Let’s start with the translation of the Norwegian birthday card Magellan got me:
The day’s first image: a full moon glowing through the A-framed window at the head of our bed in the Aurora Suite, an upstairs apartment in a former fishing shed on its own wee island, now the home of Monia and her family. In Nyksund, an abandoned fishing village reborn. Edging the wild Norwegian Sea on the far north of the Vesterålen Islands. My watch had broken the day before so I didn’t know what time it was. I tried to capture the moment with my camera but was too sleepy to get it right.
Magellan and I had come to hike the Dronningruta, a trail from Nyksund over the mountains to Stø, a route named for Norway’s beloved Queen Sonja who walked it in 1994.
Situated on two islands near some of the country’s best fishing grounds, Nyksund, at the beginning of the last century, was a thriving little community. In high season as many as 750 boats tucked into its narrow harbour. But with the advent of larger vessels, Nyksund declined. The last residents cashed their resettlement grants about the time the Beatles emerged and by 1972, Nyksund was a ghost town.
Revival started in the 80s when Karl Heinz Nickel, in collaboration with Berlin University, launched an art project for disadvantaged youth to come and restore the derelict buildings. Tourism, such as it is, began in the 90s, maybe after Queen Sonja’s visit? Our host, Monia, arrived in 2003.
Year-round residents only recently reached double figures and even in the summer, Nyksunders number only 30-40.
At Ekspedisjonen, where we had a superb dinner the night before. As the only guests we had the lone waiter to ourselves. After asking him about Nyksund winters, I wanted to return for specialties like “ptarmigan with rich sauces” that they serve to head-office people from Sortland who come for group dinners and Christmas parties. He told us the famous Norwegian architectural firm, Jensen & Skodvin who designed The Juvet Landscape Hotel, was looking at building five units with a restaurant in Nyksund. “No Norwegian will pay 5,000 krone a night,” he said. “It will be all New Yorkers and the Japanese.” Superb coffee, bread warm from the oven, local jams from wild fruits, salami and cheese…
For more than an hour we explored this unique village.
To Lofoten, an archipelago of six main islands and countless smaller ones—the area I’d most looked forward to seeing in Norway—a three-hour drive. Longer for us as we stopped for photographs and a birthday picnic at a scenic spot, Arnfinnvika.
“The Venice of Lofoten” on a group of tiny islands at the foot of Vågakallen Mountain, Henningsvær is one of Loftoen’s most beautiful fishing villages (we went three times). “We have time for a side-trip,” Magellan said. Following a narrow waterside road and crossing one-way bridges linking small islands, we got lucky: the Lofoten’s Galleri Lofotens Hus, a two-storey museum/gallery where you can see/purchase Queen Sonja’s art, was still open.
The minute I saw Lofoten Luxury Tents online (they’ve wisely renamed it FLO Lofoten ECO Escape) I wanted to be there on my birthday. The Sami-style tent we slept in, a lavvu, is on the sea on the south side of the island of Vestvågøy near the town of Valberg. Cozy, with a wood-fired stove and sheepskin throws, apparently it’s very popular in winter for aurora viewing. Not exactly luxury, it’s a lavvu with no lavo—we had to walk up the hill to an eco-outhouse.
The owners are Erik, a mechanical engineer from Sweden, and his wife Runa, a local artist whose parents previously owned the property and now live across the bay, and their two children. In addition to the lavvu and their own home, there’s a more traditional rental home, a chicken coop and large garden.
I’d made arrangements for Runa to cook us dinner and given her carte blanche with the menu. To our tent she delivered klippfisk wraps, bacalao—a salt cod dish she makes with tomatoes, olives and potatoes lavished with sour cream—and wild blueberry crumble with a bottle of vanilla crème anglaise.
I was reminded of a quote (where I found it I don’t know) about food in Norway: “For the curious and the adventurous this is not the country of silver service squared upon white tablecloths delivered by a bevy of gloved waiters who in perfect synchrony remove the silver lid from each plate at the table. Who wants that anyway?”
There were none that day save the day itself, an accrued appreciation of the ones that came before and the expectation of a new season. Yes, new season, not new year.
For many years, I’ve measured my life as a procession of the years I expect to live divided into the four seasons. Life began in spring in Saskatchewan on a farm, in between the one-room North Invergordon School and the hamlet of Crystal Springs. Summer began in my 20s in Calgary. During the autumn of my life, we lived in Vancouver. A Scottish poet lauds my favourite season. “Autumn is the mind’s true Spring; what is there we have, “quidquid promiserat annus” and it is more than we expected.” Now winter has made her light arrival. And I’m good with that. What more could anyone want?
To see more about the town of Nyksund, here’s the best source I found, and to see Monia’s website and more of the Aurora Suite go here nd for more about the town of Nyksund, here’s the best source I found.
The quote is from Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1944, written under the pseudonym Palinurus, a journal, a collection of aphorisms, epigrams nostalgic musings, mental explorations and literary quotations from the likes of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Goethe.