Day 7 - Andenes
The weather varies in a fast and merciless way. So I chose the day for the boat excursion to the Svalbard Islands, according to weather forecasts, a choice that turned out to be perfect. Before leaving I decided to take a hike to the so-called Arctic cathedral, another modern church shaped like a tent with the beautiful stained glass windows. Our boat leaves on time in the direction of the glacier.
In the course of navigation within the fjord to reach our destination, I immediately sight many animals. The wind whips my face, so I stand, high up in the bow of the boat. The views are unique. Under the cliffs covered with guano, the puffins are the masters. They fly, play, chase each other around the boat.
At one point, the guy who was introducing us to life in the Arctic, tell us many interesting facts about these extreme territories, and stops and diverts our attention somewhere in the middle of the fjord. Here it is! The whole boat shakes and the captain changes direction to get closer. We meet the blue whale. We all bow to admire it. The huge blue whale that sailed the seas of the world and that we had seen so close in Sri Lanka on board of the small boat. Now we admire in all its grandeur nothing less than in the Arctic.
Then the seals. Even the seals inhabit the Arctic. I have seen them swim calmly before the glacier. A helicopter flies over us at low altitude, that connects other remote locations of the Svalbard Islands like Longyearbyen. Meanwhile, we approach the glacier. It is impressive in its enormity with its blinding whiteness and a thousand shades of blue that the ice takes on reflecting this limpid sky.
Small icebergs move around us, seals swim, and at one point gets to a creak a bit stronger and a roar with the typical splash. A chunk of ice broke off and crashed into the sea. One scene wonderful from which no one would want to be detached. The sun burns the skin but does not realize it saw the cold and the wind. The crew quickly prepares a barbecue. Right here, in the warm sun, sitting by boat we admire the glacier and enjoy great seafood of the inevitable Norwegian salmon.
But the weather is unforgiving as ever. In less than no time, it is time to leave for Pyramiden. Pyramiden, the town now abandoned, was the scene of the Cold War between Russia and the West. At the port our guide welcomes us. The danger of polar bear here is real and true. It can be anywhere and has a way of hiding everywhere in the midst of these abandoned buildings and if hungry is very very dangerous. At the port, we spot a swimming polar bear.
In a very old bus, we are brought into the town and the type starts to tell stories of an incredible reality that dates back to 1998 when the town was abandoned. In practice, it was a center for the extraction of coal. Over time there occurred a kind of clash of ideologies. Thus we find, in addition to facilities for the extraction of coal, pianos still functioning. People are still engaged in melodies and theaters, with entertainment of all kinds that make it look idyllic in this place.
There is even a swimming pool with heated sea water, the first of the Svalbard Islands and then schools, hospitals, gyms, basketball courts and football grounds! We find the grass in what was called the Champs Elysees of Svalbard. The main buildings, like this, dormitories for those who lived here, had rounded edges to better withstand the incessant wind, strong and long cold winters.
The view from the highest points of Pyramiden is undoubtedly wonderful, right in front of the imposing glacier. But we must never forget that the sunny days are very few. Up there, right at the top, is what it is jokingly called the internet cafe. Yes, even here there is a way to connect to the Internet, in spite of all expectations.
You just have to have the desire to go on foot up there because the mountain front is pyramid-shaped, hence the name of the town, prevent the signal from reaching the city. The only place where the signal arrives is the station up there. In practice, it is a great method to avoid creating dependency by the connection and we arrive through the Champs Elysees, at the 79th parallel.
It is impressive really to think about how relatively little is the distance from here to the North Pole. Of course, just to stay at the hotel you must be armed with a weapon. A small museum with some of the memorabilia that time was, still tells some interesting facts about this place that is so absurd.
It is time to go back. Navigation in the fjord still gives breathtaking views with a shining sun. We admire settlements, shelters, areas used by those who even go up here with kayaks for trips to Svalbard to experience the Arctic. Even animals and a certainty and we return to spot polar bears and see the manatees.
I watch the scenery as the ship approaches the archipelago of Vesteralen. At 10 we land finally at Risoyhamn, from which buses arrive at Andenes at the northern tip of the island, my goal for that day. In the sea, in the distance, I see the profiles of the other islands and the atmosphere a bit from cover to all a sense of timelessness.
Then up here life flows at a pace so different from ours! I arrived at the hostel, where the day before I had booked. After keeping the luggage, I then go around a bit in the village. There's a big red beacon that is its symbol, wooden houses painted red along the harbor, gulls, boats, and more modern buildings but always painted in bright colors.
I make a visit to the Aurora Borealis museum and then I show up at an appointment for the safari to the whales that I had already booked. This was one of the things I really wanted to make this trip. We visit the whale museum with the guides and, we set sail. We must go on the high seas to reach the area of the whales, which they explained to be the sperm whale species but are not true whales.
As the boat goes to the ocean, there are hot drinks on offer and cookies. I make friends with young people who act as our guide. They come from all over Europe. Unfortunately, the sun disappears behind the clouds, pulled by a strong wind and it is getting colder. Between the cold, the whale has been spotted thanks to the sonar boat, but it is underwater and we have to wait for it to emerge to breathe. Finally here! All bow to it and take photos! What a thrill! But after seconds it dives and here appears again, this time even closer and longer, for about 5 minutes.
Now we head home. As we return, we have a dinner of a hot soup and bread. Then I take refuge below deck, where, despite the wet jeans, I can even fall asleep lying on a bench. Upon arrival, it was colder and I was trembling. Fortunately, the hostel is a 2-minute walk. Finally tonight I should be able to rest as I should, in a real bed, for 8 hours straight.
Day 8 - Lappajarvi
As we pass through a narrow strait between two of the Lofoten, which seem like Caribbean beaches with unspoiled nature and breathtaking views, we make a small deviation in the Trollfjord, the narrowest fjord in Norway, where the vessel moves, leaving just a couple of meters on each side. In the afternoon, during the brief stop in Svolvaer, I go down and do a tour, and for the first time see codfish hanging in the sun to dry, that I see anywhere in Lofoten, since cod is their primary production.
Svolvaer is not a particularly attractive place, and the only special feature is a nearby mountain peak that ends with two horns, which in fact is called the goat of Svolvaer. With Ski on the ship, we land finally in Stamsund. At Stamsund we do not have much to see. In fact, the environment is beautiful, where is a series of fishermen's houses, just outside the village, on a small bay.
After crowning the Nordkapp in all its aspects, I headed for the long journey to Oslo. It was Sunday, it was 3 pm and I had 48 hours to drive 2025 km to the airport. After a really complicated journey, with the icy road and some curves where the car is about to leave, I arrived at my first stop. It is the same hotel in Finland where I had slept the night before. Despite looking at the sky for more than an hour, the aurora borealis did not make an appearance.
Day 9 - Ostersund
The family that runs the hotel receives me as one more, and the next morning, I talk to them and sign in their guest book. 54 different nationalities had passed by, he says. They introduce me to the reindeer they have as a pet, who tries to attack me with its horns every time I touch it. He was eating and I did nothing but bother him.
The day passed as expected. I travel more than 1000 km of road on Swedish roads and highways, between lakes and pines again. I had been recommended to eat reindeer, whose meat is tender and tasty, so I look for a restaurant on my way. I enter the city of Umea and enjoy a delicious steak. Certainly, it is delicious.
I was willing to drive until the body could not go any further. I surrender at 10 pm, after more than 12 hours of almost uninterrupted driving, in a roadside hotel in the middle of a Swedish town. I saw the light, saw the word "Hotell" and entered. The owner running an old road hotel, is alone, single and strange, with that cold and scrutinizing look that pretends to be friendly without getting it.
He tells me about the Norwegians was poor in the 70s until they discovered oil and now looks over their shoulder at Sweden. His English is excellent. His eyes light up and when he leaves, I look for holes in the wall and take a shower without closing the curtain, just in case.
Day 10: Bergen
We have breakfast at the hotel, the same type of breakfast as at the Oslo hotel. We go to the tourist office (a beautiful building inside) to get a map of Bryggen (the dock area with the old houses). We spent most of the morning hanging around and around the castle. We see there is a contest in the gardens and there are a lot of people making huge figures with wooden slats.
At noon we approach the famous fish market. We ended up logically eating there a hot dish. There is not much tourist yet and we can eat (standing) at some high tables that they have there. There are guys selling raspberry ice cream on the street. We have dessert! In the afternoon, we search for the Floibanen, very close to the fish market.
We ask the ticket seller for a map of the hiking routes we can take when we get to the top. We bought one way tickets, because it costs the same to buy single tickets than one round trip and we are not sure as we may make the return on foot. The views from Floyen are very good. Bergen is vast. We start to walk and do more than 2 hours of hiking. The Norwegians go up and down the slopes.
We come down to Bergen, in the park where the lake is. At 6 o'clock in the afternoon we hear a woman sing ethnic songs on the speakers (I would say Vikings) from the top of some roof. The voice is silent and then from another roof a man sings something different. He shuts up again and another voice starts from another roof.
So up to 4 points, 4 roofs of different buildings draw a square, and us in the middle. They continue like this, singing alternately for several minutes. People look at each other smiling. It's nice. It is part of the OiOi Festival, live.
We did not know, but we found out the next day that it's festival time in Bergen and there are several activities. After dinner we take a walk through the center. There are a lot of people on the street, with parties on boats. It's 12 at night and it's the first time we see nightfall.