Archive for August, 2013

New Aurora Season

The aurora has been back for a while, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Last night I was about to go to bed, when I noticed it had finally cleared up. I could see some weak aurora towards the south, so I decided to go out for some photos. Quite exciting, as this was the first test of my new Canon 6D and my new wide angle lens (Canon 16-35mm f/2.8). It took some frustrating fiddling to get all the settings right (I haven’t taken night photos before with this camera or lens), but I have to say I’m very happy with the results!

It was a magical evening, the fjord was unusually calm which gave great reflections. The aurora was quite active at times, and I love the twilight blue sky (it doesn’t get totally dark here yet, even though these photos are taken between 01:15 and 01:45). A great start to the season :)

Aurora reflections This early in the season, it doesn't get completely dark - I love the colours of the sky :)

Green & blue beams above Tromsø island Two hearts :)

View towards Malangen There was some pink/purple aurora too Self portrait with the northern lights


Two weeks ago my parents visited me in Tromsø. Paul was already at sea (on his annual research cruise) when they arrived, but halfway through the week he called to say the ship had broken down, the cruise was aborted and he’d be home the next day! Not good for his cruise or the ship of course, but it was great to unexpectedly have him home so soon :)

My parents were very lucky with the weather: it was warm and sunny on most days! Sunday was their last day in Tromsø, and we decided to go “øyhopping” (island hopping) by ferry, from Belvika to Sandøya.

Three times a week (on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening), the ferry that connects Belvik (on Kvaløya) to the island Vengsøya goes all the way out to Sandøya, with request stops at several islands along the way. After about 4.5 hours the ferry is back at Belvika, so it’s often used as a sightseeing roundtrip. I’ve always wanted to go on this ferry, but only in good weather – and in good weather I usually didn’t want to “waste” the day on a ferry and instead would choose to climb a mountain something else active. Having visitors who are not that keen on mountains was the perfect excuse :P

Rebbensøya Looking back at Kvaløya

The ferry leaves quite late, around 17:00, so we made sure to have a big lunch at home. Lucky – as the only food you can buy on board is ice cream and waffles – a great snack but perhaps not the best dinner option :P

Sandøya with Sørfugløya peeping behind on the left Nice views :)

The ferry didn’t stop everywhere, but it picked up people at Risøya and Sandøya. They had to come on board via a steep ladder, carrying their luggage – and even dogs – on their shoulders :D

Passengers coming on board at Risøya, on a steep ladder - notice that the guy in front has to carry his dog on his shoulders! The quay at Risøya

We sat outside at the back of the ship, out of the wind and in the sun, and enjoyed watching the scenery. We brought a thermos for coffee and tea, and some chocolate and biscuits and really enjoyed the evening.

My parents enjoying the warm and sunny sightseeing trip The view from where we were sitting

It was nice to see Sandøya again, I would have loved to get off the ferry here and spend the night there, but work was waiting for me the next day – and anyway the next ferry back would be 3 days later :D

Sandøya Turning around, leaving Sandøya (left) and Rebbenesøya (right) behind

The ferry doesn’t have exact times for the islands stops, and since we didn’t stop everywhere, we had time left over on the way back. There were several sightseers on board, and the captain decided to make a few detours, so we got to see the church at Gåsvær for example! It looks beautiful there, I’d love to come back there and visit the island.

Vengsøy is the name of the ferry, and the name of the island in the background :) The church at Gåsvær, with the glacier on Hollendaren in the background

At about 21:00, it finally got a bit chilly and we moved indoors. The ferry is quite new, and it’s very comfortable inside, with huge windows. Sunset was beautiful, so I kept running back outside to take more photos ;)

Sunset colouring the clouds pink The last sunlight on Store Blåmann Vengsøya at sunset

We arrived back to Belvika at 21:30, and drove home in beautiful sunset pastels. What a perfect way to spend the last evening with my parents! :)

Summer in Finland, part 2: The Cabin by the Lake

After our week of cycling, we booked a cabin at the northern end of Finnish Lakeland. For those familiar with the area, it was near the village of Korpijärvi (between Varpaisjärvi and Rautavaara, about 80 km north of Kuopio). We had the cabin for a whole week, and it was the best week ever… The cabin came with a large sauna and its own rowing boat. During the whole week, we used the car once – to go food shopping in Varpaisjärvi. The rest of the time we cycled, we walked, we rowed, we swam… :)
Here are two photos to give you an impression of the cabin…

Our cabin by the lake... perfect place! Paul took this photo with his kite, you can see our very own beach :)

On the first day we cycled around the Korpinen lake, and quiet forest roads. We found a nice jetty to have a break, and a dragonfly kept us company :)

Time for a break during our round-the-lake cycle trip My little friend the dragonfly :)

In the evening we tried the rowing boat. It took some practice before we could row in straight lines instead of zigzags, but we mastered it by the end of the week ;)

Rowing took lots of practice but by the end of the week I could row in a straight line instead of zigzagging ;) In the evening it cleared up

In the evening it cleared up, and the small lake in front of our cabin turned into a painting, reflecting the sky….

The calm lake was like a painting... Paul couldn't get enough of rowing around the lake

The next day we cycled to Älänne, a small nature reserve only 5 km from our cabin. There, we hiked one of the trails through the forests and on the shores of the lake. It was beautiful!

Hiking in Älänne, a small nature reserve only 5 km from our cabin Mushrooms in the forest

There were lots of big sandy beaches on the lake, and at the end of the trail there was a nice shelter where we made a campfire. Funny story: during our hike I accidentally stepped next to one of the boardwalks, into a marsh. I got my shoe and sock pretty wet, and Paul offered to dry them on the campfire. I kept asking him if they were safe, if they were not too close to the fire etc… but in the end I relaxed and just enjoyed our break. When we wanted to leave, I found out my sock was half burnt away and the show was smouldering from inside the sole… OOPS!!

Some of the lakes have very nice sandy beaches Campfire at a shelter at the end of the hike

The next day was our first day of sunshine :) and we decided to explore the winding river that feeds into the lake. Metallic blue/green dragonflies darted around the river, we had fun chasing them in the hope of a good photo ;)

Sunshine! Time for a rowing trip :) There were lots of these pretty dragonflies with metallic blue/green wings

The water lilies were very pretty as well!

Some very pretty water lillies Close-up of the waterlilly

In the evening I took some sunset photos in the field behind the cabin, and then the full moon rose over the lake…

Evening in the field behind the cabin A full moon rising over the lake

Wednesday was another sunny day, and we explored the large lake and another river by boat. We cheated this time, and put our engine on the boat :D (we had our inflatable zodiac with us).

Another boat trip with great views :) A sunset panorama of 'our' beach and lake

The sunset was so beautiful, everything was blue and pink, the lake was a perfect mirror, and the moon rose on the far side….

Reflections The full moon rising over the lake at sunset... beautiful

We went for a row in the boat in the moonlight, while patches of fog drifted from the fields over the lake. A magical evening!

Water lillies & the moon, taken from the rowing boat A magical misty evening Rowing in the moonlight

On Thursday we went back to Älänne to try one of the other hiking trails. It had looked boring on the map, but it was a fantastic hike :) The best part was when we crossed a ridge between two lakes – so pretty!

Another hike in Älänne, on a ridge between two lakes Through the pine forest

We stopped halfway to have dinner and a campfire at another shelter. We found out afterwards that it’s not wise to stay in the forest after sunset, as the mosquitos come out in full force… So we hiked back in record speed, and enjoyed cycling back along the deserted roads….

Hot dogs from the campfire at another shelter along the trail Cycling back to the cabin on deserted roads

And then sadly, our last day at the cabin arrived. It was another warm sunny day, and we spent it picnicking in the boat and swimming in the lake. In the evening we made dinner outside, and enjoyed this sunset view…

Sunset on our last evening at the cabin

We had another sauna and a magical swim in the lake after midnight. Behind the cabin there was a nice display of noctilucent clouds, while the moon lit a shallow layer of mist over ‘our’ lake. Another magical night…

Noctilucent clouds! A final photo of our pretty little lake in the moonlight

It was very hard to say goodbye to the cabin the next day, but it was time to leave for our final destination in Finland. To be continued :)

Summer in Finland, part I: Cycling Oulu – Kajaani

This summer we’ve spent our three weeks of summer holidays in Finland :) We drove from Tromsø to Oulu, breaking the long trip in half by staying in a cabin overnight. We had stayed at the same place before, one our way back from Easter holidays in Luleå. The cabin was at Muodoslompolo, try to pronounce that :D In Oulu, we parked our car in a parking garage for a week, and on a sunny Sunday morning we started our cycle trip to Kajaani – we would cycle just over 250 km in 5 days…

A map of our route from Oulu to Kajaani, with our hotels indicated by a house. The GPS ran out of batteries on the third day, where it looks like we cycled over the lake ;) Proof: Finland is NOT flat!! :) We cycled uphill for most of our trip, though I have to admit it was hardly noticeable

Day 1: Oulu – Utajärvi (61 km)

Oulu is a very cycle friendly city, so it was easy to get out of town. We followed the Oulujoki (Oulu river) all day, though we could only glimpse the river every now and then, hidden behind fields and forests. We mostly cycled through farmlands…

Some of the typical views along the way, I love these old sheds You could often see small-scale drying of grass - the old fashioned way without any plastic!

It was a pleasant day of cycling, on quiet roads. We soon found we were following a hiking trail called the Tar Route, a nearly 100 km long route from Rokua National Park to Oulu. Tar production used to be very important in this region, and the barrels of tar were transported along the river to Oulu, which is represented in the logo of the hiking trail.

Cycling along quiet roads The Tar Route hiking trail, which we followed almost all the way

We arrived at our accommodation at 18:00, and dinner would be served at 19:00 – perfect! We stayed at a manor house called Merilän Kartano, a really nice place on the river. Besides a couple staying in a cabin, we were the only guests. Dinner was a buffet, we had to be careful not to eat more than our share and leave the other couple hungry ;)

In the evening we watched the most amazing sunset from behind our room… the sky turned this deep pink/purple, even though it was raining at the time. We also saw a hedgehog :)

We found this sad looking owl on a walk near the hotel We watched the most amazing sunset that evening...

Day 2: Utajärvi – Rokua (34 km)

The next day started perfectly sunny, and after breakfast we cycled to nearby Utajärvi to buy some supplies in the supermarket.

Our hotel in the morning sunshine The wooden church in Utajärvi

We didn’t have very far to cycle that day, so we took it easy with lots of breaks along the way :)

The landscape changed to pine forest, moss and heather The moss was nice & soft :)

We were now cycling through the forest, with a thick moss covering on the ground – very pretty.

Paul in the ethereal forest My turn to pose in the forest

Unfortunately it got more and more cloudy throughout the day. We had a final stop at Ahmas Kalevala Heritage Village. The Kalevala is the Finnish national epic, published in 1835. I didn’t even know what a national epic was, but Wikipedia has the answer: “an epic poem or a literary work of epic scope which seeks or is believed to capture and express the essence or spirit of a particular nation”. The village of Ahmas was famous for  bards, folk singers and poem singers, and part of the source material for the Kalevala came from them. There was an open air museum with beautiful buildings and interesting stories… there was nobody there and apparently it’s free to wonder around and even go inside some of the buildings. An interesting stop!

The forest road An old cabin in a sort of open air museum

It started to rain while we were at the heritage village, so we decided to cycle the last 9 km to our hotel as fast as we could.

Our hotel (Rokuanhovi) was located inside Rokua National Park. We went for  a long walk before dinner, but we didn’t take many photos as it was raining. It was beautiful though – it’s a landscape shaped by the last ice age. The soil is mainly sand, shaped into crescent dunes, but now covered in a thick forest and an incredibly thick layer of reindeer lichen.

Day 3: Rokua – Manamansalo (58 km)

The next day we did see some sunshine, but there were lots of rain showers around. Somehow I decided to be very Dutch that morning and I took some extra rolls of bread from the breakfast buffet to have for lunch. Lucky – as we didn’t come across a singe cafe/shop the whole day!!

Our hotel in Rokua No lack of wood in Finland :)

We cycled through the forest, following a route that Google maps suggested (I used my iPhone and a Finnish sim card that gave me unlimited data for nearly nothing (0.66 euro per day), with excellent 3G reception in even the most remote places – brilliant!!). It was a nice route, but what Google didn’t tell us, was that the dirt road we followed would turn into a nearly-impossible sandy road…

Nice place to sit - pity most places on the lake are private! Rain showers were approaching here... Through the magical mossy forest near Rokua, on a dirt road. The only person we saw was a guy in a van, collecting moss!

The only other person we met was a guy in a van, collecting moss… I know reindeer lichen is used for Christmas decorations in the Netherlands, and it’s quite expensive – so this might be a great business?! :)

We were very relieved when we got to the end of the crazy sandy road, and back on a tarmac road… We cycled to the ferry to Manamansalo, an island within Lake Oulu.

It's a bit hard to see in this photo, but the dirt road was really bad in some places, with deep sand The ferry to Manamansalo

A thunderstorm was following us from the ferry to our camping site, but luckily we only got some light rain. Our accommodation for the night was at Manamansalo campsite, where we rented a cabin. The cabin was very nice, though in a way not such a good deal compared to hotel rooms – the price was the same, but linen was not included and neither was breakfast. There was a small shop on the campsite where we bought a luxury meal: a tin of meat balls in brown sauce and instant mashed potatoes :D It actually tasted very good after a long day of cycling :)

Our cabin was next to a small lake, with great reflections…

Threatening thunderstorm behind us - but we managed to avoid most of it View from our cabin by the lake - fantastic!

We went for a walk after dinner, but after only 15 minutes we ran back to the cabin to avoid another rain shower :D

The shore of Oulajärvi, or Lake Oulu The view of the lake never got boring, even when the skies turned grey

Day 4: Manamansalo – Paltamo (48 km)

The next day wasn’t the best: it rained all day, and it was quite cold and windy too. And when we stopped at a cafe for a break and some food, I discovered I had a flat tire. Well, at least it was better to find that out while at a cafe with a covered outside area, than along the road in the middle of nowhere.

A rainy day...

We didn’t stop all day, except for another tea-and-cake stop at a cafe. Our destination for the day was Paltamo, and it was the only night that we hadn’t been able to book accommodation for. We knew there was a hotel, and we had tried to call them several times, but after asking the lady if she spoke English or Swedish, she would just hang up! Luckily the hotel did exist and her husband even spoke some English. It was quite a special place, frozen into the 70s. It was cheap though, and warm, and dry, so I wasn’t complaining ;)

We walked around Paltamo in the evening – a very sleepy town with basically nothing to see or do. We were hoping for a restaurant, but the only option was a burger at the petrol station. There was a big supermarket though, so we stocked up on snacks and lunch, and breakfast, as the hotel didn’t provide that.

Day 5: Paltamo – Kajaani (53 km)

The next day was warmer and dry – but still rather cloudy. We had to cycle along a relatively busy road for a while in the morning.

Our glamorous hotel in Paltamo

Later we took another forest dirt road (never trust Google maps :P) and we visited the Paltaniemi. This village is famous for its pictorial church. It was impressive indeed, an old wooden church full of paintings of various scenes from the Bible on the ceiling and walls. Above the door there is a large painting of heaven and hell, but a large part of hell is missing. Apparently, it was removed as it was so shocking that ladies were fainting… it makes you curious what it was showing ;)

The church in Paltaniemi This old church is famous for the paintings on the walls and ceilings, and also called a pictorial church. Impressive!

I liked the bird :) Of course there was a nice illustration of what hell is like... but a large part at the bottom is missing, as it made ladies faint - wonder what it showed!!

After a tea and doughnut, we cycled the last 9 km to Kajaani, the final destination of our cycle trip. It looked like a pleasant town, but we didn’t explore much as it rained heavily that evening and the next day. We relaxed in our hotel, and took the train back to Oulu the next day.

It had been a nice trip, though we were a bit unlucky with the weather. As long as you don’t take Google-shortcuts, the roads are great, though you sometimes have to cycle on quite busy road (where the speed limit is 100 km/h). Usually there are alternatives though, and near towns there are often very nice cycle paths. Paul would have preferred to cycle longer distances each day, but I am not sure I would find that so enjoyable – though with the large distances between places (shops! cafes!) you might be better off.