Last Stop: Almost North Pole

Norway! No way! When Svenja told me about her next journey with Clara, I got jealous. I have never been to “real” Norway, only to Oslo, and I felt my heart jumping up. I needed one night to gather my guts: “Can I come with?” Although it seems like such a natural question it feels awkward to ask. Even, if it is one of your closest friends. Why? It always catapults me back into teenage days, struggling to be part of something. Without being asked. “If they want my company, they would have asked, right?” Maybe yes, maybe no. But should it feel humiliating to invite yourself to a party? No. It is just an easy question. So this time, I did not avoid asking it and the answer was: “Yes, come with!”. Maybe it is all about being prepared for a “No” and not contemplating too much about it. It does not make any difference. In that case, destiny would have taken me to some other place instead or nowhere and who knows what would have happened. Anyway: Norway is on. Where the heck is Tromsø? And how do I write this slashed “o”? (It is “alt”+”o” on the Mac by the way).

Svenja has made some research already and Tromsø seems to be a fridge filled with fun activities. We decide to book snowshoeing, a guided tour to see the northern lights and dog sledding. Yee-haw! When it comes to pricing this also justifies a “Yee-haw”: Norway empties your pockets. At least it is easy to see that: just divide NOK by ten. In order to be reasonable with my budget, I booked a hostel called “hotel” – let’s hope “nomen est omen”. The weather forecast could hardly be better: Bare sun for five days with freezing temperatures around minus five degree Celsius at day time. I hope it does not drop much further – I have experienced minus 25 degree Celsius once in Ammarnäs, Swedish Lapland, and I am not at all equipped for this kind of arctic extreme. I have never been so way up north. Tromsø’s degree of latitude is that of North Alaska! And it is one of the most important spots to start a polar expedition (I am out).

FireShot Capture 2 - Tromsø, Norwegen nach 924 95 Ammarnäs,_ -, what is this northern lights tourism all about? Tromsø is allegedly one of the best places to see “aurora borealis” (sounds like a severe disease). The city is in the middle of an oval ring where the probability is highest. With clear skies you might not even have to go far to be lucky. There is no guarantee to catch northern lights but there is a forecast. The best time of the day is supposed to be 9.30pm to 1am. Oh dear. Why do I always chose holiday options with little sleep? Some travelers might chase or hunt northern lights. I am not such a good hunter, even less talented with “nature event photography”. So, I hope we make this more about searching a wonder than finding one. It is not predictable anyway.  Besides, I do not have a camera that can capture such epiphanies at night time. Why do we take pictures anyway? Ok, yes, for this blog and for Instagram and for Facebook and for the relatives and so on and so on. Perhaps, I am simply a bad photographer but most of the time, when I look at my pictures or videos, I feel like they are a cheap copy of reality, far from real beauty, phony. Which shot does finally show the magic? Neither. Still, I will be standing there, in freezing cold Tromsø, staring to the sky, holding on to my mobile and waiting for the perfect shot that never comes. Will I have have the strength to just leave the camera in the suitcase instead, enjoying the moment? My resolution for Tromsø: Take pictures with your heart! Besides, there is nothing that hasn’t been done before, thank you Youtube and Vimeo.

Ok, so, some more random (fun) facts of Tromsø, some of them worth learning more about during the trip:

  • The city is home of the “arctic council” – a board that balances the interests of the arctic neighbors and indigenous people
  • Tromsø is smaller than my home town Gütersloh – in terms of residents
  • The most important employer of Tromsø is the university hospital (I might need it. As I said once before: No holiday without seeing a doctor. But this is only 5 days…so pull yourself together, Yvonne). The university itself has a good reputation and attracts international students. Reminds of my good old days at Stockholms universitet…nostalgia!
  • The average maximum temperature in March in Tromsø is minus 0.4 degree Celsius. The average temperature year-round is plus 2.5 degree Celsius.
  • In 1940 Tromsø has briefly been the capital of Norway
  • There is a cathedral with Europe’s largest glass mosaic – the “Ishavskatedralen”
  • Tromsø is not connected to any railroad. And some streets in Tromsø are heated to free them from ice. Really???
  • Not far from the city you can find a post of an EU authority: the “European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association”. Whaaat? The seem to do research on atmosphere and climate with radar. Incoherent radar. Aha.
  • Tromsø has the world’s northernmost brewery (“Macks Ølbryggeri”) with its pub “Ølhallen”. Well, we might pay them a visit. Furthermore, some people claim that Tromsø has the highest density of pubs per resident in Europe. I doubt it. Something, we should prove wrong. Or prove.
  • Tromsø has the world’s northernmost philharmonic orchestra. Well, I won’t pay them a visit but: Cool!

To get the right tune for this journey, I went through old photos of my time in Ammarnäs in February 2007. The pictures remind me of how fast my hands and feet freeze and how awfully tired a day out in icy temperatures makes you. The pictures also brought back the remembrance of arctic “supermarkets” at the end of the world. It was the first time I ate something like beef jerky and dried reindeer. Generally, the people in Lapland ate a lot of meat and “korv” (Swedish for “sausage”) and “biffar” (Swedish for beef steaks…yeah, we actually got served some kind of “köttbullar” = meatballs). I also learned something about Sami culture (need an update on that) and bathed in a hot tub outside, next to a frozen and snow covered lake.

Digging into old photos is the best. The first thought is: Oh my God, look how I looked back then! How different! The second thought: Overall, I haven’t changed a bit. Which is good. Ok, I would not wear a bikini with tiger design anymore, true. And that is also: good. Ammarnäs was not the first time I rode a horse but it was the first time that I got in touch with a special gear of Icelandic horses: “Tölt”. It is a smooth trot and allegedly more comfortable for the rider – assumed the horse is not stubborn. But I do not want to put the blame on the horse here.

So, my warm socks are packed and I am curious what I will find trotting around in Tromsø, together with my travel companions Svenja and Clara.

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