There was a time the “Great North”. The extreme Norwey north. A never-ending sea cliffs chain from the polar circle to the high Lying mountains (1833 m): “the edge of the world” for Vikings who didn’t dare to go beyond and docked instead at Harstad port, the northest one in their kingdom.
The mail boat Nordlys (“Northern Light”, as they call here the northern lights) stops only for a while and continues to cut through the dense waters of the Arctic, leaving to the west the legendary island of Bjarkøy. And it’s here that the first officer Hans Haugli says “the Lapp Sigurd Slémbe built around the year 1000 the most powerful ships with the dragon prow” in Norway.
Since then, in this border land covered by snow and night for six months a year, many heroes have been cut off from civilization for centuries, eating only cod, goat cheese and cloudberries, the so-called molte, tipically orange colored.
This is not surprising: going to Oslo takes more than 2000 km of winding mountain roads, often blocked by ice during the winter. An odyssey today, a dream yesterday when there weren’t cars. The only quick way is what goes along the coast, through the labirinth of sea lochs (fjords), which form the “Way of the North” and that gives the village its name: Nur-wegr in their ancient language. However, it’s only in the last fifty years that the postal Hurtigruten ferry line (fast route) has allowed to establish regular North-South links and exchanges, leading to technology, wellness and tourism in the more populated northern area of the planet warmed by Gulf Stream.
The boats initially loaded and unloaded letters, goods and local travelers. Today there are also cruise ships allowing you to relive, with 2600 km of navigation in just 7 days, 35 stops and about a thousand euro, one of the most attractive seafaring epics of the story, through a breathtaking scenery visible from the mainland. And most importantly, to experience feelings of another world.
As the matter of fact, if the geographical distance has been defeated, the “psychology”, less visible but more subtle, is still perceived travelling from Norway to the European Arctic. Sailed from the port of Bergen (1st day), the time on board runs normally until Trondheim (3rd day), along the green headlands and coves, inhabited by vibrant fishing villagers. Yet, we can already feel the first wrong things.
The natural elements are the same as in our country: sun, sea, mountains. But it is not the same as the way they live in. Penetrating into the canyon Geirengerfjord, south of Ålesund (2nd day), you can see groups of farms on the sheer cliffs. “Some families still live there alone, so they don’t abide the rules of the city. About 15-20 years ago, they did not have even water and electricity,” says the local guide. Why? You are wondering as you navigate among those snow slopes, making you unaware that under the boat there is the sea and not a river. Coming out of the fjord, you expect to find out a plain with a city on the horizon.
You are, instead, lost in an more impressive sea than the glaciers you left behind in the hinterland. And then, maybe, you begin to understand. The astonishing view of those primordial and hostile places dug a great hole even in the locals themselves, making them allergic to the urban crowds and, at the same time, needy of solidarity that only a small community can offer. “It ‘s nice to go to Europe, but only for holidays, since we feel cramped there” mocks Hans Haugli, staring over the helm a never-ending sea sailed hundreds of times that never ceases to fascinate. “Climbing the mountains or fishing in Norway is different, I couldn’t see people for weeks: I am the King.”
You go on slaloming among 6000 islets of Vikna, a little larger than the isolated houses that will suddenly appear behind a rocky cliff or the wing of a gull. You fall asleep, once you passed the Rørvik port, until the amazement and the day dissolve. The midnight sun is almost upon us. The next day (4th day), unaware of when, where and why, you overcome the so called “border.” It’s just a code name: 66 ° 33 north latitude. You do not have the time to listen to the captain megaphone announcing the Arctic Circle and the landscape has already deeply changed. The fir-trees shrink in a cold tundra of lichens.
The islands and reefs stretching in dark peaks, crowned by a white cloak and by the flight of sea eagles. The coastal villages seem to be away from us, while in the older ones there are but 500 people. There is still half Norway to visit from Bodø ahead, but no more trains and more than 400 thousand people (out of a national total of 4,500,000).
Nature takes over. A last breath-taking view when we see a compact wall of 100 km standing before us (the Lofotveggen), and we’re wondering what cyclopean God has put the Dolomites in the waves. Then, when we get closer, the impressive Lofoten islands become full of red spotted inlets: the rorbuer, the pile-dwelling hovels where lonely fishermen used to take shelter at night to escape the terrible power of Maelstrom. Then you become one of them, hypnotized by the monotony of the empty sky, which leads you to horizontal and vertical great dimensions you can hardly share with your fellow travelers.
You too are attracted by the enticing willingness which, according to legend, pushed the brave Viking Leif Eriksson to cross the first the Atlantic to America. Time goes by slowly. You are sitting for hours on the deck to breathe a colder and colder breeze and watching a fire ball that bounces on the horizon, never sinking, expanding the sunset in an illusion of eternity.
In those places where everything is reduced to the essential, your vision of the world is reversed. Until when, in the north of Harstad, you will be surprised not by the heights that reveal a succession of uninhabited twists and turns, but by the unexpected dock in a town: Tromsø (5th day). With its 50 000 inhabitants, it is the largest “city” of the Arctic ice cap, which was built in the middle of nowhere on an archipelago located at the same latitude regions of Alaska and Siberia where only polar bears live.
You do not stop repeating that all those buildings, cars and placards are out of place and, meantime, the wake of the ship stretches into the wild Melangsfjorden and then you decide to go to the North Cape, the well-known tourists’ destination from all over the world.
Someone tells you that the rock platform cliff is the northern point of Europe. When the ship turns it around (6th day) you realize that it’s just a huge island that you’ve already seen a thousand times. Now you’re a member of the family. Shortly after our arrival in Kirkenes (7th day), in the flat land of the Lapps, the charming athmosphere is suddenly broken by the roar of the plane that takes you back to the heat. You make an effort to turn it into memory: the Far North still exists. You just need to be fascinated.