North of Green

At the University of Illinois, “North of Green” refers to the College of Engineering — the biggest college that is, naturally, north of Green Street. I actually enjoyed my time in classes that were south of Green. It was nice to be able to exercise more than just formulae and mathematics and physics; it was relaxing to practice French, or have gymnastics Tuesdays and Thursdays for an entire semester. Football games and most flash frisbee mobs were south of Green.

Norway is not.

I got the urge to go to Norway with the coaxing of [mostly] two people. One has a blog that I’ll mention in a future post — probably tomorrow or Wednesday — and the other is generally a travel buff who encouraged me to enjoy travel and not focus only on the cost of the trip. When I figured out I could get to and around Norway for less than I had originally anticipated, I jumped on the chance. Weather was an unknown, total trip cost was an unknown, what exactly I would do — other than the reason I wanted to go in the first place — was an unknown. Whether I would be able to see the Northern Lights was an unknown. Sounded like a good engineering problem, then: lots of unknowns and just a few assumptions to go on.

I landed in Tromsø, the Gateway to the Arctic, sometime after 9:30 PM on a cold, drizzly Friday night. I had been on three planes already, none of them Boeing, so I took a picture of a Boeing plane. Midnight sun had ended nearly a month ago, but even this late it was still quite light out.

One of the two airlines I was on left my bag in Berlin — apparently it was more useful there than in my possession — so after accepting apologies (not much else to do, really; another family whose bags were also lost seemed to think shouting would work more effectively), I slept for three hours and awoke to an interesting sunrise. What is it they say about red skies in the morning?


Hoping for the best, I returned to my hotel and found a nice reminder along the way of what I needed most from this vacation.

Didn't happen.

After napping for a few hours and then eating a typical Norwegian breakfast — or what this tourist thinks is a typical Norwegian breakfast — I did the touristy thing and took a cable car to the top of a nearby mountain. My knee was still bothering me a bit from something I did to it in Zermatt a week ago, so I didn’t want to hike the trail up, which was the alternative. Tromsø, as is revealed from above, is actually an island; it’s not on the mainland of Norway. Maybe this is the reason it’s sometimes called “Paris of the North” — Paris is known as Île de France; Ile, isle. Who knows. It’s not likely to be mistaken for Paris in most other ways. (Not at all a bash of Tromsø, but a Paris it isn’t. Lovely it is.)

There were a few hiking trails at the top of this mountain, but I didn’t want to reaggravate the knee so I decided to head back into town and drive around the area a bit. One recommended drive was to hit the island Kvaløya. While driving back, I heard and then saw some small waterfalls. The biggest probably had a drop of only 4′, but it was kind of neat to walk across some marshy ground and take a picture of it in what was still broad daylight. Awesome light, this.

I was really successful at stone-hopping until my right foot slipped and I used my left foot to catch my fall — just as it slid into the cold water. That’s what I get for being uncareful after being very careful. The next day, shoes dried (lots of newspaper; thanks to my high school track coach — Hass — for letting me in on this useful tidbit), I went on another drive, this time to the Lyngen Alps. I was hoping for more snow, but instead I found a “hiking” trail into the mountains. I was running low on time and didn’t go all the way out, but it was a nice, quiet hike with the promise of something nice. I decided that was good enough.

In the same way the internet brought me knowledge of Norway, it also connected me to a photographer who lives in Tromsø — he has taken several images of the Northern Lights, and I was curious if he could show me some areas that he liked to go when they were visible. There was too much cloud cover for them to be visible in the nights I was in Tromsø, but it was worth a shot. My bag had arrived (it never left Germany, incredibly… I thought it got trapped in Riga, Latvia, which has a tiny airport, but instead it was sitting in Berlin) at my hotel, so strapping my tripod to my pack, I headed out for night shots with my two-person Tromsø PoTN meetup group.

Moon, yes; Aurora, no.

I love this kind of shooting. It’s quiet, there’s always a chance for really neat lighting, and it gets away from the throngs of tourists — usually, that is, unless you’re somehow surrounded by forty Asian tourists in the middle of Zermatt for a cold sunrise. Of course, the Northern Lights aren’t really unphotogenic, so if they had actually been visible I would have been among throngs of tourists and photographers. Either way… suffice to say sometimes it’s nice not to do the touristy thing; other times, it is. Certain attractions are popular for a reason.

My final day in Tromsø, I did exactly the touristy thing (see? I’m just barking hard but not biting or chewing) and visited most of the major museums in the area. I thought a really cool exhibit in the science museum was a spinning satellite demonstration: shine one of four lights on the solar panel of one of four satellites, and a motor would turn on. The spinning blades would rotate the entire assembly, and if you didn’t adjust the light to continue shining on the solar panel, the rotation would stop. It was difficult to sustain with just me trying to shine the light, but I thought it was a really cool demonstration. I miss science museums, and even though this was a rather small one, I enjoyed myself there. Maybe I am an engineer at heart after all. (Below, you can just see the metal tubular arm that holds the satellite.)

I headed back to the city in hopes of touring the Mack Brewery, the world’s northernmost brewery… in the world (nod to Jeremy Clarkson). The tour guide was ill that day, however, so I had to settle on the glass blowing studio down the street. Maybe this was Paris after all.

They worked almost freakishly fast. Several times, I’d point my camera as they did something, only to push the shutter after they had finished doing it. I frowned and repeated this many times.

After wandering around some more, I ended up on the bridge connecting Tromsø to the mainland to watch the northbound Hurtigrute (M.S. Midnatsol) leave for the even farther north, where there were no trees. My pictures were quite shoddy — not that these aren’t — but I did come across another message.

Assuming they meant “hop” figuratively and that I should leave Tromsø for the Lofoten islands, that’s precisely what I did six hours later. I spent the next few hours eating a reindeer steak and watching the Tromsø football (soccer) team lose to Manchester United; I then boarded my ride south (the M.S. Trollfjord) and started the second half of my trip.

North of Green

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