Journey to Lofoten Islands

Ice on Haukland beach in winter, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: Winter dawn at Haukland Beach, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 2010

Tuesday I’ll be heading 2,000 kilometres north to the Lofoten Islands.  While Wales is relatively close to Norway, it is always a fairly long journey to get to Lofoten.  I’ll leave Wales at 3:30am for the 3.5 hour drive to Gatwick airport.  I then catch a flight at 9:00am and after a long layover in Oslo, I’ll finally arrive in Bodø at 6:30pm.  In Bodø I’ll do a bit of shopping for food and stove fuel then sit around the ferry terminal until 1:30am when I take the ferry to Moskenes and finally arrive on the islands.  The ferry building is open 24 hours and heated.  I’ve spent many a night here and it’s a saving grace for a cheapo like me.  Normally the ferry takes around 3 hours, but this boat will also be stopping on the island of Røst, so I wont get to Moskenes until around 6:30am Wednesday.  Though this means that I should at least get a few hours of sleep so I wont be too wrecked after 27 hours of travel.

If the weather is good when I arrive I might walk to Reine and catch the ferry over to Vindstad and hike out to Bunes beach for a few days.  Or my other option could be to hike up Reinebringen and camp up there – one of my goals for this trip.  If the weather is crap, the most likely scenario, I’ll probably try and get to Stamsund to rent a car which will also be my home for the next weeks.


Lofoten islands winter landscape photo, Norway

Photo: Stormy winter landscape, near Kvalnes, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 2010

Isle of Harris – Winter River

Abhainn Sgaladail, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Abhainn Sgaladail, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Jan 2012



Isle of Harris – Luskentyre Beach

Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Jan 2012

Out of ten days, this was the only one that arrived with any potential for good light.  A gale was screaming across the beach making conditions slightly less that Ideal, but I managed to wait around for two hours until the sun finally showed up.  Every once in a while a big wave would come in and flow across the flat beach.  I got my feet wet a few times while not paying attention.  Almost got eaten by some horses on the way back to the car as well.


Isle of Harris – Horgabost Beach

Horgabost beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Horgabost beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  Jan 2012

I would have preferred to have been over on Luskentyre beach (towards the center of the image) but weather conditions weren’t especially cooperative.  On the far right side of Horgabost there is a bit of shelter from a strong western gale so it was pretty much the only place where my tripod wouldn’t blow over…


Lofoten Islands – Maervoll

Maervoll, Vestvagoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Evening light over Maervoll, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Oct. 2011

Lofoten Coast

Coastal scenery, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Rocky coastline, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Sometimes I think the Lofoten Islands are the ultimate lazy man’s photo destination.  This scene is about 5 meters from where I stopped my car along the E10.  Doesn’t get much simpler than that…

Traigh Lar Beach – Isle of Harris

Traigh Lar beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Photo: Traigh Lar beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Tatra Mountains – Poland

Tatra mountain panoramic photoPhoto: Krivan (Slovakia) rises in the distance, Tatra mountains, Poland

In early November I made a quick visit to the mountains of the Polish High Tatra.  I had been in the region once before, in Feb. 2007, but I never made it into the mountains at the time.  This time around, and with a Polish friend and fellow photographer as a guide, I was looking forward to heading up into the hills.

After an overnight car-bivy in the parking lot we headed out under clear skies into the crisp morning air up the road which forms the first park of any hike in the region.  After a few kilometres we headed into the forest and up the trail towards the Five lakes Valley.  A little before 10am we arrived at the hut where we would stay for the night, right on the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by steep mountain peaks.  After a brief rest and some food we headed off with camera’s in hand to go wander about.  With no plan, we headed in the general direction of Zawrat pass arriving some time later.  Being November, there was a bit of snow about, but thanks to an unusually dry and mild autumn for most of Europe in 2011, we were fine in just trail runners and no winter gear.  From Zawrat pass a bit of a scramble along a ridge led us to some small 2,200 meter peak with stunning views back to the Five Lakes Valley and south into Slovakia (where the highest mountains of the Tatra are).  After a bit of time taking some photos, we eventually wandered our way back to the hut a little before sunset.

A side note:  As an American, I have basically no experience with mountain huts.  If I hike in the mountains in California, I carry a tent, tarp, or sleep in the open.  I cook (crappy) food on my little stove and drink from rivers or melt snow.  In winter, I go to sleep in the cold and get dressed in the cold the following morning; my boots usually frozen solid.  Now for Europeans, this is almost barbaric.  As much as I like wilderness and wild camping, I cannot deny that I enjoy the luxury of mountain huts.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  In Poland the huts are fairly cheap by European standards, with dorm bed running around 40 Zloty ($12) and dinner $3-6 (A huge schnitzel, sauerkraut, potatoes, potato pancakes, and a beer cost be about $6 at Morskie Oko hut).  A warm shower after a long day on the trail is probably worth a few dollars alone.  Plus the benefit of the weight savings from not having to carry camping gear means I can either travel lighter than possible back home, or load up on more camera gear.  Probably better to choose the first option…

At 6am the following morning we were on the trail to Morskie Oko.  We had hopes of perhaps trying to get up Rysy, Poland’s highest mountain, but upon closer inspection it would have been a rather dangerous adventure on the icy snow without crampons and ice axe.  After a few hours wandering around the lakes we headed back to the Morskie Oko hut a bit after noon to a shock of surprise.  Hoardes of people.  Everywhere!  A definite change of scene from the 5 people that had been in the Five Lakes hut the day before.  But Morskie Oko is one of the most famous places in Poland.  And the fact that people can be taken by horse drawn carriage the 10km up to the hut, means there is more of a city looking crowd of day tourists filling the dining room.  Luckily they all leave by late afternoon and only a few smelly hikers seem to be left.  After a good dinner it was off to an early night while setting my watch for 4:00 am.

Now, we weren’t getting up at 4:00 am to continue further into the mountains.  It was in hopes of getting to the parking lot before the attendant and thus saving 20 Zloty.  When we had arrived, on a Thursday, the parking attendant got there around 6:00am.  Cool we though, get there a little before that and we should be fine.  So at 4:15 am we left the hut and started the 10 km walk down the road towards the parking lot.  Making near record time, we at the car at 5:30 am and started loading our gear.  Then we saw the light in one of the buildings turn on and the parking attendant man come walking up towards us.  Bugger, I guess someone spends the night on the weekend.  20 Zloty poorer we hit the road.  So much for that genius idea.  Though a bit of luck was on our side as we came across some nice light over the forested foothills a bit down the mountain (the last photo).  Leaving the mountains we headed to Bielsko-Biala to visit a few more friends and spend the day eating pizza at the climbing gym.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with the Tatra.  Though not the highest mountains in Europe, they are rugged and beautiful with a good network of trails and fun scrambles, I’ll definitely be heading back one of these days and wander around for a week or two.


Przedni Staw - Front lake, Five Lakes Valley, Tatra mountains, Poland

Photo: Przedni Staw – Front lake, Five Lakes Valley, Tatra mountains, Poland


View of Wielki Staw - Big lake in Five lakes valley, Tatra mountains, Poland

Photo: View of Wielki Staw – Big lake in Five lakes valley, Tatra mountains, Poland


Tatra mountains poland

Photo: Slovakia – left, Poland – right, High Tatra mountains, Poland


Tatra mountains poland

Photo: View south into Slovakia from near Zawrat Pass, High Tatra mountains, Poland


Dawn tree silhouette in Tatra foothills, Poland

Photo: Dawn comes to Tatra foothills, Poland

Return to Lofoten Islands Feb 2012

Winter storm over snow covered beach, Unstad, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: Unstad beach in winter, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 2010

At the End of January I’ll be heading beck north to Norway’s Lofoten Islands for another two week visit.  Seems I can’t stay away very long these days, with my last trip being this past October.

In reference to seasons though, January 2010 was my last winter visit.  So in this respect, it’s been over two years since I saw the islands with a good coating of snow.  Time of year means everything in the north, even no two months are really the same.  Though I’m slightly worried about the warmer than average temperatures the islands have had so far this winter.  I’m hoping February sees a return to normal, or there might not be any snow at all.

While early January has only a few short hours of light, the days are already fairly long by February.  At the start of my trip sunrise will be around 9:15am and sunset 3:20pm.  When I leave two weeks later sunrise will be 8:25am and sunset 4:05.  That’s nearly 1:45 hours more of daylight over a two week period.  The days grow quite fast above the arctic circle.  But the sun will still remain low in the horizon, reaching around 9˚ by the time I leave, so I should still have hours and hours of nice light to work with, weather permitting.

It’s also looking like it will be a good year for the northern lights, so as much as I was looking forward to 14 hours of sleep per night, I think I’ll end up wandering around late at night and looking towards the sky, assuming it’s clear of course.


view across Kjerkfjorden in winter

Photo: Winter view over Kjerkfjord, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 2010


Snow covered rocks at Unstad beach, Lofoten islands, Norway

Photo: Clearing winter storm at Unstad beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  Jan 2010

Olomouc – Czech Republic

Olomouc town hall

Photo: Olomouc town hall and main square at dusk

Olomouc is my favourite city in the Czech Republic and one of my favourites in Europe overall.  It’s located in Moravia, in the eastern part of the country and easily reached by train (3 hours) or bus from Prague.  Olomouc is a lively student town with no shortage of cobblestone roads, narrow alleys, historic monuments and churches, atmospheric teahouses for rainy afternoons, and a large variety of pubs to keep you out until all too late – there are 25,000 students among a city population of 100,000, meaning there’s always some place to go.  And where else can you go have a drink in an old Soviet TU-104 airplane that sits in a parking lot near the supermarket. The restaurants are tasty and cheap with a good selection to choose from, and there’s no shortage of cafes either. Even a budget traveler can eat like a king with little need to worry about those tourist traps found elsewhere.  Olomouc is basically a mini Prague, minus the kitsch and hoards of tourists.  The main square even has one of those astronomical clock things on the side of the town hall.

I’m not really sure why Olomouc hasn’t become more of a travel destination than it is, especially for backpackers.  For example, there’s only one hostel here (Poet’s Corner – A super cool place and one of my favourite hostels) compared to how many dozens in Prague or even in Cesky Krumlov.  Olomouc is pretty much halfway between Krakow and Prague.  Though maybe that’s where the problem lies; people just pass by on their way from one hotspot to the next.   But maybe that is also good, as it keeps Olomouc a ‘real’ city and not some circus attraction that the other cities have unfortunately become.  And for me, it’s a good thing.  I look forward to my next visit.


Olomouc trinity column

Photo: Holy Trinity column – UNESCO historic monument


Street tram, Olomouc, Czech Republic

Photo: Street tram and cobblestone roads


Olomouc view

Photo: View of the main square from the tower at St. Moritz church


Rooftop view from St. Maurice chuch, Olomouc, Czech Republic

Photo: Church towers fill the horizon, view from the tower at St. Moritz church


Olomouc st mary of snow church

Photo: Interior of St. Mary of the Snow church


Olomouc pub

Photo: Enjoying the unique setting of a Soviet TU-104 airplane and bad 80’s dance music.