Monday, 18 August 2008

... and a big thank-you to Margaretha and John

I'd also like to say a big thank-you to Margaretha Danbolt Simons and John Hart for an unforgettable stay.

Of course, I wouldn't have been here if two years ago John hadn't asked Janet if we were English cyclists when we met on the ferry to Leka in Norway.

At the time, John asked if I was learning Norwegian - and then introduced his travelling companion Margaretha as the author of the Teach Yourself Norwegian book I was listening to just before he came over to us!

The rest is history... but a stay at her summerhouse is an unmissable experience, with lots of laughter and fun, scintillating conversation, and a years' worth of new literary recommendations to work through now. Something to store away and recall in the dark and gloomy winter months ahead of us in the UK, I think!

p.s. - This time it's a big picture, if you want to click through to the original rather than peering at the thumbnail.

I'm on my way home!


Just time to write a quick note to say I'm on a big container ship in Brevik waiting for it to slip its lines and sail to Immingham in the UK, which it should reach on 20 August at 0200 - then I join the family in Cornwall for the last part of the summer holiday by the beach.

Thanks for all your emails and comments, it's been great to be in touch with you. Ubiquitous internet connectivity and mobile phone coverage have changed travel forever - no more delight at finding post restante mail waiting after weeks of news blackout, but on the plus side I've never been lonely or short of something to read from you all!

They are pulling the lines in now and the engines are rumbling - can feel a surge of excitement in my cabin high on the superstructure at the back of the ship. Shortly I will be literally out of radio contact as the mobile signal falls away but this won't be the last post, watch out for more photos and conclusions soon!

Best regards,
Jerry

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Time to reflect...


I've been in Strömstad in Sweden for several days. This pleasant seaside spa town is famous for enjoying more sunshine than anywhere else in Sweden. It's some 135 km from Oslo, and makes a popular day trip destination for the Weegies. They can catch the Color Line ferry from Sandefjord which docks here to buy all of the expensive things at home much more cheaply abroad.

It reminds me a little of Cowes on the Isle of Wight at home, with its many yachts, small boats, and white wooden buildings. In high summer, it is crowded with tourists, but we are now in the second week of August - the schools are re-opening, the crowds have gone, and the town is noticeably quieter.

By some miracle, I managed to get a room at the very lovely Crusellska STF hostel in the oldest part of the town. The large, cream-coloured building dates from 1827 and was run as a health spa for many years by its owner, Doctor Bernhard Crusell. Today the white fluffy dressing gowns and complementary white house slippers are still very much in evidence, along with wicker furniture and well-tended pot-plants, because the new owners run it similar lines, offering short stays for guests wanting a bit of pampering. I'm not booked on any treatment courses, but it does make for a wonderfully relaxed setting to bring the diary up to date in, and to turn over the experiences of the last two and a half months. Ultimately I'll be here until Margaretha and John fly back to Oslo from their trip to Finnmark and can welcome me to Margaretha's summer house in Stavern. At that point I'll join the returning day trippers on the ferry back to Norway.

Friday, 8 August 2008

A ride along the Klarälvsbana


Another unexpected and rewarding discovery this week has been the Klarälvsbana, a fifty-five mile asphalt-surfaced cycle route from Hagfors to Karlstad that follows the line of an old railway track. It's flat, and very pleasant to cycle along.

No expense spared - they have even put white stripes down the side for the visually impaired, and they mark the edges of the track with reflective posts when it travels over an embankment (which I suppose one might conceivably need on a dark winter night). The money came from the EU, and the project was completed last year. It isn't seeing a huge amount of use yet, summer traffic seems to be about 30-40 cyclists each day past the cafe at the half-way mark, but I'm sure it will build when word spreads, because it's an excellent car-free route between the two areas.

There are a couple of campsites beside it, and free camping is a possibility too. They've even built little composting toilets at each five kilometre mark, with fly-proof screens and toilet paper too!

Once I've got the tent up, I can relax...

Once I've got the tent up, I can relax...

Saw this big brother version of our tentipi at Räda Camping near Hagfors. I'm not sure how portable it is, but it would be great for a large group of you on tour...

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Someone else on a bicycle!

This is a rare event, considering the number of miles clocked up here in Sweden. After days and days of riding in isolation from Stockholm along the Sverigeleden I meet another cyclist, heading in the opposite direction!

The scenery behind our bikes is fairly typical of this part of Varmland between Fredrikstad and Hagfors - the road just keeps climbing and falling, and it is rainy and cool. The pine trees form a pretty impenetrable barrier beside the road, and beyond them the ground is often either swamp or rocks and tree roots. On the plus side, there's very little traffic, and cars and lorries give cyclists a wide berth.

And it is very, very quiet.

Janine tells me I'm the first person she has talked to for some time, and that I am the only cycletourist she has seen here (same goes for me).

She has been riding for three or four weeks from Trondheim towards Stockholm, and we had a lot to talk about. I could tell her that her endless days of pine trees, hills, and lakes are nearly over - just 120 km to go to the rich farmlands of Dalarna - and she could warn me about endless days of pine trees, hills and lakes ahead for me! We both stopped early yesterday as the rain intensified into a gale (much damage here in Sweden). But whilst I was tucked up in front of a wood burning stove writing my diary in a holiday chalet at Säfsen, Janine was once again lying in a wet tent for most of the afternoon, listening to branches creaking ominously above her tent in the storm.

So one salient difference is that she's been wild camping for weeks at a time, with just a dip in a perfectly silent lake to look forward to at the end of each day. And she drinks her water from lakes and churchyard taps - one tough cookie! I'm not quite ready to embrace discomfort for days at a time, but maybe I should really throw myself into the feral lifestyle now, when I've got just a few weeks to go? This is after all the ideal place to go really wild, there's no-one else around for miles.

In the end, Hagfors was going to be my final destination for the day because it's the only town of any size along this stretch of road. It is raining again, but this time I'm in a sizable but cheap three-room apartment close to the Tourist Information office, which is apparently the closest thing the town has to a hostel. I haven't seen much of the town yet, but I plan to go out for a wander when the rain stops later ... correction, if the rain stops later...

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The rain has finally caught up with me ...

After two weeks of browning my knees in the scorching Swedish sunshine, I'm now back in my rain gear again.

I'm trying to ride towards Arvika to find out about opportunities for a canoe holiday there next year, but the rain is falling in sheets today, so I am going to make a short 40km dash from Borlänge, where I have stayed overnight in the luxurious but very reasonably priced First Hotel, to the youth hostel at Grangärde at the top of Lake Väsman to the west.

Thursday and Friday were spent in a prison cell in Falun, home of Sweden's copper mining industry and its second city for many hundreds of years until the mine collapsed in the late 17th century. Fortunately the prison is now a Youth Hostel, so I had the key to my room, but nevertheless I didn't enjoy the experience - clanging cell doors at all hours, and five sets of locks to get through each time I left the place. I prefer Roar's approach, no locks whatsoever anywhere. Falun was well worth the time spent there though - apart from the huge pit left by the mine, it's a beautiful historic town in its own right and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

I was also able to use Falun as a base for a day ride to Carl and Karin Larson's house at Sundborn, which will remain a highlight of the trip for me. I found the tour very moving. The house was so beautifully decorated by the couple who poured all their artistic ability into their family home. Every room conveys a very strong visual impression of the life of the family living there at the turn of the 20th century.

The First Hotel at Borlänge has been a very welcome refuge from the rain on my way back from Falun, I'd definitely choose it again if I come back this way!

Friday, 1 August 2008

Sixty seconds...

Neil Armstrong famously landed Apollo 11 on the moon with less than 60 seconds of fuel left. I seem to be in the same place with credit remaining on my phone every time I finally get to the top of the queue to talk to a callcenter person in the UK...

I've just burnt through another 200kr top-up card provided by my Swedish mobile operator Telenor SE while on hold for Vodafone UK callcenter people.

It has taken several attempts to talk to them about unblocking the two SIM cards I use, one for my usual contract number and the other for mobile internet access. It seems that after a very slow start, the roaming charges for mobile internet access all arrived on their system in a big burst, resulting in the suspension of both SIM cards while they investigated "usage irregularities" on my account.

They tell me they sent me an SMS message warning me about the suspension just before they put it in place, but I didn't have their SIM card in my mobile for much of the time in Norway, and both cards were blocked when I tried them on entry into Sweden.

It seems to be a similar story with my bank, who also stopped my debit card for a while because they want to issue another one to me. Fortunately they handle calls from abroad much more efficiently than Vodafone (with a seperate priority queue) and all is sweetness and light with them again. Plus they call you back rather than popping you on hold while they investigate further.

It's not that the funds are not available, it's just a question of working around the anti-fraud systems they use, which naturally stop any activity unless it follows a pattern that predates the trip.

The alternative to all this expensive calling should be a set of well-designed web pages to allow both sides to sort out this kind of problem asynchronously. Vodafone's website falls pretty short of what is required here, by asking customers to provide them with five or six easily guessable security questions. If you register with their site, make absolutely sure you travel with the answers to each question, written with the exact punctuation and captitalisation you used when setting up your account, or you'll be back to languishing in their callcenter queue while you burn through your recently topped up Swedish mobile phone card's credit, waiting to ask them to unlock their website for you too.

Neil Armstrong's heartbeat was around 151 per minute for the last few minutes of the lunar landing apparently - but at least he was in control of the situation...

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Jo and Beamer get to Nordkapp

I am delighted to discover that Jo and her faithful bicycle Beamer made it to the North Cape, completing 10,000 kms or more on the road since leaving Munich at the start of the year. The weather seems to have been pretty much the same for her as it was for me!

She writes in an email today that she is now in Finland, and is setting out soon to cross the borders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on her way home...

New pictures on flickr, including Stamsund


You may have been wondering why the photo trail on flickr went cold just after I arrived at the North Cape. Well, the good news is that none of the pics taken on the trip were lost in the Great iPod Disaster, it has just taken me longer than usual to find a good solid Internet connection with enough bandwidth to upload them.

So today, I have uploaded and captioned the pictures taken with the Canon EOS 350 SLR including those from Stamsund, and you'll find them here:- www.flickr.com/photos/webbje - helpfully organised into separate sets for Norway and Sweden.

I've even tagged the Stamsund photos with "Stamsund" ... now if I had a bit longer I could put these into a separate collection, couldn't I?

In the meantime, I have 430 pics from the smaller Canon Ixus here to sort out, ouch!!

Monday, 28 July 2008

I'm in Avista for lunch


Despite a lot of rumbling thunder yesterday afternoon, I am now edging into the second week of lovely cycling here with blue skies, melting tarmac on the road, and gentle breezes - no rain yet.

Yes, I should splurge on a T-shirt or two... rather than wearing the Icebreaker wool top, although this is surprisingly comfortable to ride in in the 30° heat.

In fact I've settled on a routine of rising at 0400 and riding until breakfast time (0700), then stopping for a siesta in a wood (inside the tent to keep insects at bay), emerging at 1700 for a bit more riding. This has been working very well for me, I'm clocking up 100 km days by riding in the two cool periods and of course the already quiet roads are even emptier in the early mornings and late evenings.

The slight downside is that there's nowhere to take a shower, and I could do with carrying even more water than the five liters already distributed around the bike. However the ICA stores I tend to shop in often have a fresh fish counter, and staff are generous with their ice on request.

Incidentally, I'm impressed at the variety and freshness of the produce for sale here - even more choice than I'd find in equivalent shops in the UK. The Swedes obviously take their food shopping seriously!

The scenery is just beautiful here - the suggested route may have been penned by someone with an obsession for hiding out in the woods, since it doesn't seem to pass through any places large enough for a shop, but I can work around that by diverting to a large town after breakfast each day. The scale of the map I have is 1:500 000 for this region, which makes route finding hit and miss - I spent three hours on a gravel road winding through pine and birch forests and long lakes last night after leaving Sala, before groping my way back onto the tarmac road I should have been on, which ran mostly parallel to the alternative. I am glad to have the compass and a GPS with me; I envisage some serious back-tracking at times on the smaller gravel roads. Fortunately the terrain continues to be very gentle, and traffic has not been a problem at all.

Friday, 25 July 2008

An unexpected summerhouse


This is the summerhouse of Carl Linnaeus,the man who invented the taxonomy system we use for the plant and animal kingdoms. I discovered today that he was also something of an ecologist, perhaps the earliest one in print.

The serendipity of finding the house at Hammarby is due to the winding path taken by cycle route Sverigeleden 15, which has taken me on a winding ride from the corner of Sodermälm where the Zinkerdamm hostel lies, to Uppsala, where I am staying tonight. It should be said that the route has also taken me through numerous parks and underpasses, to the extent that at times I've almost decided to give it up for the faster road beside it, but it has come into its own, now that I am out of Stockholm.

The house is announced only by a brown "historic monument" sign on the road with the name Hammarby, and by the pantiled roof of the old building by a bend in the road.

He bought the small farm to avoid the summer outbreaks of malaria in Uppsala, where he held a seat at the University from 1738. He may also have purchased it to provide an income for his family in the event of his predeceasing them.

The museum is small, but it is a bit of a treat really - especially to stand at the doorway to the old man's bedroom and find its walls covered from floor to ceiling with beautifully printed flower illustrations from one of his most beloved sets of books. He strikes me as being a man who discovered his vocation early in life and had the rare satisfaction of being the foremost authority in his world on his favourite subject, botanising.

It has been hot today and yesterday - 30° for two days now. I could do with something other than thermal wool tops and Ronhill Tracksters to change into when I get off the bike in the evenings!

The countryside here reminds me a little of Hampshire - quite a few copses, large fields of wheat and barley, and lovely little roads only wide enough for one car. It is flatter though, and considerably less populated. Difficult to photograph; I think Kansas probably looks similar too... too vast to fit into the viewfinder on the camera.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Summer days in Stockholm...


... I was taking photos in the deserted old town district at 07:30 after waking up very early this morning. Worked out very well, because I was at the door for the extraordinary Vasa Museum an hour later, just as it opened, to beat the crowds. As it was I had it pretty much to myself for the first hour, and it is an unmissable experience - it is quite breathtaking to find a whole ship from 1628, 90% of it original, hanging in the dim lights in the huge hall. They have done an excellent job in presenting the artifacts and the ship itself, which is so heavily carved that the first thing I was reminded of was the Geiger spaceship created for the original Alien movie, the one that the doomed crew of the Nostromo board before John Hurt gets a squid attached to his face.

After a long look at scarily realistic reconstructions of the faces of various members of the crew who were trapped in the narrow hull when the newly-launched ship turned over and sank, I watched a very good film explaining how the ship was raised in the early 1960's and subsequently preserved. It is in a better state than our own HMS Victory at Portsmouth in the UK, and was even more gaudily painted when it was new.

Spent the afternoon at the equally good Skansen Museum, which houses a vast number of buildings moved to the site from all over Sweden in the last 200 years. There's enough for several trips, I couldn't have seen it all, but what surprised me most was that the commercial side of it was so restrained. I was expecting fast food stands and the greasy smell of burgers, instead I found staff teaching groups of visitors to do the Swedish equivalent of a Morris Dance. I loved the buildings most; each has a member of staff in the costume associated with the period of the dwelling, very helpfully explaining what the various artefacts on display were used for - they are very keen on people joining in and trying various things out too.

Tonight I have packed everything for an early ride towards Uppsala (sic) tomorrow morning on Swedish Cycle Route #15, which seems to head roughly towards Oslo and promised to give me a reasonable sample of what the countryside here has to offer. I am very excited by the prospect!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Stockholm!


Few words from an airline stewardess are as worrying as these:

"Don't worry, just run when you get into the arrival hall and make sure you get your connection - we'll send your luggage on to your hotel! Just file a missing baggage complaint when you get into Stockholm...".

I only have a laptop and a camera with me. I don´t have a room booked. I don't have any maps or guides to the city, I was going to buy one in the Duty Free area of Oslo airport.

Anyway, I run, and I run a good long way all the way to Gate 48 on arrival in Oslo.

I reach the gate just as it is closing, I'm the last passenger on board.

And then a miracle occurs - the captain decides to delay departure until the missing bags from Bodø are safely on board, and my bike is rammed into the remaining slot under the wing.

So arrival in Stockholm was fine, and all my bags were reunited with me within a few minutes. I took the excellent Arlanda Express train into the main city railway terminus twenty minutes later, calling the Zinkensdamm Hostel on the way as a last resort because they come at the end of the listing, so may get fewer calls. It's a pleasant, very organised hostel with 450 beds and individual lockers for food inside the fridges. It's on the island called Södermalm, about twenty minutes or less by bike from all the sites.

But best of all, the city is a fantastic place on a bike! Separate cycle lanes with proper signs for routes and their own traffic lights, few cars, and an extraordinary number of waterways, gorgeous buildings, and tree-shaded squares to gawp at.

I'm loving it!

I bought a new SIM card for Sweden today, no connection yet via the Vodafone SIM card and the laptop, so pictures will surely follow in a day or two when I have found out who to roam with.

Monday, 21 July 2008

In the departure lounge again

Now I am beginning to remember why I said I would never do this flying business with SAS again. The check-in at Bodø went fairly smoothly despite them detecting 55 kilos of baggage when the limit is 20 and 8 in the hand, but unfortunately the 12:40 flight has been rescheduled for 14:30 because the original 'plane has a technical problem and a new one has to be flown up to Bodø to replace it. This cuts my transfer time in half - always notoriously difficult to switch to a different aircraft in Oslo because of the hassle of collecting bike and bags for a connecting flight. Nothing to do except cash the 100 Kr lunch voucher, and see how things pan out.

I need a clue about cycling from Stockholm airport towards the city too - ideas anyone?

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Stockholm tomorrow


It's a gorgeous 22° C here this afternoon, the sunshine is twinkling on the waves in the harbour, and a whale was spotted in the bay this morning. I must be nuts to leave, but I feel a strong pull towards roaming around Sweden and finding out how it is for cycling there rather than going over old routes again up here in the Lofoten Islands. I have reached the tipping point a bit more easily because the hostel is nearly empty but for the really long term residents like Marlene, who has found a permanent job in Leknes as a psychologist, and the heavy duty Polish fishermen.

I have just booked a flight tomorrow with SAS from Bodø to Stockholm, leaving at 12:40 - so I'm about to start shoving things back into bags in the otherwise empty dormitory (most of the others left this morning). I'll be taking the hurtigruten to Bodø later this evening for a night at the old standby, Bodøsjoen Camping.

Interestingly, SAS call you back after telling you that their lines are busy. Of course they can't confirm the bike on the plane immediately but I am pretty hopeful there won't be a problem. The flight was cheaper than I was expecting, maybe because I am taking it tomorrow rather than booking it several months in advance.

I should probably borrow a set of fishing scales from Roar too, to see if I can reduce the weight of my bags to the requisite 30 kilos...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Summer evenings in Stamsund

I'm still at Stamsund because it is such a lovely place to stay - I plan to move on tomorrow or on Monday. Yesterday the southerly wind fell and the colder northerly breeze took its place, but it has a fantastic effect on the scenery ... the mountains fifty miles away are perfectly clear, and the very long evening sunshine (there's no sunset) made it look extraordinarily beautiful, with long shadows falling over the sharply folded mountains all around us. A light shower with the sun low in the sky made for a perfect rainbow in front of me, with an astonishingly pink veil of clouds behind.

Unfortunately I didn't get to capture this on my camera very well because my Norwegian teacher Margaretha rang for a chat just while the sun was going down behind the mountains behind us, bathing everything in golden light ... she's got her second set of visitors staying
until the 12th of August in Laukvik (where she has her summer cabin from June to September) and wants to know whether I can still come to visit her the following week. Naturally I'm keen to see more of the area around Stavern with a native who knows it well!

We've been fishing from small rowing boats, with a mackerel line and six lures each. Sometimes I'm successful, but I think I have been too close to the shore because most of the fish I catch are on the small side. The more experienced fishermen here bring back full sized cod by the boatload, easily as long as your forearm. I feel happiest to go out only when the water is perfectly still though, despite having two sets of oars, a mobile phone, and of course a life jacket. No fishing today, the breeze is a little too strong. Instead I've been taking some time to look at the possibility of a kayaking trip - the Odin Tour - near Arvika in Sweden next week, with help from www.arvikacanoe.se. Søren (whom I mistook for a Swede with perfect English until he told me otherwise) guided for them for a while and has piqued my curiosity on doing "the other half of the Ray Mears thing" for a week or two in early August.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Connection restored

Thanks to prompt action on Janet's part, the bootable USB stick was in the post box when Roar and I went up to the post office this afternoon. Ten minutes later, I am relieved to find everything looking much the same as it did before the file system got corrupted.

I'm hiding in the outbuilding that Roar calls "The Library" at the moment. Now I should probably put the laptop away. If he finds I've smuggled one into his island paradise, he'll probably slip it quietly into the sea while my back is turned, and that would be more difficult to recover from!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Stamsund again

Apologies for the scarcity of news in July, I've found it a challenge to get to Blogger now that the school holidays have started and public libraries have closed until the next school term starts.

Briefly, I've had a succession of good days on the E6/E10 from Hammerfest down to Setermoen in the Bardu region - despite being the backbone of the Arctic Highway, the road usually has a good rideable shoulder and the traffic behaves sensibly with speed cameras on the sections that are straight and would otherwise be too fast for comfort.

Obviously I've been taking pictures too but haven't been able to upload them yet.

Yesterday the rain descended with a vengeance and the predictable tailwind vanished, so I hopped on a bus for the last section to Narvik, not really wanting to be riding in rain and spray on the busy section of road from Setermoen. On arrival in Narvik I had the option of taking the train I've been looking forward to catching to Abisko, because it left in fifteen minutes ... but in the end the lure of returning to Stamsund first was too strong, so I caught the connecting Lofoten Express bus in the downpour, and spent a very enjoyable evening at Roar's. I've got a bed in the dormitory over the kitchen in the main building so I may be settled here for several days... if not longer!

The picture comes from the hytte book at the Justad Vandreheim, of course, and there's a hilarious story attached, but I'll save that for later...

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Not a happy day scenario

Last night I connected both iPods to the laptop at the same time in order to back one up to the other. There seems to be a bug in the kernel for mounting two identical 80Gb iPods because the file system table got corrupted, wiping both iPods and the on-board memory of the laptop - so until I can somehow restore the system image from a memory stick after downloading it from the EEE forums, I am without a laptop, guidebook, music, or photos I've taken. Not to mention weather reports from yr.no, my emails, and of course mobile access to Blogger (I'm writing this from the public library in Hammerfest on a very slow connection). Not a happy day scenario - the only good news is that the majority of the photos are also on the memory cards, and as I write the photo shop up the road is burning the surviving 4 Gb onto CDs.

Anyone with access to a small Xandros distro with mobile networking (ppp) and Huwea USB mobile internet modem support is welcome to point me at their image :-) - in the meantime, posting is going to be a bit more limited for the time being.

Incidentally, I can strongly recommend the Arran Nordkapp guesthouse - the mostly Polish staff made a big fuss of me and kept bringing more and more free food for dinner last night. The rooms being refurbished are warm and very comfortable too. Full marks to them!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Because it's there


... the rather solemn expression on my face was wiped out a moment later when the Danish family who'd offered to take my photograph whipped out a bottle of champagne to share with me, since they'd also achieved their ambition by driving to the North Cape.

Still, I could have done with a really strong ray of sunshine over my shoulder to light up the scene.

As it was most of the visitors spent a few minutes in the stiff breeze outside, and then retreated to their cars or the Visitor Center for coffee and waffles.

71° 10' 21" - Nordkapp


Without wishing to spoil the anticipation of the view from the cliff from the furthest Northerly point on the continent, here's the view of the toll station where people fork out 200kr (£20) per person to get inside the perimeter fence.

Happily for me, the fee was waived because I'd cycled there!

But as you can see, the weather wasn't great - about 4°C with a sea fog and a breeze - I could hardly write postcards inside the Visitor Hall, my hands were so numb. Very glad of my Helly Hansen fisherman's thermal top and rain jacket, because the ride here is a tough one - the road climbs most of the way to the Cape and there's not much distraction for the eye except for small herds of reindeer, and small stones from the road that have been arranged into names on the turf by other visitors. Still, the place does have a certain something - I think Buzz Aldrin's comment on his immediate reaction to the lunar surface applies - "Magnificent desolation".

As you can see from the photo I was lucky enough to drop off most of my bags at a small guest house in the fishing village of Kamøyvær on the way to the Nordkapp, about 28km from it in fact, so most of the ride was made simpler by not lugging all my gear up there. I think it is not a trip to be made lightly from Alta on a fully loaded touring bike.

Northbound again...



Monday 07 July, and I'm on the M/S Richard With heading for Honingsvåg so that I can see the North Cape in good weather.

I was out on the deck as the M/S Finnmarken crossed our path so that I could catch the tooth-rattling fanfare of mighty horn blasts from both ships on Janet's tinny Dictafone.

I've had two wonderful days exploring Tromsø and I'm hoping the present good weather will last until I've cycled the 70km or so from Honingsvåg up to the Cape and back again. No accommodation booked yet, but the ferry is due to dock at 11:15 which is at least during daylight, and as you can see the weather is still holding up. But by golly the shore looks bleak ... I don't know how I'd cope with bad weather on an exposed 100 km ride along here between settlements.

I spy with my little eye...


...I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T.

Did you guess it?

Yes, it's a traffic light. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this is the first traffic light I've seen since leaving Trondheim, which was weeks ago.

Now I'm off to get my "I rode the escalator at Bryggen Shopping Center" badge! Whoopee!

The brewery



On a lighter note, here's the front entrance to the famous Mack brewery in Tromsø, the world's most northerly brewery. Is it just a coincidence that the British Consulate has its offices in the same building?

Fulll marks to Tromsø University Museum



The University Museum was open on Sunday and I found it very thought provoking and engaging - particularly the exhibition "Sapmi - Becoming a Nation" which you can explore a little, too, by following the link. The three rooms manage to tell a story very familiar to me from my time living in North Wales about cultural assimilation, the resurgence of national identity in the 1960's and '70's, and the tensions that this creates between peoples living in an area.

The reconstruction after the German "burnt earth" destruction of this area in the war was characterised by standardisation, new settlement building in the post-war style, and an even more pressing desire on the part of the mainstream cultural establishment to give this part of Norway a single national identity. Effectively, the end of a millennium or so of tradition for the Sami living here, who at the time felt ashamed of being regarded as a backward and overly conservative minority in this vast region.

Few of us realise that only 10% or so of the Sami were reindeer herders before the devastating cultural changes brought about by the war and the reconstruction period.

But of course it's not a story with a happy ending: the defacing of the road sign above is a small indicator of the depth of feeling here about the re-establishment of Sami identity in the period since the 1960's.

Tromsø is great!

I certainly want to come back to Tromsø again.

I called ahead to book a room at the Fjellheim Sommerhotel because I didn't know what kind of city I was coming into. The city is mostly on an island sandwiched in the middle of the strait between the mountains on the larger islands on either side, and I was somewhat hampered by not having any kind of map or guide with me.

It was also late when I got to the outskirts of the city - 10 pm or so - because I'd missed the earlier connecting ferry between Senja and Brensholmen on the 862 and had to wait for the 15:45 sailing.

As I mentioned previously, the stretch between Brensholmen and Tromsø isn't particularly long, but there are big hills to climb and the headwind made things hard for me.

I crossed a very tall and exposed bridge on the north side of the city (wind 10 m/s here) on a cycle lane away from the main traffic, and followed this cycle lane in a generally westerly direction around the island, passing the airport and then not much else - but I couldn't see how bicycles could use the busy road tunnels into the center. So after fifteen minutes of uncertain riding with the sea on my right and forests on my left, and pretty convinced that I was now completely wrong to follow the cycle route, I stopped to ask for directions at a hotel near the Tromsø Folk Museum, and discovered to my surprise that I was only two streets or so away from the hotel on Mellomsveien, which connects the museum district in the suburbs with the town center. So Tromsø turns out to mostly wooded on its west side, and much smaller than I was expecting, given that it is apparently the ninth largest urban conurbation in Norway.

A few minutes later I was enjoying a scalding hot shower and the luxury of having a big room with fresh white bathtowels and crisp cotton bed linen instead of the somewhat grimy sleeping bag and my rolled-up jacket for a pillow. The Fjellheim is mostly empty tonight and turns out to be a Lutheran bible school, but it's got huge rooms and is a nice quiet relaxing place to stay, even if the price is higher than I can afford in all conscience.

Sent a text message to Wilfed and Johanna before going to bed to tell them that I'd arrived in Tromsø - to my surprise they've arrived here this evening too, so we've arranged to meet tomorrow at the tourist info center in town to explore it together and maybe have a picnic in the park.

Hammerfest - Alta section



This is the 144 km route along the E6 from Hammerfest to Alta, with 5120hm of climbing. Hammerfest is a couple of stops southbound on the Hurtigrute from Honningsvåg but the southbound prices are cheaper and to be honest Finnmark is a bit too bleak for me to gush about it, even in July.

If you mouse over the route profile you should see the pointer on the map move to follow the point you've selected on the profile - assuming that the Bikemap site is working when you read this, and that your browser supports the iframe tag.You'll have to find the little pin on the map and click on it to see the route profile and other information on the route I've created on their website.

To me this looks like a better way to Alta than directly down the E6 from Nordkapp, which has more traffic, those long tunnels, and fewer settlements.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Tromsø, finally!

Friday night, 9pm, riding into a strong headwind but the road is about to run down off the plateau beside Kattfjordvatnet on the island of Kvaløya and down to sea level at Kvaløy - so Tromsø is in that sunlit gap with sea in it, in the middle of the frame, about 25 km away. Phew!

I hardly ever use the iPod, but it is proving invaluable when the headwind gets this strong, especially when the road is climbing...

More brake bodges...

The hills on Senja made big demands on the brakes from time to time...

The previous fix with a nut and bolt on the yoke wire finally started to pull out under the strain.

This is plan B, which involves tying a length of elastic shock cord to the arm with the weaker spring so that it is balanced better against its stronger counterpart on the other side - anything to stop the pad rubbing on the rim. The other end of the shock cord is looped around the quick release at the axle.

I suppose the better option would be to take the spring out and see whether I can bend it into better shape, but I don't want to do that while I'm miles from the nearest bike shop. None of the shops I have found stock cantilever brake kits - Norway converted to the ubiquitous V-brake fifteen years ago.

Senja - absolutely gorgeous

Now that the sun has come out, the island of Senja is transformed into one of my top five places to cycle on in Norway. There are some long climbs, because the road around the west side of the island follows the waterline as far as it can, but has to climb over the saddles between each peninsular from time to time, but the cycling is mostly easy and the scenery is outstanding. Saw my first pine marten too as it crossed the road in front of me. I'm sure I'll be back here.

This picture was taken in front of Tungeneset, where the mountains look just like the Pamirs.

If you are thinking of staying here it might be wise to bring your own tent if you are traveling alone though. A room at the holiday complex at Hamn is around 790kr a night with breakfast, and the kro at Meffjordvær were asking 600kr for a small single room on the top floor. The night after the beach camp saw me at Botnhamn Camping, which has three or four basic cabins for 450kr and free hot showers. I chose a cabin because I lazed about on the beach all morning and it was 11pm again by the time I rolled up to the campsite - it looked like there might be rain during the night and the breeze there made it decidedly chilly, but as things turned out the sun was out again an hour or two later.

Best beach camp yet


In the end I found a headland all to myself near the end of the road to Skaland quite late in the evening (about 10:40-ish), and pitched the tent a little way back from the beach on a thick and very comfortable patch of dry moss. Nobody around for miles, and just the song of a cuckoo nearby for company. There was a spring nearby too, so I felt I could have stayed there for days. This photo was taken at the end of my first night without rain in the tent, and it certainly seems that the cloud is now lifting from Senja - the prospect is for several days of sunshine to follow.


Evening meal, 01:40 AM

Crikey!



"Crikey!" as the late and sadly missed Steve Irwin would have said.

This troll is too big to wrestle with, that's a rowing boat under his arm!

He apparently weighs 125,000 kg and is 17.96 m high (while sitting down) - and he is in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest troll. Happily the family who look after him have a lovely little grotto where visitors can relax with a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee. It is all very tastefully done, but I think that owner Leif Rubach is just a little fed up with people asking him how on earth he came up with the idea for building a troll as a tourist attraction.

If you are looking for something different to take your family to, here's the Senjatroll website.

Gryllefjord under cover



... cloud cover, that is.

I took this picture as the little ferry from Andenes was in the last few minutes of its journey to Gryllefjord.

It is pretty spooky, riding in total silence (bar the sound of the tires on the perfectly smooth tarmac). The first leg runs around the bay from the tiny settlement and up into the thick clouds at 170 meters. Very grey for an hour in thick fog as the road winds along before plunging back into technicolour at the exit from the long dark tunnel at Ersfjord, where the sun is briefly out.

I'm relieved to find that the tunnels on Senja are indeed lit on the inside, and well surfaced - checked this with three Polish cyclists just before deciding that I would go around the west side of this very beautiful island, rather than taking the shorter route.

I picked up an extra-bright head torch in the sports shop in Andenes, so I now have two headtorches to shine at the front of the bike.

There's no traffic at all here. I just need the cloud to lift, which I can see is slowly happening, and to find somewhere to sleep tonight, preferably not too far away.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Food miles

Can you spot the differences between the two bikes?

This was taken on Andøya when I stopped to chat with Reidar, the Norwegian end-to-ender I mentioned. He's riding a Thorn Raven Tour bike (the new edition of my bike), and his is propped up on a stand just like the one I had before I threw it away ... my frame was buckling at the mounting point for the stand, it couldn't take the weight when the bike was propped up.

Aha! That's a clue... Reidar is holding my bike while I take the picture, and clearly the difference lies in the massive front panniers I am carrying. Reidar expects to take five weeks to get to the bottom of Norway because he is fit, and is carrying just enough food to get to the next shop. And he looks the part too - proper lycra clothing, RayBan sunglasses and a good helmet. He wanted to know why I was carrying so much, wouldn't a couple of PowerBars be better?

I explained that my food has traveled many miles with me, and the potatoes are my friends now. I couldn't possible eat them. They are traveling in comfort along with the other goodies in the front bags that were cheaper in bulk and probably wouldn't be found again, like the kilo of dried milk powder (goes off when the silver packet is opened for the first time), and the month-sized packet of spaghetti.

But the good news is that all that weight really keeps the bike rolling on the flat roads around Andøya - in fact, once I get up to cruising speed cars seem to think twice before crossing my path. The weight certainly irons out the small hills, even if the rear drop-outs are starting to bend open under the strain.

Heavy planning session!



Just a quick update on where I am with plans for July.

I'm going to take a gamble on the weather staying fairly settled for the next fortnight or so with perhaps three or four days that are not much good for cycling. Certainly the last week has been excellent, a little cold still but much more sunshine and the wind has been the main factor in slowing me down - it is blowing at times at 10 m/sec from the north which makes progress a little difficult.

So my latest plan is to start from near the North Cape on a 692 kilometer ride southwards towards Narvik along the E6, turning towards Abisko National Park at Narvik (Abisko is about 85 km from Narvik, and of course it is inside Sweden, down the King's Road). I have some details for the Park with me which indicate that I can hire a rucksack and rubber boots (necessary items!) for walking on trails between huts inside the park.

The plan for this section of the route as far as Olderdalen (where I will have to decide whether I'm heading for Sweden or Tromsø) is saved on the Bikemap.net website - have a look if you have a recent browser and a broadband connection - it's interactive!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Ups ... and downs



I'm posting from the room behind the second window from the left on the first floor of the green painted building on the left of Andenes tourist information center.

Things can change rapidly with the weather here.

I woke up at 4 AM on Andenes campsite to the sound of rain lashing the flapping tent, so groped around for shoes and the peg bag before crawling out into the squall to rig the extra guy lines and peg them in well. Mosquitoes in abundance despite the rain - fortunately I still had the midge-proof headnet I was using at 1 AM in my jacket pocket, so got the job done without having to slap them as they landed.

The cloud are really low and the rain is heavy. The only remitting feature is that the temperature is a balmy 11°C so it isn't bitingly cold and wet, just cold and wet.

Still raining at 9 AM, and on into the morning.

Last night I met a couple of German cycletourists, Johanna and Wilfred, who are cycling up to Tromsø - Johanna left Munich in March and has been touring in England, Spain and France since. She seems to me to be badly in need of a break in her year off, particularly after racing up the coast of Norway from Spain, clocking up some 150km days in order to meet Wilfred for this leg of the tour on the date he was due to arrive in Bodø. She's also given her bike a tough time: one rear stay snapped (it's a new frame!) but fortunately she managed to get the bike shop in Bodø to braze it together again. The couple talked to me quite a bit last night after I undertook to back up and burn a CD of photos from Johanna's trip, and before they left the campsite for the ferry to Senja they serenaded me with Auld Lang Syne on Wilfred's mouth organ.

I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm for the next island on the Whale Route with the steady patter of rain on the tent, so sat inside on the folded Thermarest mattress in low spirits for a couple of hours, listening to the rain and willing a break in the clouds to appear. When it didn't by lunchtime, I resigned myself to packing a wet tent and damp things and was soon on my way into the town center.

But the good news is that Martin at the Tourist Info center in Andenes (think of Robbie Coltrane playing Hagrid) took pity on me and gave me a key to a room in the sjøhus next door for 220 kr, so I'm writing this in the kitchen after catching fuzzy black and white hints of the NRK1 television coverage of Venus Williams playing Tanasugarn at Wimbledon. It looks like the weather was fine and sunny for them. The sky is still cloud filled and grey here but the tent is starting to dry out, and I've got all my clothes in the washing machine here, so my mood has improved considerably. To make life even better, I decided to celebrate the first month away by buying a book to read, and to my amazement found "The Letter of Marque" by Patrick O'Brien (one of my favourite authors) in the only bookshop in Andenes - and it's in English!

Monday, 30 June 2008

Midnight sun in Andenes



Everything seemed to go really well today. I left Nigel and Ingvild Turrell's cabins at 9 o'clock, my earliest start of the month, with the weather overcast but www.yr.no promising improvement during the day - which indeed I soon felt because by 10.00 I was changing out of my woolen Icebreaker top for the first time in four or five days, and into a short sleeved shirt. I was curious - as were all the other tourists staying at Andøya Friluftlivsenter - as to what the function was of the tall wood-boarded funnel shaped buildings next door to the hut I was staying in. Initially I decided they might be huge composting bins (15 metres tall) but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the near one to find out ... it turns out to be a wooden roundhouse for feasting inside, with a large open fireplace in the center and reindeer-fur rugs on wooden trestles all the way around the circumference. I'd almost decided before opening the door that, given the number of times it was being pulled open by inquisitive visitors, it could be attached to a dynamo to generate power for the center. Inside it was dark, smoke-black, and primeval ... large dried cod-heads swinging in the shaft of sunlight lighting up the fireplace.

The rest of the ride today was fine, gentle with few hills, but a little tough at times later as the breeze picked up. It's a very quiet road up the west side of Andøya with just the odd bobil and some lovely white beaches. I'll upload some pictures when I've gathered a few more.

In the end I covered 74 km today in just over 5 hours, which tells you something about the headwind - without it, I was contentedly cruising at 22 kph, but when I came around a bend into it my speed dropped to 9kph.

Andenes is famous for its rocket testing ground - I saw only one, mostly as a peculiar vertical contrail in the sky five kilometers away, with a "pop" at the end of the flight. This side of the island is also studded with radio listening posts and radar domes - so there's obviously sensitive military work going on here too.

I've met several other cycle-tourists today, including a tall but whippet-thin Norwegian from Bergen with a name like Åtler (? must check) who is riding a gorgeous Thorn Raven Tour (the later model of the bike I have) from the North Cape to Lindesnes, the furthest southern point of Norway, in five weeks. We exchanged details of good places to stay and took photographs of each other's bike for good measure. Sensibly, he is traveling with half the weight that I have.

Andenes camping (where I'm staying tonight) is fine - the tent is again at the top of a spectacular white beach, and this time the campsite has a shower block and toilets just a few minutes walk away. Other people are very friendly and those with dogs are keeping them a respectful distance away from my tent.

At the moment I'm planning to watch the midnight sun (perfect evening for it), and tomorrow I'll try to catch the 13:00 ferry to Senja after getting enough cash out to see me through a week of travel in areas with no cashpoint machines... or supermarkets.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Rest day at Traneber Hytte, Andøya Friluftsenter

It's not a large room, in fact it is nearly the smallest of the trip, but it is nice and warm and comes well equipped for cooking, and with duvets and pillows. The view from the windows is of waving cotton-tufts on the bog on three sides, and of the mountains and wide fjord two hundred meters away and below on the other. The holiday season seems to be picking up, nearly all the huts are occupied this weekend.

This is a cosy place run by Nigel and Ingvald, who bought about 100 acres of peat bog above the road here in 1993 and have gradually transformed it into a little hut ground with hard standing for about twenty caravans, and those little sheds that Norwegians like to park their caravans next to (with the sliding door that connects the shed to the caravan when they've set up). Nigel seemed a little forbidding at first, but I suspect that he may find English visitors irritating now. Hope he won't mind me saying that is a dead ringer for Alan Rickman playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'.

Relaxing after a hot shower and a day spent riding hard into the headwind, I spent a good hour or two sitting on the porch of the cabin, talking to a Dutch couple in their seventies who have driven here to Andøya Friluftsenter in a hire car picked up in Svolvær last week. I should probably have dressed a little more warmly because I picked up a bit of a chill. This morning it's cloudy and cool, but yr.no promises sunshine and warmer weather tomorrow, so I am staying here - 300 kr for the cabin and good mobile phone coverage (430ms ping times to the Blogger servers, 10 times better than I was getting in Bø!)

I'm going to explore the area on foot a bit and wash my cycling clothes I think.

This ... is Sortland

Saturday 28 June, midday: This is a hasty photograph of the main shopping street in Sortland, taken as my bike was starting to topple over, and a little bit too dark perhaps. The crowds were out, and I was racing to buy food for the exposed two or three day ride up to Andenes before the shops started to shut.

There really doesn't seem to much to the largest town in the islands besides this street and a preponderance of blue buildings (Sortland has been through something of a make-over in the last ten years to make it more attractive to visitors). But it certainly bustles on Saturday mornings, and made me think about how my perspectives on crowds have changed after just a short time in this landscape of wide open vistas and very small settlements.

Fortunately I found everything I needed, including a liter of Coleman fuel for the petrol stove, and two "turmat" dehydrated meals in foil sachets to be used as 'reserve proviant' in case I have to hole up somewhere to wait out bad weather (it's a fair way to Andenes). The two front panniers are bulging with food, and I'm looking forward to supper tonight already- grillpolse with pasta sauce, mash potato and courgettes.

The sun is out but it's cold - 12° with a fierce Northerly wind blowing in my face as I ride North along Andøya towards the Andøya Friluftsenter about 35 km away at Buknesfjorden. The wind is keeping my speed way down at about 9kph, and I am thinking seriously about whether I should catch the Hurtigrute from Risøyhamn to Tromsø to tackle the big island of Senja with the prevailing wind behind me for a change.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Porridge, anyone?

IMG_1809.thumbPhoto taken at 01:30 this morning of fish racks on the beach outside - the schoolhouse I'm staying in is the orange yellow building just behind the left-hand-most rack.

Oh dear, I think I'm going to have to lie down for a bit longer. I made the mistake of absentmindedly cooking up porridge with bananas and sultanas for a family of three this morning, and since there's no bin here I felt obliged to eat it all - about 1.5 litres of it...

Never mind, the sun has come out during the night and there is now more than enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers. I plan to launch myself on a porridge-powered odyssey to Nyksund at the top of the archipelago, which was rescued from the elements by an enterprising group of young people a decade ago after being abandoned by its former inhabitants. It is something of a holy grail for German cyclists to get there and stay in a rebuilt rorbu apparently.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The old schoolhouse, Hovden



Hovden is a tiny settlement at the end of a long and winding single-track lane from the crossroads at the center of the Bø commune at Rise. I arrived in a rain squall two hours ago, and it looked for a time as though I'd be camping tonight on a patch of ground next to the village hall, which is situated on some flat land between Hovden's two outstanding white sandy beaches. Which would be ok if there was a washblock and toilet, but the site seems to be without facilities and fairly windswept.

This settlement has been a fishing village since the Iron Age, and is famous for being the place where the Gulf Stream is closest to the Norway coast. It's also a great place to see the Midnight Sun on the horizon as it comes close to touching the waves before it starts to rise again - however the clouds tonight preclude that.

So it seemed like a natural overnight stopping place - the furthest western point settlement in the Vesterålen islands - until I found that the campsite has nothing more than an honesty box (30 kr) and a tap. The chill weather had got to me. So I cycled around until I found a small notice explaining that the old school house could be rented by the week, with a contact number. The lady I rang was in Sortland, but put me on to Gunnar who lives in Hovden - after a brief chat in Norwegian he cycled down from his house to me with the key for the school. I have free run of the upstairs, comprising a kitchen and living room with two divan beds plus a hot shower downstairs next to the schoolroom, now converted to a cafe that opens in the peak season. I must say I feel I've done very well for myself!

Last night I was able to get a room in the Sjølys sjøhus at Vinjesjoen, a squat concrete building that is 90% freezer storage for fish from the boats, and 10% accommodation for the trawler crews during the peak season. Interesting building - very industrial looking with few concessions to interior design, but great big drying cupboards with warm air blowers; I got my washing bone dry in an hour after arriving there. Unfortunately I haven't been taking many pictures of the landscape for the last two days because the weather has been poor enough for the SLR to stay under wraps in an Ortlieb dry bag. Olaf who runs the place is in his late 30's and seems to have worked himself to the bone during the peak fishing season - now he and his crew seem to have plenty of free time. He's off to the Bahamas for two weeks in September with his wife so he can't be doing badly out of it; we chatted for about two hours yesterday and this morning, particularly about the Hurtigruten fleet which is burning a big hole in the company accounts now that the price of fuel has gone through the roof. He has heard rumours that they may cut the daily service to the bone next year, because they just aren't getting the volume of customers for cruises that they need on the legs above Trondheim. He also told me that the newer boats have had some alarming design defects exposed by the winter weather - basically they don't shed water as well as the older designs, and there have been a couple of fairly serious incidents with the Fram and the Nordlys in recent years. These have been kept out of the press, fortunately. He tells me that the smaller M/S Lofoten is currently in Svolvær, so I may try to catch this higher up the coast to get back to Stamsund. He also tells me that spring is very late in the Troms region, and indeed had pictures on his cameraphone showing banks of snow by the roadside on the way to Tromso a few weeks ago. It looks like I may have come a little early for the season this year!

The picture above was taken on the way to Vinjesjoen as I cooked boiled eggs and chicken noodles in a post stand shelter out of the rain, by the way.

The rain and cloud of an hour ago are lifting - I'm off out for a walk along the white sandy beaches here. Everything looks gorgeous in the evening sun, but I know that this is likely to change again in an hour or so.

More pictures on Flickr

I've had to be selective with my bandwidth because mobile reception is very poor here, and is about to get worse again as I head out towards Hovsund and Nykvag - pictures from the last week are now at http://www.flickr.com/photos/webbje though.

I'm on the Vesterålen islands now

This bridge over Långøysundet separates the Stokmarknes district from the island of Långøya, and the famous Eidsfjorden, which a hundred years ago was crammed with fishing boats pulling up vast numbers of sild for sale in Europe. The fish stock has collapsed now, so the communities are much smaller. I cycled along the east side of the fjord to Stranda two days ago, and then turned down the 820 towards Bø, sitting out a day and half of very heavy rain and low cloud at cabins at Skjellebogen just before the Ryggesdalen tunnel. The mountains here get a lot of rain, because they break the strong winds funneled along the coast and stick out as the most westerly land on the Atlantic seaboard. The cloud is just starting to lift here in Vinjesjoen, so I've packed the bike up ready for a dash up the coast towards Nykvag and Hovsund between showers.

Sankthans two days early

Sunday 22 June, 06:00 - I had my Sankthans bonfire on the beach last night (a small one, for cooking over, rather than for celebrating midsummer and driving off the witches) because I appreciated that the weather was taking a turn for the worse. This photo was taken as I sat shivering in the tent the next morning, warming it up with the tent heater, which consists of Thermos #2, cotton wool, and about half a bottle of methylated spirits.

Fortunately everything inside the tent remained dry after a night of heavy rain, and lighting this took the chill off the inside quite quickly. It seems to burn for about forty minutes per fill.

Fantastic afternoon at Grunforfjorden

Saturday 21/06: The colours were just amazing this afternoon - I don't think this hasty thumbnail shows them off very well. The ride from Svolvær to Laukvik started uniformly grey, but by lunchtime the sun had burnt off all of the cloud, and the shallow water of this fjord was turquoise. No-one else around. I took about a dozen photos on the causeway but I've had to be selective in what I have uploaded to flickr because the mobile reception is so poor where I am at the moment. I could have stayed in Laukvik but it seemed a better idea to get to this beauty spot before the clouds returned, and indeed by the time I'd found somewhere to camp on the shoreline they were already rolling down to cover up the view again. A really magical place when the sun shines though.

The wind vane on Straumnes Church



I didn't spot this last time I came this way. The weather improved dramatically after I left Svolvær and it became very hot and sunny. I stopped for an ice cream at Sandsletta Camping on the very enjoyable road to Laukvik, and got into a deep conversation with Marius, who comes from Sweden but managed to get a holiday job at the campsite for the summer because he loves to be as far North as possible. He told to me to look out for the church tower at Straumnes near Laukvik because the Mickey Mouse-like hand on the wind vane broke a couple of years ago, and whoever repaired it left it pointing prophetically straight up.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Beautiful Vikspollen

Diary notes from Tuesday 17th June:

Funny day today, this was the last place I was expecting to stay at. Earlier I was exploring the dead-end side roads down to Ure and Mortsund, but not much going in the way of cheap accommodation at either of those. Mortsund struck me as being a particularly geared to up-market motorists - and the woman who runs rorbu rental there was very disdainful, so I quickly moved on.

Back in Leknes it was raining and chilly as I spoke to Margaretha to tell her about my earlier chance encounter with South African friends of her late ex-husband Noel - I can't believe that I bumped into Dereck and Margie, who also have connections to the University of Surrey, this far North! M. seems to be a touchstone, the one who would have 10,000 Linked In connections once she's found out how it works...

Nowhere obvious to stay in Leknes, so I decided to head towards this beach instead, primarily because it is on a small road and is marked on the map as a swimming beach. It turned out to be a good choice too - no-one else around, but a nice flat strip of grass between the road and the beach which drained well. Fortunately the lavvo turns out to be fine in really wet weather too because this photo was taken just after midnight when I went out to tighten the guylines because the wind was rising - it really rained heavily between 04:20 and 09:40, but then everything dried out in the breeze, so I was able to avoid packing a wet tent. And it was completely dry inside the tent during the worst part of the storm while I was lying in bed with my hands behind my head, waiting for the first drips to appear...

I've had one or two problems with my brakes over the last few days (now on my second set of brake blocks all round) . The issues have mostly been with the left rear brake block binding on the rim - but I've been able to even up the tension between the cantilever arms by tightening a spare Allen bolt and nut onto the straddle cable just where the yoke is, to prevent the stronger spring on the right hand side pulling the cantilever arm with the weaker spring onto the rim. It's the little fixes that matter! No more squeaking, everything is gliding super smooth again.

Greetings from Svolvær

This front door at 13 Hans Egedes Gate in Kabelvåg sums up the little community here for me; the buildings are rather personal statements and very lovely too.

I'm writing this at the desk in a pleasant sjøhus beside the marina here in Svolvær after a great cycle ride from Stranden Camp near Borg today - great because the weather has steadily improved all day (no sunset because it is daylight all the time here, but splendid evening). Great also for the tea and biscuits shared with Piet, a lean and windburnt Dutch cyclist who was heading the other way to me when our paths crossed at the big bridge over onto Gimsøya, but abruptly changed direction when he saw me waving my big red plastic mug at him.

He has the best top box I've ever seen on the front rack of a bike, fabricated out of aluminium sheet with a pop-rivet gun, and covered with stickers from Iceland and other far-flung places (and Lundy, too - first cyclist with a badge from there that I've met). When children ask him what he keeps in this tiny strong-box, he says "My money!" with a twinkle in his eye, but actually it's ideal for his camera, because he's an avid photographer.

Piet and I had a good laugh for half an hour until the cold got too much for us, but in that time I picked up some helpful information on the route from Narvik into Sweden, plus good places to stay further up on my route to Tromsø.

This is my first post for a while because I've been somewhat off-grid without power for two or three days - one memorable night on a white sandy beach with turquoise sea and no-one else for miles when I free camped at Vikspollen, and one night at Stranden camp, which has lovely huts with old wood-burning stoves and even older bottled gas cookers, but no power either.

In the end I felt I had to come here to upload my most recent pics to the flickr pages, and to find out how the new hotel in the square in Svolvær looks - the answer is, it looks atrocious, completely out of scale with the rest of the buildings, and it blocks the view of the nice old white church for people arriving on the Hurtigrute. Nevermind, at least the accommodation problems
will ease for the high rollers coming off the ship in the evening now.

Tomorrow I plan to cycle on up towards Laukvik, and the day afterwards to Melbu and perhaps Stokmarknes. Given the budget I'm working to, these will probably be days when I'm off-grid too.

Thanks for all your comments and birthday wishes by the way, much appreciated!

Tips #3 - Little Helpful Things

I managed to press a large (pillow case sized!) bag of unwanted things into Roar's hands on departure, with a vague promise to pick them up on my way back down. Am feeling much trimmer now - the bag held mostly maps, guidebooks, camera lenses, trousers and shirts, all of which I can do without.

Here's a list of little helpful things I carry in my left front pannier pocket:-
  • fryposer - freezer bags, 2L, really useful for storing rubbish from roadside meals, and emptying food into from each small shopping trip. Double-bag your Dolmio pasta sauce, though.
  • Post-It notes - I try to learn 10 words and phrases each day from my Teach Yourself Norwegian book; they get copied onto the yellow sticky, which is stuck to the map I'm using in the Ortlieb map case on the handlebar bag. Also very useful for sticking to the door of the hytte as a reminder to empty the freezer tray if there is one.
  • Pampers baby wipes - for full-on personal freshness if wild camping where water is in short supply. Actually the alcohol-based ones are better, but come in larger and less convenient packaging.
Any tips for improvements?

Monday, 16 June 2008

At Roar's


A comment from one of the log books in the kitchen:-

"We can't believe it! The sun hasn't set yet, but this funny Norwegian man keeps coming around collecting 30 kr. Three times he's come. Everyone here is so mixed up about the time. When all of us were sitting drinking tea before bed, a guy got up with his towel and toothbrush and asked us what time it was - when we told him it was 3:30 he asked us AM or PM. We honestly didn't know.

My friends will never believe that I got my suntan above the Arctic Circle. This hut is splendid but I'm worried if it is true that the disgusting things hanging on the racks are not really dried fish but Australian travellers in hibernation for a few years..."

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Hilsen fra Bødo


This unusual sight off the starboard bow was a fully fitted-out house being towed into it's new location by a large tug near Bronnoysund.

Actually I slept fine on a circular couch in the Panoramic lounge on deck 8 - the only drawback being that I can't straighten up today and resemble Quasimodo as I lurch down the gangplank , flapping my hands and crying "the bølls, the bølls!"

The weather is improving again - 14°C now with sunshine and a light breeze in Bødo, which today seems to be hosting an air show, judging from the buzzing the town is getting from a fast jet performing aerobatics over the city.

I'm writing this from the tourist info center in Bødo - I'm the first of the passengers on the boat to have arrived here, probably because I'm the only passenger with a bike on board. The benefit of having a bike in the hold is twofold - I was at the center before the crowds began to build up outside (there's a line out of the door now!), and I managed to snag one of the two available internet terminals.

In the meantime, the ship takes a three hour break in port (during which time the lucky excursion trippers on board climb into a fleet of rigid inflatable boats for a fast ride down the coast to the Saltstraumen, Europe's largest mælstrom).

I've also been lucky enough to be able to stock up on fruit and veg at the shop opposite the Norona hotel on which is open on Sunday (everywhere else is shuttered up) - so now all I need is a fish caught from the sea tonight in Stamsund and I'll be set up for a birthday meal tomorrow lunchtime with Roar the warden (n.b. you'll have to page down a bit for the reference if you follow that link).

Time to ride back to the boat, more news soon - and some great pictures of the Red Lady to appear on flickr soon...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Stunning Atlantershavsvegen

Forgot to mention that before I arrived in Kristiansund, I cycled the 80 km from Bud over the causeway between the islands.

The weather was perfect for this yesterday - sunshine, no breeze, perfect black tarmac in immaculate condition, hardly any traffic, and stupendous views over the sparkling blue waves.

My decision to wait out the rain in the camspsite at Bud was right for once.

The road is truly movingly beautiful when seen on a fine day out of the main tourist season.

But the bad news is that when I arrived in Bremsnes I discovered they are building ANOTHER TUNNEL about 5.2 km long to link Bremsnes with Kristiansund, which will open in December 2009, probably destroying the remoteness of the road across the islands forever.

So for goodness' sake book your trip now before the route becomes bumper-to-bumper with bobils and Avis rental cars on a day circuit of the route. Because that will surely happen when the pain of waiting for ferries is removed.

Trollfjord not ideal for slumming

I made it onto the M/S Trollfjord at 01:45 this morning after hanging around in a seafront bar in Kristiansund until closing time to take advantage of the patio heaters (quite cold outside otherwise).

Not sure this is the best ship for slumming it on, it is the pride of the fleet and ALL the cabins are taken. I'm booked for TWO DAYS to Stamsund in the Lofoten Islands. Since it is the best the company can offer, most of the deck space is reserved for private suites at the rear of the vessel, and the sundeck is where I ended up sleeping from 02:45 to 04:50, wrapped in my 1000g sleeping bag and stretched uncomfortably over two deck chairs. The ship is immaculate - there was a man carefully painting the one remaining slightly rust-stained stanchion on the sun deck while I dozed nearby, presumably all maintentance staff have to hide during daylight hours, like me. There's space to stretch out on a shelf in the left baggage room, which passengers can open with their pass key - but everywhere else is very public! So I had a 02:00 Commando Shower in the Gentlemen's Toilets on Deck 8 followed by a doze on the deck chair, and then a bit more of a sleep in the Panoramic Lounge once the temperature in there had dropped back to 25° - being glassed in, the temperature soars when they turn the air conditioning off when everyone else has gone to bed.

A free frokost in the main salon this morning was a good compensation, and the ship is currently docked in Trondheim, so I have spent the last hour pounding the streets to the Cathedral, which is a beautiful soapstone building dating mostly from the 13th century, well worth a visit (although much restored after 35 fires inside the building during its history!)

I'm writing this standing up at an internet terminal at Trondheim public library, so I'll keep things brief because I'm dizzy with fatigue (the floor seems to be rocking!). The city is now my top choice of location were I to choose to live in Norway - many fine squares and public buildings, with plentiful trees and a sophisticated air missing from Kristiansund and the other smaller coastal towns I have visited.

Anyway, wish me luck and the discovery of a passkey to the broomcupboard or a loose lifeboat cover for when I get back on board!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

New pictures on flickr

I've managed to upload thumbnails from the camera to http://www.flickr.com/webbje, after a voyage of discovery with the linux tools at my disposal this afternoon in the cabin. Marianne, who owns the site, explained breezily that people just expected wireless internet access in their cabins these days while my jaw dropped...

The photos are only the raw .CR2 files, converted to JPG format and scaled down to a size that I can send quickly to the Flickr servers. The much larger and prettier originals are now backed up on the iPod.

So don't get your hopes up too much for the quality of the postcard-sized pictures :-)

I need that boat!

The daily hurtigruten passes Bud Camping
I was on the phone to Janet just now when the Hurtigrute hove into view, steaming rapidly past the campsite here at Bud. I need that boat to take me north tomorrow, hopefully out of this wet weather and into a sunnier climate up at Stamsund or Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands.

Today I've been mostly holed up in a nice warm comfortable cabin at the rather excellent Bud Camping, experimenting with Flickr and making myself pancakes with strawberry jam. It is a welcome break from cycling into the rain, which was particularly heavy this morning. So much so that I decided that I'd trust the forecast, which says that tomorrow will be less windy and quite sunny in the afternoon, hopefully in time for my dash across the bridged island section of the route to Kristiansund, now only 60-70 km away.

Tips #2 - Commando Shower Option

This assumes that you have no shower polet, and that no-one is going to turn up today to sell you one for 10 Kr (6 minutes) of hot shower.

You will need:-
  • A raincoat (it is raining)
  • Hytte key
  • Gilet/fleecy top - gilet preferred
  • Ronhill Tracksters
  • Bar of soap
  • Small towel (hand-towel size or smaller)
  • Cycling shoes
  • Nothing else. Remove all other clothing before leaving hytte.
Method
  • Enter washblock
  • Test hot water availability at standpipe
  • Grin
  • Drop trousers, scrub up
  • Raise trousers, remove gilet, scrub up
  • Remove excess soap and moisture with small hand towel
For best results:
  • Try to choose a time when the German fraus from the bobils are not using the washblock
  • Always use Ronhill Tracksters, they will be dry by the time you have recrossed the field to the hytte
  • Remember to hoard the polet you bought last time for the really cold, wet evening when you've just cycled 80 km and you badly need a shower.

Tips #1 - Basic Hytte Instructions

Your basic hut costs kr. 350 to kr. 400 per night. You will be renting a solidly built wooden hytte assembled about 10-15 years ago, with a small porch, lockable door, clothesline, and double glazed windows (2). Inside you will find two bunk beds, a table, four chairs, and a cupboard with a two-plate electric cooker on it. There's also a small electric heater under the larger window.

Take off your shoes before you enter the hytte. No self-respecting Norwegian wears shoes indoors.

Make sure the heater works before you choose this type of hytte. They have a history of abuse, and are often rusted out (too many wet clothes).

You will find a small plastic jerrycan with the dustpan and basic cleaning materials in the cupboard under the hotplate. This is for you to use to ferry water to your hytte for cooking purposes.

If you arrived when the office was closed, you'll find the key for your hytte in the door.

You may want a polet for the shower in the wash block. If the office is going to be closed for some time, you can use a spare polet hoarded from your last campsite, or take the Commando Shower Option.

You will need to bring your own bedding, cutlery, cooking pots, dishcloth, pillow, and entertainment to this hytte type. A tablecloth is provided, however.