birds and end of Europe

Unusually enjoyable is to sleep in a bed. When I wake up in the morning, the room is filled with various camping items that are strewn all over the place.
At loss, I toddle in the midst of it for a while and then go off for breakfast. Breakfast is unexpectedly rich for a hotel. Especially lovely is the possibility to fry one's own pancakes. From the window I see the tourist information booth. If I'd known it's there then I would of had a look in the evening to check boat times. People start to gather there. That probably means a boat will be going soon. It's 8:41, so it must be leaving at 9. In seven minutes I've brushed my teeth and packed, thrown the key at the reception and rushed to the waiting crowd. Tickets are sold in the booth and boat man wants to know what time will I be coming back. Boat goes to Hornøya island four times a day - 9:00, 10:30, 11:30 and 13:30. With one of these you can then also get back to Vardø.
Why to the island? It's a nesting place for 150 000 sea birds, puffin included. This is a weird northern parrot with red beak. I want to see it. Information brochure talks of 40-50 000 pairs of gulls, 5-10 000 pairs of puffins and a lesser amount of guillemots, razorbills, shags and others. Besides, Hornøya island is the easternmost point of Norway, it's located east of St Petersburg and Istanbul.
Boat accommodates in it's little booth half a classfull of schoolchildren from Vardø who dash about and chirp like sparrows. There are also a few local tourists with long lenses and fancy binoculars. I only have a 1,5x adapter and small binocular, a gift from my mother. So I look like the amateur I am in bird watching. Ticket control does not notice me.
Pouncing over waves takes about 10 minutes and already before we get to the island razorbills escape from our way, running on the water. The island literally swarms with birds. Shrieking, chirping, somebody makes an odd murmuring sound. Strong smell of bird dung. Air is thick with flying birds. I've never seen so many birds in one place.
Walking is allowed only on a marked path. Right opposite boat landing are two cliffs, covered with gulls' nests. Gulls sit on nests like on a shelf. The sight makes me move slowly in order to annoy the birds less, although they are probably used to visitors. And I have to take pictures or watch through binoculars most of the time, so I move about one meter in a minute. Puffins are there. Many of them. Some birds are right next to the path and it's amazing how close especially young birds let a human come.
Sea is partly covered in birds catching fish, either diving or running on the water following a catch. The ones coming back to the island fly past me by a few meters, spreading their legs and aiming a suitable landing spot. Gulls glide in the wind and make an effortless impression compared with puffins for example who look more like flying penguins with their non-aerodynamic bodies, lashing rapidly with wings.
Waves foam. For a moment there's even a flash of sun on the sea. According to weather forecast it was supposed to rain the whole day but it's only cloudy and windy.
The trail goes to a light house. It's possible to book a room there. It creates an idea for a future trip...
I've said I'll go back with the 11:30 boat. Heading for the boat landing I stay to watch a bird together with a fat boy with glasses. The boy takes a box with sliced water melon out of his back bag and offers me some. Sweet.
Back in Vardø, I take a walk to the church. It has a long narrow triangle-shaped tower. Then towards Hamningberg which was the whole point of renting a car. Hamningberg is a village in the tip of Varanger peninsula where some 19th century architecture is left because retreating Germans didn't find the village in 1944 and so didn't have a chance to burn it down. In other villages and towns they used the scorched-earth tactics. In Hamningberg should also be a café called 'End of Europe'.
Road gets narrower to have only enough space for one car, it zigzags up and down, right and left. Next to the road are sharp rocks, real moonscape. Between rocks foams sea. Just when I think that it can not go any weirder nature thinks out something unexpected. We make photo stops in turn with a blue car. When one of us stops, the other passes and then the other way around. I also get it why the place looks so strange - there are no trees or bushes.
Colorful houses of Hamningberg are visible from far away. These are new ones, summer-houses for people who have re-discovered the place. The village was deserted in the 1960s, after the locals loosed an argument with the government about building a big harbor there. A few houses have grass-roofs. It's even possible to take pictures like the whole village was like this. The café is closed, although a sign advertises coffee and waffles. I could use coffee and waffles. Windy and foggy village looks deserted, except for a couple of puzzled tourists, hidden in jackets up to their noses. There are also two sheep and a bunch of reindeer.
I start heading back with a thought of making a lot of photo-stops and just sitting there and watching the sea. Watching remains short because it starts to rain. Cloud is lying on earth. It is exactly how it should be because in the north earth and sky supposedly meet. Visibility is a couple of dozen meters then the road disappears into white cotton. Approaching Vardø the cloud moves upward.
I park in front of a restaurant. The sign says they end serving dinner in half an hour. Everything ends early here. I get a fish and the restaurant owner as company. People with whom he was talking before left. The man has lived in US for 25 years but he was born in Vardø. He says he regrets coming back because market economy is not working in Norway. Grants and support money are given for everything and this spoils competition. If he works hard and struggles for his investments then a competitor just opens his shop for grant money. The only condition is to stay in business for three years. Also there are a lot of communists in Norway. He defines communist to be someone who does not stand other people's success because he himself is not successful so he thinks that others who are doing well have stolen, got it for free or something. Anyway, everything has to be divided. Familiar. We have those too.
The problem with a wealthy country is that there is too much money and it seems to belong to nobody. Recently the municipal government wanted to build a swimming hall costing millions in Vardø. The town has 2000 inhabitants. New mayor postponed the project. It is very easy to get money for something like this.
Vardø is located on an island and this makes it the only town in Norway with a truly arctic climate. In summer the temperature rises up to max 10-12 degrees, in winter it's usually minus 5 and there may be a few days with minus 20. Already in Vadsø there's up to 15 degrees in summer and in Varangerbotn +20. Other towns, advertising themselves as arctic, like Trømso, are not arctic, he says. Vardøan pride :) Two and half months it is dark and the same amount of time light in summer. Only good thing he manages to find about living there is that there are no mosquitoes. I wonder why people come there in the first place. The reason is money. Earlier fishing, now there are plans to start drilling oil nearby. Only "special" people come to Vardø on their own free will and he calls them idiots of the village.
He asks me if I have seen the witches' monument. I've heard of it but don't know where it is. In 17th century officials were especially eager to burn witches here, mostly it was directed against Sami people. The restaurant owner says that victims were also women who were smarter than their husbands. He writes something behind the counter for a long time and then comes back proudly with a paper with driving directions written down for me in English. Wow.
The monument consists of two parts. A long tunnel built on stilts, inside in the dark lone electric bulbs and a sheet for every person describing social status, wrongdoings and date of burning. Most of them were burned in 1662 and 1663 and there were also some men along the accused. Wind and waves make odd hollow thundering sound and the tunnel sways a little. All of it creates a weird overall effect. On the other side of the tunnel is a glass cubicle where a chair burns inside.

I head for Vadsø. Kilometers of foamy waves that roll on the shore. Color play in sky and on water, all kinds of shades of blue and gray.
I don't see any cafés or other open places in Vadsø. I circle some time in town, fill the tank of the car and park in front of the car shop. Computer battery has only half an hour left (it has served well - from the train) so I read a book. Suddenly a young man comes from the closed shop and asks me if he can help. He directs me to a café that should be open. It is, opposite to a lamp store. It serves pizza and coffee but stays open only until 11 PM. I like a country where the first choice of payment is with card. I noticed it already in Vardø (oh, you want to pay in cash?).
Back by the car shop, I drowse in car until 1 AM. That means I wake up half an hour before I had planned to start walking towards Statoil gas station but I still go. Almost no wind and almost warm, no rain. When I get to the gas station it starts to rain in bursts, so that was why I needed to be here earlier. To escape getting wet. Here Statoil is not 'always open' like in Estonia but only 7-22. Good that there's a roof over petrol pumps.
Bus arrives, thermometer shows 7 degrees for outside temperature. Sun shines through clouds and last picture before falling asleep is of shining raindrops on bus window.
back in civilization
full circle

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