Saturday, 31 July 2010


if you're up for it, at long last every post has pictures, all the way back the Lithuania!

Obviously I think they're all great or I wouldn't have put them up there ( ;) !) but facebook found the idea of me as a Latvia, gun-toting rebel freedom fighter to be particularly disturbing... :)


Friday, 30 July 2010

Mountain adventures

Written 29th July

With blue skies, bright sunshine and, most importantly, a couple of cups of tea inside you, Norway is stunning.  It's like taking a deep breath and feeling your lungs fill, your chest expand and your ribcage open.  The daylight, landscape and possibilities are endless.  Simply exhilarating.

And we have had the best 24 hours.

First stop, the Saltsraumen, the world's largest maelstrom.  A 3km long, 150m wide sliver of a strait , through which 400 million cubic metres of water are forced four times a day at speeds of up to 20 knots.  Apparently, with an incoming tide at the correct equinox, season and relative position of the sun and the moon it is colossal.  But even with an outgoing tide on a random wednesday evening in July, it is pretty spectacular.

The water rushes under the dead centre of the bridge, as fast as a mill race but flatter than a mill pond - this would be the olympic sprint version of pooh sticks, but it would have to be a photo finish by the time you caught up, several kilometres downstream!

- whilst at the edges the sea is churning and rolling with spontaneous foaming eddies

and momentary whirlpools appearing and disappearing

like the whole sea is being boiled in a giant saucepan. 

And then the jet boat came out to play and show off..

It's awesome.  In a way which is  completely not captured in a photo of course :)

As lots of people seemed to be fishing, Will even took his newly mended rod down to the edge, but with the weights gone - substituted with bike spoke caps - the float broken - substituted for a bit of cork - and the reel not very firmly glued back on the rod, it was doomed for disaster.  When, after a few goes, the cork floated off merrily into the maelstrom and the weed caught the hook and caused the reel to snap off again, it was clearly time to admit defeat.  Ironically, the float, the lack of which has put a final end to all attempts, was originally the easiest bit to replace.  But a while ago, and believing we had an inexhaustible supply, we stopped saving corks as we figured there was no need - well, we had a float but nowhere to fish, every possible engine airleak which could be plugged with a cork seemd to be holding firm and where in the world would we ever stop drinking wine?? - bother.

We hunted round the van in vain for things that might float but the only alternative floating things we could think of were witches and, inexplicably, we're carrying even fewer of them than corks.  They would probably be a bit tricky to cast anyway.... 

Ho hum.  Back on the road.  And wow, what a road.

Setting off late in the evening as we were, we weren't expecting much from this bit of the RV17, one of Norway's most famous coastal highways and apparently 'the World's most beautiful journey' (according to the tourist brochure, but they may be a teensy bit biased...)

but, it started well with mountains wreathed in wispy clouds

and, on popping out of the umpteenth tunnel, we found ourselves down on the coast

and bathed light of the setting sun, peeping out between the horizon and the low lying clouds, 

casting its pink hued rays across the cliffs.


Our destination was a glacier, recommended to us by the aperitif-sharing french van dwellers we had met on our first night in Norway, although as it had taken him three goes to find the right wiggle on the map and the instructions were a bit vague - 'the little road on the right after the first tunnel but before the second' on a road full of tunnels - we weren't holding out much hope...

But we found a road, between two tunnels and set off, gamely ignoring the signs which said 'Warning.  Construction Road.  May be liable to closure at anytime without prior notification' (in english, my norweigan isn't that good!).  I mean, what could possibly go wrong??

Had I been giving those same instructions, I would not have stopped at the 'little road between two tunnels' part.  I would have gone on the include the 3km of steeply uphill, twisting, unlit, pitchblack, semi-abandoned tunnel - honestly, the road was disintegrating on one side, no lights at all, I really expected we would just find a dead end, blank wall at the end where they'd got bored of digging and be faced with the prospect of reversing all the way back down.  So much so that when we did see the light at the far end, it gave me such a shock I thought it was the proverbial train steaming towards us at full tilt...  And then, further uphill, there was the unexpected fork in the road with a 50:50 chance of getting it wrong...  I don't know, maybe we were on a different road entirely... but we did find a glacier.  Where the road came to an abrupt stop in a cliff of boulders that formed a dam, a scramble to the top of which resulted, finally, in the desired glacier view, blue ice glinting and pink topped in the last dying rays of the sun.  Hurrah! 

And so today, bright and early in the afternoon,  we left Jules basking in the sun and went off in search of it. 

Scrambling over the strange and stripey rocks, scored and scarred by the inexorable relentless march of the glacier, untold millenia ago. 

We headed out round the lake,

right on the edge of the milky turquoise depths. 

Scrambling over the shattered splinters of rock, hopping from boulder to boulder over meltwater streams - although the term 'hopping' implies a merry jaunt, bouncing from rock to rock with gay abandon.  Well it was for Will, for me it was a bit more nerve racking than that at times to be honest.  More a confidence-boosting-pep-talk-turning-to-impatience from 'mountain goat Will' followed by a petrifying, eyes closed, blind leap of faith from one wet, slippery rock to another, with all the elegance and grace of a baby elephant.  But I only got one foot wet and banged my leg once so not so bad really...

- skirting the bottom of waterfalls, down and up the 6ft sheer vertical walls of a snow filled crevasse (across the rocky bit at the bottom, we do know enough not to go walking just on snow over unknown depths) and up and over the scrubby headland. 

Where, after a couple of hours, we found ourselves still only about half way to the headland corner which we thought would afford us the best view,

and absolutely no hope of getting to the actual blue face of the glacier. 

So we decided to head back.  But not to make it too easy for ourselves, we thought we'd try up and over for the return.

It didn't look to far away but it was one of those frustrating climbs where the top beckons, tantalisingly close with the promise of spectactular views if you just make it that little bit further up, only to dash your enthusiasm at every ridge with just a little bit more of the same ahead.

But we made it up to the snowline and were rewarded with fabulous views of the lake and over the hills and far away. 

On top of the world!

So far so good, heading on then.    Skirting the snow line, we crossed the barren moonscape,

scrambling over the loose boulders, round the lakes

and over the streams

and freeclimbing up bits of sheer rock wall with barely enough places to wedge your fingers and toes.  Exciting stuff.

It all looked doomed to failure about halfway back when we found ourselves faced with a shallowish,  plateau swept by sheets of icy water,

fed by a wall of snow at one end

and culminating in increasingly narrow, rushing torrents sweeping over the sheer drop of the edge of the world at the other.  Hmmm not good.

But after several scouting trips up and down the side of the river we found a shallowish slope, far enough away from the edge to be safe and which, although water covered, was not too deep or slippery to paddle across so we could at least get to the middle.  Excellent.   Now what though... 


But fortunately some further searching found a narrowing of the torrent such that we could cross the remaining deep rivulet by dint of chucking rocks into it until there were enough stepping stones to leap between.  Woohoo

A couple more meltwater rivers crossed in the same way by tactical rearrangement of available rocks, a scramble up and down some more rocky ridges, and a cliffside descent, clinging by fingertips to the side, following the strata in the rocks led back down to the shore. Where it was a simple up and down the dam and back to our patiently waiting little van.  

Wicked.  What fun!

Time for a spot of dinner then once more back on the road in the pink light of the late evening,

accompanied by the setting sun

heading ferry-wards.

What a perfect day.  This is definitely more like it!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ups and downs

Written 27th July

Of course it was all fine and Jules heroically made it all the way to town without so much as a single hiccup - we even got up to 70mph in one tunnel, although i'm not sure you're supposed to be able to go faster with the engine switched off than with it on... :) - clever little van. Bit of an anticlimax really, I was all psyched up for a hitchhiking adventure, and it would have made for much more interesting reading than the trouble free motoring saga you're getting at the moment :)

We did manage to fit 55l of petrol into a notionally 50l tank though, so maybe the hitchhiker karma was swinging in our favour... :)

And whilst at the petrol station, we met our first classic vee-dub, other than a very few we have passed on the road over the months, and some more Swiss van dwellers! A 1971 batyleship grey bus from Zurich carrying Andy, Dina and their little boy Juli (i think). They are in the middle of a nine-week trip and will make it as far north as Tromso before heading slowly for home again.

Apparently they hadn't set out to be vee-dub owners - had even bought a different van for a previous trip - until one day Andy passed a garage with a classic sitting outside it. That one was already sold but as luck would have it, on seeing the same van on the forecourt that very morning, a guy had come in looking to sell his which he had owned from new, and the rest is history. And a very fine little van it is too, although somewhat more heavily laden than Jules :)

Separated from the mainland by the Vestfjorden, the Lofoten islands rise from the sea as a sheer jagged wall, carved by ancient glaciers. The main town, Svolvaer was very pleasant in the afternoon sun but no supermarkets open on a sunday so in true Ready, Steady, Cook style, we have a new addition to the van dwellers cookbook made from 'things we had in our cupboard', sundried tomato flatbread - flour, water, sundried tomatoes, fried in the oil from the tomatoes jar - yummy! We'll be trying that again.

A bit of a walk for the view

and an unexpected view of norweigan summer transport

before back on the road where we unexpectedly found a beach, just at the turn for Henningsvaer, the next of our planned fishing village stops.

Fine white sand, crystal clear blue water with the sun dancing and sparkling off the gentle ripples - too good to pass up on this unexpectedly hot day. So we stopped. And sat on the beach. Perfect :) and it was even warm enough for a paddle... well, actually, I think 'crystal clear blue' equated to 'glacial melt water' and it was more that my feet were too numb to feel the true temperature rather than warm per se... no swimming in this body of water :)

Mindful of the petrol situation, the following morning, we set of on our bikes again in the pleasant sunshine, along the twisty coast road.

Built on a series of small islands connected by bridges and dubbed, a little enthusiastically, the 'Venice of the North', Henningsvaer is a pretty enough little town,

with its typical Rorbus - red-painted fisherman's huts on stilts and wooden houses. Today it is full of teashops and artists but also one of the few remaining working fishing villages on the islands as apparently many of the older villages were just too small and lacking in a proper harbour to accommodate the change from small rowing boats which could be dragged on shore to the larger powered boats of today which need proper morring. And it was quite pleasant for a bit of a wander and a peek into the various galleries and craft shops, including actual glass blowing - its fascinating to watch.

But the clouds came down again :( so the epic landscape through which the road winds and sweeps was just lacking that extra sparkle.

A night in Eggum, a recommended midnight sun watching spot where we were hoping for a nice sunset at least, resulted in some pretty harbour and beach pictures

but no sun and even worse - although not strictly Eggum's fault - we found we had run out of gas :( all the baltic state's rice in the world won't help you save money if you can't cook it! So bread and tomato olive oil for dinner and bread and honey for desert, although 'honey art' to make it more interesting - a recent lunch theme as well - who says you shouldn't play with your food... :)

But in the morning, even worse, no tea. We had been doing really well on the tea front. Back home it was five cups a day and serious withdrawal symptoms without. However, having run out in Ile de Re, for most of western france, we were tealess and the enforced cold turkey seemed to have cured the addiction such that, at a rate of one per day (shared) the 160 teabags my mother smuggled out of the UK at New Year looked set to last us all the way home. But then we had our unexpected trip home which bumped up both my body's expected caffein levels and the teabag stock so we have been back up to a whole two cups a day and today, in the absence of tea for a whole two hours since I woke up, I found I had a tea craving and a headache :( not good, especially as coffee is so expensive we can't get our fix another way...

So bread and water (again) it is. Luckily, yesterday at the beach, we found a tap which we believe was drinking water - well at the very worst it came straight from a nearby lake labelled drinking water - so we're not going thirsty but a combination of lack-of-tea-headache and the weather has sadly spoilt this end of the Lofoten islands where we were hoping for beautiful views of pretty fishing villages nestling at the foot of epic vertical cliffs. Still, it could be worse, I could be at work like the rest of you...

We found the villages, Vikten - and some more glassblowing,

apparently the first workshop in northern Norway, completely different style of stuff than the one in Henningsvaer but still fascinating and beautiful stuff -

and then back on the road, to Hamnoy, Reine and A (pronounced, according to our german biker friends as, 'Uh', like they got there and went, 'uh, I guess this is as far as we can go then misery, misery' but which from a bit of Norweigan poetry I found in a guide book, may translate as 'Oh!' as in 'Oh! What a beautiful morning!''

Eitherway, the villages were pretty but not really terribly photogenic in the damp grey light and by the time we got to 'Uh', which is now mostly a living museum to the fishing trade, it was properly bucketing down. And no prospect of tea to cheer us up :(

we wandered for a bit anyway, saw the typical houses

and learnt some fascinating things about fishing though. The Islands' biggest (and probably only) export is stockfish - dried cod - known in the rest of Europe as bacalau or some variation thereof. Their biggest markets are Spain, Italy and Portugal - so all the fish we ate with my parents back at New Year, because it is a Portuguese specialty is not actually Portuguese at all, just the cooking and eating of it, it most likely came from here! - and in April something ridiculous like half the island is covered by some hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish hanging out to dry on the racks like so many toothy, tortured wraiths. Did you know that the weight of the fish is reduced by 80% during the drying process and the resultant stockfish ready for export is 80% protein? Well now you do!

And when we came back to the van, we met yet more Swiss van-dwellers - is there actually anyone left in Switzerland? Has anyone checked? They all seem to be on the road!. Well to be strictly honest, they are actually motorhomers, having originally wanted to be van dwellers but having decided that, as two very strong characters, they might stand a better chance of coming home still talking to each other after their year away if they went for something bigger :) even after our assurances that Jules is bigger on the inside than it appears by looking in through the window - especially when it's tidy which it isn't particularly right now - I think they were still convinced they made the right choice, me? I still believe this is the only way to travel! :)

They are right at the beginning of their trip having spent a month getting this far through Sweden and Norway - where they are currently accompanied for three weeks by some friends who are just on holiday - and are planning on heading north, then down through Finland and across to the Baltics from there - pretty much our trip in reverse - so they have so much to look forward to! We spent some time swapping travelling tales and things we enjoyed before it was just too cold to stand around outside anymore so we bid them farewell and headed for the ferry.

So here we are, 9pm, near the front of the the ferry queue, having been here for three hours as there wasn't enough space on the previous ferry. Its a shame to be leaving so soon and suddenly but the weather forecast is not good for the next two days, it is so wet and miserable that it is actually nearly dark for the first time in what feels like a month, we have bread and tomato olive oil for dinner again whilst sat within smelling distance of a cafĂ© serving fish and chips for a mere €22 per portion - i'm sorry but no fish and chips in the world can be that good and even in my weakened, miserable, bread eating state I can't bring myself to give in to that! - and I am so in need of a cup of tea. Even if we found someone who would boil us a kettle, which i'm sure someone would (we didn't think to ask the swiss until we were driving away) we haven't got any milk so it wouldn't be the same but honestly, I am seriously considering chewing a tea bag for the caffein - its pretty desperate...

pathetic isn't it

But we know there is gas in the town on the other side of the water so it will all be better in just a few short hours.... Won't it??


I can confirm it is better but only after being much, much worse. The boat was late, the sea was rough so I spent two of the three hours in a semi comatose state of seasickness - what a waste of expensive fish and chips that would have neen but at least it made me forget about the tea withdrawal though, there's always an upside! - and it was getting light again by the time we got into Bodo on the otherside. But, we have gas, and milk! Hurrah for 24h Shell petrol stations!

We have slept well, the sun is amost shining and I am on my second cup of delicious tea. Mmmmm tea, sweet, sweet tea....

Toodle pip!