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Austvågøya

In search of the lights


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Laukvik

We take a quick look at the small settlement of Laukvik (where we are staying) this morning before setting out to explore the rest of Austvågøy Island.

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Misty mountains at Delp

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Right at the start of the planning stages for this trip, I did an internet search for “Northern Lights Lofoten” and images. Looking at the ones I really liked, I then tried to establish where they were taken. Photographing the northern lights requires a lot of planning, as it is not just a question of pointing the camera at the sky and pressing the shutter. I wanted a decent foreground / background, and as the lights generally appear to the north, it had to be carefully worked out. Not only do I need find a suitable scene, but also somewhere where we can stop the car and ideally for us to be able to get off the road with the tripods. Another consideration was whether or not we wanted the moon to be present – I chose half and half: present in the early evening for the first few days, while for the remainder of the trip it won't doesn't rise until later in the night. The aurora most commonly makes an appearance between 22:00 and 02:00, but of course that can vary a lot.

What we are doing today, is to physically drive around to recce the sites I have made a note of on my map. It is so much easier to check them out in daylight, then we bookmark them on the SatNav for later.

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Fiskebøll

This looks like a good place to observe and photograph the aurora from, with the beach in the foreground, sea in the middle and mountains at the back. We'll make a note of that for later.

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The further north you go, the more time the sun takes to rise (and set). As you can see, the sun hasn't made it very far up the horizon in the hour-and-a-half since the last sunrise photo I took.

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Driving towards Vestpollen

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Near Osen

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The roads in both Vesterålen and Lofoten consists of many, many tunnels and bridges, linking the numerous islands that make up this archipelago.

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The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

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Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

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I wasn't prepared for just how grandiose and awe-inspiring the scenery would be.

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We return to base and have some dinner and chill before popping out again later to look for the lights. The forecast is good.

Northern Lights

While out for a cigarette, Lyn spots some lights in the sky and we all go and investigate. By the time we get out there, those 'lights' have turned to bright green sheets of colour swirling around the sky. Frantically grabbing our camera gear, we take a few shots right by the accommodation as we Fear that they are not going to hang around for long.

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The aurora show no signs of fading, so we move on to Morfjorden, one of the sites we bookmarked earlier in the day.

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The last stop this evening is near Fiskebøll, the beach we visited earlier. Here we have the lights in three directions with ample opportunities for different foregrounds.

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After three hours of spectacular light displays, the aurora borealis once again goes back to sleep, and we return to base to do the same. What an amazing day!

Posted by Grete Howard 15:30 Archived in Norway Tagged mountains sunset landscape beach scenery sunrise mist lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland norge arctic_circle aurora_borealis nord_norge astro_photography northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik norwsay gimsøya delp fiskebøll vestpollen osen lyngvær morfjorden Comments (4)

Hovden - Laukvik

Moving on to Lofoten today


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was dull and grey, whereas when we wake up this morning the harbour is bathed in a glorious light!

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View from Frugga Feriehus in one direction...

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...and in the other

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View of the harbour at the end of 'our' road

Some beautiful – albeit almost monochromatic – reflections in the still fjords as we make our way south.

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While I love the scenery, I really don't think I could live here, it is far too remote for me. This, I presume, is a holiday cabin (hytte); and only accessible by boat by the looks of it.

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Vågen

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Drift Ice

The fjords have obviously been previously frozen and now that the weather is milder, the ice is cracking up and moving with the sea, creating interesting 3D patterns.

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Bjørndalen

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We stop in Sortland, the first town we have seen since Andenes, to stock up on provisions and diesel.

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Sortland

We are now leaving Langøya Island and crossing the bridge to Hinnøya. I love the tall curved bridges around here – made that way to allow for Hurtigruten to pass under.

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Hurtigruten at Ånstadsjøen. The coastal ship has supplied goods and moved people between Bergen and Kirkenes in the far north for over 120 years.

Stormy skies

What started with a glorious light this morning has now turned into dramatic storm clouds.

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LivLand Lofoten

As we get nearer tonight's accommodation, I ring the number given to us by Booking.com. A man answers. I am assuming he is speaking Norwegian, so I do so myself too. He replies in 'nordlandsk', the local dialect. After asking him to repeat what he said half a dozen times, I apologise and explain that I have lived abroad for 45 years and my Norwegian is very rusty. I try to repeat everything I 'think' he says, so that at least if I have got it wrong, he will realise that!

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The conversation put me in mind of the Barclaycard advert with Rowan Adkinson some 20 years ago: “We are both fluent; sadly in different languages".

The way I understand it, his wife is going to meet us at the house, and she is 15 minutes away. So are we. After waiting around for a while when we get there, David offers to ring up again and speak to him. I listen in and decide that this chap is way easier to understand in English than he is in Norwegian!

He tells David where to find the key, and we let ourselves in. We are now in Lofoton, where we are staying in a small settlement called Laukvik. The accommodation looks out over a pretty little bay.

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Our part of the building

Yet again the stairs are steep and winding. Is that a local speciality? The main problem with these stairs, however, is not just the gradient, but also the fact that each step is so shallow – around half the size of my foot! It is not so bad going up, but I already have recurring nightmares about falling down stairs (and other precipices) without the thought of trying to (carefully) negotiate these each time I want to use the loo in the night!

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The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs (with the latter having lovely underfloor heating beneath the tiles). Upstairs is the open plan lounge-diner and kitchen.

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The landlady turns up soon after we've settled in and she is thankfully very much easier to understand than her husband. We chat for a while about local conditions, snowfall, avalanches and such like. Before she leaves, she warns us that the old house can be quite noisy in the wind.

We are all finding it quite hard to adjust to the limited daylight hours, and feel somewhat confused that even though it is only 4pm, it is pitch black outside.

I am looking forward to having a shower this afternoon. I strip off and tip toe across the cold floor and into the lovely large bathroom, where the underfloor heating immediately warms my feet. The nearer the shower I get, the hotter the floor becomes. The heater appears to be right underneath where the shower is, and I soon hot-foot it (literally) back out again. It is unbearably hot, like walking on tropical sand in the heat of the day! Ouch! No shower for me tonight, as I didn't bring any flip-flops with me to protect my feet! We turn the heating down a little and hope it will be better tomorrow.

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With no aurora activity this evening (the sky is full of dark clouds), we have a few drinks before retiring for the night. The storm is raging out there now, and we are looking forward to a cosy evening listening to it from the comfort of our beds.

The first thing that strikes us about the wind is that it seems to be coming up through the floorboards! I have never experienced that before, and I don't understand how it can happen, as the house is not on stilts!

Once we settle into bed, we certainly understand what the landlady meant when she said the house is noisy! Wow! I have never known a building to make a racket like that before! While it isn't scary, I cannot describe the sounds, they are like something you'd hear in a horror film: whistling, groaning, squeaking, knocking, whining, howling, and almost barking. By morning we think we're the ones that are barking!

Good night. Not. Beds are comfy though.

Posted by Grete Howard 14:34 Archived in Norway Tagged harbour landscape storm scenery ice sunrise steps stairs norway windy wind lofoten norge hurtigruten sortland nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen hinnøya frugga_feriehus hovden austvågøya laukvik vågen frozen_fjord drift_ice bjørndalen ånstadsjøen sormy_skies storm_clouds nordlandsk livland_lofoten narrow_steps underfloor_heating noisy_house døgnvill Comments (2)

Serdar - Kopetdag - Magtymguly - Mollakara - Balkanabad

Moon Mountains and the Salt Sea


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast this morning in the guest house here at Serdar consists of yogurt, cherry jam, cheese, tomatoes and the ever-present bread. There can't be many nations on earth who eat as much bread as the Turkmen do.

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Later we are asked if we want fried egg and salami. It's an unusual combination, but rather enjoyable.

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This morning's drive takes us south through barren and desolate scenery, with no trees or even falcons, which we saw many of on our journey yesterday. Nothing. The place appears eerily devoid of life.

We are now nearing the Iranian border and arrive at a restricted area that requires special permission to enter. We have been warned that the checks here may take a while, and that we are to avoid photography at all costs. We hand over our passports, which Artem (our cute driver) takes to the police post along with vehicle registration documents, his driving licence and the tourist authorisation certificate; and wait. And wait. Meanwhile we listen to music in the car; Artem plays a good mix of popular western and Russian songs. The procedure takes just over 25 minutes in all, and we are on our way again.

Moon Mountains

The Kopetdag Mountains is a 600 kilometre long mountain range stretching along the Turkmenistan-Iran border. The landscape is distinctly lunar in appearance, living up to its local nickname of 'Moon Mountains'. The name Kopetdag, in fact, means 'many mountains' in the Turkmen language.

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Once located at the bottom of the sea, the heavily furrowed sedimentary rock slopes look like soft gravel or even slag heaps, but are in fact more akin to solidified mud, and very firm underfoot. We see evidence of crustaceans on the ground, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

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Stretching as far as the eye can see, the forbidding desert-like landscape is as curious as it is beautiful – seeing the arid remains of low-level vegetation, I can but wonder what it would look like in spring, after the rains, when plants and flowers come to life.

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This area is rich with pomegranate and walnut trees, and we see a number of the former along the side of the road.

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It's the first time we have seen pomegranates in their natural habitat, and I am keen to see how they grow and photograph them. That is one of the numerous things I love about travel – exotic fruits that I have only ever seen in the supermarkets, are commonplace somewhere in the world. It never ceases to amaze me that however much we travel, we still manage to get 'firsts' on every single trip.

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Magtymguly Museum

We make a stop at a small museum dedicated to a local hero, Magtymguly Pyragy, who was an Iranian-Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet in the 18th century.

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Looking at the copies of some of the books Magtymguly has written, I am intrigued by the frames within each page containing diagonal writing. Neither the guide nor the museum curator are able to shed any light on this peculiar aspect.

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Magtymguly was much more than a renowned poet; he also worked as a silversmith for a while.

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He even made a wedding ring for Mengli, the girl he loved and wanted to marry. Unfortunately her family forbade the union, and the ring remained unworn.

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Magtymguly had a number of strong political views, and fought to keep the Turkmen-way sacred, as well as maintaining the harmony and integrity of the Turkmen nation. He became a symbol of Turkmen unity but also a common voice of Turkish and Islamic world and is revered not only in Turkmenistan but also in neighbouring countries. The museum is very proud of the artefacts associated with his life and career.

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17th century ewers found during excavations

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Meat cooler made from sheep skin

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Kitchen implements, including a pestle used to make the customary small holes found in the traditional Turkmen bread

David is suffering from a severe cold he picked up on the flight out here, with his eyes being extremely sore and sensitive to light, so stays behind in the car while I have the museum, guide, and curator to myself.

The journey back through the border control is way quicker, just a mere three minute passport check and we're on our way, continuing further west. For a while the road is intermittently bumpy, with a number of potholes, and a couple of times I find myself caught unawares and bouncing off the ceiling.

Lunch

Yet another private room with a huge flat-screen TV. This one is not playing Lara Croft, however, but a very funny Russian slap-stick comedy about an incompetent chef in a restaurant. There is no need to understand Russian to appreciate the humour, although Meylis translates any dialogue of importance. None of us want to leave when we have finished our meal, as we are desperate to find out what happens next in the soap opera. Alas, we will never know the fate of the live goose the hapless chef bought.

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After the huge lunches we've had the last couple of days, and as my tummy is still pretty fragile, I order just a plain lentil soup accompanied by the ubiquitous bread

The road from here is long and straight, cutting through a vast flat area with the Kopetdag Mountain Range behind, and in the distance a mirage appears on the horizon. It must be soul-destroying boring to drive, and although the speed limit is 90km / hour, we are travelling a 'little bit' faster than that.

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Sand from the Karakum Desert (which covers 80% of the country) blows across the road for a few miles, offering some reprieve - and interest - from the previous monotonous view.

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In this arid and barren region we are surprised to see a flood plain. Apparently the water is still here since some heavy rain they experienced in April. I am absolutely flabbergasted that surface water can survive the oppressive dry heat in this region for five months without evaporating. That must have been some rain storm! It's not just a small puddle either, but covers quite a substantial area. Meylis tells us that at the time the road was deep under water for a couple of weeks. I can well imagine that is must have been pretty bad for there still to be so much flood water left now.

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We stop at a filling station to put fuel in the car, and are impressed by the Eco 93 petrol sold here. Apparently it is the first 'clean petrol' in the world, made from gas (of which Turkmenistan has rather a lot). At 2 manat a litre (57c / 46p at the official rate of 3.5 manat per dollar) it is more expensive than regular petrol. I wish I could take some home!

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Mollakara Sanatorium and Salt Lake

Opened in 2012, the modern health spa was built in a famous therapeutic mud resort on the shores of Lake Mollakara. The lake is fed by underground sources, and its healing features include chlorides and sodium sulphate, magnesium, iron, bromine salts and other minerals.

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Artem is trying to find a way down to the lake, but it seems the sanatorium wants to monopolise the salty waters, and has closed all gates and entrances that lead down to the shore. After trying a number of options, which include ignoring signs, attempting to pick gate locks, and driving off road to get around fencing; we finally manage to get near the water's edge, only to find the lake is almost dry!

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How astonishing! We passed areas of flooding just a few miles back, yet here there is very little water left in the lake! The sanatorium websites talk about swimming and floating in the alkaline waters - here it is so shallow that you'd be lucky if your ankles get wet!

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After driving around a little bit more, Artem finds another part of the lake, where, although there is very little water left, the salt deposits are easily accessible close to the road.

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The salt has formed little ridges on the surface, creating an interesting texture.

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Like little kids, all four of us go and play on and with the crusty salt formations.

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The benefits of salty water and mud treatments have been know to people from old times, and as long ago as 1900 there was a sanatorium built here.

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Who needs an expensive health spa to reap the benefits?

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Cemetery

It seems that different regions of Turkmenistan have different traditions and cultures when it comes to burying their dead. The grave markers at this cemetery consist of leaning plants of wood.

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Balkanabat

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This area is well known for its strong winds (which we saw evidence of earlier, with the sand drifting across the road), something that is reflected in this sculpture depicting desert people leaning in to the wind and shielding their faces from the blowing sand as they walk.

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Balkanabat may be a modern city built on the proceeds of oil; but there are still unattended camels wandering around the streets.

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Nebichi Hotel

As with the hotel we stayed at in Ashgabat, Nebichi Hotel looks palatial from the outside and has a grand-looking lobby.

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What it doesn't have, however, is a lift. Nor does it provide more than one set of towels or spare roll(s) of toilet paper. This seems to be a common trend here in Turkmenistan, and we ring for Housekeeping to bring the missing items to the room. Thankfully Meylis helps carry our bags up the two flights of stairs. Having a strong young man for a guide, certainly has its advantages.

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Dinner

As he did last night, Meylis knocks on the door as he has been asked to come down to the restaurant to help us order as the waitress speaks no English.

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The restaurant is full of idiosyncrasies – lovely linen tablecloth, covered in tacky-looking plastic; and the beautifully folded cloth napkins are apparently just for decorative purposes. Once the waitress has taken our order, she removes David's napkin and places it on a storage cabinet next to us. As soon as she is out of sight, however, I recover the napkin and place it back onto David's plate. When she returns with our drinks, the server yet again removes the cloth napkin, and brings us cheap paper serviettes instead. By this stage I have already unfolded mine and put it on my lap, so the moment she disappears back into the kitchen again, I carefully re-fold it, thread it through the little serviette-ring and put in with David's on the side. I might as well comply with the unwritten napkin rule and enjoy a my beer.

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Too pretty to be used

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David's head cold is still making his eyes extremely sensitive to light, so he plays Mr Cool with his sunglasses on.

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Adana Kebab - meat in a wrap with vegetables and a tasty sauce.

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The beef stroganoff features the best meat we've had so far on the trip

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Russian salad. With ham. In a Muslim country. OK.....

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The food is good, and we go to bed feeling very satisfied after another fascinating day here in Turkmenistan. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:12 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged beer desert landscape cemetery scenery museum dinner tv flood camel salt gas petrol cold travel_photography mirage poetry fuel arid comedy poet turkmenistan salt_lake kebab central_asia undiscovered_destinations head_cold pomegranate karakum ex_ussr fried_salami border_checks moon_mountains kopetdag kopetdag_mountains lunar_scenery pomegranate_trees magtymguly magtymguly_museum private_dining lentil_soup karakum_desert mollakara sanatorium mollakara_sanatorium mollakara_salt_lake balkanabat petrol_station nebichi_hotel idiosyncrasy napkin napkin_saga serviette adana_kebab beef_stroganoff stroganoff russian_salad Comments (11)

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