Today, Vadsø is a calm town on the seashore of the Varanger fjord in Northern Norway. In summertime, it is bathed by the warm Midnight Sun, and in winter, the magical Northern Lights illuminate the heavens with their mysterious green glow… Beautiful, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, things have not always been this calm…
Year 1944. The Second World War. The nazis were using the scorched earth tactic in the whole of Finnmark, during the Operation Nordlicht (Northern Lights). A scorched-earth tactic is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything useful to the enemy, including food stocks, water supplies or even people themselves, while advancing through or withdrawing from a location.
During those terrible times, the stories of the people living in Finnmark were many. Everyone was living their own story.
In this article, we’ll read one of these stories, as it was told by Grandpa Eilif Jankila – the grandfather of one of our friends from Varangertunet. He often spoke about his experience of 23 August 1944 – the day when the Great Bombing of Vadsø took place.
Today – 17 May – is a very important day in Norway – it’s Constitution Day and the national day of Norway! In fact, 17 May is so important in Norway that people greet each other in the street with “Happy Birthday” (“Gratulerer med dagen”)!
After centuries of dominations by its Scandinavian neighbours, Norway became an independent nation in 1814 – the constitution was signed at Eidsvoll and came into force on May 17 that year. However, Norway entered in union with Sweden at that time, and the king was reluctant to celebrating this day. A few years later, celebrations were even banned. But, a few more years later, in 1833, poet Henrik Wergeland’s public address in conjunction with Constitution Day, marked the beginning of the traditions and celebrations which occur even nowadays on May 17 each year!
Children across the country are especially happy on this day! They get to walk in parades, which takes them through the communities and, they also get to eat as much ice-cream, sweets and hot dogs as they wish, starting even from breakfast! And speaking about breakfast – on this day the first meal of the day is indeed a special one, served with smoked salmon, eggs and fizzy drinks!
In Oslo, Norway’s capital city, the parades pass by the royal palace, where the royal family greets people from the balcony. The Royal Guard also performs on the main street of Oslo.
The Norwegian flag, showing the “Scandinavian Cross” is waved by all participants to the festivities, and can be seen everywhere in Norway!
Another important 17 May tradition is clothing: Norwegians wear a national outfit called “Bunad”. The Bunad’s different designs indicate where the outfit is from and people traditionally choose to wear a Bunad from where they come from.
Later, people’s parades follow, where sports clubs, and other businesses and organisations display their banners, together with marching bands to keep the celebrations going!
If you do visit Norway on this day, you’re in for a very special day indeed! And literally everywhere you go, every single place in Norway will be celebrating! So get ready and let’s say “Hipp hipp hurra for Syttende Mai!”
Far away from mass tourism and way off the beaten track, Vadsø is a small municipality in the Varanger peninsula, located in the Finnmark county in the Norwegian Lapland, in northern Scandinavia.
The town of Vadsø has lots to offer to people visiting: breathtaking landscapes, small lively neighbourhoods, many cultural monuments or typical arctic phenomena, such as the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun, in a total absence of atmospheric, light and phonic pollution. Here, live life differently while immersing yourself in the true Arctic rhythm. I tried to capture a bit of everything in my newest video, dedicated to this beautiful place! Check it out and discover also why Aurora Labs is located specifically here!
For more information about Vadsø, check this link!
It was the year 1926. The year when, for the first time, the Arctic Ocean was to be crossed by the first transpolar flight! Continue to read our article and discover the fascinating story of the first explorers to have reached the North Pole! And, best of all, see with your own eyes a veritable piece of this adventure if you decide to visit me here in Vadsø!
Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer, well-known at that time for having crossed the Northwest Passage and for having successfully reached the South Pole a few years earlier, still had a dream – to conquer the great North Pole!
He did not want to give up his lifetime dream so, in May 1925, he had a first attempt to reach the pole from Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, by using two seaplanes N-24 and N-25. After a first crash landing, and then due to lack of fuel, Amundsen needed to wait a bit more in order to accomplish his dream.
Without hesitation, he started planning his second attempt for reaching the North Pole. This time he decided to use an airship instead of a plane, the main reason being that if a problem occurred in an engine, a plane needed an emergency landing, while an airship could have its engine repaired while still flying! He telegraphed Umberto Nobile – an Italian aeronautical engineer – in which he requested to meet him in Norway in order to propose an airship trip through the Great Arctic! Nobile’s N-1 semi-rigid airship was thus to be modified for cold conditions. And because the Aero Club of Norway was to be the formal owner of the airship, the N-1 was rebaptized ‘Norge‘ (‘Norge’ means ‘Norway’ in Norwegian).
Concerning the financing of the expedition, Lincoln Ellsworth, an American wealthy adventurer, contributed 100.000 dollars and everything over was to be covered by the Aero Club of Norway. The costs included, among others, the buying of the airship, its modifications and also the erection of mooring masts in strategic places where Norge was to pass from Italy to its final point.
Vadsø was chosen as one of this strategic places, thus our small town played an important role in Amundsen’s Arctic adventure! It was the last mainland port for Norge. The airship mast that was constructed here, still stands even today, and its imposing view can be admired on the Vadsøya island from the mainland or during a pleasant walk through the island’s Culture Park.
Airship NorgeNorge takes off at Ciampino Airport, near Rome in Italy
Image credit: Aeronautica Militare, Norge aeroship, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
March 29, 1926 was the day when Norge‘spolar story began, during a ceremony in Ciampino, Italy, when the dirigeable was handed over to the Aero Club of Norway. Lots of people were present, including Amundsen, Nobile and Ellsworth, other expedition participants and even Benito Mussolini – the Italian prime minister – himself!
The flight towards the Great North was initially scheduled to depart on April 6, but, due to strong winds, was delayed to April 10. At 9:25, the magic started! The airship flew to England, where it made its first landing in the Pulham Airship Station, at 15:20.
Bad weather incurred another delay, and Amundsen needed to wait one more day before departing England. On April 12 at 11:45, Norge began its flight towards Oslo, reaching Norway a few hours later.
On April 15 at 01:00, the airship left Oslo and flew to Leningrad in Russia, during an adventurous 17-hour flight through dense fog. In Russia, the Norge needed some maintenance work done and the addition of safety rubber boats, should an emergency occur. The airship remained thus in the shed for more than a week. This time was extended even more because of the weather and also because the airship mast in Ny-Ålesund had not yet been finished, also due to harsh weather conditions in the Arctic at the time.
After a long wait, on May 5 at 09:40, Norge finally left Russia and was directed towards Vadsø in Northern Norway! Here in Vadsø, the mast that was used almost 100 years ago for Norge, is still standing today as a historical monument, and you can see it during a nice, relaxing walk on the town’s island of Vadsøya!
The airship mast on the Vadsøya island, in 2018. The town of Vadsø is located on the mainland, and is visible in the background of this picture.
If you’d like to see the Norge airship moored to the mast in Vadsø on May 6 1926, you can click here to open the Digitalmuseum.no website.
The expedition continued from Vadsø, crossed the Barents Sea and reached Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard on May 7 at 06:15.
A few days later, on May 11 at 09:55, the airship left Svalbard to finally reach the North Pole on May 12 at 01:25. This moment, the Norwegian, Italian and American flags were dropped from the dirigible onto the ice.
From here, because of the extreme cold, icy formations grew on the airship’s propellers, and even if pieces would break and fly off, Norge did manage to reach Alaska on May 14, on the other side of the Arctic Ocean, where it was landed.
There are a few claims to have arrived at the North Pole in 1908, 1909 and in 1926 (only a few days before the Norge), but all of these claims are disputed for being inaccurate or even fraudulent. The crew of Norge is thus considered to be the first verified explorers team to have reached the North Pole!
And speaking about Norge‘s crew, it included 16 men, among which there was Roald Amundsen as the expedition leader, Umberto Nobile as the airship’s designer and pilot, and Lincoln Ellsworth. Nobile even brought his little dog Titina, as the expedition’s mascot!
Stay tuned on the Aurora Labs blog to discover the story of a second expedition to the North Pole which passed through Vadsø two years later, but which contains an unexpected turnaround…
Have you been dreaming about visiting the Arctic? You know, that location where most – if not all – of your childhood winter fairy tales take place? Right now it is more accessible than ever for you to visit, and you have the chance to create your own stories from this fairyland! But the Arctic is huge – there is a ton of destinations to choose from!
In this article we’re going to talk about a charming, remote Arctic place, well off the beaten track, with a world of attractions just waiting to be discovered! I’m talking about Vadsø – a beautiful Arctic town in the Eastern Finnmark region of Northern Norway – a place where life follows the typical rhythm of the Great North! So why choose Vadsø as your next Arctic destination? Here are the top reasons:
1As already mentioned, it’s a remote place, well off the beaten track, and unless you come here because your family or friends recommended you to do so, you can be pretty sure that nobody among the people you know have previously been here! And despite the remoteness of Vadsø, it is actually pretty easy to arrive here by plane, by boat or even by car (see here how).
And not only that it’s easy to reach us – but no matter what transport means you choose, you’re in for a typical regional experience: the small Widerøe planes work like buses, with stops in-between, where you don’t need to get off the aircraft! Or, coming here by boat, means you will enjoy one of the most sought after Norwegian experiences – the Hurtigruten boat trips! And if you come by car, you will drive along one of Norway’s National Scenic Routes – the National Tourist Route of Varanger! And the cherry on the cake – any transport you choose, it is very probable that you’ll be doing it under the Northern Lights if you visit us in winter!
3Vadsø is located in the beautiful region of Varanger – which is a historically and culturally rich region, as it lies at a Russian, Finnish, Sami and Norwegian crossroads, just like all of Lapland. You can enjoy here stories and visit places dedicated to the Vikings or to the Second World War. You can live the legends of the Sami people, who live close to nature and are actively involved in reindeer herding and who try to protect their fascinating traditions! Or you can hear stories about trolls and witches, as well as see with your own eyes remains as old as the Stone Age! Hint: take a look at Aurora Labs’ road trips!
4The climate in Vadsø is milder, as the European tail of the Gulf Stream protects the town of extreme winters, and you can enjoy Arctic activities in a much more weather-friendly environment! At the same time, don’t worry: the rough Arctic climate with extreme cold, is within just a few minutes of driving from here; so, if you’d like, you *can* get to know what that’s like, during a short road-trip towards the East or West of Vadsø!
A consequence of the warm ocean current that passes through the Varanger Fjord and Barents Sea, makes Vadsø a unique place, where two typical Nordic vegetation types meet: the boreal forest and the Arctic tundra. Again, in a matter of just a few minutes of driving, you can transit from dense birch forests to the vast tundra, where the trees finish (and no, there is no error in this sentence!)
5There are lots of activities to enjoy here, in any season: Northern Lights activities and safaris, snow mobile safaris, dog sledding activities, skiing, fishing, nature walks in all seasons, summer Aurora experiences, scientific activities and workshops, road trips, sightseeing, the Midnight Sun, photography… just to name a few!
Listening to the Northern LightsPolar night in the Varanger fjord in Northern NorwaySnow mobiling in Vadsø
As for the nature lovers, you will be amazed by sights of the Arctic tundra in both summer and winter, or by the vast, contrasting landscapes along the Varanger Fjord! Or, during the cold season, frozen rivers or the Arctic winter’s frost are a must-see! And of course, each season’s natural phenomena are a breathtaking and impressive experience: the Northern Lights or the Light Pillars in winter and the soothing Midnight Sun in summer!
Frozen river near Komagvær
6Vadsø is located on the 70°N parallel; and because of Earth’s tilt with respect to the Sun, this location benefits of a perfect yearly balance between the Polar Night and Polar Day: not too little and not too much at the same time, but enough for you to get to experience what this is like! During the Polar Day period, you can enjoy the beautiful Midnight Sun, which lights up the sky even during the night! As for the Polar Nights, when the Sun never rises for almost 2 months, you can enjoy the magnificent Polar Blue and beautifully coloured skies during the “daytime”, and the chance to maybe even see the rare daytime Aurora!
7Local cuisine! You can have a taste of the delicious king crab, or reindeer meat or fish! And speaking about fish – don’t hesitate to try lutefisk (which is fish with, err… poison!). If you’re here around Christmas, do taste Julebrus (which literally translates to “Christmas soda”). And don’t be afraid of the typical Norwegian brown cheese (“brunost”)! And for desert – eat “lefse” (any kind!) and I promise you’ll be right back at the shop to buy more! See a few examples of dishes (with a bit more details) by clicking here.
8You’ll almost surely encounter reindeer at least once during your stay here! You can spot them on the roads outside Vadsø, or even on the Vadsøya island, roaming free in the wilderness! They’re a beautiful sight anywhere and anytime, and are excellent models for your photos!
In addition, Vadsø, as like the whole region of Varanger is an awesome place for birdwatchers! Not only that it is a place where an astonishingly lot of bird species can be found, but it is one of the most accessible Arctic birdwatching destinations. Even if this region is well above the Arctic Circle, the winters here are milder than in other regions of the Arctic. This is the reason why some bird species, choose to come here from more northern latitudes for overwintering. (More details here, section “Birdwatching”.)
9For those of you who seek also a bit of “urban” experiences, know that we do have a cinema, a few shops, restaurants, bars and cafés, you can find hairdressers and antique stores… we even have a music festival each summer! Our town may be small, but it offers a big range of possibilities for everyone!
And now the bonus reason! Recall everything you read up to this point: from typical transportation to get here, Northern Lights, historically and culturally rich location, weather-friendly climate with two typical Arctic vegetation zones, Arctic activities, Arctic phenomena, Arctic fauna… And now think that you get to enjoy all of this away from mass tourism! With Aurora Labs you will carry out all the activities in private, so that you’ll have a chance to live the typical Arctic life in your own rhythm. Immerse yourself for a few days into the sea of tranquility, silence and calmness that surrounds this beautiful region and live life at the local rhythm!