Island life

Christmas has arrived in Tromsø, along with fresh snow. The trails are traffic jams with every Norwegian on the island cross-country skiing to work. The Norwegians pass me on the trail like cars used to pass my old Cadillac on the highway…Rest in Peace, Caddy. But so fun to ski to work!

This past weekend I stayed with some friends at a seaside “hytte” or cabin on Rebbenesøy. Rebbenesøy is a small island (only 30 square miles) located northwest of Tromsø. On Saturday morning we rushed to catch the ferry to Rebbenesøy: the ferry only goes 4 times a day and has to be called and ordered some mornings only if you need it. Rebbenesøy is populated by about 50 people, and remarkably had a small school for several years that just recently closed. Now the six students who live on the island take the ferry to school in Tromsø.


Alex and Gyri’s cabin on Rebbenesøy

My friends from work, Alex and Gyri, own the hytte on Rebbenesøy and love to spend the summer hiking in the mountains and swimming in the secluded lakes. Now that the mountains are covered in snow, Gyri led us on only a short hike the nearest peak. From the outlook we could see the orca whales breaching in the fjord. Later in the day the whales came so close to the shore that we could watch them from the window of our cabin.


View from the cabin

Saturday evening we enjoyed lingonberries and local reindeer meat – gifts from the Sami family who live near the cabin and are friends with Alex and Gyri. With two guitars, some Akvavit, and a piano, the weekend flew by. We shared coffee and songs with Odd Arne, a bachelor fisherman who has lived on the island his entire life with a fat cat and an accordion. With good company and good laughs it was bittersweet to catch the last ferry home.


Jane and I on Rebbenesøy

Life in the laboratory at UiT is going as great as ever. Recently another Fulbrighter in Tromsø, Jane Luu, and I gave a seminar at UiT entitled “Life on Saturn’s moons?” Jane is an astrophysicist who studies exoplanets, and I study extremophiles (microbes that live in extreme environments), so together we gave a fun talk about the potential properties of  extraterrestrial life. Jane Luu has already had an incredible career before she arrived for her Fulbright here in Tromsø: she just casually discovered the Kuiper belt, proved that Pluto isn’t a planet, and was awarded the Kavli prize. There is even an asteroid named after her: 5430 Luu, yet she’s one of the most humble and kind people I know. Jane is only here through Friday, so it will be sad to see her go. Thankfully, this Friday, my mom and her boyfriend Doug will arrive to spend Christmas together here at the (almost) North Pole. So lucky to have visitors for Christmas!

To get in the holiday spirit, some friends and I baked enough “pepperkaker” or gingerbread cookies to feed all of northern Norway. Children in Tromsø have built a replica of the entire city of Tromsø out of gingerbread that is on display in the library. Their skills are far superior to the gingerbread shanty I made…it fell apart and the evidence of its existence had to be hidden (it was delicious). In the grocery stories you can also buy “Serinakaker,” which are Christmas cookies (The literal translation is “Serina cakes”). Mmmm 🙂


Gingerbread version of the local brewery in Tromsø


The holiday season in Tromsø also comes with no shortage of Christmas concerts. Earlier this year I joined a Norwegian choir called “TAKk” (the Tromsø Akademiske Kvinnekor) and we have been practicing since summer for our Christmas concerts in the Arctic Cathedral. Enjoy a short video clip of us singing Magnificat Primo by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani 🙂

We also sang in a concert with the 4 other choirs in Tromsø accompanied by the world’s northernmost pop orchestra in the world’s northernmost cathedral. (Northernmost is an overused claim to fame here.) The Arctic cathedral has beautiful acoustics, and it was a joy to sing with so many different choirs. Here’s a link to a video clip of us singing “Svete Tihi” by Pavel Chesnokov.

Happy Holidays everyone 🙂



Tromsø city center decorated for the holidays

One thought on “Island life

  1. Good always hearing from you. Now you can gaze at the stars and into the sea. Breathe. All will unfold. Life is like that. Always here. Mar.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s