Travel: Arctic Circle, Norway – June 2013 – Days 5 and 6

Norway

Previous segments of this blog post:

Day Five

TRAVEL DETAILS:

  • Fauske to Narvik.

SOUNDTRACK:

This is the day we started to listen to the album I brought along to remind us of the trip.  Night Visions, by Imagine Dragons.

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BLURB:

Wake up Fauske (or Bodø if that’s where you’ve decided to stay).  Collect hire car drive to Narvik (150 miles = 5 hours). Involves one ferry crossing. Where the E6 highway crosses the Tysfjorden. Look for the Bognes Skarberget ferry schedule for times. Can’t book ahead. Just turn up.  Sleep @ Breidablikk Guesthouse  (10/10 hotel).

Driving to Bodo

Driving to Bodo with my cousin to get our car

The original plan had been to get the train from Fauske to Bodø and then pick up the car, but Åge was an absolute star and drove us the 60 KM to get there. I was so excited.  I was so looking forward to being “on the road”. And driving a car back from Bodø I would pass through Fauske -and that struck me as poignant. Memories of 1988. And a sense of “I could never have imagined back then who I would be now, driving through town on the start of an epic trip”.

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David J Rodger on the E6 north towards Narvik - Norway

Photo of me on the E6 north towards Narvik

I’d done the one hour easterly drive back from Bodø and was now heading north, driving into uncharted territory. It was fantastic. The sun was shining and we were smiling. Imagine Dragons started playing on the CD machine. This was our first stop and stare moment. I pulled over by the side of the road and we clambered out to walk around. Nobody else around. A car passing only once every few minutes or so. The landscape is endless in every direction. I was so utterly happy to be there.

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Beautiful fjords and distant mountains on E6 route to Narvik Norway

Beautiful fjords and distant mountains on E6 route to Narvik. Image: David J Rodger

This scene was actually “too big” to photograph. This picture just captures a slice of what was in front of me, because the distant mountains marched across the entire horizon from one end to the other and the blue waters were riddled with patches of shallows where it turned bright turquoise. Jaw dropping. I stood there for ages just not moving.

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Travel photo Bognes - Skarberget ferry terminal heading north to Narvik Norway Copyright David J Rodger

Bognes – Skarberget ferry terminal

This is Bognes – Skarberget ferry terminal. Ugly, isn’t it. I mean, the word ferry terminal conjures up all sorts of industrial overspill. Sure, there’s a wide concrete apron and a bunch of rubber tyres to protect the hulls of the incoming ferry, but surrounding you is this insane beauty. I spent the entire crossing above deck, gawping.

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Travel photo fishing boat on a fjord north of Skarberget heading  to Narvik Norway Copyright David J Rodger

Fishing boat on a fjord north of Skarberget. Copyright David J Rodger

Departing Skarberget onto the final leg of the journey to Narvik. The journey has taken us mainly through the interior of this part of Norway. It’s not really a coastal scene. I’ve got that to look forward to once we get past Tromso in a few days time. With the two hours getting to Bodø and back before starting this leg north, the drive has felt like a long day in the car. So sign posts declaring how close we are to Narvik are very welcome – and bubble up our anticipation as this is our first of many stops in a number of totally unknown towns and villages.

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Narvik

Travel photo Norway - Narvik - Breidablikk Guesthouse five stars from me

Narvik – Breidablikk Guesthouse – five stars from me

Driving into Narvik was easy. Follow the E6 until you plunge through another mountain tunnel, emerging to find yourself surrounded by a ribbon of industrial and residential buildings that hugs a narrow band of ground between the fjord and hills. The industrial aspect lends it a certain charm rather than being downright ugly. Maybe I would think differently if we’d arrived in grey rain. But today was a beautiful day. And our moods followed suit. It was also easy to find our lodgings. A guesthouse perched up on a hill. The Breidablikk. I was instantly charmed by it. Quiet, small and very friendly. Free coffee in a cosy lounge next to the reception with access to a balcony area that provides pleasing views of the surrounding terrain. And the city below.

I was looking forward to Narvik. My uncle Erling grew up here and was a young lad when the Nazi’s took control of the area and were then attacked in a huge sea battle that took place in the fjord. Erling told me an epic tale of destruction and his personal survival over a number of days. And I carried this story with me in my head to unpack now, whilst gazing out at the scene around me.

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Travel photo Norway - Narvik - view from top room in Breidablikk Guesthouse

Narvik – view from top room in Breidablikk Guesthouse

We were exceptionally happy with the room. Right at the top of the small building, up in the roof with the bed pressed closed the windows – which looked out over a steep drop and gave an excellent view of everything around us. As the midnight sun grew richer and deeper in colour it flooded the room with a never ending and magical light.

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Travel photo Narvik Norway Space Wing Asymmetry and Geometry

Narvik – Asymmetry and Geometry – Image: David J Rodger

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Travel photo nordlands bryggeriet taken in Narvik

Nordlands Bryggeriet

There’s a great place to eat, just off the main drag (E6) – around the corner from the War Museum. Head up some steps onto a seating terrace outside the Folkethus. It’s called the Kafferiet Restaurant. Go for the steak – rare – with tiger tiger sauce. Or chicken stuffed with garlic and mozzarella cheese. Yum. Beer £10 a pint. Ouch

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Travel photo tall asymmetrical pyramid mirror in Narvik Norway

Narvik

inspirational photography - image of a young blonde muse whispering in the ear of a writer - Breidablikk Guesthouse, Narvik

Muse whispering in the ear of a writer seeking inspiration – Breidablikk Guesthouse, Narvik

This is an image placed on the wall of our hotel room. And it really caught my eye. The whispering muse of inspiration for the writer. Naturally, I love it.

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Travel photo Midnight sun over Narvik - view from bedroom in Breidablikk Guesthouse, Narvik - copyright David J Rodger

Midnight sun over Narvik – image: David J Rodger

Magickal night. This was taken at just past midnight. The colour and quality of the sunlight is unique. We didn’t want to draw the curtains to block it out. Drifted off to sleep with the thick, sticky sunlight oozing in. Bliss.

Earlier, I’d been sitting on the balcony outside the hotel. I stayed there for an hour with my headphones on, feeling utterly amazing and good about life. Happy and excited about the journey ahead.

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Day Six

TRAVEL DETAILS:

  • Narvik to Tromsø

SOUNDTRACK:

Night Visions, by Imagine Dragons.

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BLURB:

Wake up Narvik and drive to Tromsø. (150 miles = 4 hours). Check out “Home Sleep” for accommodation; rooms with shared lounge & bathroom.  Tromsø is very hilly but very small, easy to walk most places. Good buses too.  Go up funicular is a must. It runs every 30 minutes, on the hour and the half past the hour.  During summer you can go up to see the midnight sun.  Last car down is 1 A.M.  Great views of city. Nice bar up there.

Travel photo Fantastic views from the lovely breakfast room at Breidablikk Guesthouse, Narvik - copyright David J Rodger

Fantastic views from the lovely breakfast room at Breidablikk Guesthouse, Narvik – image: David J Rodger

Breakfast is served.

I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels. Not many have a view like this to fold into the staying experience. And this place have maximised the opportunity to do so. A really pleasant place to sit and eat. Plus breakfast, standard Scandi fare of cheeses, sliced cold meats, breads and salmon, was exceptionally well presented. This really put us in a good frame of mind for starting our next leg of the journey. A few hours drive to Tromso next.

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Travel photo driving north from Narvik to Tromso on E6 - moorlands reflected in blue fjord - copyright David J Rodger

North from Narvik to Tromso on E6 – moorlands reflected in blue fjord – image: David J Rodger

The drive to Tromsø was very different to getting to Narvik. This is one of the things that delighted me about this trip. Each day was more or less different. There was a never a sense of boredom, or thinking: God, another bloody fjord and mountain. North of Narvik the E6 takes you across what feels like moorland. The over abundance of lush fertile greenery between Fauske and Narvik drops away to become something more hardy. The speed limit picks up too; from 80 KM to 100 KM on many sections. The endless series of tunnels from yesterday (fun) has ceased, indicating we’re now away from any route plunging through mountains. This day felt like the BIG LANDSCAPE. It was great.

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Travel photo driving on E8 towards Tromso - copyright David J Rodger

Driving on E8 towards Tromso – Image: David J Rodger

Glance to your left and struggle to swing your eyes back to the road. The vast scale and size of what hangs in the blue void around you. It’s like you’re driving through another planet. Some huge colossus where distances are much bigger than on Earth. And it stretches on with you and around you, unfolding as you sweep the car around another curve to reveal the next vista. Approaching Tromsø you get to circumnavigate the shore of a staggeringly large fjord and equally large mountain range. But against all this beauty, the closer we got to Tromsø the more heavy the traffic became. Up to now (we’ve managed to miss the tourist season) the roads have been more or less deserted. Now there are enormous rigs thundering up and down the narrow lane roads. And many more cars. If gives me a sense of how big Tromsø is. Described as the “Paris of the North” I know I’m heading into an urban sprawl and I’m wondering if I’m going to like it.

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Norway Map - Oslo to Tromso - Image Copyright  Google Maps - All Rights Reserved

Norway Map – Oslo to Tromso – Image Copyright Google Maps – All Rights Reserved

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Tromsø

Samuel

Samuel

Driving through Tromsø is freaking insane! Norway has this rule about right of way on certain roads and we found ourselves in a dense profusion of crossroads, one after the other, with tons of traffic, where none of the usual reference points for who has right of way seemed to be visible. There was a lot of construction work going on too. So either the signs were well hidden or we were just dumb. Probably the latter. One car came roaring across an intersection having expected us to stop and only just managed to swerve and brake to avoid ramming into the side of us.

Eventually we get to where we’re supposed to be staying, in the centre of residential Tromsø, which means it’s up and over this nutty hill and into a tangle of intertwined lanes and roads that made no sense whatsoever. Thank god for GPS and SatNav.

Skip back two months earlier and Oj and I are sitting in bed with the laptop, booking up the last of things now that our plan had been locked down and sanity checked. Coming to book a hotel in Tromsø we discovered that not one was available. Two months in advance and the entire city was fully booked. WTF?! Turns out there was a medical convention there the same weekend. So, we managed to find some dude on the web who was subletting houses and apartments. Called himself Home-Sleep.

We eventually find this place and there’s Samuel, waiting down in the car park for us. He takes us upstairs into the apartment that we’re going to be sharing for the next two days. Nice lounge and kitchen, very clean and equipped with everything you’d need – including a free stock of tea and coffee. The rooms were tiny, but they have individual locks and enough room for bed and bags, so what more did you need. I also discovered later, the delight of living somewhere away from the town itself. Mind you, even through Tromsø is described as a big place, it’s still so small you can walk anywhere in about an hour.

So, Samuel gives us the meet and greet. We give him money. He gives us keys. And that should have been that. In fact, it should have been his wife meeting us but this is fate, or serendipity or whatever you want to call it: pure random chance. He asks where I’m from. I say England, but I’m half Norwegian. Family in Fauske. He looks at me. “Fauske? Where abouts in Fauske?” So I tell him. And this smile starts to form across his lips. “I think we’re related,” he tells me.

And sure enough, after an hour of rapid fire banter and growing disbelief, it transpires he’s my 4th cousin. He had even met my mother a few years earlier, in Stavanger – which is where he was originally from. When he moved to the north country he didn’t know he had such an extensive family here. He’d only recently done so and has done a lot of work researching the history to find out who his relatives were. He said, “Look I’m not doing anything tonight. Come round to my house. Meet my wife. I have photos and material to show you. Come around at 11. I can sleep when it get’s dark – and that’s September.” A seriously lovely bloke. He gave us his address and we agreed to swing round later. Then we dumped our bags and headed out on foot to explore Tromsø.

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Travel photo Small wooden house in Tromso

Small wooden house in Tromso

This place looks like it could belong in Innsmouth. Not that Tromsø has any kind of dark Mythos vibe – unlike a place we were to find ourselves in a couple days from now. Tromsø has an ancient history, in fact, some of the wooden houses in the city date back to the 1700’s.

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Kvitbjorn off shore support in the Arctic - Tromso

Kvitbjorn off shore support in the Arctic – Tromso

Local flavour. In England it would be a utility contractor van for digging up the road (again) to repair, water, gas or telecoms.

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Travel photo Tromso pedestrian shopping area

Tromso pedestrian shopping area

This is the main pedestrian, shopping area. It’s standard fare for any western urban centre. A mix of nice shops and trash. Lots of bars with outside seating to enjoy the midnight sun.

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Travel photo crossing Tromso bridge towards Cathedral

Crossing Tromso bridge towards Cathedral

The majority of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the small island of Tromsøya with other large urban areas situated on the mainland to the east, and on Kvaløya — a large island to the west. You reach Tromsøya by this vast bridge that pushes up at its centre and is barely two lanes wide. There is nothing to separate oncoming traffic. So driving it can feel a little hairy, especially with the sun in your eyes. As the evening approached, we walked over the bridge to reach the mainland and find the cable car that goes up to a little station overlooking the city. Walking the bridge was nuts. The wind was howling and blowing gale force right at you. I had brain chill and a frozen hand (holding my hat on my head) and frozen jaw by time we reached the other side. Greeting you on the other side is the striking form of Tromsø cathedral.

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Travel photo crossing Tromso bridge

Crossing Tromso bridge

Looking back the way I’ve just come. This narrow strip is for both directions traffic, one lane each with no central markings. Including coaches and large wagons.

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Travel photo Cable car Station Tromso Norway

Cable Car Station Tromso Norway

The cable car station sits weirdly at the end of a residential street. It runs every 30 minutes, on the hour and the half past the hour. During summer you can go up to see the midnight sun. Last car down is 1 A.M. Great views of the city. I’m now looking across the inlet towards the main yet tiny island of Tromsøya. To the right you can make out the start of the Tromso bridge I just crossed.

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Travel photo view of Tromso Norway Copyright David J Rodger

View of Tromso Norway. Image:  David J Rodger

The cable car takes you to Storsteinen (Big Rock) on mount Fløya, 421 meters above sea level. The trip takes four minutes. From here you can enjoy the view of Tromsø and the surrounding islands and fjords from an outdoor viewing deck. This is a view of the bridge I crossed, with the mainland (and Cathedral) in foreground to the right, and the island of Tromsøya in the mid-ground. In the far distance you can see a second bridge; this is the Sandnessund Bridge that leads to the island of Kvaløya – which is where we’re due to meet Samuel (my recently discovered 4th cousin) later that night. It’s also going to be our route out of Tromsø in 2 days time when we start island hoping via car ferries to reach the Vesterålen and Lofoten Islands.

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David J Rodger in Cable Car Cafe on mount Fløya, Tromso, Norway

Me with a pint of Mack in Cafe on mount Fløya, Tromso.

I really enjoyed this place. So much so I came back on my own the following evening. Mack beer on tap. £10 for a pint again. And fantastic views, as you imagine, from the row of windows that follows the edge of the structure.

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Travel Photo - Norway - Tromsø - Paraglider Copyright David J Rodger

Tromsø – Paraglider – Image: David J Rodger

Met this guy whilst riding up in the cable car with him and his massive pack of gear. Amazing to be able to stand at the same level as him, me on a wooden deck, whilst he hovered effortlessly above the world.

He’s a young guy, mid-twenties, studying engineering and comes up here to escape the brain burn of his coursework.  Clear air. Clear mind.

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My great great grandfather and his wife

My great great grandfather and his wife

Leaving the cable car, we head back across Tromsø bridge to the main island, pick up our car and drive across Sandnessund Bridge to the island of Kvaløya. Samuel and his wife are there. They serve us coffee and cake and Cloud Berries (the last of his stock) on cream. Samuel has a bunch of photos and stories to tell me. Ludvig, his grandfather, pictured here, was the brother of my great grandmother: Maria. I’ve never seen images of these people. I’ve never known a great deal about them, where they were from, what they did, where they lived. It’s a wonderful night of discovery.

This photo really blew me away. My great great grandfather. Father of Ludvig (Samuel’s) Grandfather and Maria (my Great Grandmother), plus another 8 kids half of which moved to America (and ties into the story of when I went to Seattle in 2002 and had a profound feeling of “knowing this place” when I went to Ballard and Bainbridge Island. Peder was a sea captain who used to sail up from Bergen to the coastal markets of the north. He settled in an area near Harstad, surreal as it’s not too far from where I’ll be heading in a couple days time.

But something else came out of this night of discovery. I share the genes of these two people in the photo. So does my younger sister (AKR). Many people in the family have joked that there must have been some Sami blood in the family way back when, because of my sister’s unusual eyes, high cheekbones and heavy bone structure. A very striking blonde lady. Turns out that Peder’s wife had a sister called Udette. And she is believed to have been of Sami extraction. So there’s one query resolved.

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Videos

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Read Days 7 and 8 Next

 

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