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  • Writer's pictureHiker Tom

Europe: Part 2

Where Peaks and Coastline Clash


Before continuing from where my last post left off, I first wish to explain how it came about that I was headed so far north. Back in September when I started planning my European trip seriously for the first time I knew that the first place that I wanted to go was Norway, it has always been a country that has fascinated me both for its environment and its culture. Where in Norway I should go, however, was a question I had no answer to. So I set out to do some research, and within a few days there was one place that jumped out of my laptop screen and enticed me: the Lofoten Islands. The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago off of Norway’s northwestern coast, they are 68° north, 100 miles inside of the Arctic Circle, about 50 miles from the mainland, and they are best known for their rugged island peaks and quiet coastal villages; something about them captivated my mind back on a rainy day in September, and they have been calling my name ever since!


Morning clouds over Reine, Lofoten


I’m sure that there are many places in Norway with the stunning scenery of fjords, mountains and beautiful skies that are much more accessible than the Lofoten Islands (the west coast from Bergen up to Kristiansund being the obvious choice), meanwhile if I had wanted a purely Arctic experience then the far-northern city of Tromsø would have been the suitable option, but there was just something about these islands in the north that I could not turn my attention from. On the one hand I sought their remoteness, on the other hand I marveled at the extremity of their climate and landscape. There was also, however, an element of philosophy in it too; the Bergen-Kristiansund route, though certainly stunning, represented to myself the easy and less worthwhile option, alternatively I perceived in the journey to the Lofoten Islands an element of struggle and adventure that would both challenge and reward me. In my mind there were simply no other viable places to go, and so my first destination promptly became the Lofoten islands.


The journey from Oslo to here was filled with ups and downs along the way, it was long, tiring, frustrating and lonely, but oh-so worth it! I left Oslo on Thursday evening on a night train to Trondheim and I was overflowing with excitement, both at the prospect of seeing mountainous Norway for the very first time as well as at the feeling of having written my first ever blog post and sacrificed it to the internet for everyone to see. As a result of this excitement I hardly slept on that journey. Eight hours later I arrived in Trondheim, tired and groggy, wishing that I had bought a ticket for the next train to Bodø (leaving the station approximately forty minutes later) rather than deciding to spend the day in the city before getting back on the train that evening. Clearly, when I had booked those train tickets in December I had naïvely thought myself invincible (sigh). Nevertheless, I bought a croissant and smoothie for breakfast and set out to explore.


Trondheim before dawn


On the top of my sightseeing list for Trondheim was Kristiansten Fortress, a hilltop fort outside of the city which had been occupied by the Nazis during wartime and was supposed to offer fantastic vistas of the city. The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours so without hesitation I set off at a pace towards Kristiansten with the aim of beating the sunrise, and succeeded. When I arrived the sky above me was mesmerising: to my northern right it was black, the moon still shined brightly and stars were dotted sporadically around, to my southern left there was white light on the horizon, the sky leading up to it was a rich blue, and I could tell that I was in for something spectacular. I continued ascending the fortress until I was overlooking the city, at which point I waited. The first etches of the sun’s sphere began to rise upon the horizon and all of my tiredness was replaced by a warming feeling of admiration. It was the first time that I had seen the sun in eighty-nine hours, but what a time for it to make an appearance! In front of me the old city of Trondheim was illuminated and beyond that was the fjord, it wasn’t a grand mountainous fjord but nevertheless the ground rising sharply on either side of the bay was a beautiful site to behold. I dug myself a seat in the snow and admired the view for at least an hour, and for the first time on this trip I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.


The beginning of sunrise from Kristiansten Fort


The rest of my day was spent exploring Trondheim. The city was Norway’s historic capital before that status was moved to Christiania (Oslo) in 1814, and is home to the northernmost gothic cathedral in the world. My expectations for the cathedral were, in all honesty, low. I can’t explain in detail why that was so, but I had not been overly bewildered by Oslo’s cathedral and I had predetermined that one this far north would be similarly unspectacular. Needless to say, I was wrong! The grandeur, architectural design, and precision of detailed stonework on this structure was good enough to match the majority of other gothic cathedrals that I have seen around Europe, the only true exception being the duomo of Milan, and the winter-wonderland-esque setting further served to add a touch of magic to it too. Elsewhere in the city I saw the river with the sun glistening on its surface and rows of colourful wooden buildings rising from both banks, a Café where they served hot-chocolate in some sort of soup bowl mug with no handle, the daily fish market down by the sea and a viewpoint which I am fairly certain I almost gave myself a heart-attack reaching the top of (although the reward was fantastic). My enthusiasm for the city can be summed up by a reference to my Fitbit data, according to which I walked a total of 17 miles between disembarking the train at 07:00 and rejoining it at 23:40. While Oslo was a cool city with a lot happening and a lot to see, the quaint character of Trondheim was much more up my street.


A Snowy Trondheim Cathedral


Friday evening I was back on the train for a mammoth 11 hour journey from Trondheim to Bodø which would take me across the Arctic Circle for the first time, and I slept like a baby. For this longer train each passenger was given a pillow, eye-mask, and blanket at the beginning of the journey and I was able to sleep cozily for a good eight hours. When I awoke I was greeted with a view out of the window I hope never to forget: miles of frozen sea-water leading to snow-capped mountains in the distance, and a moody orange sky beyond. The last few conscious hours of that journey were the most enjoyable hours on a train I could have wished for! The scenery was something out of an eerie disaster-horror movie, and our train was the central character ploughing further and further into the unknown…


Arriving in Bodø the difference in climate was noticeable – it was -15°c and the wind was strong. Thankfully, in my many layers of synthetics, cotton, wool and down I remained a pleasant temperature and was able to peruse Bodo all morning before checking into my hostel and settling in for a relaxing afternoon and evening reading my book (Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, I would recommend!). Bodo is a small town, originally designed and founded as a trading outlet for north Norway, and is located at the northernmost point of the country’s rail network; as such, it is used by the majority of people as a thoroughfare between south and north. As for myself, I could finally see some jagged specks upon the horizon, and I only had one thing on my mind.


At the port on Sunday my excitement soon turned to despair as it transpired that the ferry to Lofoten was cancelled due to severe bad weather (I would later discover from numerous locals that the islands were in the midst of a storm that deposited the most snow they had seen in over thirty-five years!), and the next departure was not planned until 22:30 that evening. It would mean arriving at 02:00 am in the morning, by which time any hope of using public transport to get to my hostel was lost. I only needed to get three miles down the road, a distance I would usually walk with glee, but the prospect of doing said walk in the middle of an arctic storm at night was, for lack of a better word, terrifying. I spoke around to find myself a lift on the other side, and everybody was helpful by offering to take me where I needed to go, but only if the road was open for vehicles. For hours I sat around anxiously, thinking and rethinking the situation through in my head, until eventually the news came that the next ferry was cancelled too. I was disappointed – being so close to the islands that I had been visualising for months yet not able to reach them – but also relieved at the thought of sleeping safely that night. I booked myself back into the hostel and slept. To be sure, waiting for hours for a boat that never left was a pretty terrible day, but it was not without its silver-linings. I met some great people – a German gentleman who had been travelling to the islands since 1978, and a group of Poles who worked as fishermen in Lofoten – and as the storm was raging out at sea, those of us at the port were treated to a rather special sunset.


An Arctic Sunset ft. The Ship That Never Sailed


At 16:30 the next day – over 24 hours behind schedule – I was finally on a moving boat, though I was still facing a similar conundrum to the night before because all public transport had been cancelled on Lofoten. As the prospect of walking the cold, dark route to my hostel grew ever more pertinent, I happened to begin chatting with a pair of American guys who were sat near me on the ferry. They had hired a campervan way back in Copenhagen and driven through Sweden all the way to Bodo. Having their own portable accommodation they had no set plans for that night, and before long I had secured myself a lift to my destination. A wave of relief swept over me, and for the next three hours we had a few beers and exchanged stories: they told me about travels in Arctic Alaska and eating Puffin in Iceland; I told them about eating Penguin eggs in the Falklands and travels in Southern Europe. Having arrived in Moskenes we sat in the front of their campervan and watched as the lowering ship door unveiled the chaotic scene beyond. A blizzard raged while Nordic men painstakingly attempted to shift the snow that was obscuring the road (the regional news had even sent a film crew to report on it). Less than five minutes of driving later our rear wheels were stuck in snow. Our van was not going anywhere soon if not for the help of a local who got us free. Eventually, however, I arrived at my hostel and I felt a pronounced sense of achievement at having reached my goal. The two Americans were called Alex and Kevin. Unfortunately, our plans to reconvene yesterday and drive around the islands together never materialised (something that I regret), but I am eternally grateful for their help and great company, and I hope that wherever they are now they are having a great time, and not too cold in their van! Tuesday morning saw me up and out early to get my first proper glimpse of the place I had been pining to be in for so long, and it did not disappoint! I watched the sun rise out to sea accompanied by an elderly local who was spending his morning cross country skiing. Through his binoculars he showed me the eagle that was high above our heads, and taught me how to tell the difference between the King Eagle and Sea Eagle (both of which are native to the islands). He also told me that, so long as I didn’t mind getting cold, I should follow his ski-tracks for a hundred meters to see one of his favorite views. It was a no brainer for me, and having traipsed through snow that literally came above my waist, I found myself totally alone observing a beautiful clash between sea and land.


A Tranquil View Amidst Heaps Of Snow


The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday were spent hiking a ten mile stretch of coast that passed through numerous little fishing villages. I have been thinking hard about this ever since, and I cannot think of a more beautiful hike that I have ever done in my life. The word that I have used most in describing this to family members is unfathomable. The scenery was completely unfathomable, and I still cannot truly believe that these places are real. In the wake of the storm that had ravaged the islands on Sunday, the weather was glorious. The icy mountains rose out of the Norwegian Sea like canine teeth, and round every turn in the road a scene even more staggering than the last appeared! The smell of freshly caught Arctic Cod hanging to dry filled the air, while Eagles soared in circles around the peaks above, and below me waves crashed relentlessly onto snowy beaches. I had invested a lot of time and energy into making that hike possible, but i am pleased that I did so.


Below: Scenes that words cannot describe

 

📚Read: Europe - Part 3 📚

📚 Head back to: Europe - Part 1 📚

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