Long way through Finland, rainy and flat.
So where do I go in Finland? I ask Sege, Sara's Russian contact in Helsinki "the further north you go the more beautiful it gets" is his reply.
Finland south to north we cross in just 3 days. The spread of 5 hours between sunset and sunrise in Helsinki, what is left as night goes to zero quickly, we cross the Arctic Circle (wiki) which is at North 66° 33′ on the 20th of June, sun is supposed to shine all day and night, obviously only when it’s not overcast, this is what then would be called midnight sun at this (summer) time of the year. In winter on the other side the sun would not shine at all, night would prevail for 24 hours; some aurora, atmospheric reflections would be called Northern Lights, that other marvellous spectacle should be equally impressive, maybe a reason to come back one day.
Obviously sun shine or no shine, all depends on clouds and that is exactly the thing, the weather is simply awful, it rains more or less non-stop, it pours, no point to hang around much, we drive on and on, only stop for gas and to buy food. On the second day 600km after Helsinki and still so much traffic, at Kaajani I turn east, towards the Russian border and finally we escape civilised Finland, the highway and 24 hour service stations, we find the wild parts, endure the mosquitoes and eventually see reindeer, discover the untouched lakes and forests, there is a sunny flash, we stop and the boys make use of the occasion and have a bath.
Finland is flat, has almost 200,000 lakes (quiet unclear how many exactly), the rest is forests, birch and pines and others. Further north we drive and find our last camp in Finland, a bid away from the road is a clearing and we walk an evening after dinner walk, when the rains unexpectedly stop, I take my glass of whiskey with me. It is so quiet and we walk on soft ground, fern and moss, red and green, untouched. I urge the boys to be quiet, so we could maybe see rein or moose, I can almost smell them, their droppings and scratch marks are everywhere. But it must be my own farts that smell, the drizzle restarts and we return. It is as if somebody has left the lights on, so hard it is to fall asleep and I put hats over the boys’ eyes, at 2 in the morning I can see brigh sunshine; all is suddenly clear, but I am tired and cannot be bothered, pull my own hat back over my eyes.
When we wake early and it’s back overcast with light showers. I take the same glass, mix strong instant coffee and we go for another wild walk, walk and feel the soft ground under the feet convinced there are some animals around. I take the long lens. The drizzle comes and goes and all we see is one big bird stepping about on the other side of a lake and send out shrieks. After almost 2 hours and some 3kms (we are not accomplishing too much yet and it takes a lot of convincing, you can tell from the boys’ faces) we return to the clearing and the van and while I stow all away the boys now screech and there, there they are: the reindeer we were looking for and even the sun sends some rays on us.
Norway, cold and icy and a near accident.
Finland is flat, not even rolling; I have forgotten how to change gears on the 1,500km. Enter Norway and straight after the border the excitement starts. The Neiden River goes through a couple of rapids and waterfalls; the water put-through is such that it makes me feel that all of Lapland drains through here. Yes when Finland was too flat for me then certainly the interesting scenery starts here, a rough coast with peninsulas, fjords, islands, canyons, waterfalls, a land moulded since glacial times by wind, snow and ice. It reminds me in fact a bit of Scotland and the Highlands and we immediately go exploring and after they climb the rocks as they do I know that we’ll be doing a lot without me having too much to worry.
We turn east to Kirkenes to discover that beer is even more expensive and harder to come by than in Finland (25 Euros for a six pack of so-so beer, and they look at you as if you’re a drug addict). Kirkenes is a dead end for us, the road leads to Murmansk, Russia is 10 kilometres away, I just wanted a look round here, we turn go back towards the west. I drive on and on, it is still a long way to the North Cape/Nordkapp, it is getting late, I wish to see the midnight sun, the boys leep heavenly in the back. The road I choose follows the coast, crosses several peninsulas over several low altitude plateaus (300m); on such occasions temperature drops significantly, snowy patches, even snowfields and frozen lakes and the semi-wild reindeer become a common sight.
Here is 24 hours daylight, is magic. One was used to the separation of night and day, dusk and dawn and sunset and sunrise in between and all like a wonder had been done away with. One never knows when it is time to prepare dinner and sleep. I think of changing it all together, stay awake at night for walking and driving in midnight sun which really we hardly see due to overcast conditions and sleep and rest during the day, but really the boys have their inner watch, comes 10, 11 p.m. they are gone to dreamland.
Those pictures are shot past midnight; I’ve lost the feel for what time it is completely. Soon later I realise the senselessness of driving on, park, it is beautiful here. I find sleep quickly with my hat covering my eyes. Early morning I fetch water from the lake just meters away, for washing, later I would use it for coffee and spaghetti. Weather is clear and we go for our walk along its banks. The boys love it and comment with jolie joué what translate from their language to nice playground.
And then after taking off it happens what should never happen, a near accident or accident, and as so many times before the angels protected me/us to come down alive. Maybe a strong side wind was in play as well, fact of the matter is I didn’t concentrate for a second when the boys wanted to take their boots off. One boot in hand I realised I have come off the road, not adrenaline but an invisible hand steered the car to safety; helped me do the right thing avoid the wrong. The wrong would have been try stay on the road; we would have come off anyway and rolled over a few times.
Instead and through my desert driving experience I know it is best to go down a slope in as straight a line as possible: We are not fast, never are fast, here there is no tree, no scrub, no ditch, we go down the slide, further down I break, in the back everything flies around, I stop the car, not a scratch, not even a flat tire; the angels have carried it on wings.
A reminder to take it easy and keep the mind on the road! Is the thing with children they are in the back unlike other stuff, GPS, radio, map, phone, a drink, you may look at it but the road always remains in front. I kiss my boys, check the car, and we head out, there is even a road to go back up.
The boys see it relaxed.
We eventually reach Nordkapp, the North Cape, 5 years and 11 months into my journey; here I am with my boys. This is 71° 10’ Northern latitude, sun never sets. It is an island of bold hills and cliffs. 71° north is amazing; it is not Europe’s northern most point, NOT BY ANY DEFINITION (wiki) but who cares, it is one of those destinations I always wanted to go. It greets us with horizontal rains, the cliffs are somewhere, 300m meters of altitude, we don’t leave the van for the first 12 hours here, the storms rage, shake us round. About 100 camper caravans are lined up, cuddle together, stand close together in the wind, as if that could warm us. When we arrive at 8 p.m. all is still pretty clear, the fog, true dense fog arrives though before midnight, sight goes down to 10 meters, the campers disappear behind a white curtain; remember we have 24 hours of daylight. Temps not so much above 0°C!
In the morning we see our breath, the boys ask for chocolate after their milk and honey and I give it to them, just a tiny piece, as always just a tiny piece at a time. All in all maybe this is not the place to stay under the current conditions. However we go and explore the site. Is cold, we enter the visitors centre; a film is shown in the basement, the tour busses unload loads and loads; outside most remains foggy, chilly and windy. Later we cook pasta in the van; then I bed the boys, jolie film; nice film (it was)!
In the afternoon we attempt once more but the rains go horizontal again, no point hanging around, indeed it is exposed, the clouds travel at this altitude of 300m and as discussed earlier, a little altitude here changes temps a lot.
Driving off I am altogether very happy, a little inner satisfaction engulfs. A long way south lies ahead, we are going to take it easy, we are looking forward to warmer weather, sun, midnight sun even, maybe beaches later and a swim, maybe even cheaper beer but a lot lies in between.
"Here I am at North Cape – at the very edge of civilisation – and I can say that my hunger for knowledge is satisfied. Now I can travel home content if God permits" - Francesco Negri, 1664 - from nordkapp.no.
The Fjords of Norway/Chasing midnight sun. Lyngen to Thromso.
Nordkapp, the island is beautiful empty bold hills, covered by a patchwork of snowy fields with the reindeer lying dotted in the rough barren land while constant cruel winds howl over the cliffs and rock faces, stacked boulders and pebbles. It was connected 1999 to the mainland, a tunnel of 7km leads deep down to 200m below sea level, the old van struggles climbing back up the steep slope of more than 6%, vegetation changes so quickly from almost no vegetation, just mosses, lichen and grasses back to bushes and later forests. The best thing is that after a day of driving the weather gets so much nicer. Plenty of driving, but also plenty of activity, long walks along wild rivers, Norway harbours the spectacular in abundance. Some Pics further down, the hanging bridge walk, the reindeer fence; the birch woods that just started sprouting, look how they climb, I am so content I can do this with my boys.
And then one clear night and I see the midnight sun; it really exists, bounces of the horizon! This night camp across Lyngen mountains and the fjord with the same name, what a sight! I bed the boys, sleep in myself, wake at 1 a.m. not by miracle, put sunglasses on, sneak out with no socks in my boots, take lots of brackets, I do not know what I want, am too tired, 10 minutes later I am back, the boys have not moved.
But I won’t wear sunglasses for 24 hours now, when the morning is still great and we crawl around the beaches and boulders of Lyngen Fjord, search for little snails, lunch time is back hazy and in the afternoon the rains are back, a bit.
At Nordkjosbotn we join the last stretch of what is called the Northern Lights Route that connects Tornio, Finland, the Gulf of Bothnia to Tromsø on the Norwegian coast, following mostly the border with Sweden thus connecting three countries, multiple ethnicities. Before the Germans built a proper road it was only sledge-able in winter, hence maybe the name.
So there we are in Tromsø (wiki), why did we get here? It feels nice, a real town off the main tourist path, its Mack brewery, "most northern in the world"; produces the expensive, so-and-so brew that I drink for 4.5 Euros a can. Tromsø has a large collection of 18th c. wooden houses and a great many pubs in just these wooden houses, yes - feels nice just I do not even want to ask the price of a beer; our budget here is really strained.
I park outside the Mack brewery, the Ohlhallen pub, oldest pub here on the other side offers me free Wi-Fi, there is a bust just outside the van, a tourist takes pictures, Ludwig Mack, 1842-1905, the brew in my cans is just run-of-the-mill but really what can be good for over 4 Euros? The rains are largely at bay; we manage a few walks around town, the playground on Tromsø main-square fascinates my boys; once they escape to the near-by shopping centre, when it starts raining and everyone rushes inside at the same time, the boys somewhere in the crowd. I am not so scared losing them, more they could run outside and fall in the water. Difficult to judge whether they went upstairs, back outside or sit happily playing in the toys area? Those long 10 scary minutes!
Tromsø is much nicer than expected, the rains are back, we leave following the Whale Route. We take a ferry to Senja, there is a carpet of deep hanging clouds, the spectacular drama of rain hit high cliffs and storms lifted sea water. The fjords bend in and out, towards and away from the ocean, call it a fractal manifestation of manufactured by nature, by the tons of the glaciers not so long ago. The roads leave hardly an option and I follow the winding paths, the gneiss or basalts of the rock faces shine silvery when wet; frightened I go slowly around the bends.
Night in Gryllefjord, I prepare mushroom risotto and I should have known they would not like mushrooms. We wait for the ferry to Andenes, Vesterålen. There is a free Wi-Fi; weather forecast for the next 10 days is rain.
The ferry is the first over the open sea, a bit long and rough, David feels it; slightly sea-sick. Then we drive all day, there is little hope in sight for a change in weather conditions and the next morning I decide to give Vestvågøy a miss. We enter the village of Lødingen, there is a ferry waiting and we take, so we give Narvik a miss, cut through a bit, instead of following hundreds of miles in and out the fjords while it rains.
The Fjords/Bodo and Midnight Sun again.
While we drive Nordland ever more south this afternoon coniferous forests are back and weather improves till the sun comes out. In Bodø (wiki) I go with the boys for a harbor walk, I have a bit hard a time keeping them off the boats, my confidence is higher they wouldn’t fall, still I don’t want to risk it all yet. We "enjoy" a beer and two Fantas for 16 Euros in the late sun on the terrace of the pub on the pier; then we head for Burger King, for some proteins. In Bodø, which is just north of the Arctic Circle I am lucky one more time as it stays sunny all night. So I sneak out again for midnight sun, then again at 3 when the light is stronger, with the dark clouds towering and threatening in the back already. At 6 in the morning it rains again. So damn lucky!
There is something else I think we are in dire need of: a shower, wash our clothes, buy a pair of jeans; both mine are fading, once again, the boys have been jumping up and down on the seats, the irons come out and now rip through my jeans ... But such basic needs need wait a bit longer! This is the 29th of June.
Climb around the rocks of Bodø port.
The Fjords/Long way back down the coast of Norway.
Saltstraumen/Skjerstadfjord and its strong tidal currents is next; I am amazed how things are becoming better with my boys to the point that I actually can keep them in check, tell them not to run towards the edges of the water but play further back while I watch the tides go in and take pictures.
Later, lunch that I prepare, pasta, a place a bit away from the road, is sunny again, the doors open I watch the boys play while I cook, they take their shoes off, these long legged creatures that run over the puddles fascinate, also some polliwogs.
After eating, we climb a little rocky path; a lake is on the other side, this is a good place so at least they can have a shower. And what a scenery! This is near Breivik.
Immediately after take-off the boys fall into comma, I drive, somewhere on the other side of a fjord a glacier touches the banks of the sea, a big motor yacht is anchoring in front. Weather stays nice (against the odd forecasts), we take a few more ferries, one from Jektvik to Kilboghamn, by boat we cross the Arctic Circle north to south again; oh this is beautiful country.
Long before we settle for night we find a wonderful view point to the West and the now again setting sun, though we wouldn’t stay that long. The ground is amazingly soft, 20cm (8 inches) of thick moss. This is near Stokkvågen, The boys climb all the way down to the sea and back up; oh such beautiful country.
I need keep going we still have a long way to travel, go round a fjord and park on the other side before I get too tired, night sees rain, in the morning we wake to hot sun with a view onto the mountains on the northern side of the fjord; this is before Nesna, this is Norway's road 17, this Sørfjord (southern fjord and there are many), oh such amazingly beautiful country.
So many more ferries, so many great moments, eventually we see moose, cow and her calf. This is Norway, maybe Europe’s most beautiful country.
We reach Trondheim and have done already more than 2,000km since Nordkapp, ... more to come ...