Finland – a Scandinavian Anomaly

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Where am I? And why have all the mountains disappear? Why is that people all of a sudden look strange – somewhat grim and where have all the brand new 60th Anniversary Land Cruisers gone?

There answer my fellow readers is that I’ve crossed the border from Norway and into Finland. And when God was creating Scandinavia he’s created Norway… then Sweden… and then he sneezed… and so came Finland.

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They don’t smile but they are very… VERY sociable compared to Norwegians, they aren’t afraid to look you in the eye… or, in fact, to stare at you if they find you strange or amusing and believe me, unless you’re born in Finland they will find you amusing and will stare at you.

Clean streets? Forget it! Modern clothes? Hah!

You’re now a Finn, take off your Bad Balance baseball hat and get you all-black coats and bean hats.

Everything is strange! Everything is just… not Scandinavian.

They like sedan cars…. I don’t know what needs to happen to a Norwegian so that he does not buy an estate… a mid-life crisis! But in Finland a sedan is the way to go… and then they try and carry stuff on the roof because it does not fit in.

The Arrival

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That morning I woke up in winter wonderland. The 11th of October had just as many degrees on the dial of my frozen car, -12, everything has been chained into ice, it felt as if summer has never even been to these places. And the main reason why I am writing these words is because I found a way to keep my car’s living quarters at above freezing line through an electricity feed which powered my heater.

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I’ve decided to run for my dear life, I estimated that it’ll take me 1000km to get back to Autumn so I hit the road. I was not meant to make the 1000km drive however, as I was passing by a lake I decided to have a look around, the place looked like a perfect spot for taking photos of the Northern Lights, what I wanted was to have some water between me and the horizon in the right direction so I’d get reflection of the lights in water. It is by this lake where the story of Serge’s Finland really begins.

The lake had a shallow waters, was close to a road and a forest, the banks were full of rubbish and rotten fish which must have been pulled on shores using a net. Rubbish is what differs Finns from the rest of Scandinavians the most. It is everywhere, piles of it. When in Norway you feel like people have only been around for a few days and all the houses been build by the Creator himself while in Finland – make no mistake, this stuff is all man-made.

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Next to the lake I noticed a small hut. It was the size of a London’s studio flat, probably 25 square meters and I could not connect it to being a living home, after a quick look around I concluded that no one used this hut for a very long time, this finding created my entire Finnish adventure.

A Hut in the Woods

 

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The hut was tiny and ran down, it greeted me with an open door and a lot of broken glass. I knocked on the door and when I finally stepped in I saw what was basically a long-forgotten 70 or so years old Finnish Sauna. From that moment I knew exactly what I was going to do next – I was going to make my place a temporary home and use its proximity to a near-perfect Northern Lights photography spot to wait for my perfect Northern Lights display.

Tidying up took four hours. Gone was the broken glass, bottles, cigarette buds and left-overs from someone’s attempt to make it back into a sauna, the wood burner was fully functional and there was even some left-over wood I could use to test it. Soon, creaking fire was roaring in the burner and the hut started filling with warm air. After days of sleeping in three sleeping bags in a damp car I could not be more excited.

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The best thing was that the hut was also in a spot of very good mobile internet reception and I used to to quickly identify my location in relation to the nearest town with its supermarkets. I needed to go shopping.

Candles, matches, food, a dust brush and a smoke alarm have been sourced same day, I could finally drop my clothes off, light the candles and enjoy spending an evening in an upright position. No longer did I have to be just laying down at the back of my car, the change was so striking that I did not even bother checking for Northern Lights that night.

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The night came and brought with it something that I did not expect to experience.

Fear

Every night brought with it fear. I do not know if I am unique in that but something about the hut just radiated insecurity. The door had no locks, passing cars would shine their hi-beams through broken glass of one of the windows, I was constantly afraid of someone coming in while I was asleep. Not breaking in because the house did not belong to me but coming in. I was somehow afraid to be told to leave in the middle of the night.

It is a city man’s worst nightmare. You see, in big cities, people won’t think twice before exercising their right to anything. Such as you know that if you parked your car in a wrong place you will receive a fine – unconditionally so being in a hut which you know does not belong to you makes you fear of being unconditionally expelled by someone who may come passing by. This is what would always happen to you in a city:

Ah, you are sitting here – this table belongs to the cafe and I can’t see you having our coffee, please leave.

This is private property and although you’re not doing anything wrong we know you are not supposed to be here – please leave

This pier is for sailing club members only and no, you can’t spend 30 minutes here enjoying the sunset – please leave.

All of the above makes you feel in vulnerable positions where you should really have nothing to worry about. I really realised how fucked up my city mind was. Staying in this hut had helped me to become a lot less paranoid for my actions, to not have false fears so meticulously planted in us by the society and which serves no other purpose to make us needlessly compliant with all and any rules that may be thrown our way.

First night I spent holding a knife in my hand and when at 3am a stone fell off the stove I woke up with a battle scream pointing my knife towards the darkness of the night. At least I knew I could respond to a situation.

Needless to say that I barely slept that night. Something needed to be done.

First of all in the morning I sat down and analysed the reason for my fears. I knew that mostly I was afraid of people and not animals although all locals were in the woods hunting bears. I needed a way to lock the door. I used a rope and a stick which helped me securely block the door. It could still be opened from the outside but it’d take some time and I was hoping that the noise made in the process would give me some leeway to wake up and brace myself for… what I needed to brace myself for I did not know but at least I had time to mobilise.

The coming night revealed another problem. When I finally managed to get a better sleep I would wake up to terrifying cold at 3am, this is when the fire was long gone together with remaining warm air and I would wake up in cold darkness.

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Try setting up your alarm clock for 3am and then get yourself to make a fire – take a piece of birch tree bark or paper, get an axe and split a log into kindling then wait for it to light up and put some larger logs in. I tell you one thing – what’s not a problem during the day is a huge issue when you’re half awake in the middle of the night.

I will tell you in advance that I still did not solve that problem and all my stay I had to wake up at night and re-fire the stove. I tried everything – from wet wood to unsplit logs, although it would yield me some extra time I have not manages to keep the fire going all night.

On the final night at the hut I was woken up by dreadful screeching sounds, I was sure that it was a bear trying to force his way into the hut, I grabbed my knife, lit the head torch and was waiting for my final battle, the battle which I would give my life a fantastic ending, I’d never get old and I would not to have to worry about my place in the world ever again. The screeching lasted for 15 minutes and then stopped. I sat awake for another hour and when I finally stepped outside the hut with first lights to see the damage I have met the one who kept me awake:)

I sent a photo to my friend and she called him Gregory:

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Meet Gregory, he is looking after the hut now.

Greg was living inside the wood chippings insulated walls of the sauna, he was very friendly and always came to see me when I was standing at the doors enjoying the cold sunny day. I miss him a lot now.

Waiting for the Northern Lights… in Muonio

I was battling for my survival in the woods with one goal in mind – being close proximity to a place where I could do my midnight photography but every night heavy frost would bring icy fox down into the valley and by 8pm one could not see a single star in the sky. I somehow realised that I’ve seen the final Northern Lights of the year 100km up North and that I won’t see them here. The next days I lived in hope but just as I thought, the weather never let me enjoy stunning views of the lights near my reclaimed hut.

I used my days hunting for wood for the night and writing this blog at a Swiss Cafe in the town of Muonio – a tiny and a really boring place.

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Muonio

A walk around Muonio would take an hour, it’s a place to a church, a few supermarkets and three boats on the river. Most people here test cars for a living. Car brands bring their creations to this region in order to see how they perform in extreme cold. This is all top-secret stuff as I was unable to even figure out where the track was, it’s a place which you can’t see on the map.

After a week of life in the hut it has become a little warmer and I decided to flee towards the South. A friend waited for me in Budapest but something was telling me that Budapest was impossibly far, I learned that on at my own expense when I started driving.

But it was time to say goodbye to the hut. I threw a final look at what’s been my home for three nights and shut the door. Inside I left a notepad with a welcome note and I’m hoping that someone will find this hut as useful as I did and I also hope to come back there one day and see many more noted in the notepad.

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And of course, I hope that Gregory is doing well there.

Towards the Southern Finland

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See the other side? That’s Sweden – where everything in different!

After a 10 hours drive I was still in Finland. Having quickly checked Torino – a place where the Swedes and the Finns wage a shopping mall war and where all of Finland seemingly comes to buy stuff I took a photo of a beautiful sunset and drove a little further to spent a night at a camp site near the town of Oulu.

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Torino

Finland just wasn’t exciting to be at the time. I really tried but it was vast and just not as exciting as Norway or even Sweden. I mean in Norway you have mountains, in Sweden you have Swedes but in Finland… in Finland I guess you’d better like fishing. And fishing for me it was not.

The next day it was finally Helsinki and after a quick walk around the frozen city I took a same-day ferry to Tallinn, something was drawing me back towards the Soviet Empire.

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Helsinki

Serge Fog (11-16 Oct 2016)

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Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights!

Nothing I have ever seen is anywhere near as fascinating an unique as the Northern Lights! It makes you wonder, it makes you wanna change your life in order to see them again… again and again!

Always unique and different, always fascinating and always… difficult to “catch” – the famous Aurora Borealis!

And came the moment to see the Northern lights. Gone is the never-ending Autumn rain and it’s become significantly colder, it’s now impossible to sleep in the car without access to an electricity outlet but we’re well rewarded with what can be seen in the skies!

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Northern Lights near Holt, Norway

 

My first sighting of this phenomenon happened as far as August in Lofoten but it’s not until now that I’ve seen the real play of light in the frozen night sky of Norway.

I was standing in freezing cold in pitch black scared to death of bears wondering around the area hunting Moose but completely fascinated by what was happening above me.

The stripes of green lights were moving very rapidly across the sky above me, sometimes faint long stripes, sometimes very bright spots, seemingly as bright as the moon. Moving fast around a NW and NE points in the sky as well as “circling” the earth all the way across from NW to SE in a long “feathery” stripe.

There are two dimensions to the light – one is the slow-moving of the “lit” area of the sky as it “crawls” east to west slowly “saturating” the invisible magnetic lines of the planet, the other – it the fast moving “wind” spreading the light along the magnetic lines. Put together these movements create succession of unique patters of Aurora lights never to be repeated!

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Looking for the spot to observe the Aurora Lights

You never know when the light will “happen”, it could be 8pm, it could be 2am, the light comes and goes as it wishes, you may spend an hour in the cold catching faint background “radiation” barely sen in the sky to then go home and see an explosion of colours in the window, you run out and the show is almost finished for the next hour… or the next 10 minutes! This is amazing – good luck trying to play with nature here! You can’t prevail, you can only be a lucky one “allowed” to see the game of light.

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Moments before fog took away my Aurora Lights!

But the fortune favours the brave and attempting to see the Northern Lights will teach you cease the moment! And most importantly, value it!

I planned to see the lights one night, agreed to drive 50 minutes North of Tromso to see them at 12am as suggested by the forecast and guess what happened? The lights could be seen in the South-West at 9pm that night and not in any other time. We spent an hour getting to watch pitch-black skies.

I planned to see the lights all night between Norway and Finland, found a high-altitude spot for clear skies, the sun was shining all day and in the evening I took this photo of me watching the lights. I did not even have a tripod as it was set up at the right position and place for taking time-lapse of the lights all night, I had all my batteries charged and ready to go and guess what happened? That’s right, after I took the first photo early in the evening the icy fog blot out the skies, I spent the rest of the night not seeing any further than my head torch’s light beam!

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Waiting for the Aurora Lights in Northern Finland

The Northern Lights keep their secrets well, they won’t open their secrets to occasional tourists, they will favour the locals who endure the tough life in the Arctics in order to be rewarded with these phenomenal displays of charged particles cutting through the planet’s atmosphere!

It’s amazing how I’m finishing this article with a couple of what are pretty lousy photos of this amazing phenomenon but in my mid live the fast moving dancing stripes of green. Our cameras get better and better and you can now see pretty good photos of the lights but the only way to really understand what you’re missing out on you’ve go to go and see it for yourself! You will never forget what you’ll witness!

(Serge Fog 1-10 Oct 2016)

PS:

To see what your chances are for seeing the Northern Lights at your latitude you may wanna note down these web sites:

http://www.tv2.no/storm/nordlys/

http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/

http://www.yr.no/

 

 

The LADA of Tromsø

You are looking at a 1973 LADA 21012 – a car not sold to private individuals in the USSR and one of only two left in Norway. Ronny, its proud owner, is all about the Soviet era and can beat any Swede with his passion towards American classic cars, Ronny drives a Soviet dream, a dream not even available in the Soviet union itself.

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The LADA is all original, everything from headlights to the tool box in the boot! Everything is just as it was back in 1973 when for reasons unknown to man the vehicle was put on a container ship and sent off to serve the Vikings.

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Ronny showing the car’s original owner’s documents, it’s 1973, guys!

I don’t think this story would ever have seen the light if not for Ronny’s obsession with the car, he’s done a very good job keeping it original.

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It’s all about simplicity

He was kind enough to take me and my friend Stina for a ride across Tromso, I immediately felt 20 years younger!

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Stina enjoying the back seat, I bet she does not get that in her BMW M3 😉

I remember the sound of the engine, the smell of petrol all around the car that used to make me feel sick when I was a small kid… the Lada 2105 I bought when I turned 20 and which exhibited pretty much all the character of this 40-year old Lada… that was an amazing day in Tromso, I’d very much like to thank Ronny for making it happen!

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(Serge Fog, 9 Sep 2016)

 

Norway – Narvik and a Day in Sweden

Narvik

Welcome to Narvik – population 20000, a place that Sweeden needs to be shipping their Kiruna steel from. A place with nothing to do except for killing time and even that would be hard to do.

I arrived to Narvik on a Friday night to learn that no bar is open until late at night and until that time I was trying to find at least something to do or see… ah I wished:) But let’s see Narvik in all its glory!

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Somewhere in Narvik

Life here revolves around the port, and the rail terminal, a third of the population here must be working on either of the two, the few others must be hunters and fishermen. I don’t really know whether it’s the weather that was the reason why I arrived to and left Narvik with this impression but with the beautiful Lofoten just a few hours’ drive away, why would you ever go here… I walked the empty streets (of a Friday night! FRIDAY NIGHT!!!) and fell asleep, the next morning was even more depressing than the night before and this was the end of Narvik for me.

Oh yes, and one day they’ll finish building the bridge, the bridge is destined to become the most significant attraction of the town!

A Day of Swedish Nostalgia

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I could not wait to go back to Tromso but while I was near Sweden I’ve decided to go there and spend a day by a like, I’ve grown to realise that I was seriously missing lakes. Norway is a beautiful country with its fjords and mountains but Sweden meats it hands down (and is beaten hands down by Finland!).

Just as I decided to head back to Tromso the skies cleared out, I headed “back” towards Kiruna along the very train line that brings iron pellets from Kiruna to Narvik, every 40 minutes or so a train whizzed passed me.

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Typical Norwegian scenery just kilometres before everything changes in Sweden

I don’t know who drew borders between countries but whoever it was he had a concept of what people of each country liked to see out of their windows. In Norway it’s are rock of old mountains, tiny streams and mountain lakes. And all of that will disappear once you cross the invisible frontier of Sweden!

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And boom – we have a forest!

In a matter of a kilometre or two the typical Norwegian landscapes are gone without a trace and are replaced by typical Swedish lakes and forests. Mountains “grow” trees on their slopes as if the God was making sure that it’s Sweden and not Norway! I can not understand how it’s possible, I mean you can be driving for hundreds of kilometers across Norway and the scenery won’t change much at all but drive passed the booth with the Swedish flag on it and you’re in a different landscape what so ever! It’s unbelievable!

That night I had the coldest bath imaginable in freezing-cold water of a Northern Swedish lake followed by what’s now is a traditional fire-brewed tea. The next morning I departed towards one of my favourite Norwegian cities – Tromsø. Along the way I’ll speak to sheep, get the car planted in quick sands of the Norwegian Sea and have it pulled out by a grim Norwegian farmer.

Stay tuned!

(Serge Fog, 3-4 Sep 2016)

Norway – From the Rolf’s Bar to Andenes

To Andenes and Beyond. I am writing these words from Tromsø, a long time since the moment when I left Lofoten, it snows in the mornings and all the beautiful views have been replaced with endless Autumn rains.

Life does not stop to wait until you’ve done what you planned to accomplish, winter will come whether you’re ready or not bringing with it the Autumn rain which will was away any foundation of what you’re yet to achieve so hurry up if you have plans, may be some of them will be accomplished;)

Leaving Lofoten

It was time to move back North towards Tromso and on the way I was planning to see the island of Andoya with it’s town of Andenes where thousands of tourists go on whale watching tours every year.

The Rolf’s Bar

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Rolf’s Bar

Somewhere near the town of Kvamsøy on a rocky beach of the Norwegian Sea There is a bar. Rolf’s Bar. You on’t find it on trip adviser, it’s a small hand-built hut with… a bar, that’s all there is to it. Norway is such an amazing place, the fact there are so few people for such a vast piece of land means those who seek setting their foot into the wilderness or building a little surfer’s asylum can do it here without a problem! I even started thinking of building my own themed hut here!

Inside is a stove, a real bar full of tools and drinks – all contributed to by visitors and this is another thing that made me feel so much in Europe… Europe that I always dreamt of and the one I have not seen! Europe as a place of charitable and kind people, who leave bottles of drinks here with notes wishing all the best to people who will get a chance to use them! This is my Europe boys and girls, the Europe which is now being destroyed but parts of it can still be found frozen into the shores of Norwegian sea!

I stayed there for a night, enjoyed the sunset and beautiful sea views. Next to Rolf’s bar there is a modern glass cube built for people who would like to spend a night by the sea and enjoy sunset. Heh, there was a young couple staying there trying to get some privacy, I and a couple from Holland who stayed next to me had the front seats:)

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Imagine your government sponsors building of these things? Here it does.

Mushroom Season in Norway

On my way from Rolf’s Bar to Andenes I stopped for a little break and a few photos and noticed a mushroom, it was a rather healthy-looking Boletus, a delicious fungi to have with fried potatoes and soured cream. I stopped for an hour and picked a few. These few have been the tiniest mushrooms I will have seen in on the trip!

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Who would have thought that for the next week I’d be eating almost entirely foraged food. Mushrooms were everywhere I looked! Large, enormous fungi! At some point I stopped picking them and started simply taking photos, I have never seen that many mushrooms in my life and I mean in my entire life put together!!!

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Another Porcini

There were Boletus, Porcinis, Penny Buns – you name them! Some almost the size of my head!

If you are ever in these placer in Aug-Sep you must read a book on edible mushrooms before you set off! Knowing what you can and, most importantly can’t pick, will make your trip more enjoyable and cheaper too!

It is here where I finally got a good use of my Finnish find – a cast iron pot! Make a fire, load the pot with ‘shrooms, butter, potatoes and an onion, wait half an hour and enjoy your meal! How do you like my “food on Instagram”?;)

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Yummmm!

Sortland

Then came Sortland – a promising-looking town, probably the largest town North of Lofoten but which later turned out to be a depressing place, I spent two days around it and I can’t find a worst place to be on the whole island of Langøya. There isn’t really even a photo to post here!

Andenes

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Andenes as seen from the shore near the lighthouse

Of course all this trip has been made for the sake of Andenes – a northern-most town in Lofoten archipelago (technically it’s not Lofoten but it really is part of the group of islands). Andenes is where people arrive in their thousands to go on whale safari and puffin watching.

Needless to say that I did not even bother with either whales of puffins. Andenes is good enough just as it is! It’s a place where an old jail has been converted into a pub, a place with an amazing iron lighthouse, a town where you can simply enjoy staying for a week walking around, doing fishing, talking to countless tourists and somewhat shy locals.

Kim

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I was at a local cafe where I noticed a lady I’ve seen before, Kim was one of the ladies I mentioned in my Viking take from my second day at Lofoten, what were the chances of meeting her here ah? It turns out Kim was a proud resident of Andenes, I enjoyed the next two days meeting her for walks and stories, she told me that she was a vintage clothes designer, now, may of you hipsters are thinking vests and beard bands, no way! Kim is a whole mile Viking clothes designer! I was seriously impressed by her sketches!

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She had a special way of seeing people in traditional clothes, she could then apply her imagination and come up with a new “traditional” design that would fit the person she’s just met!

Many designers should now feel envy of Kim’s talent. I seriously think she is one of the more talented people out there.

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Kim was a chest full of treasures. Reserved and, like many Norwegians, incredibly quiet and shy. But dig deeper and you’d be rewarded with a personal world full of ideas and talents to make those ideas happen.

The Rainbow

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I know, I know, everyone has seen a rainbow, but hey, I’m a city boy, facing something like this is a bit like seeing a unicorn for me! Each and every rainbow is a once in a lifetime vision, it won’t ever happen the same way again so if you had a chance to snatch a photo – why not enjoy int! I certainly did enjoy loads of posing while the rainbow was still being seen:)

The Iron Lighthouse

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Andenes Lighthouse

 

A big attraction at Andenes is the lighthouse made of steel, it’s a beautiful industrial-looking structure, fully automated and if you get a right position you can get a very nice photo of it in the evening (which I did not:). I kept hoping for good weather to finally get that photo taken but as they say, if you wanna make God laugh – tell him about your plans. The light house kept its beauty to itself, all I got was this time lapse which I had to glue from a few pieces as the wind kept blowing the camera off the tripod.

I  was leaving Andenes being pushed away by endless autumn rains, I did not know at the time that it was a begging of a long and very unpleasant period in my journey – the time when I’d be spending most of the days at cafes or in my car reading, the rain would not stop until well into October but at this time I did not know that, I was driving through rainy tundra hoping to soon reach Tromso and and finally see the Northern lights. What I did not know is that I was over a month away from the first sunny day in the North of Norway.

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Even the birds were leaving Norway that day

(Serge Fog 27-31 Aug 2016)

Reaching the Corporate Gravity Escape Velocity

While I was climbing the “666” something flicked in my mind and I was enlightened with an understanding of what made me so unhappy in London and its Corporate culture. For years I was made to feel that “the better is ahead of us”, that I need to endure the struggle for perfection and Corporate excellence before I’d be allowed a yet another piece of food from the Corporate feeder but most importantly – it’s being able to connect with people that the Corporate culture is so good in moderating.

A Ticket to Personal Fulfilment

No one is made to work in an office environment – office space is a modern form of slavery, it completes the matrix where people are bound to perform mandatory labour through the very structure of the society they live in. Through student loans, mortgages, educational system itself, useless and pointless laws and “trends” they are all slotted in their office chairs.

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A trip like the one I took was essential for me to realise that. It’s not like I did not know how the world works before but sometimes you need to take an obvious step to give yourself that boost of confidence that your understanding of this world is correct. It’s a little like going for an evening run to think over a deal or a major decision in life such as like buying a house – you know that you know the answer but to make that decision you just need that run.

This trip has brought me to Lofoten, a place where I am independent, where I don’t owe anything to anyone and no one owes anything to me.

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For years I was in a job earning good money but I knew 100% that I was destined for more, I knew I was more qualified than anyone around me, I knew what I lacked among what the job had to offer and as a solution of that I saw change of the job – it looked logical to me, sure thing, I graduated from two major universities to know that!

But I was wrong. The solution to getting recognition and taking what is yours is not in getting another job – another job will be just like the one you left, most likely. The solution to being unsatisfied in you workplace for years is leaving the industry. I needed to destroy the boundaries that the system imposed on me because once you’re in a matrix you will never be strong enough to leave it.

The system knows where you “belong” and won’t let you challenge that for the sake of its own integrity. Who are you? A corporate VP… no you can’t go and do that job (… “yet”) because it’s what DIRs do, and the system does not care whether you won’t wait for 6 years to do what you want and can do today.

The solution to all that is… Lofoten. I am standing at the 666m height and I no longer belong to the system. I don’t have a loan, all my belongings are the car, the cash, the clothes that I wear and the freedom – endless freedom to stand here and watch the beautiful and FREE world beneath my feet.

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It is FREE because I don’t need to pay for the mountain and anything I need to pay for does not require me being a slave to the system. Believe me, the world is a source of infinite finance, you can do so much more than what the system lead you to believe.

Just think about it, imagine you’re a senior VP in a bank and to do something you want to do the bank would expect you to do a 2-year course of something like a CFA or an MBA to become a Director… at some point just to be able to face a client…really?

Let me tell you one thing, here in the mountains I realised that to talk to a “client” all you need is to come and talk to that guy. That’s all. You don’t need to be a VP or an MD… or work for a corporation what so ever. And if what I am saying is true then the whole system is wrong. At least in the real world.

(Serge Fog, ~18 Aug 2016)