a day in vardø

One of our friends came up for a visit last weekend, so we had a wonderful excuse to do some exploring. Sometimes it takes a visit to shake us out of our routine and remind us there’s a ton we haven’t seen. The first day we headed west to a little town called Varangerbotn and then Finland. However, I’m going to deviate from chronological order and post about the 2nd day of his visit: Saturday, when we headed east to Vardø.

Vardø is a fishing village near the mouth of the Varanger Fjord on the Barents Sea. It has a rich history and is home to Norway’s northernmost fortress built around 1300. It is actually situated on an island so you have to take a tunnel under the water to get to it. It’s the first subsea tunnel built in Norway. I wasn’t nervous at all about driving through a 3km long tunnel under the arctic waters. Anyway, we made it, phew, and started our visit at the Vardø Fortress. To be honest, I don’t remember a ton of details, however, I do remember reading about the one tree that grows there. It’s supposedly the only tree growing in the town because trees don’t really survive the harshness of the arctic climate, and it survives because of how well it’s cared for. It’s wrapped up and kept cozy during the winter and in the spring there’s a ceremonial uncovering of the tree by school children from the town. I didn’t take a picture of the tree. Yes, I’m annoyed with myself.

After the fortress we headed over to the Steilneset memorial. In the 17th century over 100 individuals were tried for witchcraft in Finnmark. 77 women, and 14 men were convicted and executed. There are two installations, by two different artists, memorializing the victims. One of the artists has written about the installations here. It’s worth taking the time to read.

I was happy to visit the fortress and Steilneset Memorial, but they weren’t what I came to Vardø for. What I really came for was: PUFFINS! Ever since my trip to Iceland (Nearly 10 years ago), in which I didn’t see a single damn Puffin, I’ve felt like I had unfinished business. We left the Vardø harbor on a little ferry and chugged our way to the Island. As we got close, the cries of the birds filled the air. These aren’t the beautiful sounds of songbirds, but the frenzied screams and screeches of birds in the height of mating season. It was spectacular. We didn’t have time to hike all the way to the lighthouse on the Island, but we hiked up past the cliffs to the other side. You can read about the Island and all the different species of birds here, and you can actually watch a live stream of the island here.


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