Archive for May, 2010

Bergen

A week ago we flew down to Bergen for a long weekend, to visit Stephen and Hari (friends from Norwich) who moved there last December. It was raining in Tromsø when we left, but in Bergen we were greeted with brilliant sunshine! AND, it was so green there that it felt like summer for us! After a long bus trip from the airport (traffic jams! we hadn’t experienced that in a very long time :D) we arrived in the city centre and met Hari.

It was great to see some colour, I loved the flowering trees. Hari showed us around, and we visited the fish market and walked around the waterfront.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

This is the most famous part of Bergen: Bryggen. It’s a group of Hanseatic buildings, some dating from the 1700s. They are very pretty and colourful, and also very skewed. Actually, if you look closely at the second photo, you’ll notice that the building on the right is suspended about a metre above the ground. I guess they are repairing the foundation, as the buildings are apparently sinking.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

Between the wooden houses there are narrow alleyways, and there are some shops and pubs hidden behind. It’s quite special to step from the bright sunshine into the shade and coolness between the houses. The streets are wooden too, and Hari described it as entering a church – which I think is an excellent description. Everything goes quiet, the noises from the street fade away, you feel like you are going back in time and you almost want to whisper :D It’s hard to take pictures in these narrow streets when there’s such a contrast between the bright light and the shade, but here are two photos to give you an impression.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

Just to remind you where not quite back in the medieval times, we also found some modern items. And we saw this Viking ship coming in. It’s good photos don’t come with sound – the boy blowing the horn definitely needed some more practice ;)

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

All Norwegian cities seem to have art on their manhole covers. I like it! The other photo shows the inside of the building that houses the tourist centre, with very impressive murals! Too bad it’s a bit messy in there.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

Stephen joined us in town when he was done with work, and we all went up Fløibanen – a funicular with a glass roof that goes to the top of Fløyen at 320 metres. The views from there were really nice!

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

We had dinner at Stephen and Hari’s appartment, which is really nicely located just a little out of town. It’s in the one of the highest houses on a mountain and they have a great view. Sometimes you feel you’re living in the clouds, especially when it rains and you’re literally inside the cloud. After dinner, we went for a walk in their “backyard”. There is a nice path starting just outside their front door – perfect! The evening light was really beautiful.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

The views were great too, we could see the city centre, and several islands in the distance.

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

For the next 2 days, we had weather more typical for Bergen: rain. Still, it makes the tulips look pretty :)

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

We spent some time in museums, Bergen has many and they’re really nice. I loved this little piece of art, it was like a very small bowl, but no idea what its real purpose was. Perhaps just being pretty ;)

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

On the last day we decided to follow the path behind Stephen and Hari’s house all the way up to Løvstakken, one of the seven mountains that surround Bergen. It’s 477 m high. On the way, we passed Stephen and Hari’s favourite rock – it’s only 10 minutes from their house and they often go there to enjoy the view- nice! It rained a bit while we were there, but we managed to keep it dry for the rest of the trip.

Bergen in the sunshine

These are taken from the top of Løvstakken, by then the sun had come back out and the views were wonderful!

Bergen in the sunshine Bergen in the sunshine

After our walk it was time to get the bus to the airport again. It had been a great trip! Bergen is a really beautiful city and I’m glad we got to visit it. Thanks Stephen and Hari for a great weekend! Hope you come visit us in Tromsø soon :)

A Perfect Day

Summer has come to the Arctic! This is what our thermometer showed yesterday at around noon – in the shade…

We drove to the north of Kvaløya, to the end of a dirtroad, and started walking along the coast from there. There are still some patches of snow left, though they are disappearing very quickly now. Paul tried to protect his shoes from getting wet, and walked barefoot over the snow! After about 45 minutes, we reached a beautiful white beach with clear azure blue water – beautiful :)

Of course, beautiful places like this don’t go unnoticed and someone had built a cabin here. I think Paul was ready to buy it :D We spent some time suntanning on the beach, enjoying the views. Paul was tempted to go for a swim, but one toe in the water, and you remember you are in the Arctic and not the tropics – the water is so cold it hurts!

After our break on the beach, we had to walk back quite quickly, as we were meeting friends back in town for a BBQ. The original plan was Telegrafbukta, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea – it was extremely crowded there. It was easy to avoid the crowds though, just move a bit further along and you find empty beaches. We had our BBQ next to a small lighthouse, and Paul climbed on it to take this photo :) A flock of birds kept flying by…

The clouds were beautiful too! We stayed there for several hours, watching one of the last sunsets for a while – from tomorrow, we’ll have midnight sun.

There were several people out in kayaks, enjoying the calm water and warm weather.

What a perfect day!! Unfortunately, I had to cycle to work for a night shift right after our BBQ, but I can’t complain after such a wonderful day :)

Russia trip part 3: Kandalaksja & Rovaniemi

A bit delayed, but here is the final part of our Russia trip!

After our visit to Murmansk, we drove south to Kandalaksja. We stopped in Monchegorsk for lunch – quite a nice looking town actually! The map below shows our route, plus a little road trip we went on the next day, following the coast to just passed Umba – but more about that later.

After checking in to our hotel (where nobody spoke English!) we went for a walk to explore Kandalaksja. A much smaller town than Murmansk, with wide streets, trees, and wooden houses. Some parts of it looked quite nice :)

Some of the wooden buildings were very brightly painted! In the photo on the right (below) you can see that Kandalaksja does also have its share of concrete apartment blocks. This photo is taken (by Steve) from the frozen White Sea.

We walked to the shore to watch the sunset, and to our surprise found an icebreaker! This one is called Kapitan Nikolaev. We tried to walk over to it, but there was too much water/slush on top of the ice to continue.

When we walked to the shore, we noticed a building that looked like it might be a restaurant. On the way back, it was all lit up in blue Christmas lights, a LOT of them! We decided to try and have dinner there. As in all Russian restaurants, somebody takes your coat at the door before you go in. Inside everything looked very new, and very empty. There was only one other table occupied. Nobody spoke English except for the cook, so in the end he came to our table to take our order :D He was really friendly and suggested some meal options. The meal was wonderful!

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel, and amused some passers-by by taking a photo in front of the hotel :) Stephen also took a photo of his very pink room! The hotel was quite special, the hotel rooms were all on the same floor, and all other floors had all kinds of things. A bar and night club, a dentist, a door & shower cubicle shop (which was extremely popular!) – we had fun exploring the building!

The next day we explored a bit more. Here too, lots of trains full of coal – the nice building in the background is the station. And I had to get a photo of this Lada 4 wheel drive :)

In Russia, you find many kiosks where you can buy all sorts of things. Often with a tiny window to do business through. The second one was an unusual shape and was a bread shop.

The street signs are quite colourful! We also found some abandoned buildings near the station.

After our walk, we went for a drive along the coast of the White Sea (see the map above). Watching the view in the photo above, we understood why the White Sea is called White :)

Umba looked like a pleasant small town, but unfortunately we weren’t allowed to stop there. Umba is closed to foreigners, and to visit you need special permission. So we drove around the town and continued a bit further. We came across a village of what we assume are all dacha’s (summer houses). The village is called Kuzreka. The clouds were incredible, showing a pretty wave-like pattern. We went for a walk around the village.

Luckily someone had driven a car through it recently, it was nice walking in the car tracks – the snow was very deep! Most houses looked locked up for the winter, with snow piling up as high as half the front door! There didn’t seem to be anybody around. This house had quite a creative solution for a gutter :)

Some of the houses looked like they might collapse if you leaned against it, while others looked quite sturdy and pretty.

There were many colourful houses, it was really nice walking around the deserted village looking at all the houses! In the end we did find out that one person was present, and he didn’t seem to like us very much. Well I guess we must have looked very strange to him, walking around the abandoned village taking lots of photos.

That evening we tried to find a different restaurant to eat, but we couldn’t find any! Kandalaksja is a lot smaller than Murmansk, and we were quite an attraction for the local people. Most would just stare at us, some were brave enough to yell “Hello America!” :D. In the end we had dinner in a tiny cafeteria, where the food was paid by weight (even the potato chips – which they microwaved…).

The next day was our last day in Russia, so we started with some shopping to spend the remainder of our money. I was quite attracted by the sweets section in the supermarket – it all looked so good! And it’s so cheap! (Also, it’s almost all pure sugar ;) ) Paul almost got in trouble for taking that picture in the supermarket, they don’t like that. The photo on the right shows what we brought home – lots and lots of chocolate, sweets and (of course) vodka!

We had a look at this bridge crossing the river behind our hotel. As you can see, it was a very misty morning. There was some well on the other side of the bridge, we saw lots of people with jerrycans walking in that direction, like this woman coming back with a full jerrycan.

And here too, we found the lucky locks attached to the bridge…

After our shopping spree, we left Kandalaksja and headed west to the border. We didn’t take the same route back, as we were heading for Rovaniemi in Finland so we used the border crossing near Salla. We tried to buy some lunch on the way, but we got the car very stuck in the snow in a place we were not sure we were even allowed to stop – luckily a friendly guy helped us dig the car out! After that we thought it best to continue to the border. Easy as it was to come into Russia, it wasn’t as easy to leave! We spent more than an hour at the border crossing, answering lots of questions, and they even went through all the photos on our cameras. But fortunately in the end we were allowed to leave :) The Finnish border crossing was a lot easier (“You live in Tromsø? Do you work in a fish factory?”).

We were on the way to Rovaniemi to visit Mats, but first we visited the cabin that he just built. It looks really nice! It’s not completely finished yet, but it will have electricity and (of course!) a sauna.

We spent that night in a very nice hotel in the centre of Rovaniemi. The next day, we visited the Arktikum museum. The building is quite impressive, it has a large glass tunnel in the middle. Half of the museum is popular science aimed at kids, where you can try a bear suit for example ;) The other half was more about the local area and the Sami, and much more interesting.

Mats was determined to take us to Santa Claus, the huge attraction in Rovaniemi. And I thought Santa Claus came from North Pole in Alaska, how confusing ;) It’s crazy how Santa Claus became “big business” here – it’s like a huge theme park. Talking to Santa Claus is free, but having a photo taken with him will cost you 25 euro. We arrived at the site too late to meet Santa, so we just walked around the shops and looked at the giant snowmen.

In the evening we had dinner at Nili – what an amazing restaurant! I think that was the best meal I’ve ever had! It was all Lapland specialities and you could even order bear… I had salmon as a starter, a vegetarian main of vegetables and grilled goat’s cheese, and a dessert of a special Finnish cheese called Leipäjuusto with cloud berries. Hmmmm :) The perfect way to end our trip!

The next day we drove back to Tromsø – nearly 600 km. It had been a great trip!!

(Link to Part I: Tromsø to Kirkenes and to Part II: Murmansk)

Arctic beaches — and a new blog!

First of all, welcome to my brand new blog! Due to changes at blogger, I had to find a new home for my blog. Thanks to Ian (who has basically done all the hard work!), I now have a new blog with much more control over the layout! He also made sure nothing got lost, and if you’re using an old bookmark you should automatically be sent to the new blog. This blog isn’t 100% ready yet, so you might see some minor changes in the coming weeks. If you find something isn’t working as it should, do let me know!

The weather in the last weeks has been quite changeable. From the nice spring weather in my last post, we went straight back to winter and we even got about 25 cm of fresh snow! It’s been melting away quite fast however, and today it’s raining… This is what spring is like up here and I always find it a bit frustrating.

Before the snow came, we did enjoy a trip to some beaches on Kvaløya, like this one at Tisnes – with a shipwreck on the beach! The second photo shows Paul in it, for scale…

Of course he couldn’t resist climbing to the top!

Tisnes is a small peninsula with a farming community. We found this derelict shed with a tree growing from its roof! It was a great place to visit for a walk :)

Last Friday, I had the day off and it was beautiful weather. I decided to visit my favourite beach at Håkøya, an island near Tromsø. When I arrived, the tide was still quite high and the reflections were beautiful!

Paul decided to cycle there after work, it only took him 45 minutes! The new snow on the beach is being melted from underneath by the sea water at high tide. The snow was overhanging very far! It was hard to show this in a picture, but I think you get the idea in the photos below. The snow was still strong enough to walk on, as long as you didn’t walk too close to the edge ;)

I took some photos underneath the snow layer, it was like a miniature ice cave :D

It was a great afternoon outside :)

Yesterday we weren’t so lucky with the weather, it was very grey. We still wanted some fresh air, so we chose a road we never drove before, and went for a road trip. The village in the photo below is called Ytre Kårvik, behind it is the open ocean.

The road then continues over the mountains, with great views. The road soon turned into a dirt road, with some very big potholes. At the end of the road there is a hydropower station, you can only continue further if you own a house there. So we turned around and went for a walk at an island called Skogøya.

Although I would have preferred sunshine, the dark grey skies in combination with the landscape were quite impressive. Paul enjoyed flying his kite for a while, scaring all the birds away :D

Today it’s been raining all day, a good day to spend inside working on my blog :) And to get some rest before the coming week. I have finished my training period at work, and from tomorrow I’m an independent forecaster! A bit scary, but also very exciting. Now let’s hope I can forecast some sunny and warm spring weather soon :D