Autumn, meet winter

When I woke up this morning it was still dark outside. It snowed. Big snow flakes fluttered downwards, where most of them melted instantly. They felt however comfortable on my car and started to cover it with a wet layer of snow – the first snow of the season.

It snowed in Skellefteå, too and I took a short stroll along the river before job. Temperatures were slightly above zero, so the falling snow was wet and didn’t last long. Anyhow it managed to cover the leaves, the grass and things made from wood.

I’ve been living in Sweden for more than eight years now. The earliest snowfall in Skellefteå/Skelleftehamn I experienced before was on a 14 October, but normally the first snow comes round the end of October or even later. So this year it’s quite early.

I do not long for the winter yet, because of all the coloured trees and bushes. They are so beautiful. But as soon they will become leafless I’ll be eager for the first cold days and snow that doesn’t melt away instantly.

Ongoing winter

It has been a long winter and it’s continuing. The fence behind my backyard is still mostly snowed under and this night it has started snowing again.

The temperatures however have been gradually rising. While the minimum temperatures have been mostly between -5 °C and -15 °C the last weeks the minimum of the last night was a mere -1.2 °C. And the permanent frost stopped. Day temperatures have been above zero the last ten days and despite the mean temperatures still being below zero the snow has started to melt, especially on and beside the streets.

And if the Swedish weather forecast is right we’re expecting a sunny week with temperatures up to 7 °C. This will cause more snow to melt making the streets especially in town extremely ugly and rubber boots the preferred footwear, but that’s a necessity for the spring to come.

The other years?

April 2017 – the Baltic Sea is mostly open, some snow showers. The first tussilago flowers on 8 April.
April 2016 – open Baltic Sea, some rain and small streams cause local flooding.
April 2015 – kayak tour on the Baltic Sea, whooper swans and again the first tussilago.

Snowmobile tracks

When the sea ice is safe + the weather is calm and sunny + it’s Easter holidays you can bet that many, many people are outside. A zillion times more than in January or February when the locals think it’s too cold.

Some people walk, some even ski but most people use their snowmobiles. And that’s how the snow covered ice on the Baltic Sea looks like: covered with snowmobile tracks. Sometimes only one or two of them, but often it’s many tracks making the ice look like a German autobahn.

What a contrast compared to my hike less than two weeks ago where I was almost alone on the ice.

 

Why travelling in Northern Norway can take time

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 40 of my winter journey 2018

At 11 o’clock we left Kjølnes Fyr and started our car trip to Båtsfjord. First we had to take the road 890 to Kongsfjord and over the Kongsfjordfjellet, then we had to continue on road 891 over the Båtsfjordfjellet to Båtsfjord.

I wasn’t sure if we would manage it due to the severe stormy and snowy weather. Another guest staying at Kjølnes Fyr had a hard time driving the 5 km from Berlevåg with very bad visibility. The roads however were still open though marked with a warning “difficult driving conditions because of snowstorm”.

And yes, it was stormy and it snowed a lot. The sight on the road however was still quite good. While I focussed on the road Annika took some photos of the coast beside of the road:

Some parts however were very hard to drive, since the visibility was extremely bad. It was hard to see whether there were snowdrifts on the road and how deep they were and several times I had to stop completely to find out, where the road continued.

I started to doubt if it was possible to cross the mountain passages but we would make it at least to Kongsfjord where we could stay overnight if continuing became impossible. Annika tried to check the traffic information of Vegvesen – the Norwegian Public Roads Administration – but there was no mobile internet available.

I continued driving along the E 890 and the only other vehicle we met was a snow plough. The street behind it however seemed as snowy as before.

Shortly before Kongsfjord Annika’s smartphone was online again and she informed me about the updated traffic information: The mountain sections of both the 890 and the 891 where restricted to kolonnekjøring which means that you cannot drive alone but have to follow a convoy guided by a snowplough. The kolonnekjøring was scheduled to 14:30. The good thing: Driving in a convoy would be much easier than driving alone.

When we arrived in Kongsfjord it was 12:10, so the 28 km drive from Kjølnes Fyr had taken more than an hour. We were lucky that there is a landhandel – a grocery – in Kungsfjord that is open all year. We entered the landhandel, told about the kolonnekjøring and were invited to coffee and cookies straightaway. A big thank you to the owner for the warm welcome!

While we sipped our coffee and waited we constantly checked the traffic informations. After a short while we learned that the start of the kolonnekjøring was postponed to 17:00. That meant more waiting, but we were not the only ones. Other men in work clothes – mostly fishermen – waited as well. They told stories, laughed out loudly while drinking coffee or eating fast food. Anyway we all were still lucky. While we only had to wait some more hours many other roads were completely closed due to the weather, among others the way to Mehamn, the passage between Kiberg and Vardø and the only way to the North Cape.

Hours later: We said goodbye, cleared the car of snow and drove the short way to the boom gate. Here some other vehicles, mostly trucks waited for the convoy to start. One of the truck drivers attached snow chains to his truck.

Dusk had already been falling when our convoy started some minutes after 5 o’clock. My job for the next time was following the rear lights of the car in front.

Some passages were quite easy to drive, some passages were hard to follow due to the blowing and driving snow. (Sorry, no photos.) After 35 minutes we arrived at the T-junction, where the 890 from Kongsfjord, the 890 from Tana Bru in the south and the 891 from Båtsfjord meet. A long queue of cars coming from Tana Bru already waited. Some minutes later the convoy from Båtsfjord arrived as well. The snowplough leading the convoy to Kongsfjord passed and seconds later our queue of cars started to approach the intersection were we turned left to follow the convoy to Båtsfjord.

This part of the trip was extremely exhausting. It was dark, the convoy was slow and mostly the visibility was really bad. I just tried to follow the red lights in front and it felt like hours and hours until the snowplough turned right and we suddenly arrived in Båtsfjord. Here it seemed to snow as much as in the mountains and I was very relieved when I finally parked the car at our overnight stay. Phew – that was no easy ride and I’m really grateful that convoys led us over the mountains under the snowstorm conditions.

The rest of the day? Buying foodstuff at REMA 1000, eating fast food, falling asleep quite fast while the snow squalls over Båtsfjord continued. According to our host 30 cm of snow already had fallen that day and more was expected.

At least we arrived in Båtsfjord, probably our last overnight stay on land. The next evening we would take the Hurtigruten to Ørnes, were we would drive home to Skelleftehamn and Umeå.

(The first five photos were shot by Annika. I did the editing.)

Kjølnes Fyr

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Days 38 to 40 of my winter journey 2018

Saturday

After our stopover in Kongsfjord we continued the road 890 in direction Berlevåg. The road follows the coastal line of first the fjord Kongsfjorden and then the open Barents Sea. Our destination for today is Kjølnes Fyr where we planned to stay over for one or two nights.

Kjølnes Fyr is located on a small headland called Kjølneset 5 km east from Berlevåg. We had booked a two-bed room at this place because it looked more interesting than the “large” city Berlevåg with its round thousand inhabitants. At half past one we arrived.

I directly fell in love with this place. The lighthouse – some other houses around – a rugged rocky coast, partly covered with snow, partly with seaweed – to the west bare mountains and to all other sides the open Barents Sea.

If you started a boat trip from Kjølnes Fyr heading north, the next land you would approach would be Kongsøya, part of Svalbard.

Viggo who operates the lodging gave us the key to the lighthouse and we took a closer look. The original lighthouse from 1916 was destroyed in World War II, the new lighthouse was built in 1949 and has a very functional and sober appearance. We went up and looked over the Barents Sea watching the high waves breaking at the rocky shore.

Viggo and his wife moved to Kjølnes Fyr in last autumn. He has rented the houses, that are protected as a historic monument. He told us from a winter storm that he experienced in January. Wind speed was up to 70 m/s (~250 km/h) and the upper floor of their house was shaken so violently, that the vibrations moved around the furnitures inside. Compared to that experience we had it quite calm.

The only thing we made over daytime was driving to Berlevåg to buy food. In Norway almost all shops are closed on Sundays and there were things we needed (spaghetti …) and things we wanted (chocolate …).

Later that evening we drove to Berlevåg again to see the Hurtigruten ships coming in.

Sunday

Under the night the wind got a bit stronger and the waves approaching from the north had become higher. Annika and I took a really lazy day. I was outside several times, but only for taking photos of waves. They never broke at the same place twice and gave me a hard time making pictures.

Weather became worse the whole day: The wind increased more and more and it started to snow, which means that snow was thrown into my face vertically when I dared to look into the wind. When it started to get dark, the ice and snow covered rocks in the cold light of the blue hour made the landscape look as what is actually is: arctic.

Already in the afternoon the Norwegian Meteorologisk institute had issued a class one wind warning for the whole area. I started to get a bit nervous. The next day we wanted to continue to Båtsfjord, our last stay on our Varanger trip but I was not sure whether the weather would allow it. Anyway, all roads were still open.

Monday

It had snowed a lot in the night and still was snowing heavily. Due to the stormy wind parts of the ground were completely bare of snow while other parts were covered with knee deep snow. At the same time it was quite warm, hardly below zero. The weather warning was extended to the afternoon but wind should decrease a bit over the day, so we planned to start round 12 o’clock. I was out and took some more photos, but it was really rough weather, especially for the camera.

Right after breakfast Viggo got a call of another guest approaching from Berlevåg by car. She couldn’t find the departure to Kjølnes Fyr due to severe weather conditions and asked for help. He took the car and drove to the main road just to mark the departure visually. When she came in she looked quite exhausted from the short car trip. She advised us not to continue the trip that day and told us, that visibility was partly only 10 meters which would make it impossible to see the next way mark.

We waited some time but despite of the stormy wind the visibility looked really good. Therefore we decided to give it a try and drive at least to Kongsfjord, that we passed two days ago. Here we could either continue our trip or take a room and stay in Kongsfjord overnight.

So we packed the car, said goodbye, removed the snow from the car and started our car trip to Båtsfjord at 11 o’clock.

 

 

 

Eight times Ytre Kiberg and around

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 31 and 32 of my winter journey 2018

1. Yesterday, Ytre Kiberg – the morning

Two days ago two other guests arrived at Cape East Arctic Adventure, our cozy stay in Ytre Kiberg. They came from Utrecht in the Netherlands and were on a three week car trip from Utrecht to the North Cape and back – 8500 kilometres in total!

Trond, our fantastic host made a special breakfast for them: King crabs, locally caught in the Barents Sea. Annika and I got our share, too. King crabs are probably my favourite seafood but it was the first time I got such for breakfast.

After breakfast Trond had some work to do: clearing the snow with his rotary snow plough. Last days had been very windy with some short but intense snow showers. The snowploughs had to work a lot to keep the roads clear of snow and Trond had to clear the snow on his property several times a day. This morning the snow drifts were especially high and Trond had to work hard to get through with his snowblower.

2. Yesterday, Vardø – a private guide tour by Trond

After the driveway was cleared, Trond invited the Dutch guests and us to a short private guided tour in Vardø. We entered his all-wheel drive car and he drove us the short way to Vardø – a town with 2100 inhabitants located on an island – where he showed us some of his favourite places. There is a lot of street art in Vardø and next time I have to take a closer look to all the graffiti and more conceptual artworks. But you cannot do all in a single journey.

There’s a mountain pass between Vardø and Ytre Kiberg called Domen. It’s quite exposed to the elements and when we crossed it waves of driving slow covered the road.

3. Yesterday, Skallelv – a short visit

Soon after we arrived in Kiberg, the Dutch guests left and Annika and I made a car ride to Skallelv, 30 km south of Ytre Kiberg. The weather was really nice: sunny and hardly any wind. We went round a bit and I made some photos. I had however problems with some lenses, they got moisture inside that tends to freeze when being outside. Hopefully they will dry within the next days.

4. Yesterday, Vardø – the Vardøhus Fortress

After a rest we took a tour to Vardø again, this time we wanted to focus on two local attractions: The fortress and the witch memorial.

The Vardøhus Fortress (Vardøhus festning) was built round 1300 and is the northernmost fortress of the world. Beside of being a museum it is used today as a school for the Norwegian marine. Shortly after we arrived there, the Trollfjord, a Hurtigruten ship landed in Vardø and shortly after many tourist rushed through the fortress. In contrary to us they only had litte time.

5. Yesterday, Vardø – Steilneset Memorial

After visiting the fortress we went on to visit the witch memorial. It’s not easy to reach. First of all you have to know that it is called Steilneset Memorial (or find it visually), then you have to plunge through deep snow, because there are no cleared ways to the memorial.

In 1621 91 people, mostly women and Sami people had been executed for witchcraft. This memorial, created in 2011, shows the history of all 91 people and lists the confessions made. It is a shocking and touching place about the cruelty of mankind and worth to visit, if you are in Vardø and have the time.

After this long and eventful day we were quite exhausted and decided to take it a bit more easy the next day.

6. Today, Ytre Kiberg – a promenade in Ytre Kiberg

Today morning it was quite warm (-4 °C) and almost windless. 10 cm of new snow had been fallen over night. After breakfast we took a medium short promenade along the beach and into the village and back. The weather was changeable as it uses to be here. It could change from sun to snow within less than a minute.

Snow fall intensified and it became a bit windier, too.

7. Today, Ytre Kiberg – a private tour though the partisan museum

At 15:30 we had an appointment: we were invited to visit the Partisanmuseet – the partisan museum in Ytre Kiberg. We would get a personal guided tour from Steinar Borch Jensen – expert for the history of Kiberg and around – who would open the museum for us.

Trond took a huge spade, we entered the car, drove the short way to the museum, plunged through the snow to the entrance, where Steinar already had started to clear the outer stairs. Trond joined him shovelling.

The museum is not the biggest and the showpieces maybe not the most special, it’s the stories behind the showpieces that matter. Steinar had a lot to tell about the partisans in Northern Norway that fought on the Soviets side against the National Socialists in World War II. Beside of Steinar’s huge knowledge about that time there was another facet, that made our visit in the museum very special. Both Trond and Steinar have personal relations to the partisans. They know their relatives and they know the places where they lived. For many Norwegians the history of WWII is not just an academic interest but personal history. Soon the last witnesses of the past will be gone.

I felt very touched by the visit and was glad that we got the opportunity to get involved into the local history, but it made me thoughtful, too and reinforced my personal pacifistic worldview.

8 .Today, Ytre Kiberg – the first Varanger polar lights

Actually I planned only seven stories in this long blog article, but well …

I was out after a great two course dinner: reindeer (provided by Trond), pancakes (provided by Annika) and me doing the dishes. I wanted to make a photo of Cape East Arctic Adventure, Trond’s house, where Annika and I had such a good time. Then I spotted faint polar lights. I wore only a t-shirt and got in to fetch my Canada Goose parka. I was outside quite a while since the polar lights gradually became stronger. They constantly changed place making it hard to take any good pictures. It was -10 °C, quite windy and more and more I closed the zipper of the parka to prevent freezing. After a while the aurora weakened and I went in to look at the photos. I’m not content with the image above, but it’s a nice remembrance of our fantastic stay at Cape East Arctic Adventure in Ytre Kiberg.

Tomorrow we will leave and stay in Ekkerøy for some days.

Tusen takk, Trond, for your kindness and your great hospitality!

A tour to the easternmost point of mainland Norway

This article is part of the series “2018-03: Varanger peninsula”.

Day 29 and 30 of my winter journey 2018

Yesterday we continued our journey to Ytre Kiberg which is 13 south of Vardø, one of the Hurtigruten stops. We started in Vadsø – another Hurtigruten stop – after a breakfast with our host Nils, bought a basis of food for the next days and took the E75 northwards. We made a stopover in Ekkerøy, a village on a peninsula near Vadsø. We like this place and will try to stay there for some nights next week.

At lunchtime we reached Cape East Arctic Adventure, our stay for four nights. We were welcomed by Trond, the owner and operator of Cape East Arctic Adventure and were shown our cozy bedroom, the kitchen and the homely living room. After making ourselves at home we went along the beach to the village and the harbour.

In the evening we were invited to a three course dinner based on freshly caught cod: Fish soup – cod with potatoes and carrots and finally cod roe. Everything was extremely tasty and it was Annika’s and my first time where we tasted cod roe. Yummy!

In Kiberg you are as east as you can be in the Central European Timezone, therefore sun is rising already at 6:24. I was awake very early and took a morning walk round 6 o’clock. Some snow drifts had been created by snow and wind over night but now the weather was less windy and quite sunny. At least for a short time. While I went the way to Indre Kiberg clouds approached, wind increased and it started to snow. It was hardly imaginable that it was sunny just a short time before. Weather changes here quite often as Annika and I should find out later.

After breakfast Annika and I took the car to the other side of the village, put on our snow shoes and started a hike to Kibergsneset, easternmost point of mainland Norway. This place is more east than e.g. St. Petersburg, Kairo or Istanbul! It was windy but quite sunny, when we started our tour but weather changes fast on the Varanger Peninsula:

Actually this hike is just a promenade but the weather may transform it into a small expedition. We were exposed to wind and snow and grateful, that we didn’t experienced a full storm. The weather was rough anyway and I was glad about my windproof jacket and two pairs of mittens.

We continued on a small hiking trail, first with, then without snowshoes because the thin snow layer was hardened by the wind and easy to walk onto. There’s a coastal fortress build by Germans in WW2 on Kibergsneset but we couldn’t see it in the snow weather. Instead of looking for it we continued to the small lighthouse at Kibergsneset that marks the easternmost point of mainland Norway (and most of Europe). Shortly before we reached it the sun came out and we continued the last metres in full sun. While I made some photos a small snow shower approached with the sun still shining.

From the lighthouse there was an amazing view over the arctic coast of the Barents Sea, but only for some moments. Soon the next snow shower came by and hid most of the view onto both the coast and the sea.

The way back was much shorter because we knew the way and went downwards. Even though the view was limited by the snow showers Ytre Kiberg came into view again soon and surprisingly the weather was nice and sunny again.

After this very windy promenade we were glad to find shelter in my car. We took the car to Vardø to eat something and after that we tried the road to Hamningberg. We knew that the road was closed in winter but we curious how long we would come.

Well, not very long. We managed to get to Smelror, some kilometres north from Vardø.

The main road however was definitely closed as you can see. There are no people living in Hamningberg permanently and the only motorised way to reach it in wintertime is by snowmobile. For car it is open less than half the year.

We took the car back to Kiberg, enjoyed the incredible and unbelievable colours of the sky and were surprised by a strange weather phenomenon: -6 °C and rain (including a faint rainbow!)

The rest of the day? -10 °C and wind outside, no more photos, no more excursions.

Fun fact: We took the E75 northwards. If you would take it southwards you could travel more than 4000 km and finally would arrive on Crete, Greece.

Meanwhile in Kirkenes …

Day 25 of my winter journey 2018

While I was busy writing articles about the trip to Murmansk it wasn’t the only thing I did the last days.

Yesterday Annika and I unpacked our cross country skis and tested a local ski track near the Kirkenes Snowhotel. The weather was a bit strange. 7:00 it was -12 °C outside, twenty minutes later only -4 °C. The rest of the day we had temperatures round -3 °C and eight centimetres of snow fall until this morning.

Today we went to the Pasvik valley by car but I hardly made any photos. Temperatures were round -10 °C, a bit of snow in the morning and fair weather for the rest of the day. Later I went out by my own and took some photos near our friend’s house where Annika and I are staying for some days.

I love snow showers falling from a blue sky (even though I always wonder where the snow comes from) and took a photo against the sun trying to show the effect. As usual reality is more beautiful.

It’s still quite warm here while the cold weather is more south and west. In Hemavan, Sweden it has been round -40 °C this morning and in Kautokeino – 400 km in the west – -31 °C. I’m a bit jealous and hope for colder weather in this area.

 

Changes in the winter weather

This morning it was more than 20 °C warmer than yesterday morning: only -2 °C. And it had been snowing the whole night and half the day. Not huge amounts – just another 10 cm – but enough to bury my garden fence even more. I measured 70 cm of snow in the center of my backyard, round the fence it’s probably more like 80 cm.

As the photo from five days ago I made this photo through the window of my living room.

Winter is just some miles away …

Let’s face it: The weather in Skellefteå and Umeå has been nasty the last days – temperatures above zero and a lot of rain making the minor roads icy and incredibly slippery. Most of the snow of the days before has been thawing away. So just now there’s much more winter in Germany towns than here beside the coast of the Baltic Sea.

The good thing: winter is not far away. I was in Umeå today and Annika and I drove westwards to catch a glimpse of winter. First it continued raining a good while, the road was dark and wet and the snow was slushy and ugly. But suddenly – just within a few kilometres the weather changed and rain turned into snow. Snow fall increased and anything was snow covered and white: the roads, the trees, the traffic signs, the bogs and the parking place where we stopped to visit the Hägring (english: mirage).

Hägring is an artwork between Bjurholm and Vännäs. It is a church-shaped object built of mirror fragments and stands in the midst of a bog. We’ve been there in May and knew that the bog is wet but safe to walk on. It was funny anyway to walk through knee-deep snow and feeling the bog bouncing underneath our feet with each step.

We continued westwards, Annika was driving and I was navigating and taking some pictures through the windscreen. Right after Bjurholm we took a minor road to Örträsk, a village by the lake Örträsksjön. Everything was snow covered. We stopped at the small grocery to buy something to drink but it was closed due to the “snow storm”. Well, we knew of the level one weather warning but it didn’t seem so severe.

Since days in December are short (and we didn’t find a place to eat in Örträsk) we decided to return to Umeå but on another route taking some minor roads eastwards. Snow fall intensified but still only some centimetres covered the roads.

While we followed the small ways the snow on the road got deeper and deeper until Annika’s Golf ploughed through 10 cm of snow. Where there was a house, people were outside to clear the snow with any available tool – from shovels to quite huge shovel loaders. But we didn’t get stuck.

Finally we reached the European route E12 which runs between Mo I Rana (Norway) and Helsinki (Finland). Even this road was covered with snow but much better to drive than the smaller forest roads before. 66 km to Umeå and it was snowing almost the whole way back. The last part however we came into the more maritim and warmer climate of Greater Umeå area and snow turned back into rain. We however got our winter impressions. Within just in half a day! One of the big advantages of living here!

On a final note, a “making-of photo of Annika: Me walking to the Hägring: