Diary of a guidebook writer: A surprising amount to do in Bodø!
This is fast becoming a habit. I wrote my last column on a train back from Lillehammer, and this time I’m writing on a train back from Bodø. Norway by train: it’s a beautiful thing!
Even by Norwegian standards, the Nordland Line (Nordlandsbanen) is an epic journey. Just two trains per day travel the full distance in each direction between Trondheim and Bodø, a day train and a night train. I’m on the day train, which left Bodø at 12:23 p.m. and is due in to Trondheim at a snooze-warranting 10:05 p.m. Ouch.
Currently we’re surrounded by white on all sides. Not quite a white-out as the sky is patchy-blue, but an eerie experience all the same. To my left is Sweden and we’re about to cross out of the Arctic Circle. We’re basically in the middle of nowhere.
You get all sorts of people on these long-distance trains in Norway. Tourists yes, but not so many here on the Nordland Line. Primarily it’s local people traveling between the “major” towns on the route, such as Bodø, Mo i Rana, and Mosjøen. Some are making the journey to Trondheim Airport, while a small number, including an elderly couple sitting opposite me, are traveling the entire 9.5-hour stretch from Bodø to Trondheim. I picked up this ticket for just 199 kr ($25) in the post-Christmas NSB sale. Surely one of the biggest travel bargains in all of Norway?
For an extra 90 kr ($11), I’m sitting in “Komfort” class, which offers more legroom, in-seat power, and free hot drinks. Well worth it just for the two coffees and two hot chocolates I will eventually consume on this journey!
I’m on my way back from a weekend in Bodø. While the town is nowhere near the top of anyone’s bucket list, the nearby Lofoten archipelago most definitely is. Bodø is seen by many as a sensible pit-stop to reach the islands because of the good transport links and direct ferry services across to Moskenes on Lofoten’s southern tip. Yet because of the bargain train tickets, I wanted to spend a little longer in Bodø to see if I could recommend tourists do the same.
My conclusion: there’s a surprising amount to do here!
A helpful guide
I was met shortly after arrival by Raymond from the Bodø tourism office. I got in touch with them a few weeks prior to the visit and as luck would have it, they’d already arranged for a tour of the city with one of China’s top travel photographers. I was invited along, so I duly accepted!
We first headed out to Holmen, a thin peninsula a short distance from the city center but too far to walk. It’s a beautiful area with some signs of military history, but to get there you must drive past a herring oil factory. Yes, it really is a truly awful smell! Due to its coastal location, Bodø is a very windy city, and I was left wondering what the otherwise pleasant harbor must be like when the wind blows in that direction…
A natural phenomenon
From there, we went on to what is Bodø’s most famous attraction, even if it is a 30-minute drive from the city. Most people take a RIB-boat to Saltstraumen, a narrow straight with one of the world’s strongest tidal currents. Four times a day, these currents create a maelstrom, natural whirlpools that simply have to be seen to be believed.
We stayed for about an hour, capturing everything on camera and marveling at the catch enjoyed by the fearless fishermen. Raymond reckoned this was the strongest tide he’d ever seen there, although I can’t help but wonder if he says that to all the visitors!
A special guest
Back in Bodø, I casually mentioned my plan to attend the Bodø v. Sogndal soccer game. As it turned out, Raymond is a presenter for the local newspaper’s web TV coverage of the soccer club, so he scored me a complimentary pass, which came with pre-game pizza. Nice! The game wasn’t the best, but the home side took it 2-0 so my companions were happy. By the way, watch out for Bodø’s young 19-year-old midfielder Mathias Antonsen Normann, who is far too good to be playing in the Norwegian leagues for long.
The other attraction of note is the Aviation Museum, which overlooks the airport runway. Full of planes and other exhibits from the Second World War, the museum is just as interesting for war history buffs as it is for aviation fanatics. The city remains an important center of both Norwegian aviation and military research today.
Surrounded by mountains, ocean, and spectacular scenery in all directions, the city center itself doesn’t offer much to interest tourists, although a stroll on the final morning turned up a few gems. The airy tower of Bodø Cathedral is easy to spot and independent from the cathedral itself, which is constructed from concrete and free to explore. Just minutes away from the cathedral is the city branch of the Nordland Museum, home to a fascinating depiction of the city’s birth, growth, and troubled wartime experiences.
Building an audience
The visual nature of the trip inspired me to launch a new Facebook page to help build an audience for the book. My Life in Norway blog has a bunch of great information, but it’s primarily aimed at expats and those looking for jobs. Now with the “Norway Traveller” Facebook page, I’ll be able to reach those specifically planning a trip to Norway. Writing a travel guidebook in 2016 is just as much about the marketing as the writing, you see!
David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.
This article originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.