Going Back to Scandinavia (In Winter)

Tromso on a winter night

I am not a big fan of camping. The first time I actually did camp was in the Sahara, under a night sky filled with a thousand stars, next to remains of an early night dinner, of some barbeque chicken and beer kept in the sand to chill. That night after some initial discomfort I slept, slept in the sleeping bag below which the desert sand took the shape of my body. It was one of the best sleep I have ever had, a lot better than the memory foam mattresses that came into my life later.

That night maybe in my dreams I saw Oslo, I was going to be there in the next 24 hours. It was the Oslo of summer that I was known to. As the wheels of my Turkish Airlines flight hit the tarmac, it felt like I am still in the clouds. It was all white, just the desert was under the moon the night earlier. Excuse my being a bit romantic about the snow and the sand, but the same romance got me to think about two tours in those two nights. One to the great white desert of Egypt and the other to the land of the extreme north, to Scandinavia in winter.

A lot has happened since then, since the year 2011. The way I feel about Scandinavia hasn’t changed though. I still am both happy and fulfilled to spend time in that part of the world, especially in the North of Norway. This time though it took two winters to get back. I went with no thoughts, with a small group of people. Like in the early years when I would say, I am going, come if you want to. This time too I knew I was going.

Reindeer Sled Ride in North Norway

There is a way, things are done up north, especially in Norway. The people are different than in Oslo and Stockholm. They have time on their hands, they smile a lot more and are forthcoming. They live in close-knit communities and understand the importance of interpersonal dependence. Nature plays a bigger role in the everyday lives of the people, most of whom are fishermen. The temperature of their sea goes up and they have to go further north to get their catch. There is a snowstorm and the only road connecting the two towns shuts even with a very efficient mechanism in place. I once asked the guy who was driving my group, “what happens when there is a snowstorm and someone is stuck”. He said, “nothing we just go to the nearest house and knock on the door”.

The doors in North Norway open wider than in the south. They speak less of English but still communicate more. Ok, enough I had started thinking I would write about my travel but ended up writing about the people. But then what is travel without people? The sighting of the northern lights is the highlight of this tour that we do here, and for the people that travel with us, that remains the most important thing. I have been lucky through the years to have people who even value the beauty of the winter wonderland. They smile as much as they do, being on a dog sledge as they do when they see the lights dance. Though I have to give it to the northern lights when they begin their dance, then we don’t just smile. We scream and we jump, we fall on the white blanket of snow and let it take our body’s shape. Same as the sand that night in the Sahara.

Snowmobiling around Tromso

The camping in the desert would’ve not been complete without the stories our guide told us at his home earlier and which continued well into the night around the fire. The starry desert sky stays, just as maybe the northern lights stayed in my mind when I went to bed the night we spotted them. The thought I slept to was of the afternoon though. A local café owner earlier allowed us to eat our make-shift lunch of Norwegian Polar bread and a prawn salad in his café with just a warm gesture of his hand. The smile that he had when I offered him some Indian snacks while leaving remained as I smiled back from outside through the glass. The snowflakes brushed my face as I went back to the bus and he went back to attending to his next client.

*The above images are from our Scandinavia Winter tour. Although the blog speaks about North Norway, our intention is to introduce you to the feeling of being in Scandinavia. 

Alesund to Andalsnes | Part II

The Fjordland of Norway hits you straight away. It does, however, take time to sink in. The pleasant shock of nature after the initial ‘wows’ and ‘amazing’ settles in your mind. Once in there it only makes you want to stare, and absorb what you see, take it all in.
On the road from the Briksdal Glacier through the Olden Valley, there are many times that our coach stops, and every time it does, people start taking pictures. The road that runs parallel to the river is narrow and vehicles on both the sides stop wherever there is a place and whenever they see an oncoming vehicle.

The Loen Fjord hotel has its pluses and its negatives. From outside it looks like a building just from a postcard, with the Loelva river flowing into the fjord and rooms overlooking the confluence. There are benches to sit by the flowing water and the grass makes you want to take off your shoes. On the evening we came in, a cloud was hanging low just behind the hotel and I thought to myself, ‘only if it feels as exclusive as this from within’. The people love it though and they do not so much seem to mind the other six bus groups or so in the same property. I don’t mind it too, though I would like to stay somewhere where we stay the next night.

Hotel Loen Fjord Exterior

The next morning, I often hear people saying, “why do we have to leave today, can’t we stay for a night more?” or “I do not want to do anything but just be in this” and every year I tell them the same thing, “wait till you see what’s next”. The funny thing, however, is that even I do not feel like leaving.

As we reach the ferry port for the Geiranger Fjord, the gushing Hellesyltfossen, which has the same name as the village of Hellesylt makes for a lovely pre-boat time. Norwegian woolen and winterwear brands are known the world over and the Devold factory shop in Hellesylt is a good bargain store for some high-end Norwegian winter wear.

Geiranger Waterfall

I like to look at Geiranger Fjord from a distance rather than sailing through its waters. With every step as you descend the path from NorskeFjord Centre overlooking the most beautiful fjord in Norway, Geiranger, with its water and the arbitrary cruise ship looks different. The Storfossen accompanies you on your descent to the fjord. The walk next to a waterfall as it meets the fjord simply feels like, how many pictures can one take?


The real picture postcard view is the one that you get from driving up the Mollsbygda (this I don’t know how to translate). The panorama mode of your cell phone does its trick and I do not feel I have taken enough no matter how much I do. I tell myself, to look and not just click. But, I do not listen. When I tell people, “its time to leave”, someone always says jovially, “you don’t know what is next?!”.

View Curve

True, what comes next is a masterpiece in Norwegian road making. It is one of the most striking views that Norway as a country has, not just Fjordland. On every bend of the Trollstigen or the Trollspath, the name of the team leader is marked. When you look at the Trollstigen from the top, and onto Andalsnes in the distance, it really does feel like, ‘there is nothing like Norway’.

Trolls path

That night when people sit for dinner in the beautiful Aak hotel, the past 48 hours are discussed. Everyone points out his / her favorite. For me, there is nowhere better than the Aak Hotel to finish this journey. A journey that sleeps for two nights but dreams for 20 days.

Aak Hotel

Alesund to Andalsnes 2 nights & 20 days | Part I

This journey was an outcome. From 2009 to 2014, when Norway was the only thing that people remembered out of our Scandinavia tour, there was already a route taking shape in my mind. A few names up here in Norway were been spoken. Places like Geiranger and Trondheim were known, but a few more started to make rounds of café conversations with the drivers I sat with.

It then took some online research and help from the local agency to come out with the Norway Fjords and Arctics itinerary. The Arctics I was aware would impress. The fjords were the big surprise of the tour.

There are only two countries on the planet with such a staggering coastline. Norway in the North and Chile in the Southern hemisphere. The midnight sun in Norway and the comparatively easy access gives an edge to the North, otherwise, there is very little to differentiate one from the other.

Lofoten in the Arctics
Lofoten in the Arctics

Chilean Patagonia
Chilean Patagonia

Some journeys take very little time but the number of experiences that one feels are so overwhelming that it feels a lot more time has passed. The travel from Alesund and Andalsnes in the Central West of Norway is one of those journeys. Alesund a Unesco World heritage city is I think what Bergen used to be before tourism showed its full and devastating effect. When I looked at the image of Alesund during my research for the trip, it looked so similar to what I had seen of Bergen on Google. The feel of Alesund is anything but a city and like most of the cities in Norway which are less of a city and more of a big village, Alesund too gives a similar feeling. After the fire of 1904, the whole city was reconstructed and walking through the cobblestone streets in its center, as we stand facing the harbor, it still feels like 1910 maybe.

Alesund Image street
Alesund street

Having walked the streets of Alesund every summer, I wanted to know how they look from the top of the Stoya Hill. I would see the hill and the lookout point every time and simply told myself, maybe I will make the hike next year. This time I went up. Alesund in perspective is beautiful. The peninsula protrudes towards you and after the initial, ‘let me take the pictures’ mind has settled, it is all about sitting 450 steps above the ‘big village’ of Alesund and just looking below till your gaze goes. Right from the heritage structures to the horizon over the Norwegian Sea.

Top View Alesund

Water plays such an important role in any road travel in Norway. You are never really far away from a water body, be it the open sea, a fjord or a river. Where there is water, there are bridges, tunnels, and ferries to take care of travel over it. Starting from Alesund driving parallel to the Fjord (don’t remember the name, there are so many), you would immediately find yourself crossing it either through an undersea tunnel or a ferry. We choose a combination of both to reach our first stop. There are many views that demand a stop but the narrow roads and limited parking possibilities for a big bus do not allow this. I often think of driving this route as I did in Ireland. So that I can stop where I want and simply try and soak in what lies in front. I say try because there is so much that happens in front and there is so much more there that not all can be soaked in. Being in Norway at times is like watching a drama, and in places like the Fjordland, you often would find yourself in the front seat of the action.

Driving In Norway

The roads are narrow and if you are not used to driving on the right-hand side of the road then it might be challenging. The lack of public transport makes this either rent a car or join an Anubhav Tour kind of an alternative.

The highlight of the first part of this journey has to be the Briksdalen Glacier. It is not big but just the approach to it makes it extra special. The journey to the approach is by regular transport, and then you can choose to hike up or take a buggy ride. We take the ride up and then walk the last 400 meters to reach the glacier lake. Again, all through this, the water is right there flowing next to you. There is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which far too big, but this one in Norway is calming. Even with the two busloads of people that are usually spending time around the lake, the place still feels to yourself.

Briksdal Glacier approach

Briksdal Glacier Lake

When we walk back to the bus there is a sense of content in everyone. I look at the faces of my people and I know that the day has been good. The trip has only started I wish to tell them!