This is a travelogue from a wonderful “work holiday” in our beautiful region. I can never get enough of Northern Norway.
CNNS / Erik Joachimsen (Text & Photos)
Let’s just call them the client because it’s really immaterial who accompanied me on this journey. The central characters were the people we met, the experiences we participated in, the beautiful scenery and the wild weather we encountered during a four-day journey just before Easter in 2014.
Alta. Tromsø. Bodø. Lofoten. Four days packed with experiences, personalities, food, culture and nature. This is one of many golden combinations. It could just as easily have been four other destinations, but that’s the way it worked out this time.
MONDAY: ALTA – Compact games
The client flew directly from Europe to Alta, the “town of the Northern Lights”. Alta is one of my favourite places in the north. It’s maybe not the prettiest town, but my word what an exotic and professional place. And there’s a vast number of shorex offers within a small radius. If there was an Olympics for adventure tourism, Alta could without doubt host it – the summer games as well as the winter ones!
The Northern Lights Cathedral, built in 2013, is a gift to the town and its visitors. It’s a work of art at the end of the main street, whether you admire it from the outside or from the inside; a quiet, aesthetic room where you can see the Northern Lights through an artist’s eyes.
After an expert lesson in dog sledding by Eirik Nielsen at Holmen Husky, we continue to Maze, the Sami village that was actually destined to be inundated when the hydroelectric power plant was developed here around 30 years ago. Thankfully that didn’t happen. Risten Eira from Cavzo Safari shares a moving story with us as we enjoy coffee brewed on the fire; from life as reindeer herder, to getting engaged and then the wedding with several thousand guests. She perfected the art of storytelling and demonstrated the Sami primal force at a high level. It’s the sort of experience that you never forget.
Even by this early stage, the client was “sold”, even though there were still three days left on this winter adventure.
The slate quarry in Pæskatun, with an enthusiastic Trond Striefelt, is always a success. How can someone handle stone with such passion? Not to mention Hans Ulrik Wisløff, the man who guides King Harald to the salmon and is himself the “king of the canyon”. What he and his family has achieved with Sorrisniva, with a new igloo hotel and creative ice sculptures every winter, has been invaluable for the tourism industry in Alta.
As the day turns to evening, we receive a lesson about the Northern Lights before setting off to hunt for this phenomenon. It was the most amazing Northern Lights chase I have ever been on, even though it’s worth noting that we didn’t actually see the lights. It was a glowing experience fitting of the company’s name, Glød, the Norwegian word for glow.
TUESDAY: TROMSØ – My home town
It’s a bit strange but incredibly exciting to come on holiday to your own city, but that’s the way it was. We arrived in the midst of the spring thaw, and the city didn’t appear at its loveliest. Maybe that’s never been quite the case because it’s not architecture and aesthetics that sell this city. The Arctic Cathedral is an exception, of course. Our guide impressed with her knowledge and language skills that were well above average, and the music and song made an impression with the client. The classic attractions – the cable car, Polaria and Ølhallen (the beer hall) – all passed with flying colours and as usual “Emma” delivered personal service and a wonderful lunch at one of the city’s better restaurants, Emmas Under. What Tromsø may lack in beauty, it certainly makes up for in charm.
On the island of Kvaløya, another dog sled and eager huskies wait, but the weather gods were certainly not on our side. A brief snowshoe trek instead concludes with coffee brewed on the fire in the lavvu (Sami herdsmen’s tent). It’s often the case with places like this, but to fully experience the place you need to meet the main person behind it. With her tens of thousands of kilometres behind the dog team, Tove Sørensen is Tromsø’s wilderness centre. You saved the day there and then, Tove!
WEDNESDAY: BODØ – The city of the Cold War
The time is 8:15 am on Saturday, and most normal people are still asleep. The rigid inflatable boat (RiB) with more than enough horsepower behind it waits and chugs as we change into warm clothes to prepare for a cold and windy start to the day. We head towards Saltstraumen with guide Henry Johnsen and Captain Knut Westvig as competent crew. Henry is one of the best and most knowledgeable guides I have ever met. And Knut has a level of experience that far exceeds most in the industry. We are received on arrival at Tuvsjyen by the hosts and are returned to the Stone Age through storytelling and culinary experiences.
The U-2 spy plane nicknamed the “Dragon Lady” hangs majestically in its own corner of the Norwegian Aviation Centre in Bodø. The shooting down of this plane over Smerdlovsk in the Soviet Union 1960 created further tension between the superpowers. The U-2 conveys its share of world history, and is stunning too.
And indeed, after a bit of a late night on the town, we encounter another “lady”. We had to go down to the quayside in Bodø to see Miss Aurora Borealis this time. Unpredictable, but equally beautiful every time. “Cross check and report,” as they say on the plane.
THURSDAY: LOFOTEN – Four seasons in one day
Weather and nature – that pretty well sums up Lofoten it. Add in encounters with people, places and stories too for good measure. I have never visited Lofoten without meeting Tor-Vegard Mørkved or the Blacksmith of Sund as he is better known. He is always obliging and he delivers what must be one of the most beautiful and famous mementoes from Lofoten: the cormorant. And the client each took one home with them, so they will never forget the blacksmith, Lofoten and Northern Norway.
Jim Olaisen in Nusfjord, I promise you that the boknafisk you served for lunch proved a real hit with the client, as did your lively storytelling about the shop of all shops in Lofoten: the famous general store.
Ditto Anders Tangrand, who stood sweating by the stove when we arrived at his glassblowing studio at Vikten in ferocious weather. You can find glassblowing studios all over the world, but there is only one like this in Lofoten. As the waves crash onto the majestic beach below, he produces the most beautiful products imaginable from local raw materials. The client was actually more than satisfied to sit in the upstairs café, enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the waves.
There were also plenty of swells at Unstad, where windsurfers from around the world come to battle with the waves. However, on this particular day, the waves were too big. What makes a Brazilian settle here? That was actually the big question from the client, and I think they got to experience the answer. The storm we encountered that day was one of the greatest experiences of the entire trip. The rain and sleet came horizontally and the fresh snow stretched almost down to the pebbles on the beach. It sounds priceless, you can’t experience that at home in Brazil…
Lofotr Viking Museum is perhaps the region’s most professionally accomplished museums. Or to put it more correctly, experience centre. There’s little reminiscent of museums here, thankfully. The client is extremely impressed, although that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Terje Boe is a reincarnation of a Viking chief. Lofotr provides a reproduction of the Viking era through traditional poems, food and mead of world class.
The highlights come one after the other in Lofoten, just like mountains from the sea. Kalle Mentzen and Ragnar Riksheim at Full Steam were next. The seasonal Lofoten fisheries, cod liver oil production and tastings as well as a heavenly fish dinner in authentic surroundings in Henningsvær feature on the programme. The client was already impressed, and I think they still taste of roe in their mouth. “That’s what it tastes like before the industries destroy it,” said Kalle.
Next day: Svolvær. Blue sky. A hung-over fisherman is rescued at the last minute from a fishing boat that’s on fire. And we can see what we could barely make out the previous day. Frode Hov receives us during his morning coffee at Hov. We didn’t really do anything there apart from listening and asking questions. But it was enough, Frode. They were already convinced and you just reinforced their faith. We only needed to mention in passing that you have an 18-hole golf course and that you offer horseback riding on white sandy beaches by the open sea. The guests will come here anyway.
“DEDICATED AND CHARMING”
If there’s one thing I really appreciate about working in this industry, it’s being able to show others what we can offer. Sometimes you really need to ask yourself if you’re at work or on holiday.
The client was actually two people: a Norwegian resident in the company’s homeland and another person who is a native of that country. The latter was somewhat sceptical beforehand, but the Norwegian, who had “tricked” his colleague up here – knew what was in store. He had done his military training in Northern Norway and had also sailed in Lofoten. The foreigner has completely changed tune after the trip and is now working to convince the management that what initially sounded like a crazy idea is actually just that.
It’s precisely this madness that propels the uniqueness and contributing to the guests choosing us above Legoland, Mallorca or the Pyramids. It’s precisely the people who move outside the “box” who manage to sell the authentic, the unique, that no one believed in.
The client thanked me for inviting them and, to quote them directly, for “all the fantastic, dedicated, charming people we met on our way”.
P + P = E
After several years in the travel industry, it’s slowly starting to dawn on me that the combination of Person and Product is what creates an Experience. Without these people who not only offer stories, nature and local food, but also offer themselves, we would not have been as professional as we actually now are.
In conclusion, it’s about time I expressed my thanks too. I would like to express my thanks for being able to go on this journey in my assigned part of the world, and to thank all the personalities who work hard every day to make this region an even better destination for tourists from all over the world.
You’re the best people with the greatest experiences.
All photos: Erik Joachimsen / cnns.no
1: Holmen Husky: dog sledding for dummies
2: Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel: A new hotel is built every year.
3: Risten Eira from Maze: I’ll never forget this storytelling.
4: Verdensteateret in Tromsø: Dating from 1916, it’s the oldest operating cinema in Northern Europe.
5: Polaria: The Arctic in a nutshell
6: Tromsø Villmarksenter: happy girls and playful puppies
7: Henry Johnsen at Stella Polaris, Bodø: You are one of the most talented guides I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
8: The “Dragon Lady”, the U-2 spy plane at the Norwegian Aviation Centre: a plane that conveys the history of the Cold War! Stunning!
9: Flakstadstranda, Lofoten: Surfing the Arctic way.
10: Frode Hov at Hov: horses, golf and storytelling at their very best
11: Storvågan: a compact experience with a gallery, museum and aquarium accessible from the same car park
12: The Lofoten Aquarium
13: The Northern Lights Cathedral in Alta: It’s far more than a cathedral.
14: A rorbu in Storvågan: where the history is preserved in the walls
15: The Blacksmith of Sund: No trip to Lofoten is complete without meeting Tor-Vegard!
16: Terje Bøe: You are a reincarnation of the Viking chief.
17: Jim Olaisen in Nusfjord: The boknafisk was to the client’s liking.