Tyholt Tower in Trondheim

The Tyholt Tower is the second biggest tourist attraction in Trondheim behind Nidaros Cathedral. It is a telecommunications tower and stands 120 metres high overlooking Trondheim city.

There is a sight-seeing level on the lower floor. On the upper floor is a revolving restaurant, which gives a birds-eye view of the fjord and city below. A full turn takes one hour and so by the end of your meal you will have travelled at least one round.

The best time to visit the tower is for sunset so you can watch the panoramic view change colour.  If you have been touring the city all day, you will be able to track your journey through the cityscape and pick out the landmarks you visited.

Ring Fingers

Med denner ringen tar jeg deg til ekte.

“With this ring, I thee wed” are poetic words that describe the promise of two people in love.

The wedding ring is a symbol tied to romantic traditions that have run through the course of time. As far back as the Pharaohs, a circular band was seen as a representation of eternity–it has neither a beginning or an end. The ceremonial exchange of bands, however, stemmed from the Roman Empire where the giving of a band was denoted as a public promise to honour an alliance, or in acceptance of a position or responsibility.

During the reign of King Edward IV it was decreed that the fourth finger be formally known as the “ring finger” to seal a covenant. With ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost…’ the ring was bounced from finger-to-finger until it landed on the fourth with ‘Amen’.

It wasn’t until the 1500’s that the gold ring was included in the wedding ceremony, and since ca.1700, this tradition was custom in Norway, however, it has never become part of a traditional folk wedding.

Today many people around the world prefer to put the wedding ring on the left hand, mainly for convenience, but also to hold to a romantic notion that the left ring finger have the closest vein leading to the heart–the ‘vena amoris’, or vein of love.

However, in Norway it is custom to place the wedding ring on the right hand. This custom is based on a spiritual commitment. In the Bible it was the practice to wear rings on the right hand, the hand of authority and power, completing the pledge of commitment. The power and authority came from the right hand of God–the ‘right hand’ meaning Christ. Therefore wearing the ring on the right hand–in Christ and through Christ–blessed the marriage.  Both men and women wear the wedding ring in Norway.

The engagement ring tradition started with Mary of Burgundy. She was the first woman to receive a diamond ring when she got engaged to Maximillion of Austria on the 17 August 1477.  According to the story, Max asked his counsellor for advise on how to propose to marry and the counsel was to give her “a ring set with diamonds and likewise a gold ring”. Max proposed as he put a diamond ring on the third finger of Mary’s left hand and, of course, she said ‘Yes’.  A tradition was born.

However, the engagement ring tradition is not as common in Norway–it is a fairly new practice introduced through pop culture.

Spike Stone

Driving on highway E8, an hour south of Tromsø, you will come across a graffitied stone. This gigantic boulder once broke loose and rolled down from the mountain above. Nordkjosbotn is a landslide-prone area with many large and small boulders decorating the landscape, but this one stands out from the crowd.

The boulder, called Piggsteinen or The Spike Stone, has become a pilgrimage for ‘graffiti artists’ and taggers from all over the world. The entire front of the stone is covered in more or less impressive artwork. There was a petition by the locals to preserve the boulder and its graffiti, however, it was decided that the ever-changing artwork is what makes the boulder iconic in the first place.

Today the stone is a landmark for people travelling the E8 between Tromsø and Finland. Travellers love to stop and leave a little signature or greeting on the stone, much like building a cairn when crossing the Arctic Circle.

On the left side you can see the logo for the Norwegian reality gameshow 71° Nord, where contestants have to make their way through the entire length of Norway in a great race. In one of the seasons, this was one of the stops along the route. It will be interesting to see how long that logo is left alone as the stone’s artwork evolves.

War Ruins on the Farm

If you walk along the north fence on our farm, you will find a corner pocket of fir trees. The trees grow in rows, equal distance apart. This little forest is certainly man made, planted perhaps fifty years ago. Maybe it was to hide what was on the ground underneath, or maybe the trees were planted as a monument.

Nestled under the fir trees are the ruins of an army barracks left by the Germans from WWII.  The stones are cracked and moss lines the top of them, but their frame is still clear.

It feels strange walking through the ruins. I wonder what it would feel like to have your country ‘stolen from you’. I don’t know why the ruins have been left on the farm–the war is a fading memory in Norway. Maybe they are there to give foreigners like me a chance to reflect and understand the Norwegian affinity to their land. After the war, the people of Finnmark were told by the government not to return to their land to rebuild their homes, but instead to re-settle in the southern parts of Norway.

Huh! As if!

Salmon River Fishing

Salmon is certainly one of the dishes you have to eat when you visit Norway, but it has to be wild salmon! Wild salmon is caught in rivers by local fishermen. Every year a number of fishing licences are ‘lotto-ed’ out to the local fishermen in each area around Norway–the fishing restrictions ensure a good season for next year. (Norwegians love salmon so much that if there were no restrictions, wild salmon would be extinct by now!)

In Alta, licence-free fishing ends Midsummer’s Eve, so it is a tradition for all the locals (who haven’t won the licence lotto) to celebrate the middle of summer by the water to try their luck one more time before the clock strikes twelve.

With some salmon rivers, such as Tverrelva, it can be mighty tough for salmon to jump up the rocks and white water to their natural breeding grounds when lots of fishermen have their lines about. So, to make fishing a fair game for the Salmon, the Norwegian Fishing Federation sometimes create detours in rivers for the fish. Instead of having to jump up a raging waterfall, they can go up a ‘ladder’ to make their trip a little easier.

As a fisherman, you might be thinking ‘Oh, boy, come to Pappa!’ but there is a ‘catch’:

Translation:

Fishing Prohibition Zone

All fishing is prohibited in the prohibition zone.
The zone stretches 50 metres above and below the salmon ladder.  It is forbidden to fish and to trespass inside the area around the salmon ladder.
Illegal fishing is reported to…

Norway certainly looks after its natural resources – not only for fame and fortune – Norwegian salmon is famous all over the world (the Japanese love it in their sushi!) – but for heritage and a strange sort of ‘fish’ romanticism.  Even though salmon for dinner is common, it still gets an old farmer giddy as a kid.

Reindeer in Norway

When you come to Norway, reindeer are a must-see. I admit that I was very excited at the prospect of seeing Santa’s reindeer grazing in a field or walking across the road, and even more excited to be able to ride a sleigh. What I didn’t expect was to see my first reindeer sitting on my dinner plate. The first few bites were excruciating but I let my taste buds open up and realised, ‘Hey, this doesn’t taste half-bad.’

There was one bit of information that made reindeer easier to swallow, something that they seem to leave out in encyclopaedias. Reindeer are considered to be just like cows here in Norway. It is certainly much easier to eat a cow than a majestic king of the plains. In fact, in Northern Norway reindeer have been domesticated for centuries by the Sami. They are a part of Sami everyday life, and in Norway the Sami are the only people who are allowed to herd them.

Even though reindeer are herded they are still considered wild game to keep the traditional slaughter practises of the Sami. Reindeer meat is sold in supermarkets as steaks or shavings for reindeer stew. Small goods companies make reindeer salami and jerky. Reindeer skin is used as outside clothing and shoes, and also as throw rugs. Sami use the skin for dressing their lavvos. It is also common to dress snow caves or places like the Igloo Hotel in Alta with reindeer fur as it is the best to use in Norway for warmth.

Reindeer fur is quite bristly and thick. In winter, the reindeer’s coat becomes nice and thick, even their antlers grow a fur coating for protection against the winter cold. This makes them look very cuddly. In the summer, reindeer have a thin, short coat with their antlers bare. This is especially good for the bucks who need their antlers sharp for competing for females. But in the spring, the reindeer look rather scruffy. Their lovely winter coat falls out in patches and the reindeer fur on the antlers peel off. This is very annoying to the reindeer–it itches them. They scrape their antlers on rocks and trees to help get off their fur. This usually leaves bits of bloody, dried fur hanging from their antlers like leather straps. (At first I thought Sami tied leather on their antlers.)

Just like cows, reindeer are very placid. They get skittish when there is too much excitement around but if you are calm and still the reindeer will happily graze around you. Reindeer like open places with mossy ground. They can eat leaves and mushrooms but lich is their main source of food in the winter. Reindeer dig down in the snow with their hoofs to find the lich underneath.

Today herding reindeer is synonymous with the Sami culture. However, it is recently thought that the Vikings were the first people to herd reindeer. During the Viking Age, Sami lived as settlers and hunted reindeer. It wasn’t until the 16th century (I guess after the big mean scary Vikings had all died out and so it was safer) that the Sami became nomads and herders.

Each Sami family have their own herding area and patterns. They move their reindeer around from the mountain plateaus to the valleys and coasts. There is one particular Sami family who herd their reindeer onto large barges which take the reindeer to fresh grazing grounds on the summer islands.

In Finnmark, during spring some Sami families invite tourists to help herd their reindeer from the mountains to the coast. There is normally several thousand reindeer in a herd and it takes about two weeks to drive them down. The moving takes place at night while there is crust on the snow so you can walk on it without sinking through. Herding is done with snowmobiles (so you need a licence to participate) and it is amazing to watch the Sami ‘snow-cowboys’ doing jumps off the snow dunes as they rein in the break-aways.

Even though reindeer are ‘kept’ animals, they are not kept in pens or fences like cows or horses. They are free to run around and graze wherever they like. It is quite common for reindeer to venture into the towns to graze on the fresh grasses. People here in Northern Norway are used to reindeer and welcome the ‘hello’. However, every time I see a reindeer I still have to stop to take pictures.

One of my most favourite experiences is reindeer racing. Every year in Kautokeino there is the Sami Easter Festival with the Sami Music festival, Film Festival and the World Reindeer Racing Championships. We go nearly every year to join in the festivities.

How to Survive the Dark Winters

‘How do you like the darkness?’ is a question Norwegians like to ask me. I always reply: ‘I love it!’ They are often very surprised.

Because Norway is positioned high in the Northern Hemisphere, it naturally has shorter and darker days during the winter. During the dark season in Oslo, the daylight length is about eight hours but practically, the ‘working’ light is from 10AM to 3PM, dramatically making the day feel shorter. Above the Arctic Circle, there are Polar Nights – when the sun does not make it over the horizon for 24 hours. The higher you go above the Arctic Circle, the more Polar Nights there are. Tromsø, where I once lived, is 350 kilometres (217 miles) above the Arctic Circle and has 60 Polar Nights in a row.

The dark season has always been a concern for foreigners, especially those from sun countries. They ask me, ‘How can you survive 60 days without the sun?’ ‘It’s easy,’ I reply, ‘when in Norway, do as the Norwegians do!’

Below I share some of the Norwegian secrets in surviving the long, dark winters:

Being Aware of SAD

One very important element of how Norwegians survive the darkness is their awareness of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a winter depression that especially effects those living in the Nordic countries. Winter depression was discovered in the 6th century by the Gothic scholar Jordanes from his study of Scandza (Scandinavia).

SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance because of lack of sunlight. The main symptoms are tiredness and oversleeping, fatigue, a craving for sugary foods, feelings of sadness, guilt and a loss of self-esteem, irritability, and avoiding social and physical contact. Norwegians are taught about this disorder in daily life from family, in schools and by the government through TV campaigns. Awareness is key but the best remedy is that Norwegians have made preventing SAD a way of life.

Preparing for Winter

Surviving the winter is a consistent process. You need to prepare the body and mind by maintaining good routines and habits all year round.

Cod Liver Oil
It is a well known that cod liver oil helps your body to soak up the goodness of the sunlight. Cod liver oil has good omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D. Even though Norwegians eat a lot of fish products, it is normal for children and adults to have a spoonful of cod liver oil every day of the year. This is one of the things that child health centres teach new mothers. Pregnant mothers are encouraged to take cod liver oil for their baby’s brain development. At a one-year-old’s check up with the midwife, information is given about the value of cod liver oil to growing bodies. Cod liver oil is usually drunk from the bottle with a spoon or taken as oil capsules. Jellies are also available fo children.

Soaking Up Summer
Living in Norway makes you value the summers so much more–not a moment is wasted. Norwegians participate in many outdoor sports and activities. Days are spent trekking in the mountains, boating, bike riding, and sunbathing. The idea is to store up as much happy sunshine to last you until next spring. And there is certainly a lot of sunshine to be had in Norway during summer. Tromsø, they may have 60 Polar Nights, but they also have 60 Polar Days–that’s 60 days of eternal sunshine! So, even at midnight there are people enjoying the sun, having BBQs on the beach, playing volleyball in the sand, going to outdoor concerts and celebrating the Midnight Sun.

Sleep Routine
Managing your sleep is very important in Norway, especially in the north where the days constantly change through out the year. Getting enough sleep and going to bed at a regular time every night is good for your health. It is easier to have a regular sleep pattern by the sun during autumn and spring in Norway, but during the dark and light seasons, it is good to have reminders to go to bed rather than relying on how your body feels. You can’t rely on the light or darkness, or your body, to know when it’s time to go to bed. So, sticking to a regular sleep routine will help you manage to survive the darkness.

Surviving the Winter

Attitude
I suppose this is a given but attitude is really important in dealing with the darkness. The people who say ‘I can’t live without the sun’ are completely right–they can’t. But the people who see it as an adventure are the ones who have a wonderful time during the darkness. Norwegians really enjoy the dark season. It is a time of celebration with Advent, Santa Parades, St Lucia Day, Christmas, Julebukk, New Years, and Christmas tree burning parties. And without darkness, you can not see the Northern Lights. You can read more about Norwegian attitude to the darkness in the post The Great Slumber.

Exercise
Norwegians are very good at exercising. During the winter it is especially good to exercise so your body can get that activity-high of moving around and warming up your body. Norwegians make good use of the snow for exercise activities such as skiing, snow boarding, fatbiking, etc., but they also go to the gym. However, Norwegians also know that just getting outside and going for a walk can be just as good. Walking through the snow, lifting your knees up to tread over snowy mounds, using your muscles for balance on the ice and just basically getting around outside in the winter is very hard work but great exercise.

Fresh Air
During winter the air is particularly fresh. It is important to get out of the house every day into the fresh winter air. The house is kept closed during winter, the windows are kept shut and the heaters run continuously. This atmosphere can make you tired and sluggish. Getting out in the fresh air will rejuvenate you and make your body feel happy. Parents always take their children outside, and babies are taken for a walk outside in their prams in the Arctic. It is common practise for Norwegians to wrap their baby up nice and snug, and put them in the pram outside on the veranda for a revitalising sleep. The fresh air makes the baby sleep better and for longer. You can often see a line-up of prams with babies snoozing outside a coffee shop in the city.

Don’t Stop Activity
To survive the darkness, it is important to keep doing your activities. When the darkness and snow comes, life still goes on! It is very easy to decide to stay in because it is snowing outside or it is dark. Making the effort to go out–putting on your snow gear, walking to the bus stop, riding the bus, going to the movies, the cafe, the library, then home again and un-suiting is worth it! (Besides, all indoors, even the busses, are heated.) Hat hair, wet behinds from slipping in the snow, mud on your boots, red noses, cold hand shakes, snow in your jacket are all accepted here. No need to apologise, it’s just a part of life in Norway. The winter certainly doesn’t stop outside play for school children. Even kindergarten kids are suited up everyday for an outside play for a few hours. Their special jump-suits keep them nice and toasty. When it is time to go back inside, just a shimmy-shake will get off the snow. (If the kids are dirty then they are hosed off!)

*But remember, reflectors are very important during the darkness – they are important for safety all-round, but especially near roads and traffic! You can read more about using reflectors in the post Everyone Reflects for the Winter.

Don’t Be Scared
Growing up, we are taught to be scared of the dark–’you never know when the Boogie monster might get you!’ However, in Norway, darkness is just daily life. People from warmer countries think that when it is dark in Norway you have to stay indoors, but this is impractical when you only have an hour of light each day. Darkness in Norway means playtime, just the same as if it was light. After school, it is dark but the kids play in the snow. They go sledding, build snowmen and have snowball fights in their front yards, down the street and in the parks. Kids also walk to school in the darkness and walk home in the darkness. So, don’t be scared of the Norwegian darkness. Learn to love the peace and quiet, the lights and the outdoor activities to survive the dark season.

Living with Light

Even though it is dark from November to February (give or take) the season is still filled with light.

There is Still Sunlight
In Southern Norway, the working daylight usually lasts about five hours during high winter. The light is low and weak, but still strong enough to get your fix. But, it is important to put in the effort to make the most of it.

In the Arctic, even though the sun doesn’t rise over the horizon, there is still light! Norway is not pitch black without the sun. Depending on how high you are above the Arctic Circle, near noon-time for about an hour or so, the light of the sun peeks over the horizon, lighting up the snowy landscape. This is the best time to have a walk to enjoy the ‘blue light‘.

The Lightness of Nature
There is light all around thanks to snow! Just a little bit of light will have a big effect on the snow. White is the greatest reflective colour because it is the full spectrum–all the colours together–so snow bounces light, which makes the whole landscape bright. Even though the sun does not rise in the Arctic winter, the moon is very bright in the northern sky, which also reflects on the snow. And, of course, if you look up, you have the Northern Lights brightening the sky.

Solariums and Artificial Light
Some Norwegians like to get their fix of light at solarium centres. However, because of the health risks, this is becoming less popular.

Day Lamps
Bright daylight lamps or light boxes that provide intense illumination (much more than normal house lights) are sometimes used as ‘treatment’ for the blues. The light is usually white full spectrum, although you can also use blue light, which is the light colour of the sun. Just sitting in front of these lights for 15 minutes a day can noticeably make your mood and your body happier. I have used therapy lamps for many years to help sustain my energy during the dark season. In the north where there is no daylight during winter, the lamps helped a great deal, but I am also finding that using the lamp in Oslo to supplement the low daylight helps me feel more energised. However, I have leant that the time of day is important for usage – I usually use my lamp in the early afternoon, not to take over the natural daylight but to extend the daylight experience a little longer.

Fire
Norwegians love fire. Any chance they get they will light up a candle. It is normal to see many candles on tables and windowsills. Welcome candles are small dishes that nestle in the snow by front doors to greet visitors. Shops also use these candles to welcome customers in from the cold as well as open fire torches. The fireplace is the centre of the home and many Norwegians have the fire going every night in winter. Even though the sun can’t be seen, a fire always warms the soul.

City Lights
The lights in the city, suburb streets and even the snow tracks are always on during the dark season. The lights give off a low glow rather than stark whiteness and adds to the beauty of winter. Also in the city, the Christmas lights are lit at the beginning of the dark season right before Advent and stay on until mid-January.

House Lights
By law all buildings and houses need outside lights for safety. During the Christmas season, which lasts til the 13th of January, Christmas lights decorate houses and front garden Christmas trees. So, even the streets are very festive and beautiful in Norway.

Window lamps are in every house. In the dark season Norwegians place hanging lamps in the windows to mimic the sun. Most lamps only give off 40w but collectively they illuminate the house perfectly. Tee lights are very common as well as a variety of candles around the house. At Christmas you’ll find the traditional 5 or 7 stick candelabra in many windows, or a lighted star.

Dog Sledding in Alta

Dog sledding is one of the must-do activities if you come to Norway in the winter. You get to ‘mush’ through some of the best winter landscapes and experience one of Norway’s top sports that was used for hunting and travel since before the Viking Age.

Easter is a great time to enjoy winter sports in Norway. The sun is bright and the light lasts all day, the snow is fluffy and thick, and the weather is more stable. We decided to take a two hour dog sledding tour near our hometown in Alta. When we arrived, we suited up in warm jump-suits, hats and boots provided by the dog sled centre.

We were assigned a team of dogs, just five for beginners. Apparently, the more dogs you have in a team, the faster you will go. We were quickly trained in steering and stopping, and instructed never to let go of the reins. “Remember that the dogs will run for the hills if they get the chance,” we were told.

The energy of the dogs was infectious, and I couldn’t help being extra buzzed for the ride.

We jumped on the sled and away we went, following each other in a line along a scenic track through a forrest and next to the Alta river. Even in a tour convoy, the dogs were very responsive to our steering.

Back at the centre, we got to thank our team with plenty of hugs. Us ‘mushers’ then piled into the lavvo (a teepee-style traditional Sami tent with an open fire ) for supper–cookies, and warm cordial or coffee. A trainer told us stories about the dogs’ training, famous Norwegian mushers and about the world of dog sled racing.

The thing that impressed me most about this dog sledding centre was that they cared for their dogs immensely. Dog sledding in Norway isn’t just a business, but a way of life. Dogs are chosen for their intellect and character, not for their coats. And if a dog isn’t quite up to the challenge of racing, they still get to enjoy what they love best–running in the snow–with dog sledding tours. I was quite happy to find out I was helping the dogs get the exercise they need each day.

It was the best experience, and quietly in my head I thought, ‘I want to be able to do this every day, forever!’

Scenes from Aursfjord

Aursfjord is a branch of Malangen fjord in Troms. It is a beautiful little drive just 40 minutes south-west of Tennes. Autumn was an amazing time to visit, the trees were definitely giving us their best and the water was a gorgeous blue.

The main attraction is the old saw mill, Aursfjordsaga, which was officially opened in 1799. It was restored from 1977-1982 by one of the descendants of the original owner. An old school building has been moved to the site where you can view a display of old artefacts, browse the local craft shop and top up with coffee and waffles.

Aursfjord was originally a Sami settlement dating back to the late 1500’s. The area was later deserted for a decade before Norwegian farmers settled there around 1660. In 1796 the Aursfjord sawmill was built, but because of a dispute with the landlord and owner of another sawmill nearby the mill was not taken into use until it received a Royal permit in 1799. Unfortunately, the permit did not allow for export of timber out of the Malangen district, but the locals used it diligently.

Aursfjord has an interesting story from criminal history. In the mid-1700’s, a man was murdered by his wife and her brother in the nearby town of Kjervik. The two killers fled to Aursfjord where they were later arrested and sentenced to death. They managed to escape from prison and fled to Sweden, where they were re-arrested and their death sentences were carried through in 1742.

Across the road from the saw mill is a beautiful little fishing river. It has walking tracks that lead into a fairy forest with lots of native treasures to discover. The cliff track takes you along the water and to a small waterfall. Fishing is controlled by permits which need to be bought at the City Council or sporting goods stores but you need to be fast because they quickly sell out.

 

Oldervik Oystercatcher

Oldervik is a little fishing village, 40 minutes drive north-east of Tromsø. It is a dead-end, tucked away behind the Lyngen Alps.

Oldervik may not be the most spectacular place in the world (and there are no shops, no activities and no attractions) but it does have a great view and, the natives seem to have some pretty bizarre habits.

This bird is a Tjeld (an ‘oystercatcher’ in English) but they are not known for eating oysters. Instead, they use their long beaks for getting worms out of the rocks and opening mussels.

This particular little oystercatcher at Oldervik didn’t seem to be too wise to the ways of the world. Nursing its eggs in a box is quite normal, but in the middle of a car park? Not only that, every time I tried to get closer to take a picture of it, the bird would fly away squawking, leaving its eggs for the taking. So I would hide behind the cars to allow the bird space to come back to its box. I would sneak around the cars, crouching down (more like a duck than a tiger), to get a closer shot. But, sure enough, every time the bird would see me and fly away, leaving its eggs.

My friend was enjoying the show. After a while I sat beside him, bewildered at the bird’s carelessness. My friend told me the bird was protecting its eggs. I didn’t believe him–how could flying away be protecting the eggs? Being Aussie, I’m used to the blood-shed of magpie season.

“The bird wants you to follow. If you were a dog or a cat you would be motivated by the thought of having a nice little oystercatcher bird for supper. The bird would tease you, flying here and there, to keep your interest, all the while luring you away from its eggs.”

How clever! If I was a cat or a dog I would definitely fall for that. Although, come to think of it, the bird had me all along. When the bird was at the box I would come closer to the eggs, so the bird would fly away and I’d retreat again. (And who thinks they are the most intelligent creatures on earth?)

Sometimes there is a big difference between how animals and humans protect their precious things:

Hm. It might be smart hanging a dead oystercatcher to protect the drying fish from other birds but not all smart things are right.

I’m still not used to country life. What is normal for the country can seem barbaric to a city girl like me.

Senja Troll

In a country full of mountains, legends of mystical creatures echo throughout the land. It seems in every valley, on every hilltop, or in every cave, there is a troll waiting to be found.

Norway is certainly magical and the legends of old still have a place at every campfire. I love hearing about the Norse folktales and how simple stories have become legends. So, on our trip to Senja island, Hulder and Troll Park was a must-see.

The family park is in the middle of Senja island and is a perfect pit-stop for travellers. It has made its mark in history with a Guinness Book world record by having the tallest troll since 1997. Inside the Troll is a fairytale land created from Senja troll legends. In summer, there are troll shows, story-telling and even a disco for the kids.

Even though Hulder and Troll Park is one of the most popular family attractions in Northern Norway, it still has that special charm. It is not a large commercially-run theme park but a delightful small family business.

The creator of Hulder and Troll Park, Leif Rubach, is widely cherished as the ‘Troll Father’. When he is not performing in the shows or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, he is sitting at his craft table in the Hulderheimen Cultural Centre, hammering away at his pewter handwork.

In the centre there is a coffee shop with a gallery of speciality handicrafts. My favourite trinkets are the Mitten Trolls. They were inspired by Troll Father’s childhood in Gryllefjord, a little town in the next fjord over. After a hard day on the sea, fishermen would hang their mittens on the boating shed to dry. To deter their children from playing on the pier, parents would tell stories about the little trolls that lived in the fishermen’s mittens.

The Hulderheimen Cultural Centre is part folktale museum–the walls are filled with pictures and stories from the area. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the old fishermen and intriguing characters who worked in the nickel mine down the road. The gallery is themed on the Senja troll myths and ‘my penny dropped’ when I saw the likeness of the trolls and Norwegian mountains.

Visiting Senja Troll changed my perspective of the Norwegian nature. As we headed into the sunset, the landscape was transformed–what once were majestic blue mountains were now gigantic trolls snoozing in the twilight.

Now I see trolls everywhere!

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Senja Troll burnt down in 2019. There are plans to rebuild.

Rock Carvings at Tennes

Tennes is a small town in Balsfjord with a northern view of the Lyngen Alps. Even though it is in the middle of nowhere, Tennes has somehow always been a gathering place. The Vikings would meet and trade in this area and Tennes became the administrative centre when Balsfjord was declared a municipality in 1856. It is obvious that this new status was largely due to the completion of the Balsfjord Church in Tennes the same year. (Back in those times you needed a church to be considered a town and a cathedral to earn city status.)

The Balsfjord Church still stands proud today and remains a gathering place for the locals. Travellers use the church as a marker to take a journey back in time, as Tennes is famous for its Stone Age rock carvings.

The discovery of the rock carvings in Tennes is a collective story. In 1799, Professor Martin Vahl from the Copenhagen University, the first botanist to travel to Northern Norway, found a stag-like figure carved in rock on a farm in Balsfjord. He jotted it down in his notes and carried on his merry way ‘discovering’ new plants.

It wasn’t until 1913 that employees at the Copenhagen Botanic Museum went through his notes and came across the drawing of a ‘rock carving’. Gustav Hallström took to the challenge to travel to Balsfjord to ‘re-discover’ (and claim) the first Scandinavian rock carving. With a little detective work, Hallström found himself at Tennes farm. The locals recognised the figure Professor Vahl had drawn and took Hallström to Bukkhammaren, the rock where the stag lay amongst five other animal figures. Just a few hundred meters away also laid the rock carvings of Gråbergan.

In 1938 Tordis Larsen heard some gossip about her farm at the local knitting circle. The priest’s wife had shown a mysterious old notebook depicting rock carvings on the Larsen’s property. Aware of the growing interest in rock carvings, Larsen set out to find them on her farm. She quickly found a large rock with 40 carvings in her Kirkely field. This was the largest, northernmost discovery of rock carvings in the world (until Alta, of course).

With ancient hunters and gatherers, Vikings, traders, discoverers, travellers, Christians, knitting circles and a municipality all coming together in this one little town, Tennes can truly claim to be one of Norway’s most popular meeting place.

Season to Pick Blueberries

I think Autumn is my favourite season in Norway – the weather is still warm here in Tromsø, the sunsets come down over the mountains again and the blueberries are ripe for the picking.

Wild blueberries grow in marshy woodlands all over Norway. You can usually tell when you’re close to a blueberry patch because the sweet smell tickles the tip of your nose. Norwegian brown bears love eating blueberries and so do the native woodland birds. It was by a lake up in Alta that I discovered my first Norwegian blueberry. Moose and I were bush-walking when he bent down and picked a berry and ate it. I gasped ‘Don’t eat that!’. ‘Why?’, he said. ‘Because it might kill you!’ (I had grown up with an ‘Aussie-sense’ of danger that everything in the bush can kill you or at least leave you brutally maimed.) Moose laughed at me, ‘It’s just a blueberry’. He picked one for me. Oh boy – a trust exercise (we had only been married for three months). It took me a moment but I managed to eat my first wild blueberry – straight off the bush, in the wild! Since then, I hang out for blueberry season every year.

 

 
Blueberry season is generally in late August in Tromsø but earlier in the south. The size and quality of the blueberry depends on the summer season. If it is a hot summer the berries can grow big and ripen quickly but if the summer is cold then the berries are smaller and take longer to ripen. Picking blueberries is one of our family traditions (two years running now). The first year we just used our hands to pick and they turned completely purple! So this year we decided to use a berry-picker and cleaning tray. Even though you can pick more berries you also prune the bush so it takes longer cleaning and sorting. (I think I prefer hand-picking as you are more selective and it’s easier for the squished ones to find your mouth.)
 
We took Lilu with us but she wasn’t keen on sitting in the marshes. However, she was happy to sit in her pram as Moose gave her a Birch twig to crew on. My ‘Aussie-sense’ kicked in again but Moose said that Birch trees are like the national chewing gum. Norwegian hikers munch on the woody fibres for a minty freshness and it is often used as an emergency toothbrush for campers. (Well, at least it will teach Lilu to like toothpaste.)
 
 
The best part about blueberry picking is making the blueberry food – fresh blueberry jam, muffins, cereal topping, sauces and pancakes. The first thing I did when we got home was make a waffle batter – I threw in some fresh blueberries and loaded up the waffle-maker. Mmmmh… cooking-blueberry smell. With some fresh cream on top and sprinkled with more wild blueberries, you have yourself a very ‘Merry Blueberry-now‘.
 
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Reindeer Racing

Every Easter the Sami host the World Reindeer Racing Championships. It is held at Kautokeino, a little Sami town just two hours east of Alta. Easter is a perfect time to have the event as there is plenty of snow and the sun is shining bright. (But you still have to keep moving otherwise your toes can turn into icicles.)

The championships is a cosy gathering in the centre of town. The race is on a small open plain. To warm you up before the race you can enjoy real Sami food in a Lavvo. The competition has youth and adult race divisions and even a special race for the Mayor. If you are a tourist (non-Sami) you also have a chance to race–the Tourist Division is one of the highlights of the day.

The serious competitors race on skis behind their reindeer. The reindeer are loaded into the starting booth and the competitors stand next to, holding the reins. Reindeer always have jumpy starts so the competitors only wrap the reins around their hands after the race begins, just in case the reindeer does something weird, and they need to let go. This makes for a lot of false starts as the reins often slip through the hands. For safety, the reindeer antlers are cut off (and I guess it helps with speed and agility too).

The tourists get a number and a ticket for the race. You have to jump up to the plate for your go otherwise you will miss your turn. If you have never skied before it’s no worries because tourists race on their butts using sleds. I guess it’s a lot safer to fall off when sitting down.

It is a load of fun watching the tourist class. Most don’t make it across the finish line–the reindeer seem to have other plans. If the tourist has a loose slack on the reins, the reindeer takes the opportunity to head for the hills. Sami then jump on their snowmobiles and race for the chase, doing tricks over the snow mounds. They are the real modern-day cowboys jumping off their scooters to tackle the reindeer and bring it back to base.

Soon it was my turn. I had good odds to win as only two had finished the race out of eleven (so far). I jumped on the sled and realised they hadn’t cut the antlers off my reindeer! But my animal was calm amongst the crowd–the others had been jerky and nervous with all the activity. With basic driving instructions from the Sami, I was ready to go.

My race started well. I was going like a bat-out-of-hell and then I thought ‘I love this too much!– so… why am I going faster?’

It dawned on me that the faster I went, the quicker my ride would be over. I started to wish my reindeer had a stronger will to head for the hills like the rest of them. But I finished the race in good time and health. And I was happy.

As it turned out I made a new world record (but my ‘rein’ was over five minutes later). Still, I can claim I was in the top ten at the World Reindeer 2008 Championships! Not bad for an Aussie.