• Danik Bates

Exploring the Arctic Norwegian city of Vardø

Updated: May 7

A city further than Istanbul, Kiev and Saint Petersburg in Europe, a city which is far away from its capital (Oslo by nearly 2000km and not including Longyearbyen, Svalbard as it has Norway laws but it is not Norway’s land), and a city which is one hour behind most of Finland where the whole country lies totally beneath it and is an hour in front. Vardø flung out on a small island from the mainland was one of my dream destinations to visit in Europe and back in March 2017, I rented a car at Kirkenes airport some 250km (153 miles) away to check out one of the smallest cities in one of the biggest countries in this part of the world.

On the drive towards the city passing beautiful places on the Finnmark coastline like Varangerbotn, Nesseby and Vasdø, the landscape went to a rugged coastline to a land which was coated with pure fresh snow, the wind blowing the white dust across the road, ice patches in places, not many trees to be seen and the ones I saw, I could only see the tops off. Mind you this was the back end of winter where most of the houses (where I did see some) were abandoned and will not see life until the summer comes around. I did pass some beautiful beaches along the way but the bitter cold wind of the Arctic Ocean made me sit in the car and just watch the waves crash against the rocks. The further north I went, the harsher the weather, the more lonely I got. I didn’t see a car for ages on this stretch of the longest road in Europe (E75 - from Vardø to Crete, Greece). Then I drove through the tunnel which goes underneath the sea (and is one of the first tunnels to be built in Norway) and arrived on the island of Vardøya where the city lies. Here are my top tips to do and see in this city flung out right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean.

Vardøhus Fortress - this is the northernmost star fort in the world and has to be checked out (a star fort is where the fortress is built inside a star-shaped moat which surrounds it). Lying on the western side of town (easily signposted with brown signs), it was built in the 14th century to make sure the locals were defended from other tribes in the Finnmark region where Vardø lies and Russia. However, the fortress (and the rest of the country) have not had a war with Russia, the locals in the Finnmark region behaved themselves and no shots have been fired. Even during the crisis of the Second World War when the Nazi Germans came up to this region, they used the fortress as a base (but only one incident of gun fire was reported in the early stages of the war when a German plane dropped a bomb nearby but a Norwegian soldier fired back, that being the one and only incident of gun fire at the fortress since it was built). Walking around the small fortress, it was hard to stand on the surrounding star-shaped walls due to the bitter winds but did see some of the canons which are located here and are still used in ceremony displays. Some of the buildings are closed off to the public but the ones I did see showed us displays on how the fortress was used over the years.

Steilneset Memorial - Right next to the fortress is this amazing memorial dedicated to those who were burned at the stake accursed for doing witchcraft. Seventy-seven women and fourteen men lost their lives between 1662 & 1663 and it took over 348 years for a memorial to be erected. There are actually two parts to this memorial, the main part being a 410ft long wooden structure which is covered with fabric making it look like a long cocoon. Whilst walking inside, I noticed that there were ninety-one randomly placed small windows, each one marking one life lost in the trails. Next to each window is a board with text on it explaining why that person had to be burned at the stake. The second part is a building made from steel and seventeen panes of tinted glass which form the walls of the structure. In the middle is a metal chair with flames coming out of the seat. Above this is seven oval mirrors which form a ring around the fiery seat which the locals say looks like judges circling the condemned.

The end of the E75 - People would think that a start of a major road like this one (again, the longest one in Europe which starts here and goes all the way to Crete, Greece) would have a sign or something, not here, here is my view of the end of the main road.

Globus II Radar - this huge golf ball overlooks the city and is an eyesore in the same ways but because Russian waters (and lands) lie slightly east of here, it is used by NATO to spy on them. That’s my version. The real deal is that it is there to monitor space junk and to spy on planes flying over the Middle East during conflicts.

Shops, Cafes and Gas Stations - there are not many things to do and see in the actual centre itself. I checked out the local supermarket which is also home to the post office and a hardware store. Next to that is a gas station (with the prices more expensive here than the mainland) and sometimes there maybe a couple of restaurants open but only when the tourists come off the Hurtigruten cruise ships which stops off at the main ports along Norway’s coastline (note: It takes six days to get to Bergen from Vardø). Here there is also a souvenir shop for those visitors but I was probably the only one to stop by that day. Next to the tiny harbour there is another cafe which I checked out and got fancy hot chocolate with colourful marshmallows.

I took a drive around the whole city, looking at the colourful buildings but did find a few buildings with street art on them. That’s because ten buildings were painted on by international artists back in 2012 as part of an urban festival. Funky indeed. Before heading back south to a warmer climate, I made sure I had gas in the tank, food and drink in the car and battled through winter wonderland scenes as photos are shown below. This part of Europe was well worth the wait, the drive and the few hours to capture it and get a sense of what it can be like to check out the place during the winter, with the bitter winds and lack of life going on.

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