Sep182015

68.8° N in Harstad, Norway

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.

Harstad Rainray

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.

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.

Northern Norway-1

Arctic Norway-2-sm

Near Evenes

The mountains are much higher than I expected. For high quality imagery of Lofoten Islands, check out 68North.com.

Evenes Airport

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).

Evenes Airport buses

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.

Google Maps Harstad

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.

Harstad bus view

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.

Harstad Bridge   Harstad-sm

The reflection of colorful clouds on the water contrasted with barren mountains in the distance.

Fishing village

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.

Hotel Arcticus

Harstad is covered with forests, yet the islands seen across the water are barren.

Drangen Rolla Island

Sunset illuminating Rolla Island to the east. Drangen peak is 1,022 metres (3,353 ft).

Harstad harbor

Fast boat ferry in Harstad harbor. These truly are fast boats when you see the ferry racing into port.

Fast Boat

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

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.

Harstad conscience

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.

John Lennon

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.

Playground swing

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.

Folkeparken   ski jump

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.

Folkeparken Lake-1   Folkeparken lake-2

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.

Shelter-1   shelter-2

Trail lights overhead were unexpected for a hiking trail. Harstad’s Arctic Circle latitude means there are months with little of no sunlight.

Trail lights

Cross country skiing must be a major form of exercise in the snow season.

Folkeparken view

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.

Harstad houses

Harstad houses.

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.

cave walk   Harstad Photo club

At the end of the cave tunnel, I found Grottebadet.

Grottebadet

Norwegians truly are experts at carving tunnels through rock.

Adult admission is 135 NOK (about $16.50 USD).

Harstad center

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.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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Comments

  1. @tommy777 – I am returning the favor of spending some of my low budget travel dollars in your Norwegian home town since you spend your travel dollars in my California home town.

  2. Wow the photos are amazing. I’m glad you at least got some time without rain for some hiking. I agree that hiking is one of the best ways to see a place for free. Your account of the clouds coming in during your hike reminds me of a hike I did in Alaska where we spent the whole hike down wondering if we were going to regret ascending so high and ignoring the clouds.

    Funny thing is, I don’t really remember if we made it down the mountain before it rained or not. That was Mount Riley. Not in the arctic region.

    I have yet to make it officially to the arctic but I think you’ve won me over on Harstad.

  3. Glad I decided not to go the Lofoten Islands. The rain was constant all day yesterday until just after sunset. The clouds were so thick that I could not see any of the mountains around. I finally hit the wall with no energy to do anything except lay around the room, mostly in bed. Fortunately there were three English language movie stations.

    Today I walked outside the Hotel Arcticus to the edge of the dock about 50 feet outside the hotel entrance. The calm sea water was making little circles like rain drops hitting the surface, but no rain was falling. As I focused for a couple of minutes, I realized there were hundreds of small fish, perhaps three to four inches long, in a school swimming next to the dock about 15 feet below. Then I noticed there were larger fish, more than 12 inches in length also swimming around in the school. I have not seen any marine mammals, but there certainly is abundant fish activity happening in the harbor. Very cool.

    I feel better today. The hotel room has a nice large window that opens wide, so I have been getting plenty of fresh sea air. Back to Bergen, Norway this afternoon. Maybe next summer I’ll make it back to the Lofoten Islands. Turns out a car rental would have only been $50 per day, but I was in no condition to drive yesterday and the weather did not cooperate anyway.

  4. Have really enjoyed your postings on Norway. On Labor Day we returned from 2 weeks, spending the last 5 days in the Lofoten’s. Rain is a way of life, but we had 50% clear skies. One of the best day-hiking area’s I’ve visited. But the single item we noticed most in the Lofotens was the quality of the light. We would often find ourselves stopping to just gaze at the sky and the sea. If you go back, make time for Moskenes–its a very special place.

  5. @Hanaleiradio – I estimate I had about 7 hours of sunlight out of 72 hours. Friday afternoon was nice and that was it. The cloud cover was thick two of three days.

    Hotel receptionist told me the weather turned just as I arrived after several nice days.

    That is how it goes with travel. Luck of the day. At least I had four great hotel nights in Norway. And better to have traveled than not have traveled at all.

    And in the line of our famous former California governor, “I’ll be back”.

    When it comes to planning travel our famous former Carmel, California mayor has the other line applicable to travelers, “you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”

    Next week I’ll be in France. I think I am due for some good weather luck this month.

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