Whales and Winter

Sending warm thoughts to you all from the North, with Paris, Beirut, and all the world in our hearts and minds ❤ The Arctic Cathedral here in Tromsø has been lit up with colors the flag of France. Local political leaders have been gathering there this week to discuss aid efforts. It’s a beautiful gesture, but only the beginning of how much love we need to show. I hope that you are all doing well and are safe!

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The Arctic Cathedral of Tromsø. Photo credit VG News.

I have now officially been living 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle for almost 3 months. I get homesick sometimes, but in general I absolutely love it here. Every day I am still in awe of the natural beauty. I’ve seen the Northern lights so many nights that I’ve lost count! I own a bike with snow tires, a headlamp, a reflective vest, and 5 pairs of mittens. My main protein sources are mackerel, salmon, and pollock. Sometimes I dream in Norwegian. Is this real life?

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Beautiful Kaldfjord as seen from Kvaløya or “Whale Island”

“Mørketiden” or the “Polar night” is now approaching quickly. Currently the sun sets around 2pm, and it is getting noticeably darker each day. On November 28 the sun will officially will stop rising and it won’t rise again until January 15 😦 Luckily it won’t be completely dark: the “blåtiden” is something local Norwegians refer to as the ethereal blue light that is present during the middle of the day. Also the Northern lights have been exceptionally active this fall and hopefully will continue to be even brighter as it gets colder. If you’re interested, you can follow the activity (and see some amazing photos) of the northern lights in Tromsø here: http://norway-lights.com/#tromso. My camera isn’t good enough to capture the Northern lights, but luckily I have a talented friend, Anja Striberny, who takes amazing photos of them. All photo credit goes to her 🙂

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Tromsø at night! Photo credit Anja Striberny

My research project is going really well and I realize how lucky I am to be able to say that I love going to work every day. Right now I’m characterizing a novel species of methane-oxidizing bacteria isolated here in Tromsø. These bacteria are so cool (and picky) because they consume methane as their only carbon source. In other words, you give them glucose or some other multicarbon compound for food they refuse to grow. We care about studying methane-oxidizing bacteria because they are important biological filters for greenhouse gas emissions from Arctic peatlands. I will have to devote an entire post soon to describe the project! But in the meantime know that I am in a good place and I love my job!

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So lucky to be living here! Photo creds to Anja

This past week we had a mini-retreat in Tromsø with researchers in Arctic Infection Biology. We enjoyed a traditional Norwegian spread of smoked salmon and listened to some exciting scientific talks given by fellow researchers. But the best part of the retreat was the annual Christmas beer tasting. In true scientific style, we did a blind taste test for 10 different types of beer. Each beer was rated on a scale of 0 (undrinkable) to 5 (best beer ever tasted). Morten, a researcher with Arctic Infection Biology, brews his own beer at home so we were asked to guess which beer was Morten’s compared to 9 other store bought brands. Not surprisingly, Morten is a master brewer. His beer, a “Black Butte Porter” recipe, won the best taste rating overall and it was completely gone by the end of the night 🙂

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Humpback whales in Kaldfjord, Norway. Photo credit to Anja!

As if life could get any better, the whales have arrived to overwinter and feed near Tromsø! This past weekend a friend and I biked to “Kaldfjord”  to watch the orca and humpback whales frolic in the fjord. They are so close to the shore that we were able to watch them from the mainland. No boat necessary. We’re already planning another to go back to see them again this coming weekend. Enjoy Anja’s stunning photos 🙂

Sending all my love from latitude 69 degrees N!

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Orca whales in Kaldfjord! All praise and photo credits go to Anja Striberny

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Just frolicking in the fjord. Photo credits to Anja Striberny.

Bergen and back again

This past weekend I took a trip to Bergen to visit a fellow Fulbright from St. Olaf, Nels.  Oles stick together 🙂 Despite the fact that the tiny Tromsø airport has about 5 gates,  I was surprised to find there was a direct flight from Tromsø to Bergen via Widerøe,  which is a regional airline with an entire fleet of cute propeller planes. The two-hour flight comes with complementary coffee (which you don’t get flying SAS) and stunning views of the fjords during take-off and landing. We even had an in-cabin commentary as the pilot pointed out natural landmarks like glaciers and Jotunheimen – “the home of the giants” – as we flew over them.

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Tiny Widerøe plane 🙂

Bergen!

Bergen!

After landing, I was overjoyed to see the familiar face of Nels at the bus stop. We toured around Bergen and had a delicious dinner with several other Fulbrighters in the area. On the walk home we also snuck into the Bergen Kunsthall (Contemporary Art Hall) to catch the last few sets of a live concert by a Norwegian band, Farao.

A view of Bergen from Fløyen

The view of Bergen from Fløyen in the early morning sun

The next morning, Nels had to go split cells in lab (rough life) so I had a few hours to myself to explore Bergen. First stop was Fløyen, which is one of the seven mountains ringing Bergen. It is one of the most popular landmarks in Norway, and the stunning view overlooks the city center and Byfjorden. There is cable car going to the top, but it is also a nice hike with landmarks along the way including slightly terrifying wooden troll statues.

Troll!

Troll!

No witches allowed on Fløyen?

No witches allowed on Fløyen?

Bergenshus Fortress

Bergenshus Fortress

Next I checked out the Bergenhus fortress, which has buildings dating back to the 1240’s. Rosenkrantz tower has a beautiful view of the fjord and Haakon’s hall is the one of the oldest medieval royal halls in Norway. The fortress itself is considered one of the most well-preserved castles in Norway. Bergenshus fortress also has a museum dedicated to the Norwegian resistance movement under World War II. Several of my great uncles were part of the Norwegian resistance movement, so I was especially interested in learning more. The museum is a beautiful testament to lives lost and the bravery of the Norwegian resistance movement.

World War II museum

World War II museum

King Haakon VII - the king in Norway during WWII

King Haakon VII – the king in Norway during WWII

In the afternoon I headed to the train station to meet another fellow Ole, Erik Springer, and his family also happened to be visiting Bergen for the weekend!

Casual meeting in Bergen. Photo credit: Karen Springer Leighton

We had a wonderful time exploring Bryggen, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. These wooden buildings are reconstructed in the style used by Hanseatic merchants in the 1300’s. Now a new type of merchant has taken over Bryggen and they specialize in selling all variations on a Norwegian sweater to tourists.

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Bryggen with Bergenshus fortress and Rosenkrantz tower in the background

And if you’re looking for anything with a moose on it… we found just the store for you, creatively named “The Moose Shop.”

The Moose Shop!

The Moose Shop!

The view of Bergen harbor and Byfjorden

The view of Bergen harbor and Byfjorden

Saturday was another beautiful day spent hiking Ulriken, which is the highest of the seven mountains surrounding the city. Nels and I managed to sit at a picnic table at the top of Ulriken right by where a TV show was being filmed! They wouldn’t disclose to us the title of the show, but hopefully if we keep our eyes open on NRK (the popular Norwegian TV station) we might see the scenes that were being filmed.

Ulriken view

Ulriken view

Hiking buddies

Hiking buddies

Shockingly, the weather in Bergen was sunny for the entire time I was there. I had packed all my rain gear, because, as you probably know, Bergen is known for its rain. The longest record is 85 consecutive days of rainfall, meaning that rain fell every day between October 29, 2006 and January 21, 2007. This was around the time when they decided that “umbrella vending machines” were a good idea and installed them on the streets. Sadly the umbrella vending machines were not successful…Luckily for me the forecast was nothing but clear skies and perfect fall days.

Norge mitt norge

Norge mitt Norge

It was hard to say goodbye to Nels and Erik and get back on the flight home, but it’s also good to be back in Tromsø. My project in the lab is going great and I’m unbelievably lucky to be living here. I’m still left breathless by the beauty of the nature when I walk out my door in the morning. I also purchased a bike with studded snow tires so I can bike home from work under the Northern lights, even when it snows. And we have snow in the forecast for this week 🙂 Hopefully in a few months I’ll even be able to ski to the lab!

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 🙂

Spending time down south (Oslo)

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Obligatory Ole selfie

Last week, all the Norway Fulbright grantees got to fly to Oslo for orientation at the U.S Embassy, where, yes, there is a Starbucks coffee machine. Our orientation included a lot of logistical details like learning which grocery stores are cheapest (Rema 1000 always wins) and how to open a bank account (not as easy as it sounds)! We also got to taste a traditional Norwegian smorgasbord of food…definitely a highlight!

Norwegian smorgasbord

Norwegian smorgasbord

It was so great to meet the other Fulbrighters and get a chance to know them over the weekend. There is a mix of scholars from all over the U.S. including Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Arizona, and Idaho. Out of the entire group, Nels and I were the only two that came from the same college – UM YA YA! So good to see a familiar face. We are mostly all split up between the four major cities in Norway: Tromsø, Trondheim, Bergen, and Oslo.

Oles at the Nobel Institute

Oles at the Nobel Institute

Fulbright held a reception at the Nobel Institute where we all introduced ourselves and explained our projects. It was an amazing experience to stand and speak at the podium where Nobel prizes are awarded! My advisor flew down from Tromsø and my lovely cousin Nina also came for the event (photo creds to her)

Cousin Nina and I at the Fulbright Reception

Cousin Nina and I at the Fulbright Reception

The Fulbright projects are all fascinating with topics ranging from clarinet studies to the Norwegian jury system to planetary astronomy. Three lucky Fulbrighters are called “rovers” because they travel all around Norway leading workshops in the high schools. There is also one Fulbrighter “Arctic Chair” who is studying sea ice at the Norwegian Polar Institute. One of my favorites is a project focusing on wild monkeys, since Norway is heavily involved in the education of African wildlife professionals. It was so great to get the chance to know this talented and friendly group of people!

US Fulbright Grantees to Norway 2015-2016

US Fulbright Grantees to Norway 2015-2016 (Photo credit Kevin McGuiness)

Cousin Olav :)

Cousin Olav 🙂

After orientation, I stayed in Oslo for the weekend to visit my relatives. I might be biased, but my second cousins Ludvik (age 3) and Olav (age 1) are about as cute as it gets. On Saturday we took Ludvik to a children’s festival in Sandvika, which is a small city west of Oslo. We listened to the Sandvika marching band and Ludvik got to sit in a REAL Police boat. It was also Sandvika city festival’s “10th birthday” so there was a giant (and free!) chocolate birthday cake. We closed the weekend out playing “pirates” at the local park and spending lots of time with family.

Beautiful Sandvika

Beautiful Sandvika

Cousins Nina and Ludvik by the Police boat

Cousins Nina and Ludvik by the Police boat

Ludvik and Olav

Ludvik and Olav

Now I am safely back in Tromsø and just enjoyed a fun week in the lab. I’m still getting trained in, but I will update more on my project in future posts. Next weekend I’ll be going on a hiking trip to Skarvassbu with the Tromsø “fjellgruppe” (mountaineering club), so plan on another post in a couple weeks 🙂

Velkommen til Tromsø

My first few days in Tromsø have been 70 degrees and sunny. Hard to believe for a city located over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, but I’m not complaining 🙂

After a rough start with a delayed flight out of Minneapolis on Wednesday, the rest of the journey to Tromsø went smoothly. Another Ole alumni, Ingrid Aune, and I were on the same flights from MSP to Oslo, with a layover in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was great to have a friend along the way, but it was sad to say good-bye in Oslo.

Alfheimveien 25: my home for the next year

My home on Alfheimvegen 

My new room!

New room

I landed at the Tromsø airport on Thursday, and was greeted by Alexander, the postdoc in the lab I’ll be working in for the year. Alexander dropped me off at the house where I am renting a room for the year. My new home is a cozy white house located up on a hill overlooking the city center. I have a view of the ocean from my window! I’m living there with 3 other girls who are all very friendly.

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Swimming in the Arctic Ocean

As soon as I got there, I was asked by one of my housemates, Hilde, if I wanted to go swimming in the Arctic Ocean with her and her friend. I couldn’t say no; I’d never been swimming in an ocean before. It was a great and freezing “Welcome to Tromsø”, but we liked it so much that we jumped in again the next day

My housemate Hilde also is an incredible runner, and she was a participant in the “Extreme Mountain Challenge” this weekend. I had a lot of fun cheering for her as she raced up “Fjellheisen” – a narrow rocky path up to a 1,378 feet high outcropping that overlooks the entire city of Tromsø. The view was beautiful and I got to meet the fittest and sportiest people in Tromsø all at once. On Saturday, Hilde casually ran 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) back in the mountains, and I tried to cheer but mostly just wandered around in the forest. Can’t wait to get involved with the Tromsø Løperklubb (Tromsø Running Club) and the student hiking club.

Lovely Tromsø

Beautiful Tromsø as seen from the top of “Fjellheisen”

The beautiful campus at UiT: the Arctic University of Norway

The campus at UiT: the Arctic University of Norway

On Friday, I started in the microbiology lab at UiT: The Arctic University of Norway. And by “started,” I mean I got my student ID card and set up in an office I’ll be sharing with two other grad students. I also spent a long time in the break room drinking coffee and saying “hi” to anyone who walked in. Looking forward to getting trained in next week!

This coming Thursday, I and the 15 other U.S. Fulbright students will be flying to Oslo for orientation. I also have plans to stay in Oslo for the weekend reconnect with Oles living there and babysit my second cousins. Hoping to post in this blog about every two weeks.

Until then, ha det!

Preparing for Tromsø

I’ll be keeping a blog of my Fulbright experience in Tromsø, Norway from August 2015 – June 2016 here. I’ll be posting twice a month as my schedule allows, and look forward to sharing photos and stories with you throughout the year!

On August 19th at 7:30pm, my flight leaves the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport bound for Norway. I’ll be changing flights in Reykjavik and Oslo before arriving in Tromsø on August 20th. Expect a first post to be coming soon after I’ve settled in to my new home.