Wednesday, January 16, 2013

tSH goes to Norway: Tromso

Up early, once again. To the airport for a flight back to Oslo, wait around, then to Tromso, a gut-wrenching 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, I have now been to one of "those places."

And it was awesome.

We landed at noon in Tromso and the sun was already almost setting. That's no joke. It looked like it was 6pm already. In fact it's the time of year where the sun actually never comes above the horizon - all of the light is just reflected off of the clouds, etc - you can't get direct sunlight. You literally never see the sun. It's a bit...confusing, to say the least. But beautiful at the same time. It wasn't as creepy as one would expect, because the Norwegians are so friendly. And rich. And they make their environments snug and cozy.

We were supposed to meet our couchsurfing hosts, Silje and Inka at the airport, but as we waited there 15 minutes, then 30 minutes, then 45 minutes (they had given us no return phone number to reach them at), we decided to just take a bus into town. It was at this point they messaged us that Inka (the husband) would meet us in route on the bus.

We didn't understand how this would be possible, but I guess he knew which bus we would be coming on and apparently more or less what we looked like, so when a cute little man (who was surprisingly young, we're talking 22, maybe 23) stepped onto the bus and told Hong Kong P with no uncertainty that this was her stop, we were taken by surprise. She, not knowing that this was the arrangement, definitely said "how do you know this is my stop?" and he, not knowing she didn't know about the arrangement, just said that he knew, not clearing up the situation. 

Anyway, they ended up chatting so long that we missed our real stop (as we were supposed to just get off when he got on, rather than continue to ride) and had to walk back a ways to get to their house. Hilarious way to meet your host.

We stayed chatting in their warm and cozy house for a few hours before deciding we should really hit the town before we got too lazy and didn't see the town at all. We checked out the Polar Museum (not to be confused with Polaria, the town's other major museum we saw the next day) which explained the town's history of sealing, whaling, polar bear hunting, and all of the other arctic exploration things you could imagine:

Scrimshaw! There was a disappointingly small amount of my craft in this museum (which I found shocking)...but I did find some prime samples, so I took what I could get...

It was kinnnnnda ridiculous. And awesome. I've never gotten to touch so many pelts in my life. It's altogether likely and possible that we weren't supposed to touch anything, but there didn't seem to be any signs prohibiting the act (or at least none that I could read/decipher), so all of us touched everything that wasn't behind a glass case, which was a surprising amount of things. Needless to say, I've now touched almost all species of arctic animals. I'm kind of proud of that. My verdict? They're all surprisingly soft. I can totally understand now why most of them were almost hunted or clubbed into extinction.

Btw? Walrus skin? Totally feels like leather pebbles. Weirdest stuff in the world. It's also like 2-3 inches thick. No wonder polar bears have such a touch time taking them down, even with their massive wolverine claws. That's definitely a fight I would never win.

We went back to the house after this small trip into town, after stopping at the grocery store to pick up some beer to contribute to the dinner they were making us (I'll blog about that in a separate entry).

We stayed up all night, waiting for the Northern Lights to show themselves (this is one of the main reasons we went to Tromso, as it's on my bucket list and Hong Kong P has now been chasing them for over 4 years)...but despite the fact that solar activity is at an all-time high and they'd appeared several times that week, we were unfortunately there on the worst day. It was too warm (only -3C or so that night) and the clouds broke only pretty late - around midnight. Because of these things we didn't see anything and Hong Kong P and I are still on our life's quest to see the lights. We were informed by our new friends the night after we left was the most spectacular Northern Lights display they had seen that season (it had dropped to a chilly -8C and the night was completely clear...SOB!). Clearly we will need to get up to the Arctic Circle again in 2013, as the solar activity for this coming year is supposed to be phenomenal, and the best times are in early spring. :) Someone (likely me) will be likely planning a trip to Iceland, or some other remote location to watch the skies. Luckily it's fairly easy to get there from London.

Anyway, after our disappointing night we were allowed to sleep in a bit more than we ever had that weekend. It didn't really feel like that much of a luxury, since our flight was midafternoon and we still had things to see in town, but it was still more.

We kicked our asses and got to Polaria, the other large museum in town that our hosts insisted we see before we left (we were actually really interested in seeing other things in town but our hosts were quite insistent).

Polaria was actually a really cool place - you got to see all of the arctic sealife of Norway live and in tanks for your viewing pleasure as well as movies about the Northern Lights and Svalbard, a gorgeous and remote archipelago that only scientists and nature lovers visit.

Here are some of my pictures (apologies about the ones of the seals; they are fast moving creatures and I only use my cell phone camera now):

Soon after we were racing back to the house to pick up our stuff and take our double flights back to Oslo, then Helsinki. We landed around 2:30am local time. Then back to work for all of us, me flying out to Berlin that afternoon (so a 12 hour turnaround), Hong Kong P taking the bullet for all of us and flying out just a few hours later to San Francisco (she had an 8am flight).

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