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Sandra and I spent the Christmas and New Year on the small 8 km² island of Karlsøya, Norway, 400 km north from the polar circle. That's north enough that in the winter sun remains under the horizon for two months, and in the summer it shines all around the clock for an equally long period, at least when clouds are not blocking it. For us it was the first time being so far north during winter time.
Compared to our expectations there was actually a lot of light. We thought it'd be mostly dark, with just a little bit of red in the horizon. But for about four hours each day it was bright enough to call it daylight. First it was an hour long sunrise with all shades of red and yellow, then about two hours of blue sky and after that a one hour sunset. Even at noon we didn't see the sun of course, so it felt a bit strange to see blue sky, sometimes with the moon in the middle of it. Taking photos with automatic white balance settings produced constantly more reddish results than the eye would see. Either the camera software was confused or perhaps our brain partly filtered out the red, hard to say. We tweaked the settings to make the colours as close as possible to what we saw.
On cloudy days it was clearly more dark, and the time one could easily walk outside without a lamp reduced from four or five to about three hours. Clouds also blocked the moonlight, which was quite strong on clear days. Northern lights appeared a few times, but unfortunately only relatively modest green stripes; no multi-coloured show filling the sky.
Another surprise was the temperature. We had not really checked any long term weather forecasts and were prepared for temperatures down to -30°C or so. That was indeed the case 100 km inland, but the coast is so strongly warmed up by the Gulf Stream that extreme temperatures are rare. On Karlsøya it was between 0 and -10°C, on some days even above zero. There was less snow than we had in Southern Germany in December when we left.
We slept inside a building which had earlier been a school and is nowadays mostly used only during a yearly summer festival. With more than 50 people the space was tight, but at least it was warm enough. The program of the gathering consisted of eating, preparing food, discussion circles, workshops, live music, singing, dancing and lazying around. Most of that happened inside, so it was good to also get out and go on walks around the island. That required a bit of attention — it was too easy to stay up until late night, get up late in the morning, have a slow breakfast and miss the daylight completely. Towards the end of our stay it happened to us more and more often.
One of our nicest walks was climbing on top of the nearby hill on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The peak rose to about 200 meter altitude from the sea level. There was a view over whole Karlsøya and towards higher snow-covered mountains on nearby islands in several directions. The midday moon and sunset over the scenery was a beautiful sight.
I'm traveling with Sandra to Northern Norway for the last two weeks of the year to join a gathering of other likeminded people. It will surely be a different Christmas than we've ever had before - non-commercial and without rush. We will celebrate the winter solstice with the sun remaining under the horizon all the day. The moon, stars and northern lights will be visible if we're lucky.
We wish all of you a merry end of the year, in whatever way you're celebrating it, and let the new year 2013 be full of happiness! The photo in our season's greetings card is from our summer and autumn trip to Finland and Sweden. We were hiking in the the Sarek national park in Swedish Lapland and set up our tent next to a small river in the wilderness, far away from trails and huts. Around half past ten in the evening the sky was illuminated by this beautiful arc of green light.
We spent also several weeks visiting family and friends in Finland. Mushroom and berry season was great so we ate plenty of chantarelles, blueberries and lingonberries, and also filled quite a few jars with them. At my father's summer cottage we spent a week renovating the sauna as a 65 year birthday surprise for him. We also had time to read a few books, but somehow didn't manage to update the blog. :-)
In the beginning of October we returned to Germany, in time for Sandra's best friend's wedding. October is usually a good time for outdoor activities in southern Germany and this year was no exception, many sunny days with blue sky. When not being outside we worked on a few more things in our flat and tried our best to get bureaucracy stuff done. It takes an amazingly long time after selling a business before bills and other letters from various directions finally stop coming.
During winter and/or spring 2013 we're planning a trip to South-East Asia, particularly to visit Sandra's father who is living in Thailand already since more than five years. But before that we'll see how we'll manage the cold above the polar circle. At least it's not only a camp - there should be some kind of heated building and maybe even a sauna.
We met in Helsinki in March 2009 at a Hospitality Club sauna party and ended up cooking together in the middle of the night. Quite soon after that Sandra came for a few days visit at my place, then for a week, and I also visited her in Memmingen, Southern Germany. Since then we've tried to spend at least one week per month together.
Sandra has an organic food store which is great for one of our shared hobbies: cooking. Her brother looked at us once in the kitchen and asked how can we eat all that food. Because it's tasty, of course! We also like to go out and do sports so gaining weight hasn't been a problem so far. Actually Sandra has been more worried of me being too thin and suggested that I should eat more chocolate.
Other activities which we share are hiking, cycling, listening to music, going to concerts and traveling. In the summer we traveled together for six weeks, mainly in Southern and Central Norway. It was a road trip by Sandra's car combined with many hikes in national parks. Mountains and fjords were beautiful although Norwegian weather made it quite a wet experience: out of 31 days there were only two when it didn't rain at all. But we survived and enjoyed five days of sunshine in Finland right after leaving Norway and driving quickly through Sweden.
On the road our lifestyles fit together quite well. We're both more into going out walking and wild camping in the nature than booking a plush hotel and lying on the beach. We also contact locals through hospitality exchange sites and stay with them — just as we both did already before when traveling alone. One big difference compared to my earlier trips has been less time spent in Internet cafes and writing blog articles, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing.
Life is funny. I never studied German at school or spent much time in Germany but love isn't restricted by country borders. We have both traveled quite a bit and lived abroad in the past. And although we're communicating mainly in English there's now an extra motivator for both of us to learn a new language.
I'm still living in Helsinki and Sandra in Memmingen near her shop. We don't have any immediate plans of moving together, but in the long term it doesn't make sense to continue flying back and forth. However, that's what we're doing now about once a month and send messages or call in between. Sandra is not a computer person but she has for the first time in her life gotten used to writing long emails. That helps a bit in communicating with a nerd like me. :-)
My second trip this summer brought me again to latitudes above the arctic circle, actually several hundred kilometers further north than the midsummer camp at Tuntsa. At Kinnarodden, the northernmost point of mainland Europe, the sun never sets for more than two months, but that doesn't guarantee you can actually see the sun. The picture on the right shows how Kinnarodden looked like inside the midnight clouds, after a 25 km hike to get to the spot. Oh, the wind was quite strong too.
This time I was again on the road with my two old cyclist friends Mikko and Sami. We took first a train to Rovaniemi and continued by bus to Karigasniemi, which lies just before the Finnish-Norwegian border. Then we continued by bicycle towards Nordkapp, but found out on the way that everybody goes there and that Norway has decided to collect 190 krones (about 25 euros) per person just for the entrance at the site, not yet including some tunnel fees on the way there. Besides, Nordkapp is on an island and not even the northernmost point on that island, so we decided to do something else.
The route to the northernmost point of mainland Europe was different. First it was small roads to Mehamn, a small fishing town, followed by a full day hike over rocky fells to the end of the Kinnarodden cape. The hiking trail was marked by small piles of rock every kilometer or so, but cloudy weather made sure that a compass was much more useful than the markings. Besides, the line drawn on the hiking map photocopy we got from the Mehamn hostel helpfully didn't follow the marked route.
We didn't see a single person during the hike. As a matter of fact we didn't see much else either as it was cloudy, the clouds were hanging low and the scenery consisted mostly of rocks followed by more rocks. In particular, we didn't see whether it was really the last bit of land at the end of the cape, because there was some 200 meters of cloud between us and the sea somewhere below. But I guess that was it and we took a group picture at midnight. Actually we took two, first in a wrong place, and that picture was slightly better. Never mind. A Czech cyclist we met on the road had done the whole hike two ways in 23 hours without a map, but he had good weather and must have been a bit crazier than us. We were exhausted after just going one way, very happy to sleep after cooking some dinner and setting up our tent. Next day it was still cloudy and we walked back to Mehamn. As we summarized in our travel journal: The shoes got wet and also otherwise it was fun.
To be honest, we did get a half-decent view of the scenery a few kilometers before the tip of Kinnarodden, and the fjord between two high-rising rocky shores looked magnificent. It ended to an almost white sand beach, a very uncommon feature among fjords in Norway. The whole area must be quite spectacular in clear weather. Even on a cloudy day it was one of the most special places to go for a morning swim. We had of course set up our tent just next to the beach and we had it all for us.
Except during the hike to Kinnarodden we were actually quite lucky with the weather during our two-week trip. While southern and central Finland were suffering from heavy rains we were enjoying sunshine more than half of the time, day and night. Superb wild camping spots by the seaside or by a river with plenty of fresh drinking water were easy to find. We set up the tent facing north, leaving the entrance open to watch the sun through the mosquito net until falling asleep.
From Mehamn we took a ferry to Hammerfest, spent a day there and then followed the coast southwards until Skibotn. From there it was a short ride back to the border, entering Finland at Kilpisjärvi. In addition to admiring the fjords we met some nice people and spent one evening at the Riddu Riddu festival. We have a more detailed travel diary in Finnish which will be published later — when it's ready.
Copyright Arto Teräs <email@example.com>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. (Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)