Thursday, 19 June 2008

Weekend trip

Last weekend, I made a road trip through northwestern Scandinavia with four other Spacemaster students. No pictures - yet, I hope - for the reason explained below.

We left on Saturday morning early, around 5:30. On Saturday we did: Kiruna - Svappavaara - Vittangi - Soppero - Karesuando - Kilpisjärvi - Tromsø - Sommarøy. Slightly more than 500 km. The first part, the road was completely empty: out in the middle of nowhere at the very early morning. The later it got, the further we got from civilisation. The part in Finland, along Konkämäälven, was particularly interesting. The further north and the higher we got, the earlier the season became. Kilpisjärvi was still frozen and the trees were still bare there. There was also a lot of snow around: it's still very early spring there, despite it being almost midsummer. On this stretch were also many reindeer, a lot more than in the Swedish part up to Karesuando. Reindeer to the side of the road, reindeer on the road, adults but also many calves. Beyond Kilpisjärvi the road crosses the Norwegian border and drops down into the Helligskogen valley: a entirely different zone regarding climate and vegetation, not only compared with the Karesuando - Kilpisjärvi area, but also quite different from Kiruna. Lush growth, quite wet, many waterfalls. And then we reach Storfjorden, the fjord, near Skibotn.

From here we continue along different fjords to Tromsø. Whereas the road was deserted in Sweden and Finland, the E6 is quite crowded here, particularly the last part. In some part it is even a 3-lane road, and the tunnel to Tromsø is 4-lane; the nearest road that big in Sweden must be in Luleå or south thereof. Compared to what we have seen during our trip or even in the past months, Tromsø is a metropolis: nearly 70,000 people living on an island, with many suburbs located on the other islands nearby. We have a look at the arctic cathedral first, but the classical picture is hard to take because they are just working on it and have a crane right in front of the church. We park the car in the city center and walk around a bit. There is just a Nelson Mandela concert going on, and hundreds of people are gathered at Tromsø's main street. Such crowds are very rare in Kiruna, and we just walk into it in Tromsø. When the concert is finished we go to Tromsø Museum to explore the Northern Lights machine; but the other parts of the museum are entertaining as well. It's a lot more than I expected for just 15 norwegian crowns (student price). Finally we explore the university. Tromsø university campus is certainly the most attractive campus I have ever seen. The buildings are new and nice, the university compromises everything from technical studies to Sami culture, and almost everywhere you have a view over the fjord and the surrounding mountains, that are nearly 2000 meter high which is definately enough to carry glaciers at this latitude, nearly 70 degrees north. It might also contribute that the weather has been really nice al day - cloudless skies in the Swedish and Finland part, some clouds but also really sunny in the Norwegian part.

After having lunch at a former harbour, where a ship is shown inside a glass house, at Tromsøysundet (between Tromsø and the mainland) we continue our way to Sommarøy, close to the place where we will take the ferry tomorrow morning. We put up our tents at Hillesøya. Across the ocean lies Greenland.

After studying again the timetables for the ferries, I discover that I have made a planning error. The early morning ferry to Botnhamn at Senja does not go on Sundays, which means that we cannot make it to the late morning ferry from Gryllefjord to Andøya at the other end of Senja. That leaves three possibilities: drive back to Tromsø and take the road to Lofoten from there, take ferry to Botnhamn and drive to Lofoten via Finnsnes and Sørreisa, or take the ferry to Botnhamn, drive to Gryllefjord and wait for the evening ferry to Andenes. It takes a long time to reach a discussion, because some of us prefer option two and others prefer option three. The next morning we swim at one of the white sandy beaches of Sommarøy.

I have a chat with a local - he asks if I am Finnish, because I am talking in Swedish to him but I do not sound like a native speaker of Swedish. I tell him that I'm Dutch. He is either unable or unwilling to talk English with the others.

The next morning we take the ferry to Botnhamn. It takes around 45 minutes and provides an excellent opportunity to do toiletries and replenish water after having camped in the semi-wild at Sommarøy. Only at the ferry we decide definately to drive via Tjeldsundbrua to Lofoten. From Botnhamn we drive to Finnsnes, where we explore if taking the Hurtigbåt to Harstad is an option, but it is not because it will only go in the evening as well. So we drive back toward the E6, Sørreisa - Andselv, then Gratangen - Grov - Tjeldsundbrua, and from here the E10 all the way to Å i Lofoten - and back the next day. This is the part where I have already been.

I don't know when Lofoten is more beautiful - in spring or in winter. It is certainly more crowded now. There are many campers and caravans on the road. On the other hand, now we are driving so we can make picture stops whenever we want. That means increasingly often, so progress is slow. We have a late dinner at Flakstad, where we remain until it is nearly midnight (local time, not solar time). The beach at Flakstad faces north, and the midnight sun is shining powerfully on us. There is a camping at Flakstad and we could stay here, but the others prefer to go on to Å - all the way to the end. Beyond the end of the road at Å we find a place to camp in the wild - many others are already doing so. Cyclists, people with cars, the parking place itself is of course full of campers from all over Europe. It's already very late, around 2:30 and still quite sunny although we are in the shadow of the mountain now, and one of the others proposes to hike next morning, but that would be too early for me if I get less than four hours of sleep, so I decide to sleep a bit longer. It is a long drive back the next day.

The next morning it is horribly crowded at the parking place. Buses full of tourists have arrived in the late morning. I hear Spanish, French, German, Dutch, American English - everything. There must be hundreds, if not nearly a thousand tourists here today. At least ten buses full.

When the others have returned from their hike - one of them nearly an hour later than the appointment at 11:00 - and we depart for the long drive back. At Leknes we tank the car, I take some pictures and we proceed, all the way over the E10 to Svolvær, Bjerkvik, Riksgränsen. Here we have another picture stop and I want to make a picture, but I cannot find my camera. Fortunately my phone is in the same bag, so I use another phone to call it to hear where it is. I do not hear it, and conclude that it must be off, but a few minutes later the phone calls back. The bag with a camera and a phone has been found at Leknes tourist office. Oops. The lady from the tourist office asks if I am able to retrieve it, but as Leknes is at least five hours back from here - more than six hours from Kiruna - so this is not really possible for me. I ask her if she can send it to me, and I give her my e-mail address so we can arrange this if possible.

I drive the final bit back to Kiruna - since we left the E6 just before Narvik it has again been completely empty. From Bjerkvik the road was so full that there were some traffic jams, and driving faster than 40-50 km/hour was not possible. Now the road is straight, empty except for the reindeer and us, very wide and if not for the reindeer it would be safe to drive 110 km/hour, but with the reindeer 80 km/hour is a better idea. I drive us back home where we arrive around 22:00. It has been a good trip.

I will retrieve my camera. Some way or another.

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