2-12 July 1999, 30 June - 9 July 2001, 22 - 31 May 2003

[1999] Glaciers, Tunnels, Waterfalls and Fjords --  In summer, the sun does not set over the Nordic realm. It just hangs over the horizon for four hours, two before and after midnight, blinding anyone who dares looking westward. At other times, it casts a soft glow over the verdant landscape, ideal for the camera.  

Subsisting on the generous Scandinavian breakfast (lots of pickled herring and salmon!),  the ubiquitous sausage stands, and the excellent Norwegian dairy products (particularly the ice cream), I covered over 2,000 miles of land and sea, crossing more fjords than I can ever remember.

My orientation to Norway did not advance further north than Trondheim, the ancient capital of the canonized King Olav. Starting and ending in Oslo, I drove a spry VW Polo along the Rømsdal river, then south past the Nordfjord, the Jostedal glacier and Sognefjord towards Bergen, before heading back north and boarding the venerable coastal steamer Lofoten at Molde. As in north Britain last year, good fortune meant rain-free days along the tempestuous west Atlantic coast. The breathtaking drive up and down the hairpins of the Trollstigen (Troll's Steps) was well worth the entire trip.

[2001] Atop the Western World -- My initial plan of an epic road trip across the Arctic Circle was aborted when no rental car company in Trondheim could offer a vehicle with automatic transmission; I couldn't get the Rover given to me out of the parking structure. A helpful cabbie gave me a scenic drive to the train station (well, how can any drive in the Norwegian countryside not be scenic?), where he booked me a cozy cabin on the night train to Fauske. Along with the relaxing buses, it was decidedly the easy way to meet the southbound coastal steamer at Hammerfest, Europe's "northernmost" town.


Comfort had its drawbacks, though. The views from the window of my train, bus and the M/S Vesterålen were spectacular indeed, but they were also distant, fleeting and -- aside from the ambient weather -- intangible. Things became real again only when I got back to my two feet. My most vivid recollections were the climb to the hill overlooking Hammerfest in a cold, windy drizzle, and the Bach organ recital at the Nidaros Cathedral.

Back at Trondheim, with three days remaining, I flew to the Baltic for a quick survey of Swedish history, visiting the Gamla Stan (old town) of Stockholm, Drottningholm Palace, Sigtuna, Gripsholm Castle at Mariefred, Tullgarn Palace, and Nyköping House. I was back in my own elements once more, behind the wheels of a luxurious Volvo S40 wagon (fully automatic, of course).

At Nyköping, I witnessed a four-hour pageant dramatizing events that led to the infamous Christmas banquet of 1317, when the mad King Birger condemned his usurping brothers, Dukes Erik of Finland and Valdemar of Södermann, to death by starvation. Every summer, the royal ghosts return to haunt the very locale of their tortuous demise -- the dungeons of Nyköping House, now the stage and set of the Nyköping Gästabudsspelet, a play worthy of ten Hamlets.

[2003] The Far North Revisited -- I didn't expect to return to Norway so soon. When Ryanair was daftly giving away 60,000 free European flights, however, the opportunity presented itself.

This clincher of a trip was set out simply to fulfill the promises I made myself two years ago: to sleep in a rorbu (rower's hut) at the Lofoten islands in good weather, and to reach Nordkapp at long last, after shunning the hordes of tourists who traveled this far north just to get there. I am happy to report that both objectives have been met.

My concern for frugality notwithstanding, the only way to explore Lappland in depth -- even the fjords themselves -- is not by a passing boat, train or bus, but a car that you can drive into the smallest lanes and stop at anywhere, anytime. Thus, from Bodø, I brought my hired Volvo S60 via ferry to Moskenes in the Lofoten isles, and completed a 2,000 km circuit to the top of Europe and back, crossing three national borders as the Sami people and their reindeer have done for millenia.

Granted, my eyes still preferred the uncanny beauty of the Norwegian fjords, where mountains seem to dance with the sky and sea as the driver follows the intricate paths between them. Yet my ears truly appreciated the majestic silence of the Finnish and Swedish forests, where every sound -- the cry of a seagull over a frozen lake, the trickle of melting snow banks or the progress of the iron ore train from Kiruna -- accentuates the landscape with utter poignancy.

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bulletNidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway
bulletSt Olav Square, Trondheim, Norway
bulletJostedalsbreen National Park at Senseng, Norway
bulletFishmarket Wharf, Bergen, Norway
bulletRømsdal River near Åndalsnes, Norway
bulletGeirangerfjord, Norway
bulletTurf roofs seen at Valldal, Nordfjord and Kjelvik, Norway
bulletTrollfjord, Norway
bulletOlderdalen, Norway
bulletAlta Museum, Norway
bulletPorsanger Peninsula, Norway
bulletKamøyvær at Magerøya Island, Norway
bulletKnivskjellodden at Nordkapp, Norway
bulletRiver Torne, Finland
bulletTorneträsk at Abisko National Park, Sweden
bulletGamla Stan (Old Town) at Stockholm, Sweden
bulletSt Olov Monastery Ruins at Sigtuna, Sweden
bulletGripsholm Castle at Mariefried, Sweden
bulletDrottningholm Palace, Sweden
bulletBjørnfjell, Norway
bulletBognes, Norway
bulletSagfjorden, Norway
bulletKobbelveid, Norway
bulletSaltstraumen, Norway
bulletAker Brygge at Oslo, Norway

Lofoten Islands

bulletHenningsvær, the Lofoten Isles
bulletÅ, the Lofoten Isles, with Steinar Larsen
bulletReine, the Lofoten Isles
bulletHamnøy, the Lofoten Isles
bulletNusfjord, the Lofoten Isles
bulletFlakstad and Ramberg and the Lofoten Isles
bulletÅsvar Tangrand and Berit Arctander at Vikten, the Lofoten Isles
bulletRorbu in Mortsund, at the Lofoten Isles
bulletStamsund, the Lofoten Isles
Gear - Kodak DC205 Digital, Nikon F100 with f2.8 28mm and f2.8 35-70mm zoom.
Bases - Oslo, Åndalsnes, Bergen
Gear - Canon G1 Digital, Nikon F100 with f2.8 28mm and Tamron f5.4 200-400mm zoom, Contax T2 (Zeiss T* f2.8 38mm)
Bases - Trondheim, Tromsø, Hammerfest, M/S Vesterålen, Stockholm (Knivsta)
Gear - Nikon D100 with f2.8 28mm and f2.8 60mm micro D lenses
Bases  - London, Oslo, Mortsund (Lofoten), Olderdalen, Skáidi, Kautokeino, Narvik, Bodø
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