Friday, September 10, 2010

Vacations at Strømtangen

In keeping with my apparent desire to not let go of summer, not just yet, I was remembering the two times we vacationed on the island of Strømtangen off the coast of Fredrikstad. The first time was for two weeks in the summer of 2003; the second time for one week in the summer of 2006. We rented the old house that used to belong to the lighthouse keeper. The working lighthouse on the island these days is automatic and is physically separated from the keeper’s house, unlike the old round red-brown lighthouse that was attached to the keeper’s house (that is now used as a dining area). A full-time lighthouse keeper is no longer needed to take care of the lighthouse. Thus the keeper’s house is now rented out to interested parties during the summer months. We rented the house the first time together with two friends and their little baby and except for a few enjoyable visits from family and friends, we had the house and the island to ourselves. We had our boat with us as that was our transportation to the mainland and back. We used it to sail into Fredrikstad where we would do our grocery shopping, eat out at different restaurants, or use the showers at the visitors’ dock. Sometimes we also went out in the boat to do some fishing but did not really catch much.

The house on Strømtangen, with the working automatic lighthouse to the left

The keeper’s house itself is white, big, old and drafty, and sits up on the rocks that lead down to the sea. The windows rattle in a storm or when it is windy and the stairs leading to the second floor creak. The kitchen, living room, and dining room are on the first floor, and the bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor. The bathroom was useful only because it had a sink with running water—the shower did not work--and that was true for both times we stayed there. We have since heard that the organization that rents out the house was thinking of fixing the shower, but I have no idea whether that has happened. There was no toilet—there was instead an outhouse. Running water was drawn up from a well but we were told not to drink it, so we purchased bottled water instead. Despite these slight drawbacks, the experience of living on an island in a drafty old house away from civilization was interesting, challenging and fun. The kitchen was large and cozy, and we made good use of it. The weather in 2003 was hot and sunny—perfect beach weather. We were also able to use the grill quite often to prepare food and to eat outside. I can only remember one thunder and lightning storm during the two weeks we were there. That was an intense storm during the night, with high winds and waves that crashed against the rocks. It seemed like it went on forever. It was literally nature at its wildest—a bit scary but exciting at the same time. The house and the adjoining supply house and everything associated with them had more or less blended into the nature of the island—there were large fields of tall cattails growing in the marshy areas around the house, and otherwise worn footpaths leading to and from the house.

The island is an amazing place--stark, wind-filled, and beautiful. I wandered around it, taking pictures here and there. There is a more sheltered part of the island where the butterflies live, hundreds of them, beautiful to see, fluttering among the flowers that manage to grow in the sparse soil on and around the rocks. If you stood here you could look out over the vastness of the ocean for miles. On the side of the island where the boat was docked, which was a more protected part of the island where the water was calm, there was a small pebbly beach that led out into shallow water, and we spent some time there as well. One of the nicest memories I have is of waking up in the morning and seeing the swallows perched on the top of the bedroom window that opened outwards. They just sat there quietly watching us while we slept, not intimidated at all by our presence. It was as though this was something they always did—sit on the windows in this way, and we were merely curiosities for them to peer at. Most likely they lived in the eaves of the main house or of the adjoining supply house. After we left the island they got their house to themselves again and the life on the island went on as before.  

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