We were so close to Norway. Right across the river from it, very walkable since the river is frozen, and also close enough to drive there very easily (but not over the river) (we left that for the snowmobiles and dog teams). It had to be done. I wanted to do it out of principle, as I believe did Eric, but it turned out there was good reason to as well. Well, not just out of principle, actually. I was hoping we were close enough that we could take a jaunt to the shoreline, to see if it looked cool. So, on Monday, dinner on the Barents Sea.
This turned out to be a wonderful day.
Not only could we get to Norway, but we could also go to a museum, see a church that someone had deemed worth seeing, snowshoe around a peninsula, drive along a fjord to the Arctic Ocean, and–here was a surprise for us–visit a memorial to people sentenced to death for witchcraft in a witch hunt of the 1600s. All of this information was complements of our AirBnB cabin host Reetta. On top of this, there were a few nice other interesting surprises in store.
First off, and I know this will come as a surprise, we got a late start. Not meaning that we’d intended to head out any earlier than we did, just meaning that we’d spent some of our daylight hours on our characteristic (arguably, required) sleep in, breakfast, and tea. Because of that and because we just weren’t feeling it, the snowshoe was out. But everything else was in. We hit the road ready for adventure.
First stop was the museum. It was another Sami museum, like the SIIDA in Inari, but smaller, we were told. I was concerned it would be redundant, but it just reinforced what we had learned in Finland, plus introduced us to the Sami who depend on fishing the fjord as well as herding reindeer. It also went back in time, with a display for Stone Age people, and here’s my geology nugget:
People settled along the shore of the fjord. But, the shoreline kept changing, so the location of the settlements had to, too. The land was rising in response the melting of the ice age glaciers. It still is. Every 100 years or so, the settlers moved their villages downslope, closer to the shore. The higher the settlement today, the older it is. Taking a walk uphill is taking a walk back in time.
After the museum, we drove to the church. I’m not sure exactly why the church was recommended, but it was a nice stop just the same, especially for the askew gravestones that added both to the harshness of the environment and gave the setting a bit of a haunted house feel. Marijke wins with a picture of me through one of the crosses.
[Coming soon, with the rest of my DSLR photos!]
After stopping at the church, we hit the road gain, heading to the open water. Most of the drive was along the shore of the fjord, steering almost due east. And most of it looked like this. A play of blues, sometimes even with a surprising green in the water close to shore. The sun would come out and shine yellow, or go away, and eventually we headed into a somber seaside snowstorm.
We made it to our final destination, Vardø, late in the afternoon, to discover that the route on the map to the island that we thought was a bridge was actually a tunnel, under the sea. Apparently, at its deepest, we were I more than 200 feet under the water. (I’ll fill in the details once I’m back stateside.)
There are lots of other interesting things to know about the town, as well. For example, it was bombed in World War II. Also, the town seemed like a metropolis compared to where we had been. Houses and stores and streets and buildings, and even city blocks. A large white radar dome greeted us coming into town, looking very Cold War. According to its Wikipedia entry, the Norwegian government claims it is used to track space junk. But it is also notably close to Russia.
Also notable were the witch trials of the 17th century. This is what we were most interested in, and parked in search of the monument not long before night fell. We followed signs and found a church but not the monument. Is the church the monument? No, most decidedly not. We asked a young woman who spoke perfect English and pointed us in the right direction. I would not have picked the structure she indicated as the monument. I was thinking we would be looking at a statue, that somehow kept a flame burning despite the elements. Instead, this is an entire memorial. Spoiler alert: if you’re planning on visiting the town of Vardø, the easternmost point of Scandinavia, out in the Barents Sea, east even of Kiev, St. Petersburg, and Istanbul, the only place in Norway with a truly polar climate, you may not want to read on. Although if you do, I’d still say it’s worth going.
Inside this curious structure is a hallway punctured by small windows looking either back onto town–perhaps not accidentally, with the church prominently in view–or out onto the straight between the island and the mainland. The windows, at both adult height and child height, frame a lightbulb hanging behind them and emitting a warm, orange light. Beside each window is a person, in words: name, charges, confessions with and without torture, sentence. Translations are provided in booklets at the end of the hallway. More than 90 people, mostly women, were sentenced to death.
At the far end of the structure, exit onto a walkway and enter a large black box, another structure, barren and imposing. Inside, huge mirrors hang overhead, all angled down toward the center of the room. The room is built around a single chair. This is where the flame is. Unfortunately, it was not lit, but we put our cell phones on flashlight mode and set them on the chair to give a bit of an idea of how these flames would be reflected in the mirrors. I imagine it’s impressive.
[Photos coming soon.]
As night was falling, slowly but surely, we bid farewell to the past and hello to the present–our need for sustenance. I voted for not the Thai restaurant for dinner, because I wanted local cuisine. It was our only meal in Norway. But the Thai Restaurant won because it was the only one we found open. That usually narrows things down. In the process of looking, however, we got to drive around and see the very cozy-looking town in the last of the light, including a string of fish drying outside the house next to this gem.
[Photo to follow. Is the suspense killing you? It’s in the Wikipedia entry…]
Thai it was. This may well be the most remote Thai restaurant I ever make it to, and it was quite good. It’s nice to see how Thai is done outside the U.S. Someday, I hope to try it in Thailand.
I didn’t drive at all on this trip because I wasn’t on the rental agreement, but I was particularly glad to not be the one driving home from our Norwegian adventure. Exhausted, I let my eyes close in the back seat, since it was dark anyway. Goodbye, Norway.
Back at the cabin, clouds obscured the sky. Not a night for aurora viewing. Still, we managed to stay up until 2am anyway, as we do. After all, two of us had napped in the car.