Articles tagged with "arctic"

Whiteout on Foxfonna

Whiteout on Foxfonna

Platåfjellet

Platåfjellet

Descent from Nordenskiöldfjellet

Descent from Nordenskiöldfjellet

Nordenskiöldfjellet

Nordenskiöldfjellet

Nordenskiöldbreen

Nordenskiöldbreen

Kitchens

Kitchens

The gym

The gym

View from the library

View from the library

Music room

Music room

Arctic monster

Arctic monster

The cinema

The cinema

Library

Library

Pyramiden

Pyramiden

Swimming pool

Swimming pool

Worker’s accommodation

Worker's accommodation

Boat journey to Pyramiden

Boat journey to Pyramiden

Rescue drill

Rescue drill

Burmaveien

Burmaveien

Colesbukta

Colesbukta

Adventdalen

Adventdalen

Trollsteinen

Trollsteinen

Midnight sun

Midnight sun

Flight to Svalbard

Flight to Svalbard

Fløya

Fløya

Hiking trails led away from the cable car station up into the hills, so I decided to walk for a while. Quickly I was away in the quiet mountains. I headed up a steep path to a ridge, which looked like the highest point around, but once I got there I could see there was another higher peak further on. The path flattened and dropped, and then rose up to Mount Fløya, 671m above sea level.

The day had started out overcast but some sun had broken through the clouds. I was alone on top of the mountain, and I sat for a while, taking in the views over the wild countryside.

The only reason to come down was that I had to find my way to the airport for a flight back to Oslo. This was a very annoying business, first of all because I was extremely content up there and didn’t feel like starting my journey back to London, and secondly because it was the World Cup final, and in a moment of appalling planning, I’d booked a flight that took off at the precise moment the game started, and would last for pretty much the exact time football games last for. I could only hope it would go to extra time.

We landed, and I got a train back to Oslo. As I walked through the station, I heard a sudden roar, and found a pub where the game was on. It had gone to extra time, and Spain had just almost scored. The Norwegian crowd was definitely backing Spain, and when they scored with just a few minutes to go the pub went wild. Out in the streets of Oslo, a car full of Spanish people drove around the block a few times, hooting its horn. If there were any Dutch around, they were keeping it quiet.


Storsteinen

Storsteinen

I walked back to the hostel in the midnight daylight. The next day, it rained heavily all day, and I sat in a cafe watching the rain batter on the window and drinking coffee until I got tunnel vision.

The next day it was nicer. I walked across the bridge from Tromsøya to the mainland, and got the cable car up the hill to Storsteinen. It was a short ride up, and it wasn’t cheap. Nothing is in Norway. But it was worth it. There weren’t too many people around, and the views over the city and the mountains were pretty incredible.


Hurtigruten

Hurtigruten

Every day of the year, eleven boats are somewhere out at sea along the coast of Norway, on an epic voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. For a long time I’d thought I would like to make a journey along the coast of Norway, and today I could sample a small part of the route.

The boat that pulled into Skjervøy’s small harbour was the MS Nordstjernen, the oldest ship in the Hurtigruten fleet. I was lucky to have a trip on a boat like this. I’d seen massive and new Hurtigruten ships in Tromsø harbour, but the Nordstjernen was small, old and weatherbeaten. We chugged out of Skjervøy into a heavenly summer evening.

The deck was full of people enjoying the warm sun. I watched the coast slip by slowly. Gradually it started to cloud over, and as it cooled, the deck emptied. It was just a four hour run back to Tromsø and some of the people on board were no doubt in for a much longer haul than I was. I stayed out, listening to music and enjoying the ride.

After a couple of hours, another boat appeared on the horizon and closed rapidly. An announcement over the tannoy said that this was the MS Lofoten, another member of the Hurtigruten fleet. The crew of both boats appeared on deck, waving flags and cheering, and both boats sprayed fountains of water as they passed.

We carried on down the coast. Here and there, tiny villages dotted the shore. As we slowly approached Tromsø the signs of human habitation got more frequent, and eventually I saw the distant buildings of the city. We pulled into the harbour just before midnight.


New furthest north

New furthest north

After Olderdalen the bus continued to Skjervøy. Somewhere along the way, it crossed the 70th line of latitude, an arbitrary, meaningless, imaginary line on the Earth’s surface, but one I still thought it was awesome to be north of.

All was quiet in Skjervøy. The skies were blue and the sun shone. I wandered through the empty streets for a bit, stopped in a Narvesen and bought a coffee and an ice cream, and then sat outside in the sun, enjoying being way up here, 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The peace was disrupted only when the Hurtigruten appeared. With a blast of its horn, it alerted the town that now was the time to head for the harbour if anyone wanted to catch it. I headed down and boarded.


Journey to Skjervøy

Journey to Skjervøy

My day in Tromsø started badly. Somehow I’d imagined there would be breakfast at the hostel, and with breakfast one normally gets coffee. But there wasn’t, and I had no supplies. I was a long way from town, and for a moment the day looked bleak. But then I found out that they sold bad coffee in the reception, at outrageous prices. I happily handed over a wodge of kroner, drank the mediocre brew, and then headed out into a bright warm day.

I had no plans, except a vague thought that I’d like to get a boat somewhere. I walked into the city, and down to the quay, but I couldn’t find any useful-looking information about what was going where. Then by chance I wandered into the tourist information office, and by chance I picked up a leaflet about Skjervøy, a village to the north of Tromsø. It turned out I could travel there by bus, and then catch the Hurtigruten back down the coast. The bus was leaving in half an hour; I bought a ticket and headed north.

The best plans are those that are never made. Nothing is better than the spontaneous, and I knew straight away this was going to be an awesome journey. The bus left Tromsø and headed inland, first of all stopping at Breivikeidet where a ferry ran across the narrow fjord to Svensby under an incongruously hot Arctic sun.

Then from Svensby the bus carried on to Lyngseidet, rounding the fearsome looking Lyngen alps, snow covered and jagged. At Lyngseidet we boarded another ferry to Olderdalen. The first ferry had been cool; this one was awesome. Crossing a deep blue fjord surrounded by towering snowy mountains on a hot day in the Arctic Circle could not be anything else.


Midnight sun

Midnight sun

I got to Tromsø at 10pm. It was raining heavily and yet daylight. I got a bus into the city, and I wasn’t quite sure when we’d arrived in the centre. The driver said to me “This is it, you’re here – you’re in the middle of nowhere!”. Fantastic, I said, that’s exactly where I want to be. I got off and walked around. It had stopped raining, and it was surreal that it was daylight and yet almost 11pm. I found the bus stop I needed to go to the hostel I was staying at, a couple of miles outside town.

I checked in, and then went for a walk. The rain clouds were spent now, and were disappearing rapidly. As it approached midnight, only their last dregs remained as wisps of white in a clear blue sky. The sun was low in the sky, but at the stroke of midnight it was still sitting clear of the horizon over the mountains of Kvaløya to the north. There was not even a hint of sunset red in the sky. It hung steady for a while, moving neither up nor down. By 1am it was on its way up again. It was another Arctic day.


Back to Kulusuk

Back to Kulusuk

In the morning I had to rush around Tasiilaq. I needed to buy a helicopter trip back to Kulusuk, so I hurried down to the helipad. They turned out not to sell tickets there, but they told me I could get them at the bookshop. I hurried to the bookshop but it wasn’t open, and it wouldn’t open until after the last helicopter had left. So I hurried back to the Red House and used their internet connection. It cost me more than 6 pounds for 15 minutes, but I booked my ticket, then walked back down to the helipad, told the guy at the desk my reservation number, and waited for the helicopter to arrive.

In the departure lounge there was a middle-aged Inuit listening to loud tinny music on his mobile phone. His tastes were very cheesy. A young Greenlander started speaking to him and I wondered if the young guy was going to ask him to turn it down. But as they spoke, I heard the older guy say “Bluetooth”, and they started swapping tunes.

I got the helicopter back to Kulusuk. As I was walking from the airport to the village, a Greenlander offered me a lift, and I chatted to him during the short journey. He was 47, and he’d always lived in Kulusuk. He said that the first tourists started coming here when he was still a boy. He was going out seal hunting later in the day, and told me that whale hunting would start later in the year. Apparently the whales were too far off shore at the moment but when the sea ice melted more, they’d come closer to the shore.

He dropped me off in the village. I was hoping to stay in a hostel but it turned out to be full. The hostel owner, an Icelander, gave me a lift out of town to a camping area, and I set up my tent there. He warned me to look out for polar bears, and I laughed, but he was actually serious. Apparently one had been seen near the airport only a month earlier.

Not long after I set up my tent, two small children came over from a nearby house. By means of sign language, they indicated that they wanted to swap residences with me. They moved themselves into my tent and pointed me towards their house. They played for a little while, until it started raining. They left me to my small patch of grass and headed back to their nice solid dry warm wooden house.

The temperature dropped and the rain got heavier. I tried to cook some noodles in the porch of my tent, running a serious risk of setting the thing on fire. Ice formed on my gas canister, and the water never got hotter than a hot bath. “I love camping”, I said to myself as I chewed the crunchy noodles and listened to the rain battering on the canvas.


Accidental trip to Sermiligaaq

Accidental trip to Sermiligaaq

My time on Ammassalik was over. Before I’d left London I’d booked a ticket for the ferry back to Kulusuk. The helicopter ride over had been fun but I really fancied a little sea voyage off East Greenland. It was the first scheduled ferry journey of the year – the sea ice had only recently melted enough to allow easy sailing. I packed up my things and wandered down to the port under gloomy skies.

The boat was supposed to leave at 9am, but there was little sign of any activity. I hung around on the dock until 9.30 and then vaguely wandered on board. I showed someone my ticket, and then watched dark shoals of large fish speeding around in the water. At 11.15, we chugged away from the dock, and set off for Kulusuk. The only passengers were me and five Danes. I stood on deck in the chilly breeze, swaying with the boat and watching icebergs drift by. The seas were mostly clear. The boat didn’t even need to avoid most of the icebergs – it was quite happy to ride over them.

After a couple of hours I imagined we were not too far from Kulusuk, and I started to think about what I would do there for two days. Suddenly, a crew member asked to see my ticket again. He looked a bit worried and I wondered why. I soon found out. The boat was not two hours late but two days late. Its weekly run took it all around the settlements of Ammassalik district, and today it was not actually going to Kulusuk, but to Sermiligaaq, the most remote village on the schedule. My journey was not nearly over – it had barely begun.

I sometimes have crazy dreams about accidentally getting boats or trains to completely the wrong place. This was the first time it had ever happened to me. I felt a slight sense of panic for about 10 seconds, and then realised that this was in no way a bad thing. I would have to spend another 90 pounds on a helicopter back to Kulusuk in the morning, but on the plus side I was in for a 12 hour round trip up the savage coast of East Greenland, to a remote village that I wouldn’t have otherwise gone to. The crew and the Danes couldn’t understand why I was smiling so much.

We sailed up Ammassalik Fjord. It was nothing like as ice-choked as Sermilik Fjord. It was a dull grey day and the seas and mountains looked gloomy. I lost track of time as we gently rolled along, rising and falling with the swell. I chatted to the Danes, who had travelled a lot in Nordic parts, and I chatted to one of the crew who could speak English. A couple of the other crew had simply said “Kulusuk!” and laughed as I passed them on the deck. It was all meant in a good spirit.

After almost six hours we reached Sermiligaaq. It was a slice of Greenland life that I was incredibly happy to have had this chance to see. The tiny ragged village was the first sign of human life that there had been in all the miles of fjord since Tasiilaq. It seemed unbelievable that people could live here. The arrival of the boat was quite an event – our main mission here was to deliver supplies. The Danes and I left the boat crew to their work. We had an hour to kill before heading back and I wandered around the village. The only activity was at the dock – everywhere else was deserted. In the cold drizzle it didn’t look like a very inviting place.

The boat finished its delivery, and we headed back. I watched Sermiligaaq recede into the forbidding mountains, and we sailed back into the endlessness. It was 5pm, and it was getting colder. I spent most of the return journey indoors, sheltering from icy winds. I’d brought no food with me, naturally, having expected to be on Kulusuk by lunchtime. But the Danes took pity on me, sharing biscuits and sandwiches, and the crew even offered me a share of their cooked dinner. It was very kind but I had to refuse on the grounds of vegetarianism. I probably offended them greatly. I felt bad.

Eventually, at 11pm, we chugged back into Kong Oskars Havn, and the familiar sights of Tasiilaq drifted back into view. The heavy cloud made the Greenlandic evening almost feel like it might turn into a night. I got off the boat and walked unsteadily back up to the Red House, where luckily they had room to put me up again. That night, and for days after, I felt the rocking of the boat as I lay in bed, and I saw icebergs and mountains and stern grey seas when I closed my eyes.


Bassisøen

Bassisøen

It was my last day on Ammassalik Island, and I wanted to do a good hike. My outrageously expensive map had details of a few, and I decided to take the Bassisøen loop. It started with a long walk up the fjord, past icebergs bumping against the shore, to a valley which headed away inland.

The first half of the walk was on trails. I followed the course of a river upstream, past eerily semi-frozen lakes which somehow to me made the jagged peaks around look dramatic and threatening. At the top of one lake I passed a couple of other hikers, who were on the other side of the river. I should have realised I was on the bad side of the lake – I’d had to scramble over a huge rockfall which blocked the trail, and now I had to take a perilous leap over a powerful river to get back onto the path. It was not an easy jump and I was glad to get over unscathed.

The trail continued until two valleys met. I turned left, around a large mountain, and carried on. This next valley was quieter, colder, and snowier than the previous one, and I was back in the dreamy wilderness, with no trails and nothing to restrict where I went. I trekked along the shores of a large frozen lake, and for no good reason at all started wondering if there were any polar bears around. Apparently they’re not uncommon here in the winter but rare in summer. For a few seconds I convinced myself I’d seen something white moving about on the opposite shore of the lake, but I soon decided that was ridiculous and carried on.

Eventually I reached the end of the lake, and my trek was nearly done. I just had a couple of hours to walk back down a valley to the village. After a little while I reached a jeep track which I followed for a while. I passed a small hydroelectric station which was covered in graffiti. I was still miles from anywhere. There really can’t be very much to do in Tasiilaq when you’re growing up.


Sømandsfjeldet

Sømandsfjeldet

I’d bought a small map of Ammassalik Island for the staggering price of 17 pounds, and I was determined to use it. My target this day was to climb Sømandsfjeldet, a vicious-looking mountain behind town. It was only 800m high but the word was it was no easy climb.

Once again the hiking was a dream. After a short time on recognisable trails I was out in the wilderness, just keeping my eye on the mountain top and picking my way onward and upward. I soon reached some impressive heights. The going was tough, and parts of my climb were incredibly steep, but spurring me on were some awesome views. I could see Kulusuk island in the distance, looking much colder and more forbidding than Ammassalik Island, and I could see the endless expanse of sea ice stretching way out to sea.

What I could also see was a bank of cloud in the distance. I pushed on higher, but it was becoming pretty difficult to edge my way up. The clouds seemed to be coming closer, and I still had some pretty tough climbing to do before I could reach the summit. If I got caught in cloud up here, there would be a definite possibility of death. I decided to make a strategic retreat.


Greenlandic football game

Greenlandic football game

I scrambled along the ridge back towards town. When I reach Tasiilaq I saw that there was a football game about to start on the town’s dusty pitch, and I decided to watch. I was not sure if it was a Greenlandic league game or just a village kickabout, but it looked pretty organised. A small but very vocal crowd cheered the teams on when the game began.

The game was extremely one-sided. The team in red played stunningly badly and I honestly would not have played any worse than them if I’d gone on. I may not be able to control the ball well, tackle people without kicking them or escape from markers, but I can put the ball into an open goal from within the penalty area. The reds couldn’t, and the stripy team raced into a four goal lead. I didn’t stay for the second half.


Blomsterdalen

Blomsterdalen

Once I’d recovered from my caffeine deprivation, I was in a position to appreciate just how incredible Greenland is. I went for a walk up Blomsterdalen, a valley running from the fjord up into the hills and mountains of Ammassalik Island. A few locals were out for picnics at the town end of the valley but further up there was no-one. I passed the cemetery, as bleak and haunting as all Greenlandic cemeteries are, and followed a river up to a series of frozen lakes.

On my way back into town I decided to head up into the hills. Hiking here was a dream – no trails, no people, just pure wilderness. I climbed up to a ridge and looked down over the fjord. A ribbon of clouds drifted past the bleak mountains across the water, and icebergs drifted down the fjord.


Exploring Tasiilaq

Exploring Tasiilaq

I camped just outside the town, on an ostensibly organised site that had no facilities bar one horrific toilet. I don’t mind camping in basic conditions but having no running water does make things more difficult. But I had a sheltered spot on a grassy promontory overlooking the fjord, and I was in Greenland, so I was pretty happy. I set up my tent under the cool grey skies. I was severely sleep-deprived after my late arrival in Iceland and early departure to get to here, so I lay down and slept.

When I woke a few hours later, I knew I was in trouble. I had all the signs of imminent disastrous caffeine withdrawal – a slight shaking, a feeling of paranoia and a rapidly developing headache. Groaning slightly, I got up and stumbled into town. I’d heard there was a book shop where you could get coffee, but it was already closed for the day. So I staggered on towards the largest supermarket in town, hoping in a crazy way that they would have some kind of cafe in store. They didn’t. Luckily I found some instant coffee, and now all I needed was water. Could I find any bottled water in the whole shop? No, I couldn’t. I found apple juice, and considered what kind of brew that would make. My symptoms were severe, and I seriously contemplated this option. Then, I found some soya milk, and decided that might work better. Unable to think about anything else, I shuffled back to my campsite, staring wildly and clutching my shopping like an eccentric OAP. I lit my stove, heated up some milk, made a ghastly, stupidly strong pseudo-coffee, drank it so eagerly that it spilled down my face, then made two more in quick succession.

Sometimes I wonder if I should give up coffee.

My cravings were alleviated, but my enthusiasm for Greenland was limited by the prospect of four days camped here with no running water and no showers. I decided to see if there was space in the hostel which owned the campsite. There was, and they said they had been mistaken in letting me use the campsite because in fact it was not yet ready for use. So I packed up my camping things and headed indoors, found a kitchen, brewed lots of coffee, and felt my enthusiasm renewed.


Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi

I got back to Rovaniemi at about 10pm and picked my way slowly through the icy streets to the centre of town. The youth hostel was supposed to have a sauna so I got myself a room there. Weirdly, the hostel itself was unstaffed and I had to get keys and things from a hotel about 10 minutes walk away. That just made it an even greater disappointment when, after I’d pulled yet more muscles in avoiding falling over during the walk to the hostel, there turned out not to be a sauna. Not only that but there appeared to be no-one else in the hostel at all.

So, short of things to do, I went for a walk around town. If I couldn’t have a sauna I was at least hoping I might see the northern lights, for the first time since I was in Iceland seven years ago. There were some breaks in the cloud and the moon was appearing occasionally so I thought I might have a chance. But it wasn’t to be and I couldn’t see anything that looked like even a hint of aurora. As I walked slowly back to the hostel, holding onto walls, trees and street signs and still only barely keeping my balance, groups of girls in high heels strode past me on their way out for Saturday night.

The next day I woke up at 9am to find it still almost dark. Once the sun had risen I got up and set out to explore. Rovaniemi is no beauty, but then it was completely destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War Two, as they retreated across northern Scandinavia. Apparently almost every town in northern Norway and Finland was razed to the ground, and it’s incredible that anyone even returned to rebuild their homes, so I didn’t mind the concrete wasteland too much.

I walked down to the Kemi River, not frozen here like it had been at Kemijärvi. Even at midday it was gloomy. A cold wind was blowing and it was beginning to drizzle. If it had been nicer I might have gone for a walk in the forest but it seemed more prudent to return to town and get a coffee. I spent a while warming up with a few espressos, chatting to friendly Finns and thinking I’d really like to come back here in the summer.

It was a Sunday and everything closed at about 4pm. My train back to Tampere wasn’t leaving until 10pm, and it was now that I realised that finding something to do for six hours in a small town on the Arctic Circle on a Sunday evening in the middle of winter is basically impossible. I saw as much of Rovaniemi in the dark as anyone would ever want to, then had a long slow evening meal, then spent an hour walking back to the station.

Finally it was time to leave. I got the train back to Tampere, arriving at 6am. I had slept terribly on the train and got a bit more terrible sleep in the waiting room on Tampere station, waiting for the coffee shop to open. It began to rain heavily as I got the bus to the airport, and much as I’d enjoyed the trip I decided I was not going to come back to Finland before June at the earliest.


In the Arctic

In the Arctic

I found my way from the train station to the bus station. It was only a short walk but a thick layer of ice covered the streets and I slid wildly along, probably causing much amusement for the few Finns who were out and about. They seemed to have no trouble keeping their balance and leaving the streets icy seemed to me like a cruel way to spot outsiders.

It took me a while to work out the bus timetables at the station – I thought I’d cracked it but a couple of buses that should have turned up didn’t. The mystery was solved when I found out the Finnish words for ‘arrivals’ and ‘departures’. I got the right timetable, found a bus going to Kemijärvi, bought a snack and headed north.

It was 1.30pm, and the sun had just set. The small but comfortable bus rolled out of Rovaniemi and headed north. Snow was beginning to fall and before long we’d left the city behind and were in thick forest. The ‘official’ home of Santa Claus is a major tourist attraction here, and his home lies right on the Arctic Circle, so there was no mistaking the moment we crossed the line. Signs had been counting down about every 100 metres, and a giant garish shopping complex and an arch across the road marked our entry to the polar regions.

It was slowly getting dark. We left Santa behind and the road narrowed. The scenery was nothing but endless snow-covered pine-trees, fading into a wintry mist. The uniformity was soporific, and I was beginning to doze off when we slowed sharply. A herd of reindeer had emerged from the gloomy forest and was crossing the road. We waited for a few minutes as a column of bulky bodies and towering antlers trotted across, then as they disappeared into the forest on the other side of the road, we drove on.

By 2.30pm it was night, and another half an hour saw us reach Kemijärvi. I was the only passenger left on the bus by now, and the town was empty as I set out to explore. I wanted to go to an idyllic-sounding hostel, on the shores of the lake, with a sauna, and my dream was that I would be able to spent a couple of days in the sauna, watching the northern lights. But after a lengthy walk along the shores of the frozen lake to the hostel, it turned out to be closed. The only other accommodation in Kemijärvi was far too expensive for me, so I had to reconsider my plans. In the end I decided I’d have to get the evening train back to Rovaniemi and hope to find a sauna there.

With the rest of the day to spend in Kemijärvi I went for a long walk, out of town to the shores of the Kemi river, frozen solid and stretching away into invisible inky blackness. I walked back into town and along the shores of the lake, enjoying the strangeness of 6pm feeling like the middle of an endless night.

At 8pm, a bit upset that I wasn’t going to manage to have a sauna in the Arctic, I headed for the station and got the train back to Rovaniemi. The train was about half full, and I looked at all the other passengers, wondering if they thought it was at all amazing that their normal day’s routine involved getting a train across frozen wastelands where the Sun barely rises for several weeks in the middle of winter. They probably didn’t, but I did.


To the north

To the north

On my first trip to Finland I hadn’t seen anything of Tampere beyond the train station. Arriving back there three years later was like a bizarre and intense déjà vu experience. As I had last time, I struggled for a while with ticket machines that unfortunately only display Swedish and Finnish text. I thought I could work out how to buy a ticket in Swedish, but was not quite confident enough to actually put my card in the machine and so I decided to buy a ticket on the train instead.

With a couple of hours to kill, I went for a walk around Tampere. It was late on a Friday night and things were pretty raucous. My guide book described Tampere as ‘the Manchester of Finland’, and just like northern girls back home, Finnish girls were wearing amazingly few clothes given the near-freezing temperatures. I walked up the main street beyond the centre, through a park, down to the river and then back into town, found a take-away pizza shop and took a giant vegetarian pizza back to the station.

My train arrived just after 1am. I got on board and sought out a conductor, but none seemed to be around. The train pulled out of the station and set off on its amazing journey north, and after a while a conductor appeared and sold me a sleeper ticket. I was sharing a compartment with a fisherman called Mikko, who kept on cursing himself for speaking terrible English though we were having a perfectly good conversation. He was quite drunk, and offered me some of his Finnish vodka, which he said was the best in the world. But I had to leave him to it, and I went to the restaurant car for a late night snack. When I came back, Mikko was snoring heavily.

I slept pretty well, and when I woke up at 9am we were in the far north of Finland, in an endless scene of forests and lakes, under a dark blue sky with just a hint of daylight in it. There was a bit of snow on the ground but barely any cover. Mikko said that in 20 years he had only known such good December weather a couple of times before. I got up and went for a coffee in the restaurant car, and spent the next couple of hours watching the sunrise set the sky on fire. Twilight seemed to last for ever and the Sun didn’t actually rise until well past 10am. In full daylight the boggy landscape looked a little bit more prosaic, and before long we were in the grim industrial outskirts of Rovaniemi, the capital of Lappland. It was 11am and I was three miles south of the Arctic Circle.


It’s a long way to Akureyri

It's a long way to Akureyri

We arrived in Iceland at about 1.30am. It’s not a very convenient time to arrive in a country, really, but our flight had been late taking off because of storms in Reykjavík. There were no signs of any storms when we arrived, though, and we were off the plane, out of the airport and on our way into the city centre within half an hour.

And so we found ourselves in Iceland’s famously hedonistic capital at 2.30am on a Friday night. We appeared to be the only sober people in the whole city, and as we wandered around with our backpacks trying to find a place to stay, a car load of fabulously beautiful Icelandic women kerb-crawled us, screamed unintelligibly and then drove off. Eventually we found our way to a campsite, set up our tents with daylight beginning to appear, and grabbed a few hours of sleep.

We got up early the next day, and paid BSÍ, the Icelandic bus service, a call to buy our ‘hringmiði’ bus tickets with which we could travel around the outside of the country. The bus ticket seemed like good value, but then we went to a supermarket, to encounter for the first time the abject horror of having to pay £2 for a loaf of bread. Fresh fruit turned out to be considerably beyond our means, although caviare, bizarrely, was not. So after a frankly ludicrous dinner of caviare on toast, we went to bed, ready to be on our way at 6am the next day.

The weather on our day in Reykjavík had been nothing less than utterly miserable. Imagine the grimmest of grim British winter days, and it was a bit worse than that. We were very relieved that within half an hour of our bus leaving Reykjavík on day 2, the clouds were breaking up, and blue sky was visible for the first time. By the time we were an hour out of Reykjavík, it was a cool but sunny day.

The scenery on the road to Akureyri was amazing, and we took many photos as we passed at least 30 dramatic waterfalls, jagged mountains, and the Arctic coast of Iceland. By the time we reached Akureyri, six hours from Reykjavík, it was a pleasant and sunny 22°C.

We whiled away the five and a half hours before our onward connection came by basking in the pleasant sunshine and throwing stones into the Arctic Ocean. We’d temporarily left Iceland’s grim climate behind: the north and east of the country suffer from the worst winters, but they are often sunny in summer. So although we were only 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, we slapped on the sun block and enjoyed it while it lasted.

Our bus from Akureyri to Reykjahlíð took us past some more great scenery, and an amazing sunset made it all the more memorable. We were all in really great moods by the time we got to Mývatn. They didn’t last…