Arctic Cathedral

The Arctic Cathedral is a landmark in Tromsø standing at the end of the bridge on the mainland. Its ‘Cathedral’ status is only a nickname, as it is actually a parish church of the Church of Noway. The architecture is quite unique and there is some debate whether it looks like an iceberg, a Sami lavvu or a fish-drying rack.

The church has become a part of the famous tourist pilgrimage walk from the city centre, over the bridge to the Arctic Cathedral, and then up the mountain via cable car to see the wonderful panoramic view of the Arctic landscape.

Sledding

If you’re from a country that doesn’t get snow, then visiting Noway in the winter is an amazing experience. Just being in the snow gives hours of entertainment – feeling it, throwing it, catching snowflakes on your tongue, listening to the crunch under your boots… Norway is a winter playland.

As a visitor, without even joining a ski, snowshoe or dog sledding tour, you can have loads of fun just spending a few hours at a local sledding hill – and it’s free! You will need a sled though, which come in many varieties and can be hired at tourist equipment centres or bought at toy or sporting goods stores. You can find simple butt sleds for under 100 kroner at supermarkets.

Quite often the locals have already done the work clearing deep snow and building jumps for the thrill seekers. Sometimes sledding hills can have very elaborate tracks with pipes used as rails for snowboarding practice.

Sledding is for the whole family, is great exercise, fun, and on a sunny winter’s day, will immerse you in the BBQ culture with the locals.

King Crab Safari

The red king crab is a giant crustacean native to the Alaskan coast and the Bering sea. They can grow up to two metres from claw-to-claw. Fleshy and tasty, they are considered a delicacy by many, especially in Asian countries.

Norway didn’t always have the king crab. They migrated from Alaska to make the most of the Arctic waters. However, Russian Scientists sped up the migration when they were experimenting with breeding near the Russian-Norwegian border to increase the yearly yield of their fisheries. The crab thrived in the Barents Sea environment and it didn’t take long for them to migrate into the lush Norwegian waters. Now the crab can found along the entire northern coast of Norway – it has become a invasive species.

Norwegian scientists are concerned for the natural ecosystem as the crab devours everything in its path. Many crabs are culled, and there is a small but strong industry of exporting live frozen crab to China (the crab can be frozen up to 24 hours and defrosted for a live sale), however, there are still only a limited number of fishermen that have permits to fish the crab commercially. But, you can certainly do your part to help the environment by eating your fair share on a King Crab Safari – a win/win.

I was lucky enough to go on a King Crab Safari with Destinasjon 71° Nord at Honningsvåg. The tour company offers safaris as part of their summer experiences. The package included an open boat ride out to the crab pods, instruction on how to handle, slaughter and cook the crabs, and finished with a king crab meal in a lavvu. Of course, there were many photo ops.

(The head tour guide was kind enough to pose for my camera.)

We had the opportunity of holding the crabs while on the dock, practicing the technique shown us so we didn’t get caught by the giant nipper. The crabs were quite heavy, and some were more feisty than others.

The guides were great with answering all the questions by us tourists, they were knowledgable about the crabs and the industry, and threw in a few funny stories, while they slaughtered and divided the crab. If you want to participate in the butchering, speak up, otherwise you can just watch.

After the crab was boiled in a pot of sea water over the open fire inside the lavvu, it was rinsed in cold sea water to cool it down. The shell was then cut to make it easier to get to the flesh.

Back in the lavvu, the crab was served only with bread to allow room for two or three helpings. And the taste…? I’ll let you decide.

The tour was a nice half-day adventure that the whole family could enjoy. But, if you love crab, this experience should be on your bucket list.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.

Straumen Gård

Traditional houses are scattered throughout Norway. Some are still lived in, some have been turned into open-air heritage museums, and others have been left to survive on their own.

The little folk museum, Straumen Gård, is one of the most unassuming heritage sites I have seen so far. Tucked away on the south side of Kvaløya, next to Tromsø city island, the old farm site has a delicate sweetness afforded to its quiet coastal surroundings and overgrown vegetation.

Built in the early 1800’s, the farm consists of a barn, tool sheds, a well and a few charming houses, which are open to the public at certain times of the year. The museum is a nice little stop along the way to the Senja ferry, but you must be on the lookout for it otherwise you’ll pass it by in a blink of an eye.

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.

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.

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.

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!’

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‘.
 
blueberry-waffles.jpg

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.