Lofoten Islands Wrap Up

I’ve had a few friends tell me that they were planning on traveling to the Lofoten Islands so I figured I should wrap up and summarize the advice that I have for a trip:

  1. Depending on where you are coming from, you should budget for at least a day to get to the Islands and a day to get back.
  2. Your schedule will probably be dictated by ferry times (many of which you can look up here). The ferry runs fairly infrequently and is the quickest way to get to and from the Islands.
  3. Rent a car. Having a car makes it extremely easy to see the many beautiful sights that Lofoten has to offer. Many of the attractions on the Islands are also fairly spaced out, so it’s handy to have a car so that you can see everything on your bucket list. Alix and I did notice bus stops on our road trip, but I can’t testify as to how frequently the buses run.
  4. If you are planning on seeing some of the sights, double check their opening hours. Many places have limited hours in the off season or only open upon request.
  5. Rent a rorbu. Not only are rorbu fairly cheap and quaint, they also tend to offer you great views. Most of them come with kitchens so that’s one easy way for you to cut back on costs.
  6. This one is fairly obvious, but bring a camera. You’ll kick yourself if you aren’t able to document your trip.

From what I’ve heard and read, I would say that the best time to actually visit the Islands are during the on season (summertime) up through October. Many of the locals said that we had picked a great time to visit since we avoided other tourists, still had nice sunny weather, and were there for the beginning of the Northern Lights season. I would also say dress appropriately and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Alix and I apparently missed a spectacular display of the Northern Lights when we were traveling, so it’s worth keeping your eye on sights like Aurora Forecast and the Geophysical Institute. As for daylight weather, I’d recommend looking at yr.no.

That’s pretty much it for advice! Safe travels!

Lofoten Islands: Bøstad, Henningsvær, Svolvær

Today was our last day in Nusfjord so Alix and I spent some extra time exploring the town and taking pictures.

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IMG_5141  IMG_5148  IMG_5172After we were finished, we hit the road heading North. Our first stop of the day was the Lofotr Viking Museum near Bøstad. The museum was built after a farmer discovered Viking relics in one of his fields. When archaeologists came to examine the relics more closely, they realized that they were on the site of a Viking Age house. Now the house has been fully reconstructed and is an impressive 83 meters long. The Viking Museum is comprised of many different parts: the reconstructed chieftain’s house, the museum, Viking rowing ship, reconstructed forge, historical garden, and several other Medieval and Iron Age settlements. Unfortunately, most of this was closed since Alix and I arrived during the off season. We were however able to take a look around the museum and the chieftain’s house. The museum itself was surprisingly uninformative but Alix and I enjoyed wandering around the museum and having a look in the Viking house.

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I freely admit that I tried on the Viking helmet and played with the sword. The helmet was shockingly heavy and the sword was about as tall as I am. Afterwards, we walked around the grounds and enjoyed impressive views of the surrounding area.

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Once we were done looking around, we drove to Henningsvær. Henningsvæer is a fairly quaint town and has a small artist community that we wanted to check out. Unfortunately, most things were closed by the time we arrived but we enjoyed seeing one of the local glassblowers at work.

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After our quick stop in Henningsvær, we drove to our final destination for the day, Svolvær. Once we arrived, we were quite happy to check into our new rorbu and settle in for the night.

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Lofoten Islands: Å, Ramberg, Flakstad

Sleep, a shower, and breakfast helped Alix and I start to feel somewhat more human Tuesday morning. We were also excited to finally have a quick look around Nusfjord. Nusfjord is one of Norway’s best preserved fishing villages and it used to cost you 30 kroner just to walk around. According to Lonely Planet, many artists believe that the town captures the essence of the Lofoten Islands (pronounced Lu-fu-ten).

As far as Alix and I could tell, we were the only tourists staying in town. The main tourist season is in the summer, so coming in October meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We had opted to stay in a rorbu, or a traditional fishing cottage. Rorbuer (the plural form of rorbu) are often renovated for tourists and come with their own kitchens and sea views. Alix and I were pretty big fans of ours. The beds were fine, the kitchen was sufficiently stocked, and the view was good (more pictures of the view later).

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Because Alix and I had had such a scattered amount of sleep, we decided to take the rest of the day at a slower pace. We hit the road for about an hour to get to the city of Å (pronounced Oh). Of course it just so happened that along the way everything we passed was breathtaking.

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Norway in its infinite wisdom decided to create roads called National Tourist Roads, in other words roads that are particularly scenic and geared specifically towards tourists. It just so happens that the main road through Lofoten, the E10, happens to be a National Tourist Road. This means that what was technically a 40 minute drive turned into an hour long drive since Alix and I kept pulling the car over to take pictures. We did eventually make it to Å though.

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Å used to be a fishing powerhouse, and until World War II was drying more than 700,000 cod a year. Cod is king on the Lofoten Islands and cod has been one of the biggest industries in Lofoten for decades. Even now, the Islands have an annual catch of around 50,000 tons. Little of the cod goes to waste. The cod is dried to make stockfish, cod tongue is eaten as a local delicacy, roe is salted, cod heads are sold to Nigeria where they are used in a local dish, and cod liver is used to make cod liver oil. Å used to process so much cod that a fishy smell was pervasive year round. The local attitude towards this was to simply say “you can smell the money.”

Cod is also a major player in local politics. According to Lonely Planet, in some northern Norwegian districts up to 90% of the population voted against joining the EU. Membership in the EU would grant other EU countries, specifically Spain, access to Norway’s inshore waters, thus allowing them to compete with local fishermen.

We spent most of our time in Å walking around the town and the Norsk Fiskeværsmuseum (Norwegian Fishing Village Museum). The museum was fairly low tech and Alix and I read sporadically from a paper guide that we were given. While we didn’t find the museum particularly informative (which to be fair was partially on us) we did enjoy walking around and seeing the dried fish, ship models, and cod liver oil vats.

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After the museum, we walked towards the edge of the city and the seashore. Apparently the area around Å has some of the world’s most dangerous waters due to the whirlpools that form with the tides. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the whirlpools and instead saw placid waters. Oh well, we still had a nice time admiring the view. Afterwards, we piled into the car and prepared to slowly drive back to Nusfjord.

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On our way back we stopped by Ramberg and Flakstad. Alix and I had to stop by Ramberg for its grocery store, but we were also excited to stop since it gave us the opportunity to check out Ramberg’s much more famous landmark: its beach. Yes, Ramberg and Flakstad have actual sandy beaches. It’s as if you were miraculously transported to California–at least until you get outside and realize that going on the beach requires several layers of clothing, a hat, and wool gloves.

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It was an absolutely amazing day.

Lofoten Islands: Bodø, Moskenes, Nusfjord

If there is one place that I felt I absolutely had to visit while in Norway, it was the Lofoten Islands. The Islands are located in the Arctic Circle towards the top of Norway and are supposed to offer some of the most beautiful sights in the country. About a month ago, Alix and I decided that we should plan a trip there, and we have finally begun our journey.

Getting there has taken some planning, and on our first day we traveled by train, ferry, and car. The first leg of our journey involved taking one of the national trains (NSB) up to Bodø. The train ride itself was quite a haul and took ten hours. Originally we debated whether or not we should just take a sleeper train, but in the end we decided that it’d be nice to go during the day and see the scenery. So, having woken up at 6 am on Monday morning, I bundled up my things and headed down to Trondheim’s central station to catch our 7:38 am train.

While the train ride was really long, I would say that it was definitely worth doing. The landscape was incredible and constantly changing; I never really got bored of looking out the window. The train ride also helped me realize how desolate and sparsely populated the country can be. In fact, at one point the train had to stop to let reindeer cross the tracks. NSB trains also tend to be quite comfortable and even provide slow wifi. So, in between napping and looking out the window, Alix and I were able to keep entertained during our journey.

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Yes, Norway is stunning. The funny thing is that this isn’t even a train route well known for its beauty.

After we arrived in Bodø, Alix and I managed to snag some dinner before picking up our rental car at 7. After that, we had about five hours left to kill since our ferry didn’t leave for the Islands until 12:15 am. We ended up walking a few laps around town before settling down at a cozy café called Paviljong.

At around 11:00 pm we moseyed our way down to the ferry terminal. I had bought our tickets over the phone and was a bit anxious since we lacked both the physical tickets and any email confirmation from the ticket company. Surprisingly enough, the ferry operators essentially waved us aboard, and as far as I can tell they never bothered to double check our story.

The ferry itself was quite nice. Everything was neat, clean and cosy. In fact, the most disappointing thing involved a sign with the words “Pet Store.” My sleep deprived brain assumed that we could go to an actual pet store onboard the ferry and play with puppies for sale, but Alix pointed out that it was more likely a holding area for animals (I have since confirmed with Norwegian speakers that “Pet Storage” would have been a more accurate translation). Having been disappointed by this, I resigned myself to a puppy-less night and followed Alix up to one of the passenger decks before falling asleep almost immediately in one of the chairs.

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But our journey did not end there. At the ungodly hour of 3:30 am, Alix and I peeled ourselves off of our ferry seats and returned to the car. We finally arrived at the Lofoten Islands in the town of Moskenes. Unfortunately, Moskenes was not our final destination. So with the help of Google Maps and a few sugary snacks we prepared to drive for an hour to our final destination, Nusfjord. We finally made it to our rental cottage at around 4:30 am, and thanks to our very gracious hosts were able to go to our cottage and fall asleep in our well heated rooms. In short, not a bad adventure for Columbus Day.