Western Europe

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From here we were on a mission and on our way to the Oktoberfest in Munich. Enroute we stopped in Chamonix in France, visiting Aiguille du Midi cable car, one of the highest cable cars in the world bar  a few in South America. In fact the Aiguille Du Midi starts at 1035 m and finishes at a staggering 3810 m! From the bottom to the top, it has the greatest vertical range in the world.

Via Switzerland our next stop was Munich and the Oktoberfest. This is the world’s biggest beer festival with more than 6 million guests in 16 days. Dirndl-clad waitresses deliver 8 million one liter mugs of beer in about a dozen cavernous beer tents, some seating about 10,000 to inebriated revelers .Visitors eat around 500000 chickens and 120 oxen and unknown amount of wiener schnitzel. After Munich we visited Willies Treffen (Overlander meeting) before parking our truck in Holland for a short break. In January we continued our journey to North Cape driving through Germany- Denmark-Sweden-Finland –Russia to Norway. Denmark’s most visited attractions would be Tivoli, the little mermaid and Lego land. It being the winter season, Tivoli was closed. While Sweden and Finland seem to be places to avoid in winter the country is just as beautiful if not better during winter. In addition to avoiding larger crowds and getting to enjoy unique outdoor activities that are native to the Subarctic and Arctic regions of Scandinavia such as dog sledding, moose and reindeer safaris, searching for the Northern Lights, and learning about indigenous Sámi history, during winter, you can enjoy several safaris that take you through Lapland’s wilderness, forests, and tundra regions to find Sweden’s own “Big Six” — moose, wolverines, wolves, brown bears, lynxes, and musk oxen. We headed up to Jukkasjärvi, close to Kiruna, to visit the world’s first ice hotel. Opened in 1990, the Icehotel is rebuilt every year based on designs from various artists, using ice blocks made from water collected from the Torne River. Sip chilled vodka (or fruit juice if you prefer) from frozen ice glasses served in the Absolut Ice Bar, take in elaborate sculptures carved from ice, or even get married in the Ice Chapel. We spend a few days in the village of Jokkmokk during early February when the 400+ year old Jokkmokk Sami market is in full swing; from reindeer races and traditional fashion shows to sampling reindeer, moose, and other dishes as well as watching the reindeer caravan procession led by Sámi elder Per Kuhmunen. An unforgettable experience. Dog sledding is one of the high energy and exciting winter activities around Swedish Lapland and the Arctic Circle as well as the spectacular mountain regions of Padjelanta and Sarek National Parks in Laponia. catch fish from frozen lakes. If you’ve never gone fishing before, now might be the time to drill a hole through a frozen lake to catch fish such as Arctic char, trout, salmon, pike, perch, grayling, and whitefish. We braved the cold on clear crisp winter nights, and were rewarded with one of nature’s most spectacular displays — the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights). These light curtains of green, red, and purple often dance across the sky  from October to March and, depending on weather conditions, can be viewed from anywhere in northern Sweden, Finland and Russia. Go snowmobiling across frozen rivers, explore the large snow covered forests, get off the well-worn road and try an invigorating ride across a frozen lake. Finnish Lapland is immense. It covers an area larger than the whole of Portugal, but the concept of Lapland is even larger. As you travel further north along the outstretched “arm” of north-west Finland, the coniferous forest gradually vanishes from the landscape and the birch trees shrink to a meter in height; the fells begin to rise around you in every direction and you find a silence unlike anywhere else on earth.

We crossed into Russia and the first highlight was the City of St Petersburg, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with lavish architecture, an extraordinary history and rich cultural traditions. We are not city people but this city is one of the best we ever visited. From here we traveled North again back into the Arctic. The Kola Peninsula is a region for overlanders who are attracted to the unusual and unpredictable and to extreme environments of the Northern Russia wilderness. It lies between 66° 03′ and 69°57’N and 28°25′ and 41°26’E. The Kola Peninsula occupies the rim of Northern-Western Russia. Major part of the Peninsula lies Above the Polar Circle. In the North it is washed by the Barents and in the South by the White sea. In the West it borders with Finland and Norway. There are about 21 000km of  rivers running through the Kola Peninsula territory. Murmansk is a port city and the administrative center of Murmansk, located in the extreme northwest part of Russia, on the Kola Bay, 12 kilometers from the Barents Sea. One off the highlights to visit was the Nuclear icebreaker Lenin.

From here we travelled back to the Norway and the first town Kirkenes is the most easterly town in Norway. Finnmark forms the most northerly and also the most easterly region of mainland Norway. It is also Norway’s largest county and, with its area of 48,000 km2 (18,766 sq. miles), is bigger than Denmark or Switzerland. Knivskjellodden at the North Cape is the most northerly point, while the island of Hornøya near Vardø is the most easterly point. Although Finnmark lies at the same latitude as remote, unpopulated or scarce-populated regions of North America and Northern Siberia, it is very much a normal society. Small towns, fishing villages and farming communities have a well-developed infrastructure, with roads, airports and services just like anywhere else. This  is off course the complete opposite to Northern Russia which we just visited. The landscape in Finnmark is characterized by the hilly, rolling, partly treeless Finnmarks plateau, which covers most of inner Finnmark. The end of this stage of the trip is North Cape. But before we reached North Cape we also visited the world’s most northerly city Hammerfest and the most northerly fishing village Skarsvåg,

In March 2010 we left the geographic southern tip of Africa and the official dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans Cape Agulhas. Today March 2012 we made it to the most northern point in Europe NORTH CAPE.

When standing on the cliff at the North Cape, mainland Europe’s northernmost point, only the Svalbard Islands separate you from the North Pole. This is one of the most special places on earth. You do not get further north in mainland Europe; you are at the end of the world. For us it nearly did not happen as the road is closed Between 1 November and 30 April for private cars, and you must join the daily bus from Honningsvåg. This is not what we wanted as we had now driven from Cape Agulas in South Africa to far North Norway to park our truck at the most Northern point in Europe. We were lucky as the friendly snow plough driver allowed us to follow. With 90km an hour winds we were the only people at North Cape and a wind chill factor of minus 58 degrees Celsius. As everything was closed we could park only meters away from the most northern point past the visitor centre. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE