And so it should be sitting at 69 degrees North. It sits, loosely, half way between Oslo and the North Pole. I can hardly believe that the company I used to work said there was "Nothing interesting" there when I said I would be visiting at the end of my trip in Lapland. There is so much to do and see, and I plan on telling you ALL about it in this post!
|My first view of Tromsø on a sunny July evening|
The land that makes up Tromsø has been inhabited for 11,000 years, since the Ice Age. It's geographical location means the city has been a crossroads for cultures, particularly that of the Norse and Sámi indigenous folk, as well as the Russians, Finns and Swedes. In 1794 King Charles VII issued the city, which had just 80 residents with its charter. This allowed the city to develop into a key trading centre, and by the 19th Century Tromsø had its own shipyard. It not only became a key trading centre, fishing centre and the starting point of many Arctic explorations.
Arriving in Tromsø has gotten easier as time has passed, their airport are served by SAS, and Norwegian with flights daily from Oslo Gardermoen- make sure this is the airport you fly into if you're taking a connecting flight, not one of the other so-called Oslo airports that are in fact closer to Bratislava than Oslo. In the "Arctic Season" (read: Winter) there are direct flights from London Gatwick through Norwegian, too. If you plan on travelling further north, Tromsø has regular flights to Svalbard (that's where your likely to see Polar Bears, bucket list much?). Or you could take a cruise with Hurtigruten- read about Van's adventures with Hurtigruten here.
The once isolated city has firmly marked itself on the map, not just with its transient resident population- drawn in by it's research industry and university, as well as a wish to see the Northern Lights or Midnight Sun. Apparently it even boasts the Northern Most Botanical Gardens in the world, but that's not really my thing. Whilst the icy streets may make people walk like a penguin in the winter, it's probably the best place to see the Northern Lights if you're a bit scared of freakishly freezing temperatures- the winter average is -4c, which is pretty warm for a city 350km's into the Arctic Circle. However, if you're hoping to see Midnight Sun in the summer, you probably want to bear in mind that the average temperature is 11c above in July. Yup. Chilly.
And there I was in August, for just a couple of days to explore this awesome city. And here's the thing, Norwegian's they don't like to do things the easy way. And armed only with a hoody in the drizzly August weather, it seems I like to follow their lead, "It's all about being in the weather". So I spent a drizzly Sunday wandering around the city seeing all the best sights. Having organised my time badly, I didn't realise I could've spent a night or two even further north on Svalbard, and was incredibly disappointed in myself for not doing something to rectify this. That's when I read about the Polar Museum.
The Polar Museum is definitely a vegan's nightmare (and probably a vegetarian's, too). The museum sits on the water's edge on Tromsoya island (that's the city centre, the city is split into three; two islands Tromsoya and Kvaløya to the west and the mainland Tromsdalen), and explains about life on Svalbard and Polar exploration. The whole thing is a little old fashioned, the signs are only in Norwegian (but you'll be provided with a booklet in your own language), and the place is chock-full with stuffed taxidermy animals and wax figurines. If you can get through looking at these taxidermy animals (I stroked a Polar bear, and it's probably the only way I will ever get to do so), it's a real interesting look at the history of Polar exploration and how hunters lived in the extreme conditions on Svalbard.
Polaria is another place that would be a Vegan's nightmare. It's the world's most northern aquarium, and whilst it's not a scientific aquarium, the displays are aimed at children. The centre piece is a pool containing several seals, who, frankly seemed to zoom from side to side too quickly to be happy there (in my opinion). I felt a bit... distressed at them being in such a small enclosure, and left quickly. The building itself is something to behold as it's a modern design meant to represent the ice floes that have been pressed upon the land by the rough Arctic seas.
|Low slung clouds over the Arctic Cathedral|
The Arctic Cathedral, not an actual cathedral (altho' the city claims to have 3, which means it is either 3 times your average city, or 3 times in need of spiritual guidance- GO make your own decision), is Tromsø's most iconic landmark. The church was designed by Jan Inge Hovig (also responsible for the city's swimming pool) and was described by Pete Zappfe as looking like the angels had a party and forgot their harmonica. Tromsø's actual cathedral is equally as interesting and is located in downtown Tromsø. The cathedral is Norway's only wooden cathedral-- in fact it is one of the only wooden cathedral's in the world.
|The wooden cathedral in downtown Tromsø|
Fjellheisen, the Cable Car on Tromsdalen. If you take bus 26 from the city centre you can get a ticket that includes the ride up the cable car and back into the city. If you're short on time do this, but if you're visiting in summer and it's daylight all the time... Walk. If you walk you get to cross the bridge connecting the island with the mainland, and yeah, it takes a while, but it's worth the walk. The cable car is located on Mount Storsteinen and is 421 metres above sea level. The views across the islands are spectacular, and I should imagine even better on a non-cloudy day!
Telegrafbukta, the beach! It was a much contested thing when I said I planned on spending a large chunk of my time in Tromsø on the beach. The same people who told me there was "nothing interesting" also told me that it was rubbish, there was no beach on the island. The water was so super clear and, had I not stumbled to the beach by accident (I was looking for a museum that I didn't really know where it was and just kept walking) I would TOTALLY have gone for a swim. It looked amazing, and on a sunny summer's day would be so perfect for a dip. In the winter, every second Friday, a group known as "The Ice Bears" meet for a swim in the freezing water.
|Tromsø's gorgeous beach|
It's almost impossible to feel unwelcome in Tromsø, even (or, perhaps, especially) those people who feel a little outta sync everywhere else. For such a tiny city, it's such an international one, with inhabitants from over 140 countries. It's a city that suits the pioneers, the explorers, and anyone with an open mind- these are folk who embrace the Polar Nights. Everything is kind of larger than life here, check out Tin (aka Mount Storsteinen, where the cable car is) if you need proof of that. Add that to it's warmth, in spite of the freezing weather for half the year, the Northern Lights, the Midnight Sun, the crazy nature surrounding the city, they are all the reasons that Tromsø is so awesome.