All around Ålta

We woke up at eight o’clock this morning to find the Borealis slowly sailing into her berth in Ålta.  Looking out of the window, we could see we were adjacent to the long runway of the airport; in fact we were going to dock in the same place that we had when we were here last, in November 2014.  We could see one or two small aircraft and a larger, cargo plane outside the hanger.

Once again, it was a cold day, about -10 ºC and, as we went up to breakfast, we briefly popped out on deck to have a quick look at our surroundings.  With no coat and outerwear on, it really was a brief visit (about 30 seconds) as the cold, clear air really took your breath away!

We didn’t have any excursions booked today, just decided to take the shuttle bus into town and do our own thing.  Therefore, after a good breakfast, we went along to Guest Services and requested a ticket for the shuttle bus, then spent the time relaxing around the ship until our bus number was called.

At first impression, Ålta appears quite a stark town; that is, its buildings are clean-cut and modern, its main street is wide and the predominant colours seem to be grey, white and blue.  We have, however, only visited it in the winter, so we’d probably find its summer landscape to be completely different.  Ålta has a sheltered boreal climate with long and dark winters, and is not as cold as you would expect for a town at latitude 70 North.

Daytime mid-summer temperatures are often fairly similar to coastal southern Norway, and lowland areas in Alta are mostly sheltered from the winter storms, which can be strong on the coast north of Alta. The mean annual temperature is 2 °C and the Alta valley does not have permafrost but is dominated by closed-canopy forest of birch and pine. Precipitation is low, with a yearly average precipitation of only 420 millimetres.

The frequent clear skies are the reason why Ålta was chosen as an excellent location for studying the aurora borealis. The “midnight sun” is above the horizon from 18 May to 27 July, lasting a bit longer than the polar night from 26 November to 16 January. The average date for the first overnight freeze (below 0 °C) in autumn is 25 September Alta Airport.

The shuttle bus dropped us at the bus park; you wouldn’t really call it a bus station as it just seemed to be a general area where the service buses dropped people off and picked people up.  The snow was powdery and soft beneath our boots; no need for our Spikies today.  We decided to go to the Northern Lights Cathedral (Nordlyskatedralen in Norwegian) first and get some photos before any crowds built up (not that you’d ever really get “crowds” here in Ålta; its hardly the first place people pick to go to on holiday and it is very sparsely populated).

The church was built between 2009–2013. The building was constructed of concrete and wood with external cladding of titanium sheets. The central feature is its large spiral with belfry. The interior contains artwork by the artist Peter Brandes.  It is designed to look like the writhing aurora with the ‘curtain’ effect, and is the result of an architectural competition launched in 2001 and was designed by Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects in collaboration with architect Kolbjørn Jenssen of Link Arkitektur. It was consecrated on 10 February 2013 by the Bishop Per Oskar Kjølaas, with the Crown Princess Mette Marit in attendance. The church was built to replace the old Alta Church as the main church for the parish and deanery.

There weren’t many people around and I managed to get loads of photos.  We then decided to go inside (more out of the cold than anything else!) as the design inside is lovely, and we remembered attending a concert of traditional Sámi music and song when we were here last time. The internal design of the cathedral is beautiful, all pale wood and vertical lighting of different lengths to look like icicles hanging down.  The spiralling candle tower replicates the external shape of the building, and the high ceiling gave amazing acoustics.  We had a good look around and took some photos before emerging, once more, into the frigid air.

We then decided we’d go and find some shops so I could stock up on salty liquorice and also so get some brunost. Brunost is traditional Norwegian cheese; in fact, its name directly translates as ‘brown cheese’. It is made from cow’s or goat’s milk and the milk is boiled and reduced down until the lactose caramelises, which gives the cheese its distinctive brown colour and sweet, caramelly taste. It’s an unusual taste sensation – at first it tastes like cheese and then, while you slowly chew it and roll its creamy, smooth texture around your mouth, it suddenly starts to taste like toffee or fudge.

We found a supermarket and bought two 1kg blocks of brunost; one was a light and milk one while the other was more mature. I also bought a few more packets of salty liquorice gum and a jar of gherkins. The cashier must have thought it was a strange grocery shop! 🙂

Brunost, the popular sweet cheese found everywhere in Norway

Continuing on our way, we wandered around the town and soon came across a bar/restaurant we had visited last time we were here. Outside, someone had creatively carved some ice into geometric blocks and hearts, and around the back of the restaurant we discovered an amazing playground of carved ice blocks and sculptures in the shapes of seals and birds. They glittered in the weak winter sun with a pale blue hue and looked superb. Where else but Norway could you walk along the street and then come across something like this?! Someone had obviously done a lot of intricate work.

We spent a bit longer just walking in the snow and looking around; it was amazing how quickly the steps on my pedometer mounted up! Then we decided to return to the Borealis in time for lunch, so we returned to the coach pick-up point to await the shuttle bus. We would be in port for the next two nights, so we had plenty of time to do what we wanted, when we wanted.

Back at the port I took some photos of the Borealis against a snowy backdrop before we crunched over the packed snow and made our way back up the gangplank into the warmth of the ship’s interior.

We enjoyed a good lunch in the Lido restaurant, washed down with a couple of drinks, before returning to cabin 3326 for a power nap. Looking at the Daily Times events programme, there wasn’t an awful lot of organised activities around the ship this afternoon or this evening; I would imagine most passengers would be ashore on various excursions.

We passed the time pleasantly, whiling away the afternoon and wandering around on deck and soon it was time to start getting ready for dinner. Once again it was only Trevor and me in the restaurant; the others had gone off Northern Lights spotting; our turn would come tomorrow night.

Afterwards there was no featured entertainment in the Neptune Theatra other than a screening of the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die. As Trevor is a James Bond fan, he decided to go and see the film, while I went along to the Oceans Bar and enjoyed a couple of drinks while catching up with some of this blog. I only stopped when my laptop battery went flat! Then I went back to cabin 3326 to plug it in to charge. It was good timing because the film finished shortly afterwards and Trevor also came back to the cabin.

Once again, we settled down in our comfortable cabin and slept very well, looking forward to whatever tomorrow would bring.

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