Europe

Norway : Lofoten Islands & the arctic circle

The year 2019 started with an unusual trip. My girlfriend and I decided to visit the northern part of Norway, the Lofoten islands and the nordic city Tromso. I’d consider it an unusual destination as I don’t like spending my precious holidays in winter-cold countries or cities.

As we already went through the winter curse in our country, which consisted of freezing nights and rainy days, we headed north-bound towards the arctic circle. I expected to take the best out of my recently bought Mavic Air drone and was looking forward to pet some reindeers. This all sounded too fancy, if it wouldn’t have been for the rain.

 

We flew out from Brussels and had a 2-night stop in Bergen, the main city in the south-west of Norway. All I knew about Bergen, were the beautiful colored houses which I knew from google and the mountains surrounding the city center. It all seemed very “nordic” to me, because of the maritime vibe with all the ships, anchors and fishermen, therefor I was looking forward to finally discover Bergen. It turned out that city center wasn’t that attractive at all, and it ended up as a big disappointment. On tripadvisor we tried to find several tourist spots, which would allow us to kill the time. Sadly we couldn’t find any online.

All you can do is get some fishy-food at the local fish market, grab a coffee or two, get on top of the mount “Fløyen” with its fancy funicalar. All this can be done in 4 hours. Besides that I really can’t give you any further tips. Bergen didn’t turn out as I expected it to be. At night, we didn’t find any awesome bars which would allow us to get to know some local folks, it all seemed very dead. I guess paying 10 euros/dollar for one beer or a shot of rum doesn’t sound very inviting. Sadly that’s the average price you gotta pay for booze in Norway.

We were happy to move on towards the Lofoten in the early morning of our 3rd day in Norway.
You can easily reach the city center of Begen from the airport by the local lightrail (one-way ticket costs about 3,5 euro/dollar, or the express busline “flybussen”, which takes about 25 min(the one-way ticket is about 10 euro/us$).

 

Lofoten Islands: Reine, Sakrisoy, Henningsvær.

We landed in Leknes, where one of the 3 airports of the Lofoten is located. It was the smallest airport that I’ve ever landed at. After jumping out of the airplane, we walked through a door, and immediately reached the luggage claim belt within a couple of meters. Right next to the luggage claim where two single booths of the rental car companies. After spending exactly 4 minutes at the desk, we got a descent upgrade for our car: a hybrid VW Golf, with automatic transmission, and spiked wheels.

Prior our trip we booked a lovely wooden cabin in Sakrisøy, also known as “Rorbu” houses. Rorbuer are traditional fisher houses made out of wood and usually painted in red or yellow. It was one of the cheapest “chalets” we could find on booking.com, but it turned out to be exactly what were looking for. The check-in was flawless. The main entrance of the cabin was facing a big snow-covered mountain, right next to the water. A very basic kitchen station allowed us to prepare our dinners and breakfasts. Nearby the Sakrisoy houses was a “Coop” supermarket, and with 50 euro/us$, we could prepare our food for the upcoming 3 days. Expect to pay at least 60 euro/us$ while having dinner at a restaurant. Norway ain’t cheap!

It was the first time I ever stayed in a wooden cabin. I loved brewing my fresh coffee every morning with my portable “Kalita Filter”. The living area and the wooden beds on the upper level of the house were very cosy. The wooden cabin was definitely an important part of our Lofoten experience, as we weren’t spoiled with the best weater. We spent 5 days / 4 nights on the Island. During our stay we only had two days of sunshine. The weather was changing constantly, it was mostly snowstorms, rain and fog. As it was my first trip where I would use my DJI MAVIC AIR drone, the weather didn’t allow us to fly it up, as the winds were way too strong.

It’s really hard to kill the time on the Lofoten during bad weather, as there’s isn’t much to do. Because of the icy roads it takes quite a while to visit other cities. Driving from Reine to Svolvaer would easily take 3 hours. The center of Leknes hasn’t much too offer, except for a couple of coffee houses and an unattractive shopping mall.

There’s one main road that leads across the Island, the E10. There aren’t barely any shortcuts, you won’t get lost on the Lofoten without a GPS, but you will use the same road over and over again to drive around.

During our 4 days, we visited Reine, Leknes, Henningvaer and Svolvaer and we made it to the Unstad arctic surf beach. There are plenty of tiny villages that you will pass by within a couple of minutes. Different fishermen restaurants are spread out all over the Island. Besides having cake & coffee, taking lots and lots and lots of photographs, there’s not much to do in the Lofoten.

The views are breathtaking! The landscape and mountains scenery is very unique, and you won’t be disappointed. Sadly we got also unlucky with the northern lights. We were using the iphone apps “Aurora Alerts” and “Aurora” to get informed about the optimal conditions of the northern lights. Every night around 22:00h (10pm) the green lights were right above our roof. Unluckily because of the clouded sky, we weren’t able to see them. One night we took our car and started driving around for an hour or two. No luck! Even later in Tromso, one of the best locations in Norway to witness the northern beauties in the sky, we were unlucky again.

 

TROMSO.

Tromso was the last destination on our norway trip. Initially we had planned to make it the most popular city in northern norway to visit e reindeer farm. You can several tours or reindeer sleeding, husky sledding, feeding the reindeers followed by a traditional sami dinner. All of that could have been, if it wasn’t for the rain & fog.

After we landed in the late evening, the first glimpse at the city center was quite suprising. It looked like the center of fairy tale village, lots of inviting shops, packed restaurants and a handful of bars. On the next day we woke up with frustrations, the sky was gray, it was raining, and you could hear the wind through the room-window. We decided to walk across the main Tromso bridge and make it to the “Arctic Cathedral”. The beautiful A-shaped Cathedral was built in 1965, and to me it looked more like an Art-Center or Museum than a church. The shape of the building is actually very unusual for a religious building and it definitely looks like a recent construction. Never thought that the cathedral was over 50 years old.

Obviously with all the bad luck on our side, the church was closed. There were way too many people outside to get a descent photograph. The winds were too strong to fly up the drone. The fog was so dense that we could barely see the other side of the bridge. Bummer!

There wasn’t much to do in Tromso as well. We jumped from shop to the other, and tried too many coffees and cakes in the surrounding coffee-bars. Across our hotel was a lovely vinyl shop called “Backbeat Kaffe og Vinyl”. As the name of shop already reveals… you’ll find an interesting collection of vinyl (rock, indie, metal, soul, local bands) and can buy a fine cup of coffee, while browsing for new music. While in Norway, I had to buy the last album of “Kvelertak”, a gem of nordic rock music!

Click on the button below, to see the whole gallery of my Lofoten shots. Thanks for looking.




Istanbul

I just turned back home from the beautiful turkish city Istanbul. It was my first trip to Turkey, so I really didn't know what to expect from that multicultural city. We spent 5 nights in the area of Karakoy, which apparently is becoming Istanbul's hotspot.

 

Istanbul is divided into 3 main areas :

  • Eminönü & Fatih 
  • Beyoglu & Besiktas 
  • and the asian shore Üsküdar & Kadiköy.

Eminönü & Fatih

Eminönü and Fatih are located in the older part of Istanbul, which is famous for its mosques and lots of historical buildings like Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. It was the first area I visited on our first day in Istanbul. We spent a whole day on that side of the city, and we could have spend another whole day to check out every corner on the west-side. Among the mosques you will find countless streets filled with markets, the Grand-Bazaar and the famous Spice-Market. At different times a day you will hear the prayers through the speakers who are attached on the mosque's towers. For myself it was the most interesting and unique part of Istanbul, and it's the place where you certainly will feel like a total stranger.

 

Beyoglu & Besiktas

We stayed at the hotel Grandiva in Karakoy, just across the Galata Bridge at the modern part of Istanbul. In my opinion it was the best spot for a hotel. You could reach the old part of Istanbul within a 10-minutes walk, and it took the same time to reach the Galata Tower. From Galata Tower, it's easy to get to the Istiklal avenue, a super long avenue, which leads to the popular Taksim area.

It felt like, that the modern area had culturally less to offer than Eminönü, but still there was so much to check out: too many restaurants, different spots where nightlife takes place, an endless shopping street, streetfood-stalls, and many historical buildings.

The neighbourhood of the Galata Tower was packed with a diversity of people, the youngsters, the hipsters, the older generation, the hippies. In the evening many people were sitting on the pavement around the tower to chit-chat, and share food & drinks.

While walking down the less attractive Istiklal avenue, you had the choice between hundreds of restaurants, from every price-range. After dinner, we hit the Taksim block, which was filled with quite a diversity of bars and smaller clubs. Arsen Lüpen would be an interesting bar to check out. On thursday nights, they host a jam-session, where everyone can join the stage, to play an instrument or sing with other musicians. No entrance fee, some crazy dancing and lots of fun!

On our second last night in Istanbul, we met a lovely local girl who brought us to the nightlife-heart of Karakoy which is located on Mumhane street and Kemankes street. It was the hippest part we discovered in Istanbul, and i'm pretty sure, the next time I'm gonna visit Istanbul again, this will be the place I'm going to hang out every night! It's the most attractive nightlife spot, and it's packed with too many beautiful people.

At the Grandiva Hotel we had the chance to get delicious breakfast in the morning. However if you miss the breakfast-hour, check out the Güney restaurant next to Galata Tower. It offers a variety of typical turkish breakfasts, for an affordable price of course! And you get taken care of by some turkish hipsters :). 

 

Prince's Islands

On our third day we planned walking towards the Bosphorus Bridge, but it was just too far away from out hotel. At the first ferryboat station, we decided to buy a ticket to get to the asian side of Istanbul faster. As a total stranger in Istanbul, we didn't thought about carrying our passport. 

We opted to check out one of the 9 princes' islands. Büyükada is the biggest one. A ferry ticket to the big island was around 6 turkish liras [2 euro, 3 us$]. A bargain! But we didn't know it would take us 2 hours to reach the island! 2 hours with too many people aboard, and we got a free sunburn. If you get the chance to catch a direct ferry from Istanbul to Büyükada or the other way around, it will still take you an hour at least.

Different travel-websites recommended to visit at least one of the islands, and considered Büyükada and Adalar as a must-see. I wouldn't recommend the island of Büyükada to anyone. It definitely was a beautiful place. So many beautiful victorian houses, no cars allowed on the island, lots of nature and parks, and great views of the ocean. But that was all it had to offer. The pier-area, where you get off the ferry, is packed with too many tourists, and every shop-owners wants you to buy food, drinks, and just any kind of presents. Once you get out of that mass of people, you're slowly walking into the silent streets of the city. 

But there are just too many horse-carriages on the streets of Büyükada. The constant noise of the horse-shoes ruins the vibe of the island. Most restaurants look very touristic, most people you will walk by will be tourists, and the shops are tourist-traps as well. 

If you love hiking or if you are into floral photography, it's definitely a place to check out. If you prefer the city life and hunting for must-see-spots of Istanbul, I wouldn't recommend you "Büyükada".

 

My thoughts about Istanbul

To be honest, the first 48 hours, I didn't have the feeling of being welcomed by the turkish people, especially the turkish men. It wasn't as bad as in Moscow, but still I had mixed feelings for Istanbul. Most of the men were unfriendly, not helpful towards tourists, some bumped into you without apologizing, even at the bars or restaurants, there was barely no communication. You could hardly notice a smile on their faces.

Things changed when we went out at night. Different hours, different people. It was quite easy to get into conversations with the locals. Especially with girls. Most of the women & girls, religious or non-religious, were super friendly, and totaly helpful. They showed us different places in the city, and introduced us to the turkish cuisine: turkish coffe followed by a coffee-ground-clairvoyance, the delicious streetfood mussels, turkish Ayran [iced water, yogurt, salt], and other turkish street food specialties.

We met many lovely turkish people! And during my last hours in Turkey, when we headed back to the airport, I felt like I needed to get back to Istanbul very soon! There's still so much to discover, so many turkish dishes to check out, and too many lovely Turks to meet. 

 

Useful informations

  • The taxi-ride from Atatürk airport to the Galata Bridge takes about 35 to 45 minutes, and costs around 50-60 turkish liras [20 euros, 24 us$].
  • Food is cheap. Booze isn't. A menu at a touristic restaurant [entree & main dish] with water and a glass of wine mostly costs around 20-30 euros [26-34 us$]. Longdrinks costs 25 turkish liras [7-9 euros, 10-11us$]. Cheapest drinks would be water, softdrinks and beer.
  • A single ticket for the tram-ride in the city center costs 4 TL [1.3 euros, 2us$]
  • A one-way ferry ticket costs around 4-6 TL.