Dead set felt like we were leaving the Antarctic driving off on the ferry from Lofoten. Massive white cliffs. Deep blue ocean. Fairly sure I spotted a polar bear. Could have been a man in a polar bear jacket though. Considering they skin everything here I can only assume they are available to buy.
So if ever you go to Å i Lofoten there is really only one thing worth remembering… there is one bus in all of Norway that does not take credit card and it is the 6:30am from Å to Moskenes. Which just happened to be the bus we needed to get to the ferry. The driver was fully unkeen to let us on, but I just started to cry coz it was the only way to get to our ferry and without it we were doomed to spend another 24hrs in fish stink village. Then Clare teared up as well so he let us on.
After our 3hr ferry ride and a short wait in Bodo it was time for our 18hr train ride to Oslo, yay!!! You may recognize my friend in the photo below, ‘super organized train cabin space Clarrington’. She is a most helpful train travel companion. Even if she refuses to sleep and may become slightly deranged by the end of particularly long journeys.
While we were mid journey I thought it would be appropriate to grab a quick photo of the evidence that Clare can actually sleep on the train. Felt a bit creepy taking a photo of someone who is asleep. Little did I realize the photo was about to become about a thousand times creepier thanks to the help of Lars Sneakinapeek.
Once we arrived we dumped the bags and headed straight to the free museums (travellers on a budget people). The war museum was unreal! Had a great time checking out the dioramas, old weapons, replicas, models, etc etc etc. Outside the kids were getting involved too, taking it in turns to ride the troop carrier. Who says war isn’t fun for the whole family.
Walking around Oslo was the coldest we’ve been. Turned a couple of Clare’s toes purple. We did come across this cool statue though. If you read the inscription carefully I’m fairly sure it says something like “I’m an awesome explorer who founded these parts. If you want to be my horse you have to have mangoes the size of well, mangoes.“
Had a strange realization while I was going to collect some dinner tonight. I think we are staying in the Bronx of Oslo, but given that it is the most expensive city in Europe and that the average income for Norwegion’s is over AUD$100K I’m pretty sure there’s more chance of me needing to steal from the hobo’s around here than vice versa.
I have a quick tip for the Mayor of Oslo too, if you get some public toilets you will have a lot less ozzie yobbo’s urinating in your gardens in particularly awkward situations that bit too close to random passer byes.
Once we resolved the minor fiasco of thinking we missed our bus, we eventually arrived in Svolvaer. Our accomo was pretty nice, even though they upgraded our room and charged us the difference because they were renovating the room we booked. Still got a pretty good deal though on an awesome room!
Next morning, Sunday, we headed straight to the tourist info centre, which of course is closed Sunday, as are all supermarkets, cafes and bakeries. Luckily some nice lady in an art gallery told us where the only open café in town could be found. We had waffles and I ordered mine with Norwegian Brown Cheese. What a great way to ruin perfectly good waffles. Had to try it though. The waitress, a cool Swedish chick who had travelled through Oz the year before with her bf told us about a nice walk around the breakwall past the stockfish. Stockfish stink. There are thousands, probably millions actually. The hang the body and the head till they get all juicy like and then flog em off to European and Asian countries. Nearly gagged just walking past a fresh batch!
After about three hours of walking we also found the only supermarket in town open on a Sunday and knocked up a quick snowman, rolling ball technique and all. Met a few random Norwegians along the way. The people are super friendly, they don’t go out of their way to talk to you, but if you strike up a convo they love a good yarn. Man they do talk quickly though. I still can’t copy their accent either; I just sound like a leprechaun. As it was still the weekend we headed out for a $15 pint of beer at the local bar. Walking home was more of a run thanks to the ambient temperature being well below freezing.
Next morning we grabbed the Lofoten Express again headed for Å i Lofoten, about a three hour bus ride. The scenery along the way was unreal. Massive mountain peaks all dusted in snow. As we pulled up at one random bus stop just off the side of the road near a few houses and pine trees we heard a crack that sorta sounded like a gunshot. Didn’t think too much of it. Looking out the window I notice a massive moose/elk about 100m away. I grabbed Clare’s attention, “oi a moose”, Clare turned just in time to see it stumble into some bracken, collapse and die. Some unit had shot it. The bus driver didn’t seem worried at all, so we sat there for another few seconds in silence and then he just drove off. It was so weird.
There is not too much happening in the old Å. Pronounced “Oh” which is only mildly confusing. It is pretty beautiful here though.
We’ve been here for 5hours now and have seen two other humans, and about 1000 rotten fish! When we called the receptionist of our Hotel she told us she wasn’t in town and just to let ourselves into room number 4. So we are currently sitting on our Hotel room at 6pm, the only ones in the building, with no bedding or towels, assuming the lady will rock up sometime soon? We leave for the ferry at 6:30 so if she doesn’t turn up it could be a cheap nights accommodation for us.
Clear night outside, might see the lights again tonight.
I can definitely think of worse places to be freaking out, thinking you have missed the only daily bus to the Lofoten Islands.
We were pretty worried, but turned out the timetable we were using was an old one, and while we were running around trying to get people to help us call the bus company… the bus showed up. The driver couldn’t speak a word of english though, but I can give you a red hot tip, waving your hands around, speaking slower and even trying French (no idea why i did that, but Clare thoroughly enjoyed it) will be of no assistance to anyone! It was pretty hellish waiting for 45mins in -3’C though.
When we did eventually get on the bus, I decided to make myself comfortable, only to be told by the lady behind me that it was very inappropriate to lie my seat back with her sitting behind me and that I should go and sit somewhere else. Which I did, and as I moved I noticed her take a shoe off, put her foot on the seat next to her and cover it with her leather glove. Normal as.
The view from the hotel is outstanding this time of year. Everything covered in snow. The hotel is about 5mins walk up hill from the centre of town (‘Sentrum’ in Norwegian), which allows the view over buildings, ocean, ships and mountains.
In all honesty we chose the place because it was the cheapest thing we could find on the net from Australia. Not many websites for hotels up here are in English. It was still very expensive at AUD$140 per night for a two bed room with two single beds, a tv, small table, sink with mirror and shared toilet and shower with the other 6 rooms on our floor. The view from our window on the second floor looks straight out over the town toward the bridge.
The Hotel, as you will see in several other reviews for the place, is a weird mix of Hostel and Hotel. Obviously an expensive Hostel and cheap Hotel. There is a fully equipped kitchen (but no Fridge?) and a nice dining/sitting area. We were also able to use the washing machine and dryer free of charge in between the cleaner’s loads of bedding, etc. The wifi works well and the young staff are very helpful and friendly.
Obviously everything is very expensive in Scandinavia, but we were able to eat fairly cheaply. For example one night we cooked Salmon steaks (which made all the other guests pretty jealous) with chips and frozen vegies for about AUD$17 from the local Eurospar supermarket. If you ate at Burger King or similar, a small meal would set you back about AUD$25 each. So cooking at the hotel is definitely the go. The hotel offers a cold breakfast for NOK 50 each, but we just bought some cereal and milk for breakfasts.
We can confirm that the rumors about how visible the Aurora is right now are 100% correct. One night we walked about 20mins from the hotel up the bridge to grab some photos of the city by night and were rewarded with another magical display. Very cold, but very worth it.
A dog sled trip is also definitely worth the cost while your in Tromso. About AUD$300 per person.
You’d think that spending 8 hours asleep on a seat in Oslo airport would be reminiscent of hell on earth. But to be honest it was less than half as bad as expected. We slept most of the night and it actually went pretty quickly. The short flight to Tromso, in Northern Norway was spectacularly beautiful and a good taste of what was to come.
By 10am we’d sold a kidney each and booked ourselves into dog sledding for later that night and were making our way up through town to our hotel. Tromso is an awesome town, it’s the biggest Norwegian city in the Arctic Circle and is a small island surrounded by towering mountains. Everything is covered in snow and the air is so clear and cold it stings your face. We love it! It’s small enough to walk just about everywhere in a short enough time that your face doesn’t fall off. Unfortunately walking on icy footpaths is not something Jono does best much to the amusement of the local folk. He has hit the ground twice and I have caught him once, which has earned me the non-flattering nickname ‘Stablor’, I am not encouraging its use and will drop him next time. All the locals here wear a reflector wrist strap and wrap their prams with a reflector belt. This must be so no one hits you at 3:30pm in the dark.
At 4:45pm, long after the sun had set (it rises about 1030am and is gone by 3pm), we were picked up in a coach and driven an hour and a half into the frosty wilderness. When we arrived it was a balmy -20 degrees C!! Luckily they equipped us with some delicious and attractive winter suits and snow boots. We had our own husky team, which for the good of mankind I declined to drive, with 5 dogs. They were pretty scary at first especially when our team took us for a quick detour through all the other dog’s kennels. One of the dogs had had a litter the day before which were super cute. The path took us up through stunning moon lit mountains and snow covered valleys. As the dogs turned the sled for home (luckily they knew where they were going because they were in complete control, no offence Jono) we saw something in the sky we’d been hoping to see. Aurora Borealis.
We weren’t exactly certain it was the Northern lights when it first appeared as it was pale white and looked like thin cloud but it gradually got stronger. After a hot meal in a Sami tent with a toasty open fire someone gave a shout from outside. We all rushed out into the cold and looked up at the most amazing display! What a sight! The pale white had become fluorescent green and it danced across the sky swirling into figure 8’s and changing into columns and separate swirls.
It’s our second day in Tromso today and we spent awhile exploring the Polar Museum. The museum was great fun, dedicated to explorers and hunters of the Arctic. We’ve now seen and touched almost every type of stuffed arctic animal you could imagine; seals (7 different types including babies), walrus, polar bear, arctic fox, ptarmigan, puffin, bear, reindeer, some kind of yak thing and huskies. They skin just about everything here. Our favorite was what some genius decided to do with the sealskin below. You can also buy sealskin handbags, belts, boots and jackets (for the low low price of NOK 15000, AUD$2600).
We are sitting in a little café, sipping a $7 coffee (!) writing this blog. We’re about to head home soon and cook up our salmon fillet and veges for dinner. Tonight we’ll walk up the massive bridge to the mainland and capture the island ablaze with lights in the arctic night. This really is a special place. Svolvaer and the Lofoton Islands tomorrow.