Arctic Norway – Part 1 (Oslo & Lofoten Islands)

February 16, 2017 (Day 1)

This is the start of a diary of a 15-day trip to Arctic Norway via Oslo from Feb 15 thru March 3, 2017. After a 3/4 day layover in Oslo, we reached Lofoten Islands on Feb 17 morning. After spending a week there, we boarded the Hurtigruten to sail to Tromso. We spent 4 days in the area and from there we took a puddle jumper to Alta mainly to experience the Ice Hotel. I then returned to Seattle via Oslo. Go to my Flickr page here for exact location where each image was shot.

I would like to recognize Mr. Cody Duncan whose e-book was my main guide to plan the Lofoten segment of the trip. You can download the book from his website. Thanks Cody for answering my questions!!!

I left Seattle for Oslo via Reykjavik, Iceland by Icelandair on Feb 15 and reached Oslo at around Noon on the following day. We had made a reservation at the Gardermoen Bed & Breakfast, about 5 miles from the Oslo International Airport. I called the hotel for a shuttle that picked me up at the Departure Level and took me to the hotel. All hotels near the airport charge 70 NOK (about US$8.50) per person for one-way trip between the airport and the hotels. I took a shower and took the bus #855 from the front of the hotel to get back to the airport to catch the 230pm NSB train to Oslo Sentrum. The bus fare was 55 NOK (about US$6.50). If I had purchased the bus ticket at the airport instead of on the bus, I could have saved 20 NOK. I learned a lesson – any time a human being is involved in a transaction in Norway, be prepared to pay more!!! At the front of the bus was a huge video monitor that showed the destination, time of arrivals, next stop, etc.

Hólmbergsviti Lighthouse 2
Oslo Bus Video Monitor

I paid 90 NOK (US$11) for a 1-way ticket to Oslo Sentrum and boarded the L12 NSB train at around 245pm. The ride was smooth and fast and in 30 minutes the train reached Oslo Sentrum. Every passenger car has a similar monitor showing destination, arrival times, etc.

Oslo Train Monitor

It was windy, cloudy, and cold winter day in Oslo, similar to Seattle but about 15 degrees colder. From the Sentrum Station, I then walked along Oslo’s main street, Karl Johans Gate to the City Hall to join my cousins Revathy, Dash and Susheela. The street connects the Oslo Central Train Station and the Royal Palace. The street also includes other major tourist attractions such as Oslo Cathedral, National Theater, an ice skating rink, and expensive shopping houses.

Oslo Cathedral

Shopping Centers Along Karl Johans Gate
Entrance to the Oslo City Hall
View from Oslo City Hall

The construction of the City Hall started in 1931, but was paused by the outbreak of World War II, before the official inauguration in 1950. Its characteristic architecture, artworks and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, held on 10 December, makes it one of Oslo’s most famous buildings. I joined my cousins and toured the City Hall the interior of which was quite impressive. We got kicked out of the City Hall at 4pm, the closing time. It was getting darker already and we walked along the Karl Johans Gate enjoying the architecture and shooting pictures to Kos Kos, a Middle-eastern restaurant, for an early dinner. I was lazy to lug around my camera gear and shoot all the images shown here using just my iPhone 6. Oslo was the only place in Norway, I was able to take more than 3 images outside in the cold before the iPhone just shut down. Looks like iPhone is a warm blooded device and struggles to shoot below 30 deg F.

National Theater, Oslo
Along Karl Joans Gate

Restaurants are about 2-3x more expensive compared to comparable restaurants in the US. As all the 4 of us are vegetarians, we ordered their veggie mezza platter and the food was tasty. On a scale of 0-10, I would give the mezza platter a 6 or 7. The service was excellent. We spent 3+ hours over dinner and the charge came to about 1600 NOK (US$195). After dinner, we walked back to the Train Station, got tickets at an NSB kiosk to get back to the Oslo Airport at Gardermoen.

Oslo Train Station

After a 30 min train ride packed with locals getting back home, we reached the airport just after 1030pm. As the hotel shuttle costs 70 NOK per person, we ordered Uber instead that cost us 125 NOK (US$15). Uber cost at that time of the evening was $3/mile which is not bad for Norwegian standards. We hit the sack to get ready to catch a flight to Leknes in Lofoten Islands via Bodo the next morning.

February 17, 2017 (Day 2)

Highlights:

  • Oslo to Bodo to Leknes (Lofoten) by air
  • Grocery shopping in Leknes
  • Drive to Elissen Rorbuer in Hamnøya

All the 4 of us got up early, packed, had continental breakfast, and took the airport shuttle to the Oslo airport to catch the 0830 SAS flight to the town of Bodo in the arctic circle. As usual, the weather was like Seattle, light snow, dark clouds, but a few degrees colder. Although SAS only allows 1 checked luggage and 1 carry-on, we all ended up carrying 2 carry-ons. My camera bag weighed about 13 kg/28 lb and a shoulder bag with medicines, powerstrip, cables, etc at around 2 kg. As I had limited space in my Timberland duffel bag that I had checked in, I looked like a colorful Michelin Man with 5 layers of clothing, my body just another transport mechanism for Arctic winter clothing. Just like IcelandAir, nobody seemed to be bothered by this or my carry-ons. You get 2 hours of free Wi-Fi at all Norwegian airports and all of us exploited the privilege taking care of business – aka FB & Whatsapp. Susheela and Dash had SIM issues that they spent the time hounding the guy back in Bangalore who handled support.

Flight left on time and we were all anticipating to step foot in the Arctic Circle in 1.5 hours. I ordered a glass of apple juice and the flight attendant asked me for my credit card – yes, other than water, coffee, and tea, you pay for everything else on internal flights in Norway. The juice set me back US$3. The flight landed at Bodo on time at around 10.

OSL Bodo Map

We sighted the Widerøe Airlines “puddle jumper” that would take us to Leknes, 100 miles away, the common landing spot for all tourists flying to Lofoten Islands.

Widerøe Plane from Bodo to Leknes

The plane was packed and the 20 minute flight over the Norwegian Sea was a bit bumpy especially just before landing. The flight landed on time at around 1145. Revathy’s Nikon immediately went into action capturing the Arctic scenery around the Leknes airport.

Revathy, Dash & Susheela in front of the Plane that brought us to Leknes

The checked baggage showed up promptly. In the meantime, Dash walked to the Avis counter (there were just 2 rental car counters, one for Avis and one for a local outfit) and signed the agreement. He also paid about US$20/day for $0 deductible collision insurance. Based on our experience last year in Iceland, paying the additional $ was a no-brainer as minor scratches can end up costing you north of US$2,000!!!

The Avis guy was super helpful. That morning, we were his only customer. In Norway the rental car companies charge an arm and a leg if you decide to drop off at a different location. As we were leaving the Lofoten Islands from Stamsund 10 miles away, we had 2 choices: Drop off the car back at the Leknes airport and catch a cab to Stamsund costing around US$50 or drop the rental car at Stamsund Hurtigruten terminal and pay the drop off charges. Luckily the Avis guy lived in Stamsund and he preferred we dropped off the car at the Hurtigruten terminal. God bless the AVIS guy.

We got a 5-door Mazda 6 with studded winter tires and automatic transmission. Although at the time of booking the websites show only manual transmission cars, Norwegian rental car companies have figured out that most Americans don’t have a clue driving manual transmission cars. Outside of Oslo and possibly Bergen, unlike Reykjavik, it is impossible to get a big SUV such as a Jeep Grand Cherokee in Norway. Trunk capacity of cars in Lofoten is about 30% less than the SUV we rented in Iceland. All of our stuff fitted into the car snugly. Note that in addition to our luggage, we had to allocate space for groceries and other incidentals that we would be picking up as we drove around.

AVIS Mazda 6 Loaded at Leknes Airport

According to Wkipedia, my bible for trivia, Leknes’s population is about 3000 and is one of the few towns in Lofoten that does not depend on fisheries and does not have its town center by the sea. Because of this, and because of its rapid growth in recent years, it does not have the same traditional wooden architecture, as most other towns in Lofoten, and may thus not be as picturesque as its neighboring fishing villages. Net: Don’t waste time looking for red houses in Leknes!!!

Our #1 priority was to pick up groceries. If you are a vegetarian, you can safely assume that you either live on yogurt and chocolate or cook. Considering we had a master chef, the choice was a no-brainer. The grocery stores in Leknes were much bigger than the ones we encountered everywhere else in Lofoten. As we planned to stay for 7 days in Lofoten, we loaded up at the only Asian grocery store in Lofoten (Asia Mat) and at a major Norwegian grocery store chain Bunnpris (Bottom Price in Norwegian). We got pretty much everything we wanted but vegetables cost 2-4x more than in US. The cost differential was not compelling enough for us to switch to eating cod or reindeer meat although 7-day supply for groceries for the 4 of us set us back US$250!!!

Tomatoes at Leknes Bunnris @ US$6/kg
Who said you can’t find Indian groceries in the Arctic Circle?
US$9 for Coconut Oil at Leknes Asia Mat

Located Peppes Pizza restaurant part of a big Norwegian chain. The decor was very nice and service was excellent. A large veggie pizza, 2 salads and 1 garlic bread cost US$60.After lunch, we started driving towards Hamnøy, about 35 miles away, our base for the next 3 nights.

Day 2 Drive

The temperature was in the high 20s F (around -3 deg C) but was super windy and was a challenge to setup my tripod to shoot images. Located the first red house between the towns of Napp and Vareid and grabbed this image.

A Red House by the water near Vareid

As it was already getting dark, we didn’t stop anywhere and drove straight to our cabin at Eliassen Rorbur in Hamnoy. Dash was ably supported by Revathy and Susheela for preparing a nice dinner. Hit the sack after dinner. Serious photography began on Day 3.

Ready for the first course – Terrific soup & salad

February 18, 2017 (Day 3)

Highlights:

  • Drove south from Hamnøya to Å and back (30 km round trip)
  • Photographed fishing villages of Sakrisøya, Reine, Sørvågen, Tind, and Å
Day 3 Drive Map

In the morning, it was very windy, cold and extremely cloudy. We left the Rorbuer after breakfast at sunrise just past 0800. First stop was at the E10 bridge at the entrance to the Rorbuer. The walkways along the side of the bridge were frozen and the gusty wind made walking with the camera equipment challenge. There are were already few other “tripodites” who were busy shooting on the bridge. We took a few pictures but a lot of the images were not sharp in spite of my camera being mounted on a solid carbon fiber tripod. But the view was majestic. The white snow contrasted very well with the red colored cabins of the Rorbuer.

Eliassen Rorbuer from E10 Bridge (Nikon D800e; 25mm; f11; 1/1.3; ISO 100)

The next stop was at the fishing village of Sakrisøya, a mile away from Hamnøya on E10. The rorbu cabins here were painted in yellow instead of the common burgundy red we saw elsewhere within Lofoten. The wind had calmed down a bit but it started snowing. We spent about 45 minutes in Sakrisøya.

Sakrisøya Rorbuer (Nikon D800e; 32mm; f8; 1/15 sec; ISO 400)
Sakrisøya Fisherman’s Hut (Nikon D800e; 40mm; f11;1/20 sec; ISO400)

The next stop after Sakrisøya was the beautiful fishing village of Reine with a population of about 300 people. One of the best spots to photograph the village with majestic mountains in the background is from a small parking lot at the entrance to the village from E10. There is a small bridge near the parking lot that had a number of terrific spots to photograph from. Here are 2 images taken from the bridge and near the parking lot.

View of Reine from the bridge near entrance to the village from E10 (Nikon D800e; 35mm; f13; 1/13 sec; ISO 100)
View of Reine from near entrance to the village from E10 (Nikon D7100; 34mm; f11; 1/15 sec; ISO 200)

We walked around the village. It was snowing off and on and the temperature was in the high 20s F. Below is an image of the Reine Rorbuer shot while walking around.

Reine Rorbuer (Nikon D800e; 25mm; f20; 1/20 sec; ISO 100)

It was close to 1pm when we got back in the car and had sandwiches, fruits, and yogurt for lunch. It started snowing quite heavily and the timing was perfect to have the lunch in the car enjoying the scenery and the snowfall.

We stopped at Joker, a small grocery store in Sørvågen for a bio-break and to grab a 6-pack of beer that set us back by 219 NOK (about US$26 or over $4/bottle). The next stop was at the village of Å (pronounced as “o”). It is located in the southern end of Lofoten Islands and the end (or start) of E10 (also called King Olav’s Road) in Norway. Per my trivia bible Wikipedia, until the 1990s, Å was mainly a small fishing village specializing in stock-fish, but since then tourism has taken over as the main economic activity. The town features the Lofoten Stockfish Museum and the Norwegian Fishing Village Museum as two big tourist attractions. Both museums were closed and we hardly saw anybody in the village. I am sure this place will be a zoo in the summer when the tourists flock to Lofoten to enjoy the scenery and the fish. We photographed the various red colored cabins and houses in Å.

Å Rorbuer (Nikon D800e; 20mm; f16; 1/6 sec; ISO 100)
Fisherman’s House in Å (Nikon D7100; 24mm; f11; 1/8 sec; ISO 100)

We left Å at around 230pm to drive back to our rorbu in Eliassen in Hamnøya, 9 miles way. Below is a view of Å from E10.

Å from E10 (Nikon D7100; 95mm; f10; 1/4 sec; ISO 100)

Cod stock-fish is the main driver of winter economy in Lofoten. Along E10, we saw miles of cod fish being dried by the cold and wind in Lofoten. The fish are hung on wooden racks until they are picked up in the spring. Below is an image of Revathy photographing around a fish rack in Sørvågen.

Revathy near a Cod Fish Rack in Sørvågen (Apple iPhone 6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/50 sec; ISO 32)

We stopped at Reine again on our way back to enjoy the scenery. Revathy shot an image of me photographing from the bridge linking the village and E10.

Murali photographing Reine (Apple iPhone 6; Image by Revathy)

We left Reine just before sunset at 430pm. As it was very cloudy, there was no dramatic golden light, may be a message from God to return to Lofoten. We soon reached our rorbu, took care of business (aka image processing, Whatsapp, FB, emails etc), had dinner and crashed for the night.

February 19, 2017 (Day 4)

Highlights:

  • Drove North from Hamnøya to Flakstad and back (about 60 km round trip)
  • Photographed Skagsanden Beach & Flakstad Kirke (Church)
  • First Aurora Borealis (aka Northern Lights) sighting

Today, we had a lot of snow in the morning that reduced visibility considerably and slowed us down. We were able to visit only about 50% of the spots in our original plan. After a terrific breakfast prepared by our Chef Extraordinaire Dash with support from Revathy and Susheela, we left the rorbu at sunrise. First stop was at the entrance to the E10 to take more pictures of the Rorbuer from the bridge. It was very cold but visibility was reasonable for 30 minutes or so. Then snow started falling and the visibility deteriorated rapidly and we got back into the car and started driving north towards Ramberg.

Just before we entered Ramberg, we came across two terrific looking bridges. There were no cars in either direction. We stopped in front of the first bridge and shot a few pictures with our smartphones.

Bridge to Fredvang (Apple iPhone6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/273 sec; ISO 32)

We crossed the 2 bridges and headed to Fredvang. It started snowing heavily and visibility was extremely poor. We couldn’t see much in Fredvang. We took a U-turn and got back to E-10 towards Ramberg on the look out for a restaurant or a gas station for a bio-break.

People seem to drive very fast in heavy snow compared to the US. We were quite impressed with the speed of snow removal even in small villages with a population of under 100. On the way to Ramberg, a van had skidded on E-10. Even though it is an European highway, in Lofoten, it is just one lane in each direction. We had to wait until the van was towed by a snow plow.

Snow plow pulling a van on E10 near Ramberg (Apple iPhone6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/166 sec; ISO 32)

We reached Ramberg at around 11. As it was Sunday, cafes, the grocery store, and gas stations were closed. The StatOil Diesel pump wouldn’t accept my Chase Sapphire Reserve (Visa) Card. Luckily, it did accept the Arrival Barclaycard (MasterCard). Moral of the story: when you travel internationally, it is prudent to carry at least 2 credit cards. We filled up gas (Diesel) and started looking for a restaurant. Ramberg Gjestegård restaurant was closed but we knocked on the door anyway. The owner was kind enough to welcome and offer us coffee and tea. 2 cups of coffee, 1 cup of tea, and 1 cup of hot water cost us US$12. Now you know why Norway is one of the most expensive countries to live/visit. Revathy, Susheela and I walked around behind the restaurant where there were some nice looking cabins facing the beach. We shot a few images.

A Boat below the Ramberg Gjestegård restaurant (Apple iPhone6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/100 sec; ISO 32)
Ramberg Beach Cabins (Apple iPhone6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/300 sec; ISO 32)

I located a beautiful yellow home across the street. All of us shot a few images of the house.

Yellow Home in Ramberg (Nikon D7100; 110mm; f11; 1/15 sec; ISO 100)

We left Ramberg at around noon and headed to the Skagsanden Beach. It started snowing heavily and the wind was ferocious. Susheela, Revathy and I were brave enough to get out of the car and shoot the image of a cute red shack at a beach.

A red shack by the sea in Flakstad (Nikon D7100; 52mm; f11; 1/13 sec; ISO 100)

Soon we reached the Skagsanden beach. The visibility was poor and we didn’t bother to even get out of the car. We  decided to check out the Flakstad Kirke (Church) a couple of miles north of the beach. On the way, we saw a cemetery with a nice looking building.

Flakstad Cemetery in B&W (Nikon D800e; 32mm; f11; 1/40 sec; ISO 200)

Soon we reached the beautiful church. We walked around the church and shot a few pictures. Unfortunately, even though it was a Sunday, the church was closed.

Revathy next to Flakstad Kirke (Nikon D7100; 38mm; f11; 1/13 sec; ISO 100)
Flakstad Kirke (Nikon D800e; 22mm; f13; 1/25 sec; ISO 200)

It was close to 2pm when we returned to Skagsanden beach. Snow had subsided. We ate our usual sandwiches, fruits, and yogurt in the car. Visibility improved. It was peaceful.

Susheela @ Skagsanden Beach (Nikon D800e; 22mm; f13; 1/6 sec; ISO 100)

At around 3pm, it was time to get back to the rorbu as the light was fading fast. We stopped by the 2 bridges to Fredvang and returned to the rorbu at 4pm.

Two bridges to Fredvang (Nikon D7100; 66mm; f11; 1/13 sec; ISO 100)

After dinner, I checked out the Northern Lights forecast for Lofoten and it was a bit favorable. We decided to venture out. We went to the E10 bridge next to the rorbuer. Susheela whose eyes are optimized for locating the lights announced that she was seeing a green patch behind the mountain in front of us. I set up my camera and took a shot – yes, there was a light green glow.

Aurora Boealis over Hamnoy Village (Nikon D800E; 16 mm; f8; 30 sec; ISO 1000)

As the light pollution was very high, we decided to drive a bit north to a spot along E10 with little light pollution. We found a huge parking lot about 2 miles from the rorbu and parked our car. The green glow increased in intensity about 15 minutes after we reached but it was still very cloudy. Here is an image I captured. Not a great show that lasted about 20 minutes but this was an insurance shot.

Northern Lights near Hamnoya (Nikon D800e; 35mm; f4; 25 sec sec; ISO 1600)

We got back to the rorbu and went to bed with an anticipation of seeing better northern lights in the coming days.

February 20, 2017 (Day 5)

Highlights:

  • Drove North from Hamnøya to Leknes (about 60 miles of driving)
  • Photographed Ramberg, Nusfjord, and Ballstad
  • Checked into Lofoten Rorbuopplevelser outside Leknes

After breakfast, we packed our stuff, cleaned the rooms (saved about $50 cleaning fee), loaded the car and started driving towards Nusfjord soon after sunrise. First stop was at a fishing pier just outside of Ramberg.

View of Mountains from a Pier near Ramberg (Nikon D800e; 24mm; f11; 1/40 sec; ISO 100)

Next stop was at the lake Storvatnet which was on the way to Nusfjord. For the first time in Norway, we saw a little bit of the blue sky. There was hardly any traffic. We stopped a few turnouts on Fv807 around the lake to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. Although it was close to 11am, the sun was at low angle in the Arctic Circle, the light was golden. In fact, I found the best time to do photography in Northern Norway in mid to late February is between 11am and 2pm!!!

Group shot in front of Storvatnet Lake (Nikon D800e; 16mm; f11; 1/160 sec; ISO 100)

We reached the beautiful fishing village of Nusfjord at around noon. It is one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages with long Lofoten fishery traditions. The population is about 70 per the checkout clerk at the cafe. It has beds for about 200 people in the rorbuer and 2 restaurants.  In winter very few tourists visit the village but in summer, about 5,000 show up. We had coffee and hot chocolate and chatted with the clerk and her mom who was visiting from Southern Norway.

Nusfjord Restaurant (Nikon D800e; 30mm; f11; 1/40 sec; ISO 100)
Nusfjord Fishing Cabin (Nikon D7100; 85mm; f11; 1/25 sec; ISO 100)

After a short break for usual lunch in the car, we started driving north again towards Ballstad and snow showers and high winds picked up. Revathy was seriously shooting images without realizing that she was in a ditch with snow up to her waist. Getting back to the road was a bit of a challenge. Allz well that ends well.

Revathy shooting along E-10 on the way to Ballstad(Nikon D7100; 46mm; f8; 1/60 sec; ISO 100)
Red-Blue Housealong E-10 on the way to Ballstad(Nikon D7100; 65mm; f10; 1/25 sec; ISO 100)

Along the way to Ballstad, we came across a bunch of farmhouses. Below is a typical one. The ramp in the front of the house leads to a loft. In one house, we saw a car parked inside. May be they also store grains or other items in it.

A Typical Lofoten Farmhouse on the way to Ballstad(Apple iPhone6; 4.2mm; f2.2; 1/573 sec; ISO 32)

We reached Ballstad at around 3pm. It is a large fishing village situated near the mouth of Buksnesfjorden, where it meets Vestfjorden. As the local school had just closed, we saw a bunch of kids on cross country skis or sleds trekking to their homes. We located a group yellow houses by the road in front of Skottinden mountain. We stopped at a marina nearby and shot a few pictures of the homes.

A Group of Yellow Homes in Ballstad (Nikon D7100; 38mm; f210; 1/15 sec; ISO 100)

We stopped at the only grocery store in Ballad, the Joker to grab some groceries and headed back to Leknes. Susheela, who had come to the tough realization that she needed better woolen gloves, grabbed a few in the Leknes shopping center while Dash and I picked up a bottle of Norwegian Vodka and grape juice. We then drove to our apartment, Lofoten Rorbuopplevelser,  just outside of Leknes where we stayed for 3 nights. We were met by the super friendly owner of the apartment who showed us around. We unloaded the car and loaded the refrigerator with the groceries we had picked up along the way and the leftovers from the Hamnoy rorbu.

Groceries loaded into the Refrigerator

First opportunity to wash clothes. Yes, the apartment had a washer & detergent. We all took turns to get or clothes washed and dried the clothes on the racks and on top of furniture. Dash, Revathy, and Susheela prepared pasta and 2 different salads for a nice dinner. A glass of vodka was also a welcome add-on.

Dinner

Aurora Borealis forecast for that night was unfavorable. We hit the sack after fishing emails, FB and WhatsApp postings.

February 21, 2017 (Day 6)

Highlights:

  • Visits to the beaches along the western shores of Vestvågøy.
  • Challenges of Arctic Winter

It had snowed a few inches the previous night. When we were in Oslo, on Feb 16, the sunrise was at 820am and sunset was at 420pm. Today, the sunrise was at 8am and sunset was at 440pm resulting in 40 minutes more of daylight. After another terrific breakfast prepared by the trio, we started driving to the beaches along the western shores of Vestvågøy. It was biting cold mainly due to heavy wind. Visibility varied a lot, from a few feet to a few miles. First stop was a very short one at the Vik Beach. Visibility was poor and there were no compelling photo opportunities. We drove on to Haukland Beach. The beach was a short walk from the parking lot. A few tripodites were lingering around after their sunrise shoots.  Due to heavy cloud cover, we decided against any possible sunrise photography. There was a small stream going towards the beach and it was a good spot take some pictures.

Walking to the Haukland Beach (Nikon D7100; 31mm; f14; 1/10 sec; ISO 100)

At the beach was a colony of cormorants engaged in their morning meeting. It was still cloudy but the scene was serene.

Haukland Beach (Nikon D800e; 35mm; f8; 1/30 sec; ISO 100)

When the snow is 2+’ deep, it always good to know where the entrance to the main road is. When we left the Haukland Beach parking lot, we missed it by about 10′ or so and the car got stuck in a ditch with the wheels spinning. We learned the difference between a 4×4 vehicle and a 4WD one. Very soon about 10 able bodied Norwegians appeared magically and helped us out of the mess. We profusely thanked them and marched on to the next stop- Uttakleiv Beach. Moral of the story: Get a 4×4 if at all possible. Else be on the lookout for Norwegians before you start your car 🙂

Super helpful Norwegians pushing to get our car out of the ditch in Haukland Beach (iPhone6 photo by Revathy)

When we reached Uttakleiv, it was snowing heavily and the visibility was about 200′ or so. We saw a nice blue farmhouse at the entrance to the beach from the main road. I shot the image below during the snow storm. There are a few other houses and a mountain behind this house totally invisible. After an hour, the skies cleared and the 2nd image below shows what was around the blue farmhouse.

A Farmhouse near Uttakleiv Beach (Nikon D7100; 35mm; f11; 1/5 sec; ISO 100)
A Farming Community near Uttakleiv Beach (Nikon D7100; 62mm; f11; 1/80 sec; ISO 100)

We parked at the beach and although the clouds started moving in again, the view from the parking lot was quite spectacular. After lunch, Revathy, Susheela, and I hiked down to the beach. Here is an image of Revathy sitting on a picnic bench on the way down to the beach.

Revathy @ Uttakleiv Beach (Nikon D7100; 31mm; f11; 1/50 sec; ISO 100)

We returned the apartment for lunch and returned to the beaches in the afternoon. Weather turned bad again and we did not have much success doing photography as the visibility was quite poor. We returned to the apartment before sunset. A pipe in the apartment was frozen and Dash had called Eirik, the apartment owner, in the morning and requested him to get it fixed. When we returned, there a bunch of people fixing the frozen pipe in the arctic cold weather. They fixed the problem in about an hour or so. As the Aurora Borealis forecast was not favorable, we went to bed after dinner.

February 22, 2017 (Day 7)

Highlights:

  • Visits to Ballstad, Bøstad, and Unstad Beach
  • Second Aurora Borealis experience in Storsandnes Beach in Flakstad

Sunrise was beautiful but unfortunately we were late getting up to do some serious photography. But we all shot some casual images right from our apartment.

Lofoten Rorbuopplevelser Sunrise (iPhone6 photo)

We decided to re-visit Ballstad as the sky was reasonably clear in the morning and our previous visit there was in the late afternoon and was very cloudy. Photo ops were plentiful and all grabbed a number of successful images.

First stop in Ballstad was at the marina next to the same group of yellow houses that we had shot 2 days ago.Light was quite good. Shot a few images of the boats at the marina and the yellow houses, this time from the southern side.

Ballstad Marina (Nikon D800e; 30mm; f11; 1/50 sec; ISO 100)
Ballstad Marina (Nikon D7100; 28mm; f14; 1/15 sec; ISO 100)

After spending an hour in Ballstad, we decided to drive towards Bøstad. At the edge of Ballstad, we sighted a terrific looking red colored boat. As usual, the car automatically stops when anything in red is located. Dash did a great job of parking the car at a small turnout next to a bridge.

Red Boat in front of Red Houses in Ballstad (Nikon D7100; 95mm; f11; 1/25 sec; ISO 100)

In the town of Gradval just north of Ballstad is a terrific wooden church named Buksnes Kirke. Per Wikipedia, the church site has been in use for centuries. The first written record referring to the church at Buksnes dates back to 1324. There have been several church buildings on the site over the years. Storms badly damaged the church in 1639. A new, wooden church was completed in 1641. In 1802 the old church was torn down and replaced, using some of the old timbers from the previous church. In 1882, the church was again destroyed by a storm and a new church was built in 1885. The new church was struck by lightning on 26 January 1903 and it burned down. The present church building was completed and consecrated in November of 1905. While the trio went inside the church, I stood guard as the car was parked illegally at the entrance of the church parking lot yet to be plowed.

Buksnes Kirke in the town of Gravdal (Nikon D7100; 120mm; f11; 1/50 sec; ISO 100)
A Selfie with Buksnes Kirke in the background (Nikon D7100; 24mm; f11; 1/60 sec; ISO 100)

We then filled up gas at a gas station just outside of Gravdal and drove towards Unstad beach.

Gravdal Gas Station (iPhone photo)

Like the Swiss, Norwegians are experts in building awesome tunnels through mountains and under water. Here is an image to the entrance of a tunnel on the way to Unstad.

A Tunnel on the way to Unstad Beach (iPhone photo)

We reached the small farming community of Unstad at noon. It was snowing off and on. We came across a nice looking yellow farmhouse near the beach.

An Unstad Farmhouse (Nikon D7100; 34mm; f11; 1/25 sec; ISO 100)

We reached the beach soon after. The visibility was rather limited with heavy cloud cover. The beach is a very popular spot for arctic surfing. Even in February when the temperature was in the mid 20s F, we saw a dozen brave kids in wet suits carrying their surfboards to the water. I took a few casual shots on my iPhone. We had our usual lunch well prepared by the trio.

Unstad Beach in B&W (iPhone6 photo)

After lunch, we headed towards the village of Eggum north of Unstad via Bostad. The weather was getting quite awful with visibility under a few feet. About 4 miles from Eggum, we decided to to cut short the drive, took a U-turn and decided to head back to the apartment. On the way back, we stopped at the Borge Kirke in Bøstad. As the light was fading, we just took a few pictures from the outside with the expectation of re-visiting the church the next day on our way to Kabelvåg.

Borge Kirke in Bøstad (Nikon D7100; 82mm; f11; 1/50 sec; ISO 100)

We returned to the apartment at sunset. As it was super cloudy, there was no opportunity to shoot sunset. We had an early dinner and I checked the Aurora Borealis forecast for the area, finding it to be favorable, with Kp index a tad above 4. At 8, we put on our winter clothes and headed to Storsandnes beach in Flakstad, about 6 miles away. It was partly cloudy but when we reached the beach, the show started which lasted for about 45 minutes. The display was brighter and more impressive than the one we saw in Hamnoy a few days back.

The Northern Lights at Srorsandnes Beach in Flakstad (Nikon D800E; 20mm; f2.8; 30 sec; ISO 1000)

We returned to the apartment at around 10, packed our stuff, and went to bed with satisfaction of a better AB experience!!!

February 23, 2017 (Day 8)

Highlights:

  • Visits to Bøstad, Valberg, and Henningsvær

After 3 terrific days in Lofoten Rorbuopplevelser, we cleaned the apartment after breakfast and loaded the car. The apartment was very spacious, its kitchen well equipped, excellent Wi-Fi, and had a good washer. The location was ideal, close to both shopping in Leknes and to the Haukland and Uttakleiv beaches. The cost was also very reasonable @ $100/nite.

Murali in front of the apartment (iPhone6 photo by Revathy)

Our first stop was at the Borge Kirke in Bøstad. According to Wikipedia, the church is first mentioned in a document from 1335. A church at that spot was built in 1798, rebuilt in 1877 and burned down in 1896. A new church was consecrated in 1898. That church burned down in 1983. The present concrete church was built in 1986 to replace it.

Borge Kirke

The interior of the church was simple and serene and included an organ designed in a Scandinavian style. We spent an hour there and started to drive north towards Kabelvåg, our destination for tonight. Our next major stop was to see the church at Valberg. Along the way, we shot a few images with snow clad mountains in the background.

Susheela – shot just outside Bøstad on the way to Valberg (iPhone6 photo)
Trio – shot near Grundstad on the way to Valberg (Nikon D7100; 58mm; f11; 1/25 sec; ISO 100)
Revathy – shot near Grundstad on the way to Valberg (Nikon D7100; 48mm; f11; 1/100 sec ISO100)

As usual there was a strong wind blowing snow when we arrived at Valberg at around 11. There was hardly anybody outside in the town at that time. The first church at Valberg was built around 1660. In 1749, the church was destroyed during a powerful storm. The second church at Valberg was completed a few years after. This church was destroyed in a storm in 1818. A third church building was completed the next year. That church was used until 1888 when the present church was built.We parked the car beside the church to look around. Unfortunately it was closed. We took a few pictures and drove back to E10 towards Henningsvær.

Valberg Kirke (iPhone6 photo)
Valberg Kirke & the surrounding landscape (Nikon D7100; 46mm; f11; 1/60 sec; ISO 100)

We reached Henningsvær, a beautiful small fishing village with a population of about 450. We directly went to the Joker and picked up some groceries for dinner and breakfast for the next and final day in Lofoten Islands. We ate the lunch (sandwich, yogurt, and fruits) in the car and walked around the village. A couple of ladies we met showed us images of the Northern Lights that they had captured at noon that were impressive.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t observe the same. We shot a few images of the fishing boats from the bridge.

Henningsvær (Nikon D7100; 66mm; f11; 1/8 sec; ISO) 100)

The weather continued to deteriorate and we decided to drive north to our rorbu, Nyvågar Rorbuhotell, in Kabelvåg. As it was so windy when we reached the rorbu that it was a challenge to carry the luggage to our cabin. We had an early dinner and relaxed.At about 10pm, Susheela whose eyes are optimized to view Aurora Borealis, made an announcement that she could see the lights. By the time, we put on our clothes and got out, the display had vanished. Oh well… I had not expected to see the Northern Lights in Lofoten as there was a heavy cloud cover every day since we arrived on Feb 17 but we were lucky to have experienced them for 2 nights.

Nyvågar Rorbuhotell (iPhone6 photo)

February 24, 2017 (Day 9)

Highlights:

  • Svolvær
  • Returned rental car at the Stamsund Hurtigruten Terminal and boarded MS Nordkapp to Tromsø

We had our usual breakfast put together by the trio at sunrise, loaded the car and drove to Svolvær, a fishing village with a population of about 5000. Other than the massive fishing industry, tourism is becoming increasingly important. It is also a major transportation hub and favorite starting point for tourists visiting the Lofoten islands. Approximately 200,000 tourists visit Svolvær each year. The weather was partly cloudy and our first stop was near the Svinøya Rorbuer at the end of the bridge. The view of the red fishing cabins and the nearby mountain was spectacular.

Svolvær (Nikon D7100; 24mm; f10; 1/30 sec; ISO 100)

We then drove back to the town’s center and parked the car in the parking lot of Scandic Svolvær hotel. We walked around the area absorbing the awesome views and capturing some fine images.

Scandic Svolvær Hotel (Nikon D800E; 16mm; f11; 1/80 sec; ISO 200)
Anker Brygge (Nikon D800E; 35mm; f11; 1/125 sec; ISO 200)

It past 11 when we left Svolvær to get back to Kabelvåg to photograph the Lofotkatedralen (Vågan Church Lofoten). We parked the car beside it and shot a bunch of images of the Church and the rock formations along Kjerkvågen.

Lofotkatedralen in Kabelvåg (Nikon D800E; 32mm; f11; 1/80 sec; ISO 100)
Kjerkvågen in B&W (Nikon D800E; 31mm; f11; 1/80 sec; ISO 100)

We then drove all the way back to Leknes and had a very late lunch (or very early dinner) of salad and pizza at Peppes Pizza, pretty much the same we had when we landed in Leknes a week ago. We left Peppes a tad past 5pm and drove to the Stamsund Ferry Terminal and unloaded the stuff. The Hurtigruten ship, MS Nordkapp showed up right on time at 7pm. The ship, built in 1996, has a capacity to carry 622 passengers and 35 cars. It has a total of 458 beds sprawled over 8 decks. The boarding started immediately and was a bit tricky due to snow and ice on the steep ramp. Each of us had to carry 3 pieces of luggage to the check-in area at the end of the ramp. We got two superior rooms on deck 5. The ship left Stamsund exactly at 730pm. The image of our ship below is from the Hurtigruten website.

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Our rooms had a Queen size bed and a bathroom with a small shower. Below is a selfie that Revathy took in her cabin.

Selfie taken by Revathy in her cabin in MS Nordkapp (iPhone6 photo)

We settled down. Although we had uninterrupted cell phone coverage all the way until we reached Tromso, Dash decided to purchase Wi-Fi for Revathy. Not sure she used it much as we all went to bed and were busy enjoying the scenery the next morning while the ship was on its merry way to Tromso. As it was snowy and strong cloud cover, we had no opportunity to experience the Northern Lights while on the ship. At about 9pm, the ship reached Svolvær and it was snowing heavily. Here is an image of Dash outside near our cabin.

Dash outside our cabin on Hurtigruten MS Nordkapp (iPhone6 photo)

We had a shot of Vodka and went to sleep and we woke up the next morning, the ship was arriving at Finnsnes.

One response to “Arctic Norway – Part 1 (Oslo & Lofoten Islands)”

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