Postcards from Alta: Driving in Norway

Driving in Norway isn’t the most challenging thing you will ever do (unless you live a VERY sheltered life). The drivers here are competent, and the roads are in good condition. Even up here in the north, the roads are kept clear and open except in the middle of the worst weather.

Driving in Alta NorwayThe rules for driving in Norway are very clear and consistent. The very practical Norwegians have unsurprisingly created a very functional system here. You won’t often hear phrases like, “Well, these lines in the road mean you should stop, but nobody follows that rule.”

You will probably find a lot of common ground between Norwegian and your own country’s traffic laws. Speed limits are clearly posted and lanes are normally clearly marked. Default rules cover things like speed and passing for those times when signs aren’t present.

And fortunately, the cars drive on the right instead of the left. No offense intended, England, Japan, Australia and the other few left-side countries, but we need to talk.

If you are planning to drive in Norway, there are a few surprises you might not be ready for. There are the usual differences in road signs and speeds, of course. At some point, though, you will realize that there are almost no stop signs anywhere. How do they know which car should stop, and when? Winter also brings its share of challenges that deserve attention.

My wife is Norwegian – an excellent cultural resource! – and she was happy to evaluate my driving when we moved here. She was pretty clear during my first few years in Norway that driving with an untrained American was frankly terrifying.  

In this installment of the “Postcards from Alta” series, I cover a few things you might find different from the driving system back home. Most Norwegian drivers can handle odd behavior from others on the road, but you will cause fewer problems on the road with a little extra preparation. This video was also a good excuse for me to use my expert diagram-making skills (this may not be entirely accurate).

Enjoy!  And send me feedback at jon@northadventure.no if there are topics you would like him to cover in a future video.

Postcards from Alta: Let’s Take the Bus

Traveling through Scandinavia by bus is possible, and it is especially popular in the summer. Many people travel by tour coach, of course, but they have their own driver and a fixed route to follow. It is no trouble at all to get to your destination when somebody else is doing the planning and driving!

A fair number of people arrive here in Alta with plans to use public buses to hop from place to place throughout the region and that, actually, is a perfectly reasonable idea. With a little advance preparation, these kinds of holidays can turn out to be a lot of fun.Bus in arctic Norway

Here in Finnmark county, the bus service is divided into three basic categories: local, special and overland routes. Local buses run at regular intervals along routes in the larger towns, where a “larger” town means “at least several hundred residents”.

Special routes include school buses and other similar services. They follow a regular, local schedule, but they just run now and then and generally not every day.

Overland buses serve the longer-distance trips from city to city. Because of the distances, they do not normally run very frequently.

All of these buses follow their published schedules barring unusually bad weather or a local problem. Route information and timetables are on the web, and the online planner makes it easy to check for service both now and in the future. 

HOWEVER… if you think that the buses here run like a big city down south then this video is for you! You simply won’t find coaches driving back and forth to and from all corners of the map every 10-15 minutes.

“Postcards from Alta” is a brand new video series that Jon is building. It covers a range of topics, from daily arctic life to tourism and travel up here at the top of the world. In this episode, “Let’s Take the Bus”, you will learn more about the transportation network here, and what to expect. It’s not a detailed guide – it’s just a postcard! Get in touch with us if you have questions that are not answered here!  (You can reach Jon directly if you like at jon@northadventure.no)

Alta Canyon – It’s Bigger Than Your Phone

Every now and then, I think about how our world is getting smaller. We can travel greater distances more quickly than ever before, putting more of our planet in reach. Meanwhile, we carry smaller and smaller devices to contain the places we have been and still want to visit. It is easy to forget how big the world can be. Here’s a reminder for you!

This morning, I watched a video made in 2015 by Hans Idar Haldorsen featuring a mountain bike trip to the Alta Canyon. Here is a screenshot from that video:

The road through nowhere, to the Alta Canyon

How does that look on your phone?  Pretty small? For what it’s worth, it still looks small when I view it on my large screen here at work. There is a limit to how much you can fit into a rectangle of pixels.

I really like that this video is shot with a drone, though. The floating platform allows for more perspective than a land-based camera. There is a spectacular scene in the video where the drone draws you out and away from a man sitting at a waterfall. You expect it to last for just a few seconds, but the drone keeps pulling back.  Soon, the man becomes invisible, and yet the canyon is still not in full view.

I find myself watching videos shot in this region and “feeling the view” as I remember my own hikes. The scenery triggers memories of walking out under that seemingly-infinite sky, feeling both alone in the world and connected to everything around me. The trail is not as long as the canyon itself, but somehow the canyon pales in size to the bigger world that contains it.

So!  Watch the video (embedded below) on the biggest screen you have handy. Then, come to Alta and hike out to visit the canyon. With any luck, you’ll have memories far larger than that smartphone you used for taking selfies.

Want more details on tours to the canyon?  Check out our earlier post on that subject!

Discovering Norway’s Arctic Secrets

Everybody that comes to the Norwegian arctic makes their own memories, their own story.  Sometimes, the stories of discovering the arctic are long and complex, like, “I moved here several years ago” or “I came to study at the university and never left”.

Other times, the stories begin, “I was there for a weekend,” “I spent my honeymoon there”, or “I finally got a chance to see the northern lights.” And while those stories are shorter, they can be just as powerful as the ones that involve a major change in location.

You never know when you’ll stumble over a moment that makes you realize you are somewhere special. For some people, it’s the view from a mountaintop or over the vast and empty wilderness plain, or an unexpected swoop of the northern lights overhead in the sky. Or maybe something smaller, like suddenly realizing as you gaze into a wood fire along a forest bicycle trail, that you can’t remember the last time you felt so peaceful, so connected to the land around you.

Jon Brown, a composer from the USA, took a tour up to this area last winter to listen to new sounds and get new ideas and perspectives. The video of his time discovering Tromsø, Alta and points in between shows that he did more than just collect sounds.

Take a look at the video and watch his experiences!  For us, it’s about seeing familiar faces and places. For you… maybe you’ll want to come do some discovering of your own.

Winter is… on the way

You know, for most of my adult life I’ve been able to say “Winter is coming” without shame, but suddenly it has become a terrible cliche. Thanks for nothing, George R. R. Martin.

Anyway, winter is coming. I know, it’s only early September now, but the light is changing already. Even though the midnight sun left us just a month or so ago, it is fully dark at night, now, and the daytime light is golden in the evening. In the daytime, it’s still bright but somehow thinner in strength. holmen-hostThe air holds a crisp and edgy warning of harsher weather to come. The rain of autumn feels different from the rain of summer, too. It’s colder, or at least adds to the feeling that the temperatures are falling, no matter what the thermometer might say. And when the rain is finished coming down, it still lingers on the ground and in the air, almost as if it wished it could turn to snow and ice and be a part of the world all the way until Springtime. Continue reading “Winter is… on the way”

Kom Mai

«Kom, mai, du skjønne milde» heter det i en kjent barnesang. For oss her i Alta så stemmer vel dette på flere måter i år.

Vi har hatt et fantastisk flott vårvær og shortsen og t-skjorten er for lengst funnet frem.  Vi ler av de der sør som fikk snø og hadde sommerdekk på bilen sin.  Her kjører vi i lengste laget med vinterdekk, i tilfelle det kommer snø. Til slutt sa Herr Politi at nå måtte vi skifte eller så fikk vi bot, så da tok vi alle Herr Politi på ordet og la om til sommerdekk.  Men det kan jo enda hende at snøen kommer ….  det har jo hendt at den har kommet sendt før og.  Noen av oss er jo evig pessimister, men vi som er evig optimister har glemt hvor vi bor og nyter de flotte mai dagene og er litt mer sur når det er kaldt og grått.

Men mai er mye mer enn flott vår vær, det er den måneden i året hvor jeg virkelig kjenner på nasjonalismen i meg.  Jeg kjenner hvor stolt jeg er over stedet og landet jeg bor i, og hvor takknemlig jeg er for at jeg fikk vokse opp her oppe i nord med alle de trygge, flotte menneskene rundt meg.  For at jeg fikk en bunad jeg bærer med stolthet.  Mai er måneden hvor vi banner og kjefter mens vi stryker på den f… Bunad-skjorten.  Vi legger ut på «Facebook» når vi endelig har fått den ferdig, så tar den på og føler oss så flott i vår nasjonal drakt.  Dette er minner som sitter i for livet.  I tillegg har vi 100 vis av unge konfirmanter som tar på seg sin bunad for alle første gang.  For en følelse, for en lykke.  Continue reading “Kom Mai”

Everyday Arctic Life in Alta

Less than a hundred years ago, movie theater newsreels provided one of the only practical ways people could peer into the everyday life (real or imagined) of other countries. Fifty years ago, television was common but we still needed National Geographic or a news agency to go out with a big crew and do filming.

Now we have GoPro, camera drones, and digital photography and video on everything from phones to glasses. An ordinary PC finally has enough horsepower to do video editing. Everybody can make video and pictures, and almost everybody does, these days. Continue reading “Everyday Arctic Life in Alta”

The Ancient Ruins of Sorrisniva

The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel is a big attraction here in Alta every year.  Thousands of people come from around the world to see it and walk through its magical halls. Many of them stay the night in the cold-yet-cozy rooms for a unique arctic adventure; a WAY more intense experience than putting on a jacket to visit some ice bar in a downtown metropolis.  There are even a few courageous souls who get married in the ice chapel!Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in winter glory

The hotel is constructed each winter from fresh snow and ice (you can read more about the igloo hotel in one of our earlier blog posts). Each Spring, once the winter travelers have come and gone, it slowly fades away again, back to the raw nature that gave birth to it a few months before.

And while there are thousands who see the hotel in all its winter glory, there are only a very few – some employees at Sorrisniva and a handful of locals – who are around to watch the hotel melt down to nothing.

I was out at Sorrisniva on Tuesday night as part of a tourism conference (SNOW16 – two days with 185 of one’s closest business colleagues… intense and fun).  In the middle of dinner, I slipped outside on my own and took some pictures of the Igloo Hotel in the fading daylight. I’m no professional photographer, and I was just using my smartphone, but even so the pictures are fascinating.  There is such a resemblance to stone ruins you find around the world, even though they are very modern and even quicker to disappear. Enjoy! Continue reading “The Ancient Ruins of Sorrisniva”

Sunset in Alta

I came across another magic moment in Alta while poking around on YouTube today. Photographer Yigit Yuksel took this delightful video of a sunset in Alta, down at the water’s edge. By the looks of it, it was taken not too long ago – no snow or ice, and a little less light than we have now.  There are no camera tricks – no stop-frame, no animation – just sunset.

If you live in the area… when was the last time you just sat on a beautiful evening and looked out over the water or towards the mountains for a few peaceful minutes? (And if the answer was “oh, last week I guess” then you get a gold star!).  If it has been a while, or you don’t live in this part of the world, get a cup of something hot, set the video to full screen and just sit for a few minutes. The magic is all around, here, in the eager voice of a husky dog, a snowy forest trail beckoning you and your fatbike, and in the stillness of a springtime sunset. Enjoy!

4-star Experiences in Alta

Every now and then, we’re asked to build an itinerary for clients coming into northern Norway, and the travel agent or tour operator tells us, “These are very high end clients and they require 4-star accommodation”, or 4-star meals, or some other kind of 4-star thing.

That’s perfectly ok, because excellence in service and products is important to have. But here in the far north, we’re a little short on Armani suits and white gloves. You’ll find lots of Bergans coats and Ulvang wool socks, and snowmobile suits for sale pretty much everywhere, and lots of people debating whether Ski-Doo or Arctic Cat makes better snowmobiles (leave your own preferences in the comments, I’m not getting in the middle of those discussions).

And you’ll also find some delightful surprises, like a chance to eat a decidedly elegant dinner out in the middle of nowhere at a husky farm, where one of the owners happens to also have his professional kitchen. But we’ll leave the big palaces and tony hotels to the folks down south, thanks.

BUT… Continue reading “4-star Experiences in Alta”