Northern light

456 nights : 17,252 miles travelled : countries visited: 20

I lost my mind, eternal light                                                                                                                                         I lost my heart in the countryside….                                                                                                                           I lost myself to nightless night              Nightless Night by Husky Rescue

 

We are exhausted!

Our energy levels drop through the floor at about 4 pm and we promise ourselves an early night. Then by 10 pm we are as bright as the skies with no intention of pulling the blinds and blacking out the light. We were too late in the year to see the midnight sun ( a Norwegian camper assured us it is the same sun as at all other times) but still, it never gets dark. It is so novel to take Kipper off for his last walk at 10.30 pm to watch the sun set. What a thrill for a few nights; but after five weeks, weariness is etched in our faces and leads to faintly comical searches for keys…and glasses….and names!

We wondered if the Norwegians would to think to put a sign on the road to mark when we had crossed the Arctic Circle. I kept thinking we’d passed the point, my map reading skills aren’t the best, but the satnav assured us that we were still below 66°. We needn’t have worried. There was a visitor centre selling an impressive array of souvenirs and spookily, the bright sunshine gave way to a grey chill as we approached the invisible line.

P1090281

P1090289

We took a ferry crossing to the Lofoten Islands. They are unlike anywhere else we have been; Norway with a twist. Looking back at photographs is a multi-sensory  experience with salty smells and calling sea birds accompanying them all. Scandinavian weather has often carried two seasons in one day, but in the Lofotens they can be seen just by turning around on the spot. We cannot wait to return.

The economy is a perfect blend of fishing and tourism. Å is a tiny village that leans heavily on the tourism but even here, fishermen were hard at work. Red painted rorbuer were originally their homes but are mainly holiday accommodation now.

P1090345

Lofoten’s traditional catch is cod which is then air dried on wooden racks from February to May and exported to Italy as stockfish. We saw mostly empty racks, with only dried heads waiting to go to Nigeria as ‘okporoko’ where it is used as flavouring in soups and stews.

P1090384

The ochre buildings of Sakrisøy stood out in a chain of beautiful villages on the southern islands and we stopped to buy some of the local delicacies.

 

P1090408
There but for the grace of cod……..

Stockfish has been traded since Viking times and in the 18th century, was exchanged with Russia for timber to build Flakstad Kirke (the onion dome on a wooden cabin is an unusual combination). The interior is most serene and the wood smells divine.

 

In Fredvang, we found a simple campsite at the end of a long gravel track. White beaches combined with cold clear water and dramatic backdrops to insulate us from time and other worldly interference….. oh just take me back!!!!

 

P1090420

Thank goodness we found the Vikings, we were beginning to think they were a myth! An insider told us that they were all nursing sore heads after a wild night around the camp fire but we were not shocked. That is exactly what you expect is it not?!

The Lofotr Viking Museum has reconstructed an 83 metre longhouse which showcases skills from those times but we were fortunate to catch the end of the annual festival where fanatics gather to live a Viking life…we pretended not to see the visa mastercard machines.

The four main Lofoten Islands are linked by bridges or tunnels which have you traversing the spiny peaks of the archipeligo.

P1090464

The winding journeys were made slower by the need to stop and stare at the clouds which wrapped themselves like ribbons around and between these peaks. Breathtaking.

P1090469

 

Henningsvaer doesn’t quite live up to it’s moniker ‘the Venice of Lofoten’. For one thing the temperature was the coldest we had experienced so far, but it does have some stylish little shops.

P1090599
Everybody needed their woolies!
P1090616
What do you think the old kaviar factory is now used for?

P1090621

 

It was in Henningsvaer that we bumped into Julie and Jason. Our Tour is one of the valuable and inspiring blogs that we read in the months before we packed our lives into the snail. Their travels with their dog Charlie convinced us that Kipper would tolerate life on the road and we were all delighted to meet them. Charlie may have found Kipper’s delight a bit over the top….literally!

The risk of ticking too many items off your bucket list is that eventually you may start to feel obliged to kick that bucket. We continued north to the top of Vesterålen in the hope of ticking off one of the top five. Andenes is close to the edge of the continental shelf, so it is relatively easy to reach areas where whales may be seen. However when we arrived we were informed by boat operators that the wind was too strong for trips. We were advised to keep checking with them, if we could afford to wait. We found a campsite on the lovely long beach at Bleik and decided that we could wait for two days.

P1090734
Oh yes we can wait here!
P1090748
Waiting patiently.
P1090768
Still waiting.

We got the go ahead on the third day. Or I got the go ahead. Graham feels sick before a ferry even leaves the harbour so he and Kipper volunteered to snail watch. I enjoyed the informative introductory presentation, boarded with many other hopefuls and quickly realised that I was not going to be able to see more than the backs of heads at the front of the boat. I joined the ashen faces of the landlubbers at the back and was amazed when the ‘blow’ of a sperm whale was spotted. We watched him bask on  the surface for a while before he dived. I am happy that I made a strategic decision to focus on watching not photographing because all too quickly he was gone.The boat moved further out to sea ( my breakfast moved out to sea too) before finding another male. It was the biggest thrill to see him blow, rest and dive twice which solves my problem with the bucket list. I’m not ticking it off until I’ve seen it all again!

 

We finally rejoined the mainland and as we found the E6 northbound, the fjords stretched wider and mountains grew higher.

P1090869

Our vocabulary shrank at the same rate the landscape expanded, with sighs and wows the only appropriate comment. Each day we drove through another page of grandmother’s calendar….you know, the kind with technicolour scenery.

P1090871

The first time we passed the Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta we thought it was the incinerator for the hospital next door! The hospital turned out to be a hotel and the front of the Cathedral was more attractively innovative. The interior was primarily artificially lit which is a surprise until you remember the length of the dark winters.

Where the cathedral aims to lift your gaze upwards, the ancients looked down for spiritual answers. Alta museum sits next to stone carvings between 2,000 and 6,000 years old, with scenes of hunting and fishing on earth often mirrored by similar scenes inverted, thought to be depictions of the underworld. While the modern red paint makes it easier to see the incisions, it is now recognised as harmful and is gradually being removed. With or without pigment, all the images left goosebumps and the setting on the waters edge was uplifting.

P1090909

We were close to the top of mainland Europe and there was an increasing sense of anticipation. Many people had left their mark at one of the rest stops, recording their names and journeys. We joined the community of pebbles and reflected on far we had come.

P1090956

We settled down for an overnight stop and were thrilled when we had what turned out to be our first visit by a reindeer. Cue childish squeals from the humans and Barry White growls from the dog.

P1090968

The final miles were memorable for being different. Bare but not barren. Stretched out before us but not unending.

P1090993

We arrived …..not quite at the very top of Europe ….but close enough for us. The voices of the travellers around us echoed our own sense of excitement. We were all grinning like Cheshire cats and the notorious charge to visit Nordkapp seemed not to matter.

P1100056
On top of the world…nearly!
P1100004
Nordkapp 71. 10′ 53″

Norway isn’t perfect. Kipper is regularly dive bombed by Arctic Terns and Graham is intimidated by the half-naked locals maximising their exposure to vitamin D. Prices are prohibitive, food often lacks imagination and towns are sometimes a little dull. Yet the natural landscape  is breathtaking and the power and scale of the scenery leaves you drunk and wanting more. We now know why there are so many Norwegian motorhomes on the road. Why would you go anywhere else?

We gazed at the horizon and imagined the Arctic ice that lay beyond. We watched a beautiful sunset slowly unfurl and at midnight my birthday was heralded by a bright orange streak in the sky. And we weren’t tired at all!

P1100038

M & G xx

Treat of the week: Lofoten stockfish is regarded as the best there is but we are taking some time to get used to it’s chewy texture (even dunking in beer doesn’t help!)

P1090479

Kipper is having no such difficulties and his treat of doggy stockfish is a daily highlight.

Fifty shades of green

444 nights : 16,461 miles travelled : countries visited : 20

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, this is what it is to be happy”  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

There’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that Norway is the most stunning country we have trailed around.        The bad news is that no words or pictures taken on our battered point and shoot camera can portray the natural beauty.

It’s as Graham says, you never ‘arrive’ anywhere in Norway. You gasp and then push on to see another wonder around the next corner. Here, the journey is the joy. We have spent hours on end travelling through scenery that makes you smile from the inside out. I daren’t glance down as we drive along for fear of missing another scene of unframed art.

One of our first stops was  Lillehammer, a surprisingly modest town, which was the setting of the 1994 winter olympics. We remembered the flame being launched down the ski jump, a feat even more impressive when seen up close.

P1080849
Not even Brian was tempted to give it a go!

We passed through hours of forests of many shades of green giving a textured 3D effect. Norwegians are very skilled at using timber in construction (even posts for armco barriers are wooden!) and most of the wooden ‘stave’ churches that have survived in Europe are in Norway. The staves are the corner posts and finials and doors are decorated with intricate carvings. Lom Church dates to around 1160 and is one of the largest stave churches still standing.

 

Norway has created 18 national tourist routes, many of which Graham rejected after studying the maps….he gets very jittery when he smells the brakes burning! So I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed to Sognefjellet, the highest pass at 1434 metres. It was an exhilarating day, from sun filled valleys to snow covered tops.

P1080883
A beautiful lunch stop
P1080924
Wooden stakes indicate where the road lies under deep snow in winter
P1080912
A fantastic opportunity for snowball games
P1080899
The last we saw of Mr Kips for some time

We drove back to fjord level again and relaxed in Luster in glorious weather, ready for another day of wibble wobbling our way around breathtaking scenery.

P1080956
Graham has requested that his headstone is the biggest one in the graveyard like this one!

Just as you feel you are adjusting to the unrelenting loveliness, drama is added to the mix. We turned a bend, preparing to go into a tunnel when we saw a huge tongue of ice draped between peaks. We were driving around the edge of the Jostedal Glacier, the largest in continental Europe and decided that we wanted to see a bit more.

P1080968

But not before we gazed at  Fjaerland Fjord. Another day, another lovely lunch stop.

P1080965

Briksdalsbreen is one of the most accessible arms of the Jostedal Glacier and we were fascinated by the skeins of tour buses bringing cruise ship passengers to the bottom of the 3 km path to it’s base. They were then transferred into ‘troll cars’ for the final leg. We trudged on foot, sticking to two at a time; apparently trolls can move as fast as wolves on all fours!

P1080988
Our favourite site ever, Melkevoll Bretun gave great views of waterfalls and the glacier
P1090011
Graham was more fascinated by the waterfall!

Our walk took us past even more powerful waterfalls….however fanatical swimmer Kipper hated getting splashed with spray!

P1090031P1090104

Nevertheless, once at the top, he hassled us to let him into the icy water below the glacier.

P1090074
Blue ice really is blue!
P1090081
Mr Kips usually gets his own way eventually!

The road approaching Geiranger became increasingly clogged with coaches as we drew closer to the village and the reason became clear as we arrived. Brian felt dwarfed by the cruise ships, but we were delighted to see one leave from above and the ship was dwarfed by the fjord in turn .

P1090135P1090188

We took the ferry through Geirangerfjord to see misty waterfalls stripe steep sided mountains. Under grey skies it still felt magical but even my old romantic(!) hubby was surprised when the young man next to us got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend. I only left the deck to get coffees and missed the all excitement.

P1090165
She said yes. Graham said bloody hell!

Ålesund was largely destroyed by fire in 1904; a hazard when there are so many timber buildings. Much reconstruction was in the Art Nouveau style and we loved it’s setting across islands. This watery town was a key part of the escape route to England for resistance fighters from occupied Norway during World War II; Ålesund was nicknamed Kleines London by the Gestapo. Our trail continues to cross paths with the history of this conflict.

P1090230
Alesund from Mt Aksla
P1090198
Some older timber houses still remain

The days are wonderfully long and light but we are aware that the summer is short so we point the snail north and find the main E6 again. There are occasional urban ring roads but we mostly enjoy scenic driving and delightful overnight stops next to mirror still water and heavenly skies.

P1090251
It isn’t mirror still water when we swim!
P1090258
Bangers and beer taste better outdoors

“Shop and pack as if we are going to the moon!” Graham did his research before we left and was concerned about the cost of living in Norway and indeed, reading the prices of goods in the shops brings tears to the eyes. We have provisions stashed in every nook and crannie and we’re becoming ever more inventive with pasta sauces. Yet travelling around this fabulous country is priceless and puts concerns about the costs into the shade.

M & G xx

Treat of the week: Yes it is summer but we have been amazed by the wild flowers in Norway. Lupins fill ditches and everything else seems to be framed by a purple fringe of willowherb.

P1080963