It's Cold On Top of the World

Trip Start May 28, 2008
Trip End Aug 26, 2008

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Flag of Norway  , North Norway,
Friday, July 25, 2008


The North Cape of Norway is the official top of continental Europe. There is a nearby spit of land that extends a touch further, but Nordkapp has been recognized by the royal families of this region for a couple of centuries, and various early expeditions here are well documented - including the royal outings from Scandinavia, France, and Thailand. There is something of a tradition established that the North Cape is the end of the northern world, at least as far as Europeans are concerned.

When we arrive shortly before midnight, the sun is still up although hidden behind some of the clouds and fog which are common here. In winter, this area is frozen and blanketed by the leading edge of Arctic storms. Here the soaring cliffs above the Arctic Ocean catch the winds fully, and we are nearly blown over as we trek along the bluffs to enjoy the view. It is the middle of summer and the sun is up, but is also the Arctic at midnight and with the temperature is right around freezing (a little below with the wind chill). When our children complain on cool evenings that "it is freezing" we often remind them that this is not literally true and a bit of an exaggeration. This time they are 100% correct when they point out that it is freezing, and we all agree as we rummage for extra layers.

I stroll the windy hilltops outside the visitor center in just my T-shirt and shorts, and am perfectly comfortable and cooled down within 2 minutes. At 10 minutes, I can't run for my jacket fast enough! Most of our luggage was left in Rovaniemi, so we give Stirling my long sleeve shirt as an outer layer. With the extra fabric and high winds it almost looks like she will turn into a kite!

Travel Tip:

The Arctic is often very cold. When traveling north of Finland, to the top of Norway, and above the 71st parallel, it is advisable to bring a jacket. Duh.

Once the requisite family-on-top-of-the-world photos are taken at the official North Cape marker, we make a mad dash for the huge visitor complex, complete with heating, gift shop, café, restaurant, post office, hot chocolate, and most importantly today... waffles.

Although not at the peak, we did make it in time for the midnight sun. The sun hanging low along the horizon peeks out from behind the fog right around midnight, just in time for a few photos on the balcony outside the bar. The underground bar is set into a cliff over the ocean, facing north behind a large wall of glass to keep guests warm and happy while enjoying the bright midnight views in summer. In winter, this area is often in total darkness and it is much more difficult to reach this place (although some still do, in order to take in some great views of the Northern Lights).

Once warmed up, there is a chance to explore the underground complex set into the North Cape cliffs. Along the underground tunnel that leads to the cliff bar there is a theater (with a decent film on the North Cape), chapel, and a shrine dedicated to the last king of Thailand (who made a significant visit to Nordkapp early in the last century).

For WWII history buffs, there is an excellent display on the military events off Nordkapp involving the Germans, British, Soviets, Norwegians, Canadians, Americans, and Polish. There were some key naval battles fought here, as this was the northern route to get allied supplies to the Soviet Union. The Germans patrolled this area quite aggressively, and they believed the Allied invasion would likely come via Lapland or Scandinavia - not Normandy. The allied Murmansk Convoys lasted from 1941 to 1945, and many lives were lost in this generally successful war effort.

The display mentions that after the war, allied survivors of U-boat attacks pointed out the helpfulness and chivalry of German submariners - noting that postwar judicial reviews also found the naval war had been conducted in accordance with international conventions. There is also a good summary of the contributions of each Allied nation involved in the Murmansk Convoys, which in total moved 4 million tons of cargo to the Soviet Union in 40 eastward and 36 westward convoys.

It really does feel like the edge of the world. This destination was a bit out of the way, but in the end we were very happy that we made the trip to the top of continental Europe, crowning our Eurasian journey completely overland from the Southeast tip of Asia at Singapore to the Northwest tip of Europe at Nordkapp. We were only here for a few hours, but there was a slight sense of euphoria in the air as we all finally fall fast asleep for the road trip back to Finland.

- Demian
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