Lofoten Diaries: Winter Trip

It is no secret that Norway is among my favorite countries and the winter is my favorite season. As a result, winter trip to Lofoten Islands has always been on my agenda since I first set foot on the islands in 2009. Nearly ten years later, I took a ten days winter trip to Northern Norway starting with 3 days in Tromso with my friends followed by a full week in my beloved Lofoten Islands. Below is the day by day diaries of my trip – the Lofoten Diaries. 

Day 1 – En Route to Tromso

Good morning! We arrived at Tromso and it is super nice but quite cold down here! (i.e. -10° C). Tromso is a small town located in the northern edge of Norway and is known as one of the best spots on Earth to experience the magnificent northern lights. We initially flew from Istanbul to Oslo and then took the Norwegian Airlines flight to Tromso. It was almost a two hours long flight and the views were magnificent.  We will today be exploring this small town and then go on our first northern lights trip later this evening. I cannot wait. I should however note that even if I do not get to see the Northern Lights during my entire trip – the country itself is already worth it!

Day 2 – Northern Lights in Tromso

Today was a day of exploring Tromso – its small museums and lively streets. Tromso is a small town of 70,000 people but it feels very lively as everyone is out on the streets and restaurants and cafes are full with people. We explored Polar Museum (not worth of your time if you are on a tight schedule but if you have a full day to kill in the city, it will not hurt to see it. There was a nice 20 minutes video show on Arctic life focusing on my beloved Svalbard). We have also visited Tromso Library which has a very inviting design with glass windows and seems to be an attraction point for locals with the bay views that it offers. During this time of the year – the sun rises at around 8.45 am and the sunset hits the town at around 3.45 pm.

We were lucky that there has been dry weather so far and the light is so soft. Well speaking of lights! As I told you yesterday – we went on a northern lights hunting trip last night and we saw the light (s)! I will have to separately write about the whole experience but it is such a magical thing making you excuse the incredibly harsh conditions that you have to face during the wait outside (it is probably not as cold every night but our first waiting and meeting! spot was windy making it feel much colder than the actual outside temperature of -10 C). All for now. Today is my last day with my friends and we will go on a boat tour to see the fjords. I will report my third day right before I leave for Lofoten Islands on Saturday morning.

Day 3 – Ice Cracker

We got back to our place at around 2 am from our Northern Lights hunting trip and got on the road again at 9 am to catch the boat for a hours trip through Tromso fjords. Our boat was an old one and packed around 20 people. We were lucky with the sun shining over the mountains (still very very cold outside) but the highlight of our trip was riding through the ice fields on the water and spotting a sub-marine nesting area! We had no idea that the trip covered those two attractions, so it  was a great surprise for all of us. The trip costed 1,000 NOK per person (approximately USD 120) and lasted from 10 am to 2 pm. We had an early night as we were quite worn out from the previous nights Northern Lights hunting trip and had planes to catch in the morning. Here is the video of ice cracking during Tromso Fjord Trip – can you hear the sound of cracking?

Day 4 – En Route to Lofoten Islands

My friends and I said goodbye and I took off for Tromso Airport to catch my flight to Lofoten Islands. The flight was already through Bodo but we also made a very quick stop at Andanes to pick up some new passengers. Andanes is located at the northern edge of Lofoten Islands and it offered an amazingly scenic landing. That was also the last time that I saw some sunshine during this trip. I am definitely not a fan of sunshine but we need some of it for good photography lighting. Stormy weather will also do as it brings along quite dramatic scenes but not the grey rainy sky that Lofoten Islands may be offering in the coming days.

As soon as our plane landed at Svolvaer Airport in Lofoten Islands, it started to snow! Although it made it little harder to move around, the views were again amazing. Shortly after I arrived at Svolvaer – I catched the public bus to Henningsvaer, which is one of the prettiest towns in central Lofoten (and in my view a much more scenic to place to base yourself in compared to Svolvaer even though it is not as rich in terms of facilities). Right after I checked in to my hotel at Henningsvaer Brygeehotell, I walked around a little to catch the blue hour and photograph the peaks under snow. I had an early dinner at the beautiful waterside restaurant Fiskekrogen and got back to sleep quite early as the flu symptoms started to appear.

Day 5 – Henningsvaer – Venice of Lofoten Islands

Today – I was supposed go on a photography trip with a photographer based on the islands to explore parts of the islands that I have not seen before. However, it was already raining when I woke up so we decided to cancel the trip as we had nothing but grey skies. I instead stayed in at my hotel, enjoyed the tranquility, caught up with my blog writing and read “Strange Weather in Tokyo” by Hiromi Kawakami (story of a women running into her high school teacher years later). It was a nice relaxing reading and the set-up in the book also reminded me of the Netflix series that I have recently watched – “Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories”.  My hotel (Hotel Bryggehotell) offered really beautiful views right by the water and a very cozy sitting area. It was also very nice that – although the breakfast would not normally start before 8 am – they made the effort to get the things ready for me seeing me up at 6 am on both mornings.

I also visited the Lysstøperies coffee shop which appeared to be the only place open during the day. Flu really made a strong appearance so I did not want to push the limits (as my time in Moskenes would involve a lot of walking) and had an early night again after a quick dinner at Lofotmat.

Day 6 – Moving to Hamnoy

I have never checked the weather as many times in my life as I have been doing during my winter days in Lofoten Islands. This is my third time on the islands and each time I am here, the weather is always overcast. So what was I expecting? Well – overcast is fine but the rain can get a little disturbing – so I keep checking the weather to see if the rain will go away. Well it does from time to time and we even get the magic blue hours. As long as there is no rain – the islands are still quite photogenic.

Today, I traveled to the southern part of the islands, to the beautiful Moskenes area to base myself in Eliassen Rorbuer located in Hamnoy for five nights. I caught the 9 am bus from Henningsvaer to travel back to Svolvaer where I had to change buses and pick up few pills to ease the flue (it worked!). I then got on a two hours ride down to Hamnoy. The scenery along the road was beautiful and it felt like we were chasing the sun as it always showed up far out there somewhere over the ocean!

Now the real story starts – while the sun continued to look at me from some very far away place, Hamnoy had greeted me and the two other guests with an incredibly powerful storm! You can get a glimpse of Lofoten storm here. It was difficult to walk to my cottage and you had to walk very low to not fall down! However, the views were amazing and I dared to catch few shots right in front of my cottage (what they call “rorbuer” here – rorbuers are basically converted fishermans hunts). Once I settled into my cottage – I had to walk around 30 minutes to go to the only grocery store to get some food but I – once on the bridge – quickly understood that I still slightly underestimated the magnitude of the storm. It was a scary ten minutes trying to hang on to my camera (my glasses were already in my pocket as they would otherwise be long gone), holding on to the fences hoping they would not fly away (comforting myself that it is Norway and such thing would not happen) and running back to my cottage once the wind calmed down for maybe a minute. Well – I ended up having my food at the cozy and lonely Krambua Restaurant (the only restaurant around here) as I had to wait till the next morning to cross that bridge!

Day 7 – Life in Hamnoy

When I woke up today, the storm was already gone. After a walk around Hamnoy and benefiting from the blue hour that lasted between 7.45 am – 8.45 am, I finally crossed that bridge and walked to the grocery store. The place that I am staying in has a kitchenette and all the utensils that you need to cook your own food. Although I am far from being even an average cook, I have been cooking my own dinner here (composed of a salmon on top of a salad – lunch and dinner!) since dining out is so expensive here in Norway (just a simple dinner in a restaurant with a glass of wine will cost you around USD 60-70 and even more in most cases).

Today was mostly spent walking around – checking out the fish drying racks and watching the fisherman hanging the fish on the racks. There was no rain today and we occasionally had some good lighting for some photography.

Day 8 – Boat Ride and Beautiful Colors

I sure love this cabin. I feel extremely excited waking up here even though the sun does not show up until late into 8am. I today took an hour long boat ride along the Reine fjords and I was the only passenger other than the crew. I am glad that the boat was still running despite the commonly harsh conditions often observed in Lofoten Islands during winter. On our way out, I chose to locate myself in front of the boat and it was extremely cold and wet (I got entirely wet) but the feeling of it and the views were worth it.

I came back to my cabin for lunch after the boat ride. I hanged around a little too long but was rewarded with some amazing colors at around sunset time. The second time that I saw sunshine during this visit to Lofoten. In the evening, I caught up with my blog writing and also benefited from the wider movie range that Netflix offers in Norway (compared to Turkey) and watched Taxi Driver (yes for the first time in my life) – what a magical use of lighting and what a great movie!

Day 9 – Haunted Houses of Lofoten Islands

Today was a rainy day from the beginning to the end with occasional storms. I this morning took a bus to the southern-most town of Lofoten Islands – Village A. A is a nice picturesque town (even though I always have difficulty getting a good perspective while in there) and I this time also discovered a very nice tiny cafe located right (Smarken AV) at the entrance of the town.

I tried to make use of the dark and rainy weather to capture the very interesting looking houses of Lofoten all surrounded by naked trees – the houses sure all looked quite haunted to me! What do you think? I luckily caught a school bus on my way back to Hamnoy. During the 40 minutes bus ride, the school kids treated my camera as the most surprising thing on Earth and were constantly begging me to picture them. I spent the rest of the day hanging around in Hamnoy and retired back to my cabin the afternoon as the rain got much heavier.

Day 10 – What A Day!

Oh what a day today! Blue skies, sunshine, dark skies, storm and a snow storm all together. Today was the best day in Lofoten in terms of the lighting conditions. We have seen it all in one day. I in the morning took the bus to Reine to enjoy the great views from its famous bridge. I took a short coffee break there, walked around the town and got back to lovely Hamnoy – such a calming and in a way addictive place. Today is my last day – I will try to find a balance between enjoying my beautiful cabin and walk around and enjoy the views. Also – this is the end of my Lofoten Islands Winter Trip Diaries – hope you enjoyed it.

For more entries from magnificent Scandinavia, you can check out the Scandinavia page of my blog.