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Kirkenes

Travel Guide Europe Norway Finnmark Kirkenes

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Introduction

The town of Kirkenes is the municipal centre in Sør-Varanger municipality in Eastern Finnmark, located in the northeastern corner of Norway. Of the 10,000 people in Sør-Varanger, approximately 3,500 live in Kirkenes with another 4,000 living in nearby Hesseng and Bjørnevatn. Sør-Varanger is the only Norwegian municipality that borders Russia, it also borders Finland. Sør-Varanger is the name of the municipality, it covers an area of almost 4,000 km². The distance from the municipal centre in Kirkenes to the fringes of the municipality can be more than 100 kilometres.

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History

The name Kirkenes translates as Church-Headland. In the 19th century Kirkenes had a church, but little else, it wasn´t even the most populous hamlet in Sør-Varanger. Things changed rapidly when iron ore was found in nearby Bjørnevatn.
From a small hamlet Kirkenes grew into a booming mining town in the first years of the 20th century. During WW2 the Germans used Kirkenes as a supply base for their attack on the Soviet Union, consequently it suffered numerous attacks by Soviet bombers. The Red Army drove out the Germans in late autumn 1944, making Kirkenes the first Norwegian town to be liberated from the Nazis. In 1945 the Red Army left Kirkenes, and soon the Cold War would redefine friends and enemies. The end of the Soviet Union changed the status of Kirkenes from being at the fringe of Western Europe to being in the centre of the Barents-region. Barentssekretariatet (The Barents Secretariat) and Grenselandmuseet (Borderland museum), both located in Kirkenes, can perhaps be perceived as manifestations of the new trend. The mining of iron ore became unprofitable and stopped in the 1990es, work to reopen the mines were started in 2009 and the first boat loaded with iron-ore for China went through the North-East passage in autumn 2010.

History of Sør Varanger

In the old days Sør-Varanger and the neighboring areas of present Russia and Finland were regarded as a shared district by the Norwegian and Russian authorities. The borders were drawn as late as 1826. The area had an identity as a place where different people and cultures met. When the borders were drawn it became important for the states to secure the areas they held and create a strong national identity.The new borders created problems for some, like the Skolte-Sami people that suddenly couldn’t use their old travel paths and seasonal dwelling-places. When the states demand for national identity met local culture a conflict between centre and periphery was perhaps inevitable.
The 20th century with its world-wars and revolutions and the areas strategic importance, gave national security top priority, with closed borders as a result. Perestrojka and the dissolution of the Soviet Union opened the way for changes. Many had high hopes about what friendly cooperation across formerly closed borders could achieve. The better international relations have had a positive effect , but perhaps less than the optimists hoped for twenty years ago. Crossing the border is still generally forbidden, and taking photographs is restricted. Breaking the rules can cause you a lot of trouble and expenses. Check the website of Grensekommisæren (Border Commissariat) for updated information. Nevertheless it is fair to say that the area has got back some of its old identity as a place were different people can meet.

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Sights and Activities

Museums: Sør-Varanger has several museums. This website provides information about the museums in Sør-Varanger, Vadsø and Vardø: Varangermuseum.

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Events and Festivals

Pikene på Broen is a company involved in diverse cultural evenements in Kirkenes.

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Getting There

By Plane

Daily direct flights from Oslo Gardermoen Airport, Tromsø and Alta. Flights connect Kirkenes with Vadsø, Vardø, Berlevåg, Mehamn, Båtsfjord, Honningsvåg and Hammerfest.

By Car

Kirkenes is at the end of the E-6. If you drive through Finland you can drive past Lake Inari, cross the border 11 kilometres before Neiden. Join the E-6 in Neiden.

By Bus

A network of long-distance buses connects the towns in Finnmark.

By Boat

Hurtigruten calls at Kirkenes. Northbound boats arrive in the morning (very good alternative to the bus if you want to travel to Kirkenes from Vadsø or Vardø), southbound boats leave a little after noon.

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Getting Around

By Car

From Kirkenes roads leads south, east and west to the other parts of the municipality. All distances are given as distance from Kirkenes in kilometres, and they are approximate.

  • East - Take the E-6 out of Kirkenes, turn left after 5 kilometres at Hesseng and follow E-105, you cross the bridge over Pasvik river (8 kilometres). The Norwegian-Russian customs station at Storskog (13 kilometres from Kirkenes), the only place you can cross the border legally (you need a visa to go to Russia). To follow road 886, leading to Jarfjorden and Grense Jakobselv,turn left a little before the customs station. At Tårnet in Jarfjord (25 kilometres) it is possible to take left and follow a gravel road into the mountains. This gravel road was built by the Germans during WW2 to transport troops and supplies when they attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. In 1944 there was fighting on both sides of the road during the German retreat. 886 continues over Jarfjordfjellet to Grense Jakobselv and King Oscars Chapel(59 km). Political as well as devotional motives were behind the construction this chapel in the 1870es, marking the extent of Norway as well as the protestant faith. King Oscar II, the king of Sweden and Norway at the time, saw the chapel as a convenient bordermark - and gave permission to name the chapel after him.
  • South - If you drive south you take left between the two petrol stations (6 kilometres) and follow road 885, this road leads up the Pasvik valley. The slagheaps after the mining at Bjørnevatn is a prominent landmark, seeing Bjørnevatn (12 kilometre) is worth a small detour from 885. The Pasvik valley will disappoint those that want to see a naked, icy, arctic wasteland (they can visit the interior of the Varanger peninsula instead). Forest, pine dominates, covers most of the valley, the forest is broken up by numerous lakes, bogs and some farms. Where east meet wesit is perhaps a cliche, but the the Russian taiga has a small foothold on the Western (Norwegian) side of the Pasvik River. Several "eastern" species of plants and birds have Pasvikdalen as their only Norwegian habitat. At Svanvik (40 kilometres) you find Svanhovd - research centre and information centre for Øvre Pasvik National park , with a good exhibition about the areas flora and fauna and a botanical garden. 96-høyden (46 kilometres)- a former military watchtower, from the top you have an excellent view of Pasvikdalen and a little of Russia. Perhaps the place in Norway where you have the best chance to actually see a wild bear. To get to Øvre Pasvik National park, drive a few kilometres past Vaggatem (88 kilometres), turn right onto a gravel road (it is signposted), drive for some km up to the parking at lake Sortbrysttjern. You will find an information-board by the parking (continues under by foot). You can drive to Nyrud (104 kilometres) and follow a marked path leading to Treriksrøysa (see under by foot section).
  • West - Driving west, follow the E-6 in the direction of Tana. After 40 kilometres you are in the hamlet of Neiden. In summer you can see the locals catching salmon in the Neiden river by using a dragnet, the metod, as well as their forefathers came from Finland. Tourists can buy a fishing license, but are restricted to use a rod. There are two chapels in Neiden: a small, logcabin-built, greek-orthodox chapel in Neiden, built by russian missionaries hundreds of years ago and a lutheranian chapel which was built during Norways most intensive period of national-identity building in the first years of the 20th century (this probably explains the vikingish-style architecture). Bugøyfjord (61 kilometres) is the birthplace of sami artist Johan Savio (1902-1938). Some of his works are exhibited in Kirkenes. Between Bugøyfjord and Brannsletta you enter Nesseby municipality. Brannsletta (82 kilometres) is an ice-age delta laid down by a huge glacier-fed river. The land rise after the last ice-age has lifted the delta 60-90 metres above present sea-level. A must-see for quarternary-geology aficinadoes. From Brannsletta a side-road leads back to Sør-Varanger and the fishing-village of Bugøynes (102 kilometres). Bugøynes is nicknamed Pikko Suomi (Little Finland), because of the Finnish Immigrants that settled there and whose descendants still make up the majority of the population.

By Public Transport

There are bus routes along the main roads (see "by car" section), Within the Kirkenes - Hesseng -Bjørnevatn area there are several buses a day, outside this area generally one or two a day.

By Foot

A marked trail goes from the parking at Sortbrysttjern to Ellenkoia in the national park. Canoeing at lake Ellenvann is great, You can paddle the length of Sortbrysttjærn, carry the canoe a few hundred meters to lake Tørrfurutjern,
and carry the canoe a few metres from Tørrfurutjern into lake Ellenvann. Pine forested hills, rather than mountains surround lake Ellenvann, but real wilderness, many places there´s not even a footpath to follow, so bring compass, map and/or GPS.

Treriksrøysa (Three Country Cairn) marks the point where the borders of Russia, Finland and Norway meet. Nice background for a group portrait. Just remember to stay on the Norwegian side, walking round the cairn is forbidden.
You can paddle the length of lake Ellenvann and hike two English miles south to get to Treriksrøysa, a less demanding route is perhaps to drive to Nyrud (104 kilometres) and follow a marked path leading to Treriksrøysa.

By Bike

There are bicycle paths between Kirkenes, Hesseng and Bjørnevatn. If you like to bring the bicycle into the woods, the Pasvik valley in particular has quite a lot of gravelled logging roads.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Most Norwegian households are connected to the Internet in some way (often broadband), making cybercafés hard to find outside major cities, due to a relatively small market. Most public libraries have free public access to the internet, but a limited number of computers and limited opening hours.

However, if you bring a laptop with a wireless connection you will find wireless internet zones just about everywhere (gas stations, city centres, cafés, shopping centres, hotels etc.), sometimes free, but be prepared to pay for it though. It is not unusual for hotels to have a terminal for guest use. Well over half of the camp grounds have wifi internet, but if it's crucial for you, best to ask before paying for your camping space.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The international calling code for Norway is 47. Emergency numbers include Police at 112, Fire at 110 and Emergency Medical Services at 113.
If you are unsure which number to call, 112 is the central for all rescue services and will put you in contact with the correct department. For non-emergencies, the police is to be called on 02800.

Cell phone Coverage generally is very good, except maybe some of the valleys, fjords and mountains. The company with the best coverage is Telenor. The other main operator is Netcom. These two deliver coverage to a multitude of other companies (Tele2 and Network Norway are two smaller companies that deliver coverage in the main cities, but utilize the othe two's net when outside).Prepaid sim card are available in all shops that sell phones and also petrol stations and kiosks. Prepaid has been in a slump in Norway after forced registration was effected, so prices are a bit higher for these than for subscriptions.

If you plan to do quite a bit of websurfing on the phone then Telenor's Prepaid (or "Kontant" in Norwegian) might be the ticket. You can surf as much as you wish, but the card doesn't get charges for more than 10 NOK per day (worth it if you use more than 2MB per day on the days you surf - though after 500MB the speed get's axed to 100kb/s).

Post

Red mailboxes are found easily and post offices are plentiful, with opening hours on most being 9:00am to 5:00pm, with usually shorter hours on Saturday. Stamps can usually only be found at post offices although some popular tourist venues might carry them. Norway's postal system, "Posten", has a good website with a lot of English information including up to date prices and also details about the opening hours of the nearest post office. The most commonly sent format for travellers are letters and cards up to 20 grams, check their website for current prices. If you want to send packages, you might also use international courier companies lik DHL, UPS or TNT.

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This is version 35. Last edited at 7:08 on Oct 17, 13 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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