Friluftsliv, Fjellgruppa, and Free Food

Time is flying here in Tromsø and I’ve been enjoying the sunshine and beautiful fall weather in the mountains. A couple weeks ago I went on a two-day hike to Skarvassbu with the Tromsø “Fjellgruppa” or student mountaineering club. We were an international mix of 14 students from Norway, Germany, Poland, Finland, France, and Denmark. I was the only American, so of course, all questions about Donald Trump were directed at me. While hiking, we also entered heated debates about what kind of Norwegian cheese tastes the best and where the most fruitful opportunities for dumpster diving are in Tromsø.

Our mountain guides fell off the cliff...

Our fearless mountain guides fell off the cliff…

Our cabin at Skarvassbu

Our cabin at Skarvassbu

On Friday we hiked from the city center out to Skarvassbu, which is one of many public cabins in the Norwegian wilderness. These public cabins are a very convenient way for lazy hikers to avoid lugging a tent around, and you usually end up sharing the cabins with an interesting crowd. We weren’t exactly roughing it, since we had purchased all the necessary ingredients for a complete taco dinner. “Taco Friday” is a sacred and ancient tradition here in Norway. So after eating way too many tacos, we played cards and later sat under the dancing Northern lights. It was my first time seeing the Northern lights while out in the mountains, although amazingly I’d seen them a few times the previous week from my own backyard. Just casually watching the Aurora borealis instead of Netflix. it was a completely different experience without any artificial city lights. I am repeatedly humbled and stunned by wild beauty of northern Norway.

The Northern lights we saw from Skarvassbu (photo credit Sidse Kofoed)

The Northern lights we saw from Skarvassbu (photo credit Sidse Kofoed)

The next morning we hiked Tromsdalstinden, which is a peak on the mainland. The route up the back of the mountain was covered in snow, so yes, we had a snowball fight. Since it was a weekend, the mountain was swarming with super fit blonde Norwegians running up the steep slope with their super fit children and little dogs on leashes in tow. Meanwhile the American with the too-big backpack proudly sporting a St. Olaf Chemistry Society shirt huffed and puffed, trying to pretend she hadn’t grown up at cornfield altitude.

The front face of Tromsdalstinden

The front face of Tromsdalstinden

The back (and snowy) face of Tromsdalstinden

The back (and snowy) face of Tromsdalstinden

Speaking of super fit Norwegians, my housemate Hilde WON THE OSLO MARATHON last weekend. She came in first place for women in a race with over 2,300 participants. I’m proud to say we share a bathroom and kitchen utensils 🙂 Here’s a great article about her in the Tromsø newspaper, Nordlys (“Northern Lights”). I couldn’t find an English version, but in this case Google Translate is your friend! In addition to being superhuman, Hilde is also so sweet and kind – I’m lucky to be living with her.

My housemate Hilde kicking some serious butt (photo credit Nordlys)

My housemate Hilde kicking some serious butt (photo credit Nordlys)

While Hilde was out winning marathons, I was eating free food at SMAK – which means “Taste” – and is a Norwegian food festival held in downtown Tromsø. This year, over 70,000 people attended, which is an impressive number here considering the entire population of Tromsø (city proper, not including nearby towns) is under 73,000. SMAK was a delicious success and I enjoyed fresh salmon, reindeer meat, and lefse, among other delicacies. I may or may not have visited one stand repeatedly at least 5 times for free samples of marzipan cake 🙂

SMAK Food Festival putting the downtown Burger King to shame

SMAK Food Festival putting the downtown Burger King to shame

Continuing our free food streak, another Fulbrighter and I went wild blueberry picking in the mountains of Kvaløya on Monday. The word “Kvaløya” translates to “whale island,” creatively named because humpback whales hang out near the coast in November through January. Kvaløya is also the place to go to exploit the last of the sweet mountain blueberry season.

Tara and I picking some free mountain produce

Tara and I picking some free mountain produce

On Friday, I spent a lovely Friday afternoon with a friend eating more blueberries while hiking to Kjølen, which is the first and closest peak on Kvaløya. We crossed paths with a few reindeer out enjoying the sun. It’s not uncommon to see reindeer wandering around in the mountains here. They are all domestic and part of herds belonging to the Sami families who live in Troms. Luckily, the reindeer are not aggressive! I hear they make good pets…

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Sending warm thoughts your way from the far North 🙂

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