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.
I know this will make no sense, but I have to let it out! I don’t know what’s happened to me, but… I can’t take it anymore! I can’t resist anymore! I can’t hold it anymore! I feel that I want to take my hair out of my head!…
Vadsø is so amazing, extraordinary, superb, magnificent, fantastic, fascinating, marvellous, incredible, magical, excellent! The Arctic! It’s huge, calm, beautiful… the Polar Night is so… totally out of this world! The people living under the Northern Lights are so amazing! The Northern Lights… I don’t even know where to start! They’re in the sky when you are outside, when you come out of the shop, when you drive along the infinite roads in the dark, when you go to work or come back home from singing alone at the shore of the Arctic Sea!
While you listen to the sounds of the Universe, you are accompanied only by the birds, by the great winds, and rarely by the Widerøe small planes which appear from over the mountain on the other side of the fjord, like a strange – yet completely normal – extra-terrestrial light-ball!
You can be free in the vast tundra! You can lie in the snow next to the frozen river and look up at the starry Arctic Sky and just let time pass by! And the winter frost along with the sound of frozen rivers, make you feel like living in another world!…
Evenings in Vadsø, whether you’re home, or at a friend talking or eating dinner together, or just walk behind the house, in the dark night at 2 o’clock in the afternoon… Yes, this phrase actually makes sense here! …so, evenings in Vadsø are so soothing, cosy, something that I will keep in my memory forever! Here I can hear the Arctic winds coming from all 4 directions! I can drink Christmas juice while looking at a herd of reindeer roaming free just besides me!
The sky has these strange colours – white, pitch black, green, yellow, blue, pink or orange… You can see the Milky Way perfectly from here! You can eat fish cooked in sodium hydroxide! You can take a walk to the Arctic Sea and see whales in it! Summers are pink and you can then drive to the end of the World!
Sometimes you need to stop driving, because reindeer decided to just come out and play in the middle of the road! Or it snows so heavily, that you have… eh… black-out… no… white-out moments, because of the extremely dense snowflakes!
During the Arctic winters, evenings are so blue that your mobile phone camera, if set on AUTO, doesn’t actually know what colour it needs to take into account to calculate the right focus or white balance, so you see all these strange colours on the preview screen: blue, violet, grey, white…
Here you’re perpendicular to the rest of the world!
When your mom calls you at noon and asks you about the weather, you tell her that it’s nice weather, because you see the Moon shining right above the kitchen window! Here, you can go to the supermarket with the sledge! …And there are so many berries!
The Sun does not rise for about 2 months! The Sun does not set for about 2 months! The Aurora is out almost every night! …Even in summer! A plane ride between 2 airports here lasts only 9 minutes! The Aurora is singing and the sky is shining at night!
Tundra, vastness, satellites, happiness, immensity, cold, warmth, winds, lights in the sky, reindeer, snow, the sea, the Milky Way, birds, planets, the fjord, the boreal forest, silence, greatness, the Sun, stars, dreams, comets, electric signals, infinity, old postal cairns, calmness, Stone Age remains, … AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
I’m actually screaming! Am I losing my mind?
What is this place? This magical place that I never wish to leave again! Here I’m actually living my childhood Christmas stories! And my heart is pounding at every sight because of the powerful emotions I feel all the time! The closeness to the frontier between the Polar and Ferrel weather cells makes me… No! No! I have to stop! I can go on like this forever!
I hear the Aurora in my dreams! I want to be under the Northern Lights! And be surrounded by the people living under the Northern Lights! I want to be perpendicular to the rest of the World for what’s left of my life… and to forever be guided by the beautiful Aurora, singing just above me!
Do you think that visiting me here in Vadsø is complicated? I know that people might believe that a trip to the Arctic can prove difficult – and I say this because I, personally, believed that. But, compared to other Arctic destinations, Vadsø and the whole of Varanger are different: they are remote, yet accessible, and this in all seasons. Being the CEO of Aurora Labs here in Vadsø, I now travel here rather often, from France or from other touristic and accessible South-European countries. And with this story, I would like to show you just how easy it is to get here!
Are you dreaming of a place, where the sounds that you hear are just the Northern winds and the joyful chirping of birds? A place where life goes on in a calm rhythm, in the middle of a breathtaking landscape? And where the night sky has magical colors – green in winter and golden in summer? Then stop dreaming! This place actually exists and it’s more accessible than you would think!
As I have already detailed how to arrive to Vadsø and Varanger on the Aurora Labs website, now it’s time to test this myself! So join me on my trip to Vadsø by plane, by bus and by ferry!
1 night in Oslo …or not
Note that my own outbound itinerary included one overnight stay in Oslo. I personally find that you feel a lot less tired if you choose to take a 1 night break in Oslo.
But you do have the option to arrive to Vadsø during only one day, without spending 1 night in Oslo, so book whatever itinerary makes you comfortable.
take a plane that lands directly at Vadsø Airport (and then take a taxi to reach any address in Vadsø easily, or rent a car and pick it up at the Vadsø Airport)
take a plane that lands in Kirkenes, and from there either rent a car, take a regional plane, or take the bus to get to Vadsø. For this particular trip, I chose this last option, to make the trip more fun!
Day 1: Landing in Oslo
I landed at the Oslo Gardermoen Airport, on a Sunday, towards 17:00. My bagage was delayed however: I only had my backpack with me, with my computer, my phone charger, my documents. The weather forecast announced that in Oslo would be around 26°C that day, so I was only wearing my shorts and a T-shirt, which seemed fine for Oslo. But the next day I would be travelling to the Arctic – so shorts and T-shirt is NOT the way to go, not even in summer! It even contradicts what I have written myself, on my own website, concerning safety in Vadsø and Varanger!
So, do as I say (…and not as I do!) and make sure that you put in your hand luggage/backpack at least a pair of underwear, a long sleeve top or jacket and long pants, and this especially if you’re travelling to the Arctic the following day!
The luggage was to be handed to me during the following days, so, at the lost baggage counter, I needed to leave the address of where I would be staying in Vadsø. It was already passed 18:00 on a Sunday, so all shops were closed and there was nowhere I could go to do some Arctic clothes-shopping!
Day 2 – Segment 1: Oslo-Kirkenes
Luckily, early in the morning, before my flight to Kirkenes, there was a single clothes shop open in the whole of the Oslo Gardermoen Airport, where I could buy myself some suitable clothes and underwear! So i could leave to the Arctic peacefully!
The plane departed Oslo and arrived in Kirkenes on time. The airport in Kirkenes is very small, so there will be no trouble with waiting for the baggage to arrive on the belt, or with other formalities.
Once here, you will find yourself in the baggage reclaim room and you have three possibilities to go further to Vadsø:
by renting a car, either in advance, or directly at the counters in the airport
take the Snelandia bus (there are several throughout the day, so check the timetables to see if you have a bus after your own plane lands).
Day 2, Segment 2: Kirkenes-Vadsø
To make the trip more fun, I decided to take the bus. The timetable matched perfectly: the next bus was scheduled less than 1 hour after the plane landed. The bus station is just in front of the “Arrivals” gate at the Kirkenes Airport. I bought the ticket directly on their app (Snelandia Mobillett). All went smoothly, the Nr. 64 bus arrived and departed on time.
On the bus, the seats were very comfortable, there was even a plug for charging my phone. So I just relaxed and looked out the window: the boreal forest landscapes were amazingly beautiful. Now and then there were views over the Varanger Fjord, which were breathtaking! There were even reindeer on the road here and there!
The bus got to Vadsø on time. Make sure you get off at the “Vadsø Bussterminal” station, because taxis are just round the corner (around the Trivselslaben/Gründertorget building). And from there, you can get to any address or hotel in Vadsø easily.
Inbound Journey – Going Home from Vadsø
For going back home, you have the same possibility to book a 1-day or 2-days itinerary. There are planes departing Vadsø and/or Kirkenes throughout the day, so you can reach Oslo any moment of the day. Meaning that you can have, again, the option to spend 1 night in Oslo – or not.
For this trip, I chose to go directly home, without spending 1 night in Oslo.
To leave Vadsø – there are multiple possibilities:
you take the plane at the Vadsø Airport (there are planes leaving Vadsø throughout the day)
you drive your rented car to Kirkenes, to return it and you take the plane back, from there
take the Hurtigruten ferry to get to Kirkenes Seaport and from there, a short bus ride to get to Kirkenes Airport.
To keep the fun spirit of the trip – I chose the last option: by the Hurtigruten ferry!
So, early in the morning I ordered a taxi on the Vadsø taxi website. The taxi came on time and we reached the Vadsø Seaport about 30 minutes before the Hurtigruten ferry was planned to leave to Kirkenes.
How happy I was that I chose to go to Kirkenes by ferry! I was able to live a unique experience aboard the MS Nordkapp, an experience I would have never imagined. Even though the trip took two hours to complete, the comfort of the seats/armchairs/sofas (you make your pick!), made these two hours pass like 20 minutes. Extreme comfort on a cruise across the Barents Sea!
The ship called at Kirkenes on time and the Snelandia bus to take me to the airport was already waiting in the bus station (called “Kirkenes kai”), which is right outside the seaport’s yard. Buying the ticket on the same app (Snelandia Mobillett) was hassle-free, and I got to the Kirkenes Airport with absolutely no problem! And, from there, the rest of the journey was a “normal” plane ride.
To make the trip equally fun, you can also choose to include in your journey at least one ride on the regional Widerøe airline from Kirkenes to Vadsø (or the other way around).
If you do choose this, you’re in for a typical regional experience: you will find yourself on a small plane, which, in function of the itinerary, will make several stops before you will land in Vadsø! Meaning that it acts like a “bus” – you will have stops, but you will not need to get off the plane until you reach your final destination – just like on a bus! The flight time between each stop is around 10-20 minutes, so the plane doesn’t have time to reach great altitudes, which means that you will probably be flying over the Varangerhalvøya National Park and have some magnificent views!
Last time I did this it was in winter, and I had a 3 stop journey, to get to Vadsø from Kirkenes: the plane stopped in Vardø, then at Båtsfjord and finally at Vadsø. Just take a look at the beautiful views you have from the plane window!
For me personally, coming to Vadsø and exploring the wonderful and contrasting landscapes of Varanger, means a dose of extreme calmness. It makes me happy. It turns my life around – in a good way, of course! – and it fills me with energy and good vibes. Call it magical, enchanted, or whatever you wish – this place exists and it does all of this to me! And I know that I am not alone to feel this, I have personally witnessed other people who told me the same thing!
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!