Looking back – looking forward

I’m having none of that New Year resolutions nonsense. Instead, I’ve been reflecting over the past year – as well as looking ahead, as most of us do, to warmer and lighter days. Doing this keeps me content in the Now and distracts me from my least favourite month.

Pandemic restrictions made taking a summer holiday outside Norway complicated and frankly unwise last year. So I decided this was the perfect opportunity to further explore my adopted country, especially those tantalising bits nearer the top of the map. And – a bonus – hardly any foreign tourists around. Peace and space practically guaranteed. I was craving some wild nature and freedom. Here follow my impressions, fresh from my notebook.

“I’m heading for Lofoten, above the Arctic Circle. A part of Norway renowned for a wild and rugged beauty. After so many years resident in this country, it is my chance to experience it. But first, Bodø, where the winds are picking up. I find out later that landings can be hairy here. It is certainly a smart move to wear a snug hat over my ears. I walk along the harbour wall past a family who are huddled up trying to eat their holiday ice creams without a topping of their own hair. White horses whip up out to sea and sailboats (are they crazy?) dip wildly this side and that. I breathe in salt and the tang of seaweed. Glorious. My eyes and skin are stinging but I feel wonderfully alive. Why am I so drawn to the sea? It is somewhere, somehow, in my blood. A fascination. It calms me.

The first fat raindrops slap rudely onto my forehead and I head up to the top floor hotel bar for a spot of research. Rain lashes the panoramic windows. I’ve been told there’s an impressive view out there. Somewhere. Instead, I examine the icebergs rattling in my balloon glass and have to admit this particular scenery tastes impressive. Myken Arctic Summer Gin, a gold medal winner, comes from an island off the Helgeland coast south of Bodø. Which is also the base of the world’s first Arctic whisky distillery. Ingredients include sea kelp, blueberry, rhubarb and characteristic Norwegian berries and herbs. It washes over my tongue, much like the elements outside, wild, fresh and vital.

By morning, the weather has deteriorated. I’m now having to lean into the wind as I wheel my suitcase down a quiet main street. My ferry across to the Lofoten archipelago will take over three hours. As usual, I’m far too early. But a small breakfast would probably be wise alongside my travel pill. My table in the café faces the window. It is July. The rain is now blasting sideways down the street with intent. This is not promising and I can feel my stomach getting ready to rebel. I may love the sea but I am not a good sailor. The feeble part of me suggests now would be a good time to turn back and forget this. I tell the feeble bit to stop being silly, as we Brits are conditioned to do, and head for the boat. Every summer, colleagues post idyllic photos on Instagram from this region – those endless light summer nights, the glowing sun casting glorious colour on the still waters…. And here I am at last. Nine degrees and a sea that looks as if someone has made it seriously angry. Nobody else in the shivering queue of foot passengers looks worried. Food is loaded by a crew member, and I spot a large gooey chocolate cake. I marvel at this. Surely nobody will be able to eat?!

I’ve found a spot at the back of the boat and sink low in my seat. I battle against the panic that hits me whenever I get on a plane or boat – I always feel trapped, committed to sit there until we are released at the other end. It is irrational but very real, and it gets worse over the years. I won’t stop travelling – a musician has to, and I love visiting new places and other countries. And so I continue my silent battle, forcing the tension from my body every few minutes and concentrating on my lifeline – a book. An exciting new adventure awaits me on the other side of this ordeal. And a cup of tea.

As we clear the protection of the coastline, the water boils, the ferry groaning and lurching between waves. The few people walking around are crashing into things, some still giggling. After a while, the talking and giggling subsides. There are definitely fewer sick bags in the wall holder. As always on Norwegian ferries (or airports, train stations or newsagents) there’s a pungent miasma of hot dogs and grease. Behind my seat is the toilet corridor. I ought to be grateful it is no worse, but the acid green chemical stink of air freshener is clashing unpleasantly with the hot dogs. Several passengers are nevertheless eating heartily. Thankfully, the crew have fastened open the deck door. The icy air is welcome and distracts my senses. At long last, a feeble sun tests out a modest display amongst the clouds and I venture on deck to spot the coastline. Off to one side I pick out the distant shape of Værøy and then, reaching across ahead of us, the jagged Lofoten mountains begin to emerge out of the mist. Like haughty and imposing opera divas sweeping aside a velvet curtain. Stunning, primeval and proud, stretching out the Lofoten spine away to the north.

……To be continued in my next post!……

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