Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Svensby and the Lyngen Island

We're staying on a little peninsula in the archipelago immediately east of Tromso.

we're right at the 4/3, there on the left side of the peninsula

Our cabin is in a tiny village called Svensby, right on the Ullsfjorden. Facing us is the fjord, behind us is a hilly field, and on one side is a giant barn full of cows, sheep, and their manure. The farm is owned by Ole and Magni (a Norwegian farmer named Ole, it's almost too perfect -- and his wife Magni is sweet and welcoming). We were immediately introduced to Molly, the farm dog, who loves to play fetch as long as we'll play with her. The cabin is sweet, with a small kitchen and a woodburning stove, and it's quite comfortable.

walking poles, a snow shovel, a thermostat (it's cold)
and a troll welcome. It's Norway!

the blue of these flowers is amazing
Norwegian Yahtzee!! Girls, look!
Svensby is right in the middle of the peninsula, essentially, and we're very close to the ferry back to Breivikeidet, and then on to Tromso. There's a ferry not too far away that goes in the other direction, to a peninsula that borders Finland. There are tiny clumps of homes scattered about, occasionally enough that it might be considered a village, like Svensby and Lyngseidet, and plenty of homes sitting all alone. You're never far from water here -- fjords on three sides and the Lyngen alps in the middle. There are 140 glaciers on Lyngen, but we haven't been able to figure out what makes something a glacier as opposed to non-melting snow and ice. All the mountains have big rivers of unmelted/unmelting snow, or bowls of it depending on the formation. 

Our first full day here, Monday, we drove out to the northern tip, to Russely (#1 on the map). There's a lighthouse out on the very tip, and it's supposed to be a fantastic place to see the Northern Lights or the Midnight Sun. (We thought we've been seeing the midnight sun; it's as bright at midnight as it is throughout the day, so we thought that was it, but the way Ole just asked if we've seen it yet -- and he said we could see it at Russely -- we now think that means actually seeing the SUN, not just daylight. It's been so cloudy and overcast, with just patches of blue visible here and there, so I guess we haven't seen the Midnight Sun. That's OK, it's been close enough for me.) So we drove out to Russely for a road trip and to see about that lighthouse. Lyngen is empty-feeling as it is, but as we got farther out toward the end, it began to feel almost desolate. The road ended and we saw a closed gate ahead, so we thought we wouldn't be able to walk out to the tip of the island . . . but as we got closer, we saw this sign:
so Norway, in every way.

lots of coral in among the rocks

that big rock is an "errant rock" which means it was moved there by a glacier
That sign is just so Norway. Every place is a public place; you can camp anywhere, on private property, even, as long as you keep a bit away from people’s homes. You can pick berries and forage for mushrooms anywhere you like. I have a feeling there is a general assumption that people are not assholes, and in fact people don’t behave like that. The people we’ve seen and interacted with are healthy-looking and doing their thing, whatever it is – tractoring manure around, if you’re Ole; greeting visitors, like the young smiling man we talked to this morning at the tourist info center; helping Americans figure out their change if you’re the cashier at the market; telling you about the time they went to New York City while they change your money for you at the post office or clear your table at the restaurant.

So we lifted the rope and tied the gate shut behind us, and headed out for a very windy walk as far as we could go. We didn’t make it out to the tip to find the lighthouse, but the shoreline was just magnificent. The wind was so strong, a couple of times I had to lean in hard to keep from being blown over. I had my earmuffs on, a scarf tied tight around my neck, and the hood of my coat pulled up and I was comfortable enough. The skies were cloudy, but in a way that made the landscape even more amazing. We walked on the beach and found all kinds of little shells and pieces of bleached coral, and that puzzled me a lot.

We drove through Lyngseidet to locate the grocery store, and to get a feel for the little village. We’ve seen so many quite elderly people walking everywhere, even one woman with a walking frame, so when we passed an older woman we didn’t think twice about it. On our way back, she had stopped at the side of the road and flagged us down, and asked if we would give her a ride into Lyngseidet. She told us that she had fallen in love with an American once, a very long time ago, and now she couldn’t even remember his name. A few miles later she hopped out with a smile and a wave. She was so cute.

the Lyngseidet harbor

don't look -- Santa is always watching....

our sweet little hitchhiker
Then Monday night we took a walk at 10:30 so we could be sure to be out and about at midnight, for the sheer amazingness of that daylight. If anything, it’s brighter the later it gets for some reason. So we walked south from our cabin along the road and paused to stare at the amazing mountains, the beautiful fjord, and the backlit clouds.

This morning, Tuesday, we went back to Lyngseidet because we wanted to find some fish. Marc had been to the grocery store and could only find frozen fish, so we planned to check out both grocery stores – SURELY there is fresh fish here! Gravlax comes from Norway, Norwegian salmon, this is North Norway, fishing country! Fishing boats everywhere, fishermen everywhere. And yet no fresh fish to be found. After the second market also had no fresh fish, we decided to stop at the tourist information center to ask. There was an adorable young Norwegian man with a huge smile and large teeth working at the center, so we asked, “Is there a place to buy fresh fish?”

“No!” he said. He threw back his head and laughed. “It’s crazy, right?” So we all laughed – yes, it’s so crazy! It turns out that people either catch their own fish, or buy directly from a guy who catches it. He offered to make some calls to the ferry at Svensby, but when we said we’re staying in Svensby and told him where, he said, “Ah, Magni, right?” (Yeah, Magni, Ole’s wife….) “Ask Magni, she can tell you who will sell you some fish.”

It was early in the day, so we picked up some maps at the tourist center and decided to head south on the other side of the peninsula, down to a glacier near Oteren (#9 on the map). Gosh it’s just so beautiful here, and at the same time it’s hard to take it in. It’s like it just drifts off the surface of my mind, somehow, and doesn’t get inside me. Maybe it’s the scale of the place, maybe it’s just such a different landscape, I don’t know. My eyes gaze at it, the view goes inside me and passes on through. I linger, I look at the mountains with an eye to drawing them, I see the different planes and angles, the scoops filled with glacier, the tree line, the glittery (or flat) water, the occasional farm, and I am dazzled and yet it drifts through me. I can’t figure it out. It’s simultaneously an alpine landscape, with rocky peaks all around and fields full of little wildflowers and sheep grazing, and some other kind of place, obviously a frozen place, obviously different, obviously a place of extremes.

As we were driving along, we saw a magnificent waterfall – there are dozens of waterfalls everywhere you look, here, plummeting down the mountain faces, but this one was really beautiful. And then Marc saw what looked like a dirt road going in that direction, so off we went. Since you can go wherever you like here, we weren’t worried about it not being a real road; even if it were private property, we could drive on it. We passed this little sign, indicating that this was a historic resting place for the Sami people on their migration.

you can see it at the bottom of the picture too, running through the forest

you can enlarge all the pictures
We never did find the glacier we were looking for; it’s hard to locate things here because they’re not marked. It’s kind of like you just have to know they’re there. It isn’t about things being presented only in Norwegian, although the signs mostly are (even though everyone also speaks English). It’s just that things aren’t really marked at all. It’s raw and empty and natural here.

Lyngen alps -- just so magnificent

any time of day or night on the fjord


the Svensby ferry coming in

classic home along the fjord -- just a home in the middle of all this beauty

the sun broke through the clouds to shine in the middle of the fjord today

lots of sheep everywhere, and goats

and trolls

and wildflowers in fields
mostly yellows and purples
One thing I love so much is the sound of the gulls. You can almost always hear their cries or their chattering, and I don’t think I’ve been along a fjord yet without seeing them. When we were in Balsfjord, our first day in Tromso, it was a sunny period and there was a lone gull cruising up the center of the fjord, in the sun, and I thought how magnificent a thing it would be to be a Norwegian gull. I thought of another of the movements from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite (can’t think of the title, it’s the one with the slow, lyrical flute melody line) as the soundtrack for that gull on that glorious day. And Marc already knew this but I didn’t: did you know that the tide goes out in the fjords?! I thought they were so large and deep and long that they wouldn’t be that affected by the ocean tides, but they really go out! Huge expanses of the beach become empty at low tide, it has really surprised me so much.

Another thing I love about this place is their love of their country. They LOVE Norway, and being Norwegian. But it isn’t a patriotic, jingoistic kind of thing – We’re #1! Norway is the best! It’s not like that. It’s more like, yay Norway! Norway is so good! And you know, it IS so good. So many homes fly either the regular Norway flag, or a long narrow triangular version of the Norway flag. We see it everywhere, and there’s even a big flag in the entry space of our little cabin, should we want to use it.

Tomorrow we’ll head out in another direction, and we think it’s going to be sunny on Thursday so we are saving a particular hike for that day.


  1. It's breathtakingly beautiful, Lori. In some ways it reminds me of parts of British Columbia. It must be refreshing in so many ways - the physical beauty, the warm people, the trust. I love how you gave the older woman a ride. Have you come across any hand knits? Somehow in my mind Norway and knitting are tied together.

    1. !!!!!!!!! Google, what are you doing to me?! I have replied to this three times and it keeps disappearing. Maybe all versions will reappear one of these days. Others have mentioned that the landscape reminds them of BC too -- and in fact in my couple of times in Vancouver I remember feeling the same kind of dazzlement at the beauty (though I was never able to stray too far from the convention center, which was always my reason for being there). As for the hand knits, strangely enough we never saw anything to buy, of any kind. We were in such a small place, the only stores were in Lyngseidet, and there they only had two grocery stores and a sporting goods place. I did see a pair of hand knit mittens for sale in the tourist center, blue and white and beautiful. But girls all learn to knit before they go to kindergarten, so I imagine they just make whatever they need. Where we were, it wasn't at all a consumer-type place, but I imagine that if we were in Oslo or Bergen (maybe especially Bergen) it would be a different thing.