Arctic exposure for a collector of curious places
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
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.