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Miles: Tromsø

February 17, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Have you heard of couchsurfing.org?

Don’t panic.

Thursday:

Ben and I wake up and fly from Oslo to Tromsø. It is a city of about 60,000 North of the Arctic Circle line. We spent the afternoon in the center, wandering through art museums and shops, and attempting to cross the traffic bridge to the other side of the water before realizing the ratio of coldness of wind to length of bridge was not in our favor. Our plan was to stay with a man named Tor who, through Couchsurfing.org, agreed to host us for a few nights. The catch? Tor lives near Olderdalen, a tiny town two hours via bus away from Tromsø.

Here’s the thing about Norwegian regional busses: they aren’t like greyhounds where the driver is sure to stop at specific predetermined points and let everyone know where they are. (And anything they do say is in Norwegian. I could pick out every fifth word, maybe.) Instead, there’s a stop button above every seat. The route is set, and whenever or wherever you want to get off, the driver will pull over. We did not know this. We did not know when or where Olderdalen was.

We totally missed our stop.

Before we knew it, we had gone about a half-hour past our destination. Immediately we started brainstorming solutions—hitchhiking back, riding four more hours to Alta and finding a hotel—when a bunch of busses pulled over together at some sort of transfer point. Everyone started getting off and the driver looked back at us.

“Where are you going?”

“We missed our stop. We wanted Olderdalen.”

“He’ll take you back” he said and motioned to another driver.

We hopped on another bus, and sat right behind the driver. We were the only people on the bus—the driver was clearly headed back to Tromsø for the night and we were his pity traffic.

He let us off in Olderdalen center, which consisted of a gas station and a grocery store. Our next task—which we appropriately named Adventure Part 85—was to find Tor’s house.

Things we knew:

  1. It was grey.
  2. He lived about 2.5 km North of Olderdalen on E6
  3. The house was set only 20 m from the main road
  4. The house was the last house before a barren stretch of about 1 km

Did I mention that it was completely dark out?

We walked down the road, scanning houses. Finally we came to one that seemed to fit all the criteria. We sat in front of it for a moment, unsure, before Ben spotted the mailbox. Tor’s name was labeled! (Admittedly, when I saw this, I exhaled for the first time in an hour.)

While I was nervous about staying with someone I didn’t know, at that point, I would’ve slept anywhere as long as it was inside. However, I had nothing to worry about. From the moment he opened the door for us, I felt nothing but warmth from Tor. He cooked us dinner (delicious vegetable stew with rice) and talked with us about the environment and his plans to farm and create an “eco-neighborhood.” I spent the night in one of his guest rooms, sleeping under ten pounds of blanket.

Friday:

When I woke up, I realized that it had been snowing hard all night, and was continuing to do so. I went downstairs and sat with Tor for a while. He made the two of us coffee and offered me home-baked bread and cheese for breakfast. (So good!) I told him about Michael Pollan and my first part-time jobs—for once, someone seemed interested in all of the nut knowledge I picked up working at Buddy Squirrel.

To help repay Tor for letting us sleep at his home, Ben and I shoveled his driveway. There was something so nice about doing outdoor chores in a small town in Norway—this is totally what study abroad is about. As we finished shoveling, the fog and snow cleared and I could see the mountains across the water.

Oh yeah, Tor lives in the middle of a fjord. Greatest choice ever.

Ben and I took an adventure into Tromsø to get beer to go with dinner and a dessert. Tor made us a fish and tomato concoction (he kept asking if it was considered a stew) to go over potatoes. It was the first time I’d eaten fish, or any animal, for about two and a half years. I trusted Tor and felt comfortable eating this Norwegian fish that had been caught practically right out his front door.

Saturday:

Ben and I took the early bus back into Tromsø, knowing that we needed to be in the city to catch our Sunday flight. Crossing the fjord in a ferry was so cool—the mountains are stunning, and in my opinion, nothing is better than mountains right up against a sea. Once in Tromsø, we took a cable car up a mountain that overlooked the city. The two of us attempted to hike farther up the mountain, but it proved difficult to move in knee-high snow. (The view made it all worth it.)

Most of our Saturday was focused on the Northern Lights. We had yet to see them, and were determined to before leaving. We took a long walk around the city with no luck. Around 10 pm we set out again, knowing that we had just entered the peak time for Nordly action in Tromsø.

Armed with my white t-shirt (Tor told us that the best way to see the lights is to dance and wave with a white sheet), we took off for a frozen lake we’d seen on a city map. We got a little lost, but finally made it to what appeared to be the lake. Fellow foreigners told us we were indeed right on the lake, and then mentioned, “you need a camera to see the green.”

Standing on the frozen lake, cold and tired, I saw the Northern Lights. What the man had meant was that the activity was so dim that night, you needed a long exposure on a camera to capture most of the green glow. What I saw with my naked eye was something faintly green but more cloud-like dance and curve across the sky. Brilliant or not, I was impressed.

Sunday:

Wake up. Drink so much free coffee at our hotel. Check out the public library and read pre-school level Norwegian books with mediocre success.  Come back to Oslo.

Click to view slideshow.

In short, this trip was exactly what I needed this weekend.

Things I have learned:

HOME IS WHERE I MAKE IT. Oslo is home right now. When I got back to my flat, I was relieved to drop my bags off in my room at my house. One of my flatmates said “It’s good to have you back home.” It is. It’s good to be back home. It’s part of why I needed to leave for a weekend.

I CAN DO ANYTHING. Okay, maybe this is entirely true, but it might be. I survived Thursday night. I stayed with a stranger. I ate fish and the vegetarian in me stayed calm. Ben and I talked about Grad School, and I feel a new energy to collect experiences and go everywhere. I am so invincible.

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