Sunday, May 13, 2007

A thousand miles to cross the Finnish line

Some midnight fun.

At around 1600+ km or very close to 1000 miles, we reach the Finland-Norway border*. We're well and truly past my former most northerly point of Kiruna (site of the February Ice Hotel adventures, and visible on the map at left) - in fact I'd past that well before Inari yesterday. Having done all of this on the surface feels a little less like cheating. Prior to this expedition, my most northerly point was Lossiemouth in Scotland, but even that latitude was crossed at almost the exact place we stopped on the beach in Latvia about two weeks ago.

The border was crossed without any difficulty, helped enormously by the complete lack of anyone there to look at our paperwork, including Bondi's pet passport. All the clocks went back an hour to GMT+1 (Oslo time) even though we're east of Helsinki (GMT+2).

The daring buds of May; I wondered what became of Dame Undertoy...

From there it was on to Kirkenes, the most easterly town on the Arctic Highway. There's really not much to see, and having spent 2 hours not seeing the unseen, retraced 40km of highway to the junction from Finland.

Our day's destination was Vardø, most easterly point in Norway, which meant a long circuit of a fjord to reach a point of Kirkenes. At a bit over 31 degrees East, we'd be directly north of Cairo.
We first passed through the larger port of Vadsø, but there was nothing to capture my interest there, so continued on the final 75km along a somewhat desolate but often harshly beautiful road. The last 3 km of the journey are via a tunnel under the sea, connecting mainland to Vadsø. Built 25yrs ago, it was the first such tunnel in Norway.

Vardø was initially appealing and I thought I could probably justify an overnight stay here. One of the Hurtigruten ferries was just loading, although in hindsight I wished I had taken it, rather than waiting for the next day's ferry. Accommodation options were expensive. Norway is expensive. Hotel rates for this barren village start at about 1000NOK, which is about 150€ (the cost of my last 2 nights' accommodation). I went to the tourist information centre, but when I walked in I was told in no uncertain terms that they were closed and were not going to give me any help finding accommodation. The only place in town with a bed marker had no one answering the door on the 3 times I stopped by. Everything else was closed, even - to my alarm - the sole petrol station, which only had pumps requiring European chip-and-PIN cards. Thankfully an out-of-town coach driver pulled in and offered to use his card in return for cash so I could put in another fuel to at least get back to Vadsø.

I tried a few of the villages along the way, but each of the places marked as offering a bed were unattended and had no number to call. I eventually got to Vadsø again, and found that the hotels indicated as cheaper in the guidebook had knocked their rates up to 1100NOK or more. I tried the camp site out of town, hoping to get a cabin. The office was empty and the phone number indicated was unattended. I called around some places further south but they were even more expensive (1400K / 200€). Thankfully the Rica Vadsø had cheaper weekend rates and I got a room at under 900€. Fairly shattered after the long day, I huddled in bed, my brain being further battered by the finals of the Eurovision song contest.

*This border also demarcates a problem in Microsoft AutoRoute 2007 which is unable to calculate any route that crosses this line: it insists you travel in a big loop for several days,crossing through Sweden rather than drive the short distance to Kirkenes. All the border crossings on this frontier have the same problem.

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