July 31, 2014

Our flight from Kirkenes was on a Dash-8-311 plane, and it took a bit over an hour to get to Tromsø. For part of the flight we could see the land below, and when we landed the weather was actually pretty decent. The Tromsø airport was a zoo when we arrived. Tomorrow would be the first day of the International Chess Olympiad, and people from all around the world were coming. And the plane from Oslo had just arrived, bringing a lot of them. Norwegian TV was there, filming the arrivals area and interviewing people. On the carousel where our bags were supposed to come out, the bags from the Oslo flight started coming out, but nowhere did we see our packs. We waited some more, and finally the carousel next to us started, and our packs and a couple of others from Kirkenes appeared. Hallelujah!

Chess Olympiad greeters

We started to buy tickets from the Flybuss ticket machine, but there was another company whose desk was right next to the machine. They told us they would take us right to the door of our guesthouse for the same price as the Flybuss, so we went with them. We also arranged the pick-up time for our return to the airport the day after tomorrow. Our guesthouse wasn’t on their list of places they regularly served, but that didn’t deter the driver, who dropped us off at the right place even though it had no sign visible from the street.

Silje, the owner of Tromsø Bed and Books, greeted us and showed us our room and the rest of the house. It was a very nice house with a small kitchen and good-sized sitting areas on both the main floor and upper floor, and our bedroom was a nice size.

After unloading our packs we decided to walk to the botanical gardens, which were located on the far side of town near the university. The day was warming up but the breeze was refreshing, so the walk was very pleasant. Our map was not the greatest, but since it appeared to say to take bus 20 to get there, we followed the street where bus 20 ran. After a while we thought we should be there, but we weren’t. We saw an interesting-looking church, an ice rink, and some ski jumps, but no gardens. After looking more closely at the map we realized that the gardens were located at the bottom of the hill we were walking up. Down we went and there they were.

Tromsø ski jump

The garden was on the site of an old farm which was now surrounded by highways and Tromsø’s industrial port. It was a pretty good garden, with several sections filled with plants from around the world. There were succulents which could overwinter there, and a North American section with flowers that we recognized. It claimed to be the world’s northernmost botanical garden, and it did turn out to be a little bit farther north than Svanvik’s.

Tromsø botanical garden

Getting back to the town centre was a lot easier. We stopped at a grocery store along the way to pick up supplies for lunch and dinner. When we arrived, the kitchen in the house was busy so we waited our turn to make our pasta and sauce. Our table-mates were a British couple and three German-speaking women who were from Switzerland and probably Austria. The Brits had done a short walking and camping vacation and the three women were cycling. A very interesting group of people.

August 1, 2014

This morning it was slightly overcast and it had rained overnight, but we could see blue sky arriving so we thought our day would be good. We decided to get some laundry done because the guesthouse had a washer and dryer which were free. So with a bit of help from Silje we found some settings on the washer which seemed to work, and since the display said “1 hour 14 minutes” we headed out to visit the Polaria aquarium, which was very close by.

We arrived just in time to see the trainers weighing the two harbour seals (about 50 kg each) and the two bearded seals (about 270 kg each). The animals followed signals from the trainers and swam onto a wooden platform that was hoisted out of the water to weigh them. The harbour seals are the same species as the ones we see at home, but theirs looked quite black compared to our grey animals. We asked if they were planning to breed the bearded seals, and they said they would like to do that but they were both females, which was a bit of a problem.

Weighing bearded seals

Besides watching the seals we saw a beautiful video on the Northern Lights and learned something new—we knew they were caused by solar flares and the earth’s magnetic field, but we didn’t know that the solar flares hit the magnetic field on the sunny side of the earth and then bounce off and continue around to the dark side where they hit the magnetic field again, thus producing the Northern Lights. There were also interactive displays about various aspects of polar ecology. We were interested in one project where they counted the growth rings in blue mussels in Svalbard to see when the warming water temperatures allowed them to settle there. There were also more conventional displays of fish and other marine life—the big ugly fish in one tank was called “Atlantic wolf-fish” in English, probably the same fish we had with chips in Iceland.

Seal playing chess

By now it was lunch time, so we headed back to the guesthouse for lunch. The Austrian women were just getting organized for their departure, so we chatted for a bit and then said goodbye to them. After a quick lunch we were off for another walk, to the Arctic Cathedral and the cable car.

Arctic Cathedral

The day was still lightly overcast with the sun shining periodically. We started by walking across the bridge to the mainland (Tromsø is on an island), which is 1 kilometer long but still has a lot of foot and bicycle traffic. Just at the other end was the Arctic Cathedral, a large white building which is hard to miss when seen from a distance. It was built with a sloped roof to look like sheets of ice, and at one end is an enormous stained-glass window by artist Victor Sparre. Unlike other stained-glass windows, this one had steel reinforcing stays between the glass pieces. It certainly was impressive to see. Apparently it was a three-year project to learn how to make a stained-glass window of that size, and it’s still standing after 50 years so it must be classified as a successful project.

Arctic Cathedral stained glass

From there we continued on towards the cable car which goes up to the top of the mountain, having decided that we would pay the money and take the ride. As we walked towards the base station Rosemary was saying “There are no cable cars going up, it must be closed” and Paul was saying “No, why would it be closed in the middle of tourist season?” And when we got there the mystery was explained—outside the ticket office was a sign which said “Closed today for maintenance.” We could have walked up instead, but we weren’t wearing our hiking boots, so we retraced our steps back to town.

We stopped at the candy shop to get ice cream again; Paul had hazelnut topping and Rosemary had salty licorice. While we sat outside to eat it we watched the chess players walking down the street. Some of them appeared to be absorbed in replaying their last game in their heads, but most of them looked happy to be on a junket to Norway.

Tromsø view with fireweed

Last time we were in Tromsø we had just missed the Art Museum of Northern Norway, but today we were there in time to get in. The main exhibit was by the artist Peder Balke, who was a Romantic artist from the 19th century. He did a lot of paintings of northern Norway, which were all framed in old-fashioned gilded frames. Northern Norway was a good choice if you were a Romantic artist, and we liked these very much. There were two more floors of art, ranging from post-Romantic work by Edvard Munch to some uninteresting contemporary work. By the time we went through the whole museum it was getting close to 5 pm, so we headed back to the guesthouse.

Tonight we had the whole place to ourselves, unlike last night when the whole house was full. So we had solitary spaghetti and caught up on e-mail and journal-writing.

Next: Lofoten