10 days in Scotland

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

It has been years, since Annika and I were on holiday outside of Fennoscandia. This October we enjoyed a ten day journey to Scotland from which I just arrived in Tromsø yesterday.

For this article I chose 2 photos for each day. Some more articles will follow later.

6 October – Edinburgh

I landed in the late morning and have the rest of the day strolling through Edinburgh. Blue sky – so it can actual stop raining in  Edinburgh ;-). In the evening I wait for Annika who is taking the tram from the airport. Now it is raining. Finally we are together.

7 October – travelling to Ullapool

We have pre-booked train tickets to Inverness where we will spend three hours before taking the coach to Ullapool. Well, in theory. The trains do not go the whole way due to heavy rain flooding. The rest is operated by replacement buses. So much to rain in Scotland. In Inverness we catch the connecting coach to Ullapool and have even time for a pizza.

8 October – hiking in Ullapool

After two travel days we want to be outdoors and look for the hiking trail to the hill Meall Mor after a hand-drawn sketch. We find it. From the top we have a view to the town, the hills and mountains in sun, clouds and rain.

9 October – taking the ferry to Lewis

After breakfast we take our backpacks through rain and heavy winds to the ferry terminal just to learn that the ferry has been cancelled because of the gusts on the Minch – the straight between Ullapool and the Isle of Lewis. Luckily the afternoon ferry runs according schedule and we arrive in Stornoway at nine o’clock. Scotland premiere: We hire a car. Annika is driving. Left-hand traffic in darkness!

10 October – exploring Lewis

We explore Lewis by car. Great that Annika is brave enough to drive in Scotland (I’m not). Read the article The west coast of Isle of Lewis about this day.

11 October – Peat bogs and Northern Gannets

From Gearrannan Village we take a small way back to Stornoway. In the bogs you can see traces of peat mining. We give back the car, take the ferry back and are watching the elegant aerial manoeuvres of the Northern Gannets. In Ullapool we receive another car that we have hired for the next two days.

12 October – exploring Assynt

We start exploring Assynt, the region north of Ullapool. Read the article Stac Pollaidh about this day.

13 October – taking a bath

Finally – our first bath! At Achmelvich beach. I will write more about this day later …

14 October – travelling to Edinburgh

It is time to give back the rental car and travel back to Edinburgh. First by coach, then by train. This travel confirms my theory that Scottish coaches and trains are designed solely for transport, not for comfort.

15 October – flying back

Short ones, long ones – all holidays comes to their end. Annika takes me to the tram, again it’s me travelling first. What a wonderful holiday. Thank you, Annika!

A new camera

Next week Annika, my sister, brother in law a nephew and I will start a hiking tour in Sweden and Norway. We will not use a tent but hike from cabin to cabin. Last time I had 6 kilo of camera equipment with me. This year I decided to scale down weight and so I bought a point-and-shoot camera this week: the Sony RX100 VII. It has some disadvantages, but a huuuge advantage: It’s small and weights hardly more than 300 grams. That’s why I even can take a smaller backpack (also bought this week) and save another 1300 grams of weight.

Today I tested the camera, first on my way to work and then on random places, from the center to Telegrafbukta. I know, that the camera has its limitations (being not weatherproof for example) but I’m quite glad that I finally bought it. And here come some test shots from today. All photos are edited in Lightroom.

 

Some summer days in Sweden

I was home in Sweden for only three weeks but the time feels long and rich. Annika and I had guests most of the time but some days in between just the two of us.

A short kayak trip in the sun

On 1 July I used my lunch break to paddle to the beach. I took a bath and lunch there and then paddled back to work. Ah, I love this type of lunch breaks!

A day trip to Norrbyskär

On 3 July Annika and I took the car to Norrbyn and from there the ferry to the island Norrbyskär. Always worth visiting, especially when the warm weather invites to a bath.

A wavy kayak trip

On 4 July Annika and I made a kayak trip to and round the island Tarv. Normally this would be a quite relaxing tour of 10–11 km. But due to the windy weather the sea was pretty choppy and we had to focus a lot on the waves and the rocks.

No one of us took any photos there, but in the more sheltered waters beside and behind the island it was possible to take some photos again. And another bath.

Finally rain

On 7 July it finally rained in Obbola. The rain came too late for the dried up lawn but probably saved a lot of flowers and bushes in our garden.

Hiking twice

On 8 July Annika and hiked twice. First round Grössjön together with guests from Germany, then just we two at the Kronören naturreservat. Grössjön is mostly forest and bogs (and a lot of mosquitoes) while Kronören is also open landscape by the sea.

Back to Tromsø

Ten days ago an 10 July I travelled back to Tromsø. Train Departure in Umeå 2:15 in the night, bus arrival in Tromsø was 17:30.

I felt cold and made a Covid test the next day. Bang – positive! Therefore I couldn’t take advantage of the beautiful summer weather in Tromsø but stayed home in bed the week.

I made some short hikes on the weekend but the weather was dull, foggy and rainy.

 

17 May aboard the ship Hermes II

Today it is 17 May, the Norwegian National Day. People say “Gratulerer med dagen!” (Happy Birthday!) to each other to celebrate Norway’s Birthday in the year 1814. The rest of the history I won’t tell here, you can read it better in the net, for example on Wikipedia.

While I was in Sweden last year I am in Tromsø today and so I was able to join the celebrations. Last week I got an ad for joining the boat parade on the wooden boat Hermes II, build 1917. That sounded fun and I directly bought one of the extraordinary cheap tickets. Would be nice to be outside on the water this day. And so it was, even in snowfall and sleet and temperatures round 1–2 °C.

Hermes II lies in the very center of Tromsø. I’ve passed it many times, today I entered it at 10 o’clock. Slowly the boat filled up. Some women were clad in bunad. These traditional clothes are very beautiful but I doubt that they provide the best weather protection. Check the video linked below. Other people choose more pragmatic clothes to stay warm and dry. At 10:30 we departed, headed north and met other boats there. In a group of fifteen boats – Hermes II, some SAR boats, the rest private ones – we then headed back to the center. Nothing extreme, just a especially nice way to be outside.

Some photos from today:

Also on board was NRK, the Norwegian TV. I can recommend the video, even when you do not speak Norwegian.

Watch it here: 17. mai-feiring på båt i Tromsø (2:44, Norwegian).

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 12: ice station on the Arctic Ocean

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Day 12 · 2 March 2022

Yesterday we arrived at P7, the northernmost transect station on this cruise. Here, a bit north of the 82th degree of latitude and round about 3400 metres above the seabed of the Arctic Ocean we will start our second ice station today.

The morning I start with two polar bear watches. It snows and the visibility is not the best but still good enough to watch out for polar bears.

This is my workplace for 2×1 hour this morning:

And this is the workspace for some of the scientists:

After lunch I get another opportunity to join researchers on the sea ice.

I join Z. again and help her erecting the tent over the already existing ice hole. Then A. uses the hole – now in the tent – to test his ROV (short for remotely operated underwater vehicle). After that Z. continues with MMS measurements. I want to help her but J. who joined our team as well will do that. Z. says that I shall take photos, she never has time for that. Well, when I get a carte blanche to take pictures I use it!

Taking photos in the tent however is not easy. It is quite dark and there is a lot of moisture that my Nikon does not like at all. But here it’s not the technical quality but the motives that matter. (Says Olaf, the perfectionist who is still angry with himself that he did not made bigger efforts to get better photos.)

K., our polar bear guide looks quite impressive standing upright on the nearby ice ridge in front of a purple sky. And the sky is purple. In the Arctic winter it is the sun that colorises the landscape and blends purple and orange of clouds and sky with blue and turquoise of the ice to always new colour palettes.

K. gives my clearance to walk around a bit. To the ice ridge and 30 metres on the snowmobile track to the ship. I enjoy my gained freedom and take some photos of the ship, the sun, the ice, of K. driving snowmobile. And it is such a beautiful day!

More than two hours I am on the ice before we return to the ship. But before that I have to bore you with another selfie ;-)

This selfie is for you, my friend Chris. It was Chris that surprised Annika and me with a generous gift a few years ago: A balaclava for each of us knitted by her. One of these balaclavas now has been in the high Arctic. It is one of the garments I definitely will pick again when I should have another opportunity to travel way up north! Thank you, Chris!

Will I be on the sea ice the next day again? Yes, but first there’s another story to tell. Bear that in mind ;-)

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 1 and 2: Tromsø

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Day 1 and 2 · 19 – 20 February 2022

Oh, well – where to start? I’m still completely overwhelmed from the polar winter expedition Arven etter Nansen (The Nansen Legacy) with the icebreaking polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon that just ended three days ago.

Ok, perhaps it’s best to start with the beginning.

The beginning

It’s Saturday, 19 February 2022 early in the morning. I look at my baggage in my one-room flat. A huge suitcase, an even huger bag, my photo backpack and my bulky Canada Goose down parka plus winter boots.

Do I really have everything? Warm clothes? The helseerklæring – a medical certificate that proves me “seaworthy”? All camera equipment? All gloves and mittens? LAN-cable with adapter for Mac? My reading glasses? Passport? Woollen underpants? Balaclava?

I made a complete packing list, I packed twice(!) but still I’m a bit nervous. When I’m on the ship, it’s probably too late to organise left-behind things.

The taxi arrives at 8:15. It drives north to the harbour, opens the gate to the restricted area and continues directly to pier 25. I’m not alone. Other people that came by taxi or brought by private car and a lot of luggage are there, too. And there it is: Kronprins Haakon, my home for the next three weeks.

My cabin

I ascent the gangway – I have to go twice with all my luggage – and there is a reception. I tell my name and get my key card. I’m in cabin 385. I get a short description of where to find it. It is quite low on deck 3 and right in the front. These cabins are told to be the loudest when the ship starts breaking ice.

The cabin has a huge window. Wow! Behind the window: two bull eyes. As closed and locked as possible. So I won’t see anything from my cabin, but that’s ok. It’s pretty roomy with a desk, a small table, a small sofa and space to store your stuff. And a bathroom. I’ll share this cabin with P., a scientist.

Waiting

Next event: passport control through the police. Then: the first meeting. Here we learn, that departure is delayed, because a crane has to be fixed. Estimated time of departure: tomorrow after bunkering fuel.

While I can take it easy the scientists are busy. They don’t wear lab coats, they wear safety boots and helmets and use pallet jacks to put their equipment to the right places. And there is a lot equipment! Several containers full of it!

11:30 – lunch. Wow, the food is rich in variety and it tastes wonderful. I heard that many people gain weight on these cruises. Now I understand.

12:30 – group photo. That’s my job because I have all my camera equipment with me. Click. Click. Click.

13:00 – safety briefing. How to put on the survival suit in case of evacuation. I’m the guinea pig. And I hear a thing that photographers dream of: Almost every place on the ship is freely accessible. The quarterdeck at the ship’s stern, the helicopter deck at the ship’s bow, the bridge on level 8, the observation deck on level 9. Great! I use the spare time to stroll around a bit.

15:00 – safety training. We „muster“ which means we gather all in the mess – the same room where we eat – split into two groups and enter the life boats. These boats are equipped with everything you need to survive for some days but when you go to the toilet everyone can see it. Made for survival, not for comfort or privacy.

17:00 – dinner. 18:30 – a second meeting. 20:00 – the equipment of the polar institute is accessible: I fetch two pairs of boots and a floating overall size XL. A helmet I already have.

22:45 – bed time. First night on the ship. My bunk bed looks small but is comfortable and very cozy. Good night!

Day 2 – More waiting

I wake up. Do we move? I’m not sure. The internet reveals: we have moved and are now south of Tromsøya. Let’s go out onto the heli deck. Oh, what a beautiful morning!

The ships moves to the bunker station. There it will lie for many hours. Bunkering fuel takes time.

A lot of time. I help a bit here and there, but I cannot do so much. The scientists are extremely organised and mostly it’s faster for them when I do not try to help. At least I can carry some stuff around.

The departure is estimated for 16:00 but when we have dinner at 17:30 we still lay at the same place. I overhear that this delay is larger than usual. When will we start? Will this affect the planning? As most things on board I just don’t know. I’m the newbie.

The journey begins

17:54 – while I am eating my chilli con carne I feel a change in the ship. I look out of the window and almost shout out: „We are moving!“. Finally we are on our way!

After dinner I stand on the heli deck for a long time. I’m on the phone with Annika – maybe the last time for some weeks. I watch the ship going under the bridge Sandnessundbrua that connects Tromsøya and Kvaløya. I watch the Northern Lights. And I’m very happy. The journey begins!

Arctic research expedition with the Norwegian Polar Institute

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise Kronprins Haakon”.

Kronprins Haakon is a Norwegian icebreaking polar research vessel. It was build 2018, can cut through one metre of solid ice, has 15 different laboratories on board and place for 35 scientists or other staff in addition to the crew.

Four days ago Kronprins Haakon had arrived in Tromsø. It was travelling 26 days since it left Cape Town, the only stopover on its return trip from Antarctica.

This morning I went on board of Kronsprins Haakon. Not as a visitor to look around but with a suitcase, an enormous bag full of warm clothes, a heavy camera backpack and my Canada Goose down parka. I will stay on board for three weeks to participate the winter cruise “Arven etter Nansen JC3” that will lead us to the Barents Sea east of Svalbard and a bit beyond.

What happened?

Some of you may know that I’ve been working as a data engineer at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø since autumn 2020. In this position I’m not only a software developer but a data manager of polar research data.

Three and a half weeks ago my colleague M. told me she would join the winter cruise and mentioned that there might still be an available place.

Of course I was very eager to participate. Beside of my private passion for the Arctic I wanted to get a deeper and hands-on understanding of the research data. Where does it come from? How is it measured? And how is it transferred to the digital world? And nothing would teach me better than joining this very winter cruise, where conditions could be quite rough.

I mentioned it to M., another colleague and he introduced me to the expedition leader. There I was told that there was indeed a vacancy on board and that I was welcome to join if my boss would agree.

Since then it had been crazy times with some organisation, a lot of worries and little sleep.

  • 1 Feb: My boss had to check the budget for my participation.
  • 4 Feb: A seafarer’s doctor examined me and gave me my helseerklæring – a medical certificate that proves me “seaworthy”.
  • 16 Feb: I had to take a PCR test and wait for the result for two days. Then I had to take another PCR test, but that’s a whole story in itself.
  • 18 Feb: I had to do a survival suit training in the Tromsøsundet.
  • 18 Feb: I had to pack clothes and equipment I will need on the cruise. Everything beside of two pairs of boots, a helmet, a floating suit and a survival suit. These are provided by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
  • 19 Feb (today): I took a taxi to the port of Tromsø. I was driven directly to Kai 25, took some photos and then went on board.
  • Still today: passport control through the police, a security briefing, lunch and dinner, carrying boxes to the labs, entering the rescue boat and some more …

The next weeks

When Kronprins Haakon will leave Tromsø tomorrow morning we will sail north. First destination is a point referred as P1. It is approx. 500 km east of Svalbard’s southern tip. From there we will continue heading north to the other stations, if weather and sea ice conditions allow it.

The northernmost position is planned to be approx. 82° N, somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. That’s more than 10 degrees of altitude further north than I’ve ever been and less than 900 km to the North Pole.

I’m so excited, that’s really way up north!

We will work both on the sea ice and on the ship using various measurement and sampling methods. Some of them I learned a bit last week but most of them I do not know yet. I’m a newbie. I’m here to learn. And hopefully I’ll learn a lot on this cruise.

After three weeks of tokt (Norwegian for “cruise”) we are supposed to arrive in Longyearbyen on 11 Mars. There I’ll take a flight back to Tromsø the same day.

I will not blog on this cruise because there will be a lot of work and hardly any reliable internet connection. But I’ll definitely take photos, both for the Norwegian Polar Institute and in private for this blog.

So, my dear readers, cross your fingers that I do not get seasick, we can reach our planned destinations and most of all that no one has Covid on board.

You can check the live position of the Kronprins Haakon on the map below. And you are welcome to leave a comment. See you again in mid-March when I’ll answer your comments and start posting articles.

23. Feb, 13:03: Just a short note: This map does not seem to work in polar regions. At time we have internet. Outside temperature -17.4 °C. Position round about 76°29′ N 31°11′ E.


Moving – Tromsø style

Today I move within Tromsø in a quite special way …

I moved long distances as from Munich to Skelleftehamn (2230 km) and shorter distances as from Essen Möserstraße to Droysenstraße (1 km). Now I have to move again.

My former landlord will sell the apartment where I lived when working in Tromsø. Therefore I had to find a new “work base camp”. And I found it, a flat of 30 m².

The first photo shows the old place, the second one the new place.

In case you do not know all houses on southern Tromsøya and you’re wondering what the pulka sled is about I’ll show you another photo:

That’s how I move today! By chance the new flat lies just on the other side of the street and I do not need my car. Weather and snow are fine and pulling banana boxes on the pulka works like a charm, especially since almost all my books, records, the grand piano and much more is in Annika’s and my house in Obbola in Sweden. So it’s mostly basic stuff and a lot of winter and outdoor equipment to move. I can take it easy and will be ready this evening anyhow.

I love moving like this!

Sea ice field work training on the Sørbotn

Peacefully I wake up this morning. It is already light outside. WHAT? LIGHT? WHY? AND WHEN?

I check my mobile phone – the clock shows 8:01. SH**!!! At 7:45 we were supposed to meet at the Norwegian Polar Institute, at 8:00 we were supposed to leave there for a field work training on the sea ice. But not me. I have overslept!

We – that’s 5 instructors and round 20 participants of the Sea ice field work training arranged by the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. I realise that my colleague M. already tried to reach me and ring back. I tell her that I will take my own car and hopefully make it to our destination with only a small delay.

Our destination – that’s Sørbotn, the southern tipp of the fjord Ramfjorden where the training will take place on the sea ice of the frozen fjord.

I manage to dress, make tea and pack in 20 minutes thanks to previous day’s preparation and a fondness for packing lists. Although I take it easy while driving (safety first!) I arrive less than 10 minutes late while the preparations are still in progress.

We are split in two groups. Our group will do measurements of ice and snow depths first and take ice core samples after lunch break. I won’t go here into details too much, because I’m a newbie to all this and I do not want to write half-understood nonsense. I’ll have to look up some details of today’s stuff later.

Although I drill holes in the ice, help calibrating the GEM2 device, measure temperatures in a freshly taken ice core and use a MagnaProbe to measure a transect of snow depths I have a lot of time to take photos, too. So, let’s just start with this.

Being on the ice with a bunch of nice people is not only a lot of fun but it will help me in doing my job at the polar institute. Part of it is to manage scientific data. The deeper my understanding on collecting data the better I can do my work. The most interesting thing today was observing the coexistence of advanced sensor technology paired with GPS tracking and the usage of rulers, pencils and paper as in the early days of polar research.

 

There was one thing I wasn’t involved in: The usage of a remote-controlled underwater drone. We clearly could see some fishes and jellyfish (do you spot it on the 1st image below?) on the live display. I know that it’s used for research, but I would love to have it just as a toy.

Hopefully this was not the last time that I was involved in field work this year. And perhaps we’ll be lucky with the weather again next time. For while we had calm conditions and even sunshine, wind drove heavy snow squalls over Tromsø just some hours after we called it a day.

A winter journey from home to work

Last Saturday I travelled to work. ObbolaTromsø, that’s round 1000 km – the reason why I do not commute weekly.  This time it is a bit suspenseful, because there are two obstacles on my way.

One obstacle is easy: taking a covid test at the test center. The other is much bigger: The road over the Bjørnfjell – the only road – has been closed for many hours due to stow storm conditions. Well, I start my journey anyhow. We’ll see.

At 5:30 in the morning Annika takes me to the train station in Umeå. The first 9½ hours were just a “normal” train journey beside of the train being mostly ahead of time. One change in Boden – nothing special, just long and a bit boring.

I leave the train in Abisko Turiststation where I parked my car. My car – will I find it or is it submerged under a pile of snow? To my relief hardly any snow covers my car. I already hoped so, because Abisko is known for its low precipitation because mountains in the west protect it from bad weather. Much more snow and rain fall on the other side of the mountain range and that’s exactly where I have to go through. Some minutes after leaving Abisko behind it starts snowing. Snowfall increased more and more but isn’t severe and the Swedish mountain road is open. Soon I cross the Norwegian border and …

… have to stop because of a lowered tollgate with a red blinking light. Beside of two trucks I am alone. I am relaxed because I know that the road has been opened for driving in convoy one hour ago (thanks internet!). I just have to wait for the large snowplough to fetch us.

After twenty minutes the tollgate went up and the red light goes out. That’s all that happens. I hesitate. And now? Do I have to wait? Or may I drive? I don’t dare and ask one of the Norwegian truck drivers. He answers I should just go ahead and so I do. The drive is snowy but not bad and soon I arrive at Bjørnfjell brøytestasjonen where the snowploughs are located and now also the Covid19 registration. I register myself, get a covid test and start taking photos while waiting for the result.

I take an image of a snowed in car. The snow plough driver goes to me and asks for what purposes I take photos. “Just for my blog.” “Ah ok, just curious.” Good to talk to him, because so I learn that beside of the mountain passage behind Bjerkvik road conditions are good. Here they got a lot of snow the last 24 hours and one of the cars looks like this:

After round 20 minutes I get a ping ♪. It’s an SMS with a link to my test result. Negative :-). 260 km to go, that’s four hours when conditions were good.

The first 100 km the road conditions are good and weather is ok. The next photo shows how driving looks like.

The next hour it snows a lot. Sight is still good. To my left and right everything is covered with snow, from the largest church to the smallest branch of a tree. Winter wonderland.

Then it starts to get nasty. Snowfall intensifies more and more and the snow has the consistence of superglue. My windscreen wipers hardly manage to push away the gluey snow and finally I have to turn into a side road and de-ice the wipers. Scratch, scratch … . I’m not alone. In front of me a car with a driver doing the same. Behind me another car stops. Am I in the way? No, just another scratch, scratch. On the other side of the side road another one.

I still have some holes to peek through but it is extremely tiring to drive car through the night like that. Alas, after two hours I drive over the large concrete bridge Tromsøbrua and am on the island Tromsøya. Apparently Tromsø’s snow removal has given up. The minor roads are covered with 20 cm of snow with deep tyre tracks. I understand more and more why most Norwegians have cars with all-wheel drive (and so have I).

22:45. I make a last stop at the supermarket nearby that is open until 23:00. I’m lucky because Norwegian supermarkets close on Sundays. By the way: the supermarket’s parking place is in much better condition than the roads.

One other minute driving and I arrive at my flat in Tromsø after 17½ hours travelling. I’m tired but it takes another hour until I’m relaxed enough to sleep. Next week I’ll walk …