Archive for April, 2010

Grøtfjord

Today was a very sunny day. So much so, that we decided to go for a bbq on the beach after work. We drove to Grøtfjord, which is about an hour’s drive from Tromsø. Quite far, but definitely worth it! To get there you cross the mountains and pass a lake, then suddenly the views open and you can see the tiny village of Grøtfjord way down below. I still get excited every time I see the view, and insist on getting a picture even though the road doesn’t really allow for it.

Grøtfjord seen from the road

Our first visit to Grøtfjord was in November 2007, when we came here for Paul’s job interview. Here you can find a picture taken from the same place as the one below – just in a different season.

We had the beach to ourselves – well, apart from a lot of seagulls and a couple of oystercathers. It was such a beautiful day – sunny and no wind. Still, this is Northern Norway and I was glad I was wearing my down jacket :) I found the shell of a sea urchin and took some macro photos of it. The shell is fascinating up close!

After finally lighting a disposable bbq (it was damp after being stored all winter), we grilled some sausages. By 20:00, the sun was getting lower and it got a bit chilly – we were glad we brought some hot chocolate with us.

Afterwards, we went for a little walk along the coast, enjoying the sunset. The colours kept changing and were very intense, beautiful!

On the way back to Tromsø, the back side of Blåmann was looking very pretty in the last light. And so was Tromsdalstinden!

The fjords were very calm and the reflections were beautiful too.

We briefly stopped in Ersfjordbotn, a village on the way back where we never stopped before. It’s located on an impressive fjord and has a cute little harbour…

Such a great evening! It’s so nice when the days get longer and you can go on little trips like this after work :)

Russia trip part 2: Murmansk

It took a while, but finally part 2 of our trip to Russia – with LOTS of photos!

From Kirkenes we drove to the Russian border. Nobody asked us any questions at the border, Steve had to fill in some forms as the owner of the car, but otherwise it wasn’t much of a hassle. After about 20 minutes, we were in Russia! Here is a map of our route to Murmansk. The normal route from Kirkenes to Murmansk follows the road further north, and passes through several towns. Some of those are closed, but we were hoping to visit some others. However, we ended up on a different route, for mysterious reasons and to our own confusion. But more about that later…

The first part of the drive is through the border zone, where you are not allowed to take photos or even stop the car except in an emergency. After a while, we reached Nikel. You pass a huge sign with the name of the town when you enter, something every Russian town seems to have. The main reason for existence of Nikel is a big nickel smelter (which makes it quite a polluted town). The photo on the right is part of this smelter.

We got some money out of an ATM in Nikel and walked around for a bit. The town looks like it was once quite nice, but now all the paint is peeling off and the buildings look like they could use some maintenance ;)

I found this music video that was filmed in Nikel quite recently. I love the song, and the video is beautifully made!

After leaving Nickel, we followed signs to Murmansk. We had to go through a passport control at the start of this road, but then we were on our way. I had my gps on and started to wonder what was going on, as we kept driving south instead of east. Somehow we ended up on a different road to Murmansk, one that didn’t get much traffic at all – and from the condition of the road it looked like not many snowploughs had passed either! We started to worry a bit, until we saw a snowplough coming from the opposite direction. We flagged him down and asked if the road was going to Murmansk, which he confirmed. So we decided to keep going. The road was really going through the middle of nowhere, we hardly saw any buildings or other cars. We had to drive quite slowly because of the bad conditions, so it took a long time before we reached a bigger road which took us east to Murmansk. In total it was about 300 km from Kirkenes to Murmansk. Below is an example of the road we took, if it wasn’t for the trees you wouldn’t know where the road was! The other photo is our hotel in Murmansk.

We arrived quite late, and only had time to go for dinner. The next day it was time to explore! This is the logo for Murmansk; northern lights, a ship and an exceptionally big fish :D. You also find signs of the USSR and Lenin everywhere.

From the hotel, we walked to the train station, the mint coloured building in the picture below. It was quite busy there, lots of people carrying skis were just getting off a train. The other photo is taken by Steve, it’s a decorated pedestrian tunnel near the station. Paul was amazed that the people in Russia actually do wear fur hats quite a lot!

We crossed the railway tracks using a pedestrian bridge, which gave a good view of all the trains parked there. So many! Lots of them filled with coal.

At the waterside, we found a ship called NS Lenin – it’s the first nuclear icebreaker ever built. It’s big! Paul and Steve walked up to the guard and managed to understand that the ship was not open for visitors today, but would be tomorrow at 12. We decided to come back the next day, as it would be great to see the ship from the inside!

Near the ship were fences full of locks… it is apparently a tradition to come to a place like this on your wedding day and attach a lock to the fence. Most have names and dates written on them, either just with nail polish or something, or inscribed. Quite impressive to see so many!

This photo is taken at the same place, the building is a kind of harbour office I believe.

We tried to follow the waterfront, but often were stopped by a barrier. There was lots of industry there and lots of these areas were closed off unless you worked there. In the end we did what seemed quite normal here: we walked along the train tracks. In this area we also found some colourful wooden buildings. And this mural at a petrol station :D

There is a very large statue of a soldier on a hill overlooking Murmansk, and we thought we might be able to climb this hill from the waterfront, even though the main access is from the other side. We found some stairs going up the hill and walked up, passing a group of people who were using a well to fill up jerry cans with water. A bit further up we saw many wooden buildings which looked quite nice. When passing one of them, a guy called out to us. Apparently the road we were following was going nowhere. W
hen he found out we were foreign, he invited us inside for a coffee. It was quite an interesting visit! It turned out to be a dacha – a kind of summer house. He didn’t live there permanently (he said he lived only 500 m away, in the city) and was still renovating it. He was there with 2 young children. He showed us lots of photos of his family and friends. He had worked on a fishing boat in Norway for a while and learnt some English. When we left, we had to take some photos as he wanted a souvenir :)

We decided to walk back to the hotel and drive to the soldier instead. There were lots of dachas in this area, they looked quite nice. I don’t really understand why people don’t live there permanently instead of in the large apartment blocks but I guess there is a reason for that. We also found this abandoned van. These vans are common in Russia – they look like a Russian version of the VW camper van :)

Just a picture of some art on a building wall. Most of the art you find is related to ships. I love the aurora in this one!

On the main square, there was a big heart made out of ice. It looks like some people attached scarves to the bottom of it, no idea why. Two giggly girls kept jumping up, reaching for something… turns out there were coins frozen into the ice, and they were trying to get one out :D

By mid afternoon, we had done a lot of walking – time for a break! We passed this huge bakery/cafe, with lots of choice. Lots of cakes :) I chose a banana chocolate one (no surprise there) and ordered a hot chocolate to go with it. The hot chocolate was more like chocolate sauce, very thick – but very nice :)

After walking back to the hotel, we drove to the soldier up on the hill. He’s called Alosha and symbolises the unknown soldier. The statue is more than 30 m high and really quite impressive. You can see how small the people are next to him…

It seems quite a popular place for people to visit. There is a flame in front of it, and people try to throw coins into the flame…

The soldier is placed on top of a hill overlooking the city, so the view from there is quite good. Very impressive to see the city and all the industry from up there, while hearing all the sounds from the trains and the cranes.

Here is a panorama of the view…

LOTS and LOTS of cranes in the harbour…

On the way back we stopped at a nice church. There was a service going on, so we didn’t stay very long. Next to the church is this memorial to people who died at sea in the Arctic.

In the evening we went for dinner at a place recommended by the girl behind the reception at our hotel. It was quite a funky and modern restaurant. Most restaurants we went to in Russia seem to serve everything from sushi to pasta to pizza to meat dishes, whatever you prefer. The deserts in this place were really nice, I had a fruit spring roll and it was GOOD. Pity we didn’t get a photo of the hostess of the restaurant – she was wearing a pink silk catsuit and very high heels…

Afterwards we went to a cafe for some coffee/tea. Pity I had eaten so much, cause here they had even more amazing cakes and deserts!

Back at the hotel, Paul took some photos of the apartment block behind it. The first one was taken earlier in the day when it was still light. This photo is inspired by a photo we saw in an exhibition about Murmansk in a museum in Tromsø which in turn inspired us to come there!

The next day we checked out of the hotel and drove to the ship. There were lots of people around now, and even a few touring buses! At 12, a tour started and we joined. It was all in Russian and we didn’t understand any of it, but it was nice to walk around the ship anyway. This ship was used between 1959 and 1989 as this mural was showing…

Of course Lenin was everywhere…

We got to see the engine room and the control room:

With a lot of buttons ;) the second photo is the nuclear reactor, which you could see through a very small window.

Then we visited the bridge, which had very small windows, and lots of phones!

This map shows some of the routes the ship took.

Steve as captain of the ship :) Notice how the captain did not have a chair, just something to lean against.

After our tour of the ship, we left Murmansk and drove south to our next destination: Kandalaksja. But that will have to wait until next time!

(Link to Part I: Tromsø to Kirkenes and to Part 3: Kandalaksja & Rovaniemi)

Russia trip part 1: Tromsø to Kirkenes

During Easter break we went on a road trip to Russia with Stephen. Paul has been curious to visit Murmansk for a long time, and one late evening (with the help of a few gin & tonics) the plan to drive to Russia was born. We used a tourist office in Kirkenes (Pasvikturist) who arranged the visa plus the required hotel booking in Murmansk (you have to be “invited” by the hotel in order to apply for a visa). We spent a few evenings looking at maps to decide on a route (where one day of driving was decided by the length of 1 spoon!) and booked all our accommodations on the way.

I will post the photos/stories of this trip in several parts, as it would be way too long for one blog entry! This first part will cover our trip from Tromsø to Kirkenes, where we picked up our visa before crossing the border into Russia.

Below is a map of the route we took (click to see a larger version). From Tromsø to Kirkenes you can either follow the road along the coast until Alta, or drive inland all the way (partly through Finland). We chose the inland route as it’s slightly faster and we were curious to visit some towns in that part. We took a bit more than 2 days to reach Kirkenes: we spent our first night near Karasjok, and the second in Finland about 80 km before reaching Kirkenes. In total the route is about 800 km.

We left on a sunny Saturday morning – with beautiful reflections in the fjords :) Paul was trying to get a better photo by climbing on the road barrier. He looks very small, but in fact it’s just that there’s so much snow on top of the barrier! This often means you don’t have much of a view from the car…

We arrived in Kautokeino early in the evening. I was very curious to see this area of Norway, called “Finnmarksvidda” or Finnmark plateau. I write forecasts for this area but have never been there! This is real “Sami land”, a high plateau of rolling hills where not many people live – ideal for reindeer herding! At Easter, there is a big Sami festival in Kautokeino but we were there a week too early. Instead, we visited Juhl’s silver gallery – a fantastic art gallery/shop! Unfortunately we arrived there 17:45 while they were closing at 18:00 but we still had some time to browse around. They have a silver workshop but they also sell lots of glass and other items.

It’s an incredible building, you go from one surprise to another. Suddenly you find chickens, or you look into the eyes of a sheep while browsing some glass items…

There was a ceiling full of mirrors – find my reflection in the photo below :) The architecture of the building was really nice as well, with lots of sloping ceilings and unusual corners.

It was located a little out of town up on a hill and from the large glass windows you could overlook Kautokeino. Beautiful!

Probably it was best for my wallet that they were closing, I only bought some beautiful small glass Easter eggs. The prices were very reasonable though, and they had so many beautiful things. If you’re ever close to Kautokeino, I’d really recommend a visit – and do allow a bit more time than we did!

It takes just under 2 hours to drive from Kautokeino to Karasjok, but I wished it lasted longer. It was such a magical landscape, blueish in the last light of the day combined with the light of the moon. We saw many reindeer. My favourite moment was seeing a large herd of reindeer crossing single file over a frozen lake… Unfortunately we didn’t get a photo of that, but we did take some photos of a group crossing the road.

We had called ahead to our accommodation to ask if we could have dinner there. We arrived in the dark, a bit unsure about where to go, when the door of a large cabin opened and a girl came out to tell us dinner was ready, and that she would show us our cabin so we could drop our stuff. What a warm welcome :) We were staying at a husky farm called Engholm. The owner built and designed all cabins himself, and he’s so creative! Almost everything is made out of wood in a beautiful and very original way. Below you can see our cabin from the outside and from the inside :) It was really nice and cosy – we all wished we could have stayed more than just one night!

The next morning after breakfast we walked around the farm. Wood, wood, wood :)

Of course we went to say hello to the dogs! Each has their own little house :)

They are really friendly, and some have amazing blue eyes. They love to get some attention :)

There was a group of Germans about to leave for a multi day ski trip. Sven (the owner) would join them by dogsled so he could prepare their camp before they got there. We watched the team getting the sled ready.

And off he went! I actually had to jump out of the way after taking this picture, or I would have been run over by a dog sled ;)

Such a great place, we were sorry to leave. They organize many multiple day dogsled trips, and we are considering coming back to join one of these trips.

The husky farm is about 6 km from Karasjok so that was our first stop for the day. It was Palm Sunday though, and everything was closed. We went for a walk on the frozen river for a bit.

And visited this little church. From the outside only, it didn’t seem to be in use. I loved this colourful house overlooking the river…

After our short stop in Karasjok, we drove on to Inari in Finland. This was the only “major” place on our way to our accommodation. It’s a very small town, but it has a really good museum: Siida, the Sami museum. I was most impressed by their large permanent exhibition about the seasons in northern Scandinavia. It explained how plants and animals adapt to the long cold winter and the short summer, how they find food when everything is covered by snow, etc. Really interesting, and all illustrated with beautiful photographs. We spent a couple of hours there, without noticing how time was flying until somebody came to tell us they were now closed!

We drove along the huge lake of Inarijarvi for a while, until we reached our accommodation near the border with Norway (“D” on the map). Not quite as impressive as our first night, but that was hard to beat! We had a nice meal there and as we were in Finland, of course they had a sauna :) The other people staying there were all on snowscooter trips.

The next day was Monday and we had a short drive to Kirkenes where we picked up our passports with Russian visa. We didn’t stay there very long, as we were eager to cross the border now that we were so close :)

Link to Part 2: Murmansk and to Part 3: Kandalaksja & Rovaniemi

Magical evening

We spent a magical evening watching the northern lights from a jetty at Telegrafbukta. The nights are quickly getting shorter, and even at midnight there is still some twilight left. This evening, the sky was still light in the west when the northern lights appeared. It was truly magical to watch them dance while the sky was a very intense blue.

As the sky got darker, the activity was decreasing – time to go home :) A great end to the aurora season!