Ashamed at gasping as the Arctic coldness dumbfoundedly surprised us, forcing more of that air we had yet to notice for all its purity into parted mouths. We had stumbled from the plane and without perceiving found we had passed clean through Bodø airport. The small build up of traffic outside struck us in all our ignorance as uncharacteristic, and we were told as much by Geoff who would be driving us to the apartments he owned with his wife Elisabeth in Saltstraumen, Fjord adjacent. The snow we’d seen excited us, in a way I hadn’t anticipated and as we ventured further from the city it lay in thicker heaps by the side of the road. The darkness of the descending night meant we could only make out pockets of the surroundings and thrilled us with the knowledge that we would only be treated to a full panoramic view come morning.
The route from Bodø to Saltstraumen circled close to the coast, following an inlet shaped like a reversed C, crossing from mainland Norway to the little island of Straumøya then back to the mainland. The bridge that connects the former revealed itself in short metres in front of the car lights, rising in the centre to a sharp point. The bonnet corresponded by creeping up at an alarming angle, we signalled to each other with eyebrows inching upward that we found this structure peculiar yet enjoyable.
Geoff, it turned out, originally hailed from North East England and delighted us with a verbal view of Norway that was simultaneously sympathetic and revealing. Having lived in Norway for many years, in the current spot for ten of those, and having married a Norwegian lady he had insights that would have kept us entertained for several times the 30mins our journey took. We appeared at Saltstraumen Brygge via a discreet turn and jumped out of the car as soon as we could in curiosity, refreshed instantly by a temperate breeze.
After introducing us to his wife, Elisabeth, Geoff disappeared with a wave and a backward glance. Elisabeth’s warm greeting preceded her walking us genially over to our apartment; across a peaceful, near silent stretch flanked by several striking white buildings.
As we entered the ground floor property and Elisabeth darted over to turn up the radiator it became clear our kind hosts had surreptitiously upgraded us. The apartment was spacious and generously sized, equipped with kitchenette, dining area, a lounge and separately two bedrooms and an enclosed bathroom. Through many large windows we could glimpse a wooden platform, and just beyond bobbing boats and the sea. Tastefully decorated, the apartment felt cosy and inviting. We were instantly enchanted. It was gratifying to notice that Elisabeth had registered our delight and seemed shyly pleased with our exuberant reactions. She left us to return to the onsite restaurant where she was managing a large Christmas party, part of a Norwegian tradition in which companies take their employees out for lavish meals periodically throughout the year as a token of thanks.
Suddenly alone, we hugged each other in delight and after a frenzied explore of the accommodation fled outside to chirrup happily about the sea. All the apartment buildings stood hunkered before the wooden platform we had previously spotted and it was revealed that through the slats of this in daylight one could see water lapping against craggy rocks, replete with starfish clinging sedately where they could and plethora fish constantly swimming into the current. The platform itself was lit by several human height lamps, lending the scene a pleasant glow and a gentle romance. We collectively let out a sigh, and trooped back to the restaurant determined to toast our good fortune with a hearty red wine.
Noting that we had missed the opening hours for the local shop, Elisabeth offered us smilingly some soup and homemade rolls that were left over from the restaurant gathering. In our guilt, we hesitantly though delightedly agreed. In this way a mere hour after arrival we found ourselves slopping down a beautiful broccoli/blue cheese soup and sipping at a delicious red wine, interrupting our chat to renew our short term memories of the view. We could not believe our luck.
The next morning after a slovenly glorious amount of sleep we leapt up in quick breathed enthusiasm and moved to open the window blinds. Rewarded upon raising them by a blanket of uninterrupted snow outside our apartment. All about lay hills, edged beyond with mountains. At the top of the mountains a blue tinge of snow could be seen as the sun bounced periodically through the clouds and around; each sharp jutting of rock random and hypnotising. The sea outside was closer than we’d perceived the night before and more expansive. Kneeling down to look at it, mere inches away from its surface on the pier, it was revealed as gloriously clear though shot through with undertones of green. The fun began in marvelling like children at our footprints through the snow, leaping both feet braced into pockets we found gathered around the scene.
That day we walked around the surrounding terrain, pleased to see eagles with classic feathers clumped like fingers circling high above and the kind of skinny, pale trees one imagines when thinking of Northern Norway. Every new angle on the vista was another wide eyed photo, and it became evident we were both in a permanent state of awe and joy. Spirits not dampened even when on attempting to get closer to the sea from a coastal area deep on our travels, I inadvertently shoved my foot through ice and submerged my lower leg in freezing, muddy water. It is worth noting at this juncture the weather was a consistent -1degree. Saltstraumen is, in the main, lucky weather wise, being sheltered from the deeply severe climate that more exposed coastal regions suffer. However, on climbing the egg shaped bridge we had marvelled at in the car the night before, I was stunned by a bitter and violent wind that left me deeply chilled. This was offset by a magnificent view of the Fjord, and an eagle flying low overhead, generous compensation.
On returning to our apartment we noticed through the window a gentleman weighing a fish he had just caught. The Saltstraumen area is fish abundant and the majority of visitors to the apartments are keen anglers, who take the opportunity to relax in the surroundings while almost being guaranteed a good haul. Cod, Haddock, Plaice and even Scallops among many others can be fished there. Due to Norway’s careful, fiercely protective attitude towards the environment, there are rules for those hoping for a catch here, which are thankfully dutifully and widely respected. We both have little experience of fishing and instead pored with furrowed brow over leaflets that illustrated each local fish, hoping to identify the critter while slyly eyeballing the group. The fish turned out to be a 3kg Cod, and was caught by a man who had just pulled up to the site for ten minutes. It would presumably be eaten that night by the two young boys we saw with him who were unfazed by the dying fish, and were running instead gleefully around the decking. I found this attitude to be positive and interesting, how nice that the children were educated yet blasé.
We cooked that night, and drank Norwegian beers, falling asleep on the sofa having tuckered ourselves out. The following day we spent once again in walking, stumbling across a little very snowy and yet still sandy beach. We crouched and pointed things out to one another, curiosities in seashell miniature and a couple of vivid coloured Sea Urchins. A calm spookiness descended as we passed by old boating huts, left abandoned but with enough remaining structure for there to be hidden alcoves and lengthy shadows. The snow fell thickly that day and we laughed heartily as it came respectively up to the knee, and languishing high up calf. Catching the snowflakes we could make out individually the intricate shapes, shaking our heads to think that the paper cut-outs of flakes we’d done in school had contained an accuracy of these spider webbed delights. Every track we couldn’t identify became elk, and we created wild stories of the situations in which we’d see them.
That night we had to return to Oslo and after a lovely chat with Elisabeth, retreated to the apartment to say goodbye. I had been on a serious budget when booking this trip for a Christmas/Birthday present for my partner, I had been worried and stressed that it would exceed my finances and fail to live up to my hopes. Yet it had delivered on both and for us both. We were overwhelmed by the gorgeous geography, the unbeatable, personable generosity of Elisabeth and Geoff, and soothed by the tranquillity of the location. It had been in my partners words ‘Perfect’, and we hadn’t even see the Northern lights that can be spotted from outside the door in this spot within the Arctic Circle. Geoff said to us in the vehicle on the way to Saltstraumen, ‘If you just enjoy where you are, you can live cheaply’, those words stuck with us and cheered my thrifty side. So as we walked around smiles upon faces and cheeks rose pinched, or sat looking at the sea, or kicked up heaps of dusty snow, they came to glow with significance. We whispered goodbye, and thanked the apartment, trying not to cry. We shut the door gently and in silence, knowing that we’d been treated to a shard of something glorious.
We stayed at: http://www.saltstraumen-brygge.no and would highly recommend it, contact Elisabeth and Geoff if wanting to discuss prices and dates, as they strive to be accommodating.
The best route to Bodø, which is in Northern Norway, is to fly into Oslo (1hour40mins from London) and then fly from there domestically direct to Bodø airport (1hour30mins from Oslo Gardermoen), I did this by booking separate flights to get the best price (though obviously a bit more of a logistical headache). To drive from Oslo would take approximately 20hours if this is preferred. Bodø airport is very close to Bodø city if wanting to stay there, or local buses can be taken from the airport to Saltstraumen, or any of the surrounding areas. If staying at Saltstraumen Brygge, you can be picked up, or take a direct bus if on a reduced budget.