Tromsø

Tromsø is the Arctic capital of Norway. It’s located on a small island and a bit of the mainland peninsula in North Norway. Tromsø is just there, above the Arctic circle, and every year thousands of people come and go to see Northern lights, midnight sun, and beautiful fjords in that area. My friend Lucy and I were one of the tourists the first weekend of April, when we decided to visit the city to catch the sights of Aurora Borealis before its traces would disappear in the rays of the never-setting Sun.

storsteinen-tromso2
The view of the city from the city’s mountain, Storsteinen. The city is very small, as you can see. Hiking up to see this view was an adventure, but now that my bruises are almost gone I have a feeling I wouldn’t mind doing it again. The people who live next to the mountain climb it very often (i.e. every day) like an exercise routine. Norwegians, in general, seem to love exercise as much as I love food.
eidkjosen
At this place called Eidkjosen. Lucy and I passed by this place in order to get to the fjords. We had to wait for the bus for about an hour but we didn’t complain. There was also a Whole Foods-like store that had free samples of smoked fish and fruits. Maybe that is why I didn’t mind waiting?

It has breathtakingly beautiful views. Tromsø’s a tiny city for my standards but I enjoyed staying there because it just has such beautiful nature. I don’t know how it looks during summer, but when I was there I was able to witness mountains covered with shiny-white snow embracing the bluest sea water and I fell in love with that image immediately.

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When we got to Ersfjordbotn, a small village in between mountains, I understood why there even was Norwegian romantic nationalism movement in art in 19th century. It is impossible to see this view and not to want to paint it.
ersfjordsbotntromso
Ersfjordbotn
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Ersfjodbotn. When we were heading towards the bus station to return to the city as we were slowly freezing, we met a lonely cyclist sliding down this empty road. The possibility to ride in between mountain peaks and calm waters seems very tempting. If only I had enough stamina.

 

Tromsø introduced me to Sami culture. Sami are indigenous people of Scandinavia, who have their own culture and language. Their historical land spans across Northern regions of 4 countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. In Norway they suffered from Norwegianization, a movement from the government to unify Norwegian culture and language which in turn meant to erase Sami culture and language. Now their rights are recognized and protected, and Sami people are rebuilding their cultural values with the support from the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. You can read more about Sami people on Wikipedia, UN regional information center, and this website (informal but informative).

storsteinen-tromso
The view from Storsteinen at the neighboring mountain-hill.

 

Tromsø is one of the places you can go through the Sociology Department’s study abroad program. Therefore, I felt obligated to visit the northernmost university in the world. Well, my friend and I went there because we wanted to see reindeer in captivity at the Arctic biology research center, but shhh. The university’s campus is very modern and curious. Personally, I think I liked the design of the university campus and its buildings much more than those of the University of Oslo.

The library building had a very nice picture collection at randomest places. I enjoyed them a lot.

It also had some weird installations in their reading rooms designed, perhaps, to encourage students to read.

The main administrative building was modern and welcoming, compared to Sproul Hall at least. I liked the big windows, a wall with falling water, and lots of plants towards the entrance.

uit8
As far as I understood, this is a Biology, Fishery, and Economics building. At first glance such collection of faculties seems unusual but I guess it makes sense if you consider Norway’s main products for commerce.
uit7
Reality is merely an illusion, Albeit a very persistent one. -Einstein’s words on something that looks like a garbage bin. I think I like this university.

 

And of course, we were able to see the lights. We were lucky–the weather and solar activity were perfectly calibrated for our visit. But of course, I couldn’t capture the moment on my sad camera on my sad half-broken-but-still-working phone. I will just say that when you see the lines of pure color dancing right above you, you will know exactly why everybody wants to see them at least once in their lives.

aurora
The title of this photo is I Tried My Best

By the way, it is possible to see them in the middle of the city, if the weather is good, and the reason people head out on tours is to escape city lights and clouds in case there are ones above Tromsø. Thanks to our luck and the weather, I was able to lie down on a frozen lake in the middle of the city to see lights perform their dance.

storsteinen-tromso1
Just to show you how much snow there was in April. The house-like structure is actually a slide that is completely buried under snow. Only the top platform remains. Three rods on the right are swings, of course. This was on top of Storsteinen.
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A very beautiful public library in the city center.
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The Arctic Cathedral, or Ishavskatedralen. Apparently its stained glass windows are very beautiful. We decided that its exterior was too grand to digest and did not go in.

I would love to visit Tromsø again to witness the midnight Sun in its full glory.

 

Today I got 2 poems for you. They are written by a famous Sami poet Nils-Aslak Valkeapää.  These are opening and closing poems from his book Trekways of the Wind, or, more precisely of the second book of this trilogy, called Bluethroat, Twitter, Sing. The book was translated by Ralph Salisbury, Lars Nordström, and Harald Gaski in 1994 (first edition).

Hope you can imagine North-Norwegian landscape better when reading these poems. You can read more about Valkeapää here.

Can you hear the sound of life

in the roaring of the creek

in the blowing of the wind

 

That is all I want to say

that is all

 

The redness of evening

Birch tops sway against the sky

The reflection of light in the river

 

Everything remains unsaid

Still

 

 

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Bergen

Bergen is one of the cities you can choose to study at through the same program I’m studying abroad in Oslo! (more info here) I had a chance to visit this beautiful city during spring break.

bergen
The city’s view from Fløyen, one of Bergen’s mountains.
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The view of the city from the cable car ride back from Ulriken, the city’s highest mountain.

 

Bergen is the second biggest city in Norway. This country has a very small population indeed, so in fact, Bergen’s total size (including its urban and sub-urban areas) is comparable to San Jose but the population is 4 times smaller. Therefore you’ll rarely see apartment complexes but mostly colorful detached houses.

plass
The view from across Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a small lake in Bergen’s city center. The side I’m taking the pictures from is the street with Art museums and galleries.
bryggen kyle
The famous Bryggen! Bergen’s most famous old part of the city. They say it inspired Arendel, the city from Disney’s Frozen. Picture taken by Kyle 🙂

 

It’s a city surrounded by 7 mountains on one side and the sea on the other. It’s really easy to visit two most popular mountains Fløyen and Ulriken. The first has its own cable funicular (first opened in 1918!); the second can be conquered by riding a cable car to the top. You are free to hike them as well, and you feel like it, you can even hike from one to another.

ulriken1
The top of Ulriken is covered in snow during the last week of March. The dots on the photo are my camera’s fault but you can imagine they are snowflakes. Which they might as well be, as it was in fact snowing when I was there.
ulriken
Another picture in midst of Ulriken. It was very foggy so I couldn’t go far in my not-very-winter shoes. But I managed to find some running water.

 

As Bergen is also surrounded by the sea, there are many fjords around Bergen area. We went on one of the fjord tours and saw this beauty.

fjord
Tour to Ostefjord.

 

Bergen’s very suitable for active lifestyle people but it doesn’t mean that nature is the only thing that it has to offer. While I was there I saw a poster about Bergen’s own Bergenfest, which I think is a music festival. Plus it has a very pleasant 4-building art gallery as well as a modern art museum.

art
You can go here and be artsy and cultured. This picture is taken in the first (or last?) Art Gallery building, KODE 4.

 

If I was not so fond of big cities I would have definitely chosen Bergen as my study abroad city. I even think that if I were to choose Bergen I would not feel captured as it usually happens in small cities, as there are so many places to visit in such proximity to the city.

fortress kyle
Bergenhus Fortress. Some of its parts date back to 13th century. You can go inside some of the buildings but by the time we got there they were closed. You can imagine being inside though! Picture taken by Kyle.
bryggen start kyle
Follow these pretty buildings and in two seconds you’ll end up in Bryggen area. The red and yellow building on the right is Bergen’s Hanseatic museum. Photo taken by Kyle.

 

When you travel from Bergen to Oslo or vice versa make sure to ride the train at least one way. The railway is famous for its scenic views, and I tell you, the views are gorgeous.

kyle
The train goes up the mountain region and at one point it reaches 990m above the sea level. Therefore, snow in late March. PC: Kyle!
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Fjords on the way along the railroad. Or it might just be a lake but still pretty. PC: Kyle.

 

Last but not least I want to thank my roommates Kyle, Mayleen, Angie, Yurie, and Yujung who traveled from the states to visit me and made this trip to Bergen possible. And to Kyle, for donating pictures for this post. Tusen takk!

 

Another poem by Olav H. Hauge:

Your Way
Translated by Robin Fulton

 

No-one has marked out the road
you are to take
out in the unknown
out in the blue.

This is your road.
Only you
will take it. And there’s no
turning back.

And you haven’t marked your road
either.
And the wind smoothes out your tracks
on desolate hills.

Find the original here.