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August 19, 2006

Above Kirkenes, Norway - Mike DunnOur first full day in Kirkenes began with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. Art and I then walked to town to stock up on recommended essentials for shipboard life, including plenty of snacks.

We hiked up to the Sør-Varanger Museum— a beautiful setting above a lake for such a somber story. The main exhibit told the story of the devastating bombing of this remote city during World War II. It was bombed almost 400 times by German aircraft, making it the most bombed town in Norway during the war. Stone labyrinth - Mike Dunn

On the ground outside is an elaborate stone labyrinth, a replica of a nearby attraction dating back over 1,000 years. The meaning of the stone pattern has never been deciphered.

Late afternoon was spent hiking in the highlands over the city, a stark landscape showing the signs of past glaciation.

Grasses floating in highlands pond - Mike DunnExposed rock and a close ground cover looked barren at first. A closer look revealed countless pockets of water, including several ponds, and beautiful lichens, tiny wildflowers, and the beginnings of autumn color, albeit on plants less than 6 inches tall for the most part. A few scattered birch are the primary trees on these highlands.

It is so quiet up there it's hard to imagine the effects of the bombing, even as we walked among the ruins of the numerous underground bunkers built across the hills. The only sound we heard was the occasional "cluck, cluck, cluck" of Red-throated Divers (we call them loons) flying into the numerous ponds.

Reindeer track - Mike DunnAs I scanned the hillsides with binoculars looking for any wildlife (we have seen very few birds), I spotted the dark form of a Reindeer on a far knoll. We later saw three bedded down across the lake. Not knowing if we would see them again, we decided to hike out across the hills for a closer look. They are magnificent animals, their impressive racks making me wonder how they ever hold their heads upright. Reindeer tracks dot the landscape, but we had been told most were more toward the coast this time of year.

A great introduction to the Far North. As I type, it is still faintly light on the horizon at 23:30.

—Mike Dunn


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