Travel: Arctic Circle, Norway – June 2013 – Days 7 and 8

Norway

Previous segments of this blog post:

Day Seven

TRAVEL DETAILS:

  • A day in Tromsø.

SOUNDTRACK:

On Top of the World.  Something that is very evocative of our second “big trip” back in 2003 when we spent a month in New Zealand and had the OST to the movie The Beach as our soundtrack to the trip. Driving up to the top of Mount Ruapehu on my own I a track come on that was all about being on top of the world and gazing at the sky. I later used the moment in the novel, EDGE, set on Ruapehu. So this track by Imagine Dragons really brought back all those happy memories and associations. And, being in Tromso, we were quite literally almost on top of the world!

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BLURB:

A day in Tromso. See Polaria Center & Arctic museum. Hang out in cafes. Enjoy the vibe. Go back up the funicular cable car to the top of the mountain.

Breakfast in Tromso

Breakfast in Tromso

We’d picked up a few supplies the previous evening so that we could spend the morning in the apartment, relaxing. I fixed up breakfast, part 1.

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Family ancestry Erling Sherstad USA formerly Skjærstad Norway and wife - great great uncle of David J Rodger

Family ancestry Erling Sherstad USA formerly Skjærstad Norway and wife – great great uncle of David J Rodger

Samuel swung by late morning clutching a bunch of photos he’d been unable to find the previous night when Oj and I had gone round.

Adore the flamboyance of this photograph. Erling Sherstad  (formerly Skjærstad, changed his name when he moved from Norway to the US) is the brother of Maria (my great grandmother) and Ludvig (Samuel’s grandfather) and another seven. He moved to the US in the 1800s as a young man. Here he is decades later looking very well.

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Family ancestry - either sister or brother of Peder Jensen the great great grandfather of David J Rodger

Family ancestry – either sister or brother of Peder Jensen the great great grandfather of David J Rodger

Taken somewhere near Bergen, where Peder Jensen was from.  One of these two characters is family. I find this photograph incredible. A real gem brought around to the apartment by Samuel. One of them is either the sister or the brother of Peder Jensen. The man looks like Abraham Lincoln!

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Travel photo Tromso Cathedral steeple copyright David J Rodger

Tromso Cathedral steeple Image:  David J Rodger

Built in the Late Gothic style, its steeple and the main entrance face towards the west and the street Storgata, while the choir faces towards the east and the Tromsø Sound. Its location is the Kirkeparken, which was a graveyard in the Middle Ages up until the first half of the 19th century. It proved to be a valuable reference point when Oj and I moved around the city or decided to split-up and rendezvous later on. I had a strange fascination with the place. And experienced a profound and overwhelming surge of emotion when I stepped inside

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Travel photo Tromso Cathedral interior copyright David J Rodger

Tromso Cathedral interior, Image: David J Rodger

Inside was almost deserted and there was this residing atmosphere of wonderful calm. I took a seat on a pew and felt the emotions surge up and flow out. Thinking about my mum. About a younger version of here coming here, maybe. I think all this talk of family and ancestry with Samuel had unlocked some old doors inside my head.

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Travel photo Tromso sculpture of a fisherman copyright David J Rodger

Tromso sculpture of a fisherman. Image: David J Rodger

Iconic and indicative of the town’s history.

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Travel Photo Statue of Roald Amundsen Tromso Norway

Statue of Roald Amundsen, Tromso

Visiting the Polar Museum in Tromso is a must. Address: Søndre Tollbodgate 11, 9008 Tromsø, Norway. But be prepared to spend a while there and maybe take something to nibble on because you’ll want to stop every now and again to digest what you’ve seen. It’s an intense and dense stock of superbly presented information about the history of polar exploration in the area. I would strongly advise you read up a little bit on Amundsen and Nansen before going there, in order that you maximise the experience of seeing objects, photos and stories about the lifes and incredible exploits of these men.

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Travel photo Norway - Tromsø - view from  Mount Fløya copyright David J Rodger

Tromsø – view from Mount Fløya copyright David J Rodger

Late afternoon I said cheerio to Oj with a loose plan to hook up some time later. I wanted to go back up the funicular. I figured the light would be good late in the evening and had a plan to spend some hours there, in the cafe part, reading and drinking beer and just gazing out. I got up there to find some kind of corporate event about to kick-off, closing the cafe to punters. So I grabbed a solitary beer and started to explore beyond the cafe and viewing platform. There’s a whole mountain up there. I discovered some great points a little higher up that provided a much wider view of the surrounding area.

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Travel photo Norway - Tromsø - view from  Mount Fløya - silvery sunlight reflecting like mercury on fjord - copyright David J Rodger

Tromsø – view from Mount Fløya – image: David J Rodger

The light was very different to what I’d experienced on the trip so far. Diffused through growing cloud cover it created a silvery glare that caused the fjord to glisten like mercury, the shadows of lower, quick moving clouds scudding across the bright surfaces.

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Travel photo Norway - Tromsø - view from  Mount Fløya - giant flank of mountain and meltwater stream - copyright David J Rodger

Giant flank of mountain and melt-water stream – Image: David J Rodger

This vast bulk rises up to obscure your vision in either direction. Immense and sublime. Meltwater cascading down the nearly vertical sides in a thread of white water.

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Travel photo Norway - Tromsø - view from  Mount Fløya - grass land and distant mountain - copyright David J Rodger

View from Mount Fløya – grass land and distant mountain – Image: David J Rodger

There’s still patches of snow on the ground left over from winter. The air is pure. And you’re absolutely alone up there. Just me, my camera – and, erm, the pint I’d carried with me from the cafe some way below me. :o)

I came down from the mountain with a smile on my face. Caught a bus from nearby the cable car station and rode into the centre of Tromsø. Found Oj by the cathedral and we made our way into a hotel bar for a drink, and to reflect on the journey so far.

We are not even half way through the trip yet and we both feel like we’ve been away for months. Tomorrow we head out early to make our way to Andenes on the Vesterålen islands; this was going to require us to travel off the main highways, along very narrow roads that twisted and wove through rugged terrain, and to catch two car ferries which only ran at specific times and didn’t take advance bookings – if anything went wrong with either ferry, the whole plan for the rest of the trip, including hotel bookings, was screwed. The Vesterålen islands and then Lofoten. Unknown territory ahead. We were both utterly excited.

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Day Eight

TRAVEL DETAILS:

  • Tromsø – Gryllfjord (Senja Island) – Andenes (Vesterålen Islands)

SOUNDTRACK:

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BLURB:

Wake up Tromso. Rather than retrace your route out of Tromso via the E8, you should leave Tromso via the bridge that sits next to airport, taking you onto Kvaløya island. From there drive the 863 onto the 862, to reach the tiny ferry port of Botnhamn. (Less than 1 hour drive).  You can’t book. Just turn up an hour early. Only a few ferries a day so check times!!! Take the ferry to Brensholmen, on the island of Senja. Pick up the 862 again and follow it. You want to! Until you connect with the 86 on the far west of the island – head west towards Hamn and ultimately to the spooky (think Innsmouth) and tiny port of Gryllfjord. Only three ferries a day. Can’t book. Defo get there 2 hours in advance to be sure of a space because you DON’T want to be stuck there – unless you enjoy being in a horror movie.  Get the ferry to Andenes. Lovely quiet place. Sleep at Hotel Marena (9/10, really nice).

Travel photo Norway Norway - Kvaløya Island

Kvaløya Island

Leaving Tromsø at early o’clock, the weather was radically different to the sunshine and blue skies we’d been enjoying since arriving. It didn’t matter. We were on the road and pressing ahead.

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Travel photo Norway Norway - Senja Island

Senja Island

The first ferry of the day took us to the Island of Senja, to the tiny township of Brensholmen. There was no other traffic on the road ahead of us. I put my foot down and we sped into open country, giant cloud formations emerging over the tops of nearby mountain formations. It was silent and eerie.

The landscape was much more ragged and chopped up here, contours switching back and forth, nothing straight, a medley of overlapping lines and perspectives.

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Travel photo Norway Norway - Senja Island road tunnel through mountain

Travel photo Norway Norway – Senja Island road tunnel through mountain

The tunnels on Senja are nuts. I was used to the kind of tunnels experienced on the E6 coming up from Fauske to Narvik. Here, they’re sometimes several kilometers long and just rough bore holes through the rock, rarely more than a single lane wide and often with tight sweeping bends. So you’re praying that there’s nothing coming the other way, and when there is, you’re glad they’re not going stupid fast or you’re praying for one of the wider sections designed to allow vehicles to pass each other. It was odd. Being there. Sometimes deep inside of a mountain. Turn your car headlights off and you’re alone in this tube through ancient rock with the flicker of electric lamps.

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Travel photo Norway Norway - Senja Island - hitting the coastline - ragged rocks and flat horizon

enja Island – hitting the coastline – ragged rocks and flat horizon – Image: David J Rodger

We hit the coastline, revealing a flat horizon free of the huge mountains that have been hemming in our light of sight. The nearby waters are torn up by dark, ancient looking rocks. The water is green. There is an air of magic here. It’s beautiful.

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Travel photo Norway Norway - Senja Island - strange atmosphere

Senja Island – strange atmosphere

The quality of the road deteriorated. It got even narrower. The landscape started to exude this aura of… I don’t know what. Strange energy. It was odd. Being there. The only car on the road following this ribbon of potted and scarred tarmac that wove around the shoulders of vast mountains. And then through a couple of really bleak and dismal tunnels. Before – poof – vooomp – out we come… to our next destination.

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Gryllfjord

Travel photo - Senja Island - centre of Gryllfjord the Innsmouth of Norway

Gryllfjord, the Innsmouth of Norway? Image: David J Rodger

I pulled over on this concrete apron thinking I could stop to get my bearings – and then realised I had actually arrived. This was the centre of Gryllfjord. One seriously weird place. I’m sure it’s lovely. When the sun shines. Although the mountains press together so close either side of this long and very narrow fjord, towering over the small strip of land that clings to the shore line, that I doubt sunlight actually reaches the ground due to the perpetual shadow. There’s the ferry “port”. There’s a tourist information building: closed, until a few minutes before the ferry arrives when a guy dashes out of the cafe to take his seat. The cafe is just a brown plastic transparent box bolted onto the side of the single-story supermarket – no coffee machine, nobody actually serving anything. Just old tables and chairs from the 1970s. The supermarket is well stocked – but is something right out of a zombie movie. In fact, the entire location struck as a place that belonged in an H.P.Lovecraft story. It could have been Innsmouth. Remote and cut off, accessible only via the fjord which led right out to the open sea – and by the road, which zig-zagged up the mountain side behind me and vanished into a long, desolate tunnel. This place would be seriously spooky and atmospheric during winter. 3 months of darkness.

The ferries from Gryllfjord don’t accept advance bookings and there are only 3 running a day during summer, so the advice was: get there at least 2 hours early to make sure you get on.

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Travel photo - Senja Island - centre of Gryllfjord - vital ferry link to Islands

Senja Island – centre of Gryllfjord – vital ferry link to Islands

Norway - Senja Island - Gryllfjord - poster for the Norwegian Creedence Tribute Rockin all over the World tour

Poster for the Norwegian Creedence Tribute “Rockin all over the World” tour

Travel photo - leaving Gryllfjord into the open sea

Leaving Gryllfjord into the open sea. Image: David J Rodger

The ferry was much larger than any we’d used to date. I got to drive down a ramp into the bowels of the thing. Parked up. And clambered out onto deck to enjoy the departure as the ferry threaded its way along the twisting length of the narrow fjord, and then abruptly out into open sea leaving the gloomy mountains to contemplate the months of daylight ahead before the return of the trolls – and other things that must haunt the night in this place.

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Travel photo - Norway view of Senja Island from sea - low clouds hugging mountain tops - Norwegian flag flapping in sea breeze - copyright David J Rodger

View of Senja Island from sea – Norwegian flag flapping in breeze – copyright David J Rodger

I really enjoyed this journey, and spend most of the 2 hours up on deck with the sea air flowing over me. The coastline of Senja expanded into full view and then faded with distance. I had my headphones on. Vangellis and positive, open thoughts roaming through my skull. It was great.

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Travel photo Norway view of  nothern tip of Vesterålen Islands and Andenes from sea - copyright David J Rodger

View of nothern tip of Vesterålen Islands and Andenes from sea – Image: David J Rodger

Seemingly out of nowhere, these peaks rose up from the horizon abutted to this length of flat land that stretched out into the sea with what appeared to be the slender finger of a lighthouse at the far tip. As we got closer, the mountains became more dramatic – not in size, but in the dense, fang-like clusters that bristled against each other. Throughout the trip I’ve been excited about this moment: Reaching the islands. More so since I recently discovered this is where my great great grandfather plied his trade as captain of a small ship from Bergen – and this, ultimately, is where he settled.

I had no idea what to expect from Andenes. Northern tip of the Vesterålen Islands. A place that specialises in ocean safaris to spot whales. We were due to spend the rest of the day and a night there; Would it be pleasant or would it be something like Gryllfjord?

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Andenes

Travel photo Norway street view of Andenes  on nothern tip of Vesterålen Islands - copyright David J Rodger

Street view of Andenes on nothern tip of Vesterålen Islands – Image: David J Rodger

Andenes. Serene, simple, tranquil Andenes. I loved this place. There was something very much like a frontier town about it, even though there was smooth black asphalt on the roads and the buildings were all very clean and tidy. We spent the afternoon wandering around its broad roads and wide layout. Sunday. Most things were closed. But it was just, nice, being there. The hotel was excellent too. So cute, clean and friendly. Yeah, I like Andenes.

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Travel photo Andenes lighthouse and blue painted houses on beach front - Vesterålen Islands - copyright David J Rodger

Andenes lighthouse – Vesterålen Islands – Image: David J Rodger

Turn west, off the main drag, and you find yourself heading towards a small bay that hugs that edge of the town.

The bay has this lovely little sandy beach, calm shallow waters with rocky outcrops that catch the sunlight and paint interesting shadows. At the far end is a lighthouse and I realised this is what I’d seen from miles away when the mountains first rose up over the horizon as the ferry brought us in.

We found a nice place to eat and enjoyed the evening sitting with a view of the sea. I walked away with a belly full of whale steak and beer. Very nice too.

Hotel. Sleep and dreams of driving. We were heading to Svolvær the next day. Quite a journey ahead.

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Journey So far and What Lay Ahead

Norway Map - showing inset of Lofoten Islands - Image Copyright  Google Maps - All Rights Reserved

Map of Norway and journey so far with inset of Lofoten Islands – Image Copyright Google Maps – All Rights Reserved

Norway Map - Lofoten Islands - Image Copyright  Google Maps - All Rights Reserved

Close up of Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands – Image Copyright Google Maps – All Rights Reserved

VIDEOS:

Travel video Norway Ferry crossing between Gryllefjord and Andenes

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Travel Video Arctic Beach Vesterålen islands Norway south of Andenes 

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Read Day 9 and more here

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