Tramping around Tromsø (part 1)

Day 14 Tromsø arrival

I skimmed over the days in Tromsø, so I want to go back and revisit them.

On the ship at dock in Longyearbyen, we were up for a 6:30 a.m. breakfast, having got our suitcases ready at 6 a.m. for disembarking. At least we weren’t in the group that had to disembark (with their suitcases) by zodiac about 1 a.m. because they had early flights to catch. The rest of us hung about in Longyearbyen – it was rather cold and a bit rainy so not condusive to long walks – and caught up with our emails (there had been no internet service on the ship) or did some last-minute shopping, then a bus took us to the airport for the 90 minute flight to Tromsø. The Arctic circle officially starts at 66°33′N so, as Tromsø is at 69°65′N, we were still within it.

It took positively aaages to get through the passport-stamping line after getting off the plane from Longyearben. There were only two officials doing everything by hand. This was in stark contrast to other airports where everything was done electronically and speedily. It didn’t help that we Aussies are not part of the Shengen agreement so didn’t have the fast-through option.

The waiting bus then took us to our very swish hotel (Clarion @ The Edge) at the waterfront and handily witihin a short walk to the centre of town.

Now we were back to a group of 14 Aussie ‘gardeners’ rather than an international group of 80-ish wildlife enthusiasts. While the others went for a pizza, I went for a stroll around the town – I’d rather use such time being what the French call a flâneur, especially since the sun was virtually up all night and the shops didn’t close till late. The town was quite touristy, as is to be expected. There were souvenir shops selling more or less the same ‘cute’ (ugly) trolls, some Sami stuff (the indigenous people from the north, a few of whom are still reindeer herders), and a lot of knives with reindeer-antler handles. Wooden spoons also seemed to be hot sellers – I guess they are light and easy to slip into the suitcase for presents. And ‘Viking helmets’ with horns – urgh, Hollywood has a lot to answer for. The helmets of the ancient Vikings definitely did not have horns.

I find restaurant  and cafe menus interesting for what they can tell you about local eating habits – the flavour of the place, so to speak. Since whale is sustainably fished in Norway, one would expect it on a menu. I wasn’t disappointed. Having eaten whale in Japan – I wouldn’t dare insult my hosts by refusing to eat it as they had bought it especially for me – and not being impressed, I wasn’t going to try it here. Divide by 6 to get the Aussie dollar equivalent at the time.

By the way, the Egyptian foul (below) was not foul – it is the legitimate name for a dish with fava beans.

Day 15 Tromsø botanic garden

Next morning, with overcast skies, we were taken by bus to the Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden, the most northerly botanic garden in the world. This amusing ‘Fasten your seatbelt’ sign was in the bus. My Norwegian is limited to ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ so it wasn’t until I looked up the relevant website that I found out what it was all about, and also that the fine for not wearing a seatbelt was then 1500 kroner (about A$250).

Here’s an explanation from the Nettbuss website:

                 Without a belt, you will be the elephant in the bus

“Few know how dangerous it is that the others on the bus do not wear a seat belt. What we often see in accidents is that passengers are thrown around in or out of the bus. In this way, passengers can do great damage to both themselves and each other,” says Jon Molnes in the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

Take the test – check how heavy you get in speed here

You enter your weight, and find out which animal you will be at 80 km/h. While your child may become a moose, you may even end up as a much larger animal.

“Few people want an ox on their neck. We want to make passengers more aware that they not only fasten their seat belts for their own part, but also for those they travel with. Fortunately, there are few accidents with buses, but the potential for damage is great if something should happen,” says Molnes.

The gardens are neatly divided into sections, displaying alpine and Arctic plants from mountainous regions all over the world. Each plant has a label. I wonder how they survive in winter – my relative who lives in Oslo has to replant her garden every year after the winter snows have killed everything off.

Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden

Being spring, many were flowering.

As well as areas covering families of plants, they had plantings of mixed plants under the headings such as ‘fragrant plants’, ‘aphrodisiacs’, ‘native traditional plants’ and, my favourite, ‘witchcraft plants’. I just love the Norwegian word for the last: trolldomsplanter.

Naturally, with Mark on the case, we just had to see some orchids.

I’m not a botanist as such, but I really enjoyed these plantings. After lunch, we were due to go on a walking tour of the city, which I’ll cover next time.

Slartibartfast’s finest work (part 2)

Glaciers and fjords in ‘Fairyland’

After the morning clouds cleared, we enjoyed perfect summer weather on the ferry from Balestrand to the village of Mundal (also known as Fjaerland) on the Sognefjord. (It is worth clicking on the links as there are some wonderful photographs of these areas.) The fjord and mountains were postcard perfect.


This perky little bird dropped in on the ferry – a white wagtail (Motacilla alba). (Thanks, Joan, for the ID.)

The ferry dropped us off at Mundal to catch a bus to the World Heritage area. From Mundal (to which we would return later), the bus drove through extensive farmland at the base of the mountains. Like at home, grass is gathered for winter feeding of animals while the animals themselves are often up the mountains feeding on summer forage. Less than 3% of Norway’s land is arable – no wonder the ancient Vikings had a habit of going away travelling to find places to settle and grow food, as well as to raid and for trading purposes.


Farmland near the museum

The bus took us first to Norsk Bremuseum (the Norwegian Glacier Museum), small but well appointed. Can you tell it’s architect designed?

Norwegian Glacier Museum

The 15-minute panoramic video of Jostedalsbreen (‘breen’ is the Norwegian word for ‘glacier’) really gave me a feeling of being there, minus the freezing temperatures and extreme exertion, of course!

The museum is deserving of the awards it has won. Exhibitions inside include a mammoth display with actual tusk …

Mammoth display inside Glacier Museum

… a detailed display with a replica of Ötzi, the ‘iceman’, who died about 3300 years ago. The actual mummy is in a museum in Italy …

There were several interactives helping to explain the properties of ice in the glacier, and even a replica of an ice cave that you could walk through, complete with sounds of ice dripping and the groaning and clicking noises of a glacier as it moves. Atmospheric!

Outside were three statues of life-sized mammoths. More and more mammoth bones are being found as the permafrost in which they lie melts.

Life-size statues of a nuclear family of mammoths outside the Norwegian Glacier Museum

We were guided to two glaciers, steep, mighty and melting: Boyabreen and Jostedalsbreen. Note the handy warning signs. Mark and Jerry were more interested in the orchids they found than the ice, which is understandable since Mark is an expert in orchids and researches them at CSIRO.



After giving us plenty of time to explore, the bus delivered us back to Mundal where we could meander for a couple of hours before the ferry came to pick us up. Mundal is a ‘book town’ and most of the old buildings are converted to secondhand bookstores. Australia has one book town – Clunes in Victoria.

Jen Campbell, in The Bookshop Book, says:

Fjærland translates as ‘spring land,’ and it’s definitely in the spring that the town comes to life. Situated near Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in mainland Europe, … during the winter, with up to six feet of snow and temperatures as low as -20C, its bookshops become what the locals call deep-frozen. The BookTown is officially closed then, but those who live there wrap up warm and zoom around on kick-sleds, shipping in books and piling them up ready for the warmer weather. …

Fjærland became a book town in 1995 … and has a mere three miles’ worth of bookshelves. … The curation of the place is what makes it special, the idea being to preserve old structures, so you can find bookshops in abandoned buildings everywhere, from ferry waiting-rooms to stables, from banks to grocery shops, and even cowsheds and pigpens.


I looked through the English language part of the bookshops – one building only – and  had a pleasant conversation with the Norwegian lass behind the counter (a Harry Potter fan; I hope I turned her on to Terry Pratchett) who wanted to be an editor and translator – naturally I encouraged her. It is impressive how Norwegians can flip instantly between several languages, as long as you give them a cue by saying something in, say, English first. Being a monolinguist (with a smattering of others that don’t really count), I felt quite inferior in that respect.

After plenty of time for exploring and afternoon tea (not necessarily in that order), we were off again on the ferry back to Balestrand.