ellinor Guttorm Utsi and Ailu Utsi. I’ll write about this intriguing visit in a separate post.

airstrip in front of the ocean in northern Norway
Most of these little towns have their own airports. Here’s Mehamn’s.

After our visit, the bus brought us to another cute tiny village, Mehamn (with its own airstrip) to join the ship at about 7 p.m.

Day 7: Batsfjord-Vardo-Kirkenes

I started the final day of the trip in the hot tub, just after midnight. At first I thought I would break my every-night tradition of ending the day in the jacuzzi, because the tubs had lost so much water in the rough seas. But I found that they had refilled and felt warm enough, so I went in all alone. It was funny to feel the water sloshing around me as the boat moved. Now that we were so far north, the “sunset” was just happening now, after midnight. Changing into my jammies in the sauna room so late at night, on a deserted ship, felt a little nerve wracking. Indeed it probably wasn’t the safest thing for a woman to do, but fortunately no one showed up to bother me.

After drying off, I didn’t go to bed. Instead I grabbed my jacket and headed to the ship door on Deck 4, because we were just heading into Batsfjord, which was supposed to be a 30-minute stop.

After a night interrupted by several port stops (see the Ports section), we had to be out of our cabin at 8, which was hard to do both emotionally and physically, since we had gotten used to sleeping late.

A waiter takes a woman's order in a ship's dining room.
Our favorite waiter, Vikram, uses his handheld device to put in our order.

Then we went to breakfast, ordering more food than usual since this was our final meal here. We said goodbye to Vikram, our favorite waiter.

The ship docked in Kirkenes as we ate, but we weren’t required to leave until shortly before its 12:30 p.m. departure. The crew was bustling around preparing for the new passengers; setting up the tables where people would book their dinner reservations, etc.

From the deck, we believed we could see the Airbnb where we’d be staying, on a bluff facing the sea. Erik and I decided to disembark to walk to it, in order to figure out if Dad would be able to make the walk later, or if we’d need to get a taxi.

Ports: After getting out of the hot tub, at about 1 a.m., I headed for Deck 4, where one older couple was waiting with their luggage to disembark at Batsfjord. I asked the sole crew member working if I could get off too, since this was supposed to be a 30-minute stop. She was not thrilled about it, and said I could go out for only about 10 minutes, while she waited for a passenger who was supposed to board here. She asked me not to leave the dock area. I took a few steps this way and that, looking at the few buildings under the midnight sun. There wasn’t much to see, so I returned to the ship, and the crew member closed the door immediately. She explained that she’d been wrong; the passenger would be waiting at the next stop.

I went to bed for a couple hours, enjoying the feeling of being rocked by rough seas. At 3 a.m., I threw my fleece on over my pajamas and headed out on deck to see the port of Vardo. I wished there had been time to disembark here, because a good friend of mine had told me about the Steilneset Memorial, aka the “Witches’ Memorial,” a monument and art installation dedicated to 91 people burned as witches here in the 1600s. I had already asked a crew member if you could see the monument from the ship, and had been told no, but I still wanted to try to catch a glimpse. In photos, the monument was clearly by the sea — and how big could this town be?

Th first thing I saw of Vardo was a lonely white lighthouse on a long flat rock. The town was made of close-set, colorful wooden houses, all with perfectly straight lines and white window trim. One red barn was decorated with white whale drawings, facing the sea for visitors like me to enjoy. A white church with a high, steep facade stood at one end of town. On a ridge stood four mysterious white globes. I later learned that these are radar buildings, because Vardo, positioned on the eastern extremety of the cock’s comb crowning Norway, is a defense station, directly in Russia’s line of sight. The loudest gang of seagulls I have ever heard swooped around the buildings, screaming their lungs out in an eerie chorus under the blue 3 a.m. sky. How anyone sleeps in that town in beyond me. They must have nightmares.

Cyclists in a port, viewed from a ship.
All these cyclists turned up at 4:45 a.m. in Vardo.

On the dock, eight people on bicycles waited for the boat, apparently just to get a look. This gave me the impression that not much else happens in Vardo. The town had the desolate, picturesque feel of a remote location in a sadly beautiful movie. And yet, just beyond the port building, the sign for an apotek (pharmacy) reminded me that the people who lived here were in their way ordinary Norwegians, not some artisticly tragic characters.

Once the Castor stopped in the harbor, I understood how the monument could have been on the sea, yet invisible to me here at the dock. The town is on a long skinny island, with water on both sides. I believe the harbor was across the island from the monument, so my pre-cruise idea of running over to see the monument from the ship would never had worked, even if they would have let me off during a 15-minute stop. Apparently the ship stops in Vardo for an hour on the southward journey, so I now hope to someday take the trip in that direction, with my friend along, so we can check out that monument together.

At around 9:30 a.m., in Kirkenes, Erik and I left the ship without our luggage, in order to scope out the situation in advance of my parents disembarking. I’ll write more about our overnight stay in this charming little town in another post, but briefly:

As we walked away from the ship, we saw Askjay, the excursions director, as well as Champ, another waiter we’d liked a lot. We were grateful for the chance to say goodbye to both of them.

Stairs down to a doorway.
We stopped by Andersgrotta, the WWII bomb shelter, and made a plan to tour it later.

We walked to our Airbnb, realized the hike would be too steep and long for Dad, then on the way back to the ship stopped at Andersgrotta, a WWII bomb shelter, and the tourist info office. Those stops helped us come up with a plan for our half day in Kirkenes. We returned to the ship, rejoined the family, gathered our luggage, chugged one last free coffee, and make our final disembarkation from the Castor.

When I first signed up to take a seven-day cruise, I wondered if being on a ship that long would make me stir crazy. Reality was the opposite. Walking down the ramp for the last time, we felt bereft, as if we were being evicted. Once in our Airbnb, which had a distant view of the harbor, we looked back at the Castor nostalgically. We already missed the crew — not to mention being cooked for and having new scenery to look at every time we looked up. Now that I have taken a Havila Coastal Voyage, I can’t wait to do it again — next time from North to South.

MORE ON OUR MULTIGENERATIONAL TRIP TO ICELAND AND NORWAY

Our Havila Coastal Voyage, Part I

How the Havila Coastal Voyage is Different from Other Cruises

Everything You Need to Know About Boarding a Havila Coastal Voyage

Day 7 Part II: Boarding the Havila Castor

Day 7: Last Day in Bergen

Day 6: Exploring Bergen

Bryggen Walking Tour Review

Moxy Bergen Hotel Review

Day 5: Reykjavik to Bergen

The Iceland Phallological Museum (NSFW!)

Reykjavik Airbnb Review

Reykjavik Lebowski Bar Review

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Day 4: Iceland’s Golden Circle

Day 3: Reykjavik in a Day

Day 2: Arriving in Reykjavik

The Blue Lagoon

Day 1: Traveling from Chicago to Reykjavik

My Iceland Recommendations

Overview: Multigen Trip to Iceland and Norway Cruise

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