First impressions of northern Norway is sunlight seems to color the landscape differently here within the Arctic Circle at 68.8° N in Harstad, Norway.
This rainbow is more of a rain-ray with a single shaft of bright light dropping down from a mostly clear sky.
Southern Norway had ten inches of rain in the past three days in some places, flooding several areas. The rain was falling at Bergen and Oslo Airports yesterday and the sky was cloudy nearly the entire trip through three flights from London to Bergen to Oslo and most of the way to Evenes EVE, Harstad/Narvik Airport.
The British Airways plane dropped below the clouds on the landing approach to Bergen, Norway and I snapped a photo of an off-shore salmon farm.
There was little to see on my next SAS flight to Oslo airport. I was seated on the west side of the plane as we flew north from Oslo to Evenes. The bright sun with total cloud cover below compelled me to keep the window shade closed for the first hour of the 90-minute flight. I periodically checked to see if there was a view and only clouds below the plane were seen. Then I opened the window shade to see a break in the clouds and a breathtaking landscape of jagged coastal peaks.
Unfortunately I was seated over the wing.
The mountains are much higher than I expected. For high quality imagery of Lofoten Islands, check out 68North.com.
Harstad/Narvik Evenes Airport
Airport Bus Transportation from Harstad/Narvik Airport
The plane arrived at 5:25pm and the luggage was offloaded in about ten minutes. Outside the terminal were several buses beside signs to Narvik (east), Harstad (north) and Lofoten Islands (west).
Round trip bus ticket to Harstad was 330 NOK ($41 USD) and I was able to pay by credit card on the bus.
Finding accurate transportation information in English is kind of difficult for this region. There are limited public transportation services. A car is the easiest way to get around.
Harstad, Norway pin on Google Maps. Norway is the entire coastal region north of Sweden and Finland. The northeastern border of Norway meets Russia near the Norwegian coastal port of Kirkenes. The road route between Harstad and Kirkenes is 600 miles via Sweden and Finland and about a 13 hour drive.
Harstad has a population of about 24,000 residents. This place is spread out over many miles of coastline and hills, but much of the population is near the town center. Narvik is around 18,000 residents. Tromso, the largest city in northern Norway has over 50,000 residents. Most towns are under 5,000 residents with many holding only a few hundred people.
The bus ride took about 40 minutes. Only about 20% of the seats were occupied and I sat in the back by myself, so I could bounce from one side of the bus to the other for photos.
The reflection of colorful clouds on the water contrasted with barren mountains in the distance.
Clarion Collection Hotel Arcticus is on a dock adjacent to Harstad University College and shares the building with the Harstad library and Harstad Kulturhuset, a concert venue that has been active both evenings I’ve been here.
Harstad is covered with forests, yet the islands seen across the water are barren.
Sunset illuminating Rolla Island to the east. Drangen peak is 1,022 metres (3,353 ft).
Fast boat ferry in Harstad harbor. These truly are fast boats when you see the ferry racing into port.
When the skies turned bright this afternoon I wanted to hike after a long day of travel yesterday on three flights to reach Harstad from London.
Harstad walrus sculpture
Norwegians trip me out with their displays of social conscience and healthy living, yet Norway and Iceland do not adhere to the worldwide ban on whaling. It is an anachronism of their modern culture I can’t comprehend.
I stopped by the Harstad Tourist Information to ask about hiking trails in the area. The young staffer suggested Folkeparken and gave me an English language brochure. The tourist center has hiking maps for sale. Talk about sticker shock. Most maps were 199 NOK ($25) and some were even 379 NOK ($47). My new plan was get lost in Harstad.
Walking through Harstad to Folkeparken revealed a multicultural community with Africans and Asians and some Muslims. I was surprised to see so many blacks in the Arctic.
I was not surprised to see John Lennon peace graffiti. That seems universal.
One of my interests as a former teacher who spent a lot of time monitoring children on playgrounds is seeing different types of playground apparatus in different countries.
Harstad playground swing
Folkeparken is Harstad’s most popular outdoor area, however, there were no signs I saw pointing the way. I figured I would find the park as long as I was walking uphill. I asked a couple of women chatting by the side of the road and they pointed me in the direction – uphill. Then, up the hill, I was standing at an intersection with a parking lot of cars by the woods trying to decide which road to take. A young couple in a car stopped to offer me unsolicited help and directed me to the correct road. That was good luck since I was about to walk down the wrong road.
I was only 50 meters from the Folkeparken trails.
Harstad Folkeparken map and Nordic ski jump.
There were about two dozen people on the trail in the first few minutes and I turned off the main trail to view the lake.
I disturbed the resting birds to walk onto the dock for photos. All in all, I really expected to see far more birds than I have seen. The Lofoten Islands to the west are reputed to be one of the great birding locations of the world. I figured there would be birds hanging out around Harstad too. The more I travel, the more I appreciate the abundant wildlife of Monterey, California.
There are few deciduous trees where I live in Monterey. Our live oak and Monterey pines don’t change much during the year. The hillsides around Harstad are in autumn colors. Occasionally the breeze blew through trees sending leaves flying in air.
Back on the main trail I was alone. Over the next hour I saw only two other hikers walking their dogs.
The temperature was in the upper 50s and I had put my coat in my pack at the beginning of the walk uphill and my t-shirt was adequate. I would have been more comfortable in shorts.
There are shelters along the trails with fire pits.
Trail lights overhead were unexpected for a hiking trail. Harstad’s Arctic Circle latitude means there are months with little of no sunlight.
Cross country skiing must be a major form of exercise in the snow season.
I hoped for better vista views from higher up, but the skies looked like they were darkening and I did not want to be miles away from Harstad if it started raining hard. I walked back into town. Apparently one of the best views around is from the Gangsastoppen hilltop seen in the photo below.
Back in 2000 I wanted to use a free Alaska Airlines award ticket to travel to Kotzebue, Alaska in the Arctic. Another teacher I worked with discouraged me from going to Arctic Alaska. Basically she said all the Arctic towns suck and there are so many beautiful destinations in southern Alaska around Anchorage.
Northern Norway is the warmest climate of any Arctic region of the world due to the temperate effect of the North Atlantic ‘gulf stream’ current. The chaotic nature of the current along Norway’s coast, particularly around the Lofoten archipelago, means the water takes a long time to move past the coast of Norway. This slow movement of the current northward allows much of the heat in the water to radiate into the atmosphere and warm the coast of Norway, before colder water moves northward to Svalbard and Greenland.
Harstad is my first time traveling north of the Arctic Circle. Like my stay in Brno, Czech Republic two weeks ago, there are few American tourists around this place. I have not heard any American voices yet.
Grottebadet, Harstad’s big attraction
I read about the Harstad underground indoor pool carved out of solid rock. I saw someone come out a building in Harstad carrying a bag and thought I would find a supermarket inside. Instead I found myself in a cave with photos hanging on the rock walls.
At the end of the cave tunnel, I found Grottebadet.
Norwegians truly are experts at carving tunnels through rock.
Adult admission is 135 NOK (about $16.50 USD).
Two expat Americans living in Brno, Czech Republic asked me during my stay ten days ago if I would return. I replied honestly that I did not think I would return to Brno. Not that there was anything wrong with Brno. There are just so many places to go and chances are I will not have a reason to return to Brno.
I am fairly confident I will be back in this area of Norway again. The Lofoten Islands were my objective and I am so close, but not there. The weather is supposed to suck with rain most of the day tomorrow Saturday and I leave Sunday afternoon.
Norway captivates me for some reason. Prices are way out of my normal travel standard, but with Clarion Collection hotels feeding me breakfast and dinner and a culture of hiking, my favorite activity that requires no money, I feel privileged to have spent three weeks touring beautiful Norway over the past year.
Those $400 to $500 round trip tickets between California and Scandinavia on Norwegian and all the major alliances are another reason why Norway is one of the best travel bargains around.