We had half a day on our own in the city of Harstad, population 24,500, while we waited for Gry, Eirik, and Gunn to arrive by bus from the airport. Peggy had arranged a tour for us, so after a bit of confusion about where to store our luggage (the lockers were in the bus terminal, which was in an anonymous, abandoned-looking building on the wharf and not, I repeat, not, in the building across the street with the big sign on it saying “bussterminalen” and all the buses parked out front), we hooked up with our tour guide at the dock. Here’s what you do in Harstad:
- Visit the Adolfkannon, a monster-sized, Nazi, fully restored, WWII naval gun that was intended to defend the northern coast and the iron ore (remember the iron ore?) supply line. It was originally intended for Nazi battleships, but was repurposed when construction of the ships was cancelled. The installation work was done mainly by Russian prisoners of war. The cannon had a range of up to 35 miles. It was never fired, except for testing. By the way, the cannon is sited on an active military base, so you have to make arrangements in advance (our guide did, but the army folks forgot, so we had to wait while phone calls, negotiations, and army bureaucracy ran their course), and you’ll be accompanied by two guards everywhere you go. Also, no photos from inside the vehicle (but they’re allowed at the cannon site, itself).
- Visit the beautiful Trondenes Church, built in the 1300s and still in use today. For many years it was the northernmost Christian church in the world.
- Go to the museum to learn a bit more about the cannon, the church, and Viking activities in the area (a nearby island was once the heart of the Viking realm).
- Ummm, drive by the hospital. Admire it.
- Admire the nursing home, too. Note that it has both an assisted living wing and a full care wing.
- Drive by the new elementary school, which was built after the old school became so dilapidated it couldn’t be restored, thus ending the debate over whether to fix up the old school or build a new one.
- Contemplate the aesthetics of some concrete housing vs. the more popular wood houses (at this point I’ve concluded that our tour guide is a real estate agent at heart, if not in actuality).
- Kill another 10 minutes or so looking at the world’s oldest still-functioning schooner.
The tour was actually quite enjoyable, just a little longer than strictly necessary to cover the attractions. Our tour guide, who was a Harstad native but had grown up in Scotland and spoke with a rich brogue, had plenty of amusing stories. For example, the little museum is a bit of a maze, so they helpfully painted blood-red footprints (a little dramatic flair) on the floor leading from an exhibit about a major Viking battle to the next section of exhibits to guide you along. Some Northern Irish tourists she brought to Trondenes Church were very religious. When she took them to the museum and got them started at the Viking battle scene, she told them to explore the rest of the museum at their leisure. “Which way should we go next?” the tourists asked. “Just follow the bloody footprints,” she replied in her Scottish accent. She spent the next half hour trying to explain to the outraged tourists that she wasn’t swearing at them.
Speaking of swearing, it’s illegal in Norway to use foul language when addressing an officer of the law—unless, that is, you’re from the far north. Swearing is so thickly and deeply embedded in the local dialect, they had to make a special exemption for the region.
Our tour ended, we decided to wait for Eirik, Gry, and Gunn at the place where we’d seen buses coming and going, rather than the official bus terminal. Their bus pulled in just as we arrived. A little lunch, a little grocery shopping (there ain’t no supermarkets where we’re going), and it’s time to assemble everyone and everything at the ferry dock, which happens to be next to the official bus terminal. Meløyvær, here we come!This entry was posted in Vacation 2014: Europe