Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Kirkenes – Øksfjord

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Friday, 15 February

While I moved into my cabin the Hurtigruten ship MS Lofoten still anchored in the port of Kirkenes. I had a windowless 2-bed-cabin for myself and was able to spread out my belongings. But before that I took a photo with my fisheye lens. With the fisheye-like distortion the cabin look huge!

I used the Hurtigruten twice before, in 2017 from Vardø to Stokmarknes and last year from Båtsfjord to Ørnes. So the section KirkenesVardø was new to me. And it’s the first time without my car on board.

We were in the harbour till half past twelve.

Then we left Kirkenes and my 3rd and longest Hurtigruten journey had started. I stood at the stern of the ship and looked back.

Soon I changed place from stern to bow – at the MS Lofoten you can stand next to the bridge – and looked ahead. Far away, a bit to the port side I could spot a white plain – part of the Varanger peninsula.

[Live interruption: We have reached the open Lopphavet between Øksfjord and Skervøy. The ship has started to rock again. I am interrupted by the sound of a plate falling down from the table. Thanks to the soft carpet it survived]

Annika and I travelled a lot on the Varanger peninsula last winter. I stood on the port side of the ship and tried to spot all places we have been: There’s Vadsø, the largest town – there, far away is Ekkerøy with it’s beautiful beaches. And there is Kiberg, where we had a good time with Trond, our host of Cape East Arctic Adventure. And there’s his house! I found it! Let’s see, what about Kibergsneset, the easternmost point of mainland Norway where Annika and I had been last year? It was farther away from the village than I remembered, but finally I found it, too. Both photos are taken with 600 mm from a rocking ship with a vibrating motor, so the quality is bad, but it was nice to take these pictures.

Half an hour we arrived in Vardø, stop #1. (Vadsø is left out on the southbound direction.) We arrived late and I decided to stay aboard. I’ve been in Vardø before.

When we left Vardø behind, it was too dark to see the scenery. I have breakfast included but not the other meals, because I think they are quite expensive. I have my own food with me. This day however I didn’t have a proper breakfast so I bought a large bread with salmon and scrambled eggs.

The MS Lofoten went along the northern coast of Varanger. It was windy and the sea was a bit rough. The MS Lofoten was exposed to the elements. It is not only the smallest operating Hurtigruten ship but also the only one without stabilisers. It was rocking in every direction and the swell got stronger and stronger. Sometimes the bow of the ship was hovering in midair and then scended into the next trough. I’ve never been seasick before but I started to sweat and to feel quite uncomfortable. I tried to ignore it for a while, then I interrupted my photo edit session, went down to my cabin and went straight into bed. Whether it was my lying position or the fact, that the cabin was nearer to the center of the ship’s mass I don’t know, but I felt much better and fell soon asleep.

I woke up shortly before Båtsfjord, stop #2. Near the harbour the strong swell had subsided. Soon the ship lay calmly at the jetty. It had started snowing intensely. We were in Båtsfjord quite a long time due to a lot of freight being unloaded and loaded.

I went into my cabin and continued sleeping. I overslept Berlevåg, Mehamn and Kjøllefjord but was awake in …

Saturday, 16 February

Honningsvåg, stop #6. I was so sure that I would oversleep this stop as well, but we were an hour late. I was still dark, but I could take some photos with my tripod.

[Live interruption: We have left the Lopphavet, the sea was much calmer than expected]

We left Honningsvåg with an hour delay. I tried to make pictures but the sight was poor, mostly because of the snow showers and the low hanging clouds. At least I could take a picture of the MS Nordnorge.

An announcement came through the speakers: Due to the delay we would skip Havøysund, usually stop #7. This would spare us half an hour.

It got warmer. Temperatures were hardly below zero, much too warm for the season. It snowed more and more and all you could see was the ship and a circular patch of waves and snow.

Anyway the snow showers didn’t last for hours and after another snow shower Melkøya came into view.

Melkøya is just a few kilometres away from Hammerfest, second largest town of the Finnmark. It’s the endpoint of an undersea pipeline for natural gas. Here it is converted to liquefied natural gas that is exported to the world.

Right after Melkøya Hammerfest, stop #7 on this journey came into view.

Here we had a longer stopover. A young woman took ropes, rolled them up and threw them up onto the much higher foredeck of the MS Lofoten. She succeeded every time. Later I asked here if I might use the photo (I may) and she told me that she wasn’t sure if she would make it today because of the strong winds.

I left the MS Lofoten for looking around, taking pictures and buying a coke in the local supermarket. Some photos:

After an hour I went aboard again, placed myself into the salon and started editing images. The weather was too dull to take great pictures, a good reason to be lazy.

I even took a short nap in my cabin. Anyhow I was up again when we arrived in Øksfjord, stop #8. With a fisheye photo of the port Loppa Havn I will finish this blog article.

[Back to now: Soon we’ll arrive in Skjervøy, stop #9. If we make it we’ll even reach Tromsø today but perhaps I’ll sleep. I’ve been in Tromsø several times before and even twice last year.]

 

 

 

Going by snowcat

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

It’s dark outside. I’m in the cozy house, where Chris and Ørjan live and reading. But what’s that blinking orange light outside? I peek through the door and what I see is a snowcat.

Ørjan is about to start a tour to prepare trails, both for his employer, the Snowhotel Kirkenes and for the local skiers. Preparing trails for the letter is a dugnad, that means voluntary work. Dugnad is very popular in Norway.

I ask Ørjan if I could join him on the tour and I am allowed to. Time to take some handheld pictures.

It’s fun to go by snowcat through the dark. I looks quite easy to operate and I would like to have my own snowcat. But neither do I need one nor could I pay it.

Takk for turen, Ørjan!

MS Spitsbergen

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Today it was cloudy and much warmer in Bjørnevatn than yesterday day and evening. Chris and I took breakfast at the Thon Hotel Kirkenes. This breakfast is just superb! There is a wide variety of food and the quality is excellent. While we had breakfast it started snowing. I looked out of the window and watched a small icebreaker. Two years ago the Elvenesfjorden was completely free of ice. This year however it had been so cold the last weeks that the whole fjord is frozen. Or would be, if the icebreaker wasn’t going back and forth and crushed the ice.

Kirkenes is the endpoint of the Hurtigruten line, that connects many Norwegian coastal towns as e.g. Bergen, Trondheim, Bodø, Tromsø, Hammerfest and Kirkenes. As long as the weather allows the ship arrives at 9:00 and departs at 12:30 every day. Many tourist go ashore to discover the city or to go dog sledding in the Snow Hotel.

Today it was the MS Spitsbergen that was in the harbour. It is possible to visit the ships and so Chris and I took a small tour to explore the ship.

The MS Spitsbergen both operates the Hurtigruten line Bergen—Kirkenes but also makes cruises to places like Iceland (from 4373 EUR), Svalbard (from 7058 EUR) or even Franz Josef Land in Russia (from 7696 EUR). Great destinations but much too expensive for me.

P.S.: Don’t ask me why there is dried fish on the top deck of the MS Spitsbergen.

Travelling to Bjørnevatn

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

After visiting me home in Skelleftehamn Chris and I continued to Jokkmokk on Thursday. We visited the winter market and then drove to Solberget, where we stayed overnight.

The next day we started a long drive with her car. Chris lives in Bjørnevatn near Kirkenes and we planned to arrive there the very same day. At 7:10 we started our journey that would lead us through Sweden, Finland and Norway.

First the sky was cloudy but the visibility was good. Then it started to get a bit foggy.

Normally that’s no problem. This icy fog however started to cover the windscreen more and more and we had to stop often to scrape of the ice.

In Gällivare we stopped at the gas station and had some breakfast. We also bought a bottle with de-icer for the windscreen and continued our trip.

The de-icer didn’t help, we had to stop many times to scrape away the ice from the freezing fog. We were not the only ones. The headlights and the number plate were covered with several millimetres of ice, too. I never had experiences something like this before.

Only the bottom 15 cm of the windscreen were free of ice. While Chris crouched into the seat to be able to see I gave up taking pictures from the road and photographed sideways.

We approached the Swedish town Karesuando. This small town is located directly on the Muonio älv, which also forms a natural border with Finland. On the other side the town is named Karesuvanto where we took another break.

Strangely the ice problems stopped right after the Finnish border. We continued to Palojoensuu without any problems. There we turned left onto the road 93. An hour later we were at the Norwegian border.

After being stopped by the customs and assuring them that we have neither alcohol nor cigarettes with us, we continued driving through the snowy plains. Next stop: Kautokeino, where most inhabitants are Sámi. Here we ate a hamburger with chips, a typical meal if you travel through Northern Norway.

Until now, Chris had driven a car. Now it was my turn to drive to give her at least a short rest. The first time I drove a diesel.

Round two hours later we arrived in Karasjok. What I already had suspected, confirmed here: It was cold outside: -30 °C.  Time for another break.

Back in the car, Chris was driving again. It was dark, it was cold, we were tired and still more than four hours to go.

I started to get bored and played around with my camera.

A pale green stripe appeared above the street. A northern light. The next hour we got quite nice northern lights, mostly directly in front of us. Though being tired we got at least entertainment. The photos are awful, northern lights are not made for being photographed free-handed from a car on a bumpy road.

Finally we came to Tana, where we crossed the river of the same name. A quarter hour later we arrived in the small town Varangerbotn, were we took the last stop of our long trip.

Now we drove along the fjord Varangerfjorden. Anyway, beside of some street lights and the weakened aurora it was pitch black and I couldn’t see the fjord. Beside of that I just longed for a bed.

But finally we arrived at Chris’ home in Berg near Bjørnevatn. Arrival time 23:40, 16½ hours after we started in Solberget.

Here I’ll spend the next days.

Link to the route on Google Maps

 

Snowy night, snowy day

When I returned from Avan two days ago the Swedish weather institute SMHI had issued a snow warning: 20-30 cm snowfall and at the coast fresh winds from northeast. Yesterday the wind increased and in the afternoon it started to snow. Soon the snowfall increased, too and the wind made the snow whirl round the houses and through the streets. More and more snow came falling down and soon the street was snowed over completely.

“Beep! Beeep! Krrrr. BEEEP! KRRRRR!” – these sounds woke me up this morning at 5 o’clock. The sound of snowploughs and shovel loaders clearing the roads. They beep when they go backwards and the shovels make loud scraping noises.

While the shovel loaders take the snow and move it to other places the snowploughs just push the deep snow aside. Both are important but the latter create work for the locals. They create a so-called plogkant – compact walls of snow – along the street and so right in front of your driveway.

This plogkanten was 60 cm high and the loose snow behind was of almost the same height. Before I could use the car I had to shovel snow. A lot of snow, at least 2½ m³. Fortunately the temperatures where round -10 °C and the snow was loose and fluffy. A good workout anyway. Finally I could get camera and tripod and took the car to two places by the sea.

The garage at the pilot station was surrounded by meter-high snowdrifts. The snowdrifts in the lee of the house were even higher. The gaps in the fence created a nice stripe pattern on the snowdrift outside. It was still quite dark and there was not much to see otherwise.

At the “beach” of Storgrundet the stormy gusts of wind blew the snow horizontally from left and right and in the dawn the scenery looked very harsh.

Great weather for a ski tour on the sea ice, isn’t it?

Two and a half hours later: Chris – a friend of mine from Kirkenes who arrived yesterday – and I had just come to the very same place to start a ski tour. We mounted the skies, put our hoods on and slipped into the gloves. It still was snowing and quite windy.

And when it’s windy at the mainland you can bet that it’s much more windy on the sea ice which is completely exposed to the elements. And so it was. The island Storgrundet was in the back and we could see the pale schemes of some other islands in the northwest. The northeast however looked like the Arctic Zone.

Chris was following my ski tracks. She looked like an arctic explorer with the white void in the background.

Here’s one of of the rare photos of me, that is no selfie. If you look closer you see that my ski tracks go zig-zag. That’s because even on the sea ice of the Baltic Sea there were many snowdrifts with sharp edges and I could hardly see whether it went up or down. Skiing was not exhausting but we were slow due to the wind and the bad sight. (… and taking pictures.)

We skied to a headland which had been in sight for a while.

As soon as we reached the lee of the headland it was almost windless. What a huge difference to the exposed parts of the sea where weather was quite rough. In the shelter of the headland we took a break. (We forget the tea in my kitchen but at least we had a bit of chocolate.) On the headland were summer cottages, now snowbound in meter-high snowdrifts.

The way back was easier. The gusty wind had started calm down a bit and the snowfall lessened. The view to the west however was still extremely arctic.

We were however no arctic explorers but had the luxury of a parked car and a heated house just some minutes away. The ski tour was short in distance but rich in experience and that’s what counts!

Takk for turen, Chris!

It continued snowing until dark. The fence in my backyard had been buried in snow almost completely. The fence is 85 cm high.

Later in the afternoon I continued clearing snow. Not with a front loader but with a wide snow shovel. Chris has parked her car on the street and both the snowfall and the snowplough had buried it up to the top of the wheels. I pushed all snow into the front yard where the snow pile got higher and higher.

I’m a quite curious person when it comes to snow depths. I made a step on the top of the snow pile and as I guessed the snow was quite loose:

If the forecast is right we get calm, sunny and colder winter weather tomorrow. We consider to start the very same ski tour again just to see the difference.

 

The ice road in Avan

Today I had a meeting in Norrbotten, Sweden’s northernmost län (county). It was the annual general meeting of Barents Press International, a joint network of journalists in the Barents Region. I joined this organisation a few weeks ago and took the meeting as an opportunity to meet members of Barents Press in real live.

The projects presented at the meeting were really impressing. In addition to that the people were both very friendly and extremely interesting.

The meeting was in Avan near Luleå, 150 km from here or as the Swedes say: 15 miles. The name Avan rang a bell, but it took a look on the map to remember that it’s the place where Annika and I had used the ferry to cross the river Luleälven in May 2015. And later that day we had been forced to wait before a bridge, where people tried to get out a ship with a crane. (It didn’t work.) After a long time of waiting we had been able to continue the tour.

But back to today. It’s 2 February, -18 °C and the Luleälven had been frozen for many weeks.

I had left the E4 and drove the road to Avan. It was picture-perfect weather. Everything was covered with soft snow. It was snowing gently and since it was quite early, the snow looked still a bit blueish.

Some hours later – we had finished the meeting and went upstairs to have fika. This Swedish coffee break took at least twice the time of the official meeting, but fika is anything between 15-30 minutes (most common) and open end …

While we were holding fika and it was still snowing the sun came out. The sunlight made the scenery look even more beautiful. What a gorgeous view the house owners have!

Half past twelve I thanked the hosts and left Avan. I had got an idea: I remembered that there was an ice road crossing the river in wintertime. I was not sure if it was open but it was not far away. I drove there and right, the ice road over the Luleälven was open.

It had stopped snowing and the sun was shining. I parked the car and took some pictures (and was annoyed with myself that I only took the small camera with me).

I saw other cars using the ice road, otherwise I wouldn’t have dared to cross the river, which still is a river with water under the ice. Flowing water. Ok, let’s go …

And so I have got my ice road premiere today. Check ✔︎. I took some photos on the other side and decided to drive back again because I prefer the southern road which I came from.

It was still sunny but clouds had started gathering in the south. While I drove back south it got more and more cloudy. When I made a stopover at my favourite Thai restaurant in Skellefteå it was quite windy and my mobile phone displayed a message:

Warning class 1 snowfall Västerbottens … Snowfall which from Sunday morning to night to Monday can give 20-30 cm. In coastal areas in combination with fresh northeast wind. Snowfall contin…

Later there were the first snow showers. Let’s see, what will happen tomorrow.

Snow in Skelleftehamn

After a snowy car ride from Umeå I arrived in Skelleftehamn. Partly the E4, the main road was completely white and the visibility was quite poor, especially when a huge truck passed by. In this case a lot of snörök – snow smoke – whirled to the air and reduced the sight almost to zero for some seconds. Driving through snow and darkness is exhausting and I’m glad I’m home.

At home there are no huge amounts of fresh snow, “only” 15 – 20 cm. This is however the largest amount of fresh snow I experienced this winter. Nice and a good start! And since I was to lazy to shovel snow at 21:00 I just drove my car onto the driveway. I guess, tomorrow I’ll get some outdoor exercising.

Steam locomotive in Kusfors

Today: a short trip to Kusfors and Jörn with Annika and my best friends from Munich. After last night’s storm we got calm and sunny weather with temperatures between -10 °C and -20 °C today. In Kusfors we had a look at the old steam locomotive and visited friends of mine. In Jörn we had a picnic in the in the heated waiting room of the train station.

I live nearby Skellefteå, Sweden’s largest town without an active train station. Jörn, however has rail connections to Luleå, Umeå, Stockholm and Göteborg, although Jörn only has 800 inhabitants. I have to admit, that I’m a bit jealous sometimes.

Early winter Holmön IV

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

It is Monday. It has rained the whole night and it still rains. Most of the snow is history and everything is wet. After breakfast we decide to give the road to the southern tip of Ängesön another try. Indeed, it is almost free of snow and soon we are at the southern tip of the island where we walk along the coast. The clouds are grey and so is the sea. Some water areas are still covered with wet, brownish ice but the sea itself is open.

There are some marked hiking paths on Ängesön that we want to give a try. The guide book recommended “tåliga skor” – that means tough, durable shoes – due to the wet ground. The first path to the east has many deep water puddles and flooded parts. Partly the path is supported by wooden planks, but mostly not. The path leads through a quite old forest as we can see by the many lichens that cover the pine, spruce and birch trees. Snowless and wet as it is, it looks more like mid-October than December.

We try the other trail that leads to a shelter at the western coast of Ängesön. This trail is less wet and easier to follow than the other one. It is however not too easy to reach the rocky coast because of the marshland between forest and coast. It still drizzles and rains and everything is damp.

The hiking paths are nice but I would strongly recommend high rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.

After our “three course hiking” we return to our accommodation at Berguddens fyr. We’re still the only people, the place – as beautiful it is – seems less popular in winter time as the guest book tells us. While Annika prepares a warm lunch it starts to get dark outside. Grey clouds still cover the sky and it continues drizzling. The lighthouse starts sending its light beams over the Västra Kvarken, part of the Baltic Sea between Holmön and mainland.

Today day we leave Berguddens fyr. We were lucky to be change the booking for the ferry from 19 o’clock to 9 o’clock to avoid another rainy day – partly in darkness. At 8:20 we sit in the small waiting room, because it’s very windy outside. Waves break at the quay wall and after some the small ferry arrives and wobbles into the small harbour.

I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when I learned I have to back the car onto the ferry. The man however that pilots me onto the ship is fantastic and guides me much better than every rear camera. I am relieved, but get nervous again when I watch the man securing the car with belts. Is it so stormy? Will the belts hold?

First the boat trip is quite but soon the ferry starts to roll and pitch more and more. I stay in the inside of the boat where I feel safer. While Annika and I are hoping the best for the car, the other two passengers do not pay any attention to the rough weather. Probably they live on the island Holmön and they are used to something like that.

45 Minutes later we arrive in Norrfjärden. My car has survived this unsteady trip without any problems.The ferry needs several attempts to dock, but finally I can leave the ferry with the car. Annika, who already went ashore gets into the car and we drive to her home in Umeå. This drive takes only 30 minutes – less than the ferry passage.

It’s fantastic to have such an interesting and special place nearby. We’ll come again, hopefully with better weather.

 

Early winter Holmön I

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

When Annika and I made a two-day trip to the small island Stora Fjäderägg in August this year, we spent some hours on the island Holmön. We walked to a place called Berguddens fyr – Berguddens lighthouse – were you can rent a room.

4 months and 5 days later we stand at the shipping pier and wait for the small ferry Helena Elisabeth that shall bring us to Holmön. We booked a room in Berguddens fyr for four nights. With us is my car. Annika booked a place for it on the ferry that only provides space for a single car. At 7:30 the ferry approaches.

We have to wait, because first all groceries and goods have to be brought onto the small ship. Holmön has 75 inhabitants and a grocery store. Finally I drive the car onto the ferry where it is saved with wedges.

We are not the only people travelling to Holmön. Everyone is sitting in the inside beside of me that tries to make some photos. The foredeck however is covered with wet, salty ice and so slippery that I do not dare to stand there without any hold.

After about 40 minutes the ferry goes ashore in the port of Holmön. I have to back from the ferry with the car and I am quite glad about the rear camera. Then we take the main road, turn right into a snowy gravel road, turn right again into another small road through the forest and then we arrive at Berguddens fyr.

No one is there, but the house is open and warm and soon we find our large but cosy room:

Probably we will be completely alone in the house. Who travels there in early December? Already at 3 o’clock it is quite dark and the lighthouse has started to be active.

Days are short in December but we have a lot of books with us and even two musical instruments: A violin for Annika who plays viola, and an accordion for me who plays piano. (Did I mention, that we are alone in the house ;-) ?) And a book with many, many Christmas songs.