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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)

Langøya

Island explorations


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

We are disappointed to find the thermometer showing around zero today, and once we leave the house we can see that the mild weather is already beginning to melt the snow.

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View from Frugga Feriehus across the harbour at Hovden.

The plan today is just to explore Langøya Island and bookmark a few possible sites for photographing the Northern Lights later should we have the opportunity. As soon as we have finished breakfast, we head off in an anticlockwise direction.

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Sandvika

A beautiful sandy bay (which is in fact the direct translation of its name) with a gorgeous beach – I bet this place gets busy in summer!

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White Tailed Sea Eagle

The excitement in the car soars when we spot an eagle sitting on some rocks. I get my camera ready and wait for him to fly off. He is a long way away, but I still want to try and capture him with my camera and long lens (plus some serious cropping when I get home).

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Eventually he flaps his wings and takes off, and only then do we realise that there are in fact two of them.

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Quarry high on the hillside

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The small settlement of Gustad - every dramatic scenery should have a red cabin or two

I am fascinated by the ice on the frozen fjord and how it cracks up with the movement of the sea.

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Sunrise

Today has been mostly grey, albeit with some dramatic clouds.

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A brief moment of sun

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And it's gone again!

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Straumsnes

Some places have more snow than others.

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In order to save money, we make sandwiches every day for lunch. That was always the plan, which is just as well, as it seems every café and restaurant in this area is closed for winter, so we would really struggle to find somewhere to eat if we didn't have our own packed lunch.

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Guvåg

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Is this Vesterålen's very own Loch Ness Monster?

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Verhalsen

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By 14:00 it is already quite dark – adding an extra layer of drama to the already impressive scenery.

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Icicles

We see more enormous icicles today, and we still find them quite extraordinary.

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I really should have included a person for scale, but these rocks are around eight feet tall.

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Avalanche Risk

With steep-sided mountains tumbling almost into the sea and just a small strip of land available for habitation, it stands to reason that these islands are at risk of avalanche during times of heavy snowfall.

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Fisheries

With such a long coastline it is only natural that this area is known for its fish and seafood. Some are wild caught and others are farmed, such as here. The last couple of days we have sampled the local delicacies with prawn and crayfish on the menu.

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It is really quite dark now, and we are making our way back to base, but we still manage to find a couple of places to pull off the road so that Lyn and I can get our tripods out and take a few last photos of the day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:44 Archived in Norway Tagged snow beach sunrise eagle europe norway europa icicles norge loch_ness_monster nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen nordnorge frugga_feriehus hovden sandvika sea_eagle gustad straumsnes guvåg verhalsen avalanche_risk fisheries Comments (3)

More Andøya

A leisurely day


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

We set out to do more explorations of Andøya today, and are very excited to see the coastal voyage ship Hurtigruten ready to dock at Risøyhamn.

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As we don't have the pressure of collecting Lyn's luggage today, we have the chance to stop for photographs a little more often.

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Failing to find a suitable lay-by, I merely take photos through the windscreen.

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Sørmela

The topography here in Vesterålen is nothing short of spectacular, with steep cliffs tumbling straight into the sea. Communities have been carved out of the small area of flat land that are found near the ocean; or where there is no suitable ground, the road is cut into the hillside for want of any other space. This is why the coastal voyage postal ships were so vital before the roads – and bridges – were built.

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The roads also travel through the mountains on several occasions, with some very long tunnels, as well as short ones such as here.

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There are some impressive waves too.

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Woodpecker

Without warning, a woodpecker cuts across the bow of the car and flies up onto a telegraph pole. Excitedly we wait for him to reappear so we can take a decent photo of him. He doesn't. He hides behind the post until he decides he has teased us enough and disappears into the distance. Later identified as a Grey Headed Woodpecker, he is another new bird to us.

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Rubbish photo, but we saw him!

Every few minutes there is a scene that I beg David to stop the car for so that I can photograph it. I have to confess that I often just shoot from the passengers seat, as most times we are unable to find an area to pull off the road where we can safely get out of the car. Thankfully traffic is light to the point of almost non-existent, so we are able to just stop the car on the main road for long enough to take pictures.

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Once we are back on Hinnøya, we take the road from last night, but continue on further.

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At a junction we are unsure of which direction to take, and soon realise we've probably chosen unwisely when we come across a sign that states: “Construction road. Bad Condition. Continue at your own risk.”

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We do continue for a short distance, but decide that it probably isn't worth the risk and with nowhere to turn the car, David ends up reversing back to the crossroads.

The other choice at the intersection takes us past farms with a few domestic animals, the first we've seen on the trip so far.

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While the sky is still showing feint hues of pink, purple and yellows, the moon is just rising and looming large from behind the mountains.

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Reindeer

David spots it first: an animal in the road. A horse maybe? No, it has antlers, it must be a deer.

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As we get nearer we realise – to our great surprise - it is in fact a reindeer! Not just one, but two!

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Another one appears and crosses the road in front of us. This is seriously exciting!

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As more and more reindeer come into sight, it becomes apparent that these are indeed domesticated – albeit free range – reindeer.

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Burying their heads in the snow, they dig for moss and other tasty vegetation.

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They may be part of a domestic herd, but is still the first time I have seen reindeer walking around freely in all the years I lived in Norway. What a very special experience!

The daylight is all but gone by the time we get back to the house. We are hoping for some more Northern Lights this evening, but unfortunately they are not playing ball, so we spend the evening eating, drinking and chatting.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:40 Archived in Norway Tagged landscapes waves scenery farm tunnel moon norway woodpecker reindeer norge hurtigruten nord_norge risøyhamn drive_by_shooting northern_norway vesteralen andøya nordnorge hinnøya sørmela coastal_voyage Comments (3)

Lyngen - Alta - Gargia

Sunrise, sunset and moonrise. All within a three hour period. Followed - much later - by the northern lights. Sort of.

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View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It's still snowing when we go out this morning, but thankfully it doesn't look like it has been snowing heavily all night, as the new snowfall isn't that deep. Deep enough, though.

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The light is mysterious and magical as we make our way towards the mainland and the main E6 highway to the north today.

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As we wait for the ferry, we make another attempt at phoning the SixT car hire place to ask about the tyre pressure warning light that came on yesterday. This time we make sure that the + sign is at the front of the number, not at the end; and thankfully we now reach the right people. They confirm our conclusion, that it is nothing to worry about and it's perfectly safe to continue driving. Good.

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Seeing this guy with his snow-blower, brings back memories of the fun parts of clearing the snow back home.

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Even if we don't see northern lights or experience anything else on this trip, it has been worth coming to Norway just for today's drive along the coast from Lyngen to Alta. The scenery is magnificent, and although it has been said many times that pictures cannot do these things justice, here are a few photos to show some of the vistas we see:

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Whenever David can, he stops for me to get out and take photos. Most of the time, however, it is just the usual 'drive-by-shooting', as these roads are quite narrow and winding, with very few places to stop, or even pass any slow-moving vehicles.

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Is that blue sky I see? This bodes well for our northern lights safari tonight!

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Although it is -4 °C now, because there is no wind it doesn't feel that cold when I nip out of the car without a jacket to take some shots. I don't linger though...

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Although to the untrained eye (ours), the road doesn't appear to need clearing, we see a number of snowploughs on the journey. The local authorities seem to be very much on top of the winter maintenance in these parts.

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In a huge lay-by we stop to have a car picnic overlooking the mountains and the sunset. Up here there is a bitingly cold wind making the 'real feel' very much lower than the actual temperature of -6 °C.

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Today there is absolutely no fear of me falling asleep, as the scenery and sunrise/sunset are absolutely breathtaking! The main E6 hugs the coastline, weaving in and out of the fingers of fjords, inlets and islands, with bridges and tunnels. Although the Arctic winter light is captivating, we so want to come back in summer to do this journey during never-ending daylight!

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Unlike the UK where it is often over in a few minutes, the sunrise and sunset seem to go on forever here in the north. For 2.5 hours we have a bewitching sunrise merging seamlessly into an equally delightful sunset, painting the sky and mountain peaks in hues of pink, orange and purple.

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All too soon daylight fades over this beautiful coastline yet again.

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Suddenly we spot the most incredible moon rising over the mountain on the horizon. With nowhere to pull over, I snap away feverishly through the window of the moving car – this has to be the most extraordinary moonrise I have ever seen! Words cannot describe it, and pictures do not do this magnificent, spine-tingling moment justice.

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A mere ten minutes go by before we can find somewhere to stop – in the small village of Talvik – so that I can put my tripod up to photograph the moon properly. In that time it has already risen considerably higher on the horizon and is no longer quite so dramatic.

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Gargia Fjellstue

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From Alta we are turning inland to get to our accommodation for the night – Gargia Fjellstue, and by the time we get there it is completely dark. So are the lodgings. No lights on inside the main building, nor any of the cabins. We try the door. Locked. We ring the telephone number we were given in the booking. Voice-mail. What do we do now? At -15 °C it is too cold to stand around outside, so we get back in the car and ponder our next move.

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After about ten minutes or so, a young girl appears, walks past the car and around the back of the reception/restaurant. Lights are turned on, and the front door unlocked.

As we are checking in, David comments that she speaks very good English – turns out she is in fact English, from Oxford! Mathild, as we learn her name is, tells us everyone thinks she is a Norwegian who speaks good English. “Just like me, then” I quip, but it isn't until I reply to her in Norwegian that she realises I am serious!

The lodge keeps a number of dogs for sled racing purposes, and Mathild hands me the most adorable three week old puppy! Apparently the young mother ate all the other puppies so this one is being hand raised. The puppy is gorgeous and nestles up against my neck, grunting in a very similar way to the baby wild pig I snuggled up to in an almost identical fashion a few weeks ago in Kenya.

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The dog yard

We settle in to our comfortable little 'hytte' – a small wood cabin with grass on the roof – although the air inside is fairly cool when we arrive.

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The cabin may be small, but it is very welcoming and cosy. The main room features the dining area, sitting area and kitchenette.

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A bathroom off to one side, as well as a bedroom.

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One feature I notice, which is typical Norwegian, is the pull-out bread board in place of a top drawer in the kitchen.

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Dinner
As soon as we've settled in, I start to make dinner. Having turned on the hot plates, I can't believe how long they take to heat up. Being used to induction cooking at home, the classic electric cooking rings seem so old-fashioned and slow. I wait, and wait and wait for the butter to even start melting. I bought a couple of whale steaks in the supermarket yesterday; one of my many nostalgic foods for this trip. Whale was almost as common as beef for Sunday dinners back home.

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I know it is a very controversial subject, and I don't want to get into a discussion about the ethics of whale hunting. I would just like to point out that the minke whale available for food in Norway is not an endangered species; unlike cod - the most popular variety used for the English fish and chips.

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Whale is nothing like fish or seafood in appearance, texture or taste. It is more akin to a very lean steak.

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Whale steaks served with mushrooms and potatoes in a creamy sauce.

Sugar Tongs

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These very commonly used tongs in the sugar bowl remind me of a rather old Norwegian joke: “The farmer was well known for popping behind the cow shed for a quick pee, even while having visitors; and his wife was fed up – and embarrassed – that once back inside, he didn't wash his hands, and would grab a couple of sugar cubes using his fingers. One of their friends suggested the solution was to get some tongs.

A week later the same friend was yet again having coffee and cakes with the farmer and his wife, when she noticed the farmer disappeared outside, came back in again, and as before, used his hands to help himself to sugar.

“Did you not get any tongs” she asked the farmer's wife. “Oh, yes, I did” she replied “and I hung them behind the cow shed...”

Aurora Hunting

Gargia Fjellsture has free wifi in the cabins, and the signal is strong enough that we can check out the various weather and aurora forecasts for this evening. It is not looking too brilliant, but we decide to go off in search of the lights anyway.

This is one of our favourite sites for aurora forecasts.

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Mathild recommends we carry on up the track past the cabins, for four kilometres, to a high plateau where there is a large area suitable for parking.

We find the spot without any trouble, and from here we can see in every single direction, without much light pollution. I set up my tripod and take a few test shots to determine which settings are best for the conditions. There is quite a glow from the bright lights of Alta, and the presence of the moon means it is not pitch dark outside, which makes it easier to navigate around.

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After a short while we are joined by another car and we sit there and wait and wait. Then we see something... It may be a cloud, but as the camera can pick up way more colour than the naked eye can, I take a few test shots.

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Yes, it is definitely a green hue in the sky, but it is very weak and mostly hiding behind the clouds.

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For the next three hours, we sit, wait, drink coffee, pop out to look at the sky, see a cloud, get back in the car, drink some more coffee, stand outside wishing the clouds to go away....

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Finally we admit defeat and make our way back to the cabin. The rooms have heated up while we were out so I don't have to go to bed with all my clothes on after all.

Posted by Grete Howard 10:13 Archived in Norway Tagged landscapes mountains sky snow winter sunset coast travel roads scenery sunrise clouds holiday fun beautiful moon norway ferry moonrise wind cold aurora northern_lights night_time stunning alta car_hire road-trip aurora_borealis snowing biltrend nord_norge e6 norwegian_coast night_photography gargia gargia_fjellstue snow_plough snow_plow ploughing moon_rise talvik self_catering sugar_tongs Comments (1)

Tromsø: Lyngen Alps, Kaldfjord and Sommarøy. And Finland?

Snow, snow and more snow. Oh, did I say snow?

snow 1 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast

Breakfasts in Norway are generally very similar to lunch and usually consist of open sandwiches with meat, fish, egg or cheese. The bread is most often wholemeal and quite dense. My breakfasts (as well as packed lunches for school) in the 1960s and 70s used to contain home made bread with either Gouda cheese or a salami-like deli sausage called Stabburspølse made from horse meat, pork fat and blood. My favourite! The school did not allow white bread or sweet fillings for lunch, and the headmaster personally checked each and every sandwich-pack! Fruit and vegetables were allowed but no snacks such as crisps (chips) or chocolates!

Unable to find Stabburspølse in the supermarket yesterday, I bought something similar, made from lamb meat, pork heart, beef heart, pork meat and beef fat. I am delighted to find it tastes very similar to the one made from horse.

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I have another slice of bread, topped with 'rekesalat' - a rich mixture of prawns, sugar beets and mayonnaise - another treat we used to have occasionally at home, which makes me think fondly of my mother, as it was one of her favourites.

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Sandwiches are nearly always the open variety in Norway, not one slice of bread either side of the filling.

Cheese
David is not as adventurous as me when it comes to food, and is happy to stay 'safe' with Jarlsberg – at least it is a Norwegian cheese! In my day (gosh, that makes me sound sooo old!), we didn't talk about different cheeses by name; it was either 'gulost' (yellow cheese) or 'brunost' (brown cheese). The former was almost always Gouda, whereas 'brunost', AKA Gjetost, is a caramelised whey cheese made from goat's milk – an acquired taste. One I have not acquired!

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Brunost

It is still not quite daylight when we go out at 9am this morning - today sunrise is at 09:56 and sunset at 13:02.

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Parking in the snow and cold

Parking our car outside the house in the cold and snowy north is very different to what we are used to. One of the things we were advised to do, is to make sure the windscreen wipers are up so that they don't freeze onto the windscreen overnight.

Other suggestions include:

Take the snow brush and ice scraper in with us. Should we come out in the morning to find the car covered in a foot of snow we will be glad we did.

Let the cabin of the car cool down before we close the door to reduce the amount of ice forming on the windscreen overnight.

Be prepared to get up early to clear the driveway so that we can get onto the main road. The roads in Norway are cleared regularly, starting very early in the morning (our side road back in the 70s was usually ploughed by 7am), but the disadvantage of this is the ridge which is often left by the snowplough across your driveway!

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The original plan was to visit the Arctic Cathedral and a couple of Tromsø's museums today, but being surrounded by so much beautiful scenery it seems a shame to spend the day indoors. Yesterday at the SixT counter, Hans-Ivar (the guy who helped us with the car) was explaining to us which fjord is best for whale watching; so that's where we are heading this morning. Faced with a choice of seeing whales or visiting a museum, the whales win hands down!

Lyngen Alps

If you thought continental Europe had exclusive rights to Alps, you'd be wrong. Norway has its own mountain range known as Lyngen Alps, stretching some 50 miles east of Tromsø, with several peaks reaching over 1000 metres high.

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The area is truly stunning, with steep sided, snow clad mountains tumbling directly into the blue fjords.

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If you are wondering what those red poles by the side of the road are – they are markers to show where the edge of the carriageway is and road surface ends. They help both drivers and the snowplough stay on the road rather than end up in the ditch when there is a lot of snow.

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Svensby – Breivikeidet Ferry

We return to the ferry at Svensby this morning to travel back towards Tromsø again.

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There are a few more waves this morning, and while not exactly 'rough', we can certainly feel the movement of the boat and the crashing of the waves.

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Sitting in the car on the ferry deck is quite a strange experience, as we cannot see anything other than the very top of the mountains. It's like being in an enclosed simulator – one of those things you get at fairgrounds which are supposed to emulate the movement of a fighter plane, racing car or roller-coaster.

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Upstairs is a nice seating area, with a small café, as well as toilets. This morning most people seem to be staying in their cars, however.

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Key Battery Low

This morning a warning appears on our dashboard about the key battery being low. Not wanting to be stuck in icy conditions unable to get back into the car, we ring the number on the car hire receipt to see what they suggest we do. A nice your girl answers the phone and after ascertaining that she speaks English, David proceeds to explain the situation. “You need help with the car?” she asks after his fairly lengthy summary of the problem. David goes over it again, carefully choosing different words this time in an effort to be understood. As the girl on the other end still seems confused, he hands me the phone, and I go though the whole scenario in Norwegian. She lets me finish then says calmly: “I understand your problem, but you have come through to a veterinary hospital.”

Oops.

Feeling rather embarrassed and foolish, I profusely apologise and sheepishly hang up.

Sunrise

By the time we get to the other side of the fjord, the mist has rolled in from the sea and there is snow in the air. By 10 o'clock, however, we see a glimmer of sunrise – maybe it will be a nice day after all? Blink and you'll miss it. The forecast is not good...

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Biltrend

After the earlier humiliation, we decide not to risk phoning SixT again, and when we spot the BILTREND showroom (we have one of their adverts emblazened in big letters on the side of the hire car) we call in to ask them about the key battery. The friendly sales person changes it for us free of charge. How nice. We tell him about the vet fiasco, and discover that we did call the correct number, but the + sign had somehow ended up at the end of the number rather than in front. How does that work?

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Elk

We are both really hoping to see elk on our travels! And I guess if we are unlucky enough to hit one, we now at least have the number of a veterinarian. Very useful!

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Whale Watching

We head for Kaldfjorden where the orcas were spotted earlier this week. Guess what? It's snowing! Near Ersjordbotn we stop at a viewing area, but all we can see is snow. And more snow.

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And then the really bad weather comes in from the right.

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We can't see a thing any more. Not that we could see much before...

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Thank goodness for coffee and 'pepperkaker' (thin Norwegian ginger biscuits).

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The storm passes as quickly as it arrived – although we can still see the bad weather blowing across the horizon.

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Watching several fishermen bring their boats back in to the harbour, we realise that the weather forecast was probably right.

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David tries his best to check out the weather and aurora predictions for later, but isn't having much success with his laptop or his phone.

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With zero visibility, strong winds and horizontal snow, we decide to abandon the idea of whale watching and take a road trip around Kvaløya Island instead.

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Kvaløya

It has never really got light today, and before we know it, sunset is upon us. It is really hard to tell at what point sunrise ends and sunset starts as they just seem to blend into one twilight zone.

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It's a beautiful coastline, even in this light. Or rather, lack of.

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And then the snow sets in. Again.

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The scenery is magnificent – providing you like black and white, and you don't actually want to see it.

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Driving Conditions

The snowfall intensifies, and soon we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard, with a white-out – or rather a 'grey-out'. Here we are the ones making tracks in the road, the first to have driven this stretch since the snow started a couple of hours ago!

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The one saving grace for the driving here is the fact that the car is fitted with studded tyres, giving extra grip in the snow and ice. It would be stupid, foolhardy and downright dangerous to attempt this journey on summer tyres.

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Sommarøy

Having come this far, we decide to continue over the bridge to Sommarøy.

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Havfrua Kro

The weather is just as atrocious out here, so we find a 'kro' (road side café) to break up the journey and grab a bite to eat. The island is a popular tourist destination in summer due to its white sandy beaches and beautiful scenery, but at this time of year it is desolate and we are the only customers in the diner.

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For some reason this place makes me think of the 1990s American sitcom 'Northern Exposure'.

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Karbonadesmørbrød
Before I left the UK, I made a mental list of all the nostalgic experiences I wanted to have while in Norway. Eating 'karbonadesmørbrød' in a road-side 'kro' was one of them.

'Karbonader' is the Norwegian version of a hamburger, and as a 'smørbrød' (open sandwich), it is served on a slice of wholemeal bread, topped with fried onion. It is sometimes served cold, but here I get it straight out of the frying pan. This is (or at least was when I lived in Norway some 40+ years ago) one of the most popular cafeteria menu items in this country.

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Waffles
Waffles are a Norwegian institution, and you will find almost all snack bars, cafés and even restaurants serve them. Every household has a waffle iron, and inviting someone over for waffles is common. In our house waffles were most often served with raspberry jam or freshly stewed strawberries when in season. I am therefore quite surprised – and a little disappointed – to find this one is filled with the ubiquitous brown cheese. I don't like brown cheese, but never being one to turn down a food just because I think I won't like it; I decide to give it a second chance and taste it with an open mind. It is actually not bad!

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Eplekake
While David sticks to the more international choice of burger and chips (no surprise there then!), he does at least order something Norwegian for dessert: 'eplekake' (apple cake).

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Now, anyone who has ever visited Norway will agree with me that it is NOT a cheap country, I was therefore not too shocked when the bill came to 340 Kr (ca £26) for a burger and chips, open sandwich, apple cake, waffles, Coke and hot chocolate.

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Norlendinger and nordnorsk

One thing that has struck me since landing in Tromsø yesterday, is how friendly everyone is. Norwegians are not known for their friendliness, at least not towards strangers. I am beginning to think that this is the north-south divide, and that 'nordlendinger' (northerners) are more cordial than the people down south. The lady owner of the diner joins us for a long conversation, wanting to know all about how I ended up in England, what I did for a living, what it is like to live in England, how easy it is to get a job etc.

I love chatting with people and making new friends, but I have to admit that talking to strangers is something I have been feeling a little apprehensive about on this trip. Obviously, growing up in Norway, the first language I spoke was Norwegian. However, I left when I was 15, and since then 99% of my oral and written communication has been in English, therefore my Norwegian is not so much rusty as immature. My vocabulary is that of a teenager and after leaving Norway, my conversation in the language has been almost exclusively with my parents, resulting in a lack of knowledge – and confidence - of small talk, professional contact and chitchat.

Add to that the fact that this the country uses two official variations of Norwegian: Nynorsk (directly translated: new-Norwegian) and Bokmål (literally book-tongue). While mutually intelligible in their written form, I really struggle to understand the former when spoken. There are also 248 recognised dialects, although it is popularly said there are as many dialects as there are inhabitants in Norway. I find 'nordnorsk' – the dialect spoken in northern Norway – extremely hard to understand. Not only is the pronunciation very distinct, many words are completely different to the ones I would use. The image below goes some way to explain the differences even just in the simple word I.

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Over the Mountains

We make our way back down to Tromsø over the mountains, where the driving conditions are just as bad, and I let David down by snoozing most of the way. I just can not keep awake! Must be his smooth and safe driving...

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Tyrkisk Peber
I pop a few Tyrkisk Peber to try and stop myself from dropping off to sleep – these are another acquired taste for sure. They are hard liquorice sweets, with a salt and pepper soft centre. Very strong and very unusual.

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Shopping

Hans-Ivar at the car hire place recommended the Eide Handel supermarket as the best place in the area to get traditional Norwegian food. He was right. I am excited to find reindeer meat, whale steaks, cloudberry jam and a few other favourites from my youth.

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At the entrance is a lady selling her own home made 'lefser' (thin, flat potato bread) with sugar, cinnamon and brown cheese, and she is offering free tasters! Delicious! It isn't until after we get to the car that David tells me how much the lefse we bought was: 149Kr. Gulp. That's nearly £12. For a sweet 'cake' thingy....

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Chocolate
As the weather is so awful this side of Tromsø, we decide to take a trip inland towards (or even into) Finland; hoping for clearer skies – and ultimately northern lights – as there is usually less precipitation the further away from the coast you get . We stock up on snacks to keep us going through the evening so that we don't have to return to the house for dinner.

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SMIL is a milk chocolate with a soft centre, not dissimilar to Rolos, but with a runnier filling.

Tromsø

But first we have to get through Tromsø, which is easier said than done and we get somewhat lost in the one-way and dead-end road systems. At least we get a 'sightseeing tour' of Tromsø by night. Or, more correctly, Tromsø after dark, as it is only 16:30 now, it just feels like the middle of the night...

Tromsø has a rich history dating back around 11,000 years and the city centre contains the highest number of old wooden houses anywhere in Northern Norway with the oldest building dating from 1789. It was the only city in Northern Norway to avoid serious damage during WWII (most of this area was burnt to the ground by the Germans) and it even served as the capital of the free Norway for a few weeks after Germany invaded Norway in 1940. We can't really see much of the town in the dark though, so we just admire the Christmas lights.

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Hurtigruten
It looks like the Coastal Voyage ship is in town. Hurtigruten is a daily passenger and freight shipping service along Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. Although it does carry passengers, it is not a cruise ship as such - for many people living in isolated coastal areas, it is a way of life as their main contact with the rest of the world, carrying goods, cars and even the post.

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Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Cathedral)
Officially known as Tromsdalen Kirke, this iconic symbol of Tromsø is technically not a cathedral at all, but a parish church which has popularly attained the moniker 'Arctic Cathedral'. On account of its striking shape and position on the harbour, it has also been nicknamed the 'Opera House of Norway', referring to its (somewhat sinuous) resemblance to the Sydney Opera House. The artist himself is said to have given several different answers at different times when questioned about what inspired him to create this particular design: the Sami tent, icebergs, fish-drying racks and the local style of boathouse amongst others.

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Snow, snow and more snow

Almost as soon as we cross the bridge from Tromsø to the mainland, the snow starts to come down heavily. Really heavily.

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Crunch Time

We are now having to make a decision – do we carry on towards Finland, or do we make our way back to base? From here to Kilpisjärvi in Finland takes around 1.5 hours in perfect driving conditions. Today's circumstances are anything but perfect. We will have to drive back again too of course, which is another 2.5 hours at best. So we are talking about 5-6 hours driving in this snow. Once we get to Finland there is no guarantee that the weather is going to be any clearer, nor that the aurora will make an appearance; so it could all be a total waste of time.

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Decisions decisions.

Talking it over, we come to the conclusion that it is best – and safest – to abandon our the long journy to Finland and any hopes of seeing the northern lights tonight.

We see a small road off to our left and assume it to be a shortcut back to the house. After a kilometer or so, we realise that we have made a terrible mistake, as the snow is falling unbelievably fast and furious now – I can't remember ever driving in such treacherous snowy conditions. Visibility is down to around 3 metres, and we start looking for somewhere to turn.

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That is easier said than done. A single track lane, with no turnings off, nor any obvious passing places or laybys, we end up travelling for another couple of kilometres before cheekily using someone's driveway to turn around.

At least back on the main road the snow is constantly kept in check by ploughing.
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Check Tyre Pressure?

Great! Now we have a warning message to 'CHECK TYRE PRESSURE'. That's all we need! David goes out into the snow to have a quick look at the tyres to see if there is an obvious puncture or flat.

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There isn't anything glaringly evident, so we cautiously drive on. But not until we have taken a quick break with a coffee from the thermos and a Kvikk Lunsj – another Norwegian 'institution', very similar to the English Kit Kat.

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It's a relief when we enter a tunnel for a while, as although those dancing snowflakes in the headlights are mesmerising and very pretty; they are extremely tiring on the eyes, especially for the driver.

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As soon as we find a garage, we stop to check the tyre pressure properly. The gauge says 28 psi on each of the four wheels. The manual tells us it should be 33 psi at the front and 36 psi at the back, but doesn't mention whether this is for summer tyres or studs or both. We are reluctant to make any changes to how we received the car, as it is obvious that the pressure has not changed; it is unlikely for the pressure to have changed an equal amount on all four tyres since we took charge of the car. We drive home to 'sleep on it' and will make a decision about what to do tomorrow morning.

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Back Home

About eight inches or so of snow seems to have fallen since we left the house this morning. As suspected, the snow plough has been here this evening, and created a ridge across the road by the entrance to the house.

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Clearing the front step and drive is one of the things I do not miss about living in a cold climate!

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Hjemmekos

So, instead of watching the northern lights over Kilpisjärvi Lake in Finland, we now find ourselves back at the house, where we 'koser oss' with 'hveteboller' and 'julebrus'. The Norwegian word 'kos' does not have a direct English translation; although it is similar in meaning to the English word 'cosy', it encompasses a much wider emotion: a feeling of contentment, happiness, good friends, good food, comfort, warmth and much more. 'Kos' can be a verb ( we 'koser'), noun (that is 'kos') or adjective ( a 'koselig' place). Norwegians like to combine two or more words to create one longer one, so 'hjemmekos' is 'kos' at home, 'julekos' is 'kos' at Chritsmas, 'lørdagskos' is 'kos' on a Saturday and so on.

Hveteboller
Yet another Norwegian 'institution' is this simple currant bun. Ironically, if you google 'hveteboller', the top entry describes it as 'kos'!

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Julebrus
Another one of those combined Norwegian words, 'julebrus' is merely a Christmas soda or pop.

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We may not have seen the northern lights today, but it has certainly been an enjoyable day, and in many ways it is good to be able to have an early night, as we have a long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Grete Howard 10:11 Archived in Norway Tagged snow norway aurora northern_lights car_hire road-trip tromsø self-drive lyngen biltrend eide_handel nord_norge troms kro havfrua_kro sommarøy kvaløya hjemmekos Comments (0)

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