Arc­tic ex­po­sure for a col­lec­tor of cu­ri­ous places


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­LIAN LEWIS

IT sounded so ex­cit­ing. Narvik in Nor­way’s Nord­land was as far north as you could go on a Eu­rail pass and I was try­ing to do as much of Europe as pos­si­ble on my univer­sity break.

I was de­ter­mined to get there by rail from Stock­holm even though it re­quired a jour­ney of a day and a half in per­ilous mid­win­ter. I even se­ri­ously con­tem­plated, but talked my­self out of, leav­ing the train on the lengthy mid-jour­ney break to trek the few kilo­me­tres across the snow to reach the tempt­ingly close bor­der of Fin­land — just for the sake of adding it to my list of Euro­pean coun­tries vis­ited. But I de­cided that poor boots and a duf­fel coat were not the re­quired at­tire for a cross-coun­try power hike.

The port of Narvik proved strate­gi­cally valu­able in the early years of World War II and be­came a fo­cal point of the Nor­we­gian Cam­paign. The Bri­tish navy ar­rived in 1940, but un­like the Al­lied com­man­der, who chose to wait un­til the snow had melted be­fore at­tempt­ing to take the port, I had no such lux­ury of time.

For this was win­ter, with about three hours of day­light be­tween when the train ar­rived mid-morn­ing and when I needed to be back on board for the re­turn jour­ney — or face find­ing ex­pen­sive ac­com­mo­da­tion for the long arc­tic night in a min­ing town with no ob­vi­ous at­trac­tions ex­cept for its lo­ca­tion. I had al­ready pushed my­self to the lim­its of my Eu­rail com­pass, hav­ing gone as far east as Vi­enna and as far south as Brin­disi in Italy, be­fore head­ing west to Spain, whose warm sun and red wine were now a happy but dis­tant me­mory.

Narvik was com­plet­ing my col­lec­tion of des­ti­na­tions, but there was a prob­lem. Apart from post­cards of an ex­tremely dull land­scape, there was noth­ing to doc­u­ment my whistlestop visit to the top of the world.

Fi­nally, with the sun al­ready dis­ap­pear­ing over down­town Narvik, in des­per­a­tion I pre­sented my­self at the Narvik po­lice sta­tion and at­tempted to ex­plain that I was seek­ing any sort of of­fi­cial Narvik stamp in my pass­port.

The of­fi­cers were con­fused, but they were even­tu­ally happy to com­ply with what they thought I wanted. I walked away with proof of my ex­pe­di­tion just in time for the long re­turn jour­ney with ex­pen­sively re­plen­ished sup­plies of bread and cheese.

I was very pleased with my­self, lit­tle know­ing I would there­after en­counter dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions at ev­ery bor­der cross­ing and cus­toms in­spec­tion point. Con­fused of­fi­cials would in­quire why I’d had to report to the Narvik po­lice dur­ing a one-day visit.

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