Svolvær seems like a dream to me now. We timed our trip to Norway to perfection. It was always going to be sometime between mid-February and mid-March, to ensure there was still plenty of snow but a reasonable amount of light. When I booked the flights, hotels and rail journeys, little did I know that there was another consideration, something I could never have imagined. As I said in an earlier post, we arrived back in the UK on 7th March and Norway went into lock-down on the 14th.
Like everyone else, I guess, we are dreaming of where to go when the world returns to normal, whenever that might be. Mostly I think of places I would like to go back to and, of course, Svolvær is at the top of the list. Some of this is because every Saturday night at 21:00, I am reminded of how it looks. By coincidence, BBC4 are showing the Nordic thriller Twin, filmed in and around Svolvær. A slightly bizarre and hardly believable story, the compensation is the scenery, although I can’t help thinking they should have talked to me about the best time to film 🙂
All this inspired me to dig through some of my unused images from the trip and return on a virtual tour. I have selected as a soundtrack one of the songs used in Twin – God Don’t Leave Me I’ll Freeze by the Norwegian band, Highasakite – full marks for the name! Is it me or does it sound vaguely inspired by Sami folk music.
The view from Svinoybrua
The view from Lamholmen
Having posted a series of images of magnificent Norwegian landscapes, these are ad hoc moments captured along the way. It turns out, by good fortune, we just about timed it right. We returned to the UK on 9th March and this was announced on the 14th: Millions of Norwegians and foreigners living in or visiting Norway will be impacted by a drastic set of measures announced by Erna Solberg today. Norway is essentially shutting itself down for two weeks, in a bid to stop the rapid spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 disease.
Gardermoen Stasjon from the airport concourse
All points on the compass
Black Crow Blues
Start them young
Some don’t seem so keen
As we left Svolvaer Airport – one last abiding memory.
Eight train journeys, four flights and I am home. Every connection was made but that’s not to say everything ran like clockwork – a landslip heading north delayed the train’s arrival into Bodø by one hour and, on the return leg, the sleeper service was cancelled between Trondheim and Oslo due to a derailment. It is reassuring to know that it is not just the UK that struggles to run a reliable rail service, although, in the land of darkness, snow and ice there may be better excuses.
The day we arrived in Svolvær, it was a Fuji Velvia day – a bright, vivid landscape and light, nature’s colour saturation turned up a notch or two. The next day, we toured the northern islands under leaden, monochrome skies – regardless, it remains a spectacular place to be and already, I am plotting my return:
A cormorant drying its wings.
The road to Gimsoy.
Abandoned landing stage.
Light and shade.
The beacon at Kabelvag
Where sand, sea and snow meet.
Near Lofoten Links.
The bridge to Henningsvaer.
It has been some journey. Over two days we flew from Edinburgh to Oslo, caught the sleeper train to Trondheim, swapped onto the daytime Vy.No service to Bodo (complete with line closure and bus detour) and then, this morning, we flew the red-eye island hop into Svolvær. This trip was always going to be as much about the journey as the destination, the railway journey into the Arctic Circle being a highlight. The problem with rail journeys is they provide little opportunity for effective photography – through glass, at speed and with reflections, it is never going to produce good results.
Svolvær, our destination, provides more than adequate compensation. This morning we walked the road bridge to Svinoya and Kjeoya islands – dried fish central. There is a distinctive smell to these small islands – and this is their unlikely destination – Nigeria.
Racks with a view
Dried fish head anyone?
The source of the smell
Fortunately, there is more to the beautiful Svolvaer than dead fish …
Svolvaer Harbour, Lofoten Islands, Norway – colourful and busy.
The view from the bridge
Something fishy going on …
Svolvaer Harbour, Lofoten Islands, Norway.
The view from the small islands
… Svolvaer skyline
It is time to sign off for the year – wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2018.
And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Approaching Honningsvåg, Norway – 23rd December 2014 on the Hurtigruten Ferry.
Everything has changed. Gone are the thousand lakes and the endless forests. Gone too, if temporarily, are the midges. We have crossed into Norway, into snow-capped mountains on the edge of the sea.
The 200km trip north from Lakselv along the E6 and E69 is spectacular, at one point diving deep beneath the sea in a 6km tunnel – exciting in a car, not so pleasant for the many laden-down cyclists heading north for world’s end.
The objective was Nordkapp via Honningsvag, a town we last saw under deep snow in December. By coincidence MS Finnmarken is moored at Honningsvag quay, the ship that brought us here over Christmas, as is P&O’s Arcadia, the ship we travelled on to the US, the Arctic and the Med. As a consequence the town is echoing to the sound of English accents and so is Nordkapp where the dreaded cruise tour buses line the car park.
Seven months on the snow has gone from Honningsvag and it looks a little rough around the edges but then most towns are improved by their winter coats. This first image of MS Finnmarken contrasts with the version shown here:
It is a long haul to Nordkapp and as you climb through cloud there is a sense of achievement on arrival. This is soon followed by disillusionment at the exorbitant entry fee – like Land’s End, Nordkapp is now a themed experience but having come this far we feel obliged to cough up. At least there is a statue which recognises our irritation – “No Kimi, I will not tell you again, it is just too darn expensive!”
In all the +1000km we have journeyed to the far north, I had not seen one UK registration plate until this appeared in the car park at Nordkapp. Only mad dogs and Englishmen would go out in the land of midnight sun in such a device – good luck to them, a fine adventure.
The snow-capped mountains come in the next post.
Boxing Day in Hammerfest, we are at the world’s most northerly town. At only -4c it feels spring-like compared to Kirkenes. At the Polar Bear Club adjacent to the ship’s mooring we are briefly over-awed by a stuffed example but, not so much as to be enticed into buying the equivalent miniature version. I am too cynical about souvenir shops (and much else besides 😉 ) such that I close my mind to thought of buying anything. My suspicion is that everything is made in China – I learn from a fellow passenger that even Helly Hansen is manufactured in the Orient.
From the quay we climb the ridge above the town, closed in winter due to “the risk of serious accident” – everyone is ignoring the sign. There are steps but we never feel them beneath our feet, instead, we trudge through deep snow to the 80 m summit – it is a struggle but worth the effort. The views across the bay to Melkøya are stunning.
Hammerfest feels prosperous and across the water is the explanation – vast tanker ships laden with LNG (liquefied natural gas) from the Barent Sea, heading for southern Europe. It is highly advanced extraction technology such as this which enables us the luxury of considering suspect alternatives; the dream of replacing that which works with that which does not. I have not seen a single wind turbine on this entire voyage.
That said, much of the journey has been in darkness so there is every justification for returning on lighter days to confirm my prejudice.
We had planned ahead fully aware that the quieter moments onboard would be inadequately filled by Scandinavian television – actually many of the programmes are bought in from the UK and broadcast in English with Norwegian subtitles. However, I have no desire to see repeats of Midsomer Murders – I didn’t want to see them first time around.
Consequently among our winter baggage are The Wire Seasons 4 & 5 and The Sopranos Season 3. I love these edgy series but sometimes struggle with the Baltimore and New York street dialogue – in part because my hearing is no longer fully Dolby compliant. This got me thinking – I also love Spiral (and Caroline Proust!) and Scandinavian crime series such as The Killing and The Bridge – and why are these foreign language TV programmes so popular with those of a certain age? It’s the subtitles 😉
To round off, this is not the best photograph due to the intrusive light leaking from the streetlamp but the subject I know to be utterly mischievous – it is of course the good lady, undoubtedly up to no good 😀
(click on the images to enlarge)
… and no further, from we here were heading south and back towards the light; I miss this dark place of snow, ice and the Merry Dancers. This is my diary entry from Christmas Day:
At 10:00am there is light on the horizon but the sun does not rise. The temperature is -20c and falling – everything crackles: the snow under your feet; the cars on white dusty roads; the air. A slight breeze makes your eyes ache and fingers stiffen in the search for the shutter release on an ice-cold camera. It is the perfect setting for a Christmas Day but it is strange nonetheless. By 11:30am the light on the horizon is beginning to fade; Kirkenes is returning to the dark. In truth, it does not really feel like one special day, just another in a series; Christmas started when the snow arrived in Trondheim.
All of these far northern towns have a certain similarity, particularly when seen by artificial light – life goes on despite the raw cold, the snow and the dark. There is industry and a sense of purpose which tourist destinations lack. The architecture is bright, clean, new and purposeful. It is the Alaska of my imagination.
On ship we have been celebrating Christmas since yesterday, Christmas Eve being the day of celebration and gift-giving for the Norwegians. There is no turkey but there is reindeer which is at odds with the story of Rudolph – it tastes good all the same. In the evening there is a service on the upper deck which I am dragged to like the reluctant schoolboy. It is entertaining – there is competitive carol singing as we are encouraged to sing in our own language – the Dutch tenor wins :D. This is followed by the story of Jesus in the ‘manga’ at which point we get a fit of the giggles. A joyous occasion, I am glad I did not miss it.
On Christmas Eve the northern lights appear again, right on cue.
The frozen boy is a detail from a monument to the mothers of Kirkenes.
The northern lights images have been pushed to within an inch of their lives – the first shows mist rising from the cold cold sea, the lights from a distant town and the aurora on the horizon.