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Norway Part 3 - The Lofoten Islands

North of the Arctic Circle offshore from Bodo there is a chain of mountains rising from the sea - the Lofoten Islands.

Sojourn - a temporary stay.
I chose 'Scandinavian Sojourn' as the title of my blog as that is what I'm doing, hanging out for awhile in Scandinavia. Norway is the country in which I will spend the most time and the more I see of Norway, the more I know I made the right choice.

Monday the 17th of July 2006 - Train journey from Trondheim to Bodo.
As I gushed in the last blog, the staff at the Trondheim Interail Centre are great. They opened earlier than the usual 7am breakfast so that I could have a bite to eat before hitting the tracks for the day. MMmm! Homemade bread warm out of the oven.

Caught the bus to the station in time for my 7:40 am train to Bodo. What a beautiful journey it was. Absolutely stunning scenery. I had a window seat and spent 10 hours transported to.....Norway! Mountains, waterfalls and the fiords. Most of the journey was alongside fiords. Despite the mountainous nature of Norway, if you look at a map, it is interesting to see how far the fiords (ocean) penetrates inland. For us on a train, that meant the long way 'round, with unbelievable scenery all the way. The train would follow the shoreline of a fiord and to straighten the track, dived into a short tunnel each time the shoreline made a 'point'. The views of this amazing country from the train were awesome.
Yes! I am now north of the Arctic Circle for the second of three times this holiday.

Something that makes me laugh about trains is that unlike planes, where they take knitting needles off old ladies, on this train axe murderers don't even need to bring their own axe! There was a big one on the wall ready to use and a sign pointing to it just in case you didn't see it!

Having now done this train journey too, I have an idea that the "Worlds Greatest Train Journey" should be a 3 day adventure. Bergen - Oslo - Trondheim - Bodo. If you only do Bergen - Oslo (or VV), you miss out on so much.

I (we) arrived in Bodo at 5:30. I say 'we' because Regula and Jurk, the Swiss couple who'd been with me to Hell and back last night, were on the same train. They had a bed booked at the hostel in Bodo, but I thought I'd wing it and had nothing booked. The hostel was full and I spent the next hour wandering (I don't always like it!) around town to the sight of 'No vacancies'. I eventually found an expensive hotel with a room for me, but on returning to the hostel to collect my bags, they had a bed because someone hadn't shown up.
Happy with what I'd saved, and with access to a kitchen, I cooked dinner for the 3 of us, using Lofoten salmon. It cost what I would have spent on one restaurant meal. It fed 5 because 2 others had dinner from what we couldn't finish. Don't you LOVE hostels for the social aspect. Later in the evening, over a couple of beers, we met Tony the Scot. Whilst shopping, I'd discovered that they do sell beer in supermarkets. Still not cheap. $30 for 4 cans!
Bodo, a coastal town 130km north of the Arctic Circle doesn't have much to offer and like us, most people only stay one night on their way elsewhere.

Tuesday - Ferry trip from Bodo to the Lofoten Islands.
Regula, Jurk, Tony and I got a table together on the 10:15 ferry to Moskenes.
The coastline is awesome. Mountains on the mainland and inshore islands were photographed as they disappeared behind us.
Later, as "The Wall of Lofoten" appeared on the horizon, I got an inkling of what all the fuss is about. A chain of sharp-peaked mountains pierced the sky, rising higher as we approached. WOW!
With such scenery and conversational company, the 3 1/2 hour journey went quite quickly and before we knew it we were arriving at the Lofoten Islands, reputedly one of the most beautiful places in Norway. That from a most beautiful country, meant that Lofoten was on my 'must see' from an early stage in my research and planning for this trip.

The ferry pulled into the tiny port of Moskenes in the shadow of mountains. We were booked into the hostel in Å (pronounced 'oo' as in food.), 5km south at the end of the road and a local bus had us there quickly. Å is the last town south, and also the last letter of the Norwegian alphabet.

I get to stay in a museum! Yep! The tiny cod fishing town of Å is actually the 'Norwegian Fishing Village Museum' with many houses, shops and fishing buildings preserved as they were a century ago.
I got to stay upstairs in "Grandma's House" museum. It was a twin room with period style furniture, including the bed. Glad I am not tall. The whole room was wood - walls, ceiling and floor, and was accessed by a steep wooden staircase with footmarks worn into it with the passage of time.
The others stayed next door in a dorm room above the bakery museum and woke to the smell of bread fresh out of the wood-fired oven.

It might be summer, but these islands are bleak, cold and windy. Today is freezing! Just a reminder that we're north of the Arctic Circle.
I got to wear my down jacket for the first time and went for a wander, as I do. The air temp was probably about 8 deg, but it was the wind that whipped through that was cold. It was fun to be all rugged up and I am looking forward to the high polar Arctic in August. THAT should be cold.
I found racks of drying fishheads, lakes and other points of interest.

Å is a truely magical place. A tiny fishing town with red fishermans huts called rorbuer on stilts lining the waterfront.

The nesting seagulls provide the raucous soundtrack 24 hours a day.
Drying codfish heads provide an omnipresent odour.
The overhanging mountains and cliffs provide a backdrop to the west as you look east over the sea towards Norway.

At this time of year it doesn't get dark at all.

I came to Lofoten to linger and "Smell the roses", but all I got were stinking cod heads!

Tonight I used the kitchen to cook and shared my meal with Justin, an Aussie guy I'd just met here at the hostel. The kitchen and living room were shared between 3 buildings so were quite the social centre.
We travellers all had a couple of beers at 'home' then headed down to the only bar and restaurant in town perched on the waterfront for a beer. Gotta love hostels for the socialising!

Wednesday - Today I climbed a mountain.
I feel priveledged to experience Lofoten and intend to make the most of it, weather regardless. I have 4 nights in this special place, so I'm very happy with that. Hiking, cycling and kayaking were on my list, but with the closest kayaking a 6 hour bus ride each way away, it only left hiking and cycling, and as you will read, they did not disappoint.

With food, warm and waterproof clothes in our packs, Justin and I set off to climb Mt Tindstinden. (At 490m ASL it would prove to be a warm up for a higher mountain on Friday.) We walked 3km from Å to the next town and then headed uphill away from the coast. Passing waterfalls and jumping over streams, the mushy path headed upwards and whilst the weather appeared yucky, it didn't actually rain. It took us a couple of hours and the going was okay in most places, even if the path was hard to follow. The occassional wild cloudberries were a welcome treat.

What an amazing view from the top!

The town of Å lay the bottom of an almost sheer cliff below us and we could make out the individual buildings.
You know my feeling about mountains - they are inspiring and humbling....and I love climbing them!
We had special lunch on the top and lingered for the good part of an hour. A view is even better when you work for it.
As if that hike wasn't enough, we turned left at the road and walked the 2km to Moskenes to check email, then walked 5km back to Å. I've earned a beer or two tonight I think.

As planned, Justin and I went to the restaurant for dinner. We'd been recommended the whale steak and the cod's tongues also on the menu didn't distract us from our whale eating mission.
When they arrived, Justin did come out with a real 'blonde' comment. On seeing a piece of meat, he said, "I didn't order beef!" Turns out he'd slept through the class at school that said that whales are mammals and was expecting a big piece of fish!
What does whale taste like? Not chicken! It's a strong flavour in the way venison and kangaroo are strong, but it doesn't taste like either of them. Not the tenderest thing I have ever eaten either.

Thursday - Time to explore southern Lofoten on bicycle.

Living in a museum does mean you become part of 'tourist' photographs. People visit Å by the busload, but unlike us, they only have a short while to see this amazing place. This morning I was having breakfast and looking out the window to see people photographing 'my' building and by default, me.

I had a lazy start to the day, because I can, but that all changed once I jumped on the bike.
The first few towns are quite close together and in places form a waterfront string of red rorbuer and fishing wharfs.
When I see photogenic subjects from a moving bus, I get frustrated because I can't stop and take a picture. Today that was not a problem. I had my camera with me and intended to use it and did.
The sky was overcast, but it did not rain all day.
If I saw something I stopped and photographed it. If I saw a side road, old shack or hidden lake, I would detour and explore and photograph as necessary. Today I was wandering by bicycle and loving it. All these beautiful villages with mirror calm water and a frame of sharp mountains is the stuff of calendar photos.
I think I suffered a case of digital diahorrea, but I don't care.

I stopped for lunch by a natural harbour. Despite not knowing any Norwegian, I like buying random things in supermarkets. Today's lunch was not a success. The 'fish in a packet' turned out to be salted mackeral and when I bunged it in my roll, all I could taste was salt. Oops!

Continuing northwards the road stayed just a stone's throw from the waters edge, not always a good thing on a narrow winding road shared with cars.
I passed a couple of 'falling rocks' signs. It got me thinking - are they wanting me to look UP so I can see them coming and speed up or stop, or should I look DOWN and not run into a fallen rock?

At the 20 km point I had a decision, return and make it 40 km or continue on to Randburg and catch the bus back. I continued to Randburg 35 km from Å. It had taken me 6 hours including lunch stop to ride 35 km, a crazy time for that distance but, I was prone to stopping and wandering with my camera.
The solid bike seat had taken its toll on my bum and I was happy to jump on the bus back to Å.

We had some drinkie poos in the common area with quite a multinational crew in residence tonight. On heading to bed at midnight, I noticed that all the clouds had gone and everything was bathed in a gorgeous soft light.
This was the light I've been waiting for.
Facing east, they don't get the 'midnight sun' in Å, but on clear nights you do get 'white nights' where it never gets dark.
Tonight was pure magic. Justin joined me and the two of us spent the next two hours exploring Å with our cameras until 2am.
Soft pinks filled the horizon to the west, making the mountains of mainland Norway visible through a pink haze. To the north, a sliver of moon rose over an orange mountainscape.
The incessant seagull sound was tonight interrupted by moaning, as I had multiple photographic orgasms.
This was the 'magical light in Lofoten that has drawn artists from all over the world', that I'd read in the guide book.
I went to bed happy, knowing that I captured a money shot, or two.

Friday - Today I climbed another mountain.
My climbing buddy from Wednesday, Justin was going to Stamsund to meet his ferry north tonight, but we planned to hike first. We caught the bus 2 hours to Stamsund, dropped his bags, then hiked the mountain that overlooks Stamsund - 509m ASL this time. Both times we have actually started the hike at sea level, right on the coast.
The sky was clear and today it was quite warm to hike. The views of Lofoten were, once again, stunning. It was so clear today we could even see glaciers on mountains on the Norwegian mainland far off to the west.
It took a couple of hours up, Justin signed the book, then we followed the ridge alongh the top for a bit before heading back down. I had a bus to catch back to Å.
I'd only met Justin on Monday here in Å, but someone commented last night that they thought we had been friends for ages. I guess you just 'hit it off' with some people. Although from Newcastle NSW, he has lived in Perth, so I knew he must be a good bloke.
I said good-bye to Justin with plans to meet on the Hurtigruten at North Cape in a few days time? More on the Hurtigruten in the next blog.
Once again we had a few drinks at home before heading out, this time 3 km to the town of Sorvagen, which also has a waterfront restaurant and bar.
Walking back under clear skies, the light was a repeat of last night. This place is a very special part of the world. Rough, rugged, but amazingly beautiful.

Saturday - travel day. Å - Bodo - Tromso.
I got to sleep in and take my time this morning. The weather has returned to crap, making me all the more appreciative for the rain-free time I have had here. The bus was at 1:15 and the ferry to Bodo at 2. Tony the Scot was also on the boat as he is now heading south. The lenticular clouds over Lofoten gave me one last photographic treat as I left.

I had some time in Bodo from 5:30 until my flight to Tromso at 8:20. We already knew that despite a tourist office called 'Destination Bodo' it isn't, so we went to the supermarket to grab a bite to eat instead. On leaving, I passed a bakery and wanted to buy a bread roll. The girl behind the counter couldn't sell it to me as they were closed. So I said if you are going to throw it out, can't I just have it then even if you won't take my money? She hesitated, so Tony pipes up, "We'll sing for you." She accepted and next thing I'm standing there with my backpack, singing Baa Baa Black Sheep for my supper. Silly moment - but I got my bread roll.

I'd been told the Bodo airport was within walking distance from town and I guess it was - an hour later!

Posted by TheWandera 13:26 Archived in Norway Tagged backpacking

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