After our harrowing trip the previous day when we almost ran out of fuel in the extremely isolated and lonely road to Kirkenes, the final leg was much more pleasurable and the scenery gentler and less dramatic.
Kirkenes is a small town in far northeastern Norway, close to the Finnish and Russian borders and has a rich and dramatic history.
Most of its inhabitants are Norwegian with a minority of them being Sami. There are also a small proportion of Russian immigrants and of course, being so close to Russia (seven kilometres) quite a number of Russian tourists visit each year which explains why many signs and names are in Russian.
It’s also the final port for the small cruise ships that travel 2,000 kilometres carrying supplies and travellers from around the world between Bergen and Kirkenes.
We spent a very interesting morning in the Border Museum where we learnt that tiny and remote Kirkenes was one of the most bombed towns in Europe during World War II. In 1940 it was occupied by the Germans and subsequently subjected to more than 1,000 air raid alarms and 320 air attacks – mostly at the hands of the Russian forces.
On 25 October 1944 the occupying German forces were pushed out and they fled the area destroying most of the remaining infrastructure in their wake. Only 13 houses survived the war.
More recently Kirkenes has been the border crossing point for Syrian refugees, with 5,500 people crossing the border on bicycles in 2015, taking advantage of a loophole in border rules.
While Russia didn’t allow people to cross on foot, Norway didn’t let in car passengers without documents, however, bicycles were permitted at both ends.
This ended in 2016 when a physical barrier was built at the border making it impossible to ride or walk through the barrier.
We also learnt at the museum that Kirkenes is a staggering 14,867 kilometres from Melbourne, Australia in contrast to 4,412 kilometres to Cairo 1,088 to St Petersburg and 2,255 kilometres to the North Pole.
We couldn’t leave Kirkenes before visiting the border crossing between Norway and Russia and as it was only a short drive we were there in no time. It felt like quite an amazing milestone to be there.
Leaving the Russian border and heading for the Finnish border only 37 kilometres away, we couldn’t help but notice that the road surface was of very high quality and the tunnel was really the flashiest we had seen throughout our Norwegian travels. Maybe it was Norway’s way of showing off to visiting Russians coming over the border?
As we farewelled Kirkenes we saw a beautiful family of elk on the roadside- a fitting and lasting memory of this fascinating place.