Vadsø is a small town in northeast Norway, overlooking the Varangerfjorden, an inland arm of the Arctic Ocean. Lailas Hotell is situated on a small island, Vadsøya, connected to mainland Vadsø by a bridge. What I have found very difficult on this trip is taking pictures. The wind, blowing snow and freezing temperatures render my hands numb and fill them with pangs of pain whenever I take them out of my “lobster gloves” for too long. I have by now discovered that taking one picture without my gloves is okay, two is enough to make my hands freeze numb and three is pushing it to the point where I can’t even grasp my gloves to put them back on. I can’t deny that the free-flowing water of the Arctic Ocean in Vadsø and Vardø is the most beautiful waterscape I have ever seen. The scenes from the southern side of Vadsøya will leave you in awe. It was worth numbing my hands in order to photograph the snowy mountains on the other side of the fjord. I must wait a while before I can snap my next pictures, in order to rewarm my hands enough so that they can feel again.
The island of Vadsøya had an airship mast from which airships used to be launched in the 1920’s as explorers ventured to the polar regions. The mast is still standing, serving as a beacon to everyone on the mainland. While in Vadsø I bought three amazing books: a Danish travel book on the Faroe Islands; a Norwegian book published last year on the south Atlantic island of South Georgia; and a Norwegian/English photo book on Varangerfjorden and the communities on both sides of the fjord.
In Vardø, the town is situated on an island. It is separated from the mainland by a 2.9-km-long tunnel under the ocean. Since Vardø is an island, the wind from the ocean blows constantly, whipping snow all over and you cannot walk anywhere in this town without getting a face full of blowing snow. Snowplows are working constantly. One thing I find most comical about Vardø is how the local publicity and tourist literature seem to thrive on promoting the debatable fact that Vardø is the only mainland Norwegian town within the Arctic Climate Zone. That means, during the warmest month of the year, the mean temperature never exceeds 10°C. Even my Vardø Hotel shampoo packet has this printed on it. I find Vardø’s claim as a “mainland” town to be outrageous. Vardø is no more “mainland” by being connected by an underground tunnel than the island of Great Britain is considered “mainland” by being connected to continental Europe by the Channel Tunnel.
Vardø’s harbours remain open all year, and it is unbelievable to see boats still in the two harbours. There is one small cruise ship that docks every night during dinnertime. I have found that by far the best place to eat in town is at the Vardø Hotel. I had reindeer steak yesterday.
At the Lushaugen, the Vardø museum, I saw frightening exhibits about the Vardø witch trials and witch burnings from the seventeenth century. Some 82 women lost their lives at the burning stake. In Vardø, more than elsewhere in Norway, witchcraft trials and prosecutions were taken to greater extremes. Several kilometres south of town is the Domen hill where these women were executed.
I have not seen the sun at all in Vardø. Some people have asked me if a sunless day means that it is as dark as midnight all day long. No, in fact, there is light, but the orb of the sun is not seen above the horizon. The light from the sun is minimal, and a grey dusk covers the sky even at noon. It gets dark at 1 p.m. and totally dark by 2 p.m. This has definitely structured my schedule when I take photos.
Today I leave Vardø for Vadsø, then grab a bus to Tana Bru where I will grab the bus at 03.10 for Rovaniemi, Finland. Then I am off to Estonia on a day-long cruise.
More to come.