Oh, are we glad we changed our plans midway our Norway road trip and pressed North! With the weather not affording leisurely camping by blue lakes and fjords and a car being a safe (=dry) mode of exploration, we continued towards the Land of the Midnight Sun. Well, we were just a bit too late in the season for that and on the other hand a bit too early for Aurora Borealis. Dang!
We said goodbye to the better-known fjords by driving the famed Trollstigen (=Troll’s path). The approach looked quite dismal.
But miraculously for a few minutes the clouds lifted enough so we could see and drive the switchbacks with full force of waterfalls cascading all around us.
We were hoping to take a small Rauma tourist train as we missed out on the famous Flam train ride due to rain. But the train was canceled, but luckily a nice girl in a sports shop told us we can see exactly the same from the car. Thank goodness for her advice. It is surprisingly difficult to get good information in Norway, web sites are not updated or only in Norwegian and tourist offices in many places closed.
On the way back through the Romsdalen Valley we stopped to admire yet another cool tourist architecture (a restaurant and souvenir shop)
and even more so the mirror reflection of the sheer Trollveggen (= Troll wall), the tallest vertical rock face in Europe. Naturally, such superlatives attract extreme sports fanatics like rock climbers and base jumpers and sadly many have been killed here.
In Molde, we had an ad hoc coffee with Laila, the mother of a tour guide we had in Bergen. She shared a lot about the Norwegian way of life and their values and attitudes. She worked at a refugee agency, so we had an interesting discussion about that, too.
She then put us in touch with her other daughter in Trondheim, who really helped us out a few days later by letting us do a load of laundry and dry out our tent in her garage. On top of it she gave us a tour of her city and over lunch enlightened us about the younger Norwegian generation, University system, etc. So it proved true what we heard that the further North we would go, the friendlier people became.
Trondheim is an interesting city for it is brimming with students, which means better coffee shops. It is also the end of a popular pilgrimage road, a Nordic version of the Spanish Camino. The St. Olav’s Ways is a 5000 km long network of pilgrim pathways meandering through Nordic countries.
We talked to a friendly Swedish couple who were just finishing their walking pilgrimage, heading towards the Nidaros cathedral. We offered them a ride as the rain clouds threatened again, but they refused.
What a wondrous surprise the cathedral was for us. After all the sweet, if at times also dramatic little churches the giant stone cathedral built over the grave of King Olav II, patron saint of Norway, was indeed impressive. After all it is the biggest cathedral in Northern Europe (it can sit 1,850 people) and the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world.
I can totally imagine being a pagan from a small countryside settlement and stepping into this awe-inspiring place and converting on the spot. In truth of course Viking conversion to Christianity was a slow process in Norway and whole of Scandinavia. Sadly in the process, women were the biggest losers. Where they had great powers in their pagan religion and a certain level of equality with men in their society all that was gradually stripped away.
We had another great opportunity to learn about the Vikings at the Lófótr Viking Museum, where real live “Vikings” practice crafts and answer questions.
Ah, Lofoten. For travelers and photographers, it is one of those whispered mystical words of a magical place that haunt you in your sleep and while awake. Only Svalbard perhaps holds more sway. We left frozen Svalbard for another time but took the six hours long ferry to Røst on the edge of islands in the chain.
Luckily it was a calm day on the open sea that kept going and going with a prolonged light of the lingering night beyond the Arctic Circle. Arriving way past midnight we slept a few hours in the car and witnessed the first sunrise on the Lynx’s Foot islands, as the Vikings named Lofoten.
We spent a week on Lofoten, in seven days four were dumping rain relentlesly, but the remaining three were enough to drive every single road on the islands, some more than once, returning to favorite picturesque spots.
You can let your imagination go wild down bellow or you plant your feet firmly on the upward path and climb to a different perspective.
Best to just go beach combing on surprisingly many attractive beaches.
When the weather is not cooperating there are many museums and galleries to enjoy and learn. Besides the Viking Museum one can not help but encounter the many museums and the still working establishments of the cod processing industry.
Since time immemorial skrei, the wandering cod from the Bering Sea has been caught and dried on Lofoten in the millions.
It was the base of the Hanseatic league trade (and wealth) in Bergen and the means of sustaining Norway economically before the oil boom changed everything.
Personally, we much prefer Lofoten salmon.
We bid goodbye to Lofoten and continued North for we had a special mission to accomplish.
To be revealed in the next instalment.