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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The night came and brought with it something that I did not expect to experience.
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.
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:
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.
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.
And of course, I hope that Gregory is doing well there.
Towards the Southern Finland
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He was kind enough to take me and my friend Stina for a ride across Tromso, I immediately felt 20 years younger!
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!
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I give to you the amazing Lofoten – islands to come to and get lost, a place to be alone and a place to discover – all at one spot in Northern Norway.
I arrived here to discover the beautiful landscapes but what actually happened to me here was far more, the exclusivity of this place makes you wonder what place you’re occupying in this world, the function you are truly destined for.
A Rainy Arrival
I arrived to Lofoten cutting through fog and rain which looked like it would last forever. This place is amazing when the sun is shining but come the rain and you can just as well spend you entire holiday indoors which is in case you live in a tent means you’ll watch your entire movie collection before it’s dry enough to roam again.
My first destination was a camp site near Ramberg, a place with a beautiful sandy beach which I could only see in its sunny glory a couple of weeks. My initial impression of Lofoten was not great.
Why do people come here? Because it’s a unique place where you can hike tops of rocky mountains without having to climb the first 3000 meters – most of the mountain is underwater and when you go up your 700 metre peak you spend most of that distance in a landscape that reminds me of very high altitudes in the Alps. Here thought it starts straight from the bottom!
The island chain itself is stunning, wherever you look you can see rough edges of mountain chains, sometime on a sunny day you will see a glacier on the other side of the fjord in continental Norway near Bodo.
I caught up with Anett, a German lady who travelled in her amazing VW California, she introduced me to a bunch of absolutely crazy Germans… the Germans that completed the image of a special kind of people that can only be found in that part of Europe -the caravan builders.
The Germans and Their Amazing “Wohnmobile”!
There are so many interesting people here, most of those you’ll meet would be tourists or locals running tourism-aligned businesses. People from all over Europe and less so rest of the world arrive by planes and hired cars but the interesting group are those who have arrived in their caravans or motor homes. Especially – you guessed it – the Germans!
Many Germans are born with a raging desire to conquer the world, they spend first half of their lives working hard to build the most amazing hard-core mobile home and the other half travelling with their family. The social statuses of those people are so diverse that I can make a sweeping statement which is likely to be true for the entire country – the Germans are born travellers.
Teachers, doctors, corporate people, downshifters, people with old inherited money – all united by the love for huge wheels of their Unimogs, Mercedeses, Iveco trucks and God knows what else that they manage to convert into a motor home.
Interestingly enough, there is a law in German motoring that exempts motor homes form emission regulations and taxes motor homes differently to other road vehicles. You gessed where I am going? That’s right – if you can sleep and stand up in your car it’s no longer a car – it’s a motor home and you can have a 12-litre military IVECO truck that you don’t need to pay as much tax for as you would otherwise, so here we go!
And kudos to the Germans for that, for putting their ingenuity into those amazing trucks, showing the rest of the world who owns the roads and who can build a German car out of a garden shed and use it to drive their families to the Arctics!
The Viking Festival
On my first day at Lofoten I managed to sneak to a Viking festival and it was an event absolutely worth seeing. I normally shy away form such events as they look fake and really are more of a show than a real traditional festival as I’d imagine it. But this festival was different.
I went there for the final closing day to see whole families of people enjoying following traditions of their ancestors, it was not commercial – it really has been that time to enjoy being “more” than just a day job person. Women were wearing traditional dresses and looked unbelievably attractive, I don’t know what’s that about traditional clothes that makes women wearing them look so beautiful I would not say for the men so those if you girls reading this – you tell me.
They all have day jobs but are members of local clubs such as archery or local viking traditions and handcraft clubs where they are keeping traditions and make stuff that they sell at festivals like this but you can feel that it’s not done for the sake of money, it’s something else.
There I met Hallvard – a bloke who looked like a real viking and I believe really was a viking, next to him was a beautiful and quiet lady Kim who was sewing a traditional dress, all were so quiet, relaxed and friendly. Kim asked me about the Sami hat I was wearing and in return told me about the special knitting style of Finns and Vikings at a time.
Those people were real in doing unreal things, I really enjoyed their company and I wish them all the best in their amazing hobbies!
The festival on its last day was more of a real viking village rather than a market stall or a festival, people got together to finally celebrate the end of the touristy part of things and relax. Some baked traditional pancakes which are, yes, you guessed it, not much different from the normal ones you’re making on your Delonghi gas hob but hey, these guys burn wood and use the mother of all utensils!
Some chatted away next to fires, everyone looked happily tired. It all looked like a good day’s night and I charged myself with positive emotions for the rest of my stay at Lofoten.
Vestre Nesland to Nusfjord
Having checked out from my first stop camp site at Lofoten I did a two hour hike from Vestre Nesland to Nusfjord which is I would say not a hike I’d recommend spending your time doing but it’s definitely worth to see Nusfjord – a small fishing town with boats and fish drying racks, no good cafes or shops here but it’s really beautiful and you get to see a film on importance of fishing industry for the place, it’s a little graphic for the vegans among you but others should be okay:)
After the movie we’ve enjoyed a little museum which must have been made by the community.
They collected key features and elements that went along the fishing industry of the days long gone. The beautiful floating glass balls wrapped in hand-knitted nets used to keep edges of fishing nets afloat.
We hiked across rough and rocky banks of the fjord, the most interesting parts of which were in the beginning and in the end of the walk. The “sheepses” looked at us with a question in their eyes, they don’t run away from you here like the do in England, they just stand there and watch, you could kick one if you wanted to:)
The town itself is a beautiful small harbour full of little fishing boats… and seagulls!
On the way back I collected my phone which stood atop of a hill overseeing Vestre Nesland recording a timelapse of clouds above and slow life below.
Å – A Bakery Town
It was time to say goodbye and Anette went here way and I went mine – to the South.
Cross every bridge and tunnel of Lofoten islands chain and you will arrive to Å a small town living up to its small name. But it is full of picturequities – beautiful wooden boats moored on the fjord:
But it is also known for the most amazing bakery in Norway where they still use wood as fuel for baking the amazingly tasty and expensive pastries. Maybe it’s the proximity of mountains that makes these pastries so yummy or maybe it’s the fact they each one of them will set you back over 3 Euro:)
But it’s worth it, its very tasty and the coffee there is good too! But buy more than you think you need because outside you will be greeted by sparrows which are totally unafraid and will easily deprive you of any bread you have for them…
And most importantly, Å is a home for the coolest outdoor collection of model ships I’ve ever seen!
Reinebringen and the Height 666
I’m standing at the Reinebringen, actually, further up at a 666m peak sticking straight out of the sea, a naked mountain that you won’t see anywhere below 3500m and yet here, you do the challenging hike straight from the bottom, from the first steps up the steep rocky face of the cliff you know this is not something that anyone can do.
When I reached the first peak I realised that some things are more challenging than what you’d think but then came the other peak, just 80 meters higher… and 45 minutes away, then another one, another 100 meters and more than an hour’s hike…. and then… you stop. You are now alone!
There are no trails, no dotted line on the map, no French tourists showing off with their Quechua hiking gear… just you and the Mountain. It is suddenly very quiet, so quiet that you’re afraid to make a sound, you’re standing there on the edge of a cliff thinking that you are the only one now who’s responsible for anything you do from now on. No one would come to help you if you fell… but no one tell you not to make a step further either!
And this is the key – you are the only one responsible for you every next step in life, whoever tell you you can not do it is a fake self-proclaimed God, it is those people who should never be listened to. I would never be standing here if I read the signs saying that it’s dangerous and not recommended. Who are they to tell me that? I can make my own call and turn back any time I want, same with life – why should I listen to trisk-averse lunatics or corporate slaves who dictate to me how I should live my life. Only man-made objects may be guarded and have limited access to them – items of natural origin and people can not and must not be contained and have access to them restricted. Those who think otherwise will never climb this unnamed peak. The magic and challenging metre 666.
This peak was the first mountain that made me seriously scared for my dear life, it’s that place where you know that if a trail point “that way” it does not mean that it was deemed safe by a regulated hiking society or anything like that… that only means that a few daring chaps like yourself have chosen to take that route and it is exactly like it is in life – nothing that does not present a risk or that leads to a place where everyone else can easily go will bring you anywhere interesting. And most importantly it won’t bring you anywhere you will feel that you’re fulfilling your purpose. It’s a simple rule.
And when I was coming back from the mountain, late in the evening I felt frost on my skin and I realised that I have become… “more”. Or “uber” as Germans would say (and sing in their anthem not so long ago:) I have definitely become “more” than my own self, I have conquered my fears, my habits, my physical weakness at the face of a great strength of nature. It did not make me any less venerable so falling off that cliff would hurt equally as bad before or after the hike but something has changed in my body and my perception of reality at this stage.
I no longer felt cold or hunger, I saw my body from the “outside”, from an elevated point, I could feel exactly how my body was using carbs to produce energy to kep itself warm, I did not feel cold or hungry, I only felt how much time I had food left for, I could control my body’s fears of being cold and hungry – two major dangers when you’re outdoors. Maybe this is part of what people call “enlightenment”, in which case it’s a surprisingly simple and yet a different to attain state of mind. We are dominated by the fears that our own bodies induce, we have evolved this way because those who did not fear hunger starved to death and did not live to these days but over time the fear for our own selves has dominated our lives more and more, we became manically dependent on the habit of feeling fed, warm and comfortable and this habit slowly turned us into unhappy people.
What I’ve grown to realise in Lofoten and the trip prior to me arriving here is that it’s not being fed that makes us feel happy, in fact there Finns have a proverb that basically says that “Happiness is a place between times of little and plenty” and I think they are right.
You can never be happy if you do same routine every day and the temperature in your car is always set to 21.5. No. Today it rains and it’s cold and you feel sad, you can’t do certain things and it’s supposed to be that way because tomorrow the sun will come out and make you happy, it won’t be able to fulfil its purpose if you managed to abstract yourself from weather. Remember – you are sad for a reason, that reason being is that you need to feel sad sometimes and the answer to that is not to make yourself feel less sad today – it is in finding happiness tomorrow.
Kvalvik to Kvalvika – and the Hidden Beaches of Lofoten
Next day I did I spend licking my wounds, writing these words and the day after I decided to endure on a simple hike to Kvalvik – a hidden beach in the south of Lofoten islands and most importantly – take a shower afterwards!
It’s hard to find a place to take a shower in Lofoten if you aren’t staying at a camp site or a hotel so I had to go t o a camp site where I had a good relationship with the bloke running it. Not that that made the shower free – you just can’t take it otherwise.
Let me tell you what a shower at a Lofoten camp site looks like:
You can’t have it if you aren’t staying at the site
There is a coin machine that dispenses somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes of personal hygene goodness for every 10NOK – if you don’t have 10 NOK crowns – you’re walking back dirty.
The only other option is washing yourself at the sea which depending on the time of the year may be cold… very cold.
But first came the beaches!
Lofotens are full of beautiful hidden beaches. There are no roads you could take there so you’d have to hike carrying all you need with you. When you arrive you are rewarded by amazing views of untouched nature: shallow ocean waters splash on the beautiful light sandy beaches. I had that feeling of… exclusivity that I described you when I was taking about Reinebringen. The feeling of having taken a path that only selected few have endured.
Kvalvik isn’t just a pretty beach, it isn’t only a gate to the ocean – it is an asylum of ice-loving surfers, a place that bears the story of a surfer who used drift wood to build a shelter under a massive stone on the beach, he managed to have lived there for over six months surfing. You really need to come to Lofoten in mid-Autumn to know what an achievement he has done.
There are carcasses of sea gulls and other birds scattered across the beach which really makes you wonder about the value and fragility of life.
I went to Kvalvik then to Kvalvika (the two are connected by a tiny trail) and then across the mountain valley to a small village of Markelva from which there was another hour and a half of walking to my car… a five hour hike after all:)
In Markelva I noticed a car with a Russian registration plate, I nodded my head and continued my hour’s walk towards Sebastian. The significance of that Russian car will show in the rest of my story about Southern Lofoten.
That night I spent in Ramberg, enjoying the feeling clean after a 4.5 minutes long hot shower! The skies were beautifully stitched with yellow and purple clouds which as it later turned out brought 5 hours of rain the morning after.
Coming back to Reine next afternoon after what must have been an endless morning rain which kept me in my car reading a book about geological expeditions looking for traces of gold in Northern Russia I stopped at a place with a table and a nice view to make some food and it is there where I noticed the same car from the “40” region of Russia – that’s where I met Andrey.
He was a quiet young man in his late 20s completely in love with Norway and especially Lofoten. In his day to day life he could not be further away from being exposed to Scandinavia but in his heart he loved it.
Let me explain to you what is so special about that guy. Andrey is the last viking. A true follower of this lost and dying European world. He knows what is “true”… he is, I would say, on the right side of the truth. Few of us are these days, we adjust our principles to the situation in order to fare better off in the society… no so much Andrey.
With Andrey we went to Munken and Veroy – a beautiful island south of A.
Munken is a local peak just opposite the hight 666 that I’ve already told you about. They are almost the same height with Munken being a 797 but you can’t actually get to the very top pf Munken without climbing gear and skills so we can call them even.
Munken on the other hand is a long hike that exhausts you not through its complexity but its longevity, it’s a long and wet path up… and down… and then up again. En-route you will walk passed a hut that belongs to the Norwegian Hikers’ association – it’s a club that builds these huts across the country and is the club you wanna be a member of. Why? Because if you missed the good old day of building societies in the UK this is as close as it get to being part of something great! It’s like if AA had huts all across the country that you could stay in!
They build huts, shelters, stuff them with emergency food, gas canisters, everything you need in the mountains. If you are a member then you will enjoy hiking as never before! I’m not a member that’s why I have to carry my teapot with me all the time:)
Speaking of the teapot, upon arrival I made tea atop of the mountain, a tradition which is now strong in me. You get best tea after you carried the teapot, water and wood up the mountain and then you don’t have to carry it back:)
We arrived to our camp late in the evening, caught a sea bass, chopped wood for the fire to fry him…
all at around 11pm having woken up a girl who was trying to get a good night’s sleep and who had to spend the night by the fire just because she did not have a chance of falling asleep anyway:) I’m sorry, Johanne, you’ve been a great company and the gift from you we discovered in the morning!
Just before going to bed that night I looked up in the night sky and saw what I knew straight away was Aurora Borealis! The Northern lights I finally saw, the Northern Lights for which Liz and I went to Svalbard but which despite the right weather we have not seen!
The Northern Lights in all their magnificence, despite the bright August sky, despite the wrong angle to the sun… the locals don’t even expect to see them in this time of the year!
And yet, I was still standing there absolutely silent admiring the fading stripe on the dark-blue sky. I shouted: “Andrey, the Northern Lights!!!” and it’s then when we started running around with our cameras. I took a few lousy photos but that no longer mattered – I achieved the purpose of my trip – I understood something, something I needed this trip for and something that would not have come to me if not for the lights and the mountains.
I knew this journey was over. It has come to its purposeful end.
And yes, the travel will continue and I will go and see more things but the journey… the journey ends here and a new one begins, one with goals, hard work but all that hard work will now be done for a very worthy reason!
The Next Day was going to start early, we were going to the Verøy island!
Sorland village as seen from the mountains of Veroy
Værøy is a municipality and an island south of Lofoten island chain and it it part of Lofoten. A magnificent place which to me will be remembered through just one thing – it’s got a mountain chain in the middle of the island and is oriented in such a way that you get the sun in the village of Sørland in such a way that during the day the village is basking in the sun but come early evening – you’d need to be on the other side of the mountain to continue enjoying it!
The big-mouthed ferry collected us at Moskenes and slowly advanced towards Værøy, it’s there where I first appreciated the beauty of Lofoten islands. Seen from aside they look like a wood saw with their sharp irregular peaks with clouds hiding between them.
This place must produce super humans – people who walk across a 450m ridge to continue drinking their beer just because the sun had moved there!
We wanted to hike the mountain atop of which there was a NATO object and then continue along the ridge of the mountain towards its other peaks and after having missed our chance to hitch-hike all the way in a comfy Unimog which was bringing supplies to the station we continued on foot along the steepest slope we could find. An hour and a half later we were at the top overseeing the old village which is what it’s all started from and which is now abandoned.
The water wasn’t blue… it was a shade of jade, you’d think it’s the Caribbean islands.
Having had a tea this time made by Andrey we moved on and checked in at the next peak just 40 minutes later. We really wanted to go and visit the old village but it looked too far away and we were unable to find a trail to get down the mountain so we had a long break at a local peak.
All this time we could see massive eagles circling above us, their wingspan must have been over two meters wide, they seemingly never had to use their wings catching rising hot air thermals. What magnificent birds they are!
I could not stop admiring nature being so near me and the feeling that wild things don’t try to run away the second they notice my presence – no, they just look at you and get on with what they were up to before and then you think that yes, they are the ones in charge here, you are just a little human being and for now they’re not interested.
We arrived back to the village, bought two cans of beer each that completely knocked us off our feet and we spent the evening scavenging for items that the sea brought ashore at the harbour, there was so much space everywhere, so much space to just run around and have fun!
But the sun quickly hid behind the mountain followed by the beer-drinking locals and we headed back towards the big-mouthed ferry. That evening the moon took the relay stick from the Northern Lights having shown us the true magnificence of its full body.
Andrey snatched a great photo of a fishing boat in moonshine and I was quietly admiring the sun setting behind Lofotens where we were heading.
Henningsvær and the Heimoya Island
We shook hands with Andrey who went on his non-stop 2400km way back to Moscow and I stayed. I felt like having a few “local” days which basically means staying at a town writing this blog and enjoying small walks as opposed to conquering the mountains.
The nearest town was Henningsvær – a small but amazingly beautiful fishermen’s village and unlike many touristy towns it was full of youths! Yes, it was time to mingle with the young.
Yes, back are hipster cafes with REAL hipsters! I mean these boys had beards long before it’s become a trend and they can get a 10-kilo cod out of water no problem at all… and kill it! tell me if I missed any of the skills London’s hipsters are capable of!
But if you think that the hipster-most Cafe has WiFi then think again – they have beer that costs 99 NOK…. 99 fucking NOK!!! This is over 10 Euro! But they don’t have WiFi so I’m writhing this from a magic cafe where there aren’t any bearded men but there are beautiful women making candles and believe me you wanna read about that too!
Henningsvær lives fishing, it is a few islands large with the main one, Heimoya hasting the town and the rest being fishermen’s base camps. Such a beautiful place though – the beauty of it is in the fact that it’s not been built (rebuilt) like this for the sake of tourists, far from that – it’s a living town with everything you can see and touch here being REAL and being USED for what it was originally intended for.
Fishing boats are fishing boats, the fish processing factory is… a fish processing factory and so on and so forth! Brilliant! I guess they have not yet discovered that they could turn this whole place into an expensive and pointless museum for rich old German tourists amd make more money that way.
I stayed in a tent for a few nights, what a horrible place to sleep. I thought sleeping in the car was bad but the tent was even worse. The place is in the winds at all time and hell yeah if it rains as well the tent just gives up. This is a place where you realise that there are reasons why “good” tents cost you big bucks!
I also hiked the local peak – Festvågtinden is 541m high and if you choose to go there then in less than an hour you’ll see a beautiful chain of islands below you, just do it, don’t ask:)
Lysstoperiet – The Candle-Making Cafe
There is a cafe in the streets of Henningsvær, walk in and you may mistaken it for a candle shop because it is one! In fact – the candle shop is where it was all started by Line Marie.
…Started as a getaway project, something to break away from a vicious circle of daily routine and which has grown into an amazing coffee shop where, if you’re lucky, you can see candles being made. You can of course buy anything you see on the walls which will put you face to face with the choice of choosing the colour you want and here it’s not easy… not at all!
Nothing is as cool as having freshly-made candles on the walls – all for you to admire, buy or secretly touch when no one is looking:)
In the middle of the shop is Benta – a very serious-looking young lady who’s pouring hot wax into moulds, cutting wicks, dong it all as if it’s her second nature. All that chaos at the background is her world and she knows every square inch of it by heart! I’m sure I could switch the lights off for a while and when the light returned to this room she’d be making candles as if nothing had happened!
Step outside and yet again it looks like any other cafe, a cafe with a hidden candle-lover’s paradise!
I left the cafe, it was time for me to move back up North and see the rest of the islands.
P.S. Dry Stock Fish
No story about Lofoten is complete without mentioning their prime industry – dried Cod!
Economically Lofoten is a collection of family-owned businesses scattered across the islands all doing the same thing for hundreds of years – fishing cod – local stock fish. They set for the sea in Feb-March throw their lines in and they pull out 50 million kilograms of it each year!
The fish is dried in the open air – heads and tails separately, the tails then end up on the European market (Portugal) and the heads sail for Africa where in some countries they are a historical delicacy and are used to make soup. I believe thy mainly ship those to Nigeria.
This year some heads did not sell and I could see them still hanging on drying racks near the town of Moskenes.
The drying racks take tremendous space, they can be seen everywhere here and I can only imagine just how beautiful this place is in March when all fish is out.
I believe fishing brings loads of cash to local businesses, you can buy it in supermarkets here and boy does it cost! 8 or so Euro for a small packet of dried protein, I guess fishing is no worse then investment banking here so next time your boss says that you should feel privileged to work for the firm, keep in mind that there are fishermen in Lofoten who are most likely much better off not having a boss like that;)
I find their connection to fish fascinating, it’s somewhat so primordial, so basic and yet you see that you can be very well off doing what your farther and their fathers have been doing for years before you.
So much needs to be said about Tromsø – a northern Norwegian town, a place deep in the Arctic where oil engineers, construction builders, marine biologists and people from all sorts of interesting walks of lives live together.
Tromsø is somewhat special, it’s a unique place where Arctic nature battles warm waters of gulf stream creating a unique place for people to exist and those who exist here are special too!
The town has drawn into its nets fishermen, oil drillers, satellite engineers and adventure seekers from all over the world. This is a truly special place but to see that you need to break away from the swarms of tourists flooding its main harbour.
Tromsø meets me with cold rain that lasted forever. It is in the region of 12 degrees in its warmest month of the year, my whole life gets wet and starts to shiver and guess what the locals do? Right, they’re taking their dogs for a walk… without rain coats and without umbrellas! Basically, the only place where I saw an umbrella here was a souvenir shop. If you need an umbrella when it rains Tromsø is not a place for you.
It is in this rain where I met a lady called Stina who draws and paints the most amazing Arctic scenes and animals I have EVER seen!
And you need to know her story. A few years ago her life has been put upside down and in another person it would lead to a drama but not with Stina. She could not to what she loved most – be outdoors, active, fish and hunt, she had to spend a year at home and most would have given up at this point but Stina takes a pencil in her hand and she draws the most amazing looking lion portrait! She joins an art gallery and starts selling her paintings and drawings which depict wild life and nature of the Arctic.
The thing here is that Stina unlike most artists have actually seen this wild life, she’s not someone who’s sitting in his tiny room in Paris drinking Absinth getting inspirations for his creations in cocaine-infused dreams – Stina has seen all the wildlife she paints for real! Well, maybe apart from that lion but the lion is so realistic and stunning because in his eyes you see the look of a wild animal – something that Stina is no stranger to.
So if you are in Tromsø – try visiting Galleri Nord, it’s right next to Radisson Blu and the post office, just say hi from Serge and Stina will open the door into the fascinating frozen world of huskies, Arctic foxes, northern lights and the amazing polar bears which will look at you as if they are about to jump off the sheet of paper! It’s worth it, believe me.
The Magic of Tromsø
Tromsø lives according to vibrations of Arctic life and the industries that make it. Tell me, what makes Paris or London? I’ll tell you – nothing – millions of people all doing things which are of little or no importance to this world, even the smell of freshly baked bread no longer makes a statement because English bread is baked in massive bakeries somewhere behind a wire fence in Midlands.Our biggest cities are melting pots with nothing of taste there. Not Tromsø!
Tromsø wakes up to the sounds of fishing boats departing its harbours, seagulls seem to command this process.
First planes land at the airport, jets that take people from Oslo but most importanty small propeller planes connecting smaller regional centres. Come to the airport in the morning and walk out, passed taxis, to a petrol station and look around yourself? This is not Heathrow with its 5 terminals of wired fence, armed police with search dogs and plastic bags for liquids over 100ml – Tromsø airport is guarded by the mighty mountains with their snow caps, glaciers and all-seeing hawks.
Just stay there and see a plane land, if it’s a propeller plane you shall hear it’s chopping sound long before it approaches, if it’s a jumbo jet it will seem to dwarf the entire airport! And if you are lucky, Norwegian military pilots will fly their machines a hair above the watch tower – that’s what happened to me and it was amazing! We are the one here and we are all connected through our deeds and through our ties with the Arctics.
Tromsø is a really busy city during the long days of short summers – everything that needs building or fixing has got to be built and fixed before winter binds everything in ice. So central Tromsø reminded me of what I think the 1955 Berlin looked like – not quite 1945 but still rebuilding:)
You see, if you look at what makes up Tromsø you’ll see ruined roads, industrial-style infrastructure and peeling house paint battered by ice and Arctic winds, all these things don’t look particularly pretty but then it is so extreme that it becomes the “beauty” in itself!
There are no cobalt stone roads where they used a nail file to assure the perfect fit of things together. Everything is build to last… a winter or two but it’s also built so that you can survive that winter! These things aren’t pretty by any stretch of imagination but then once you’ve been here long enough this becomes the new style!
I spent a few amazing days in this town, waking up and falling asleep to the sound of massive ships, cruise liners, fishing trawlers and cargo ships – they all remind you of who owns the Northern seas!
There are a few things you need to know in Tromso:
Alcohol is ridiculously expensive, expect to pay North of 8 Euro for a glass of beer in a bar and you won’t pay less than 10 Euro for the same in a restaurant. But, if you manage to figure it out you’ll find out that once a week there is a cheap beer day here, but I won’t tell you where exactly;) Cheap means you pay 7 Euro for a pint of local lager – not bad, maybe you’ll even have spare coins to buy one for a pretty lady of which there are many here.
Car traffic is insane, there are seemingly no rules apart from that you need to give way to cars on your right! This means you may be driving down a wide open road and some idiots joining from a residential street with 30kph speed limit will drive into you at full speed, just because they consider themselves being on your right. There are few signs and no road markings (snow!).
Same drivers won’t ever let you join a line of traffic, I think there is a different concept of politeness here. If it’s their way they won’t move an inch to let you in.
You’re somewhere nice taking photos, someone pulls up next to you, opens a book and reads it while keeping his engine running! They are immune to noise here! The reason – I guess you do it in winter.
People will come and talk to you. They will just come forward, tell you what has just happened to them like they’ve seen a trout or a fox and then walk away before you had a chance to say anything back. I actually quite liked this Northern way. Samis are especially big in this.
The coolest thing about the way they speak it when they say “Yeah” they do it on both the exhale and the inhale… if you hear the “inhaling yeah” this means they’re particularly approving something.
I spent long hours walking up and down the steep streets of the town and could not get enough of it, but at the same time I was not sure that living here permanently would be a great idea, it is beginning of August and I can already feel cold bites in the evenings.
A Story of Two Guys and 5 Fishes
I was at the harbour taking this timelapse, actually watching the camera while it does the job, I still can not get used to the fact that people don’t steal here. And while I walked around the pier a man approaches me and starts saying something. Having discovered that I don’t speak Norwegian he continues in English like no problem at all. His narrative is about the thee massive salmons he’s just seen off the cape, he describes the sizes and where exactly he’d seen them… then walks away.
Another day I was by a bridge washing my shoes in the river, another man approaches me speaking Norwegian then switches into English telling me… that he’s just sen two massive fishes “right there”, one of them was a big cod and the other – a smaller salmon. The man finishes his story with the concern over the fact that there is no lock on the river and that tide brings sea water in, I mentioned that it’s probably an expensive project and the man replies with a phrase which made me really wonder about my entire previous life in Britain… he says “… but it’s only the money”!
You see, when something is done in Britain they’d write about it in such a way “We have just completed building a 20’000’000 GBP dam”, or “we’ve just invested 3bn into healthcare”, they don’t even know what exactly has been done – what the dam was built for or how many people they treated with those 2bn in healthcare – they only think MONEY!
Not so much in Scandinavia and I love it! Thee people think good deeds, for them money is “just money”.
For the Boys… and Scandinavian Girls!
There’s one place you should go to, it is a 160 year old fishing and hunting shop called Andersens Vaabenforretning and it is simply a fantastic man’s den! This is the place where you can get anything for your fishing or hunting needs but also it’s where you can buy a true Norwegian knife!
…and a Swedish Axe! Yes, a Swedish axe which I could not find anywhere in Sweden!
Is it expensive? You betcha! But an axe or a knife is only an equivalent of 12 glasses of beer… do you now see why they all drive Teslas?
The Two Amazing Nights
Tromsø is so affected by the Arctic climate that you never know whether you’re about to see Northern Lights, be snowed under or end up in a cloud – this is what happened to me.
One evening I experienced a stunning sunset, the other – a cloud descended from the mountains and completely blot-out the city! The town was cocooned in thick and very humid fog… but make no mistake this isn’t fog, it’s a real cloud and inside of this could amazing things happen. I walked across the bridge that connects Tromsø with the mainland and I could not resist to grab some dripping water from the bridge’s railings, have you drank a cloud? Well, I have.
And I’m sure if you stay here for longer you will write a book about the weather, it really does have so much influence on Tromsø.
What else can I say about Tromsø – it’s an industrial town, it’s rough around the edges, you won’t get a frappuccino here and if you will then you won’t have enough money left for your Norwegian knife.
Clubbing… forget about clubbing here, it’s not what you’ve seen in London.
Life here is tough, traffic is insane, people are rough… and unpredictable, the weather is rough… and unpredictable… but
But if you see beyond all this you will find real people, the people who fell victims of natural selection in fake worlds of London, Paris, New York… you won’t ever come back to them because their religion will no longer make sense.
It’s only here where you can see what your real self looks like, it’s here where the strength of your character will expose yourself and you will be given that one chance in life to meet real people at the real place called Tromsø.
It was time to leave Kiruna and move up North, as much as I enjoyed staying in Sweden I could not afford spending the rest of summer by an iron mine:) The North Cape was waiting for me. The road was taking me through the seemingly endless Swedish tundra with landscapes filled with small twisted birch trees, neolithic stones and the reindeer. The North started to slowly seem less romantic and more grim.
The Grim North.
There is certainly romance to the North, it’s a beautiful and quiet world where a man can truly enjoy freedom, this is the wild wild west of Europe but it’s also an incredibly challenging place to live. Majority of settlements are built around some form of a mine or an energy producing plant and there is little in terms of entertainment, you’ve got to like wild camping, hunting and fishing… and I do like all those things but it’s here where I realised that it’s no longer something you can have a hobby, it is now a way of life. You wanna eat – you go fishing or shoot tings, you wanna have some free time or entertain yourself – you go fishing or shoot things. You wanna take a lady for a romantic date – you take her to a river to do fishing… or how here how to shoot things. But then the’s just as likely to be able to show you how to do those things.
That afternoon I crossed the border into Finland, the road takes you to a narrow strip of land that belongs for the nation of people more closely related to Hungarians than the rest of Scandinavia.
But what’s most interesting is that this strip of land is Finnish for a reason. You see, the Finns were looking for the flat bits of scenery in the region… and they found it! It’s as if they were making sure there are no mountains in Finland and they fought fierce wars with the Swedes and the Norwegians for those flat bits:) And flat they are! Sand dunes and the absence of rock which have been there just a few kilometres prior to the Finnish border.
I am amazed just how much difference borders between countries make, it’s not like in Asia or Africa where borders are straight lines drawn on maps by the colonists!
Finland was supposed to last a few hours, it lasted two days, I spent a night by a lake battling mosquitoes and emerged incredibly wounded from that battle. But it was worth it since I found a place to bathe Sebastian, we washed the air suspension springs – something that you should don on an air-suspended vehicle once in a while if you want it to last you longer.
The next day I roamed the sand dunes for hours in search or reindeer antlers… which I ended up buying at a Sami village in Norway a few days later:)
I don’t know where I have been but what I’ve been seeing instead were deer bones, whether those were left by hunters, the bears or whether it’s what’s left of deer that naturally passed away I do not know but it looked creepy… and yet, no antlers!
Firstly Norway seemed similar to Sweden with largely empty and abandoned monumental imperial buildings but these quickly gave way to much more down to earth fishing huts and Sami villages.
Back are the old rocky mountains, the wild rivers and fishermen fly-fishing at every turn of those graceful streams. Mind you, just an hour’s drive south in Finland there are warm sandy lakes and none of this!
The rest of the landscape is, I believe, Tundra – short trees, weeds, poor vegetation and few animal species, it is getting increasingly colder, +15 is the new daily average.
For the Boys
Gone are the Finnish scary front lights used to blind moose and deer, enter the world of fishing rods. They are attached to the car! Yes, they have a special cup on the bonnet where the handle slots in and a little t-shaped holder on top of the car! I have never seen this way of transporting fishing gear in my life. And given that most Norwegians drive massive 4x4s I can’t see why not place those things inside!
It is here where after seeing more traces of Sami that I’ve realised that here there is no Finland, Sweden or Norway… it’s all Sami land! White people arrived and fought each other to call these places their names but in reality it is the Sami who truly own these lands. You can feel their presence everywhere, the further up North you go the less influence of the western civilisation and Sami culture revels itself.
Reindeer antlers are on every building, the Tipis are everywhere. It looks a little bit like gypsy settlements but with a completely different cultural background.
The most interesting thing I found is that the Tipis are actually permanent structures. I always thought that Samis carry them around as they migrate but they only keep the skins while wooden “skeletons” are kept in place and they gear them up as they arrive.
This is a lot like the Pilgrims’ artefacts I’ve seen in Southern France – migrating people don’t randomly move around, they have set paths they follow for generations and I’m sure it stands true for Samis as well. I have later spoken to one of them and he described how they migrate North for summers and South for winters, the migration path is around 200km long. He told me how glaciers melt away closing migration maths they’ve known for years but I liked his attitude towards change, he saw it as part of life… I really liked it.
He invited me into his Tipi:
it was a combination of a family lodge and a small souvenir shop, many Samis trade deer hides, antlers and hand-made traditional items.
I waved a goodbye to this lovely place, it was time to go to the North Cape and the weather did not look promising.
(Serge Fog, 24-27 July 2016)
Let me show you how to explore your inner self through seeing the world differently!