So far we’ve been to cloud level and sea level, watched the sun burn brightly throughout the night and awoken to a few inches of fresh snowfall, been frustrated by language barriers and reveled in the anonymity that language can afford, gotten lost on purpose and meticulously planned even the shortest excursion. Tromsø is a beautiful city, but we’re here at a somewhat ugly time of year- spring. The snow is still melting in the streets and as it retreats, the usual suspects of random trash and road gravel are everywhere. The transition from snow-bound to sun-drenched is always a bit of a messy one, especially in places like this, where weather is an exercise in extremes. But we’re loving every minute of it.
Norway holds a special place for me. When we last visited in 2007, I quickly became enchanted with the country, the cities, the people, and just the feel of the place. To a kid who grew up in Scandinavia-heavy Northern Minnesota, it is like a weird mirror of my childhood. There are so many similarities and yet things were so very different. At almost every turn, I am reminded of my older relatives. I was lucky enough to know my great-grandparents, who were first generation Americans, so much of this place reminds me of them.
As I walk down the streets, I hear the echoes of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother in the voices of the people we pass. Though they never spoke Norwegian around me (that I remember, I was young), that accent was still very present in their voices. If I concentrate very hard, I can hear them talking to me across the gulf of death and years, and it’s comforting. For all of the foreign aspects of Norwegian culture (such as the dozens of gaudy overall-clad teens in the street, which I’ll explain later), there is such a deep familiarity here for me. In that way, it almost feels like home.
Of course, the breathtaking scenery helps.
Yesterday, we ventured out of the Tromsø city center and took a ride on the Fjellheisen, or cable car, which scaled the side of Storsteinen, one of the many, many surrounding mountains. Tromsø itself is on an island (called Tromsøya, literally “Tromsø Island) in the middle of a fjord and to see it from above is quite a sight. Our hiking boots and winter clothes came in handy, as once you get more than a few hundred meters above sea level, the snowpack is still pretty heavy.
Feeling adventurous, we worked our way up the mountain and away from the lodge at the top of the cable car line. The sun cleared the clouds and we were treated to crisp views that extended for miles and miles in very direction. To the east and north lie the Lyngen Alps, a fairly tall mountain range reserved for the hardiest of mountaineers. To the south, more mountains intersected by waterways leading to the Norwegian Sea. To the west, Tromsø and even more mountains.
I’m the tiny speck heading up the ridge.
Sara stayed on a ridge below the summit while I made a go for the top. There were a few tracks leading up and I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a better view. By the time I reached what I thought was the summit (it wasn’t, but it was close enough), I was nearly at cloud-level and sweating bullets despite temps in the mid-30s. It wasn’t exactly like I had summitted Everest, but for a boy who grew up on the flatness of the Red River Valley, where a large pile of snow in the wintertime was the highest peak available, it still felt like quite the accomplishment.
The view from the “top.”
We made our way back down (I slid at least halfway down on my butt in the snow. What I wouldn’t have given for a toboggan or sled!), grabbed some well-earned waffles at the café as we waited for the return cable car, and hopped on a bus back to the city.
On our way back to our hotel, we ran across some street vendors in the town square. Norwegian is like a half-remembered dream, familiar enough to intrigue, but just strange and out of reach enough to confound. We can usually infer meaning of words well enough, but one can never quite be entirely certain. So when I saw a hand-written sign saying “Lefser,” I got a little excited. Lefse! We made a beeline to the table and, lo and behold, there were piles of wrapped lefse laid out on the table. A guy around our age came over and asked if we needed any help. When I explained that I grew up eating lefse, he was confused. I’m sure it’s a bit odd when a foreigner tells you that he grew up eating a traditional local dish. I explained that there were Scandinavians all over where I grew up and that my grandmother would make lefse, prepared with butter and cinnamon sugar, often when I was a kid. He had lefse with butter and cinnamon sugar, but also with butter, cinnamon sugar, and brown cheese. What?! We bought some with the brown cheese and went back to the hotel. Guess what? It’s delicious. The brown cheese has a creamy caramel flavor that works perfectly with the cinnamon sugar and butter. Well worth the $20 we paid for it. (Norway is not a cheap country, by any means)
After a well-deserved nap and very necessary shower, we headed out into the early evening to celebrate our tenth anniversary with dinner at a relatively fancy restaurant in the heart of the sentrum (city center). We both had reindeer steaks. I’m not exaggerating that it was one of the most delicious things that we have ever tasted. It literally- and I’m not using that word incorrectly, it really did -melted in our mouths. Norwegians tend to eat out later in the evening, and since we arrived around 6:30, we had the restaurant to ourselves. It was perfect. Ten years, man, ten years…
We grabbed some drinks, okay, a drink because that shit’s expensive here. A $20 tumbler of Talisker whisky kind of precludes a night of heavy drinking, not that that is my style, anyway. Afterward, we headed back to our hotel room and called it an early night. The mix of not quite being used to the time change yet and still being screwed up about the constant daylight, along with the somewhat taxing hike and excitement-filled day caught up to us.
Also, the beds and comforters here are criminally comfortable and nearly impossible to resist.