Land Of The Midnight Sun

If I was at home, I probably would have opened a bottle of wine, collapsed on the coach, and then later on, surfed the net for a while. Needless to say, my life’s not like that in Narvik. First of all, I’m not arriving home stressed, a bottle of wine is too expensive to contemplate, and I’ve yet to find a wifi connection here. So last night after dinner, I was content with some reading and watching some television.

You know how I mentioned “Allsang pa Skansen”, the community singing program on Swedish television? Well, there’s an equivalent program in Norway called “Allsang pa Grensen”. The setting isn’t as glamorous as Skansen, though it obviously has some local importance and relevance. Unfortunately, I tuned in too late to see legendary country singer, Lynn Anderson who was a guest on the program. “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden” was her biggest hit, and a childhood favourite of mine. There was also a Freddie Mercury impersonator who kept urging the audience to “rock it”. He was quite good. In Australia, of course, the usual response to “We Will Rock You”, is the refrain “fuck you, fuck you, stick it right up you”. I was a little disappointed the Norwegian audience failed to respond in the same way. Now that would have been a Youtube moment…

And then after that, there was the nine o’clock news on TV2. Oddly enough, it didn’t appear to actually contain any “real news” until about seven minutes into the bulletin. The first part of the bulletin seemed to be stories about ordinary people, and their reactions to news and life. It wasn’t until about eight minutes into the bulletin before Condoleeze Rice popped her head up. Quite refreshing, I thought. I’ve also noticed there’s a lot of American programming on Scandinavian television. Lots of CSI. Lots of Cold Case. Lots of “Funniest Home Videos”. All of the American programs seems to be confined to just one channel in both Norway and Sweden. It’s kinda good to know that when I want some English language programming I know exactly where to find it. There’s not a lot of television from elsewhere, including the UK and Europe, aside from a few home makeover programs. I have to say, though, in both countries, I haven’t been able to find much “quality programming” on free to air. Maybe it’s just the non-ratings period?

Over breakfast this morning, I met a Swedish woman who comes from a small town near Eskilstuna (not far from Stockholm). She told me she had only planned this holiday last week, “Because life is so well planned, that sometimes you just need to be spontaneous”. The town she is from is, apparently very beautiful. We were later joined by a Norwegian couple. As the conversation continued in English, I suggested that since I spoke a little Swedish there was no need to speak in English. They seemed relieved! I think I understood about twenty-five percent of what was going on. I was completely lost when a funny story was told. It was just too complex and too fast. Anyway, the Norwegian couple told a story about the nearby Lofoten Islands. Apparently, several years ago the local authorities had built a bridge from the mainland to the islands at enormous expense. They didn’t, however, build a tunnel through the mountain at the other end. Thus, the bridge sat there completely unused for about fifteen years. “A typical Norwegian story”, the Swedish woman said laughingly.

I set out on my own little adventure today, determined to see a little more of the area beyond Narvik itself. I was determined, however, that it should remain relaxing. Nothing too strenuous, and nothing too rushed for this part of my holiday. So I packed my bag with a couple of oranges, some water, and my camera and started walking towards the nearby village of Beisfjord, which is about ten kilometres away. I chose there because I knew there was a regular bus route, and that if I get exhausted, bored, or the weather turned, I could always catch the bus. As it turned out, the weather has been spectacular. It’s like one of those great winter days in Sydney where the sun gently warms your bones. It’s warm enough for me to wear shorts and a shirt, though I packed my jumper just in case.

Along the way I had a chance to really have a close look at the local vegetation and rock forms. Sorry if you find this kinda stuff boring, because I find it quite interesting. I don’t remember enough about high school geology to remember if quartz is often found near iron ore, but there’s a hell of a lot of quartz in the area, nonetheless. There’s also a lot of very small plants, with those tiny flowers you often associate with alpine regions. Everything on the roadside is also growing wild and lush. Also in people’s backyards, they just seem to have let everything grow wild. I’ve yet to hear a lawn mower. I guess it’s because summer is so short, that they just let everything grow wild.

When I finally made it to Beisfjord, I sat there for an hour or so eating my oranges and looking at the mountains and the water. It’s truly wonderful landscape. Moments of wonderful contemplation. Not having the desire to walk all the way back, I sat for a while at the bus stop, waiting for the bus which I knew arrived at about three o’clock. Sitting just metres away from me was a teenage boy of about fifteen. You could see from the look on his face he seemed quite confused by me. After a few minutes he came over and asked me what time the bus was due to arrive (as if I’d know!) and then asked me where I was from. We chatted until the bus arrived. I got the sense from him of excitement in meeting someone from outside his small village in the far north of Norway. I know, because I was the same teenage kid growing up in country Australia. Because Narvik is really very remote, you can imagine the kids here would have same kind of issues faced by kids in many remote towns all over the world. The isolation. Concerns about jobs after high school. You know the stuff I mean.

Anyway, I’ve just arrived home after a quite exhausting day. I mean, it’s only four o’clock in the afternoon, and so there’s still plenty of the day left. It’s Friday night and I’d like to “do” something with my Friday night. But what do people in Narvik do on a Friday night? Is there a pub with a meat tray somewhere?

  1. If you do find a pub, I hope they have Karaoke. So you teach them AC/DC’s “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again?”, just so they can learn the “No way, get fucked, fuck off!” refrain.

    Loving the travelogue James! Glad you’re enjoying yourself!

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  2. James, your GMail account has been compromised – a spam email was sent from you to what seems like your whole address book. It looks legitimately to be from you except for the content. You might need to change your password and do whatever else you need to do to protect the account when using wireless connections around Sweden & Europe. I’ve also texted you about this,

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  3. I’ve already emailed separately with the same concern as Graeme’s – clearly there’s a downside to using free wifi…

    however I am totally loving your travel blog. Very observational, it really puts one in the place you’re at… keep it up!!

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  4. If you’re traveling south from Narvik, try the Post boat. I did that years ago, sailing in and out of fjords where they delivered mail at little villages. It’s still odd to see kids playing near the harbour after midnight.

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  5. love it!
    will say a prayer for u when the pope’s in town tomorrow!
    xx

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  6. To contact James, use his alternate email address:

    james AT jamesobrien.id.au

    Using an unsecured internet cafe in Narvik has caused his Gmail account to be violated. Apologies from James (who is continuing to have a blast in Norway) and the request to stop using the GMail address and use this instead.

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  7. Andrew – it’s actually “The Angels”, but yeah that would also be great.

    Peter – thanks for the suggestion. What a great experience it must have been.

    Damien and Cotton – hi.

    Graeme – thanks for your help with this.

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