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Destination: (by the mercy of) god and king; the most special destination in Finnmark

Allow me to begin forthwith by addressing a potent cocktail of circumstances that proved to be a fertile ground for adversity and disgusting atrocities: the nexus of greedy monarchs, the Church as an institution of power, and an ample dose of superstition and paranoia. Precisely this constellation unfurled its tumultuous consequences throughout the medieval era across the entire expanse of Europe. Witch hunts and persecutions became a grim fixture in the daily tapestry, Norway being no exception. Alas, it was women and marginalized groups, such as the Sami people, who bore the brunt of this sinister epoch.

The allegations and prosecutions of witchcraft during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are remarkably well-documented by local courts, offering a disconcerting insight into the sheer absurdity and cruelty that underpinned this phenomenon.

A coastal town in Finnmark, Norway

In the town of Vardø, a poignant monument stands as a tribute to all those ensnared by the shackles of witchcraft accusations. The design hails from the esteemed Swiss studio of Peter Zumthor, renowned the world over. I found myself there on a mist-laden day in the heart of July.

At first glance, the monument's structure evokes thoughts of the fish-drying racks that dot the northern reaches of Norway. A lengthy gangway leads you to the entrance of this architectural testament. What lies within left an indelible impression on me. However, I refrain from delving into detail, for I believe such an encounter ought to be experienced firsthand.

As you emerge from the exit, a construction to the left caught my eye—an installation that, to my perception, conjured an image of a pyre, surrounded by onlookers. The grand mirrors poetically mirror the grim reality that the pyre loomed for the many back then. With society's hardening and the displacement of countless refugees, an unsettling parallel to our present comes into view all too clearly. The accusation and marginalization of vulnerable minorities stubarnly persist in our contemporary landscape.

Another facet of this monument's beauty lies in its proximity to a tiny white church, seemingly positioned as an indictment against the pivotal role the church played in perpetuating the witch hunts. It made me to reflect upon many layers of history and meaning.

Indeed, this monument alone serves as an incentive for a drive to Vardø. The town itself exudes a somewhat dilapidated charm, which, in a peculiar manner, harmonizes with the sense of an outpost at the edge of the world. Life has always been rather harsh here, dictated by the climate, limited economic activity, and the stark reality of Vardø's utter destruction during the ravages of the Second World War—scorched earth, as the harrowing term denotes, a lamentable all-time-low of modern civilization.

Nevertheless, a voice in my head whispers that Vardø is undergoing a renaissance of some sort. One discerns it in the murals adorning the walls with the Codfather by Norwegian artist Pøbel as a highlight, in the surge of bird and fish enthusiasts, and in the presence of a superbly hospitable and charming hotel. Vardø, in an enigmatic fashion, endeared itself to me. Not every garden bed is groomed, and vintage Volvos from the 1980s languish in sporadic disuse rusting away the days. Yet, peer beyond the surface, chat with a passerby, and embrace the unhurried rhythm of this place. And be aware that the weight of history lies just beneath the veneer. Moreover, Vardø occupies a pivotal point on the Varanger national tourist route, extending its passage all the way to Hamningsberg.

I deeply hope you consider my plea to pay Vardø a visit as in my opinion this is the most special destination in Finnmark. Should you find yourself swayed, I recommend securing a stay at the Vardø Hotel. Here, the art of hospitality is practiced with a pragmatic finesse, and a very skilled chef made landfall here too.

Might one want to contemplate in a slightly more private and jaw-dropping setting, consider booking lodging right here. It's called 'Varanger View' for obvious reasons. From the window you will likely witness reindeer passing by...or catch a glimpse of the northern lights!

**Getting there: it is most likely you'll arrive at Kirkenes Airport (KKN) since there's direct flights from Oslo. From there it is most wise to reserve a rental car (long) in advance. Charging stations are rather scarce in this outpost of the world, so in this case rather rent a petrol car. Check here for availability.


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