Harstad, Norway, A Beautiful Hike

Heading south again after North Cape, our next port of call was Harstad, Norway.  Harstad is one of those medium-sized communities that Tom and I prefer.  It has about 25,000 people, which makes it small enough but also means that it has all the stores and restaurants you want.  The town was established as a herring fishing community in 1904 so its doesn’t have a lot of historic buildings.  People have lived, at least seasonally, in this area for a long time, however.

Tom and I signed up for a hike in Harstad, but it was scheduled for the afternoon, so we had the morning free to walk around.  Harstad is as far from a tourist town as you will get.  There isn’t a single souvenir shop or even a place to buy postcards.  Even tiny Honningsvåg had more tourist infrastructure.  That being said, the city is trying to be welcoming to cruise ships.  We were the largest cruise ship that had ever docked in Harstad and the people were ready.

Main square in Harstad

As we got off the ship, we were met by local volunteers in traditional Norwegian clothing who told us welcome and handed us a city map.  As we walked into the town square and pedestrian shopping, there were booths set up with local handicrafts.  Those are the kinds of things that tourists love.  One woodworker sold out within an hour of setting up his booth!

Goodies at Bakkerinnen

Tom and I checked out some stores and looked at the handicraft booths.  We saw a lovely town park with statues and a playground.  We had researched bakeries before we got off the ship and headed for Bakkerinnen, the highest rated.  It was within easy walking distance of the ship.  They had a wonderful variety of delicious looking baked goods.  The usual kannelbolle, filled bolles, and some variations.  Tom and I had agreed we would try something different, so I got a caramel sticky bun and Tom got a vanilla filled kannelbolle.  We also got some chocolate chip cookies to save for later.

Escalator ramp

On our way back to the ship we found an indoor shopping area that was very interesting.  There were lots of small shops with a variety of interesting goods.  There was also a courtyard with free wifi and we saw lots of people from the ship congregated there.  I checked out a yarn shop.  It had lots of Nordske Garn, but it was all from Peru or China.  The shopping center had an escalator ramp.  I kept expecting it to evolve into stairs, but it just stayed as a ramp.

The most interesting (to us) shop was was Normal.  Normal is a Danish chain store that “sells normal goods at abnormal prices.”  It felt like a Dollar General and had a lot of the same brands you would find in any American store.  Pringles, Reisen caramels, Dove soap, Hanes hosiery.  Although the store always stocks certain things, they also have a changing inventory.  The shelves are set up like a maze, so you have to walk all the way through the store to get out.  Fun and interesting.

Tom and I got back on the ship and enjoyed our pastries as our lunch.  Then we headed off on our shore excursion.  We were supposed to hike to Mt. Keipen for fabulous overlooks of Harstad and the surrounding mountains.  But, when we got on the bus, they said that Mt. Kneipen had been deemed too icy and dangerous for a hike.  Instead, they proposed we hike up Gangsåstoppen which they had already climbed and which was ice-free.

Tom and I were eager for a hike and glad we wouldn’t have to worry about ice, so we accepted the change.  In fact, no one on our bus got off or asked for their money back.  The bus drove us to our starting point and we headed up.

It was about a mile hike, up on the way out and down on the way back.  Most of it was fairly easy walking but there were some scrambles in a few places.  We had two guides, one who set a very fast pace at the front and one who acted as sweep at the rear.  Tom and I climbed at a steady pace and reached the top in about 30 minutes.  We were in the middle of the group.

When we got to the top, there were, as advertised, spectacular views of Harstad, the fjords, and the snowy mountains around us.  There were also two other guides who had a fire going with coffee and a snack of lefsa.  Just right before we headed back down the mountain.  We enjoyed the fire and talking to the guides for a while.  I got several pictures of the great view and enjoyed admiring it.  Then we headed back to the bus.

The hike was shorter than the one we were going to take, and everyone in our group reached the top in good time.  So, when we got back to the bus, we still had over an hour left in our tour time.  Our guide took us on an impromptu tour of Harstad.  He showed us the historic church (70 years old) and the longest street.  We drove past town hall, the 1,000 seat theater, and several parks.  That took about 10 minutes.

To fill out the tour time, the driver and guide decided to take us to Trondenes Church.  Tom and I had wanted to go there, but were concerned that walking there in the morning, and then the hike in the afternoon, would be too much. So we were glad that we had time for our tour to take us there.

Trondenes Church is the northernmost medieval stone church of Norway and the world’s northernmost surviving medieval building.  The original church was probably a stave church built in the 11th century.  It probably burned down.  Another church was built with stone walls and ramparts for protection in the 12th century.  They weren’t worried about Vikings, they were worried about Russians.  Some of those walls can still be seen around the church today.  The current church was built in 1435.  Inside and outside, it remains largely as it was originally built.

Stone wall in front

Although we were not able to go inside the church, we enjoyed walking around and admiring the historical building.  Our guide told us that he was confirmed in the Trondenes church, married in it, had his daughter baptized in it, and just last year, she was married in the church.  He expects to be buried in the churchyard someday.  We saw some Harstad gravestones.  The name of the town comes from the people who owned the farm on which the town was located.  We even climbed up some of the ramparts from the old stone wall.  Then it was back on the bus for our return to the ship.

Tom and I enjoyed our visit to Harstad very much.  The people were friendly and welcoming.  We had a great hike, enjoyed checking out the shops, and visiting the Trondenes Church.  Harstad is a beautiful place.