Friday, June 21, 2013

Viking in Vesterålen

Sortland: The Blue City
The Viking team continued our Nord Norge journey in Vesterålen, an archipelago just to the north of Lofoten. We arrived via Hurtigruten in Sortland, the largest municipality in the region and home of writer Lars Saabye Christensen.

Sortland is known as blåbyen, or the blue city, because of the many shades of blue used on the buildings throughout the town. The city-wide project was the brainchild of local artist Bjørn Elvenes, who as an art student in Poland imagined a colorful facelift for his hometown. Now visitors to Sortland's business district find not only an abundance of blue buildings in many shades, but some lovely poetry gracing building exteriors as well. 

Ekspedisjonen in Nyksund
After exploring the Sortland area, we visited the funky town of Nyksund on Longøya. Once a busy fishing village, Nyksund became a ghost town in the 1970s, in part due to its shallow harbor and the poor road that connects it to the rest of the world. Now the arts and hospitality industry are helping the town make a comeback.

A highlight of our visit to Nyksund was a meal at the cozy Ekspedisjonen restaurant, run by German-natives Ringo and Monika, who combine their international sensibilties with authentic Northern Norwegian cuisine and local ingredients, with stunning results. (The couple runs a second restaurant by the same name in Sortland.) Take my word for it: Nyksund may be off the beaten path, but a meal at Ekspedisjon is worth the journey. 

Andenes whale watching
Our Vesterålen journey continued as we traveled further north to the town of Andenes. The deep waters near Andenes are a mecca for Arctic whale-watchers, and Whalesafari AS did not disappoint! Not only did we see a sperm whale (which the company guarantees), but we encountered a curious gang of pilot whales—a breathtaking site for a couple of prairie-born landlubbers! 

For those who prefer to stay on terra firma, there's still plenty to do in the area. Visit soapmaker Rita King at her workshop, store and cafe, appropriately named Alveland, which means fairyland. You can also pay a visit to fifth-generation farmers and cheese makers Stig and Mai Johannessen at Nordtun Gård. While we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Marena in the heart of Andenes, I wished we had more time to try a meal or an overnight stay at Andøy Friluftssenter. (Instead, delicious waffles and coffee on the patio were all we could manage.) When in Andenes we drove by the area's other claim to fame: the Andøy Rocket Range. Coincidentally, we had just finished a story on it for this month's issue of Viking

From Andenes, we took a quick flight to Tromsø, and then hopped a plane bound for the Svalbard archipelego. Stay tuned for more Arctic adventures!

Amy Boxrud is editor of Viking magazine. She lives with her family in Northfield, Minn., where she’s a member of Nordmarka 1-585.

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