Tag Archives: Travel

Honningsvåg and Departure

Anna and I visited the small Nordkapp Museum on the afternoon of our last day in Honningsvåg. It concentrated mostly on relatively recent history, though it was fascinating to see that being close to the ocean meant that trade routes here allowed this distant arctic region to be colonised early as the ice from the last ice age retreated, long before other regions which nowadays would be considered as hubs for movement and trade.

There were one or two snippets about women, which interested me on a personal level. I am always fascinated by pioneering women. For example this small plaque celebrates the first local paper on Magerøya, which the notice tells us, was written by two ladies.

Witchcraft in the village of Kjelvik seems to have been more strongly ranged against men than women though. Interesting as in other parts of the world, it seems to have been women (and particularly older women) who were targeted.

There was a large exhibition about the war and its after effects. I was aware that the far northern regions of Norway were devastated at the end of the war when the Nazis retreated, and I had wondered whether Honningsvåg was so far away and so remote that it might have escaped being burned to the ground. It seems that it was not. Of course that makes sense. In these days, where road and air travel tend to dominate (at least in my mind) it requires a complete adjustment to understand that in both near and more distant history, boat travel was one of the most significant ways of transporting people and goods. This was especially true around Norway, but also as it connects more distant parts of the world. Of course many goods continue to be transported by boat, but it doesn’t predominate in the news unless something goes wrong. But any harbour town must have been particularly useful to any invading forces, and therefore at risk.

It seems all of Honningsvåg was burned with the exception of the church, which I regret not visiting. The rebuilding effort was rapid. Some had fled to caves in the hills, others returned from evacuation to start again, and those who did so apparently slept in the church.

There was also a filmed interview with a man who had been born in Finnkongkeila, which was a busy Sami fishing village to the east of Magerøya. It too was razed in 1944, but due to the lack of road access, and because of the steep slopes that lay behind it with the high landslide risk, the Norwegian authorities decided it would not be rebuilt. The idea of having the place, where you had lived your whole life just disappear, burned and then gradually overtaken by nature, is so alien that I can scarcely imagine it. Here’s a photograph of Finnkongkeila before it disappeared.

We also read a lot about the local fishing industry and the related trade in dried fish. I was interested to find out that though stockfish is dried and exported in huge quantities, the local dish is actually boknafisk, which is only semi-dried. I had noticed it on the menu in the restaurant we had eaten in the night before, and so of course I had to go back and try it. It was really very good.

I was going to write that our holiday disaster struck the next morning, but given what I’ve written about so far, I shall temper it to say that a mild bump in the road reared its head the next day. I had heard coughing from more than one other guest during breakfast the previous two mornings at the hotel. So it should perhaps not have come as a surprise when Andrew came to us first thing and told us he had a sore throat and perhaps the beginnings of a cough. I confess I wasn’t too much worried about his health (he’s been a school throughout the pandemic and we’ve been through several rounds of colds) but I was concerned about the logistics. Hotels in Norway are not cheap, and the idea of stopping and getting a test locally, then waiting for the results was not appealing. We were due to check out anyway, and so Anna and I went down to breakfast (and took Andrew up some very tasty chocolate croissants). We discussed the situation afterwards. Andrew was already feeling a bit better, and there was still a chance he was suffering only from a flare-up of his allergies and so we decided to head down to Alta to the cabin we had booked there, and then reassess the situation.

It was only three hours or so, but I was rather sad to be leaving Magerøya so soon. Andrew seemed to be feeling better and we stopped once or twice on the way to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery. Triar went for a run on a little beach at Repvåg, where I found these two very weathered benches under the sullen sky.

And then we were back into the amazing slate-dominated landscape with its weathered stones, its disconcertingly angles layers jutting towards the sky .

The cabin in Alta was tolerably comfortable. It had a small TV tuned to the National Geographic channel with a sign that sternly informed us that we mustn’t touch the settings. By nightfall, it was obvious Andrew’s cough was not a resurgence of allergies, but definitely something more, and so we decided that we should try and get a test the next day, then find out whether we would be permitted to drive home, or should wait in the cabin until we got the results.

Friday then, was rather sad. We had arranged to have two nights in Alta as there were things we wanted to do there. Our neighbours had recommended the bathing park and I very much wanted to go and see the famous rock paintings and carvings. Instead, Andrew slept for much of the day, while Anna and I sat on poorly padded wooden benches and watched a series of documentaries about aeroplane crash investigations, airport drug smuggling and some rather Top Gearesque programmes about a man who refurbishes classic cars. The wifi was awful, so other pastimes were not really possible. I had hoped to write a blog update, but that wasn’t really possible. Anna and I did take Triar out for a walk in the (fungi-filled) woods, alongside a sortie to the shops and to a local takeaway but that was the extent of our day in Alta.

I was impressed with Alta’s coronavirus test station. Our local version involves going into an old school building, where masks are not compulsory, and standing in a queue of blue dots set two metres apart. I’ve long thought it must be a wonderful hub of infection as everyone who has a cold is meant to get tested. In Alta there’s a drive through tent outside the health centre and drive through we did, shouting replies to the man in protective clothing as Triar barked in Andrew’s ear from the back of the car. We asked about travel and he told us that so long as Andrew stayed isolated in the car and wasn’t too unwell, there was no reason not to head home the next day.

And so abandoning our possible plans for a last night in Vollan or possibly Tromsø (fortunately I had nothing booked as I was sure we would find something and wanted to keep things flexible) we made a run for home last Saturday. It was a six hour drive, and though we stopped to buy food and drinks from garages, we were not really able to take much of a break on the way. We stopped a few times to look at the scenery, which was dominated in part by the sheer numbers of berries growing on the ground and on the trees, and in part by the weather, which was mostly good overhead, but with glimpses of cloud capped mountain tops and distant rain-filled valleys.

I arrived home feeling tired with a rather dry throat. I was still hopeful that this might have been due to a long drive and the car’s air-conditioning, but I woke up on Sunday with a raging cold that has seen me spending most of this week in bed. Andrew’s Covid test was negative, as was mine, but I was definitely not able to go back to work. I’m still coughing away as I write this and feeling fragile, but I will try to work (from home) tomorrow and hopefully things will gradually return to normal. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed the journey to the north with me. Next time we venture north I’d like to take more time to explore Alta and Magerøya, and perhaps go on a detour to Hammerfest and Karashok. There’s still so much of northern Norway left to explore!

Across the Lyngen Fjord

Yesterday was another of those gorgeous days of endless blue skies. Birgit and I drove south in the morning sunshine and then took the ferry across Lyngen Fjord.

Our destination was Lyngseidet in Lyngen Kommune. Though it is possible to drive round, it would take several hours. The crossing took about forty minutes and as well as taking photographs, Birgit and I bought drinks from the small cafe on board. I had a slightly surreal moment when I approached the lady behind the counter and she spoke to me in English. Given that I was wearing a Mattilsynet jumper with a Mattilsynet badge hanging from a Mattilsynet lanyard, and was waving a Norwegian credit card, I was slightly taken aback. Perhaps my face looked British, but I didn’t ask so I guess I’ll never know.

Birgit had planned two visits to blood sample goats, but there were some last minute cancellations and so we visited some sheep farms to check ear tags instead. I am taking a course at the moment on inspections, and so Birgit let me lead both of them. Better still on the first farm, as well as the sheep, the owner had some Lyngshest/Nordlandshest. These wonderful little Norwegian horses are immensely strong and hardy. Most of them are between 12.3 and 13.3 hands (130-140 cm) but Birgit assured me they can easily carry an adult’s weight. She had told me before we arrived about the little horses – she has some herself – and so when we had checked the sheep, I asked the farmer whether we could see them. He led us outside, and to my delight, he called them and they began slowly to walk towards us.

Despite being a little shy at first (he told us they were suspicious that we were vets) very soon we were making friends. Considering the bizarre protective clothing we wear, I think they were surprisingly courageous!

The second visit was great too. The farmer gave us a warm welcome and was very positive about having a visit from Mattilsynet. She seemed rightly proud of her mixed flock, half of them tiny Norsk Villsau (literally Norwegian wild sheep) the other half being the sturdier Norsk Kvit Sau, or White Sheep.

Once we were finished, we headed back to the village where we had landed. After stopping to take a photo of Lynseidet church with its friendly red roof and one of the irresistible mountain behind the Co-Op, we ate lunch outside on a scarlet-painted table beside the fjord. Birgit pointed out the curlews flitting over the water. The arrival of the curlews on their migration to the north means that spring has arrived, she told me. With the warm sun on my face, I could well believe it.

After that it was time for our return journey across the Fjord. As I looked back towards Lyngseidet, I was already making plans in my head to visit again in the summer. It will all look very different in a few weeks time when (most of) the snow has melted.

As we drove around, Birgit told me a bit about the local area. Norway has, of course, a great seafaring tradition. With its long coastline and sheltered fjords, it was the perfect place to create a trading hub. And here in the north, we are also very close to the Finnish, Swedish and Russian borders. She tells me that traders created their own language, which is a mixture of the various languages and dialects, so that they can all understand one another.

I had heard of the Sami before, but not of the Kven people. Descendants of Finns who moved to Norway in the 18th and 19th centuries, they too have their own language. So just as in Scotland, where many road sign have Gaelic alongside the English spelling and in Wales where Welsh names are shown, up here there are road signs with three different languages: Norwegian, Sami and Kvensk.

As we arrived back in Sørkjosen where I am staying, Birgit told me that the building opposite my hotel was one of the few in the area that was not burned down by the Germans as they retreated towards the end of the second world war. I had taken a picture of it in the morning as it was a beautiful old building.

And so, with all the new information whirling in my head, I stopped for a moment to look at the boats that were safely tide up in the harbour. Despite the desperate thought of past destruction, so far I have found nothing but peace and happiness here in Nordreisa.

20th Wedding Anniversary – Barcelona

Again, this is a very belated entry. I wish I had posted sooner. These posts are the nearest thing I have to a diary and already, less than a year later, there are many details I cannot remember. Some of the more memorable things, I didn’t photograph. The rustic food we ate at Bar Casi was not aesthetically pleasing in a way that made me want to take pictures, but the friendliness of the owner, despite a significant language barrier made a lasting impression, as did the flavoursome bean stew.

The Sagrada Familia was, quite simply, the most stunning building I have ever been inside, mainly due to the warmth of the light that poured in through the stained glass, but also in the organic impression of the internal design. I have some pictures of that, but they don’t do it justice.

I’ll start though with the lovely gifts that greeted us on entering the hotel when we arrived.

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Twenty years – thank you Charlie

Although I describe the Sagrada Familia above as one of the most stunning buildings I’ve been inside, I have to confess that externally, I found the shapes of the towers disconcerting. I suppose it is difficult to adjust to unfamiliar shapes in architecture, though it did grow on me.

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Standing near the Nativity Façade entrance to the Sagrada Familia

 

At the time of posting, the Sagrada Familia is still only 70% complete. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and has been built using donations. Because of its popularity, work is accelerating and it is hoped the building will be complete by 2026. I would love to revisit.

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This picture comes closest to showing the astonishing nature of the light that filters in.

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Looking upwards. The pillars are based on the design of trees. See also the photograph at the top of the page. I have no words to describe the intensity of feeling my visit inspired. Despite the number of visitors, it felt peaceful.

We went up the Passion Tower. Going up in the lift was easy, going down more disconcerting. Despite being relatively fit, my knees were shaking by the time we reached the ground. As well as views over the city, there were glimpses of parts of the construction that you would never see from ground level.

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Looking out over the city.

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A long way down

Later, we went out for dinner at Accés Restaurant. The staff could not have been more friendly.

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The food was fabulous

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We were presented with this at the end of the meal

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I think the barman thought we were hilarious. We may have been very slightly the worse for wear at this point.

The following day, we went on a bus tour. We saw some other buildings designed by Gaudi.

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To me, this one looked a bit like a gingerbread house

On Sunday, we went to visit Botero’s bronze cat.

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Fernando Botero’s bronze cat

We sat down and ordered some food.

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Meatballs in squid ink

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Catalan patatas bravas

I was pleased as I watched, to see that Botero’s cat was one of the most interactive pieces of street art I’ve come across. Everybody seemed to want to touch him. Many went further and climbed onto his back, or boosted their children up onto his tail.

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I’m not sure he’s anatomically accurate, but he’s certainly a tom

There were trees lining the street and many parakeets flitting around.

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Monk parakeet

We then wended our way back to the hotel. There were many beautiful buildings. Sadly, this is where my memory fails me as I don’t recall the names of the places we found.

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Sunday’s meal was less of a success. Charlie and I have a history of awful anniversary meals, which is astonishing, considering how much we normally enjoy eating out. I won’t mention a name, but we visited one of the most highly recommended restaurants in Barcelona, supposedly a real food experience. It was an experience, but sadly, for us, the food just didn’t live up to the hype. Still, it wasn’t quite as bad as the salt-flavoured soup and white sliced bread we once had in Bodrum. And unlike that night, we didn’t have to go for a second meal on the way home as we were still so hungry.

My last view of Barcelona is of something that intrigued me in the taxi on the way in from the airport, and caught a passing photograph on the way back.

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Montjuïc cemetery

I understand that in amongst all the graves and mausoleums set into the hillside, there are many fine examples of funerary art.

There are so many reasons to revisit Barcelona and spend longer exploring. A weekend was no time at all to do it justice. One day, we will return.