Saturday, September 4, 2010

Huskies in Kirkenes, Norway

In my last post, Norway – Arriving in Kirkenes, I wrote about this town where east meets west – the most northeastern town in Norway, 240 miles (400 kms) north of the Arctic Circle.

Below is a map, looking south, showing the location of Kirkenes.

In the afternoon we made arrangements to go on the “husky hike with local lunch.” The brochure said that close to Kirkenes was a husky dog farm housing about 40 husky sledge dogs. It said we would come in close contact with the dogs and get an opportunity to give them snacks, take pictures and cuddle them.

Click on any picture to enlarge it

The brochure also said that we would go on a short hike to a nice viewpoint, where we could look into Russia. A couple of dogs would accompany us and the guide would explain the history and life of the dogs. The trip would end with a “delicious local lunch.” A young guide came to fetch us in his Jeep. He was called “Meeka” he told us, after a cartoon character who is a speed driving maniac. This kind of scared me as I could see us roll into that Russian river! He did drive us first to Storskog, the border station between Norway and Russia. I took some photographs. There was no one around – no long queue waiting to come into either country.

The kennel was on a hill. Arriving there we could hear the dogs barking. Meeka escorted us to meet the huskies.

He told us their names and gave us a brief resume on many of the dogs. Some were shy, some were exuberant, but all were friendly and in great shape. Some were inside or on top of their houses, some waiting outside calmly and some barking enthusiastically ready to receive attention.

Click to enlarge collage, then click on any picture to bigify

My husband was eager to give them a cuddle.

Their coat was so soft. It was a lovely feeling to pet them.

Meeka told us that their huskies were mostly Siberian Huskies, but that the race had been thoroughly mixed, with Alaskan Malamutes, Eskimo dogs, Greenland dogs and others. They are bred for endurance racing and not for looks. Years ago sled dogs were the main mode of transportation in arctic areas. Life would have been very hard to impossible without these dogs. They were also used as guard dogs (against brown bears in the Pasvik Valley here) and to help herd reindeer. Meeka told us that he starts placing a halter on the pup at about 3 months of age for short periods to get him used to it. After 6 months they are ready to be introduced to a sled. They are taken on short trips. By the time they reach 2 years old they are reading for a big race.

The dogs are always eager to run with the sledge. Meeka said that it was easy to steer them. They are hard working dogs but they love to play too and can be big babies.

Meeka selected a couple of dogs to go on the hike with us. The Danish young woman working with the dogs came too. We walked up a hill, steep at time, which was covered with boulders, moss, heather and wild blueberries. There were many mushrooms too.

Close to the top of the hill we saw an old German “pill box/fortification.” From this hill it was easy to view the border during the war.

Once on top of the hill we had a stunning view of the Pasvik River. For about 196 km this river runs between Finland in the west and Russia in the east. The river is the border between Norway and Russia. It has many species of plants and birds found nowhere else. The largest population of bears in Norway lives in the Pasvik Valley.

Kirkenes brown bear (from the Internet)

Meeka said that he has also seen some wolverines, lynx and the occasional wolf. No such animal were in sight unfortunately but with a beautiful sun it was a lovely day to take pictures anyway as looking in any direction was a breathtaking landscape.

The dogs were happy playing around us

and I was busy taking photographs. Below, the red building on the left is in Norway and the gray-blue building on the right is in Russia.

I switched to my Sony telephoto lens to take some closer views of the border.



Meeka pointed to a far distant spot, close to a dam. He said that this was the Russian Orthodox church of Boris Gleb. It is hard to see. It is below a road on a dam in the center of the photo below.

Here is a close-up

I found out on the Internet that Prince Boris and Prince Gleb are saints in the Russian Orthodox Church and many churches bear their names. Click here for more information on them.

Saints Boris and Gleb (courtesy the Russian Center, New Delhi, India)

Here is a vintage postcard of this church.

It was time to leave this beautiful and peaceful spot and walk back to the kennels to say goodbye to the dogs and give them a last friendly pat.

Meeka drove us to the Gapahuken restaurant for our (late) lunch – it was almost 4:00 pm. The restaurant was on the edge of the water, very modern. It was facing the border station.

While we were waiting for our meal Meeka showed us a beautiful book illustrating one of the winter races they enter with the dogs. He said that they conduct winter safari for clients, but that their training is geared for the dog races.

The Arctic Barents Race has drivers from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia competing against each other. Next year, in 2011, the Arctic Barents Race will start in Murmansk, Russia and will take 25 days – 3000 km (1864 miles.) It will cross all the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland) and Russia. It will be entered into the Guinness Book of world Records.

Meeka told us that after this long race the Iditarod will look like a “warm-up” race. The Iditarod in Alaska, which is called the longest race of its kind, only covers approximately 1,868 km (1,161 miles.) In the Arctic Barents Race the mushers will drive the dogs about 120 km a day (75 miles.)

The race organizers are planning a large purse for the race winners – about 300,000 Euros ($385,000 at today’s rate.) The mushers (drivers of the dog teams) have to be in great shape I would think, physically and emotionally. It is not everyone who can ride thousands of miles in the snowy wilderness with a pack of dogs. The mushers assist the dogs by running behind the sledge or peddling on the side and climbing hills. They have to care for the dogs whether healthy or injured. Just as sport athletes the dogs have to keep their training all year long to be ready for the winter competition.

(The 3 sets of pictures above were taken from the Internet)

Below is a clip showing the start of the 2010 Pasvik race.

Our “delicious” lunch as advertized was ready. It was reindeer stew with fresh vegetables. I had never had reindeer and did not know what to expect. We do not eat meat often at home – we are not vegetarians but almost. It was really delicious, quite tender with no fat. I understand that it is a high-protein, low-fat, high-mineral meat. No fat marbling or gamy taste. The original settlers of the area, the indigenous Sami people, tend herds of reindeer for meat in ranches, just like beef ranches in the west of the USA.

After such a long day – waking up early in Oslo, then visiting Kirkenes, the dog kennels and hiking up to the viewpoint, we had quite an appetite. It was strange in a way, eating reindeer while gazing at Russia across the river. I could really say that I was looking at Russia. Last summer in Alaska, while in Wasilla, I really tried to see Russia, as Sarah Palin (ex-governor of Alaska who quit in mid-term) declared she could see. But I never saw any Russian hills from Wasilla. Here outside of Kirkenes, Norway, either from this restaurant or from the viewpoint on the hill I had been indeed looking at Russia.

I was going to explain why we flew to Kirkenes, but this is already a long post. So I’ll get back to it in my next post.


Jenn Jilks said...

A beautiful trip story. My parents had a husky cross. I love your photos!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Norway is gorgeous. I love the huskies and how friendly they were. The German "pill-box" fortification was fascinating. It's amazing how far you can see.

I've never tasted reindeer either. So glad to know it is healthy and delicious. I'm looking forward to knowing how you ended up in Kirkenses.

A bientot,

Grizz………… said...

Great photos and a wonderful post. I really enjoyed this! Thank you.

DJan said...

It's so nice to have you back from your travels, VB. I love the pictures of the black dog with the white muzzle and forehead. He looks like quite a character. And your pictures are, as always, breathtaking. I also look forward to finding out why you went there.

Excellent information about the Barents race and how it compares with the Iditarod, which I have heard about before. Thanks again for the wonderful post.

Pondside said...

Fantastic experience! I had to grin at the last comment on Ms Palin's ability to see Russia.

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Tu nous transportes si bien Vagabonde avec les belles photos (paysages, Huskies, repas ...) que j'ai l'impression d'y être ! C'est fabuleux ! :o)
MERCI A TOI !!!!! Je regarde avec beaucoup de plaisir ton blog ! :o) BISOUS et BON DIMANCHE ! :o) ***

Anonymous said...

Another wonderful adventure with you. I have had reindeer meat while flying to London through Iceland. Icelandair served reindeer as their meal entree. It was meatballs, so it was a little difficult to tell what the meat was-so I asked. The attendant whispered it to me, I don't think she wanted others to hear. I didn't particularly like the texture.
I love the pictures of the dogs!What athletes they are.

Fennie said...

One of your very best Vagabonde. I really enjoyed this. You really took me with you. But what seems remarkable is the light. It has an almost Mediterranean quality. I would have expected it to be darker and gloomy. Also the people in T shirts. What was the temperature? Mild clearly. Is this unusual? I know it's summer but all the same - maybe it's because Kirkenes experiences a continental rather than a maritime climate. Have you ever been to Shetland? I think you and your husband would enjoy going there too. Thanks again for the post!

Ruth said...

This is quite an experience on so many levels. The beauty of the place, the meeting of countries, the huskies. They really are lean and sleek. I'm used to the big fluffy kind. A race almost twice as long as the Iditarod!

We are almost vegan ourselves. I like how my great-niece describes herself: veggie based.

Vicki Lane said...

Fascinating post, Vagabonde! I loved seeing the huskies!

Ginnie said...

I totally adore huskies like this, Vagabonde, and would have loved this outing with you. I can just imagine all the emotions you must have felt being in that part of the world, with two countries touching each other like this.

I have eaten reindeer here in The Netherlands and can attest to how good and tasty it is. Even better than you'd think. I could get real used to it as a meat source. :)

Once again you have enlightened us and given us quite the education. You're so good at this. :)

Nance said...

It does so remind me of Alaska, where we lived for four years in the late eighties and early nineties. Nope, you sure can't see Russia from Sarah's back yard, but I could see something even scarier from my back yard--the Wasilla that gave the Barracuda her start. And the beautiful Eagle River, the Chugach Range, etc. I've never been to Norway, but your pictures make it look more familiar than I would have guessed.

Anonymous said...

These dogs are beautiful! They look so strong.

I'd love to visit Nordic countries, but I guess I have my fair share of snow and cold here in Canada :-)

I agree with Fennie, the light is quite amazing, I would think a place that North is darker and s bit gloomy.

RennyBA's Terella said...

Again a lovely post - and story - and photos - from the northern part of Norway - thanks for sharing!

You know I've been there - seen the wonderful nature and wild life and even the dogs - and tasting the reindeer stew. But see it through your eyes and lens is so wonderful and interesting.

DianeCA said...

I envy you this trip with the huskies. I had a friend who had sleigh dogs and they really really love to pull and are great workers. They just love the job, really they do!

I am glad you enjoyed our countryside, our view, the landscape and even the reindeer! I am so happy you came and you had top weather too!

sablonneuse said...

What a fantastic trip. Those huskies look adorable: tough, working dogs who are also cuddly. What more could you ask for as a companion in a cold climate?

Friko said...

This is a fascinating point on the globe, you seem to have made excellent use of your trip.
I love the dogs.

I had reindeer in a restaurant in Stockholm and found it totally delicious too.

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Hello Chère Vagabonde :o) !!!! Je te souhaite une belle journée ! GROSSES BISES !!!!! :o) ***

Lonicera said...

What a fascinating place, and I too love the dogs (and enjoyed the pictures and video). I've just found a long comment you left on a previous post about London, a lovely surprise - thank you for the comment, how good to know the place has such fond memories for you. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

Deborah said...

So informative and interesting, Vagabonde! I was astonished to look closer at the photo where the borders, and their resepctive buildings were so close together.
The countryside looks a little bit like the NorthWest Territories in Canada, although it's been a very long time since I was there.

My son has a Malamute - a wonderful dog with a cool,calm temperment to match his origins. I enjoyed all the photos and information about the dogs, AND, it was neat to see a picture of your husband. He looks like a person I would find very interesting! Unconventional. But then, you are too. Do enjoy the rest of your trip and I look forward to reading more. xo

Jeanie said...

Well, I'm reading backwards! But oh! What delight to fall into your posts and discover all these wonderful new things. Having always been fond of huskies but knowing little about them, learning all you presented (with great photos) was especially nice. And those views -- what gorgeous countryside!

As always, stopping here is always a wonderful part of my day! Off to read more!

Vagabonde said...

To all my blogging friends who left a comment – I read all your comments with pleasure. I try to show as much as I can in my posts – I know they are long, but it is hard to cut off some of the pictures or explanations. I am pleased that you enjoyed this post and will have more posts on our Norway trip in the future. I’ll have other subjects too so as not to always talk about the same thing. I have been reading the past posts that you wrote but I am still behind, but I’ll keep at it. Thank you so much for coming to my blog and leaving a comment – I sincerely appreciate it.

Elaine said...

Half the world away from Alaska the dogs and the mushing look very much alike. It looks like you had a very enjoyable day. I will have to keep an eye on their Arctic Barents Race.

Dutchbaby said...

My goodness you had great weather in Kirkenes. We chose to leave on the early flight to get an extra day in Oslo. The boys in our group went on a husky tour in Tromso while my sister and I went on a city tour. Your pictures of the dogs are great. They look very well cared for. I'm not sure I'm a proponent of such a long race for dogs. I would think that it would open the door to overworking the poor animals. It's not like they have a say in the matter.

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