A short visit to the northern city of Tromsø, Norway
Leaving AuroraSpirit, we drove back along the same awful-surfaced road to reach the main E6 where we finally met some smooth rolling tarmac and made good progress towards Tromsø. There was a shorter way but that included an uncertain (time and cost) ferry trip, so we chose to drive around by road. Tromsø was to be the furthest north we had decided to travel on this trip, having recently made the decision not to push on to visit Nordkapp, at least not this time. Instead we would work slowly south, back to Oslo and beyond, exploring Norway’s northern west coast.
We approached Tromsø from the south, seeing the busy, built-up island on our left as we made our way to the connecting bridge over. This was our first city visit in quite a while, and we weren’t too delighted by the busy traffic and unprotected roadworks that greeted us on arrival. We nudged, stuttered and bumped our way through the centre to reach the only centrally located overnighting aire we knew of, but when we arrived we found it was basically a construction site car-park, due to the new student accommodation building being built right next door.
We drove another unproductive loop before stopping at the next available parking close to the centre and paying for an hour, as we had a time sensitive job to do. We had located a store on-line that could potentially replace the shattered screen on Nicky’s iPhone, dropped and cracked back in Flåm moments before boarding the Flåmsbana railway. We found the shop just a few minutes before it closed at 5pm and confirmed they had all appropriate stock and time, so we could drop the phone in first thing in the morning and it would be ready in an hour; perfect.
We went for a short walk around the centre before our parking expired, seeing the Kulturhuset and Bibliotek buildings, along with a quick look into Tromsø Domkirke. There was a classical music concert on so we didn’t linger too long inside. Returning to Benny, we decided to drive a little further out of town, and climbed the hill behind to visit Elverhøy Church. This was a red-painted timber church set in light forest, but we only visited it as a potentially interesting time waster until the construction workers cleared out of the parking spaces at the aire, which we assumed would be soon after 6pm. We returned later, the aire much quieter and more inviting than before and we bagged ourselves a nice marina view. Parking was only free from 9pm to 8am, so we paid the requisite amount to allow us to stay until 11am the next morning, giving us time to have the phone repaired and to visit a museum.
After dinner we had another walk into the centre, where we first encountered the dominos-falling Polaris building, an Arctic themed experience centre. It had fantastic external display boards on Arctic and Environmental issues, reminiscent of those we saw in Granada many months ago. There was a life-size bronze statue of a polar bear to the side of the entrance that Nicky had a little cuddle with, looking like Lyra in The Golden Compass. The neighbouring building was housing MS Polstjerna, The Polar Star, with a curved glulam beam and glass structure built to frame the fully preserved sealing ship. We spent time reading information boards and admiring the buildings and water-front setting. We could see across to the Arctic Cathedral designed by Jan Inge Hovig, a notable feature in the distance. The rain had abated and the evening was still and calm. Tromsø had a much more peaceful feel to it in the evening and with us now on foot.
The following morning we arrived at the repair shop for 9am, leaving Nicky’s phone in their hopefully capable hands. We had an hour and a half to look around town and so, choosing to feed our mini-obsession with all things polar, we walked along the front of the old harbour building to reach the Polarmuseet, the Polar Museum. Situated inside a beautiful former Customs House building dating from the 1830s, the museum covered the history of Norwegian trapping, Arctic scientific research and, the big draw for us, polar expeditions. We paid the 60 NOK entry fee and began our own exploration, working through the exhibits with the welcome help of our printed English translation pamphlet, as all of the permanent information displays in the museum were written in Norwegian only.
There were detailed reconstructions of old trappers’ cabins, complete with tools, personal diaries and their hanging prey, such as Arctic foxes sold for scarves and terns for meat and down. There were stuffed seals, musk ox, brown and polar bears scattered about, between all manner of other interesting exhibits. The walls were hung with guns, knives and other tools, interspersed between old photos of their previous owners. Climbing stairs to the first floor, we were greeted by a bust of Roald Amundsen at the top, alongside a scale model of the Norge, an airship he had built to fly over the North Pole. This was the first (non-disputed) Transpolar flight; leaving from Spitsbergen, it succeeded in passing over the pole as planned and finally landed safely in Alaska.
We reached a beautiful first floor room, with glossy timber floors and trussed vaulted ceilings, that housed many delightful curiosities. Between the stuffed animals, there were several detailed model ships, the Fram, The Gjøa and the Maud, all Arctic exploration vessels used by Nansen or Amundsen (or both) on various famous trips to the Poles. They were framed by lots of personal photos of the men who travelled with them on the ships, creating a little personal background and story. We saw a few colourful notebooks with interesting writings and wonderful, freehand sketches that brought the pages alive.
Back on the ground floor, the last room (or first if you turn right on entry) was all about glacial waters and the abundance of life that exists under the ice. We ate up the remainder of our available time reading of the biodiversity of the region, and the perils each tiny organism or delicate ecosystem faces with the challenges of global climate change. We could have spent much longer inside the museum, immersing ourselves further in the details, but we unfortunately ran out of time. We had to get back to collect Nicky’s now fixed phone (1400 NOK – ouch) and quickly return to Benny before our parking expired.
We visited the small botanical gardens on the way out of town, after first a few unnecessary trips around, back and through the long tunnels passing under much of the island, due to missing our required turn. The gardens were pretty, with a strong bias towards alpine rockeries, and they also had large populations of the difficult to grow Himalayan blue poppy brightening up their borders. The day had clouded over again and a light rain fell as we walked a loop around the garden, enjoying the relative tranquillity of this calm space, once a farmhouse garden and meadow but now squeezed between a busy new road, a tunnel entrance and a few petrol stations.
With Nicky’s phone all fixed and our whistle-stop look at Tromsø complete, we filled up with diesel and got back on the road out of town. For almost the first time since we left home in April for Holland, we were now heading south.