One Kvaløya Sunset

As a photographer in your hometown, you have your favourite spots to take the perfect photographs. You know when to go, what equipment you need according to the weather and light, and you even have your favourite camera settings that bring out the best in the landscape.

Ten years ago as a beginner photographer, I had no clue what I was doing. One clear-sky afternoon in Tromsø, I decided to go out somewhere to take pictures of the sunset. With a brand new camera I barely knew how to work, baby in-tow, I set off towards the water in hope of capturing something half-decent.

Some might think I got lucky with these pictures, but no, I had help–the natural beauty of the Norwegian landscape. Early in my photography practice I quickly realised that you did’t need amazing filters and fang-dangle lenses and flashes and hundreds of settings to choose from to take a magical photo of Norway. All I needed was nature and the north’s amazing natural light. The experience greatly influenced my philosophy of this photo blog–to keep everything real, authentic and raw.

As it’s the blog’s ten year anniversary this month, I’ve decided to give it a makeover. It means I’m replacing all the photos with their larger, better-quality versions (as the internet can handle them now–haha!) , and also updating a lot of the information in blog articles. This will take some time, of course–I have over 1000 posts! But rather than waiting for all the work to be done, I thought I’d release the new version of the blog so you can visit some of the older posts that have been a part of the journey of me falling in love with Norway.

So, I hope you enjoy the raw version of the first sunset I ever photographed in Norway.

Polar Bear Tombstone

I never thought a tombstone would make me smile and say ‘how cute!’ But you just can’t help yourself when you see one like this. It is even in 3D. I think it is a wonderful idea to have something such as this carved on your tombstone that represents your life. A site like this would be a joy to visit.

This tombstone is in the Tromsø cemetery. Paul Bjørvig was a Norwegian hunter and polar explorer. He was born in Tromsø and went on his first expedition at age 13. Throughout his life, Bjørvig went on many expeditions in various roles into the Arctic and Antarctic. Many attempts were unsuccessful. In fact, he often found himself the only one left alive on a couple of occasions and had to bunker in caves or frozen ships for a couple of months until the ice melted and he could return home. His most notable company was Wellman 1894-1909, Gauss 1901-03, the Drygalski and Deutschland expedition with Filcher 1911-13.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Longest Word

I always thought supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was the longest word in the world. Apparently, I am very wrong! Let me introduce you to Norwegian compound words. The basic rule is any verb or noun that describes a ‘thing’ can be collected into one word. And it’s completely legal!

It is an everyday phenomenon to read, hear and speak made-up (compound) words in Norway. This means that any <thing> can have numerous names that is only restricted by the vocabulary and imagination of the creator.

However, compound words are known to create misunderstandings. A simple example: If a Norwegian says Tyveri sikret they are saying ‘theft is secured’ but if they say Tyverisikret they mean ‘theft proof’. As Norwegians have a natural mumble, it’s nearly impossible to know what they mean unless you know the context. However, Norwegians love their language and they always use it to get a laugh out of life.

There was a radio competition a few years back to create the longest real Norwegian word. The winner was:

Dampskipsundervannsstyrkeprøvemaskinerikonstruksjonsvanskeligheter!

Can you guess what it means? Well, let me just say that if you work in the shipping industry you might get a chance to use ‘steamship-underwater-strength-test-machinery-construction-difficulties’.