After almost a full year in Norway, I am back in the states. Coming home was hard. I packed, repacked, and weighed my suitcase almost as many times as I broke into tears over leaving. I deeply miss the friends who became my lifelines while abroad. I caught an incurable case of mountain fever and ache for the stark landscape of northern Norway. But it is also so good to be home with family. I am reminded of the subtle beauty of the Midwest and nothing beats a home-cooked meal 🙂
On July 14th I said goodbye to Tromsø and flew south to meet friends to spend the last of my summer vacation together. We decided on a roadtrip to the west coast of Norway through a region known for its dramatic fjords and perpetual rainy weather. Along the way we stopped to eat moose burgers and marveled at the Borgund “Stav church.” The medieval wooden church was built in the 12th century. Strikingly, the roof was decorated with carved dragon heads. Dragons seemed like unusual decor for a church; we learned later they were were modelled after the prows of Viking ships to ward off evil spirits…
Hours later we reached our final destination: a climbing route in the village of Loen known as a Via Ferrata. The term “Via Ferrata” is Italian for “Iron Road.” Essentially, the Via Ferrata is a steel cable which runs along a rock face and is bolted to the wall for less-experienced climbers (like us).
The first Via Ferratas were built in Italy during the World War I for military purposes. Today the routes are used for recreational climbing and there are over 1000 Via Ferratas worldwide. The Via Ferrata in Loen is one of the most well-known in Norway. The route began gradually on a forested trail but the trees quickly gave way to rocks. The first climbing face we encountered was called Jomfruberget, which literally translates to “virgin rock.” We were certainly inexperienced since this was our first Via Ferrata, but luckily we caught the hang of things after a while.
Norway’s largest glacier, Jostedalsbreen, slowly came into view in the distance as we climbed. The glacier has shrunk significantly in the past years but it remains the largest in continental Europe. Via Ferrata Loen also boasts another European record: the longest hanging bridge. We were careful not to look down as we walked across the swinging bridge with a 160 meter deep canyon plunging below us. Later we were challenged to walk across a similar canyon on a single steel wire – with our harnesses clipped in safely to cables on both sides of course 🙂
After several hours we reached the top at about 1011 meters above sea level. From the peak we tried to catch our breath while admiring the spectacular view. The drive back from Loen was bittersweet as my time in Norway drew to a close. But what a trip and what great company to spend the last few days with!
Since coming home, I’ve been trying to reflect on the year in Tromsø. Although this is far from a complete list, I’d like to end by sharing a few tips from the locals on life in this small Norwegian town north of the Arctic circle.
10 tips for life in northern Norway:
- There is no such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothes.
- Weekends are for hiking in the mountains, not staring at a computer screen.
- Don’t make eye contact when taking the public transportation.
- Brown cheese, spoonfuls of fish oil, and a generous helping of Arctic cod are essential parts of the northern Norwegian diet.
- Arrive no more than 30 minutes before your flight departs from Tromsø airport. Anything earlier is overkill.
- Don’t even think about walking if there is enough snow left to ski.
- Coffee is best served as strong as you can possibly bear it, at least 5 times a day.
- Wear ice spikes on your shoes all winter. They’re not just for tourists.
- Summer in Tromsø officially begins the first day the temperature is above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and it isn’t raining. Go to the beach, play sand volleyball, grill hot dogs, eat ice cream and jump in the icy Arctic ocean.
- “Kos” is an important Norwegian word without a direct translation to English. It’s a word that describes a cozy, candlelit evening spent with friends during the polar night. Preferably in a remote cabin with the northern lights dancing outside the window. Those nights I’ll never forget.
For the Fulbright and for everyone who supported me this year, either in Norway or across the ocean, I am forever grateful. Goodbye, Tromsø, for now 🙂