A Trip to Vesterålen, Part 3

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Friday morning we woke to a clear, sunny Bodø that quickly became enshrouded in fog. We took our time getting ready and going down to breakfast, then made our way to the dock to board our home for the next 10 hours: the MS Kong Harald.

Kong HaraldKong Harald is one of eleven vessels in the Hurtigruten fleet. The Hurtigruten is pretty much a Norwegian institution – Norwegians love their boats, and the Hurtigruten in particular is a source of great pride. It travels along the west coast of the country as a passenger and freight ship, going all the way to the tippy-top of Norway to Kirkenes. The whole trip from Bergen to Kirkenes takes 11 days and has been called  the “World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage.” We were only on the ship for a little less than half a day, but in that short time, I can definitely see why it has been granted that phrase. My father-in-law spent his career on the Hurtigruten, so it was very special to experience the ride and get familiar with something that was so important in Morty’s life.

Once we boarded, we found a comfy spot near the windows. For some reason, I didn’t take any pictures of the interior, but there were levels of large sitting rooms and a cozy bar on the 4th level. The bar was my favorite spot and where we spent most of our time. It had the loveliest emerald-green walls and furniture, and perfect little round chairs and tables to sit by the windows and just watch the world float by. We kept busy with reading, cross-stitch, snacking, eavesdropping (there was a man talking rather loudly near us and I kept making Morty translate – it was an interesting conversation…this was his 18th Hurtigruten voyage!) and wandering out to the deck to take in the views and get wind-blown.

leaving Bodo

Leaving Bodø

We made two stops where we were able to leave the ship and wander for a bit. One of my favorite parts of the journey was when we were approaching the port of the upcoming cities – there’s just something about seeing land getting closer and the mystery of what’s there. (It reminded me of my ferry ride to Corsica 4 years ago and the excitement of seeing Bastia in the distance.) Our first stop was Stamsund, on the Lofoten Archipelago. Morty’s father grew up very close to Stamsund, and as we walked around the tiny town, Morty recalled fun memories that he had from his visits there as a child. Pointing to a yellow wooden building, he said, “That’s where I saw Police Academy 5!”

Morty happily looking toward Stamsund as we’re docking

Morty StamsundI also tried for a happy shot in Stamsund

Judah StamsundOk, this will have to do

Judah Stamsund 2We only had about 10 minutes to wander, and on our way back to the ship, I saw this camper and rock. Something about the camper struck me as adorable

StamsundBack on the ship, we sailed onwards to Svolvær. At one point, we passed another Hurtigruten. Just as motorcyclists wave at each other, the passengers from both ships sent each other waves (no pun intended!) and both ships blew their horns.

Lofoten

Hurti passingThe approach to Svolvær was quite dramatic and beautiful. We had about an hour to explore here, and I already found myself imagining which house I’d like to live in and how much cake I’d have to bake to make it through the dark winters.

The Fisherman’s Wife statue by Per Ung

Approaching SvolværWooden slats used to dry fish

Svolvær drying fishThar she blows!

Svolvær

Svolvær churchAn hour later, we headed back to the ship. The next stretch of the journey took us through a spot that I had been really excited about: the Trollfjord! Unfortunately, it’s not a fjord surrounded by trolls, but is a lovely 2km long sidearm of a strait between the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos. It once even had its own battle! We headed to the front of the ship to experience the voyage into the fjord. Mountain walls surrounded us and the water was the most beautiful shade of turquoise. I loved imagining what it must have been like to find this spot years and years ago before it was known.

Trollfjord 1 Trollfjord 2
Once we left the Trollfjord, we only had about an hour left before we docked in Stokmarknes. Morty and I spent the rest of the time on the deck, each plugged in to our ipods, taking in the epic scenery with our own choices of epic music.

Lofoten leavingWe arrived in Stokmarknes at 1:30 a.m. and were met by Morty’s dad and brother. The rest of the evening and even in bed, I felt like I was gently rocking on a boat. The Hurtigruten trip was an experience I hope I don’t soon forget! If you’re ever in this neck of the woods, put it on your list. You can even make the voyage in the winter, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to see the Northern Lights from the deck. Come visit me soon, so we can find out.

A Trip to Vesterålen, Part 2

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Bodø would be our home for the night since our ship wouldn’t be departing until noon the next day. So we dragged our train-lagged legs the short distance to the hotel, got sorted and then headed back out to find dinner and a walk. Bodø isn’t particularly beautiful… any beauty it had was destroyed during World War II when it was bombed. It had a few quirks though, and I especially loved this mural by street-art artist Phlegm. (I’m sure given a few more days here, I would have come to love the area – a famous maelstrom isn’t too far away, and there’s plenty of beautiful nature surrounding the city.)

Phlegm bodoWe found a funky and charming spot called Kafé Kafka where we munched on burgers then decided to explore a bit more. A quick walk through town led us to the pier where we wandered out on to a peninsula and took in the fresh (and fishy!) northern air and light. The pier had a few of these art pieces on it, which I thought were neat. (However, did you know that 16% of the population is repulsed by objects that have clusters of holes? Are you??)

Trip_bodo1Someone had artfully inserted their own warning on the pier’s yield sign (and windy it was!):

Trip_bodo2The viking in his element:

Morty on peninsulaWe then strolled back to our hotel and prepared for a real night’s sleep. I took this picture at 11 p.m. – send up the eye mask, please!

Trip_bodo3Part 3 of this journey will take us on the Hurtigruten through the Norwegian Sea and into a few fjords. I’ll be back soon to share that wonderful experience with you!

A trip to Vesterålen, Part One: The Train

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Morty grew up in a tiny village called Grytting, in a region of northern Norway called Vesterålen. I’ve visited there three times previously, all for Christmas visits, so I was very excited to know we’d be there for 10 days during the summer days of the midnight sun. We decided to take the long way up by train and coastal steamer (the Hurtigruten). We booked a sleeper train for the first leg of the journey, so we headed to the Oslo train station around 9 p.m. for our almost 11 p.m. departure. Shortly before the departure though, we received word that there were problems on the tracks (a freight train had derailed!), so we would have to stir from our sweet train-slumber at 3 a.m. to get on a bus to take us to another train without a sleeping compartment. (Insert grumpy face here.) But, these are the little moments that make travel memorable, so we found our way to the train, promptly set up our bunk beds and tried to get as much sleep as possible as the train left Oslo and winded its way up to Vinstre.

Here we are in our little cabin shortly before lights out:

Trip_trainSleep was hard to come by since the train made several stops and I was restless knowing it would be short sleep anyway. We eventually reached Vinstre, and a train-full of sleepy, bed-headed passengers exited onto the platform to await our bus. My lack of rest and general grumpiness were seriously challenged as two passengers next to us on the bus were crunching and smacking on their pistachios louder than I’ve ever heard anyone eat before. My passive-aggressive stares were met by Morty trying to convince me to look hear past it, and when we arrived at the next train, we both made sure we were nowhere near the crunch-happy couple. A pistachio-free three-hour train ride later, we arrived in Trondheim to board our final train that would take us to Bodø.

I’ve ridden on a few trains in my life – touristy excursions in small-town Texas, a day-long (but speedy!) trip from Paris to Nice, an otherworldly departure from the floating buildings of Venice to arrive a few hours later in the bustling and beautiful Florence. So when we boarded the train in Trondheim at 7:30 a.m., it wasn’t a novel experience – but when the conductor announced all of our upcoming stops and that we’d be arriving in Bodø at 5:30 p.m., I took an excited gasp. To know that we’d be in the same cozy nook for 10 hours with nothing but each other, our books, our music and the landscape creeping by (no high-speed trains for this mountainous country!), was one of the most comforting feelings I’ve ever had. We emptied our bags of our necessities (book, ipod, camera, CHOCOLATE), and put them on our little table. Then the train whistle blew and away we went into the bright, hopeful day.

Our cozy nookThe rest of the day was a mélange of reading, gazing, getting up for coffee, chatting, falling asleep on Morty’s shoulder, drooling on said shoulder, reading, snacking and gazing some more. We passed farms on rolling green hills, rocky lakes of crystal blue water, fields of fireweed and eventually wound our way up steep passages before leveling out as we crossed the Arctic Circle.

Trip_view1

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Trip_view2Scenery from the day (click on the “HD” in upper right-corner for a clearer picture):

Passing the Arctic Circle (a stone pyramid in the field indicates the point):

Around 6 p.m. we said goodbye to our little home for the day and stumbled out onto the platform at Bodø. We walked up to the front of the train and I stopped to take a picture of it. Right before I snapped the picture though, a little girl about 5 years old walked up to the train and gave it a kiss goodbye. I wish I had been fast enough to snap a photo, but it was such a surprising and sweet moment, I’m glad to even have seen it.

Adieu to our 10-hour home!

Trip_trainEndFor Part 2 of the trip, I’ll post a few pictures from our night in Bodø, and the next day spent on the Hurtigruten. Thanks for reading this far!