A Week in Bodø: A first visit to the arctic

In my early 20’s I had a 5 year career as a sailor on the schooner Ernestina (christened Effie M. Morrissey at original launch in 1894, and recently renamed Ernestina-Morrissey to honor the variety of working lives she has had), a tall ship that had at one time been a preeminent vessel for arctic exploration under the direction of Captain Bob Bartlett. The details of that vessel are now permanent fixtures of my mind: 156 feet from the tip of the bowsprit to the tip of the main boom; 112 feet in length on deck; record holder for the furthest north of any wooden sailing vessel in the world, having made it to 80 degrees, 22 minutes north/within 600 miles of the north pole; she appeared in National Geographic with a polar bear on her aft deck. It was a period of my life that made a major impact on my outlook on life, and planted a million seeds of curiosity – experiencing life north of the arctic circle, not the least of these.

After 8 years living in the capital of Kazakhstan, my wife, kids and I moved to southern Spain to settle in a small town perched in the mountains. It is a veritable paradise, and a true feast for the senses. My wife took a job that will have her periodically pop back and forth between our new casa, and her new position in Bodø, Norway. She started her work with a 5 week stay in August and September 2023 to get her feet wet, and get settled in the new job. About 2 weeks into her stay, our two kids and I joined her for a visit.

Photo: View of sea

Going from 100 degree weather in Spain to cool mid-60s in Bodø gave me no other choice but to fully accept that I was in fact in a different part of the world. I have always had a fascination with travel, transportation and architecture. From the short layover in Oslo to passing through the Bodø airport, the sense of calm that the Nordic architecture brought was profound. People were not particularly noisy, and the spaces with the mixture materials and texture made of contrasting hard, soft, dark, light, natural and human made materials seemed to mute any excess noise, and give me a very pleasant sense of calm. This was an experience that I also had in the Bodø public library, and at a local university in the city. Public buildings and spaces feel very different than elsewhere that I have been. 

Outside the Airport I was thrilled by the electric buses, plentiful bicycle parking (at an airport!), and all of the electric cars parked in the lot, and on the streets. We took the bus to our temporary home in the arctic, and got a chance to watch the multi modal Norwegians complete their daily mazes and get to their destinations. 

Photos: Blue hanging, akademika, Blue modular building, yellow building, Building with bicycle, bicycles hanging backlit

While my wife worked, the kids and I visited the local university and got a chance to look at some of the clean and comfortable interior spaces for students and staff. We also wandered around the town on foot and by bicycle to look at buildings and all of the stunning views, something Bodø is not short on.

Photos: Bodø public library, Kids walking into Papir the library cafe

Photos: biking down road, yoga on the rocks, criss crossing rocks, yellow sign on rocks, craggy rocks 

Outdoor pursuits are, according to nearly every local we spoke to, essential parts of life in this part of the world. Cycling, running, climbing, yoga, rollerblading, kayaking, hiking as well as many other activities are key to life here. In local fashion we biked to the seaside to play on the rocks, and enjoy the spectacular views of the mountainous surroundings.

Photo: kiddo on the rocks

A week is hardly enough time to fully dig into a new location. And luckily since my wife is working in Bodø opportunities to visit in the future, and get further afield are going to open up as time goes by. The experience of visiting this arctic city, standing on the rocks at the shore and looking out over the water and the mountains beyond gave me a greater sense of connection with Bob Bartlett and the schooner i am so privileged to have been a crew member on all those years ago.