Tag Archives: Europe

Midnight sun above the Arctic Circle

The world is big and I want to get a good look at it before it gets dark – John Muir

June 2018, a long cherished dream comes true, I travel to the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelago in the North of Norway. Traveling above the Arctic Circle at this time of year is a challenge. The 24 hours of daylight will give us the opportunity to make the most of it, and definitely makes sure we will lack some sleep.

We start our tour on the Vesterålen, where we drive to our first camp at Stave in the middle of the night. So strange to have clear views at midnight, and also very lucky as we see a few moose along the way. Unfortunately it will be very cloudy and wet for the next few days. Shame, however it does give the rocky landscapes an even more mythical atmosphere. We expect the Trolls to appear any minute.

In the next days we drive through this beautiful landscape, enjoying it a lot, in spite of the clouds. At some point we stop in Andenes. A lovely little town (northest I have ever been at 69° latitude) where whale safari’s leave for a 97%-chance-of-spotting-whales-tour. Well, we were in the other 3% and got pretty sick along the way. At some point even wishing the tour would be over soon. Luckily the fish soup in the restaurant next to the harbour made our day! 

We drive to Kabelvåg, where we will stay for few days. The sky is still grey, we cannot see much. Clouds are at 50-100m, covering the granite mountains which should be around somewhere. We still enjoy great coffees and cakes though. And the towns of Svolvær and Henningsvær. One is a city with shopping malls, the other a very rustic fishing village with the famous Stockfish hanging out to dry (and smell). We will be back at the end of the trip to see some sun a beautiful views on the mountains.

Slowly we head even more South to Hamnøya. This is the Lofoten we have seen on images. This is what we came for. The sun is showing it’s face more and more, and we are able to enjoy some of the most beautiful hikes in the region. We walk from Ytresand to Mulstøa, from Haukland to Uttakleiv and the beautiful Munkebuhytta trail. Man, the Norwegians have some very scenic trails to hike. Some a bit more tough than others, mainly for the muddy parts after the rainy days we had. The views are magnificent though!

In the meantime we just take in the unique views on the Reinefjorden. This is the view of the Lofoten, and we got it served with a blue sky 😍. Making more pictures than we can use, it just is breathtaking. The whole area between Hamnøya and Reine is simply stunning. There are a few small fishing villages with Stockfish and fish heads, giving some colour to the landscape. Just remember, in Reine the gasoline station serves great fishburgers and the Bringen Kaffebar great coffee and cakes to go with the views.

Our last hike is from Nesland to Nusfjord. Another great trail along the sea, up and over many granite blocks and with many amazing views on the mountains and coast. We even spot Norway in the distance, as well as a grey seal hunting in one of the bays.

Almost at the end of our holiday we decide we really should experience the midsummernight. We have dinner in our accommodation and go out again close to midnight. We need a beach facing North, so we drive to Flakstad. When we arrive there, we find many people in their campervans, waiting for the not setting of the sun. This is surfers beach, and even now some people are still surfing the waves. We walk on the sand, wearing sun glasses and watching the sun go down. And just when it is supposed to disappear in the see… it rises again. Birds are still flying around, people walking and paddleboarding. It is 2:30 am when we leave to go to bed. Our sleep pattern is completely disrupted by now…

Det var en glede å møte deg. Til neste gang.


The Dutch coast


You can shake the sand from your shoes, but it will never leave your soul.

The Dutch coast. Well over 500km of beaches in a not so very tropical country. We are kind of a delta, where some of the mayor rivers of Europe flow into the North Sea and not to be forgotten, 25% of our country lies below sea level. My house as well. Well, not really. I live on the 3rd floor, so I will be ok. Knowing this, it is easy to imagine how important the coast is for the Dutch. It keeps us safe from the waters.

There is something else though. Coast is unique nature, coast is beaches, coast is many people enjoying themselves in every season.
In Winter it is a great place for long, cold hikes. Ending with a hot coffee or choco in a bar in one of the sea side towns. Imagine the rare cases of snow on the beach or the storm seasons, with waves hitting the shorelines. In some places this changes the way the coast looks every time again.
In Spring the first people come out to enjoy the sun again. Behind the glass windows of the newly build beach tents. The birds are nesting in the dunes, the plants bloom and the dune grass is fresh green. Time to make long cycle trips along the coast, trying to see some wildlife, and again drinking a coffee or choco in a café with a view.
In Summer we go crazy. Around 30 milion (!) people visit our beaches every year. Over 300 beach pavilions make sure there is something to drink, eat or party throughout our Summer season. People enjoy the sometimes marvelous sunsets and various music or fire works festivals.

I love our beaches mainly when it is quiet. I do not like all the bodies packed close to the shoreline. This means I like it in stormy weather, when the sea shows its angry face and the waves crash the shores. I like it when it is very nice sunny, but still too cold to sun bathe, in early Spring or late Autumn. I also like it in the evenings when the sun is setting, the terraces are full, the atmosphere is nice. Having a drink or dinner with friends, enjoying a balmy evening. I most of all like the dunes, our corridor which protects us from the sea. The nature is lovely, nice hiking trails and cycle paths follow the coast line from one to another lovely seaside town. A lot of Dutch heritage sites can be found along the coast.

Some of our best and most quiet beaches can be found on one of our Wadden islands. We have 5 inhabited islands and 8 uninhabited sandbanks north of our country, surrounded by the very shallow Wadden sea and the northern North Sea. They are Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland, Schiermonnikoog. Friendly places, with their own island culture. Lovely places to cycle and make long strolls along the endless beaches. If you like cycling, these are nice places to discover on two wheels. Apart from some headwind from time to time, it is easy going. Along the way there are many villages with a good cup of coffee or a nice island brewed beer. Nature on these islands is typical Dutch I would say. Sand, meadows, swamps, dunes, forrest, you can find it all. And the towns are picturesque, mostly historic, not too big and crowded and with typical Dutch ‘gezelligheid’, an atmosphere we cannot translate in any foreign language.

But there is a sad note to be mentioned. We, the Dutch, earn a lot of money with our coast, see the visitor numbers. Good for us, but not good for nature. Project developers want to build many huge hotels in this nature. Destroying the view, nature, environment. Something I regret a lot. With 17 million people we are already in one of the most crowded places in the world, and many people claim there is no place without artificial noise in our country. A sad development I would say. I really hope that I and the generations after me can keep on enjoying this beautiful piece of earth for a long, long time, and I will do my best to make it happen. Promise!

Land of fire and ice

WOW Air – they bring us to Iceland. And wow, that is nice! The start is great. First we are traveling to Reykjavik and the UNESCO WHS Þingvellir on the edge of the Eurasian and North American Continental plates. A very nice, Troll-like place with an intersting history. On we proceed over unpaved roads to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Beautifull, empty country with some farms, spectacular waterfalls and volcanoes. We visit small towns, huge granite cliffs, a white sand beach ‘Skarðsvik’ and climb our first volcanoe of this trip ‘Saxhóll’.

Iceland-2The trip proceeds with a spectacular drive in the north of Iceland, climbing some more volcanoes at ‘Grábrók’ in the direction of Akureyri, a large city with many shops and a huge cruise ship in the harbour. We visit Húsavík, take a bath in the nature baths in Mývatn and indulge ourselves in the geological and geothermal wonders of Iceland Hverir and Krafla. We climb the impressive crater of Hverfjall and think we are ‘Leppaludi’ in Dimmuborgir.

Iceland-7One of the most impressive areas in Iceland is by all means Ásbyrgi (shelter of the gods) and the beautiful basalt formations at Hljóðaklettar. Walking along these imense walls make me feel small.

A few gloomy days followed. Driving through misty, rainy and cold weather along the north-eastern coast, passing many, many sheep, little hauses and hardly any towns. Highlight were the large numbers of Puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri. They are sweet!

The beautfull fjord of Seyðisfjörður and the little town of Breiðdalsvík will remain mysteries, as they were covered in mist. A reason to come back some day!

Iceland-3But then we finally got to one of the places high on my bucket list: Jökulsárlón. A lagoon at the end of the  glacier, filled with large chuncks of glacier. The stunning blue blocks are slowly floating to the sea. Incredibly beautiful.

The road proceeds to waterfall country. Svartifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, all impressive in their own way.

More craters, more volcanoes are visited. Lakagígar is a volcanic fissure errupting in 1783 leaving a 14 sqkm lavafield. Only accesible per 4×4, as few rivers needs to be crossed and the road… well… is not a road at all. Along the way on the south coast we pass some areas of geothermal activity at Geysir, Krýsuvík and Gunnuhver and we crossed the bridge between continents (North American and Eurasian tectonic plates).

Iceland-5On our to do list were 2 more items: the Vestmannaeyjar island of Heimaey and the Thrihnukagigur volcano. The first because of the impressive volcano and eruption history of 1973, where humans were able to stop the lava flow to protect their lives. The latter for the unique experience to descent 120m into a crater of an extinct volcano.

Conclusion: a very nice trip and a great song to remember Sálin Hans Jóns Míns.

See some more pictures on http://www.scubajo.nl/pictures.htm.

Corsica salute


The more one lives the more one learns – Corsican proverb

Corsica, the mysterious island in the Mediterranean. I had heard of the GR20 hiking trail, one of the toughest in Europe, but little else did I know of this island. Officially part of France, but that needs to be forgotten. The population makes that clear in many ways. It is a land of it’s own. And a place I have put in my heart forever! How come…

In 2013 we decided to spend the summer holiday on Corse. We booked flights, rented a car and bought a map. Puzzling with a travel guide, a round trip slowly came together. Last but not least we found some nice places to stay and then it was just waiting for the day we could fly over.
We arrived in Ajaccio, which is the capital. A historic town with impressive buildings, a colourful harbour with fishing boats and Napoleon Bonaparte. Yes, that guy. Of course we Europeans all know where he died, what he conquerred, but we had no clue he was born here. And the people are proud of it. Statues, street names, plaques, everything is there to somehow commemorate him. Ah well. We have diner on a nice terrace in the harbour and have the best mussels ever. We start to love this place!

We are curious about the rest of the island. It is supposed to be rough, little populated. Well, apart from pigs and cows walking around all over the place it is. The inland is stunning. Rocks, rocks, little lake, forrest, golden beaches and more rocks. We will never forget the spectacular views at Col de Bavella and the beautiful hike we did there. Clouds coming in from one side give the rugged cliffs a mysterious character. And when we just got used to the emptyness and the lack of civilization, we decide to drive down to Bonifaco. White cliffs dropping in clear blue waters. On top of the cliffs a picturesque historic village, almost dropping into the water and a natural harbour with the most amazing yachts. We cannot stop smiling. This is a gorgeous place, and the people are friendly as well, and the food… hmmm.

We continue North along the east coast. Next stop is all the way in the ‘finger’ of Corsica. We found a room in a very special place, a wine estate. Boy, we love the Corsican wine! On the way up we passed Bastia, capital of the north. A not to nice city we want to forget. But more beauty reveals itself soon enough, also here. There is a nice coast hike ‘Le Tour des Agriates’, of which we did  small part. Again, and I understand I start repeating myself, it is beautiful. Blue seas, great views, crickets singing in the sun. At the sea we find the town of Saint-Florent. A friendly little village, with a very expressive group of elderly citizens playing game of jeu de boules daily on the main square.
We move on to the West, to the roughest coast on the island. Steep cliffs in many colours with small villages on top of them. Most impressive maybe is the World Heritage Site Calanches de Piana. Especially in the evenings with the sunset highlighting the red colour. It is like nothing else I have ever seen. We hike a nice trail to an old tower and smell the lovely curry scent of the maquis plants along the way. There are so many herbs growing in the wild. One of the things Corsica is famous for. It’s unique flora.

After so many days with amazing landscapes we think we cannot be surprised anymore. How wrong we were. Casamaccioli, a small village inland, in between the high mountains. There where the GR20 trail is passing the impressive highland. We hike just a few miles, and love it straight away. A cristal clear lake mirrors the mountains in the distance. The b&b is organic and serves traditional cuisine. What more can we want. We visit the little historic town of Corte, witness a stage in the 100th Tour de France, find all kinds of anti France texts on the road and hike some beautiful (yes again) trail in the next valley.

Three weeks passed too fast. I cannot say more than: Corse, ti tengu caru!

See some more pictures on http://www.scubajo.nl/pictures.htm.

Il fuego & il mare

For years and years I knew I wanted to see lava. I just never knew where to go to, until my work made sure I got connected with geologists. I learned  about Stromboli soon enough. A volcano, close by, erupting 360 days a year in the Mediterranean. In May 2010 I finally made the trip to Stromboli & Sicily with some friends. We arrive in Catania, get our rental car and drive to the north.
We stay the first day in the historic town of Milazzo. A quiet town, nice buildings, good coffee and beautiful views on the Mediterranean. We buy our ferry tickets to Stromboli for the next morning. A ferry takes us in no time to a typical volcano fantasy. A strato volcano in the sea. The sight is impressive and very quiet. No traffic on this island, just some small tricycle scooters. And the weather is lovely. We will go up the mountain at the end of the next day, so we enjoy the scenery and the superb food.

Hiking up Stromboli is a touristic event. The number of visitors is regulated, due to the danger on the volcano. We get a helmet, a safety talk (don’t run when she erupts, watch where the lava bombs are falling and duck away in time) and we leave around 4pm. The idea is to be on top when the sun sets. For an extra spectacular view. The hike up is easy and nice. Fantastic views on the island, searching for some small hexagonal pieces of lava in the ashes on the slopes. When we get to the top, the sun is already setting slowly and beautifully. Between us and the sunset is something I hoped to see. Stromboli is erupting from 3 craters. Wow! Red hot lava is spit meters high in the air. How powerful nature can be. The sound is like crisping wood in a fireplace. It keeps on exploding, and more, and more… until we need to go down. Unfortunately we only get roughly 30 minutes on the top to enjoy this show. Then we have to go down, skiing downhil through the ashes on our shoes, in the dark! We end the day in a restaurant, with a bad pizza and a nice bottle of wine. A little tipsy we enjoy the fantastic experience of the day. Something to remember for ever!

The next day we go back to mainland Sicily. We have a few more days and decide to visit another famous volcano, Mount Etna. After driving some hours through the countryside, passing historic villages and meeting a few locals in their orange orchard, we stay over in Linguaglossa, a small town with a beautiful view on Mt Etna. With its roughly 3.3 km height (this differs from eruption to eruption) it is the second highest volcano in Europe, after Mt. Elbrus. It is on the list of World Heritage Sites from Unesco, it is more than twice as high as Mt. Vesuvius and it is one of the most active volcanoes in world. We drive though a beautifull forrest and natural area when all of a sudden the road passes through a lava field. And then, in the distance, the volcano is looming out of the trees. Still with some snow on the top. It looks impressive and seems so harmless. The size of the lavafield, remains from very recent eruptions, tells us otherwise. We enjoy the scenery for a while and drive down to Catania.

In Catania we stay the night. But not before we do some sight seeing. It is a nice town, very Sicilian, with churches and a nice square. We enjoy a tasty sea food dinner and a good glass of wine (Nero d’Avola). It was a very short break, but worthwile in many ways. I am sure I will come back one day! Addio…

In Jules Verne’s novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (Voyage au Centre de la Terre), Axel and Otto Lidenbrock emerge from their subterranean journey from the volcano on Stromboli:

Right above our heads, at a great height, opened the crater of a volcano from which escaped, from one quarter of an hour to the other, with a very loud expression, a lofty jet of flame mingled with pumice stone, cinders, and lava. I could feel the convulsions of Nature in the mountain, which breathed like a huge whale, throwing up from time to time fire and air through its enormous vents…

‘Come si noma questa isola?’ – ‘What is the name of this island?’ ‘Stromboli,’ replied the rickety little shepherd, dashing away from Hans and disappearing into the olive groves. We thought little enough about him.

“Stromboli! What effect on the imagination did these few words produce! We were in the center of the Mediterranean, amidst the eastern archipelago of mythological memory, in the ancient Strongylos, where Aeolus kept the wind and the tempest chained up. And those blue mountains, which rose toward the rising of the sun, were the mountains of Calabria.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne