VFYW Contest: Pining For The Fjords

For contest #245, we venture into the Arctic Circle in late summer.

A reader guesses Italy:

The scene just feels European — Mediterranean but colder. I searched for “red roofs white houses lake mountains” and found a few pictures in and around Lake Garda, Italy, that look like great candidates, especially due to the signature clear skies with wind swept clouds stacked at the horizon. The bare peak flummoxes me, so I’m going to have to call it here.

Another simply guessed: “Cape Town, South Africa.” This reader is on to me:

You thought you’d trick us with the low-res photo, but it was still a relatively easy contest this week. A bit of Google image searching and a bit of satellite view sleuthing, and I found it.

To find the village he found, you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of this post. I replaced the low-res photo with a higher one for today, but most readers did just fine with the low-res one. Many of them were excited for the reprieve: “Finally, an easy VFYW, after three weeks of frustrating enigmas!” Another: “Yay! I found the first couple of window contests a little off-putting, because I’m lazy.” Another: “Wow, I can’t believe … that even I, with a 0-244 record, figured it out.”

The reader who calls himself the “contest Warrior Poet” shows off his lyrical skills:

THANK you, thank you, View, 
You really are too kind,
å kaste til oss triste amatører, [to throw to us sad amateurs]
ett lite velsmakende bein! [a little tasty bone!]

On to the details of the view, a first-time contestant gets us on the right track:

I searched many images of Danish-like fishing towns in Greenland and Baffin Island. None have these distinctive mountains. I also tried Hudson Bay and even Alaska. Finally, I thought why not Scandinavia? A search of fishing villages in Norway immediately brought me to the identical mountains in the Lofoten Islands. The most prominent village there is Hamnoy. I can’t identify that exact vantage point. The window might even be on a boat.

Not a boat, and not Hamnoy, but very close. One reader who guessed the right the village reveals his secret strategy: “I just Googled ‘fishing villages’ and looked at pictures.” Another googled “Mountains that look like teeth Scandinavia.”

This next reader was stymied by the low resolution of the photo:

The combination of glassy waters in a fishing village, set in mountains that drop so dramatically right down to the sea, screams Norway. It also sure does look like the rigging for a couple herring trawlers, although I couldn’t get the resolution out of this picture to confirm it.

It’s definitely Norway. Another reader squints at the center of the photo:

The jagged mountains had me going to Guangxi, Yangshuo in China first, but after a few minutes on Google’s satellite view, I realized those mountains are greener. Then, I saw that through the middle pane of the window, the lettering aren’t Chinese characters, but Latin script. Something about the small port and the style of the housing made me think of Norway, even though I’ve never been there.

Another reader also focuses on the faint blurry letters:

Given that I was chided, gently, for over-analysis on #244 (I’m a retired intel analyst, so I’ll take that as a compliment), I will take a quick guess here: The hazy logo on the building looks like the one for the Norge Coop, and therefore I am going with Norway, and Ålesund, since it sounds like a nice place. Yeah, yeah, the geology is all wrong, and that could be Cyrillic rather than a sans serif typeface, but needs must.

Another reader is able to decipher the lettering and sends a sharper view:

That it was Lofoten, I knew as soon as I saw the photo. As a Finn, the Nordic countries are all slightly familiar; not sure how I seized on Lofoten since I’ve never been there. Took me a little longer to narrow now exactly where, but Google Street View led the way. Beside the mountain, the only unique identifier I could find was the big Coop sign across the water.

Lofoten, by the way, is both a traditional district of Norway and a chain of islands. Another Scandinavian writes in:

This is Lofoten, in either the village of Reine or the village of Svolvær. Since it’s my home country, I am not sure if I am disqualified from participating. However, the clues are: the characteristic mountains, the red and white houses and the window frame. All the best from wonderful Scandinavia!

That reader’s first guess, Reine, is correct, and the fishing village is located on the Lofoten island of Moskenesøya. This next reader has visited Scandinavia, but only virtually:

At first, I thought this was a lake in the Alps. So I went touring about Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, before coming back to the photo and thinking “Where else are there classic European-looking houses, temperate, with looming mountains.” And then it hit me: fjords*.

I have never been to Norway. However, I am a big fan of the Slow TV: Train Ride Bergen to Oslo, a seven-hour train ride that you experience in full, via a camera mounted to the front of the train:

It’s absolutely delightful. You can hear every chug, and at every tunnel you can hear a chime ring and an announcement of the name and length of the tunnel. This happens often, as the train cuts through mountains and goes around fjords. Some of the tunnels are five minutes long and the screen goes to full darkness and you’re left only with the noise of the train.

I’ve introduced the video to numerous friends, and we’ve even taken to putting it on as background during parties and get togethers. So these repeated watchings — some of which were done half consciously or under the influence — came to mind when I saw this week’s contest. I began searching for towns on fjords with mountains, eventually stumbling upon Reine.

*Turns out that Reine isn’t actually on a fjord.

There was some confusion among readers as to whether we’re looking at fjords or not. One reader points to the nearby Reinefjord, but I can’t tell if that fjord is in the frame of our window. A fjord is technically “a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, as in Norway and Iceland, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley.” This reader doesn’t need a dictionary:

When I saw this week’s view, I immediately thought “Arendelle!” But then I realised that this was probably a sign of having watched Frozen a few too many times with my daughters. Fortunately, the fictional land in Frozen is based on the geography of the fjords in Norway, which meant that it didn’t take too long to track down this week’s view.

Fjords or no fjords, another reader found a stunning view of the surrounding area:

In the middle of a long methodical entry, a reader passes along a link that would surprise few people:

  1. Not long after realizing that Norway looks a lot different in summer than winter, I googled upon The 10 Most Beautiful Towns in Norway. Lo and behold, the photo under Reine features a cliff very similar looking to the one in the window view. I still wasn’t convinced; the (obviously intentionally) low-res contest photo had me thinking the cliff was more barren than it actually was.

Another reader gets the right building in Reine:

This is my first time finding the location in the VFYW contest, so I suspect you’re going to receive a lot of correct entries. I don’t have the technical savvy to locate the exact window from which the photo was taken, but it was taken from the Reine Rorbuer Hotel.

Another zooms into the hotel:

Another reader goes for the right part of the hotel:

After spending about 12 hours squinting at satellite maps of Southeast Asia last week (including Vientiane, even though I didn’t identify it correctly!), it was kind of surreal to find the Reine Rorbuer hotel in about 30 seconds. Whiplash! The hotel has 39 cabins, and based on the diagram on their web page, I think we’re looking at cabin 16.

Oh so close. Another reader finds a helpful map of the hotel complex:

Another reader makes a stab at the right window: “The rustic look of the Reine Rorbuer hotel made me hopeful and I quickly spotted a clue: one of the first photos on Google showed the little blue votive lights”:

But that reader was upstaged by another one who found the right tablecloth — and the right window:

This next reader lines up all the right details:

The photo is taken from “Niels” Nr. 15, a cabin among the Reine Rorbuer, which is located in Reine, Norway, among the Lofoten Islands. The view is looking north northwest. It was taken in the summer, and since the location is north of the Arctic Circle, the sun is shining from the northwest.

About two dozen readers correctly guessed the cabin named “Niels.” One points to it:

Because so many readers got the correct cabin, it was difficult to determine the official winner this week. This reader was a close call: “Following a VFYW failure streak dating back to early 2015, the past two weeks have brought back the joy of actually solving one of these things.” But the correct guesser with the longest streak, dating back to 2012, ended his entry with, “So am I close? Either way, it was fun — as always!”

The reader who emailed the photo for this week’s contest follows up:

That photo I submitted in 2014 was actually taken by my son. In August of that year, right after he finished high school in New Jersey, he set out on a three-and-a-half-month solo journey through Europe. Twenty-two countries encompassing all but Slovakia, Poland and Sweden. He hit the Balkans and even got to Istanbul. He visited Reine in mid-October and the photo was taken from the cabin where he stayed. 

I asked him yesterday, “Why Reine?” He replied: “It looked pretty and was in the Arctic, which I knew I’d be able to brag about having spent time in. I probably googled some touristy areas up north and Reine came up.”

A few more tourist moments from the Niels cabin are relayed by this reader:

The Finnish blogger who took the image out the window described one night in Niels (translated by Google from Finnish): “The night at the cottage may not have been the most enjoyable due to the terrible wind but I was really happy with the cottage itself. The children were afraid of the sound of the strong wind of the early night and did not want to fall asleep in their own beds. A gusty wind came from the cove of the bay towards the cottage, sounding like a train collided with a cottage after which the whole cottage felt and waved. I think it was scary for the kids because I was wondering if the cottage would stay upright.”

In contrast, these Thai girls figured out how to make the best of their evening in Niels.

Another reader points to a spectacular view of the tourist hotspot: “What really helped finding Reine was this drone image on Google Maps. Check it out — it’s absolutely beautiful.” Many more breathtaking images of Reine are here, including one of the northern lights. Here’s one more view from a reader before we sign off:

This reader is pining:

Now I really really want to visit that place, because it’d be my ideal kind of holiday destination, with water and mountains, and grass on some of the house roofs. As I live in New Zealand, this seems like something I will only be able to dream of for several years hence. Thanks for reminding me that there’s a big, beautiful world out there, even if I can’t get to it right now.

That reader adds, “Uwe Rosenberg made a boardgame set in Nusfjord, a fishing village just slightly north of Reine” — so you too can have a small slice of Scandinavia in the comfort of your home:

Buy it here — or, if you’re the winner of this week’s contest and prefer a boardgame as your prize, we’ll send you a box of Nusfjord. This reader could use one:

The pandemic ruined our Norway Summer 2020 travel plans, but this quick trip from my laptop was almost as good. Reine appears on many lists of the “most beautiful towns in Norway,” but it seems like almost anywhere in that country would qualify as one of the most beautiful places in my current home state of NJ. Perhaps they’ll send us a small mountain range in exchange for some fresh mutz and some thinly sliced gabagool ... I imagine that would kick the crap out of Rakfisk.


This week: Reine, Norway. Next week:

So, where do you think it’s located? (Here’s a clue for those of you who have been following the contest since July: It’s the current view from my Airstream, specifically the bathroom window.) Email your entry to contest@andrewsullivan.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject heading, along with any details about the location within the body of the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Winner gets a window view book or two gift subscriptions. Happy sleuthing!