Posts Tagged ‘Lofoten’

Sunsets: solar energy for the eyes

March 6, 2009

There are fans and critics of daylight saving time, which starts THIS weekend in the United States (go here to see DST rules worldwide), but I think we can agree that pretty much everyone loves a good sunset.  Here are a few of our favorites, all taken by Wessel:

The sky is on fire over Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Sky is on fire over the lesser-known side of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Midnight sun as seen on the Lofoten, Norway

The ever-blazing midnight sun as seen on Norway's Lofoten islands in June

Sunset over marshy area connecten with Lake Gaston, VA

Diane's favorite colors combine in this stunning show near Lake Gaston, Va.

Heron during a PS sunset experience in Florida

A heron poses in the afterglow of a sunset over Cayo Costa State Park, Fla.

Roxy outshines her celestial competitor

Roxy outshines her celestial backdrop at Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.

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Lofoten: Mountains, sea, and fish heads

July 8, 2008
First sight of Lofoten on flight from Bodo

First sight of Lofoten on flight from Bodø

When Wessel suggested we do our annual cycling tour in Lofoten, I had to answer, Lo-what? Where the heck is that? That was a couple years ago, and while I can’t say that all roads now lead to Lofoten (pronounced LOO-foo-ten there), a Norwegian archipelago above the arctic circle, I have noticed the name a few times. For instance, National Geographic Traveler last year ranked it as one of the world’s best (and best-preserved) island destinations. Still, not one American I mentioned our trip to had heard of Lofoten, and I noticed only a few Yanks during our weeklong visit there in June. (Not that I’m complaining!) On the other hand, there was a steady stream of folks from Germany, the Netherlands, and France. Vacationing Norwegians were mostly due to arrive in July, when school is out and most folks go on holiday. If you want to catch the Midnight Sun, you’ll need to go from late May to late July.

I’m writing a travel piece on our cycling trip for August publication in the Boston Globe, so here’s a little preview.

Fishing village of Hamnoy

Fishing village of Hamnøy

The words that kept going through my mind the first few days of cycling were: “impossibly beautiful.” Really, it was crazy gorgeous, and now, when I look at our photos, I’m again amazed by the scenery. Jagged snow-capped mountains rise from a clear blue sea, roads wind along rocky coasts, and red fishing shacks dot the land. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. We were blessed with several days of bright sun, which made the raw, damp, and cloudy days a bit less painful. Different parts of the island were quite varied, from farmland to woods, mountains to sea. The water was so clear it reminded me of the Caribbean. I wonder how the growing cruise industry here will affect that.

Rorbuer in A

Rorbuer in Å in the south of the Lofoten

There are a few cities here, but mostly tiny to small fishing villages and farm communities, some without any services. The most characteristic building is the rorbu, a fishing shack usually painted brick red. Some stand alone, while others are clustered together to form a village of “rorbuer.” They are picturesque and fairly scream “Norway.” Many have been updated as mid-range or upscale lodging, and some have been built as new, which means they’re kind of fake, but they’re still lovely and comfortable, so unless you’re a rorbu purist, they’re fine. Some are on hills overlooking the water, some are just back from the water, and others are on stilts right over the water. Some rooms over the water have a hole in the floor for in-room fishing!

Drying cod on a wooden rack in Hamnoy

Drying cod on a wooden rack in Hamnøy

The craziest sights were the wooden racks of drying cod all over the island. Cod is the biggest export business here and it is huge. Most of the dried cod (sans heads) is exported to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, where it is a kitchen staple. (I lived in Portugal and know this to be true!) The cod heads are sent to Nigeria, where they’re used in a spicy soup. It’s common to see a few fish hanging from a house (sometimes just for decoration) but the wildest sights are the humongous racks you’ll encounter in a town, with hundreds, no, thousands, of fish hanging to dry. We were at the tail end of the drying season (cod fishing is done from January to April) and were lucky to see so many. Wessel could not stop photographing them — every single day in every conceivable way.

Diane cycles north on main road E10 connecting Å to Svolvaer

Diane cycles north on the island Moskenesøya

While there are more cars than bicycles here, Lofoten is a very popular place for self-contained cycling, meaning you carry your own gear. The four islands that make up the archipelago are connected by bridges, and all of Lofoten is only about 110 miles from end to end. Of course your mileage will grow considerably when you zigzag from town to town. We saw only a couple cyclists the first few days, but just before we left, in late June, they started pouring in. As for the cycling itself, in some places the roads are narrow and curvy, without shoulders and with traffic. For the most part drivers were incredibly polite, but tour buses, of which there are many, sometimes got waaaaay too close for comfort. There also are a few tunnels, but most can be bypassed using the “old road” (in various states of repair) outside the tunnels. I can see how beginner cyclists might find the main road rather nerve-wracking. There are great side roads, but they all have to be reached from the main road. So if you’re comfortable riding in some traffic, cycling around Lofoten is, for the most part, two-wheeled nirvana.

A flight fit for a queen

July 1, 2008

Who says air travel has lost its elegance? On our 20-minute flight recently from Bodø on the mainland of northern Norway north to Svolvaer on the Lofoten archipelago, the flight attendants wore white gloves. Now isn’t that quaint, I thought.

Diane, a.k.a. Lady Di, in front of a 40-seater Widerøe airplaneWe were flying with Norwegian airline Widerøe, on a 10-row, 40-seater puddle-jumper. No one was allowed to sit in the front two rows. After everyone was on board, a group of official-looking men and women arrived. One man was wearing a secret-service type earpiece. I asked the Norwegian woman next to me who the VIPs were but she didn’t have a clue.

After the pilot made an announcement in Norwegian, she turned to me and said, “It’s Sonja, the Queen of Norway.” I thought she was pulling a naive tourist’s leg, but she assured me it was no joke. Earlier, I was told by many Norwegians that the royal family uses public transportation and likes to hobnob with the common folk.

The pilot then made an announcement in English about our late takeoff, starting with “Her majesty, ladies and gentlemen, we have a few minutes delay.” This cracked me up.

I was tempted to ask for an autograph, but not knowing how crass this would appear, I restrained myself. The passengers were acting nonchalant — until we landed. We weren’t allowed to disembark until Sonja was whisked away, so everyone watched, leaning over the aisles to peer through the little windows.

First, a guy on the ground walked up with a red carpet, which he unfurled onto the runway at the bottom of the airplane stairs. Unfortunately for him it was a very windy day and the carpet kept flapping up. Very embarrassing! Finally Sonja stepped onto it and walked a few feet next to a waiting car.

For you fashion mavens, she was wearing a proper-looking beige pantsuit with subdued scarf, overcoat and large sunglasses. Her entourage left in an Audi sedan led by police with a small motorcade following. According to our taxi driver, she was staying right there in town. “Everyone knows she is here,” he said. Apparently she visits Lofoten occasionally for hiking and the great outdoors.

In case you’re wondering, though King Harald V was not with Sonja, he did meet up with her a few days later for a tour in the far north, which was extensively covered on Norwegian television. The royals might mingle with the masses, but they also create quite a stir everywhere they go. Count me among the stirred.

By the way, on our royal-free flight back to Bodø the next week, nary a white glove was in sight.

Midnight sun shines brightest today

June 21, 2008

We would be remiss if we didn’t send out a greeting from the land of the midnight sun, on this, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Summer solstice on Google NorwayEven google.no (Norway) honored the event with one of its trademark graphics, which we’ve done a screen grab on here. Norwegians in different communities across the country and especially in the north celebrate with giant communal bonfires, although it is unclear to us on exactly what day this happens.

Although as of a few hours ago we returned to Oslo, in the south (we fly home tomorrow!), we were indeed above the arctic circle last week during our cycle trip on Lofoten (photos and a few highlights to come). Midnight sun at Ramberg beachNot only did the sun never go down, it truly shined all night. I’d expected “light” not “bright.” I even wore eyeshades to sleep a couple nights when we didn’t have proper curtains. Some nights were cloudy and the sun was hidden. But on one of the clearest nights, we had an oceanfront cabin in the small town of Ramberg on Flakstadøya and could watch the midnight sun out our living-room window. At exactly midnight, about two dozen tourists, including us and a lot of Germans, poured out of their cabins and campers to see the show. It was a crazy scene!

All cycling paths lead to Lofoten

June 19, 2008

We met two Canadian touring cyclists at the amazingly beautiful and filled-with-info tourist information center in Bergen. (Much bigger and better than Oslo’s, suprisingly.) Like all Canadians do, it seems, they were sporting a maple-leaf flag.

Barb and Janne“Are you really Canadian or Americans posing as Canadians?” I asked Janne. “I’m really Canadian, eh,” he answered in that unmistakable accent. Janne’s family is Finnish and he has dual citizenship. He and his girlfriend, Barb, who live in Calgary, are on a five-week holiday, cycling in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Like us, they’re headed for Lofoten, so perhaps we’ll see them there. They’re taking three night trains to get there, while we, on a much-shorter holiday, are flying. (By the time you read this time-released blog entry, we should be on Lofoten, without email, freezing and enjoying the amazing beauty that the chain of islands above the Arctic Circle has to offer under the light of the Midnight Sun. That was a long sentence, wasn’t it?)

Interestingly, Janne told me, they couldn’t put their bikes on trains or buses in Sweden and had to box them up like freight and “ship” them on the same train they were on. For such a forward-thinking country, that is pathetic.

Lancome pink bikeIn other cycling news, we spied a pink Lancôme bike in Bergen. Funny, I thought the French cosmetics company made only makeup. Must have been for a promotion. If they gave away pink bikes instead of little “makeup gift bags” with a $50 purchase, I’d be first in line to buy a tube of overpriced lipstick. I’d love to post a photo of the bike on a website I found featuring only pink bicycles, but now I can’t locate it. Perhaps a loyal reader can. My friend Alice is good at that. Al, you there?

Packing panic and Norway neuroses

June 4, 2008

I’m sending this from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, were, alas, our flight to Newark is delayed. We think we’ll still be able to make our connection to Oslo. We think….

I’m glad I crack myself up, because I’ve been having a lot of laughs at my expense over the past couple days. After planning a trip to Norway for more than a year, Wessel and I are finally on our way! As always, the last few days before leaving on a longish journey (18 days) are the craziest. I understand how the anxiety of leaving home for several weeks is enough to inspire the now-trendy “staycation.”

The location was Wessel’s idea, the highlight being a bicycle tour on Lofoten, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle that I’d never even heard of. Now that’s exciting! Since then, it was ranked in the top five of best-preserved islands by National Geographic Traveler.

We “bought” tickets with Delta Sky Miles almost a year ago, always an ordeal. Although we knew Norway was expensive, with the dollar so low and the Norwegian Krone strong, sticker shock got the better of us. So what began as a vacation with a travel story thrown in is now a working vacation, with three alternative-energy stories planned for Ode Magazine and two travel stories planned for the Boston Globe.

So, back to packing. Despite my frequent travels, I’ve never learned to pack light. I’ve taken classes, bought books, written stories on how to do it, but I seem to be a lost cause. This is a trip with work, play, warm weather, cold weather, outdoor, indoor activities. The usual. I put way too much thought into everything, trying to predict my every need. Then there was the choice of reading material. I changed books three times (settled on “What is the What”) before chucking the whole idea and going with four unread issues of The Sun Magazine.

Here’s the part that really cracks me up, and I wonder if others do the same thing. Suddenly, two days before leaving, I had to finish everything I had put off for the past three months. Filing, sending long overdue emails, cleaning a room. Meanwhile, I wrote a small book for our house/dog sitters Paul and Michelle, with about 12 headings. They came over twice for tutorials. I was very relieved that they scored well on last night’s pop quiz.

But the final hour today was the most outrageous. Even though people will be staying at the house, I ended up in the kitchen finishing every half-eaten thing in the refrigerator, things that had gone untouched for a week. When it was the agreed-upon time to leave for the airport, Wessel found me standing over the kitchen sink frantically eating half a leftover orange, juice dripping all over. “OK, hon,” he said gently, placing his hand on my shoulder as if I were a mental patient, “we really need to go now.” First, I had to put the peels in the compost. And then, finally, we were off!