Curving through countless fjords, dancing on top of trolls and pushing in to the Arctic Circle, we found ourselves in distant Norway surrounded by small fishing villages stuck in time and massive peaks carrying the Midnight Sun. A journey this far North is not ordinary but provided a sense of challenge that ended in more than a mental accomplishment.
We, as individuals, are incredibly minuscule in this world, yet have opportunities to make an impact on as many people we choose to expose ourselves to. We have a ridiculous amount of untapped knowledge and ways of life to explore – should we make the choice to seek it out.
For those that travel – you know the feeling. The sensation of immersing yourself in a culture so deep that you begin to question certain ways you’ve been living your own life. And for those that haven’t traveled – start small. Lift your head, listen to others’ stories and deliver respect again and again.
Departing Seattle on an evening flight, we found ourselves frantically buzzing through the Reykjavik Airport (KEF) in Iceland due to a short layover. Making our flight with little time to spare, we make it to our final leg of our ‘siblings from Seattle’ venture to Norway. Making the most of a half day, we land in Oslo and quickly take the train in to the heart of the city. Our walk from the station guides us past the Royal Palace, which sits within Slottsparken, and through parts of Majortuen – giving us a small taste of what we were to experience in the next couple days.
With the majority of the day left and a relatively short stay in the city, we settled in to our AirBnB and began to explore the close neighborhoods of the quiet, beautiful city of Oslo. Snaking down to the waterfront and Aker Brygge shopping area, we make an easy decision on fish n chips right on the water to fuel us for the afternoon. The Oslo transit system made it easy for us to get around without cash – simply downloading their transit app allowed us to pay straight from our phone and not hassle with asking a bunch of touristy questions.
Surrounded with quiet beaches and plenty of hiking and bike trails, the peninsula of Bygdøy hosts a couple museums that give a glimpse of tradition Norweigen culture and expeditions. Both The Viking Museum and The Fram Museum hold many artifacts and recreations of the events in which they are representing. After making our rounds within the museums, we chose to take the foot ferry from the peninsula back in to the main part of the city to finish up our evening.
Norwegian Constitution Day, or simply referred to as Syttende Mai (17th of May), if the National Day of Norway that observed every year by the people of Norway. The day represents the day the Constitution of Norway was signed, declaring Norway an independent kingdom in an attempt to avoid being surrendered to Sweden after a defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. We were incredibly fortunate to have our second and only full day in Oslo to experience the incredibly cheerful celebrations, parades and flying flags throughout the city. The celebrations are very non-military natured, with the most noteworthy being childrens parades, consisting of elementary school districts grouped together, found all over Norway. We had the honor of experiencing the hundreds of schools marching together past the Royal Palace – wearing costumes, flying flags and playing instruments.
We ended our time in Oslo with high expectations for the coming stops of the trip and, in retrospect, were very pleased with our choice to start in a larger city and work our way North.
Reaching the middle of Norway, we arrive late afternoon in the town of Trondheim, historically named Kaupangen (market place or trading place) in 997. While it holds a rich history, best known for historic sites such as the Nidaros Cathedral and Kristiansten Fortress, it is currently known to be a college town. The majority of the student population is held by the Norwegian University of Science and other technology-orientated institutions.
We unload from our 7 hour train ride through the countryside and make a short walk through the main section of town, and find our AirBnB in the vibrant, friendly and historic area of Bakklandet. Cobblestone streets lined with ‘pavement cafes’ and colorful homes welcome us to this beautiful neighborhood, prompting us to get out and explore immediately. The Nidelva River runs through and around Trondheim, lined with extensive walking/biking paths and old storehouses built overlooking the river from both sides. A main attraction, the Old Town Bridge, crosses the river a few blocks from where we were staying and ended up being a route we travelled often throughout our stay.
Splitting our time between the local cafes, historical sites such as the statue of Olav Tryggvason and Stiftsgården (royal residence), we also found ourselves on an island named Munkholmen (Monk’s islet). We took a quick foot ferry out to the 3.2 acre island on a calm afternoon and explored the diverse history that this island holds. While today it is a popular tourist attraction, it has been used for a place of execution, a monastery, a fortress, prison and a World War II anti-aircraft gun station.
Eating our weight in ice cream and watching people struggle on the Trampe bicycle lift, we enjoyed what we were anticipating being our last dose of warm weather in Norway. Our final morning led us to the Trondheim Airport for a short and sweet 450 mile flight to the town of Bodø.
BODO / FERRY TO LOFOTEN
Experiencing the most scenic flight I’ve flown, we find ourselves in our first municipality in Nordland, Norway, as well as our first steps within the Arctic Circle. With some time to kill before our highly anticipated ferry ride to Lofoten, we slowly explore the small town center of Bodø and sense the feeling of it truly being the gateway to Norway’s true north. An eclectic mix of locals and foreigners, the town is the most northern terminus of Norway’s railway system and is a jumping-off point for the Lofoten Islands.
We board our ferry as if we were children loading on to a Disney World ride we had been waiting years to ride. Trying to contain our excitement, we quickly let excitement takeover and were in and out of the ferry’s doors from outside to inside over and over – perplexed by the landscape we were going through. Eventually, we stashed our bags and spent the majority of our 4 hour ferry ride through the countless fjords of Northern Norway on the upper deck – taking advantage of the rare, sunny weather despite the wind nipping our faces.
Words cannot explain the mixture of awe, comfort and respect I had for those hours we stood on the deck watching the mountains and thousands of islands pass us by, making stops at the smallest ferry stations dropping off small handfuls of people every time. In America we live in a such a state of convenience and urgency that we forget to breath and look at the world surrounding us. Sailing through these islands and admiring the locations and conditions in which these individuals have chosen to live struck a chord with me. We are beautiful beings and are fortunate enough to live in a beautiful world. And sometimes it takes pulling a plug on what we’re comfortable with taking a moment to appreciate how raw, forgiving and giving our Earth really is.
Making our final docking in the town of Svolvær, we are able to make a short walk through the edge of town to our hotel. With a strong scent of fish, we quickly learned about stockfish – unsalted fish, mainly cod, dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks (hjell) along the shore. Perplexed at first, we would eventually find these racks around every bend of the remaining time of our trip. Another realization that was setting in was the amount of daylight we were encountering. Approaching the Midnight Sun, we were only getting a few hours of nighttime each night of our stay.
Starting with an early day and complimentary Norwegian breakfast, we pick up our rental car, pack the bags and begin the roadtrip section of our trip. Fortunately for us, Norway drives on the right side of the road, like home, so these is less of a learning curve for getting around. Although the logistics of driving weren’t an issue, the roads are smaller, signs are foreign and they drive in their roundabouts in a very strange way. This first day we are making our way Southwest to a remote little AirBnB that will be our central location for exploring Lofoten.
We make our first stop in a very traditional fishing village named Henningsvær. The village is spread over a few small islands – all linked together with a series of one way bridges and small waterways. From there we continue on the E10 to Eggum, another small fishing village on the seaward of Vestvågøy Island that sites right between large mountains and a rough sea. A historical site, locals refer to an old World War II radar installation as ‘The Fort’ – built on top of a small hill called Kvalhausen. We take some time to explore the area along the ocean and along the shore of a close by lake named Heimredalsvatnet (that one was hard to type). Having some fun taking photos and trying to communicate with a local herd of sheep, we hop back in the rental and make our final push to our next place to stay.
The AirBnB ad featured an amazing aerial shot of our location and you can only hope that being on the ground can give that same experience. Our little cabin at the base of these massive mountains, settled in a large fjord with only a few neighbors sharing a dirt road, will stand as a favorite cabin of mine for a while. We were greeted with solitude, remoteness and a little private white sand beach that we had to ourselves. We made a quick grocery run to the closest Rema 1000 and stocked up for the next few days to be properly fueled and ready to go every day. We knew we were going to frothing to explore as much as we could possibly could during this stay.
Our last full day in Lofoten was a big day trip around the southernmost island – snaking through small villages and towns along the way. The further south we drove, the more dramatic and tall the cliffs were, falling in to the sea on both sides. The furthest south you can drive on the E10 is the town of Å (“oh”). Our most notable stops along the way were the villages of Å, Hamnøy, Reine, Sørvågen, and Tind. The majority of the villages on Moskenesøya lie on the Eastern side due to the severe winter storms that batter the Western coastline.
While the majority of the guides we read would suggest parking outside of these villages and walking in to them to avoid congestion, we continually found ourselves lucky and generally one of few tourists. Our timing for this trip was perfect to avoid the crowds yet still get an amazing stretch of dry, sunny weather. The most notable village we stopped in was the village of Reine. Perfectly situated on the coastline, but having a quite harbor wrap to the inside, and being surrounded by towering mountains.
This place. While we were only in and out of this little village over a few days – I know that someday I will be back. Nestled in a valley sits a handful of homes, some farmland and a little surf shop named Unstad Arctic Surf. I resonated with this area so deeply. I’ve had a passion for cold water surfing building in me over the past few years and, to me, this represented the pinnacle of cold water surfing. It is not convenient to surf this area of the world most of the year, nor is it predictable by any means. My interaction with one of the shop employees taught me that March is the best month to surf here, despite the snow on the ground. It’s big, consistent and you can surf under the Northern Lights at night.
Our final stretch of the trip put us in the most northernmost part of Nordland country, and further in to the arctic circle. Up North, the geography remained extremely mountainous, but the ridges began to soften and the mountains began to become more rounded. The house we stayed at was just outside of the town of Myre, on the island of Langøya. The road to the few houses was a few miles of single lane dirt road that had to be shared at times. Upon reaching our beautifully curated Norwegian home, we sat there with a ‘where are we’ feeling, yet perfectly content with where we were.
At the end of our dirt road lay a small coastal fishing village, Nyksund, that provides an interesting mixture of summer cabins and abandoned commercial buildings. While the town has had inhabitants since before recorded history, it became a ghost town in the 1970s, only to be resurrected in the 21st century. We were perplexed with the talk we had heard about this little village, and what we found when we went to explore it.
Our final days in Vesterålen, and Norway in full, were spent exploring the southern islands of the archipelago and small towns and villages such as Bø, Øskenes and Harstad. We drove over intricate bridges connecting the islands, as well as 6km long tunnels that dove under fjord entrances and came out on the other side. We found weird art, windy weather and the best antique shops in the middle of nowhere. Our AirBnB provided the most comforting feeling while we would sit and enjoy our dinner, staring out at the seas – imagining the rough conditions and high winds that rip through this region in the winter.
Norway is a beautiful place. The people are happy, the landscapes are incredible, and the food is nowhere near as bad as we thought it would be. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the ability to travel to places like this and can’t compare anything to the wealth that these experiences provide. I am not perfect nor will ever see everyone’s perspectives on the world, but little by little I can gain more and more respect and understanding for how other live their lives. Life is about perspectives. And what you choose to do with those perspectives is crucial to sustaining a happy and healthy relationship with the earth and those that you share it with.