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Week 17: The Tromsø Checklist

Because even students have to be tourists once in a while.

In the midst of my exam preparations, there were still a few hotspots to hit around Tromsø town. As I feel pretty safe that you would not enjoy a page-by-page account of the review I was undertaking of Plasma, Cosmic Geophysics, Satt/Rock, or Numerical Methods, I’ll try to keep things light and pleasant – in other word, unlike Möllers Tran:


Tran (cod liver oil) is a great source of Vitamin D, which Mørketid can’t quite provide. In the words of a great Canadian cough syrup: “It tastes awful, and it works.”

And boy does it taste awful. Really and truly.


Fresh off my first exam the day previous (a final round judge’s decision with Plasma Physics – luckily I came out on top), I hiked downtown for dinner at a little restaurant by the harbor for Linnea’s farewell party. The city had done its best to cheer up the dark time with Christmas lights:


and though I couldn’t quite capture it on film, the light show played by the office lights of the cube-like Rådhuset (City Hall) was fairly spectacular.

I nearly missed the place entirely, but after being waved in from the sidewalk I caught up with the gang at the restaurant:


Linnea had kept the booking small; along with her boyfriend Lionel, we were joined by Josh (Canada), Nina (Alaska – I know that’s technically U.S.A, but she didn’t feel nearly so “American”) and Grace (U.K.).

The conversation was fabulous, the food even moreso:


As none of us had much cash to spare, dining out was a true luxury – thankfully the Italian restaurant did not disappoint.

In the Christmas mood, we had a wee little gift exchange afterwards. For the most part, we traded little trinkets and treasures from home, giving each other little mementos to remember properly by. Once again, my gratitude is due to my parents, my fellow U of S rocketeers, and anyone else who was kind enough to send me a care package in Norway – my gifts were largely the packs of gum, maple sweets, t-shirts, pins, and of course, a marvelous string of Canadian Flags with which Josh could decorate his room for Vancouver 2010 in Term II.

In my mind still, there was one gift that stood out beyond the rest. The raven I had liberated from an escaping reveler at Linnea’s Hallowe’en party had been with me since that night, standing guard over my desk and adding a significant creep factor when the moonlight filtered in through the window. I’d elected to keep my rescue a secret, and Linnea was certain her raven was gone forever. Her reaction at my present?


I’d say positively beaming sums it up nicely.

On the way home, I caught a quiet evening drink with Alex & Raimo (and some Havana Club) at Prestvannet – again, one of those simple pleasures I’ve missed dearly since coming back to Canada.


Thursday brought the long-awaited and much-planned tour of Mack Brewery! Encouraged by Jamie and a few of the Germans to take on the tour, I managed to get a group of us together for the Thursday tour in English. We started off at Ølhallen (The Beer Hall), Tromsø’s oldest bar (and possibly the strangest – more on that later).


Across the picture, we have Jørgen, Alex, Vit, Ivana (Czech), and Linnea – Vidar being just a shade late for this picture. Just before the tour, Alex found himself in a rather sticky situation:


Oh, and as for that ridiculous getup he (and all of us) were wearing – the brewery is also responsible for Coca-Cola bottling and distribution. One of the few places in the world that doesn’t have to distill the water before using it in the Coke, the brewery nevertheless has to keep a strict level of cleanliness, which some of the Mack personnel feel unnecessary (some of the more traditional methods of brewing don’t quite meet that standard, and some creative workarounds needed to be designed).

To go along with Alex’s newfound intimacy with the isbjørn (ice-bear), Jørgen was quick to point out a retired Mack brew that he’d been fond of:


while Vit was more enthralled with the FruktSjimpanse (“fruit-chimpanzee”)


A great story about this one: originally called “fruit-champagne” and brewed by Mack many years before Coca-Cola made an appearance in Tromsø, the soft drink was the reason for a lawsuit from the Champagne (bubbly wine) collective in France. Apparently, the makers of champagne felt that a regional Arctic Norwegian soft drink marketed primarily at children posed a threat to their customer base. After trying a few different spellings of the word “champagne”, Mack converted the line to the current title, and added a new mascot: a funny-speaking, red & white toque-wearing, painter’s palette-bearing chimpanzee. Needless to say, it was a hit, and Fruit-Chimpanzee is as big a seller as ever.

(but way, way too sweet for my taste.)

On that sweetness note, Jørgen found himself some proof that should nicely refute the theory that soft drinks are anything resembling healthy:


To go with the pallets of sugar were plenty of pipes, conveyors, school-bus-size vats, and enough machinery to keep even Rube Goldberg entertained. One in particular caught my eye:


The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but it’s a bottle de-capper. In Norway (as in much of Europe), the soft drink bottles are much thicker than in Canada, and they are re-used as they are instead of being melted down and re-formed. (Yes, they’re sterilized and checked first). I do wish I had brought one home, but they really were sturdy and it seemed that people were far more inclined to recycle the heavier bottles in the same way that people are often quicker to recycle glass then aluminum or plastic.

All in all, the tour was informative and enjoyable, and is highly recommended for anyone looking to go to Tromsø. Before receiving our pin and ceremonial “boot” shot glass, we posed for a final group shot (along with the two remaining members of our tour group – and no, I don’t remember who they are).


Before leaving, we stopped at Ølhallen for our complimentary pint. The interior really was unique – as the oldest brewery in town (1926 comes to mind, but I honestly can’t be certain) it had accumulated its fair share of trappings:


As I said earlier, this bar was unique in more than just décor. As the only bar in town that keeps “normal business hours” (open at 9, closed at 5), it attracts the more dedicated of the drinkers in town – you know, the kind that think nothing strange about a few pints and some fish-jerky for lunch:


A few of them were fairly entertaining – one even told Jørgen to pack his things and head for London’s West End, as he had a “face for the stage”. Despite a few invasions of personal space (Linnea’s bubble in particular) we were able to enjoy our pints in relative peace:


Full credit to Linnea for taking on her pint – a non-beer drinker, she was a great sport and found herself rather liking her Christmas beer (I have searched in vain for a Juløl in Canada – if anyone has any suggestions, I welcome them).

Final thought: in yet another blow to the cowboy in us all, Ølhallen once again demonstrated the Tromsø link between country music and, er, “seasoned drinker” bars. What a pity, what a pity.


Not exactly in the studying mood, Jørgen, Vidar, and I made plans to go on one last pubwalk in the evening of the brewery tour. (After a half-litre of the high-proof and heavy Juløl, we all needed a nap first.)

After hearing more about the Blå Rock burgers than any other meal in town, Jørgen and Vidar convinced me that as my time was running short, a test against the Canadian palate was in order.

After snapping a picture of my two Fadders met so long ago:


we settled in for the meal. Impressed by the burger selection (though a little dumfounded by some of the options – nachos and salsa really aren’t Norwegian, but they seem to put them in the strangest dishes – pizza and burgers), I ordered the Jack Daniel’s burger, to be smothered in a barbeque sauce flavoured with Jack’s finest.

And? Well, I received precisely what I ordered: a burger, a bun, and barbeque sauce. I prefer hamburgers with a garden variety of toppings, and so hijacked a fair portion of my salad to make myself a decent meal.

As I finished my last bite, my friends looked to me for the final Canadian verdict, the fate of Norwegian burger pride in the balance. My opinion? It was a standard restaurant burger. At about $25, it was certainly overpriced, but we were in Norway after all – the land of the 14-dollar Big Mac. With a smile, I told my friends that it may well be the best burger in Tromsø, but they were welcome to come to Canada any time at all to find out just where the beef was.

Oh, and in case I haven’t mentioned it before: Blå Rock is by far one of the better bars in Tromsø. They have an excellent beer selection, multiple levels and staircases, good live music, drink promotions (home of Blue Mondays, a standard for the international crowd) and a really funky set of decorations:



Bellies full, we set out to find new pubs (to me) to dock our pubwalk. For a city of 50,000 (give or take), Tromsø really had a ton of interesting pubs. I can’t for the life of me recall the name of this one:


but it’s relatively near the harbor only a block or two from the main cathedral. As you can tell, it had a naval theme, but (as always) there was a better story behind. Jørgen told me that for a long time, NRK ran a television show out of this pub – from what I gathered, it consisted of old men sitting around drinking beer and bullshooting. Makes me think I should film my next family reunion…

I was also treated to a little touch of home: the bar was home to a great collection of beer cans, and I spied the Pride of Nova Scotia hiding among the European brews. Alas that it was empty.

At some point (I can’t recall precisely when), Ivana caught up with us and we continued our adventures about town. After tickling the ivories at one of the nicer hotels by the water (the drinks were far, far too pricey for we students):


we settled in with a number of the international students for the Thursday night special (seven dollar beers, what a deal!) at Meieriet, or “The Dairy”.


(Vidar’s none too happy to be somewhat blocked in this shot – but as far as I’m concerned, Ivana’s more photogenic.)

Alas, the news from Tromsø is that Meieriet has filled its last glass – but to cheer the Apple fans out there, one last shot from the walk of “The Apple House”:



Saturday brought our last night at Driv, the student bar by the harbour. Alex kindly invited myself, Loes, Raimo, Vit, and Darcy (Boston) over to his Prestvannet flat for an excellent dinner of… actually, come to think of it I think we may have just been drinking. However, I should mention that it was in this very kitchen that Alex prepared the best burger I ever had in Tromsø – hands down the best cook at his age I’ve ever met.


One funny part of the conversation stands out in my mind: partway through the conversation, Raimo (who I considered quite adept at English) broke in with exasperation: “I just don’t understand. Adam, you speak English. Darcy, you speak English. But why is it that I can understand Adam in his sleep, while I have to watch Darcy with my full attention or else be lost completely!” The three others at the table nodded their agreement. With a chuckle, Darcy explained it was her “Bahston” dialect – that Raimo was finding it easier to understand the Canadian with his “looong voowellls”. Personally, I think my vowels just dandy – and if they help me understand and be understood, all the better.

After we’d had our fill at Prestvannet (with the ever-present ND duffel – what in the world was in there… Oh! I think we went skating beforehand – the gloves are a dead giveaway), we headed down to Driv. Alex, Loes, and Vit posed quickly in front of the giant Christmas tree in the main square:


And we headed in.

I still remember that night vividly. “Team Germany” was there in force, and I was able to catch a dance with them to the Black Eyed Peas’ smash hit “I Gotta Feeling”. (True story: I had no idea that song was a hit outside of Norway. I was a little broken when I arrived home and heard it everywhere.) I caught a beer with some of my Norwegian pals, drank goodbye to friends (Clemence from France below):


and caught one last dance with Anya from Russia as the lights came on.

The hundred metre climb to Elverhøy is pretty easy when you’re floating.


Shaking myself awake Sunday morning, I made my way via bus to the famous Arctic Cathedral:


The landmark building in Tromsdalen (the mainland across from Tromsø) is more properly known as Tromsdalen Kirke (Tromsdalen Church), as it is not technically a cathedral. However, the catchy name has stuck with beautiful building and is commonly used by English and Norwegian (Ishavskatedralen) speakers alike.

As it is a tourist attraction, a nominal admission fee is charged to those who wish to enter and explore. However, as with any church, Sunday admission is open to any and all who wish to enter – provided they don’t mind sitting through a baptism or four.

Needless to say, I had more than enough time to admire the architecture (mimicking the flowing aurora) and stunning pipe organ (complemented by an exceptional choir).


Thus we have my last week of touristing in Tromsø. Hope you learned a thing or two, and we’re coming right down to crunch time – see you next week!

Posted by adamvigs 11:44 Archived in Norway

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