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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Milton

Gulliver Goes North 1: Røde Kors, The Nordland Line, a Storm and Five Italians

The north had been on my mind for a long time ... I dreamed of reindeer and polar bears, of expansive starry skies and the Northern Lights, of mystery and adventure and a wide, white and wild winter wilderness.

A brooding Lofoten sky on the ferry crossing from Bodø to Moskenes, 14 February 2023

I spent hours and hours poring over train, ferry and bus timetables; flight schedules; accommodation vacancies; blog articles and descriptions of weather patterns, Northern Lights forecasts, expedition dates and Saltstraumen tides. I tracked them all and I remember thinking: Am I crazy to spend this much time and energy on a trip?


Perhaps ... But it was absolutely, without a doubt, no-regrets worth it!


My first impression of Norway was that everything worked and services were efficient. I had given myself a cushion of a few hours at Gardermoen Airport between when my flight landed and my train departed and, well, I ended up needing to kill those four hours. Things just ... work ... over there. But I wasn't complaining, as Gardermoen comes with four hours of free WiFi and I had some writing to do. I chose a bench, though, not a restaurant – easier on the budget!


When I'd booked my train trip (Oslo–Bodø), I'd chosen premium seating for the stretch to Trondheim, where I knew I'd have a window seat with a table and could get some work done. But when I boarded the train, I found that the other three spaces at that window were filled ... by Norwegian firemen.

Meeting Odd, Konrad and their colleague on the train to Trondheim, 13 February 2023

What a wonderful welcome to Norway! These guys were friendly and funny and we chatted about everything from wildlife and hunting to dancing. (Odd used to be a dance champion too – can you believe it? In one of Norway’s traditional forms of dancing, nogal.) Needless to say, I didn't get any work done on that stretch of my trip, but I wouldn't change that for anything.


I bought my first meal from the restaurant on the train: a salmon wrap. When in Rome ... ;) Ah, the salmon ... But more on that later! There was also free coffee in the premium section, a fact that I used to my advantage on the night train. He he. But let me not skip ahead:


So, after the Røde Kors brannmenn got off in Lillehammer, I quietly ate my salmon wrap and was about to pull out my laptop, when the lady across the aisle spoke up. She'd overheard me telling the firemen that I was going to Å i Lofoten and asked if I'd heard about the storm. (I hadn't.)


Apparently, there’d been a major storm on the Lofoten islands the day before my arrival and a cabin in Å – along with the four tourists inside – had been blown into the sea! (Read more.) The lady on the train suggested I get in touch with my AirBnB host and ask if my accommodation was still standing. I remember being worried for a moment, but since there was no WiFi and I was on a one-way, non-refundable ticket north, there wasn't much I could do about it at the time ... May as well enjoy the train journey and deal with whatever faced me once I got to Å.


In Trondheim, I switched to SJ Nord's night train. I had mistakenly thought there was a shower at the end of our carriage, but other than the absence of said shower, what a great way to travel! It was the first time I'd slept on a train since travelling from Cape Town to Pretoria with my family when I was a child.


Although there was no five-year-old little girl tackling and pinning down my seven-year-old brother a few times a day on this trip (sorry, Boetie, I couldn't neglect to mention Zoë), the private compartment, the gentle rocking movement of the train, the ability to sleep properly and the stress-free mode of transport made this journey a delight. I was particularly amused by the seat belt of sorts that you can clip in to prevent the person on the top bunk from rolling off. And in the morning, the deserted premium class section was where I found free coffee – hooray! :)



Bodø was ... underwhelming. But I hadn't expected much; it was simply where my train journey ended and my ferry journey began. That said, two interesting things did happen to me in Bodø.


I had set off from Amsterdam a full day earlier, with six weeks-worth of my biologic medication in a cooler system that I'd built and tested myself before leaving South Africa. I knew that the upper limit that the cooler system could keep my medication cold for was 25 hours. I'd already been travelling for 24 and I had a four-hour wait in Bodø, a three-hour ferry trip and a short drive ahead of me before I reached my AirBnB in Å (which, at this point, may or may not have been standing after the aforementioned storm), so I had to make a plan.


Thank goodness for the kindness of the waitress at the little restaurant in the upstairs of the Bodø train station! She provided me with bags of ice to replace the thawing ice bricks in my cooler. And no, the irony of needing to ask for ice to keep medication cool while travelling through the Arctic was not lost on me ... Pity biologics are not allowed to freeze!



Immediately after this, I had an opportunity to pay it forward:


I was approached by a Ukrainian man while I was trying to work out the luggage storage locker system. He spoke neither Norwegian nor English and needed help buying tickets to Oslo. (So, the reverse of the journey I’d just completed.) Murphy’s law that he happened to ask me, the only non-local in the building! And it didn’t help that his three-year-old son kept running off towards the parking lot ... The only English phrase this man uttered was, 'Crazy kids!' But we managed in the end.



After all this excitement and being sold what I later found out to be the worst hiking spikes in the world, I was rather relieved when it was time to leave Bodø and be ferried across to Lofoten.


But I wasn't quite home free. Getting my heavy suitcase from the train station to the ferry terminal was no easy feat! It wasn’t a far walk at all (about 850m), but at one point, the tarmac gave way to complete mush and I had to pick everything up to get across. I was really thankful for the help of a young Polish guy in getting my case onto and off of the ferry.



And, finally, I need to tell you about the Italians ...


At all times of the year, the Bodø–Moskenes ferry is free for pedestrian passengers (bear in mind, this may have changed since my 2023 trip). In summer, you may need to arrive early because it can be crowded and there's a limit, but in winter, I shared that ferry with 30 people, total.


Yet, five Italian tourists asked me to give up my seat because they all wanted to sit together?! I suspect that they specifically wanted to sit together in the very front row, one part of which I had already claimed. The same five Italians then needed to ask my AirBnB host for a lift to their hotel because they’d assumed they could simply call a taxi in Lofoten. If I tell you that Å has a population of about 120, I’m sure you can appreciate how ridiculous the idea of a calling a taxi is!


I was thankful for Elisa's help of a lift (as, I'm sure, were the Italians) and to find Lofoten Bed & Bike still standing when I arrived.


 

Even though the city of Bodø itself didn't grab me, the spectacular maelstrom of Saltstraumen is only 30 km away.




Don't forget to check the tides!

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