This is it, my first travel video, my first proper attempt with music and cuts to the beat. It should be more accurately titled How Not To Make A Travel Video. I’m not Werner Herzog, I’m not Casey Neistat and I’m certainly not as creative as those You Tubers out there that make great travel videos or daily vlogs. But this is my first proper attempt and I’m sure practice will make perfect.
Granted, the footage is from just over 2 years ago from our trip to Norway with Hurtigruten and I’ve tried to montage it together to show some highlights. Story is king, but I didn’t know that when we were just wildly waving various different cameras around. You wouldn’t believe how much footage was cut because it was even worse than what ended up in the final video. Nowadays its all drones and sweeping vistas shot in 4k. I need to learn how to hold a camera steady, shoot in sequences and way more than I need.
Editing a 2 minute film has been two days of torture. I’m not expecting to be crowdfunded any time soon or for Warner Brothers to ring and ask me to direct their next big project unless they want a wobbly wind drenched disaster. Besides, I’m busy storyboarding our next adventure to Orkney. Something I’m sure my stunning total of 2 YouTube subscribers can’t wait for…. who surely will stay tuned for further adventures in my film making series of how not to make a travel video.
Our final day in Norway and Tromso sees us carted off into the snowy backdrop of Tromso on the island of Kvaloya (whale island). We are here to see other dogs behind our own dog’s back (he’d be heartbroken if he knew) and go husky sledding in Tromso.
This is our final excursion via Hurtigruten and we’ll be dropped off at the airport straight after, might as well finish on something good. The weather is perfect with fresh snow and sunshine making for a super Sunday.
Making our way round to the husky block, you think your dog smells bad, but multiply it several hundred times, now breathe it in. There are over 300 huskies excited, howling and barking, all pleased to see you, it means they are getting exercise, they love it, the noise is unbelievable. The dogs are very affectionate, get excited as they jump at you, play and paw at you, they can’t wait to take you out. We’re free to wander around and fuss all the dogs and these dogs like sure like a fuss. The sights and sounds of 300 smelly huskies is a sheer delight but the smell will hit you first.
Surprisingly, they all sleep outside, they have kennels, but often sleep on top of them no matter the weather. They have very thick coats, you can’t see their skin its that thick which gives them the advantage to be able to sleep outside even if it could get down to -50, although in Tromso it doesn’t get anywhere near that even deep winter. They think nothing of sleeping outside on top of their kennels covered in snow with their nose poking out. These Alaskan Huskies, although they are not a pure breed, are great for sledding, muscular and strong as we are about to find out. They don’t tire easily and can do this 7 times a day and more than happy to cover 100 miles each day.
Climbing in to our two man wooden and string sled, Sam is at the back with the higher view and I am at the front, almost lying down, draped with a thick blanket over me, although our guide Martin assures us will not stop us encountering lots of snow. The dogs are raring to go, howling and baying, so eager they have to be anchored down. Then the anchor is set free and Mush! We are off, lucky enough to be at the front and husky sledding in Norway through the quiet countryside of the Arctic Circle.
Our pack of 8 huskies, the strongest two are at the back (and usually female) are leading us through the still countryside over soft snow and ice, Its gentle at first and as they build up to speed, snarl and jostle before they star to run along in unison with a command from our musher of Ha! and a Gee! to guide them left and right. Hurtling through the wilderness sitting at the front does have its disadvantages, I’m covered in snow and my legs feel every bump, lurch and crash. We don’t mind though, we’ve loved it, rolling along through soft fresh snow is serene and soothing. It’s a different kind of dog walk for sure. Husky sledding in Tromso may not be an extreme sport but it sure is fun.
The husky convoy behind us. We were first.
Perfect husky sledding weather
Huskies like fuss
Sam with only another 299 huskies to fuss
Cookie the Husky
Nick Cook at Tromso Wilderness Centre
Sleeping on top of the kennels no matter the weather
Kirkenes is at the north-eastern end of Norway, 10 kilometres from the border with Russia and 400 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle, further east than Istanbul and St Petersburg. Kirkenes is not a charmingly attractive place at first glance, a frozen shore with functional buildings and plenty of snow. Everything looks pretty new, no surprise given that during World War 2 it suffered 320 air attacks, second only to Malta, having been occupied by Nazi Germany, used as the main supply base for the Murmansk Front and then occupied by the Red Army of Russia. The Russians are still here, road signs are in Russian, plenty of boats in the harbour, all in good and close relations. We however are here for a snowmobile safari in Kirkenes.
Our guide, Ulf, is a charismatic Norwegian constantly cracking jokes, he wants people to have a good time with Barents Safari which we booked via Hurtigruten for our Norway Arctic Circle trip.
Snowmobiling in the Arctic Circle on a frozen fjord leading to the Barents sea sounds cold but with the suit they give you and the heated handlebars of the snowmobile you don’t feel a thing. The weather went from wonderful sun to white-out in seconds, just follow the snowmobile tracks to avoid any unpleasantness of crashing through any weak ice. Ice road truckers never had it so easy.
Sliding and skidding along the snowy surface gives you a great feel for the far north, the remoteness and middle of nowhere feel you get from the Norwegian Russian border gives a beguiling tranquility of silence rarely glimpsed in modern life. It’s not technically challenging but it is fun, our Go Pro filming can confirm that. If you get the chance, go for it. Sam loved it, I need to convince her to get a motorbike now.
Finishing off the snowmobile safari with a warm up in a Sami lavvo tent with tea and a snack. Ulf confesses the key to surviving in Kirkenes is with this snack, it’s his version of Norwegian viagra, Reindeer heart. Of course, he doesn’t tell you that until after you’ve eaten it. Sorry kids, we ate Rudolph, Christmas is cancelled. If it makes you feel any better, it tasted disgusting.
Snowmobile convoy behind us, we were first.
Barents sea edge on the frozen fjord
The wilderness of the Barents sea while snowmobiling
In some mad moment of wanderlust we booked a wild, windy, winter wonderland on the frozen fjords of Norway in the Arctic Circle in Winter. Land of Vikings, Midnight Sun, Northern Lights, majestic mountains and gorgeous glaciers. We’ve booked with Hurtigruten on their Arctic Highlights coastal route from Tromso to Kirkenes with the entire journey in the Arctic Circle. It’s what’s billed as a once in a lifetime trip and the cost will be a life time credit card hit.
From East Midlands airport, we fly direct to Tromso, the legendary gateway to the Arctic to board our boat. Our cruise in Norway, and cruise is an optimistic word, is aboard a coastal ferry with Hurtigruten, the recently refurbished MS Kong Harold. This is no tux or tiara type trip, its bundles of base layers and blubber for this boat trip. Bare skin could be a disaster and besides, you wouldn’t want to get undressed in this climate and assumptions would be made about “masculinity,” lets not forget that we are in the Arctic Circle.
The spring equinox is fast approaching and I was worried that our trip with Hurtigruten to Norway might not have enough of the white stuff. Dispel any thoughts of not being enough snow, there are tons of it. It’s a sharp contrast to Britain where at the point of approx 0.01 mm of snow falling, Britain descends into panic and its a near on national emergency. Just the threat of snow is enough to shut airports, close schools and jack up shop prices despite snow actually yet to fall. 4×4 drivers slowing to a snail’s pace, tank commander ice drivers, an instant blaming of a cold snap during winter as a reason for imminent triple dip recession and other fucknuttery lapsing in a dose of common sense. Any terrorists wanting to screw Britain up only need to throw a few snowballs on the ground. When Britain had an empire it must have only invaded warm countries. In Norway, sling on winter tyres and chill out.
Our voyage in the Arctic Circle takes us from Tromso to Kirkenes stopping along the way to various places including Skjervoy, Hammerfest, sailing through Magerøysund, to Honningsvåg at 71° North, Vadso and Berlevåg. Kirkenes is the furthest we are going to get on our trip, the North Pole, a little less than 1400 miles away and one of the most northerly points in Europe. Some of the places we visit on the way seem so remote, usually because they are, and some so inhospitable. It is cold, bleak, barren and it is also undeniably stunningly beautiful in places. It feels, looks, and with the wind howling, sounds the like the remote end of the world. This feels like the Arctic.
Tromso is not unpleasant, it’s not exactly big or the Paris of the North as some sites have referred it to, its weather is relatively mild, we certainly thought so as munched on ice cream in sub-zero temperatures next to Ishavskatedralen, the Arctic Cathedral, by the Fløyfjellet Mountain looking across Tromso towards the Tromsdalstinden peak. Tromso is known as the gateway to the Arctic. Roald Amundsen must have thought so too, there are statues of him everywhere, even though he flew from here to his death on the Arctic icecap in 1928. With this in mind we head off to the old wooden warehouse of the Polarmuseet (Polar Museum).
If macabre displays of stuffed seals, bloody skinning and whale hooks and other trappings from the Arctic are your thing, knock yourself out. The larger display is about Svalbard with archaeological finds from an old Russian whaling station and nearly a whole floor devoted to Roald Amundsen and Isbjornkongen, the Polar Bear King, Henry Rudi who spent many a year bludgeoning and bashing polar bears. It’s easy to look at whaling and the cruelty of hunting without context of life in the Arctic Circle back then.
The Gulf Stream protects Tromsø from the extremes of Arctic weather, it still gets cold (for us Brits) but things are different as we move north, this side of the land in Kirkenes – we certainly feel the difference. To give you some idea of how cold these places can get, the ice planet Hoth scenes in The Empire Strikes Back was filmed in Norway, below the Arctic Circle, and we are way above the Arctic Circle. Its real cold with real snow. The chances of either one of us becoming a case of spontaneous human combustion, lit from the spark of all the fleece we are wearing seems remote. Chilled to the bones, thermal underwear has never been so attractive, wanted or needed. Wind-chill on deck can be a stunner. My natural layers of blubber i.e. fat, has not helped me withstand the cold chill.
As the ship edges northwards and towards the Barents sea, snow and ice accumulate on deck. One part of our savage winter sojourn was snuffed out when the roads were closed to the North Cape cancelling our excursion and the ports also closed, Force 8 on the Beaufort scale is no fun. There may have been 350 covers for dinner that evening, but only 100 made it. I and most other passengers remained in our cabins where we recreated scenes from the Exorcist with projectile vomiting and making best friends with the toilet. This is not the gentle swell of the sea. My seafaring days are well and truly over.
On deck, when the waves have become bearable, the scenes are spectacular. Heavy grey skies and sea smog obscure and surprise with craggy snowy mountains, and mountains of snow, that rise majestically either side of the boat, rocky waves crashing shores where you are sure that no one can live and in the middle of nowhere, Norway has its surprises with the odd house seemingly plonked down in the middle of nowhere. No jetty, no road, no access. Perfect. Beauty is everywhere in desolation.