Earlier this month I made my third visit to the magical Lofoten archipelago in the north west corner of Norway. This amazing area is one of my favourite places to visit and I have had the idea to try and visit at a different time of year each time I go there to try and see the spectacular views in all their different disguises. My previous visits were in March and October of last year so following this trip I only need to visit nine more times to cover every month of the year.
Why should you visit Lofoten? The small fishing villages lining the fjords, framed by snow covered mountains, make for some of the most spectacular scenery on earth.
As with my two previous visits, I made my home in the village of Reine at the lovely red fishing huts of Reine Rorbuer. These red huts maintain their classic external appearance but inside they are maintained to a very high standard, providing a perfect place to stay right in the heart of the most beautiful part of Lofoten.
These colourful cabins, or Rorbuer, are a feature of the area and in many villages the predominance of a certain colour or a certain mixture of colours really adds to their character. In Reine and Hamnøy red is the dominant colour, in Sakrisøy yellow takes centre stage while in Nusfjord there is a colourful red, white and yellow mixture.
Although Reine is spectacular in itself, it has some very tough competition for the "best village within 5km" title. The villages of Sakrisøy and Hamnøy are both close enough to reach with a 10 minute drive or within an hour on foot.
Sakrisøy, perfectly situated in the fjord with its yellow cabins, has fascinated me since the first time I saw it. It has such a hold on me that it starts to be an impediment to progress on my trips as I cannot easily drive past it without stopping for an hour... and it is on the way from Reine to almost everything else.
When I manage to drag myself past Sakrisøy there is only a few hundred metres before it is imperative to stop again for the world famous view of Hamnøy sheltering under its mountain guardian.
The main road which runs through Lofoten is the E10 highway, this 850km long highway runs from Luleå in eastern Sweden all the way to the end of the line at the village of Å in Lofoten. After Å there are many kilometres of mountainous terrain, but there are not many people and no roads.
Lofoten is also are great location for beach photography, providing everything that you might usually want to photograph at a beach, but with the added bonus of a mountainous backdrop.
The most imposing of Lofoten's beaches (in my opinion) is Uttakleiv, rather a violent place on the more exposed side of the surrounding mountains with a rocky shore and a mountain backdrop. The feeling of the place is enhanced by the warning signs predicting dire consequences for anyone caught in a rockfall.
When you pass under the mountains through a short tunnel to reach Haukland beach you are suddenly in an oasis of comparative calm. Haukland is a massive flat sandy beach gently curving around a large bay. It is a wonderful place for a walk along the sand, observing the oystercatchers as they forage in the surf.
Although Uttakleiv is the most wild and Haukland is the most peaceful, Skagsanden beach is simply my favourite. Skagsanden is a gently sloping sandy beach with a nicely shaped mountainous background. The bay is shaped in such a way that it is both sufficiently interesting and sufficiently safe to attract intrepid arctic circle surfers to test their skills.
On this particular afternoon I would say that the surfer might have been having more fun but the Oystercatchers were having more success as the tide revealed a number of tasty snacks.
A few kilometres along the road from Skagsanden beach there is a turn off which takes you to the village of Nusfjord. It may not be a total surprise to hear that Nusfjord is a small fishing village surrounded by mountain peaks.
Nusfjord is also home to a good selection of seabirds, with the black-legged kittiwake being by far the most noisy of all the villages residents. Its difficult to imagine what meaning their seemingly constant screaming must have but I can only suppose that their communications must rely on the meaning of infrequent silences rather than the meaning of shouting the same words again and again... unless their culture is based on an avian variant of Kabaddi.
A more welcome sight from my point of view was a single European Shag swimming around near the harbour, a cormorant-like species that I had not seen or photographed before.
Driving back from Nusfjord to Reine should be a relatively simple 40 minute drive, but that theory never holds because you have to pass Skagsanden...
... and Hamnøy....
... and Sakrisøy...
... before you finally get to Reine. For some reason Google maps does not take this into account when calculating the driving time. Even when you get to Reine there can be many photographic temptations in the way before you finally get to your cabin.
The early mornings and late nights needed to catch the sunrise and sunset at this time of year soon take their toll, and that makes good coffee extremely important. Fortunately the Bringen cafe provides these lifesaving services with their friendly and welcoming staff, excellent coffee and delicious home baking. Looking at the morning photos with a double latte is a great day to recharge the batteries for the day ahead.
Walking around in the villages of Lofoten there is one feature which is immediately obvious to more than one of your senses. The stockfish racks, filled with thousands and thousands of cod drying in the arctic air, provide an authentic addition to all of your photographs from these villages while also ensuring that you, your clothes, your car and everything else smells faintly of fish for the following few weeks.
This local delicacy is a significant business with Lofoten stockfish being sold all over the world, the temperature and humidity being exactly right for this process thanks to the high Arctic latitude being tempered by the influence of the warming gulfstream currents.
These villages are also home to large numbers of birds, with different gulls and other seabirds being the most numerous of these along with ducks such as the common eider. I saw white tailed eagles flying overhead at least once per day during my visit. There were also a number of smaller birds such as house sparrows, rock pipits, bohemian waxwings and snow buntings.
All too soon, it was time to leave Reine and head back towards my home in southern Finland. I decided this time to drive the whole way (previously I have allowed ferries or trains to do part of the work) in order to see how easy it was to make the journey in that way. Doing this also allowed me to make many stops on the way...
In order to get back to the mainland, you first have to drive north along the whole length of Lofoten. I took the scenic route rather than the direct route, hoping to check out the area around Gimsøy... which took me past this view near to Valberg - a welcome surprise.
As my journey continued, I started to look out for a place where I had encountered a white-tailed eagle sitting on an electricity pylon 13 months earlier. These birds will often have favourite perches within their territory so I thought there might be a chance... and sure enough I was in luck.
The final shots from this trip came on the outskirts of Svolvaer, I stopped to try and find a good composition of a row of houses only to find that they had been obscuring a single house on an island which I liked even more.
Once again, it was a huge pleasure to spend time in Lofoten. I enjoyed every minute of it. Mostly the weather was not quite optimal for photography, oscillating between too good (cloudless skies and harsh light) and too bad (low visibility and featureless cloud) with a shortage of dramatic sunrises and sunsets , but that is just how it goes, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.
Now that this blog is published its time to plan the next trip... lets see where the next blog comes from!
The beautiful city of Budapest was my latest photography destination as I spent a few days there at the end of March. The city is a fascinating one for photography with its many remarkable buildings and a succession of bridges across the Danube which winds its way through the middle of the city, separating the old settlements of Buda and Pest. The city is perhaps at its best during night time as almost all the main attractions are illuminated, making for a spectacular view.
The parliament building, the largest actively used state parliament in Europe, is a particular favourite of mine and I hoped to get some good shots of it during this trip. On the day of my arrival I was hoping to photograph the interior of the parliament but the tickets were sold out for that day so instead I headed to the nearby St Stephen's Basilica.
After recent trips to Prague and Riga I have started to enjoy visiting the grand old churches that can be found in many cities and photographing their interiors, usually with a wide angle lens (my 12-24mm lens seems ideal for this). Appropriately, this kind of photography often involves pointing the camera to the heavens in order to capture the patterns of high ceilings or cupolas.
The churches in Budapest seemed to be very rich and ornate in their details, not only in the main central spaces but also in all the alcoves and secondary areas, which made them extremely rewarding to photograph.
On the Buda side of the river the terrain rises steeply and there you can find the huge castle, the beautiful Matthias church and the remarkable neo-gothic battlements of the Fishermans Bastion.
At the foot of the castle hill lies the castle gardens and the buildings of the Várkert bazár and thanks to some advice from a friend I was able to find another staircase to add to my collection (after the lightbulb staircase in Prague and the art nouveau staircase in Riga). Budapest has many beautiful staircases but usually they are in private buildings so they are not easily accessible, the one in the Várkert bazár however is in regular public use and it resembles an eye when photographed from the right angle.
I usually try to make my photographs mostly in the camera rather than in the computer but in this case the staircase seemed to offer possibilities that were too good to ignore... the staircase looks like an eye, but eyes usually come in pairs, so it seemed inevitable that I should play with that.
On a rainy day later in the trip I may have had a little bit too much time on my hands as the family of staircase creatures started to grow...
At the end of that first evening I took a walk along the river at night and decided that the Chain Bridge was my favourite of the many interesting bridges across the Danube.
I almost always travel alone on these photography trips but this time I had made plans to meet up and shoot with a couple of photographer friends who I have got to know online over the past 5-6 months, Robert Juvet and Gergő Bakos (provider of excellent staircase advice from the day before), both of whom have been very successful in the photography competitions on GuruShots, winning many times over the past year. Robert was visiting Hungary from his home in Switzerland while Gergő is a native of Budapest and we spent about 12 hours of the second day of my trip shooting together in the Budapest area.
Our first destination was the Medveotthon Bear Sanctuary where we had a chance to photograph bears, wolves, lynx and some smaller mammals. This sanctuary provides a comfortable and protected environment for animals who have been released from their former duties in circuses or evicted from their homes in zoos around Europe. The animals are not free to roam the countryside, but they are given a relatively large area with suitable terrain in which to spend their days. To me the animals all looked well taken care of and content... if a little bit bored.
Although the bears and wolves were the headline acts, some of the smaller animals were a great support act, it was fun to watch a cute coati climbing up to the top branches of a tree to play.
The weather was sunny and mild at this part of the day and the bears were lazing around to take advantage of this.
The bear above looked like he might have already breathed his last breath but shortly afterwards he perked up and started doing some yoga :)
The interesting looking long horned Hungarian Grey cattle were the final attraction on this part of the visit.
After Medveotthon we visited a traditional Hungarian restaurant for some delicious lunch on our way to a place where there were a number of old military aircraft and helicopters gently falling apart in a field. This was an extremely interesting place, when it came to photographing it I found the most inspiration when concentrating on smaller details rather than trying to photograph entire aircraft.
As the sun began to set we made for our final destination, heading back to Budapest to shoot the city lights from the top of the hill at Citadella. This vantage point offers great panoramic views to many directions.
My favourite view from the Citadella hill was of the castle and the Matthias church with the suburbs of Budapest on the hill behind.
Over the past few months I have spent quite a bit of time exchanging ideas with Rob and Gergő and being finally able to get them and spend the day shooting with them was a special and memorable occasion and definitely the highlight of the trip for me. Gergő has been particularly helpful to me as I have tried to improve my skills in editing my pictures and I have appreciated that a lot while Rob and I seem to find interest and inspiration in similar places, often shooting in the mountains when possible. This was a successful meeting and I hope we can meet again.
On the following day Gergő had to return to work but I spent a few hours with Rob and his family as we visited Visegrad castle and then the Esztergom Basilica, from where you can get a clear view across the Danube to neighbouring Slovakia.
I would particularly like to thank Rob and his family for being such generous hosts, picking me up from my hotel and driving me around on both days despite the horrendous Budapest traffic.
After saying my farewells and thank-yous to the Juvet family my attention turned once again to the Parliament building. I booked a place on a tour of the interior for the following morning and went walking to try and see if I could find good angles to combine the parliament with one of the bridges.
The following morning my tour of the parliament started at 0815. As far as I could find out this was the only way to view the interior of the building, accompanied by about 60 other people (two guided tours at the same time, one in English and one in French on this occasion). This 45 minute tour gave some great information and took in some of the most interesting parts of the building but was something of a challenge from photography point of view due to the concentration of human beings in each area. The dome room, where the Hungarian crown is kept, would be a particularly beautiful place for pictures (the ceiling is spectacular) but all photography is forbidden in that room.
The grand staircase is truly an imposing sight and would make a great first impression for anyone entering by this route. From there we continued via the impressive dome room to view one of the parliament chambers. Originally the Hungarian parliament was a bi-cameral system and the building contains two identically sized chambers for debating and voting. Nowadays there is only a single parliamentary house and the other chamber is used for meetings and other parliamentary business.
On this kind of tour you quickly learn to try and get to each destination first, or leave last, or both, in order to get some chance for a photo before the crowd arrives. I found some opportunities initially by shooting from the crowd above people's heads but people tend to learn quickly so after a few seconds the people in front would also be taking pictures at arms length above their heads... so I would have multiple smartphones in any picture I tried to take.
After breakfast I had 3-4 hours before I should go to the airport. The weather was pretty miserable so I had to look for indoor photography opportunities. I decided to go to the Matthias church and see how that looked inside. This was a good idea.
This church, on the hill near to the castle on the Buda side of the river, is very beautiful on the outside, but the inside is even better. The rich colours, ornate decorations and beautiful designs in every part of the building make it a superb photography destination.
In this church the beauty was more than skin deep, even side passages and corridors were elaborately decorated.
As the rain poured down outside I spent a happy hour in this great place.
Although this was a short trip it was a really good one. Budapest is an excellent destination for photography and it could have held my interest for many more days, I have to return one day.
Thanks again to Rob and Gergő for good company on this trip.
Until next time,
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