It just fades when the waves breaking at the foot of the snow-capped mountains break a silence that is now rare to hear. I’m in Norway and I’ve never been further north than that, and the cold air burning my lungs reminds me of it as I open the window of my room.
I breathe deeply the smell of the North Sea, and I look at how the landscape is finally letting new colors emerge from that almost perennial white mantle. Spring has lazily arrived here too, without haste. It’s such a different Spring from the one we know in Italy, but even here it coincides with the lengthening of daylight and the awakening of nature. It’s still very cold and there’s a bit of snow, but that’s nothing compared to the usual winter temperatures!Hospitality seems to be an innate quality among the Norwegians I have met. The wooden houses with creaky floors give me the idea of a warm and welcoming refuge; they smell of food and burned wood, and they face the borders of a world which is almost entirely unknown to me.
The North Sea seems to contain in itself all the colors of my mother’s paintings, those leaning on the walls of her studio at 3500 km from here, among the jars of natural pigments that contain all possible and imaginable shades of blue. The horizon is cobalt blue and the white sky brings out even more the line that splits the water from the sky.
Tales of whales and killer whales, which swim peacefully out here, have come to my ears like incredible stories told by expert fishermen, who are used to dealing with large sea creatures.
I often find myself watching into the rippled waves if by chance I see whale backs, and my heart beats hard when I confuse the flat rocks emerging from the water at low tide with an epic sight worthy of those stories I’d like so much to take home with me.
I find myself in an unbelievable place. I had to look on the map several times – marking with my finger the long distance between Venice and Krakeslottet – to realize that I am really here. The beautiful place where I am staying as a guest is an old fisherman’s house which today has become a refuge for travelers and residence for artists, musicians, researchers .. and anyone who goes far away, on the westernmost part of Senja island in Northern Norway, to stumble upon it.
I stumbled upon this place thanks to my dear friend Renata, whom I’ve already introduced to you here, and who is now living in this house together with Georg, soul of the house and founding father of Kråkeslottet as it’s known today.
Georg inherited this place – which was used since 1899 as a fishing house for cod – from a man named Ulf Knudsen, a local businessman and great Art lover, with the promise – which has always been kept – to make it a place that could be used for cultural initiatives such as music and art festivals.
Today Kråkeslottet – which in Norwegian means “Crow castle” but also “a house which is made of various different parts” – in addition to 26 sleeping accomodations hosts several common areas such as a theater, a café, a sauna and a concert hall with a beautiful grand piano. All the spaces have been built and designed by Georg, with the help of many friends. Being a skilled carpenter, Georg has been able to get different rooms and mini-apartments using local and recycled materials, such as beautiful wood brought by the sea.
Georg is, no dubt, one of the most interesting persons I’ve ever met, and while he’s taking out from an old cabinet a large whale tooth and other precious relics, telling me about how once he extracted the oil from a beached whale, he winks at me as he’s used to do when he sees amazement in his guests’ faces.
There’s a lot to be amazed about here: I feel like I’m in a movie, not only when I’m inside the house but also when I am outside and I look at everything around me.
There is no limit to the variations of colors that can be seen every day by looking at the surrounding landscape: it is always the same, yet it is so changeable depending on the sunlight and weather conditions. I’ve seen such incredibly beautiful sunsets that I almost doubt I have only dreamed of them. As well as that small table with chairs covered with warm fur, among the snowy fjords at dusk.
I assume that light here has a different value, especially in winter, very long and dark. It’s so dark that for some months the sun doesn’t rise at all, leaving these strips of wonderful earth completely in darkness. I often find myself thinking about this aspect of light, wondering how I would feel during the dark months, and especially how I could work as a photographer without the need for artificial light.
Perhaps it’s also because of the winter darkness that the homes seem to be more welcoming here, more enlightened and heated, full of comfortable corners where you can snuggle with a blanket.
The lit candles, placed on window sills, burn out slowly during the night, when another incredible phenomenon related to light can occur: the Northern Lights!
I don’t know how to explain in words how fascinating and mysterious it was for me to see it. I found it even a little disturbing, alien … it almost look like a living entity who floats and hides, then suddenly it reappears like a blazing fire which is reflected on a surreal landscape, turning it into something unseen and surprising.
Along with light and heat, food is certainly the third primary element which here more than elsewhere – maybe also in other remote places with harsh climatic conditions – represents survival, comfort, gratitude, and also a reason for sharing. Just like the new season that is coming! Spring comforts us with its enveloping light and the first warm sun, and makes us go out with friends for a walk together, which then maybe turns into a dinner around a table, because nobody wants the day to be over. Especially in Kråkeslottet!
The large kitchen table, about 6 meters long, built by Georg using a beautiful Siberian timber which had drifted for years in the sea around the North Pole, invites you to sit together and to fantasize – while touching with your fingers the deep veining of wood – about how many other travelers before us have done the same. I like to think that around this table special people have sat down, like the ones I have met: Runar, a gentle giant, capable carpenter and fisherman with hundreds of almost legendary stories of fishing; Christian, a musician with extremely gentle manners and the beach house of my dreams; Tom, an electrician at the nearby graphite mine in Skaland with mysterious powers as a pranotherapist; James, an English carpenter who speaks a fantastic Italian with a British accent; and then Georg, of course, and my friend Renata; and also Fox (better known as @thefreakyraku) who is always with me.
Dinner is the main meal, which is consumed early and brings us all together in the large kitchen. Instead, during the day, it’s quite common to have several breaks, like snacks, often desserts, based on hot porridge, pancakes or waffles. Coffee is never missing, not even in the evening.
Among the many good dishes we ate, including herrings with sweet mashed potatoes, mussels and kråkebolle (sea urchins) heroically collected in the icy waters around there by Runar and Christian, tang og tare (seaweed), and more… I’ve been particularly delighted by the fiskesuppe (fish soup), of which you can find the recipe below, in a slightly “freakytableized” version.
The more I go on writing, the more I realize how many things I would like to tell, even though it’s difficult to describe a place so rich in beauty and history.
At night, the waves of the sea crushing on the stilts that support the house, making it slightly floating, reminds me of a breath, which accompanies me until I fall asleep. It never leaves you alone; I find it reassuring, even if I imagine it would not be for everyone. Even on windy days, when the bed floats louder, and the mountain I see through the window disappears swallowed by darkness, I feel the presence of the sea as something powerful and indomitable which I deeply respect, as Runar also says while telling the story about when he risked dying at sea, during one of his fisherman’s misadventures.
The water is icy. The surface of the sea is frozen in some places, but this doesn’t stop our Viking friends to dive for a few seconds, in the morning, as soon as they wake up.
The ice bath here is a fairly widespread beneficial therapeutic practice of which my friend Renata is a great supporter. I will never stop to be amazed every time I see her jumping into what would surely lead me to a heart attack! Renata wrote in her blog an interesting piece about this practice, you can read it here.
Anyway, I did not feel like trying. This time I settled for the frozen landscapes and the incredible pure silence that just in very few other places I’ve been able to experience, but not only.
This journey for me has been a silent awakening, which was broken only by the noisy laughs that sometimes I’m lucky enough to burst into, by the sound of waves that reminds me of how small I am in front of the sea, by the wind that blows so hard that it sounds like a wolf howling at night. I did not bring any material things home with me, just a huge sense of gratitude for all that this journey gave me, for having met beautiful people I can call friends, for my awakened creativity, for the inspiration that nourishes all my ideas, for Renata and for Fox, two important presences in my life who are able to make me feel good and be better than how I would be if they were not there.
Nordic spring, a new Freaky Raku collection
Come to see our new limited pottery collection inspired by this journey and the colors of the big North! We updated the shop with new items, you can find bowls, cups, plates and sets of raku ceramics, but remember: each piece is unique, and if you wish to purchase something, we suggest you do it now! View products.
- 200 g cod fillet
- 200 g salmon fillet
- ¾ tomatoes
- 1 white onion
- 3 cloves of garlic
- ⅘ carrots
- 1 medium celeriac
- 1 leek
- 1 small broccoli
- 30 g of butter or 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1,5 l fish stock
- 250 ml cream
- half a teaspoon of chili powder
- salt and fresh black pepper
- fresh parsley or dill to taste
- Cut the cod and salmon fillets into pieces, removing skin and bones.
- Wash and peel onion, garlic and leek, then chop and keep aside.
- Wash and peel also the carrots, celeriac and broccoli and cut them into small pieces.
- In a large saucepan, lightly fry the onion in butter (or olive oil) with garlic and leek, then add carrots and celeriac and cover with the fish stock.
- Simmer over low heat, with lid, for about 20 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes cut into thin pieces, the broccoli, the fish chunks and the cream. Add chili pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes on low heat, without lid.
- Serve immediately, garnishing with fresh ground pepper and fresh parsley, or dill if you prefer.