Car trip to Tromsø – partly nightmare, partly relaxation

Day twelve

Today I said goodbye to my friends that I stayed with the last week and headed to Tromsø in the north which is round 400 km away. I thought about driving as long as I like, making a over-night stop and continuing the next day.

The weather was quite bad. The temperature has increased to +5 °C, it rained and it was quite windy. But travelling was relatively easy until I came to the first mountain passage. And this part turned out to be the most terrible car ride I had in my whole life!

The nightmare part

The rain – sometime mixed with wet snow – became more and more intense, until rain was just bucketing down on the frozen roads. Sometimes I drove through deep puddles, pushing a bow wave like a boat, sometimes deep slush covered the narrow roads that oncoming cars tossed onto my windscreen temporarily reducing sight to zero.

But mostly the roadway was covered with a thick layer of wet new ice that was slippery as hell. So slippery that I hardly could accelerate or break or steer or do anything without starting to slide. Thanks god for the traction control of my Saab. I wouldn’t have managed without it.

Do not forget, I’m not talking about broad Swedish streets, I’m talking about narrow Norwegian streets, that only consists of tiny bends and sharp hairpin curves, roads that constantly go left and right, up and down. And that’s the main road I’m talking about!

And I’m talking about other car drivers. Car drivers that don’t mind the weather but drive as usual: Too fast! And I was way too slow for them. If they were behind me, they glued their car to my rear bumper and I used every parking place or bus stop to let them pass.

I was stressed, I was frightened and I was frustrated! Was it a smart idea to make this winter journey or was it just stupid? Should I skip Norway and head back to Sweden, where roads are broad and straight? I started to understand why many Norwegian roads are closed when weather is bad. I decided not to continue to Tromsø, but to drive back to Abisko, where the streets are better and in addition to that weather is cold enough to avoid these awful wet and icy roads.

The relaxed part

But first I had to continue the same road, regardless whether of staying in Norway or driving to Abisko. But alas, the weather became better and better and so became the streets. Now it was not only easy to drive, it was fun! It felt like I could continue for hours and hours without any effort. And so did I. 19:45, eleven hours after the start in Haukenes, Vesterålen I arrived in Tromsø.

Wait a moment, eleven hours of driving? For 400 km? No, not really. First of all I stopped at two different bays and walked at the sandy, muddy and ice covered shore lines. I love these walks and consider them extremely relaxing.

In addition to that I made a detour. OK, I’ll be honest: I missed the road to Tromsø and had to head back 19 kilometres to Breivik.

And I made a stop and ate a big burger with fries and drank a coke. Driver’s junk food!

Now I’m sitting in my tiny cabin on Tromsø camping and I’m writing this blog article. The radiator tries to heat the cold cabin but it will take some time until it is warm. But I’m wearing my down suit and even my sleeping bag, both are extremely warm and cozy. A cheer for good equipment and overdressing!

A day in Tromsø

Day 13

Today I woke up in our seal trappers hut which is located in East Greenland. First we sat outside and did our daily work as for example making firewood, then we took our wooden boat and rowed out to hunt seal. The other guys are nice but they’re quite stiff and don’t talk very much.

Ok, back to reality! Today I woke up in my small cabin outside of Tromsø. I went into the city crossing the Tromsøysundet on the big Tromsø Bridge. The weather was anything but a photographers dream: Dull, grey, windy and with showers of wet snow. Anyway, if I’m in Tromsø, I have to take some pictures …

Even in Tromsø thaw has set in and parts of the streets were very slippery. I was glad to have my “snow chains” with me that I can easily attach to my boots if it gets too icy. But I was inside, too: First in the big library, then in the Perspektivet Museum where they had a great photo exhibition: “Kom, for alt er ferdig”. Finally I visited the Polarmuseet and that’s where I took the photos of the seal hunting and the hut above.

At 14:20 the Hurtigruten ship Vesterålen arrived and landed in Tromsø.

I already was on my way back and when I took the photo of the church Ishavskatedralen 15:22, it started to get dark again.

Disclaimer: The usage rights of most of the images in this blog are for sale, but I have to exclude the first three photos that I made in the polar museet, because I’m not allowed to use these photos beside of publishing them in this non-commercial blog.

Tromsø: In the mountains

Day 14

Today I was up in the mountains. I took the first cable car at 10 o’clock and had a beautiful view on the town Tromsø below.

The whole day was like a symphony in colours. Starting with deep bluish purple shades and pink pastel tones the light got warmer changing the light to this incredible colour between pink and light orange. Does it have a name? I don’t know.

This time I had snowshoes with me. They weren’t necessary today but after the last mountain hike I won’t go without anymore. I headed for the first small peak called Fløya (671m), just two kilometres away. The views of the multicoloured mountains in all directions were fantastic.

I continued southward to the Bønntuva (776m), the next peak. I really love the patterns that the wind has cut into the crusty snow.

I continued a bit farther to a nameless peak (754m), mostly to make a photo of the pile of stones. Stone piles are used in Norway to mark ways, but I guess some of them are built of tourists just for fun. But the weather was perfect and the terrain quite simple so I didn’t mind the waypoints.

I was slow because I was more into looking and taking pictures, not into being fast. So I decided to turn and go back to the top station of the cable car. But not without taking some more pictures. One of them shows a ship, it’s the Hurtigruten heading Tromsø. I could see it far away more than an hour before it landed in Tromsø.

As you can see on the latter photo sun went down again and the shades turned into pink and purple again. When I came back to the fence protecting the tourists falling down the cliff it was dark enough to start the night photos. Tromsø looks really beautiful when it is illuminated in winter time and sky is still blue.

Half an hour later I took the cable car down and went back to the car. That took a while because the official parking place costs 20 NOK the hour and I was much to mean to pay 13,50 Euro just for parking.

My plan was to continue the journey tomorrow but I changed my mind because of the weather. The Norwegian region round Tromsø and Narvik will get a “liten storm” that matches level 9 on the Beaufort scale with gusts up to 35 m/s (level 12). The Swedish mountain region will get strong winds as well with poor sight and much snow. I’ll start a day later, on friday.

Just an image for the photographers: My cheap thermometer is Arca-Swiss compatible! – 7 °C today.

Blackout

Day 15

After a longer walk at the shore I returned to my tiny hut on the camping place and slept. It’s pure luxury to sleep on daytime while being in holidays. When I woke up it was dark. Really dark. I checked my mobile phone for incoming mails. No WiFi/WLAN. I stood up and switched on the light. No effect. It was chilly in the hut. I looked outside and couldn’t see much. Some warm tiny lights in other huts and cabins, a flash light. That was all. Looks like electricity is down.

Due to a technical failure in a transformer in the Ofoten (some hundred miles southwards) major parts of Northern Norway have been without electricity since three o’clock including parts of Nordland, Finnmark and Troms including Tromsø. It’s not clear when electricity will be back. I’m glad that I have a warm sleeping bag because this hut is heated by electricity, too and the temperature is already down to 11.0 °C sinking fast.

Both laptop and iPhone still have power and the mobile net is working, that’s why I can sit here and write a blog article even with a blackout in Tromsø and around. But now I’ll switch off them, I need them for checking the news and the weather forecast.

Addendum [18:17]:

Electricity came back, first for half a minute, now for already five minutes. Looks like I’ll get the hut warm again quite soon.

Addendum [20:27]:

WiFi is still down, I’m still using mobile internet and data roaming.

Tromsø: At the shore

Day 15

Just strolling at the shore, at the seaside. Grey windy weather, the opposite of my day in the mountains yesterday. Just walking and letting the mind flow. My thoughts? I don’t know, i didn’t listen. A further step, balancing on stones, wading through shallow water, avoiding the ice, collecting some shells, looking around.

Just relaxing.

The bird is a Purple Sandpiper (Latin: Calidris maritima, German: Meerstrandläufer, Swedish: Skärsnäppa). My thanks to Patrick and Kevin for the identification.

The idea to stay another night in Tromsø and not to drive to Absiko today was good: Parts of the way to Abisko has been closed since yesterday evening due to the snow storm and are still closed. It’s still not clear whether they’ll be open tomorrow again. I guess I’ll give it a try.

Over the storm-beaten Norwegian fjell

Day 16 – about storms, waiting long, a dead battery and Northern Lights

Today I left Tromsø and tried to reach Abisko. But I couldn’t say if I should reach it today since two parts of the mountain road were still closed.

The first part was extremely windy and I could feel the squalls shaking the car. Again the question – was it smart to drive a car in this weather? But soon when I came to Fagernes and started crossing the mountains – the fjell – it got much better. Then I arrived in Bjerkvik where one road goes to the Vesterålen and the other to Narvik and Sweden. Just after I left Bjerkvik, after a tiny bend the storm stroke again. I left the road to Narvik and turned left following the E10 to Sweden. The car climbed the steep passage up and than I saw a queue of cars. Stop.

I switched the car off (Bad idea, Olaf!) and waited. What’s happening? Are we waiting for a convoy? Is the road still closed? I waited. After half an hour it got cold in the car – outside it was stormy and -9 °C – and I turned the car key to start the car again. No reaction beside of half a second light on the dashboard and some disturbing noises. I tried again, and again. The car was dead! “Sh**!” was my thought.

I asked the car driver behind me. No, he doesn’t know anything about cars. The next one. Yes, I should check the contacts of the battery first. That’s what I did but they looked ok. While considering what to do next, the guy came to look as well. He checked the battery contacts once more and came to the same conclusion. Just seconds later a big red car approached from the back, stopped some centimetres beside of mine, a guy jumped out, two jumper cables in his hand, fixed them to the batteries of our cars, asked me to start and my Saab started like a charm! I just could say “tusen takk” – Thousand thanks and back in the queue vanished the red car. This guy is my hero today! I was both grateful and very relieved.

Now I focussed on not stalling the engine under any circumstances. As all other cars I continued waiting. After about two hours of waiting some really official looking cars came from the back and minutes later a guy picked all the “normal” cars to follow. We had to wait another fifteen minutes (“do not stall the engine!”) and then we could follow a snowplough.

Even now where the road was open and ploughed it was an adventure. You could see snowdrifts everywhere and the strong wind still blew loads of snow through the air. Sometimes you could hardly see the hazard lights of the car in front of you. Some new snowdrifts started to cover the road again. It took time until we crossed the Bjørnfjell – the Bear Mountains and came to the Norwegian border where another long car queue waited on the other side for their turn.

Now I was in Sweden and the other road segment was already ploughed and open so that we quite easily could continue driving, still minding the snowdrifts and the stormy wind. Finally I arrived in Abisko where I am in the same room like two weeks ago –it  seems like ages ago.

It really feels like home being in Sweden again – the Swedish language, the Swedish mobile internet without expensive data roaming and – last not least – the Swedish prices! After a short rest a went to a restaurant and ate and drank for 85 SEK, less than the half of what it would cost in Norway.

After that I took a photo tour. The sky had cleared up and a long band of Northern Light covered the sky over Abisko.

Translations:

EnglishGerman
squallSturmböe
dashboardArmaturenbrett
jumper cableStarthilfekabel
stall the engineden Motor abwürgen
ploughedgepflügt, freigeräumt
snowdriptSchneewehe
hazard lightsWarnblinker

Two days on the Hurtigruten

On Wednesday we left Kirkenes and started our journey to the next destination: Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen where we planned to visit good friends of mine.

KirkenesStokmarknes would be 1000 km by car and take at least 14 hours, if you take the faster way through Finland and Sweden. Anyway there’s an alternative: The Hurtigruten express route, which connects many coastal towns, among others Kirkenes and Stokmarknes. That’s why we took the Hurtigruten ship instead of driving for at least two days. In Vardø we entered the vessel Trollfjord and 16:45 we started our two day long tour.

The first night we went to bed quite early and I only took some pictures in Berlevåg. Since the ship already was moving again I decided to make a longer exposure with the camera on a tripod. That’s Berlevåg by night seen from the Hurtigruten:

We missed Mehamn, Kjøllefjord, Honningsvåg. The first place with a landing stage I saw was Havøysund, were we anchored from 7:45 to 8:00. Shortly after we met the Lofoten, the oldest and smallest ship of the Hurtigruten fleet today. It was tiny compared to the much bigger Trollfjord (which is tiny compared to modern cruise ships).

I tried to be as much outside as possible. It was cold and quite windy, not only because of the airflow, but the gusty wind, too. First I thought, that I would be extremely overdressed in my Canada Goose expedition parka, but soon I found it quite comfortable to wear it in the chilly weather.

In Hammerfest we left the Hurtigruten, looked round in town and bought food. In Øksfjord it started to get dark and the black-white mountain ranges became blue.

… and blurred if you wanted to …

… and it got darker …

Then it started to snow. Sometimes the snowfall was quite heavy especially with the wind and I was even more glad about my warm parka.

In Tromsø we arrived at 23:35 and I made some night shots of this favourite town of me.

We could have left the ship for a visit of Tromsø but we preferred sleeping. We’ll probably visit Tromsø this summer.

The next morning came and the last day aboard began. Good for me, because even if I was glad to slip the car ride it’s not my world to be on a large ship looking at the landscape rolling by. Last night snow fall has brought much snow on the top deck. I never waded through snow drifts on a ship before.

At the same time the Trollfjord anchored in Harstad, a town on the island Hinnøya.

On our way to the next destination Risøyhamn it got extremely windy, the stabilised ship started to roll and to pitch and heavy snow showers appeared, reducing the view to some hundred metres.

Suddenly the wind calmed down, the snow showers were left behind and for the first time of the whole cruise patches of blue sky and finally the sun came out. We approached Sortland, the last stop before our destination Stokmarknes where I gazed at the beautiful mountains of the Lofoten archipelago in the south.

I generally dislike the last 30 minutes of transportation, if it’s by train or by plane. I just want to arrive, and so it was on the Hurtigruten. Impatiently I waited in the inside of the Trollfjorden for its arrival in Stokmarknes, then another fifteen minutes for the allowance to enter the car deck and another ten until I was allowed to drive the car onto the very same car elevator which I used to enter the ship almost 46 hours ago.

I could write a lot more about the Hurtigruten and its passengers, but that’s another story. Short résumé: I love those ships for transportation, but cruising is not my cup of tea. (Anyway, the outside jacuzzi on the top deck is really great!)

Travelling to Tromsø

Sometimes I’m just too lazy to blog and so was I the last weeks. Today however I finally want to write about a great trip to Tromsø, that Annika and I started on 7 July, almost three weeks ago.

Tromsø is in located in the North. Very far north. It lies 344 km north of the polar circle and is the northernmost town of the world with more than 50,000 inhabitants. It has the northernmost university, both the northernmost cathedral and mosque, the northernmost brewery and probably some more northernmost things of the world.

The shortest route by car from Skelleftehamn to Tromsø leads over Luleå, Pajala, Kilpisjärvi (Finland) and Nordkjosbotn (Norway) and that’s the route Annika and I took.  We had a lot of time and planned to stay overnight twice, but didn’t plan where.

The first part of the route, the E4 leading north, is kind of boring. At least you’re allowed to drive 110 km/h – the maximum allowed speed of the whole journey. In Töre we left the E4, took a break and ate in the Restaurang Roady – the first KRAV-certified sidewalk restaurant.

After lunch we continued northwards. After 50 km we reached Holgers Traktor Museum in Svartbyn, which is always worth a visit. Since it was late – we started our trip in the afternoon – we just made a short stop to take a picture and then continued our trip.

Where to stay? Perhaps we could stay with Katharina whom I met last winter. She lives in Miekojärvi between Överkalix and Övertorneå. We tried to ring her, but she didn’t answer the call. Anyway it’s just a detour of 30 kilometres so we just gave it a try. Katharina has round 20 huskies and someone has to feed them. When we arrived at her house, a man left the shed, looked at us and we were quite surprised to meet Sascha whom we met before in Solberget several times. What a lucky coincidence! So we found not only our first overnight stay but great company, too! Thank you, Katharina (abroad) and Sascha for your hospitality!

The next day we continued our tour after a nice and rich breakfast. We crossed the arctic circle and watched the reindeers.

First stop: Pajala, where a big market took place. Here you could buy a lot of things between tradition and modern age.

After two hours we left the hurly-burly and entered the car again. We crossed the Swedish–Finnish border and followed the E8 which was more construction site than main road. We passed Karesuvanto, where I was sure to meet a food store. All stores however are on the Swedish side, in Karesuando. Not a problem, if you have bread with you and then are given butter, cheese and salami as a present on the super-nice camping ground Lätäsenon Majat near Enontekiö, where we stayed overnight.

Next day we passed Kilpisjärvi near the border triangle, where Sweden, Finland, and Norway meet and soon we were in Norway. Norway is my favourite country in summer because the landscape is so varying and beautiful that even I make photos from within the car:

In Skibotn we saw the first fjord – the Lnygen – and made a break. Annika used it for jogging and I for looking around and taking pictures. I love to stand at the shore, the feet in the water, the view either on the shells or on the fjord and the still snow covered mountains. But the seagulls didn’t like me standing there and they flew some feint attacks, luckily in vain. They don’t dare to come really close.

In Nordkjosbotn we ate hamburgers for lunch. It’s not easy to get anything other than burgers and pizza in Northern Norway outside the cities, but sometimes I like fast food, especially when travelling. From Nordkjosbotn it’s only another hour to Tromsø, where we arrived in the afternoon.

Here we would stay for four whole days with … but that’s another story for another blog article. Stay tuned!

 

Rainy Tromsø impressions

Two weeks ago: I’m in Tromsø, it’s quite early in the morning and I cannot sleep any longer. Time to ignore the grey rainy weather, take the camera with the 35mm lens and go out for an hour to make some photos of Tromsø when the weather isn’t so nice, but neither bad.