September 20, 2018
Today we were to dock at Kirkenes, the final stop on our journey up the west coast of Norway. It had been a busy night of packing up the luggage and ensuring that nothing essential had rolled under the bed or been lost in a closet. As on many cruises, suitcases had to be out in front of the cabin before midnight. Luggage sprouted like overnight mushrooms in the passageway, a tangible reminder that the trip was over.
We ate our last breakfast on the MS Spitsbergen, looking out the dining room window at the wake, the waters of the Barents Sea roiling behind us. The coastline scrolled by—as if we were watching a movie that we knew was soon to roll its final credits.
Kirkenes is in Sør-Varanger Municipality in Finnmark, near the Russian border. We could pretend to cite some facts about the town, as if our visit there had been more substantial. But, truth be told, we have only vague impressions. We were loaded onto an airport transfer bus fifteen minutes after docking, and the only memories we have are recorded in some images taken from the bus window on the way to the airport at Høybuktmoen, some nine miles west of town. A two-hour wait for our flight to Oslo did not leave any particular imprint upon us.
On the other hand, once on the flight, there were intermittent views of the landscape below—the flight path taking us over parts of Norway we had not seen before. Through the cloud cover, every so often, we could see tantalizing glimpses of forests, rivers, lakes, and towns. As we approached the Oslo Airport at Gardermoen, about twenty-two miles from the city, we dipped down over the pastoral landscape of Romerike in Akershus county, spying farms and small towns out the window. There seemed to be evidence of lumbering in the wooded region, an artifact of human occupation more visible from the air.
The Oslo Airport was a sprawling beast compared to the airport at Kirkenes. We had to take some time to negotiate it, looking for a way to purchase travel passes for the NSB transportation system, the Norges Statsbaner or Norwegian State Railway. These passes would provide us with a way into town—a forty-five minute ride—and access to buses and the T-Bahn subway. There, with the help of a courteous NSB employee, we managed to get four passes and be on our way to Oslo-S, the Oslo Central Station. From there, after picking up our Oslo Passes (having calculated the benefit of doing so in light of our museum itinerary), we journeyed exactly one subway stop to the neighborhood of Grønland where we would stay in a spacious apartment just across from the Grønland church.
It was a bit of a slog to the apartment; it was beginning to rain. We were carrying backpacks and negotiating wheeled luggage through the teeming streets. Grønland is a multi-ethnic, vibrant area with produce shops, cafés, ethnic restaurants, and a mix of the usual Joker and REMA 1000 convenience and grocery stores. Nevertheless, we eventually found the apartment by dint of Justin’s GPS and settled in. Justin and Andrea forayed out to the nearby REMA and brought back some food and beverage. We fell into an early sleep, after discussing how to spend our upcoming long weekend in Oslo.