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The Dangerous Business of Going Out Your Door I am often tired of myself and I have a notion that by travel I can add to my personality and so change myself a little. I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took. - W. Somerset Maugham

Arctic Norway: What Am I Doing Here?

NORWAY | Sunday, 27 March 2016 | Views [644] | Comments [2]

March’s full moon accompanied me on the last leg of my arrival in Norway, hovering just over the wing of the plane from Oslo to Tromsø and giving me my first view of the country. In the south, there was only patchy snow on the watery land, but by the time we made it all the way up past the Arctic Circle, the snow covered everything, including the airport runway. We landed with a skid that didn’t seem to phase anyone but me. I suppose it was a normal Nordic landing.

Tromsø is so silent. It felt eerie on my first night as I walked from the bus stop to the hotel at 9:30 pm, with no other soul and no sound except the crunching snow under my shoes. The full moon was still with me, brightly reflecting off the snow to show me the way. Still, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, why am I here? Why did I fly 4,000 miles from home to this frozen, deserted place on the day that terrorists attacked another major European city? What am I doing?

This is an undeniably beautiful area, but it is a stark and lonely beauty, the kind you don’t feel that you can touch or ever really be part of. Surprisingly, there is not the homogenous ethnicity that I expected; instead, I have seen quite a lot of people of African descent who seem to live here. Nearly everyone speaks perfect English and I can understand a fair amount of Norwegian by combining German and English with some imagination. The colors of the buildings are almost as cheerful as those in Lisbon and Spain. But despite all that - the signs of multiethnic integration, little to no language barrier, and an idyllic cuteness - there is still a persistent feeling of isolation. It is not necessarily a negative feeling, it is just noticeable. I really don’t mind it, in fact, I love solitude, at least for a time. It must come from the surroundings, being so far north, with so many small islands, everyone wrapping in so many layers of clothes. It creates a space between people. I feel as though I’m perched at the top of the world, all by myself, free to explore the uninhabited wilderness.

But of course I am in a city. It’s just feels empty because the population density is only about half that of the US, about a sixth that of Spain, and about one-twentieth that of the UK. Additionally, nearly everything was closed for my first two full days - the Thursday and Friday before Easter - then opened for half a day on Saturday before closing again on Easter Sunday. Even if restaurants were open, though, they are very expensive and I wouldn't have gone to one. Grocery shopping is the only way to visit Norway on a budget. So I’ve been walking the mostly empty streets, mostly alone, taking photos and just thinking.

I’ve never seen so much snow, yet I can tell from the way it resolutely holds its ground that it is old. It has been here for months and will continue to be here for some time. I laughed out loud when I saw it covering park benches, with only the tips of the benches coming up, checking to see if spring had arrived yet. Here and there, some of the snow has fallen away from a high bank to reveal layers, like sedimentary rock ready for carbon dating and the discovery of snow fossils. I did manage to find a very nice walking trail which was amusingly designated as a joint pedestrian and ski trail. There were signs posted in Norwegian and English “Skisone (Skiing zone), Gåsone (Pedestrian zone)” similar to the signs differentiating bike lanes from car lanes. People were literally skiing by me as I walked.

So, what am I doing here? Well, the broad answer goes back to what I wondered about when I got to Lisbon, my first sabbatical destination. I wondered then if I was made of the right substance for this undertaking, and after a month of travel, I think I can answer that in the affirmative. Of course I am nervous after the Brussels attacks, but I must go on. We, as a free society, must go on. The way that travel opens your mind is the very antidote to the closed-minded extremism that breeds terror. But that is a topic unto itself and I cannot do it justice, so I will move on to the more specific answer. I came here to see the northern lights. Unfortunately, my first attempt failed because there was too much cloud coverage. Nevertheless, I saw a very lovely fjord on the way and had a nice time camping out with a tour group on the snowy beach. We had a nearly full moon, thermal suits, snow shoes, wool mittens, a fire, hot chocolate, dehydrated camp food, and lefse (traditional flatbread with butter and brown sugar). I will attempt to see the lights again, but regardless of the outcome, I will try to remember that beauty can still be found in the darkness.


Tags: aurora borealis, easter, northern lights, norway, population density, sabbatical, snow, solo, travel, tromsø




Awesome blog. Love your writing.

  Asif Zia Mar 28, 2016 12:49 PM


Thank you very much, Asif! I'm honored that you read it.

  wanderlustgail Mar 29, 2016 3:18 AM

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