Norway's treasured fiords provided a place for contemplation.
Two trains and 600 miles north of Oslo, at a latitude higher than Iceland, Hudson Bay, and Anchorage, Alaska, lies the municipality of Leirfjord, an expanse of natural delight along Norway's Helgeland coast with a population density of 11 per square mile.
Leaving from Berlin, it was the longest I'd ever traveled to get somewhere. It was also the farthest north I'd ever been, and still there was as much lanky landmass ahead of us as there was behind.
We were north enough, however. Midnight sun was over, but even in summer's waning days a murky blue reigned over the big sky till morning. The lingering twilight allowed plenty of time to explore the dramatic landscape, exaggerated by the warm hues and long shadows. Norway's treasures – the fiords, descendants of millions of years and more than a few ice ages – filled every view.
I didn't know much about fiords, thinking mostly of Douglas Adams's reference to them in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" whenever I heard the word. What I've learned since is how deceptive they can be. Leirfjord (it's in the name, and rightly so) is on the coast of the Norwegian Sea, an extension of the north Atlantic, but being there you wouldn't know it. There is no coastline, but rather a rough space between land and water slashed by dozens of islands, mountain ranges, and cliff faces, within which the open ocean has laid claim. You are reminded of landlocked lakes of Italy and Switzerland, but this is an illusion. You aren't landlocked at all.