Trolls’ Road

At Geiranger, we went out on the fjord in late afternoon sunshine. This is a freshwater fjord as it extends 150 kilometres inland and is fed by snow melting and the subsequent mountain streams and waterfalls, such as this one. Note the blue ice-melt in the water.

The fjord is deep enough for cruise ships to negotiate.

The next morning we took the so-called Trolls’ Road which gives wonderful views, if you can handle the many hairpin bends and the vertigo!

You can cross the fjord by ferry to explore further – the even steeper “Trolls’ Ladder”.

There were many motorbike groups out in very flash bikes, some with sidecars.

I saw one tough rider in full leather gear shakily reaching for the rail of the viewing platform. It doesn’t help that you can see the drop below through the metal grid you are standing on!

Looking over the edge:

On of our group said you can see how the idea of trolls came about when you look at the gigantic mossy rocks (and maybe squint a bit).

Can you see it?

Plants in Scandinavia

Plants have caught my eye in many places. In the cities, such as Copenhagen, plant shops spill out onto the pavement.

People find places for them, such as in pots on apartment balconies or in courtyards.

These tiny tomatoes are perfect for a balcony.

On this Stockholm cafe’s tables, the violas match the chairs.

Pots are everywhere on streets in Finland too, such as here in Helsinki .

Wildflowers are everywhere in the Finnish countryside:

They grow on turf roofs too.

These alpine plants were at Alta, Norway:

This one, someone said, is cotton grass:

On a street corner in Trondheim, I spotted these colourful flowers, with matching cushions:

There’s an app for identifying plants, but it might diminish the wonder and strange-yet-familiar appreciation I have for each little gem, such as these mosses and tiny flowers at Geiranger Fjord, Norway.

Old and new

Very few towns in Norway are very old, due to the devastation caused during the Second World War. There are some charming older areas, however, with mainly wooden buildings. My early morning walk in Mosjoen brought up memories of Arrowtown.

Farms and villages we passed on the road south looked traditional with a white farmhouse and red barns, only a few sheep or the red Norwegian cattle, and fields on a thankfully smaller scale than ours.

There is a strong sense that Norwegians live in the natural environment rather than clear-felling and replanting it to assert some kind of dominance. Perhaps it is because the climate is harsh and there’s no ignoring metres of snow on your house and months of darkness.

Norway is rich in oil, which means agriculture doesn’t have the same place as it does in our economy. Here’s an oil rig being constructed.

Trondheim has an old cathedral built on King Olaf’s grave, but much of it is recently reconstructed, such as the figures on the facade.

And, always, there is a memorial of war.

There is a lovely old town along the Nidelva River in Trondheim, buzzing with student life and a bit of Friday evening pre-weekend excitement.

I climbed the hill to Kristiansten Fortress and was rewarded by a women’s choir singing, and the view.

I spotted a classic boat and a modern catamaran moored at Trondheimsfjord waterfront. Old and new.

Fjords

We are travelling down the west coast of Norway through fjord after fjord after fjord after…

We cross from one peninsula or island to another through tunnels or over suspension bridges.

Having a front seat in the bus today was a bonus.

There are lots of roadworks. Here, a helicopter lifts a small vehicle at a tunnel-building site:

These massive rock mountains are awe-inspiring. I get the feeling that the glacial action which produced them was much earlier than that in New Zealand. My Sixth Form Geography is proving useful.

There are streams and waterfalls around every corner in the road, and charming fishing and farming villages (with sheep!). This is Narvik, which we approached by an alpine train from the Swedish side of the border.

The photo above was taken at 3am. It doesn’t get dark at night.

Here’s our group queuing for the loo before driving our bus onto the Tysfjord ferry.

The shapes of the mountains make you think of trolls and, sure enough, here’s one at the waterfall which powers a small hydropower station.

It is quieter where the water flows into the fjord.

This is my favourite scene today:

We ended the day by crossing back over the Arctic Circle.

The Sami people of Lapland

North of the Arctic Circle the presence of the Sami is particularly felt. Their lives as nomadic reindeer herders is not so much evident, but the reindeer are – and where they are, there are reindeer farmers, such as this man at the reindeer farm we visited.

This image is from the Karasjok Sami Museum.

Once we were on Mageroya Island, reached by a series of tunnels, reindeer were often seen grazing on the low-growing alpine vegetation. There were many with calves at foot. I didn’t manage a photo, as the little brown ones were well camouflaged, and I was too busy looking at them all.

On our way to North Cape, we stopped at the Sami Museum in Karasjok. This town is the Sami centre, the place of their parliament, even though they spread across borders from Russia, through Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Our guide was a Sami woman.

Today in Alta, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage rock carvings site. Although it is not proven that it was early Sami who did these carvings, the reindeer herding images are a visual link for us as visitors. The reindeer fences, which we have seen, are an example of this link.

Teepees are scattered about the landscape throughout Northern Finland and Norway, often modern representations.

This later one is the headquarters of the people who make the famous ice hotel each year.

Again, here the Sami reindeer lifestyle is represented, if in an around-the-campfire way. Sami were more likely to be keeping warm around the fire inside the teepee.

Puffins!

We set off in fine drizzle on a calm sea in Ola’s sturdy boat. Cod was drying on racks on the wharf.

I was well-prepared with layers of merino, Macpac parka and waterproof shoes. While others remained in the cabin (it was freezing) nothing was budging me from the prow; I was getting the most out of the experience!

My camera phone proved unequal to the task: hard to use with cold hands and wet gloves, and suddenly out of charge. I did get this though:

How cool is that?! The puffins are smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to hear that there are half a million breeding pairs on these off-shore islands and the numbers have remained steady in recent years. The green cliff face where they have their burrows looks like the Hilton for puffins.

I also learnt about the razorbills and saw cormorants, guillemots, gannets, herring gulls, magnificent white-tailed eagles (one caught a puffin), kittiwakes and grey seals.

Not having the camera as a distraction was great; I could really look.

We went out to North Cape later that night where I found this useful information:

And here I am standing on the northern tip of Europe and feeling on top of the world!

Wildlife and forests

There are signs along the highway warning of moose crossing. We saw moose in a sanctuary but not in the wild. Today, however, we had to stop twice for reindeer crossing the road.

We visited a reindeer farm for a closer look.

The reindeer all belong to someone and are ear marked, but wander freely through the forest – no fences, no trespass orders – and keeping track of your reindeer is even achieved with GPS these days. I’m not sure how land ownership works here, but anyone is entitled to pick berries anywhere in the forest and everyone has access to beaches and riversides. There is forest everywhere you look, except in the towns, although they are built alongside lakes and rivers which are lined with trees. This is Kuopio from the tower.

Many wild life are endangered, and we saw these rescued animals in Ranua Wildlife Sanctuary.

This impressive moose is in the wonderful Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi.

Toys, trolls and dolls

There are the odd gems amongst the souvenir tat. Once you brace yourself for the cliches, stereotypes and anthropomorphism you can get some simple enjoyment from some of the merchandise.

These were some of the crown prince of Denmark’s toys in an exhibition for his 50th birthday.

These made me smile:

High cute factor applied to violent history – and rolling pins?!! Really?

Children’s literature gets lots of attention:

There are Moomins (recently a personal favourite) everywhere. There are even Mumin cafes. (Altered spelling for copyright reasons, perhaps?)

At the Vasa Galleon Museum, a cut-away model showed life on board in miniature.

And the anthropomorphic lynx – on the end of our beds at the hotel in Helsinki. (Gave some of us a bit of a start at first glance.)

The Hotel Santa Claus was full of it – even elves popping out of the bar ceiling.

Or on hallway walls, such as this elf on a watering can.

Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s charming and magical.

Charming Kuopio

Our first view was from the tower, looking down over the ski jump to the city spread out around a huge lake.

These posters inside the tower gave clues about the city’s past.

A walk around the town – the evenings never seem to end – gave a closer perspective.

Looking at books

Bookstores are a magnet for me, even when the language is incomprehensible. I browse the displays and try to “read” the covers.

The Finns are clearly fond of dogs.

Some titles or authors’ names are recognisable.

Some children’s books are very familiar.

Guess the English titles of these ones:

And some are in English. These popular cartoon books, about a typical Finn called Matti, give English speakers amusing (and familiar) insights into the Finnish psyche.

In Norway too I found myself drifting into bookshops to just soak up the bookish vibes and feel calm.

These books were taken on board Amundsen’s Fram voyage. He was meticulous about ensuring the wellbeing of his crew.

These books were part of a floor-to-ceiling display in the Thon Opera Hotel in Oslo:

Some more familiar titles:

And while I’m featuring these grim subjects, these even more sobering plaques are set into the pavement of an Oslo Street outside shops owned by Jews deported to Auschwitz during the war.

Just when I thought I’d covered the subject, I discovered the wonderful bookshops of Lisbon. First, an antiquarian one, Sa da Costa, founded in 1913:

Then Bertrand’s, which I’d researched at home. It claims to be the oldest bookshop in the world.

It has a cafe – feed the soul and feed the body.