Roaming around the Arctic Circle

21 Jan

Fairy tale wooden houses

Opportunities lie in small places, for example in Tromsø, a few hundred km North of the Arctic Circle, where i went to visit some friends I’d known for 6 hours before… They live in a Norwegian fairy-tale world, with wooden houses, trolls and fjords. It’s not only cold there, but also dark – except for all the lights. It’s like living in a christmas tree. An expensive one, because I felt like a poor 3rd world boy when i saw all the prices…

  • Many pics below

How North is North?

So we got along more than well ;-)

So we got along more than well ;-)

Maybe you think it’s crazy, you’d probably never book a flight across Europe like you’d by a sandwich, but I did. Sometimes you just need to take the bull by the horns.

I only met this couple of Norwegians for a few hours in Gran Canaria, but the current passed well (as they say in French). Add to this that I had frequent flyer miles that were about to expire and this resulted in a trip to the Arctic Circle. I was going to visit those Norwegian friends in the North of Norway (there’s hardly any northlier or norwegianer ;-). It was a good way to re-calibrate my feeling of Summer & Winter (after spending most of 2009 in sunny South-East Asia).

Fairy tale island

Panoramic view from the house

X & P live in Tromsø, a little island just of the Norwegian coast. The island is dotted with quaint wooden fairy-tale houses, like you would see on the postcards. Even the churches are made of wood (I went to knock on the walls to see if it was really wood… It was). There’s a hill in t middle of the island, (with roads n parking underneath it!? Optimal use of space I say!) and my friends’ house on top. With a gorgeous view of the sea-branch and the snowed under mountains on the mainland across.

The Arctic Cathedral - a design church

Scandinavia (Norway for sure) is like a big country-wide design-exhibition. There’s fancy design everywhere: a museum built like falling over domino blocks, a triangular church (the arctic cathedral), houses which look like space ships, even my friends’ kitchen & kitchenware was more colour-coordinated than I’ll ever manage to be, etc.

Come on Baby light my fire

The specifics of going up so far North, is the lights… The Winters are dark and the Summers are light. The day I arrived, they celebrated Soldagen (the day of the first sun, which involved eating Solbolen- sun buns, mmm). That would be the first day after 2 months of dark & dusk that the sun peeks over the mountains on the mainland again. There was actually some mystic light a few hours per day, but not the actual sun – the “round one” as they explained to me…

So is there sun in the background, or not?

Because it’s dark all the time during Winter, people just need light: so they leave on lots of lights in the house (adding to the fairy-tale). And lots of lights they have! I was counting in the living room of my friends and they had at least 25 different light points in the room (ceiling lights, spot lights, candle light, reading lights, fancy lights, etc). It’s like living in a christmas tree.

  • And they leave many of the lights on all the time – very cosy & welcoming…
  • …as if there’s no Kyoto nor Copenhagen… (electricity must be cheap, since they have lots of water, wind and oil).

Freezing my arse, euh nose off

Even houses made of snow - igloos

Indeed, the weather in Tromsø is quite different from the Philippines. And then it was already a lot warmer than usual, and relatively little snow. Still, it was about 40° colder than what I got used to. So I got out my Irish sheep (sweater), my winter boots and my pseudo Russian cat-hat. The problem though was my nose, as it is furthest away from my central heating. But even my recently repatriated ear turned blue because of the cold. My arse was also undercooled, but I found out that this was most likely due to the type of undies I wear.

It is funny how the whole society in Norway is adapted to the cold, snow and ice. The houses have blissful floor heating, the shops sell spikes for shoes, the central square has an igloo built to store city equipment, all cars have winter tires and I even found “super-underwear” (which is definitely not super in its looks but rather in sophisticated thermal non-transpiring quality at a prohibitive price).

  • But the most horrible effect of the cold is that you have to pee every 15 minutes…

So what does one do in the dark & cold?

3 flower boys going for dinner

Basically, you stay inside. And to help people to go out but still be inside they organised a big international film festival in Tromsø. Since this is THE event of the year, the whole life just revolves around this film festival. Lots of friends fly in from the rest of the country, which results in lots of (bankrupting) dinners & drinks.

  • We got a 20 film coupon, which we shared amongst 3 – so that makes 7 films in 3 days

National Sport - 'kocke n coffee'

Another national sport is ‘coffee’n’cake’ eating. I was a bit confused when they first offered to me in Norwegian ‘kaffe og kocke’, but it did turn out to be in the sugar department, rather than the protein section of the food triangle. There’s plenty of cosy cafés around, with warm winter design, lots of lights in all kind of declinations, and more than expensive goodies. That’s the Scandinavian style of ‘hyggelighed’ in Danish and ‘koselighet’ in Norwegian.

Thank god for Visa

Tromsoe Domkirke - translated by someone as Church of doom

All of this ‘koselighet’ is lovely, but comes with a price tag.

  • Cake – the ‘kocke-experience’ will set you back 65 Norwegian crowns (8 euro)
  • Add coffee for another 40 crowns (5 euro)
  • Going out for a Thai meal adds 350 crowns (45 euro) to your Visa bill
  • A beer is like liquid gold at a value of 69 crowns (9 euro) a glass (0,4 l)
  • We walked home once (30 minutes winter walk) which saved us 26 crowns (3,2 euro) on the bus (local bus ticket) – at night this would save us 6 euro

But I decided to get a typical Norwegian souvenir anyway: a woolen jumper (sheep) from the Italian design shop for half price – only 500 crowns (60 euro)… Shit did I really buy such an expensive sweater (compared to the 2 euro T-shirts in Thailand – sigh…). So I better do some more clinical trials to get some extra money rolling in.

  • Now I understand how it must be for my Filipino friend hanging around with me (the rich westerner, even though I’m not rich)…

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