Please don’t ask me how to pronounce the name of this island. I can do it, but I can only remember it for about 10 seconds. Then I have to find another Norwegian to pronounce it for me again.
Anyway, we just spent four heavenly days there, at the childhood home of our friend, Eirik Hanssen. Meløyvær is north of the Arctic Circle at 69°03′, where the Norway coast starts curving to the east, towards Finland and Russia. As Eirik likes to say, there’s nothing between here and the North Pole, a scant 1500 km away.
Meløyvær has been settled for hundreds of years, but never very developed. The population probably peaked just before the Great Depression, when an iron mine provided work for a hundred or so families. Even then, only a fraction of those residents stayed year-round. Currently, there are 30 or 40 houses, with 10 occupied year-round.
If the weather was always as good as what we enjoyed, Meløyvær would be a world-class destination resort, with expensive, high-rise hotels, water skiing, fishing charters, and helicopter sightseeing tours. It is that scenic and idyllic in nice weather. Lucky for us, the weather here is usually terrible. As a result, the island is barely developed and sparsely populated, yet we enjoyed the use of a cozy little house with indoor plumbing and electricity—but no internet—served by an on-demand ferry.
Eirik, his wife Gry, her good friend Gunn, and two dachshunds (Diva and Pablo) were there from Moss, near Oslo, to host us; Eirik’s father, Konrad, was already there, and Konrad’s brother, Ölaf, was just down the road, staying at the cottage that once belonged to their grandparents. Konrad’s house, where we stayed, was built in 1955 and still has all the original furnishings (except the kitchen appliances). It was like walking into a time machine; Karel and I were transported back to early childhood. There was even a working (sort of) portable record player; we were treated to a 45 rpm recording of a 1960s Swedish chart-topper. When the sound cut out (I think the needle needed replacing), Konrad demonstrated his aptitude for mechanical repairs by whacking the speaker, the turntable, and the stylus. So much for the 1960s Scandinavian hit parade.
We took turns preparing meals (including Pollock and halibut fresh-caught by Ölaf and Konrad the day we arrived), went for walks, slept, read books, and watched the midnight sun while jamming on a seaside bluff. Yes, we were far enough north, and close enough to the solstice, to experience a never-setting sun. And we were lucky enough, weather-wise, to see it twice.
Karel has been suffering from Achilles tendonitis, which is aggravated by walking. As we were getting ready to walk to the spot for our midnight sun jam, Gry assured him the distance would be less than 500 meters. As it turned out, the distance was closer to one and a half kilometers. From then on, whenever we asked, “How far?,” her reply was “Oh, between 2 and 2000 meters.”
On our second day there, we got a little sample of typical weather: cool and foggy. We meandered through the “village.” Everyone was outside, working on home-improvement projects or gardening. I spotted an elderly man on his roof, blasting the moss and lichens off the tiles with a power washer. The roof was steep, and he had no safety gear. He was hanging onto a ladder laid on top, and stretching and contorting to reach different spots with the tool. I was snapping a few photos when a woman approached me.
“Are you interested in buying the house?,” she asked.
“No, just taking pictures.”
“I’ve just never seen such a thing.”
She laughed. “That’s a good quote. I’m going to tell him you said that.”
When we got back, someone asked Konrad about the hillside next to the house, which looked a bit scorched. He sheepishly ’fessed up: while burning some debris at the beginning of the season, he had accidentally set the grass on fire. A fireboat was dispatched from Harstad; during the hour-and-a-half wait for its arrival, Konrad had fought the flames with nothing but a bucket. The biggest worry was that it would reach the neighbor’s barn. Fortunately, the firefighters arrived in time – afterwards, they thanked Konrad for the unexpected fire-fighting exercise.
It cleared up again for day three, so we set out for a little hike to the top of the hill on the neighboring island of Krøttøy, which can be reached via bridge. Once again, the distance to destination and strenuousness of the hike were slightly underestimated, so no one thought to bring food or water. We did, however, have a mountain bike for Karel, who, being Dutch, is able to keep a bicycle upright even at a walking pace. When we reached the summit, hungry and thirsty, Gry took the bike and rode all the way back to the house to fetch water, chips and, of course, beer. The mountain was once used as a NATO lookout and communications post, with fine views in every direction.
Over a spaghetti dinner that evening, Ölaf asked me what my impressions were of the Norwegian people. I told him I had known a couple of native Norwegians in America, and they were each a little crazy in their own way. (Maybe more than a little. For those of you who’ve seen the award-winning documentary, Grandpa’s In The Tuff Shed, I knew Trygve. See the whole, fascinating story at Wikipedia, see Denise for other stories about Trygve.) Now that I’d been in Norway a couple of weeks, I had come to the realization that, yes, indeed, Norwegians are a little crazy. As for the Hanssen brothers, their stories and exploits would make a hilarious book.
Day four started out fair, so we made use of this last chance to cross off a very important item on the list of things you must do while on Meløvær: dip our toes in the sea above the Arctic Circle. The beach was a short walk away (really! This time it was a short walk!) The white “sand” was actually comprised of millions of bits of shell. The water was shallow and, as the sea had been calm for several days, the temperature near shore was very moderate. Keep in mind, it was frozen just a few weeks earlier.
As I write, the weather is turning cloudy again. That’s OK: otherwise it might be too hard for us to leave.
This entry was posted in Vacation 2014: Europe