Norwegians are the masters of understatement. When something is gargantuan, they’ll say ‘It’s a bit big’ and when something’s breathtakingly beautiful, they’ll say ‘It’s nice.’ If a friend made a $10 million profit on a business deal, they’d claim he made ‘a bit of money.’
I still don’t understand whether it’s humor or specific cultural brain wiring (for example: how different cultures understand time). But there is one thing that reassures me in all of this, a ray of hope that cuts through the vague cloudiness which always has me scratching my head asking “Is he/she joking…?” — and that is when a Norwegian talks about the Lofoten Islands.
Because they don’t understate anything about it. Any Norwegian will tell you how magical Lofoten is — how emotional it is to stand next to giant mountains that dive straight into the sea, or how disoriented one becomes in the summer with 24-hours of daylight.
It’s one of the few times I don’t have to mentally brace for an understatement. So even before visiting, I knew it was a place I would appreciate. After visiting, I’m just in awe.
This is a photo story from our vacation to Lofoten, Norway this July.
TO get there we flew from Oslo to Bodø which means we entered the Arctic Circle, but were still on mainland Norway. From Bodø we sailed aboard the Hutigruta (literally pronounced “hooty rooty”) which is a huge ship that cruises up and down the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Kirkenes, dropping off and picking up passengers along the way. It’s very popular among old people and young children.
Out on the open fjord the sun stopped warming us and the high sea winds took over, so we sought refuge inside the panoramic deck where eight-year-old Mats played some classy piano tunes for the crowd.
Outside, Matias stood deep in contemplation while we rolled toward the Lofoten islands which make up an archipelago. He was born and raised here, and this was his first journey home after more than five years.
On the other hand, I was absolutely thrilled to find the weather in the Arctic Circle reach up to 86 degrees! Here we are pulling into Matias’ local port, Stamsund, only minutes from his childhood home.
Matias wanted to show me the heart and soul of the Lofoten Islands, what makes the money roll in, and provides the distinguishable fragrance: Fish!
They LOVE it, as apparent in the local art.
First we checked out some dried cod (torsk). Thousands of pounds of it are still drying before they are sold all over the world.
Then we got a tour of the local family-owned whaling boat.
And while I used to be a fan of the show Whale Wars, I learned about the whale hunting practices of the Norwegian fisherman from talking to an old family friend and current whale hunter. He explained that Norwegian whalers don’t over fish, they kill in the most precise way, and provide for entire communities. He even made an extra effort to point out that when you traumatize the whale it spoils the meat which then renders it useless.
This little harbor has seen the wrath of WW’s Paul Watson. In fact, in 1992 Sea Shepherd entered their port and tried to sink one of their whaling ships. Needless to say, Stamsund and Steine do not like the misguided mercenaries of the sea.
So we picked up some fresh whale steak from the boat we were on earlier and grilled them up for dinner. Delicious!
Old wooden scaffolding is still used to dry all the cod in Lofoten. When fish-drying season is over, they stand empty yet still so beautiful.
The next day we went to the Viking Museum in Borge. In 1981 researchers discovered ruins of a genuine Viking house and reconstructed the whole thing.
Coincidentally, Matias had worked at this museum decades ago as a summer guide. These days enthusiastic youth and professional experts from all over the world work here in the summer.
We even did a traditional Viking fashion photoshoot.
And you can take a ride on a traditional Viking ship.
They even have a Viking sports section where you can shoot arrows and throw axes. On my attempt at shooting an arrow, I punched myself in the nose. So I had a French Viking show me how to do it properly. [Not pictured: Then I shot the arrow directly in the bullseye.]
It had already been such a full day of touristing that I was shocked when Matias’ dad suggested we climb a mountain after dinner!
That’s Norway for you: Old, young, early, or late Norwegians are ready for a hike, and if the sun never sets it’s always the perfect time too.
This was my chance to impress the family, so I gulped down my codfish and said, “Hell yea!”
On the trip I learned a new mountain climbing ritual:
When you reach the peak of the mountain, you place a rock on top of a pile of other climbers’ rocks.
When we made it to the top of Stamsund Heia I was given my first topography lesson of the trip.
The mountains of Lofoten are incredibly sharp peaked, more than other mountains, because the ice from the Ice Age melted from Lofoten much earlier than in the rest of the world, causing the mountain peaks to be exposed and therefore much sharper.
The next day we were invited on a RHIB boat tour of the islands.
First we visited Nusfjord (not pictured), an old fishing village that has been turned into a small museum town.
Then we boated to Bunesstrand where we hiked through gorgeous grassy hills to behold an epic beach!
Old, picturesque houses dotted the trail on this island.
After an utepils (outside beer) at an island called Reine, we stopped at Sakrisøy for the tastiest fish burgers I’ve ever had.
Here are cod heads drying on Sakrisøy. Young Norwegians who grow up around fishing communities can make money by slicing fish tongues out of the cod — an act the fisherman are too busy to do — and sell them. It’s extremely lucrative, as some kids make up to 100,000 NOK ($15,900) in one season!
One evening we had some drinks at the local pub. In Norway, people are very sensitive to the drinking and driving law and take all precautions if they are going out to drink alcohol.
That is why when we had only a beer at the local pub we had to figure out a way to get home safely because driving was not an option. Matias’ house was only 3 kilometers away so it wouldn’t be terribly difficult. And when the only taxi in the town was occupied we borrowed some locals’ family bikes and biked home around 1am. The sun was still shining!
Our friends Eivind and Bina shared a bike.
When we weren’t touring with a boat, Mr. Matias showed me parts of his homeland in an Audi Roadster convertible. I highly suggest it when visiting Lofoten, but I’ve been hearing over and over the weather had NEVER been so warm and sunny.
These are my favorite driving shots.
We drove to an award winning beach, Hauklandstrand, where every neighbor and family friend from Stamsund was swimming on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer.
The water seemed a bit icy to me (see what I did there?) but Matias’ friend said “When you can feel your toes after you’ve left the water, it’s a warm day!” Norwegians are also very positive.
This is Utakliev, another beach very close by.
We continued driving into the evening to catch the mysterious midnight sun.
The midnight sun occurs in the Arctic Circle during the summer and remains in the sky all night long, never dipping below the horizon. At 1 in the morning it starts to rise again.
On another night of midnight sun hunting…
…the impossible happened! Two elks (we call them moose in America) appeared in front of us, the older one dwarfing the SUV we were in. It was one of midnight sun spottings Lofoten dreams are made of.
Going inland was just as beautiful.
And so was the view from the home beach volleyball court after 1 am.
Throughout the trip we SUP’ed (stand up paddleboard) around the islands in Steine.
The water looked so tropical, but was still quite chilly.
And while hanging out on the dock one day, we met a Norwegian family who just made a giant catch! This one was 35 kilograms.
Matias, his father, and Jorgen also threw on some water skis and tested out the water.
Towards the middle of the trip our friends, Layal and Jorgo, took an alternative method of transportation from Oslo: a 20-hour train! Then a four-hour ferry, and an hour car ride back to Steine.
And while they were here the Carlsens threw a party which lasted well into the night.
Naturally, as people do in Lofoten, we continued the after-party on an old fisherman’s dock. It is around 2am in these pictures:
The next morning we four embarked on our final mission: to climb the mountain directly behind Matias house, called Steinetinden.
We weren’t sure how hard it would be, but since one sister climbed it in 45-minutes we knew there was at least a chance. So we set off!
At our first break we thought the view was already incredible. But we were determined to continue.
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Up here things got epic. We had to avoid some poison ivy and started climbing on all fours grabbing grass with our hands. We embraced the goat method. They left trails of poop to follow.
So close yet so far. From the bottom this peak looks like the top. But it’s not! We still had a grueling climb from here.
But we made it!
We don’t know exactly how long it took (who’s counting?) but we reached the ultimate peak and got a 360 degree view of Stamsund. It was a beautiful ending to our trip.
Thank you to the Carlsens for a wonderful stay in Steine!
All pics were taken with either an iPhone 5, iPhone 3, or Samsung.