January 10

a few impressions from Norway

My brain is still only semi functioning after another long flight and a jet lag from hell. I had a great trip, no drama with the family and if you knew my family, you’d know what an amazing feat that is. It was nice to see everyone and spend some time at home. It’s weird when you go home after ten years abroad and everyone speaks your language. It still took me by surprise even after two weeks in Switzerland. I don’t know how many times I was about to order something in English only to realize that the person is addressing me in Swiss German.

As much as I enjoyed spending time in Switzerland, the highlight really was the little side trip to Tromsø. Tromsø is located some 350km north of the arctic circle but thanks to its location on the water and protection of the surrounding ‘mountains’ (they’re really *hills* for a Swiss), it enjoys a fairly mild climate. While we were there the temperatures hovered around freezing and bottomed out at -8C, which is quite manageable. So far north however the sun does not rise at all during this time of the year and from about 9:30am to 1:30pm there is a strange, twilight-ish ‘daylight’. Every single day, once it started to get dark, I was ready to find a restaurant for dinner, order a beer and go to bed only to realize it’s only 2:30pm and really, we should find a place for lunch and figure out what to do for the afternoon.

This is from Fjellheisen, a little hill with a cable car to get a nice overview of the area. It was taken at about noon and it’s as bright as it gets.

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It’s like a four hour long ‘blue hour’. One of the largest wooden churches in Norway the domkirke and a bit of ‘downtown’ Tromsø.

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The best part by far was the nightly Northern Lights show however. When I was younger my family used to travel to Finnish Lapland every other year and I’ve seen them before. I’ve always wanted to get some decent pictures however and this time we were very lucky. We had the perfect conditions of clear and cold nights, no moon and plenty of sun activity. Once away from the city lights, the spectacle was amazing and even though I’m happy with the photos, they really have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The dancing motions and changing of intensity and colours just can’t be captured. It’s absolutely fascinating.

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And just to make this somewhat relevant, the Norwegian language is quite interesting. I haven’t made the effort to learn anything, but it’s neat how much you can guess when you see it written. For example the above ‘kirke’ means ‘Kirche’ or ‘church’. Spoken Norwegian on the other hand might as well be Mandarin for all I can understand.
One day there was a big boat docked right outside the hotel and my friend joked that it was probably a whaling ship. Now this is not as far fetched as you might think, whale meat is still being sold all over Norway and if you order sushi, you better check what kind of fish is on that rice. But maybe the weirdest thing I saw, was at the Polar Experience, which is the biggest tourist trap of Tromsø. Among an exhibition of the arctic lifestyle there also are a couple of seals with daily ‘shows’. All over the little museum there are posters on the wall to Adopt a Seal and then in the gift shop of the very same building they sell everything from shoes to hats to vests made out of seal fur. Having said that I’m not exactly one to talk, it is still very much legal in Canada to club and/or skin the cute little baby seals alive. And in fact, Canada exports the majority of seal pelts to Norway. I suppose every nation has things they’re not exactly proud of. Still, it’s one thing to sell seal products, it’s quite another to do it in the very same place you advertise to save the seals. As an aside, we also kept wondering what would happen if tourists actually buy something made out of seal fur and try to import it to their own country. I know the EU has banned the import, but I’m not sure that applies to products brought in by tourists.
But anyways, I digress, back to the big ship. It was called ‘kystvakt’ and we thought we should take a photo and look it up. The funny thing is though, as a German speaker once you say it out loud with a very German pronunciation you can pretty much guess what it is, ‘Küstenwache’ or ‘coast guard’. 😉 This happened countless times and it became kind of a game, how much Norwegian could we guess by reading it out loud. I’m sure any Norwegian cringed at our horrendous pronunciation, but a fun time was had by all. If every person we met, didn’t already speak perfect English, I’d be tempted to study the basics.

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