June 2013. The day had finally arrived. We were heading to the Arctic. Not the North Pole, so no snow, except on the peaks of mountains; but it would be 24 hour daylight. So, after months of planning (since Christmas), we were on our way. Probably the most difficult trip I’ve had to plan. Long, frustrating nights in the Grain Barge working through options, and then re-working, trying to find a route that fit and allowed us to balance seeing family with the desire to also see more of Norway. It came down to Bergen or not. We dropped Bergen with a view to doing that on a separate trip (some point in the near future). Then was the idea of doing a road trip; but distances, and the impact of heading off in one direction precluded us circling round to see something else of interest. Eventually it boiled down to a combination of long distance train journey’s, car-hire and lots of ferries to hop across fjords and between islands. This plan then had to be ratified against the availability of trains and ferries, specifically the times when they ran and the duration of travel, as if a ferry wasn’t available at a particular time, it would have a knock on effect across the whole plan. Eventually I got it down: the route was to start in Oslo (see family), ride a train to Mosjoen (see family), ride a train to Fauske (see family), and then hire a car in Bodo where we would drive back through Fauske and then north to Narvik, then even further north to Tromso, before finally leaving the mainland to travel down the ragged chain of islands that hangs off Norway’s east-coast, way up in the Arctic Circle: the Vestvågøy and then the Lofoten islands. We’d end the road-trip at the remote tip of Lofoten in a place simply called Å. Then grab a nearby ferry from Moskenes back to Bodo, completing a circle, before starting a slow return journey via Fauske to Oslo. The whole trip was 16 days.
As usual I acquired a new album for the trip, and as usual I didn’t listen to it until I actually got there. Allowing it to become the soundtrack to the memories. This one was Imagine Dragons (Night Visions) which turns out to have been an utterly perfect choice with a lot of similarity to our soundtrack to New Zealand back in 2003. We didn’t start listening to it until we got the car and I was driving north of Fauske, into new terrain.
The trip was epic. Both in scale of distances and number of different locations. Just over 2 weeks FELT like three months. The trip also held surprises. A chance encounter in Tromso unlocked a door to a whole section of family history. And the landscape. A treasure trove of moments when you stop and get stare (try and capture the beauty in a photograph) and breath in the pure air. We were insanely lucky with weather (glorious sunshine opening up the horizon and vistas on most days) and with traffic (we dodged the holiday season, literally ending our trip as the holiday season began (3rd week June) so that most of the time there was simply nothing else on these incredible roads for miles and miles at a time. The south of Norway can be very much like Scotland at times. The further north you go, particularly once you’re into the Arctic, the more magnificent the terrain becomes. The northerly Vestvågøy islands have a bold, rugged beauty and a coastal road that is a MUST DRIVE if you’re in the region with a car; and then the Lofoten islands – breathtaking coastal scenery with fretted waters sliced up by jagged peaks, and the midnight sun glinting off sapphire and turquoise waters. I hope you enjoy the photographs and reading the notes.
- Fly from Home to Oslo (stayed with family).
Didn’t start listening to “The” album until way up north and into unknown and new territory but here’s one to get started with and gives you a flavour of the album – from Night Visions, by Imagine Dragons.
The usual morning routine for any travel trip kicked into gear, closing the house down for a prolonged period, packing my bag. Leaving and locking the door to get into the taxi I looked back at the house and registered the fact I would likely be a different person when I got back. This turned out to be very true. Getting out the taxi I walked to Cafe Amoré for a lazy coffee and breakfast, as I have done for almost every travel trip I’ve done in the last 16 years – including the cafe Joe Cubas before Amoré opened. Always a good start to a trip. Then caught the coach to London Heathrow and jumped on a plane to Oslo.
My cousin Oystein was there to meet us. I’ve not seen him since 2004, when I headed over to Norway with Sharky Bones McCoy. So here he is, a giant of a man now, bristling with a full beard and some excellent tattoos. I’ve known Oystein all my life (have the shared bath tub as babies photos). I spent two magical Christmases with him and his parents, my aunt and Uncle back in 1981 and 1982 – where listening to Kiss and playing with Space Lego was very much the order of the day. So it was really good to see him again after all these years: especially as so much has happened. Oystein is now making a living writing and often producing commercials for Norwegian radio. A lot of his stuff is very funny and I got a good taste of this during the evening. He made us home-made pizza and dished out a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale just for me. ;o) I also got to meet his two lovely daughters. Sarah and Andrea. After everyone else went to bed he and stayed up late drinking whisky, shooting the breeze.
I love my Sky Bunker. But I’d love this even more. My cousin’s study. Fantastic space to work in.
- Oslo – Mosjøen
In Oslo you can see the usual sights that a big city has to offer, but I would recommend you check out the new harbour area with its art galleries and cafes, especially near the Astrup Fearnley museum . A nice space to spend time. A must is Frogner Park, with it’s Vigeland Sculpture Arrangement – something that really must be seen to be fully appreciated. Whilst near the central upright column of intertwined bodies, see if you can find the marked area on the cut stone floor, where you can experience a nifty piece of acoustical magic. Bark a word and it comes back at you from all directions, much louder.
10:56pm train from OSLO S to Mosjøen
I can still recall the first time I came here, back in 1989. You see it from a distance, just a thin column pointing up at the sky, silhouetted – and you’re not aware that it’s anything else until you get closer and your eyes start to pick out the shapes of human forms intertwined. And then you look down around you and see the bigger majority of the sculptures. Wonderful. But for me, it was eerily unnerving. I knew this place. But being back there took my mind directly back to 1989. Being 18 years old. And all those young aspirations and desires were held up in the sharp light of 24 years experience. I could sense that 18 year old gazing at me from a distance and I wasn’t sure I liked it. Despite that brief moment of discomfort it was good to be back.
Even clowns carry their own sponsorship these days. This was a nice moment. Seeing a gaggle of wide-eyed kids, some of them slightly scared, others utterly entranced by the vibrant colours, strange vocal sounds and the rapid creation of magical balloon animals
Tantrum Child. Not sure why but this is the photo / statue everybody talks about. You can see it’s hand has become shiny where so many thousands of people have held it.
My cousin’s daughter is traumatised by this giant smiling turd.
We left the sculpture park and took a short drive down to the harbour area. This is a must on any nice weather day. The lines of the buildings interests the eyes, the proximity of the water creates calm. It’s just a nice place to be.
Rather freaky and almost disturbing, seeing such iconic childhood imagery formed from this black substance that seemed to mute the bright sunlight glaring against it, mutated and misshapen, warped and melted.
After a day of skulking around Oslo, Oystein drives us over to his parents place: my aunt and uncle Edle and Erling. I’ve not seen them since the funeral of my mother. Lovely to see them in less emotionally charged circumstances. And great to be back in their apartment – which I experienced for the first and last time back in 2004 with Sharky Bones McCoy. Edle cooked up goodies that brought back floods of memories.
My cousin Ellen was also there; the first time I’ve seen her since late 80’s. So really good to see her again. Incredibly, she’d dug out some old photos of me and family from the early years.
My parents did an epic tour of Scandinavia, taking me and one of my older cousins with them – Ellen. This is a picture of me from then.
Photo from 1970s. One brought over by my cousin Ellen. Amazed at how young my mum looks. Lot’s of history about this photo – the people and the emotional context of the where and when it was taken. The older woman whose lap my mum is sitting on, was my Great Aunt Dagma. I adored that woman. Whenever she was looking after me there were always late nights, sitting up together, snuggled side by side in bed, talking, singing, laughing: she was always laughing. Edle (2nd from left) is the sister of my mum I’ve come to see in Oslo. Marry (left) is the sister I get to see later in this trip, up in the arctic circle.
- Arrive Mosjøen
The plan was to arrive Mosjøen @ 13:05 hrs
But the previous night, we left my aunt and uncle’s place and rode the local train into Oslo’s central train station – and there waited for our night train to Trondheim to appear. Time ticked by. Then it came up on the board. 22:30 hrs Trondheim – Cancelled.
WTF! We asked around and finally got somebody who could tell us what the heck was going on. Turns out a rock avalanche had come down and taken out the train line between Lillehammer and Dombås. No train was going to get through. At this point it looked like our entire trip was in ruins. If we couldn’t get north then we couldn’t keep pace with everything we’d booked: hotels, hire car, ferries – everything.
Thank God we made the effort to find somebody, because this person happened to mention there would be a replacement bus at 8 o’clock the following morning, but best we get to the station at 6.30 a.m. to make sure we got our tickets changed.
Right. Christ. So, back to my aunt and uncle’s place for a surprise overnight stay. Then up at 5 a.m.
We made it. We got to Trondheim and then picked up an alternative train for the next leg of the journey north to Mosjøen. However, instead of arriving at 13:05 hrs, we got there just past 22:30 hrs. My cousin Kenn-Ole and his wife Kitty had been waiting all day for us.
Arriving, Kenn-Ole whisked us to his home – first time there for me. Wow. What a place! He’s an artist and the place is literally crowded with beautiful imagery – much of it his. They fed us wine and served us dinner (which had been prepared the previous day!). “This is a special kind of meal,” Kenn-Ole told me with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“Oh?” I enquire. Looking at a bowl filled with a delicious looking creamy sauce and chunks of very dark meat.
“It’s a special kind of meat. Very distinct to this region.” Kenn-Ole tells me.
“What is it?” I ask.
So I tuck in. It’s not game. It’s not anything I can classify. So I look at him with the question mark projected by my expression.
He smiles, “It’s whale.”
Damn! And it is nice meat! I tuck in seconds and a little bit more. Absolutely delicious.
Day three is over already.
If you have time you should definitely visit the Strandflaten: a shallow lowland area that occupies area just above and below the surface creating thousands of islands. Many of which are occupied, some with just one house, forming a dispersed community accessible in many cases only by boat. We were unable to get there because we were late.
- Day in Mosjøen, travel to Fauske
Wake up Mosjøen. See the Laksforsen waterfall out of town. Then make sure you visit Sjøgata – “Sea Street” which is a historic and very picturesque part of Mosjøen running along the mouth of the river Vefsna
Depart Mosjøen @ 13:09. Arrive Fauske 16:37 (although unless you have family there, you may prefer to go on one more stop to the bigger city of Bodø)
Like my aunts and uncles, I’ve not seen this cousin since my mum’s funeral, and before that at my dad’s funeral. It was absolutely fantastic to be in his house in Mosjøen at last! (Failed attempt to meet up in 2004). Sadly, we were due to leave in only a few hours – so we were up early, enjoyed a Scandi breakfast and then stepped out for a whistle-stop tour of the town and the surrounding area. I really like the place and really want a chance to spend more time there. The painting behind my cousin is one he created. It’s of significance here because it’s actually the location he took us to first: about a half-hour drive out of town. A vast waterfall called Laksforsen.
It’s the sound that first grabs you. Even before you see it. The ground and air vibrate with the thundering rush of millions of liters of water charging endlessly down this wide escarpment. You can clamber down some rocks and get as close as you like to it. Added to the impressive sight is the smells of the forest and the ozone in the air from the churning water spray.
A million tons of water crashing, surging and leaping towards you. Fantastic to stand there and experience the chill mist sweeping over you – and through your senses..
My cousin told us that Mosjøen is renowned for its good coffee. We stepped into the fantastic cafe that was a mix of historical hark-back and Bohemia; sunlight flooded through these beautiful windows and provided a view of the other buildings that make up the Sjøgata. I could have spent all day there. In fact, I said to Kenn-Ole I will have to come back to Mosjøen to do just that. The coffee was also delicious. Not strong but loaded with an easy flavour. And the whole place just so relaxed.
A feast for the eyes. You can get a sense of Scandinavia in this image. Old and new.
My cousin is a fantastic artist. And he loves to sketch. Leaving the cafe we had only a little more time left to spend with him before we had to grab our train north, to continue our journey. He fleshed this up in a few minutes. I really like it.
Time ran out. We carried our things to the car. Got to the train station. Said our farewells and then we’re off. Next stop Fauske and the Arctic Circle.