Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Tromsø -> Abisko [actually Narvik] (19/02/2019)

It is during the bus journey to Narvik that I decided to start blogging the trip. So many picturesque scenes with a plethora of descriptive adjectives cannot but be committed to literary immortality.

We started the day like any other: up, showered and had breakfast (the coolest part of the room to store our grub was between the curtain and window) and we finished packing. Katherine’s back had stiffened up since the night before and bruises had materialised overnight. So, we tiptoed down the hill with fresh snow, in to the mall where our closest pharmacy had the heat pads that wrap around your back and we shuffled over to the bus station to start the next leg of the journey.

The fog had been replaced by a cloudy atmosphere of fine snow, blowing and swirling around Tromsø off the buildings and kicked up by vehicles. The last glimpses of the city were hazy and mysterious and the driver seemed oblivious to the snow and ice as he veered around bends, roundabouts and traffic lights to speed off on his exacting schedule.

Trees and even entire forests were bent over from the weight of the snow, humbly acknowledging the weight of the weather on its many branches. The clumps of pine didn’t bow to this pressure and stood proud and evergreen amid the scene. The walls of ice, baby blue and transparent white, had a fascinating, elegant quality and appeared on stretches of the road normally on our left hand side as we drove. To our right, trough screens of snowy dust we would occasionally glimpse the fjords and mountains of the other side. The narrow sections near the apex of the fjord were generally frozen over, with chunks of ice broken up through the rest of the plateau like white cornflakes from an otherwise empty void. The sections that were still freezing were a mottled appearance of brown and white, different shapes and sizes, with the appearance of cold fat congealing at the top of a tray. And yet this entire landscape was peaceful and beautiful, with shades of white and black only interspersed with the crimson red or cream of traditional homes.

We commented on how this country would laugh at our ‘snow days’ or lack of transport in comparison to their weather. We regularly saw folk clearing their cars and driveways, being about their business as normal. Whether for fun or work, there were even two people out on one of the fjords ice-fishing. And unless this gentleman was practicing rescue saving techniques, one chap was even ice-climbing by the side of the road on one of the gothic, cathedral-like sculptures that went higher than we could see out of the bus.

Folks disembarked the bus at random points; no discernible features, roads or houses in sight. Interesting fact: the #100 bus, is one of two bus routes that will provide an additional bus if the bus is full for that departure time. Thus, one needn’t worry about booking seats in advance. Also, it’s considerably cheaper buying your ticket through the online app, saving 20%, but you have a window of opportunity to use the ticket. So, only buy the ticket soon before boarding.

I return to this blog entry on the 20th sitting at the train station, hoping that the rail replacement bus service will turn up any minute. The road over the mountains crossing the Norway/Sweden border is closed. We understand that they are working on preventative avalanche works. The railway is disrupted due to a problem with one of the power lines. I heard a few disgruntled chats about this wouldn’t be the case if they had a few Diesel engines… it’s the price one must pay to live in a sustainable environment.

A bus did just turn up at the train station, but it was a normal route bus doing a u-turn. So, to continue our story… we paced the station, groups of tourists sharing information, looking at different sources of communication from several companies and numbers dwindled as some gave up hope sooner than others (or perhaps some realised their fate before others). There was no way to get to Abisko or anywhere for that matter.

We did a quick search for guest houses and tried ringing to check availability. With no answer on the telephone we booked the room and hoped for the best. I dragged rather than carried or wheelied the bag up the hill, with patches of snow clearly deeper than you realised but we were walking over the more compact stuff and the bag was being dragged deeper like a sea anchor behind a boat.

We left our guesthouse, with the lady behind the counter saying she’s never known snow fall like this in her life. In a reassuring way, it made us feel like there was nothing that we could have done. We watched a lorry struggle to get up the hill, with the second wheel just spinning with no grip on the road. Thankfully all the traffic was back far enough down the road that the lorry did a few reverses and attempted the uphill climb. We were sitting at the restaurant half an hour before he made it past us at the apex of the hill.

We tried to watch a bit of a film, but were more distracted and craning our necks out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aurora. The clouds had suddenly parted, not at all what was predicted on the weather app until it happened. So, I set up the camera and tripod pointing out the window, did a few test shots and set several alarms during the night to check.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Tromsø (18/02/2019)

Today was a rest day. Hurray!!!

Those who know me well know that I hate cycling, stairs and travelling without rest days. So, without anything further to write about, I should end the blog here.

But, I was dupped and we did venture out in to the city. Although I was kind of expecting this, so I didn’t need my colouring books or snack packs. Haha

We set off to the bus station to check information on tomorrow’s trip to Abisko. The early morning bus would have gotten us there ridiculous early and the the next one cutting it fine with an hour to spare. We opted to go with the latter and found that we didn’t need to book now, a seat was guaranteed on that route.

We head off towards the Polaria (the northern most aquarium in the world), where I decided to wreck the display in the souvenir shop looking at the price of a reindeer hide. An old lady came over to berate me, while the younger colleagues left at the tills were restraining themselves from laughing out loud. I crept in to the aquarium, tail between my legs and giggling behind me.

The seal show was just starting, so naturally we did the whole building in peace and quiet without being shoved out of the way or feeling rushed. We then went up the stairs (arch-nemesis) to watch the four bearded-seals swim around the tank. The bearded-seals are perhaps my spirit animal: fat, few too many chin hairs and loving the water. The shape of them wouldn’t suggest of any elegance in the water, with their bulbous mid section ruining the torpedo shape of other species. But yet, they glided past and took the corners with barely any effort.

Across the city was the Polar Museum. Fuelled up by brown cheese sandwiches we arrived with enough time that we could allow the massive Chinese group go on ahead and we hung back in the entrance hallway. When we did catch up with them, it was because they were taking selfies with the stuffed seals. Not all 7x species, but the one Spotted Seal that was in the best lighting conditions.

I personally didn’t enjoy the museum much. With nothing on display with English text, the accompanying guide book clearly wasn’t give all the info that was next to the cabinets or artefacts. Thus, I only read a small bit from the guide and enjoyed some of the more unique items from the Arctic expeditions. The history of trappings and huntings has a less ‘gruesome’ image than the image portrayed back home. But, that seems to be the way of history when you visit any country. Perspective is an unusual thing.

Katherine slipped on the ice on the way back in to town. We were approaching a bit of path that had some building works, so I reckon the ice was compacted and the snow work away in this narrow section and that has put her back in terms of healing. (See what I did there!)

An early dinner in case we had the opportunity to go up to the observatory didn’t fair well. Service was diabolically slow and even the waitress apologised. The pizza was nice and we even managed to order some salad, eventually. The weather didn’t clear up, so all in all, we didn’t miss out on the opportunity to see the Aurora.

Monday, 18th February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

Tromsø (17/02/2019)

Like excited kids on Christmas morning we were down the hill in to town as fast as we could without falling on our ass. Katherine was giddy with the fresh coat of snow and when I checked us off the list for the tour, the bus driver was wondering where she was, glued to the harbour fence getting a photo of the Arctic Cathedral and hill-top observatory.

The bus journey was incredible, with views and scenery that neither of us had ever seen before. It was a unique journey, not knowing where we were going, just relaxing and watching the world go by. Normally worried about when to shout at the driver or having to get our coats and bits together for a speedy jump off the coach, the time passed by and we arrived at Camp Tomak.

Incredibly well set-up, the adventure park for want of a better word, had huts dedicated to each activity and staff milling about getting things set up. We got in to our very fetching suits (Katherine got the only red one) and watched as the morning dog sled trip returned, people beaming from ear to ear. We split up in to groups with Dave being our guide. He had a lovely accent to his amazing English and while his jokes didn’t at first make sense, he was still very humorous and had us start our route before the snowmobiles set off.

The start of the outing was uphill and Katherine was a machine powering up the slopes with the dogs, either kicking with alternative legs or running with the pack. As a passenger I was treated to a rollercoaster of a ride, whizzing past trees and branches with the opportunity to glide my hand across snow dust.

I quickly drained the battery on the main camera, with the GoPro hopefully recording some footage. Dave regularly stopped to check on us – Katherine was always right at his heels, while the rest lagged behind – and was saying that this looked to be the first day of sunshine he saw in 4 months. Sure enough, coming out of a glade of silver birch, we had an open expanse of snow with the sun briefly casting its warmth across the valley between two mountains. It was glorious. Ripples of snow were now highlighted like open quartz and patches were sparkling as if diamonds were thrown asunder after a jewel heist.

We continued on for a while more, with saplings and trees desperate to be seen buried in the snow. We stopped briefly to change drivers/passengers and take a few photos. The track over which the sled was running was deep. Occasionally there would be an intermittent gap in the smooth flow of the sled as Katherine would kick down in to snow that wasn’t compacted. But, nothing compared to this rest stop where the snow to the side of track was deep and yielding.

We managed to change camera batteries without freezing the camera and take a few snaps, posing with the pack of dogs behind us. The return journey wasn’t as long, but wow what a rush. All the uphills that Katherine had navigated proved to be an adrenaline rush of Bond style, bumping up and down mounds of snow in the forest sections and swinging my body weight out over the side of the sled to help with the tight corners at speed. It was epic and the pack of 5x dogs loved being able to run at full pelt. The chap behind kept swearing and shouting and didn’t control the sled very well on the way back, so we all had to put on the extra breaking mechanism on the sled to slow us (him) down and prevent the dogs from overtaking each other, i.e. not running next to our sled or between our legs. But, we returned to camp in a lap of honour, reminiscent of a coliseum scene, around the other dog kennels and stopped back where we started.

We had lunch of fish stew with lovely chunks of cod and salmon. There was fresh bread offered round and the lady dressed in traditional garments was very obliging in topping up coffees or hot squash. The laddu (as I hope it’s spelled, Google returns LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) or ladoo (Indian sweet) was nice and cosy and the cold was felt as people started to come in and out after their meal, the breeze whirling around the tent. (In Sweden I’ve now seen it spelled ‘Lavvu’) We returned our boiler suits, jumped back on to a suddenly overcrowded bus and motored back to Tromsø with adrenaline still pumping through us from the experience.

We had dinner in a restaurant next to the dock. We watched as the observation building on the hill came in and out of view during the evening and boats power northwards. We walked across the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral and enjoyed a different perspective of the city from the other island.

The concert within the Artic Cathedral was short but wonderful. They trio of performers – soprano, celloist and pianist – started on the balcony where they used the organ in two pieces. The soprano then gradually walked down the aisle for the third song, her voice projecting in a breathtaking fashion in the triangular architecture. We were then treated to a variety of folk and traditional songs, with much of the lyrics sounding the same, but the tempo and accompanying instruments giving a vibrancy and charm to different melodies.

The concert ended and the congregation departed, with many people traversing the bridge on the wrong side, facing the wrath of cyclists. We enjoyed our night stroll and detoured to devour a snow cupcake before heading to bed.

Sunday, 17th February 2019

Norway – Sweden Trip (Feb 2019)

London -> Tromsø (16/02/2019)

I’m hoping this is a brief blog to compose. After a late night babysitting it was some last minute packing the Saturday morning. Katherine has done 99% of the work and I just got in her way for the remaining 1%.

Truffle Pig was very confused by the whole ordeal – there was lots of packing going on and yet her harness wasn’t on. We dropped her round to Jack, her dog walker / dog sitter for her mini holiday with hopes that Clare and Martin would pick up the beast Sunday evening for a proper holiday. Their flat is a treasure trove of artefacts with smells and objects to drive the senses wild. Let’s hope none of them are eaten or chewed during the vacance.

We got stuck in horrendous traffic on the A3 and M25, but made it to Gatwick with enough time to enjoy some Wagamama’s. A long wait on the runway for our flight to get the all clear, then we were off on our adventure.

The changing colours of the clouds and sky was indescribable with all the colours of the rainbow being visible with vibrant reds shining with the setting sun.

We circled Tromsø airport as the ground crew gave the runway another brush for our landing and were beaten to our landing spot by another plane. Thus, we had to sit in the plane waiting for them to clear immigration before we could disembark.

A painful long queue (notice lots of waiting today) with people holding non-eu passports going in to both lanes and holding everyone up. It didn’t really matter as the baggage carousel had broken between the two flights and we waited for staff to ferry luggage through to us.

We had at this point missed our planned bus and jaunted down to the local bus stop in hopes that it would get us in to town. One of the most useless bus maps in the world showed an accurate scale of the island and we figured #42 would get us close to where we needed to go. Our trust was rewarded and we jumped off about 5mins walk away from our hotel.

Self check-in, more layers and a brief walk to the corner of the building where ‘Da Pinocchio’ promised warm food without the worry of traversing the streets late at night. For reference: the translation on a menu to “squash” means “courgettes”. So Katherine enjoyed some prawn and courgette pasta while I had a pizza. We would later learn that pizza is probably the staple food group of the northern region of Norway.

We had a nice leisurely walk around town, finding our meeting point for the morning and enjoying the bit of snow that covered the area. No sign or hope of the Aurora tonight.

Saturday, 16th February 2019