A Travellerspoint blog

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 2

“My, you fiddle with everything."

(such was the comment directed in my direction by the range staff – didn’t take them long to figure that one out. Luckily I didn’t spy any large red buttons.)

Starting the day off with cold pizza (the breakfast of champions), we headed to the classroom to prepare for our first lab of the week. It is said that before we run, we must crawl – this was the philosophy that saw two dozen budding rocket scientists building paper tube-and-cone compressed air rockets with little more than scotch tape and stik-tak.

(I do believe there are a few decent pictures already posted of this adventure.)

We had a blast firing off our creations, even if the rocket built by Lise (from Oslo) and myself failed to clear the launch pad (we blew the top off ours – too much pressure, too much pressure). After littering the field with little paper missiles (some flying as far as sixty metres!) we declared Vit and David the winners – of course, the graduate student had a great showing, though Ina, Nina, and Irene (the signers) gave it the college try as well.

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it..."

Lab fun all done with, it was time for the serious business of team selection. Thanks to a last-minute change on my ballot, I was assigned to Team D: Telemetry. Though the rocket team seemed the most dynamic, I was excited at the prospect of having mid-flight responsibilities and was pleased to learn I would be joined by Raimo, Lise, Vårin (UiO), and James (UofA).

The Range after dark

We finished off the day’s lectures (Satt/Rock continued to demonstrate its incredible usefulness, particularly during the propulsion presentation) and tucked into some spectacular lasagna (everyone loves Italian food) before our first free time at the range. For those of you who haven’t spent quite so much time around me, I possess a natural curiousity and a healthy disregard for certain social conventions regarding locked doors. Thus, it was no surprise that during this free time I stumbled upon “Living Room 2”, a positively homey little space under the stairs with leather couches, a smart little piano, and a tuned guitar.

After spreading news of my find, I spent the next hour or so jamming with my rocket-mates, sharing a few of the talents I’ve been graced with and experiencing that wonderful release that comes with good music. After I’d exhausted my repertoire, I was struck with a wonderful idea – possibly due to my relaxed state of mind. I reached back, WAYY back, and retrieved a memory of a game played on a billiards table that would suit the mood of the range perfectly.

In a word: Crud.

Crud was introduced into our family through my Mom and her siblings in the Air Cadets of Canada. In theory, it involves striking one billiard ball with a second (no cues allowed) to ensure that the target ball does not stop moving. In practice, it involves a helluva ruckus, with sprinting, yelling, and general mayhem. It is an absolute blast.

The students from Canada and Norway alike were thrilled at this game, dubbed “Canadian Pool” by a few of the Norwegians. Some of my fondest memories from the Range involve sprinting around the corner of that green table in the basement beneath the NAROM educational wing.

Oh, and if it hasn’t become apparent by now, we (the students) really and truly had the run of the entire range after dark. We were given carte blanche and were able to enjoy ourselves immensely – I even managed to find a small scooter and was able to traverse the fairly linear main building (telemetry – flight labs – living room – cafeteria – reception – classrooms – computer labs – hotel) with great speed.

The evening was capped off by some star-gazing – complete with the aurora, meteors, and the twin green beams of the ALOMAR lidar stretching off into infinity. Fully satisfied with the evening’s entertainment, Raimo and tucked into our single beds.

Posted by adamvigs 12:19 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 1

“Rockets fill the gap between planes, balloons, and satellites”

Morning brought what I’ve recognized as a common Norwegian public breakfast: coldcuts and cold fish, breakfast fruits & tomatoes/cucumbers, and assorted hearty breads (miss those too) and spreads (pålegg, possibly – but my Norwegian is really getting rusty). I was pleased to see just how many students were along for the field course – in addition to the four Canadians and the four of us “Norwegians” from Tromsø (recall again that we represented Canada, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic), there was a healthy contingent from the University of Oslo – a good dozen or so. The atmosphere was decidedly international, suiting the range and its many flagpoles well.

What’s in a Rocket Range?

Hmm.. perhaps it’s time for a little bit about the range. After all, it’s at this point in the story that we assembled in one of the on-site classrooms for our orientation lecture. Ahem…

The Andøya Rocket Range is a private organization that provides the platforms scientists need for their study of the upper polar atmosphere. Most notably, of course, is a fully functioning sounding rocket facility, complete with two full-size (read: orbit-capable) launch platforms and all the complementary support, command, & control facilities.

In addition to the rockets (which can also be launched from a station on Svalbard, the Norwegian-administrated archipelago at 80°N), ARR also provides for the launch of scientific balloons. The most notable of these balloons are as large as a cubic kilometre and can circle the pole for two weeks – provided Russia doesn’t shoot them down prematurely.

No jokes. More on that later.

In addition to the in-situ opportunities, ARR is collocated with a number of remote-sensing installations (i.e. radars). The most unique to me was the LIDAR (light-radar) just up the hill from ARR. This facility, called ALOMAR, studies the atmosphere/ionosphere directly overhead by pulsing extremely intense laser beams into the sky and measuring the reflected beam – this allowed measurements of particle density, temperature, velocity, and many other subtleties. It’s fairly difficult to explain just how cool laser beams vanishing in the blackness is, but hopefully the pictures I’ve posted help.

Finally, the range is also home to a branch of NAROM, which stands for something Norwegian along the lines of Space Education. As far as I can tell, it’s their job to make sure all of this wonderful science is accessible to students like us – they were our hosts for the week and I truly can’t say enough positive things about how we were treated.

I think that’s about it for now. Forgive me for going into so much detail, but (a) I want to remember it all, and (b) I want you to know that, despite the decidedly non-scientific nature of some stories ahead, this place was first and foremost a place for the study of space.

Lecture, Food, Repeat

In a nutshell, this was how we spent the bulk of our time at the Range. Our hosts felt the best way to distract us from the hours of instruction (believe or not, rocket science takes a little bit of learning) was to schedule no less than FIVE meals each day. The meals ranged from traditional (waffles, waffles, waffles!) to Canadian comforts (mac ’n cheese, anyone?), but were always tasty and filling.

Back in the classroom: after the least boring safety lecture of my life (Rule 1: Don’t stand behind the rocket. Ever.), we started on the nuts and bolts of the week ahead. We learned that we students would not be designing our own rocket (go figure) but would be organizing ourselves into five teams:

  • Rocket – for all things that go BOOM in the polar night;
  • Experiment – assemble the bulk of the instruments, interpret the returned data;
  • Payload – integrate the instruments onto the rocket and ensure functionality;
  • Telemetry – track the rocket throughout flight, receiving all data by radio.

Oh, and by instruments I mean accelerometers, pressure sensors, electric field sensors, magnetic field sensors, and a few voltage sensors (for the on-rocket battery). From my limited experience, this is a standard suite for rockets, balloons, and the like. Of course, included on the rocket was also David’s “Giant” magnetometer on its maiden voyage.

It became apparent that the activities ahead would heavily depend on our chosen group. All of them had their appeal, and we had a difficult path ahead.

A whole new language

Besides the out-of-this-world lecture content, there were a few ways in which our lectures were unique. For example: one of the students from Oslo had a hearing impairment, and three signers had made the trip from Oslo to assist his rocket career. Irene, Ina, and Nina were gifted in the way of sign – a good thing too, for it soon became apparent that the technical language that permeates ARR wasn’t exactly on their curriculum. However, all three were great sports, and gamely waded their way through apogees, eccentricities, and propulsive episodes. They were with us all week, participating in as many activities as they could and adding a new dimension both in-class (watching a lecture signed is quite an experience) and after (it was pleasant to have a few, er, less nerdy conversations).

Out and About

After the morning of lectures, we threw on our bunnyhugs and set out on a tour of the range and ALOMAR. In the light, we were able to see that ARR was truly located in an ideal location – situated on a narrow crescent of land between the mountain wall and the sea, there were only two entrances (one road in, one road out along the north and south road). Notwithstanding the mountain-scramble access, it was a truly perfect location - again, please see the earlier photo album for more about the range.

We capped off the evening with a jaunt back into the town of Andenes. We toured a pleasant little space-themed museum (alas that it was in the process of renovations), attempted to sail the city dock-boat away, and were thoroughly unnerved by phantom drums from the culture museum before trotting over to a tidy little Italian restaurant for our evening meal.

It turned out we hadn’t exactly made a reservation, and the restaurant was decidedly understaffed – perhaps that had a little to do with our poor waiter’s difficulty with the language. Alex and I both ordered dish 50 – he in English, I in Norwegian. Aaand… both of us received 15. Luckily, the pizza was pretty tasty and Alex let me have a bite of his dish (he had more restraint than I and waited for the proper dish).

Closing Day 1

To close off our first full day at the range, a few of us decided the brave the Arctic Ocean for our bona-fide Polar Bear Dip. At 4 degrees Celsius, I even have a certificate for this “very brave act”. Dad felt it should have been re-titled “very stupid act”, but it certainly made the sauna enjoyable.

To finish the day off, a story from class:

In 1995, a rocket from Andøya nearly caused nuclear war. The Russians mistook the launch for a submarine missile and President Boris Yeltsin was alerted for a possible counter-strike. There were press photos all over the world of Yeltsin with the launch command briefcase. It took some time before the Russians understood that the launch was not heading towards Russia – it was later revealed that the launch information had been released in advance, but this information was lost in the Russian bureaucracy.

Posted by adamvigs 12:16 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 14b: The Rocket Range Diaries, Day 0

Pictures may tell a thousand words, but only when the camera's rolling...

HOME ON THE RANGE

To lead off, we’re going to travel BACK in time from my last post (heck, once you’ve gone a year what’s another week) to the island of Andøya and my week-long course at the Andøya Rocket Range. It was during this week that I and two dozen other undergraduate students (Alex, Vit, and Raimo from UiT among them) launched a sounding rocket into the upper polar atmosphere.

You may recall that while I was in the thick of things in Norway, I managed to post a non-trivial number of pictures from my week at the Range. Rather than attempt to better that Herculean upload, I’m going to walk you through the Range from my eyes, decoding my jot notes into a tale of the quirks and peaks of a week spent living out a great dream. Hopefully, I’ll remember to mention enough along the way to actually give you an idea of what exactly happens at the range.

(In a word: Science. Pure, simple, and exhilarating.)

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

In case all that turns out to be little more than a set of mindless ramblings (though this blog has never claimed otherwise), next week I’m going to share with you a real-life edited article. That’s right, for the first time in the history of this journal, something will have been read by an actual human being before being posted to the Wild Blog Yonder. Why an editor, you ask? Well, I’m pleased to say that…


Rats, I just realized that this article was published after editing. That means I have to cite it. Humbug. Okay, it was published in the Sheaf (the U of S student newspaper) sometime in October 2010, edited by Ms. Victoria Martinez (a Physics/English dual degree, wrap your head around that one), and written by…

Oh right, me. Perfect. As the author, I give <www.adam-in-norway.travellerspoint.com> all rights and privileges, yada yada yada, on approved credit, yada yada, till death do us part.

There, that oughta do it. It seems that my intro to the article (which can be found on Day 4’s post) has run its course and then some.

Så, skal vi? Fantastisk.

(translation: so, shall we? Fantastic. My Norwegian is still razor sharp when it comes to words that are near-identical to their English counterparts – gotta love those Germanic roots.)

DAY 0: “And down that hallway is Launch Control.”

Yes, I indexed this list at zero. Partially because my computer science classes have melded my mind irrevocably (it really can be a useful convention) but also because it’s a nice way to refer to the day we flew to the Range – not quite a full day, but still plenty to talk about.

After catching the bus to the airport with my luggage in tow (a year later, I’m still in awe at the way I was able to get ANYWHERE in a city of 50,000 via their bus system), I caught up with Alex, Vit, & Raimo (my Satt/Rock crew) and we hiked out on the blustery tarmac to our wee little prop-driven plane – affectionately known by some of my North Ontario cronies as “flying bearskin”.

I haven’t flown many short, regional flights like this, but luckily I’m used to rapid pressure changed from scuba diving – otherwise the twenty-five minute flight would have been quite a bit worse. However, what I wasn’t expecting was the Andenes airport, which resembled a bus station moreso than an airport (Tromsø isn’t exactly Heathrow, but at least some flights use an actual gate..).

Once at the airport, we realized that there had been another passenger bound for the rocket range onboard our flight. Waiting alongside us for the taxi to ARR (the rocket range) was David, a graduate student from the University of Alberta. David, it turned out, had been offered a chance to fly his thesis magnetometer onboard our rocket-to-be-launched. He’d flown all the way from Canada with the magnetometer on his lap (imagine explaining that one to airport security) and was proud to show us that the business card-sized instrument had survived in one piece. As the week progressed, we realized that David’s experiment transformed our rocket from a student field course to an actual scientific flight-test mission.

“This place has everything!”

Our first impression of ARR after our short taxi (read: minibus) trip there was one of hulking mountains in the black night. (I should probably remind you at this point that we are above the Arctic Circle in November and that the night is black for at least 16 hours a day at this point.) However, our attention was quickly drawn by the REALLY BIG ROCKET at the entrance to ARR. This, coupled with the sign at the front desk (Launch Control this way, Main Telemetry that way) reminded us that we were arriving at the real deal.

Speaking of that sign… this might not be a bad point to mention what exactly was at the rocket range. In addition to everything you’d ever need to launch a rocket into the upper atmosphere (launch control, payload assembly room, weather station, telemetry station, exploding-rocket-proof launch bunker) – which was more than drool-inducing – we also had all of the amenities of an all inclusive resort. I kid you not. In no particular order:

  • full hotel connected to the rocket range (by far the best I stayed in)
  • full meal service (more details on that later)
  • games room / gym
  • sauna / tanning room / massage chair
  • “living room” common areas
  • bikes, beaches, and so much more.

Oh, and by far the most important of all: radiant floor heating. In the bathrooms. The luxury of picking up warm clothes and towel after a shower still gives me shivers.

Arctic Rendezvous

So, after dropping our bags off at the beautiful little hotel wing, we headed to the main common room. On entering I spied two students off to the side, looking like they’d been though the spin cycle with no time to dry. But then again, 8 hours of jet-lag will do that to you. With a grin, I made my way over to their table

Oh, right, I should probably explain why I was smiling.

Let’s back up a step: As a part of this year’s rocket launch, four undergraduate students from Canada were invited to participate in the first ever Canada-Norway Rocket launch (CaNoRock). These students, selected from the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, and Saskatchewan, had taken a week off school (in mid-November) and flown directly to ARR to participate in the sounding rocket field course. 8 days, 3 credits, 2 continents, and 1 rocket launched – talk about your whirlwind tour.

The two students at the table were Robyn and Ashton from the U of S, fellow Engineering Physicists. After introducing myself as that crazy Canadian who’d been up in Norway all this time, I presented them with a little welcoming Coop-Prix bag. Inside were some of the tasty or strange snacks I’d found in Norway: Safari cookies, makkrel-i-tomat, leverpostei, salty licorice, dried fish, candy men, and kvikk lunsj, if I remember them well.

(aside: I do miss those cookies..)

And, because I had a little fair warning about their arrival, Robyn and Ashton were able to pack a little care package along with their luggage – Hamburger Helper, Bounce sheets, inexpensive earbuds, and of course, a little Tim Hortons hot chocolate (omnomnomnom!).

Oh, and there was the small matter of a certain Red Engineering Jacket – but I you’ll have to see the photos for the full effect.

(the jacket, also known as The Poofie, has a rather checkered status at the U of S, but was a mild amusement to most of my fellow students in Norway – was quite unlike anything they wore. I was told it doesn’t quite mesh with the European fashion sense, but if conforming meant tucking my jeans into my socks as the Norwegian youth did, I was quite content with my warm and comfortable eyesore.)

Gifts exchanged, we tucked in for an on-range evening meal of open-face sandwiches (what else?), introducing ourselves to Tore-Andre (range personnel / grad student) and a few of the U of Oslo students who were joining us on the launch. Stomachs full, we sought, discovered, and enjoyed a quick sauna (I told you this place had everything) before collapsing into bed. The week had just begun.

Posted by adamvigs 11:41 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

A long-expected return...

Because sooner or later, every hibernation has to end.

God Jul!

A year, two jobs, and a half-dozen passport stamps later, and I’m back! The last year has been positively packed, and those updates that I promised you have been a long time coming – for that, you have my sincere apologies.

It’s December the 25th, 2010, and I’m somewhere over the Caribbean Sea with my immediate family en route to a scuba vacation in Mexico. Many people (including myself) look forward to vacation as a chance to catch up on their reading. However, with a little help from my parents’ netbook, I’m going to catch up on my writing.

Some have asked why I would bother updating a travel blog when I’ve been living in Canada for over a year. I understand their sentiments, but have a number of reasons to forge ahead. I’m excited at the chance to replay my last month abroad, and believe I might even be able to offer a few perspectives that have come with time. In addition, I’ll do my best to fill you in on the year post-Norway, and the profound and lasting effect this exchange has had on my personality and my life.

Above all, finishing these travel memoirs is a chance for me to tap back into the way of the words, a luxury that my undergraduate degree in engineering has yet to fully provide (though it has come close recently). Thus, it is with great pleasure I welcome you back to Arctic Norway: let the tales begin!

[ed. note: Will do my best to make one post a week to give you time to read them - though I must say, the one this week is going to be a long one!]

Posted by adamvigs 11:35 Archived in Canada Comments (4)

Week 15b: Road Trip!

Apparently, there's an upper limit on blog post length - wonder how often that comes up?

(note that this is part two of this week's post - part one can be found below)

PREFACE TO THE FOLLOWING

On a whim, I and a few of my friends signed up for the semi-annual ISU excursion to Sápmi, the cultural homeland of the Sámi people. A little background: The Sámi are also known as Laplanders or Lapps, though I believe those term is considered derogatory in much the same way “Eskimo” is in Canada (be they Inuit or football players). They’ve historically inhabited a large area in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and neighbouring Russia. I’m not going to claim to be any sort of expert on their culture, but I do know that they were nomadic followers and herders of the reindeer (comparable to the First Nations relationship with bison that once roamed the plains of Canada).

I wrote the account of this trip all in one go (at about 2 in the morning) a few days after I had returned home. I’ve edited it in a few spots, but I’m pretty pleased with the storytelling flow – hope you enjoy!

(note: I apologize if this sounds a little hard on Bernhard, the trip organizer. He had a thankless job all to himself. But I've decided not to edit it, because I think it's interesting to see how I was feeling when I wrote it.)

ROAD TRIP!

After an insane week spent rushing like mad to get my home exam and everything else done (never got around to shopping - remember that, it'll come up later), I managed to squeeze a weekend's necessities into my ND bag and head to the university for our 9 PM departure time. To save money, we had elected to sleep on the bus for our first day - I've done it before, but it's rarely something to look forward to.

I wasn't sure who all was going on the trip (there were 50 or so international students signed up) beyond a few friends; however, when I arrived, I was in for an absolutely awesome surprise. Along with me, myself, and I, there was:

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  • Josh (Canada)
  • Linnea (Finland)
  • Nina (Alaska)
  • Melinda (Minnesota)
  • Loes (Netherlands)
  • Jana (Germany)
  • Florian (Germany)
  • Mark E (Germany)
  • Anya (Russia)
  • Ivana (Czech Republic)
  • Vit (Czech Republic)
  • Alex (Austria)

(just so you know, I'm making this list for my benefit :P I have a hunch that if I write down who was there that I had fun with, it'll help me remember what it was that we had fun doing)

...and so many more. The bus rides were a blast - we were always standing up and walking about, chatting and visiting and generally having a stellar road trip. Oh, and Nina and Melinda were knitting while I was absentmindedly clasping and unclasping a neon high-visibility bracelet - maybe I should take it up to occupy myself? Lord knows I'd probably get in much less trouble with my fidgeting (Dad has told me for years that I should take up knitting, like Grandma did).

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER?

After a nightcap of Becherovka courtesy of Ivana (an awesome Czech liqueur that has family history with the Zrymiaks - I believe it's also known as "stomach bitters", but don't quote me on that), I tucked in ca. midnight for the evening (I was pretty exhausted, and figured I could get a good night's sleep in). I managed to fall asleep despite the terrible "cultural" movie being blasting out of the surprisingly capable bus speakers (we had a great bus - plasma TVs, even).

But the night was not even close to being over.

We lost our way twice in Northern Finland -

Oh, wait, I should tell you the route. Okay, we were in North Norway, and headed more-or-less due east to Ivalo and Inari in North Finland - it was about three hours to the Finnish border, and nine hours beyond that. Also worth mentioning that the border wasn't even manne - we were free to take as much contraband (i.e. cheap beer) across the border as we wanted. I miss that kind of international freedom.

- as I was saying, we lost our way twice during the night. Both times the bus had to stop, and both times I woke up. We were finally saved by one of the British students (John) and his GPS – always reassuring when the driver needs a bail-out from one of his passengers.

TRAMUA AT 4 AM

Needless to say, I wasn't sleeping well after that - I don't wake up easy, but interrupting REM twice like that is no fun at all. I tossed and turned for a bit (my back was killing me) and finally dozed off. And then, at about 4 AM, the bus driver slammed on the brakes and we felt a loud THUMP! resound through the bus.

As I was pretty groggy throughout the morning, I'm going to let Nina take the narrative from here, from her article about the trip, Bring your Gun!:

At some point in early morning I felt the bus jolt and as I looked out the front window I noticed a blur of fur and antlers get sucked under the front of the bus. We had hit a reindeer. Through the back windows of the bus I saw an image that will always haunt me. The reindeer was struggling to get to its feet away from the bus that had hit it, but it couldn’t because its back legs were broken. It finally gave up and lay in the snow bank, resigned to its fate. The bus driver got off the bus, and in the general confusing of waking up, many students didn’t see or know what was going on.

Coming from Alaska were guns are as abundant as shameful politicians, I was horrified that nothing could be done for the animal slowly dying in the snow. The bus driver returned to his seat, shut the door and we left.

We had been promised reindeer this trip. I didn't realize they meant it like this.

We stalled for a bit while the bus driver arranged to have a local come and fetch the carcass (it's a felony not to report and remove reindeer roadkill). After the whole bus finally calmed down, we started on our way and I finally fell deeply asleep..

INARI

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Due to the fracas with the reindeer, we were forced to skip our shopping stop in the bustling metropolis of Ivalo. We thus arrived at Inari for our scheduled day in the "Educational Capital of Sápmi".

So, we arrive... and hmm. Not much of a capital. Not much of a town, even - 600 people. And yet, we still manage to get lost. Needless to say, group morale is wavering at this point.

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We finally made our way to the Sami museum, the "highlight" of the town - and cruised through it in thirty minutes flat. Some highlight. I think the majority of the students appreciated the couches and hot coffee more.

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It turned out that the park behind the museum had a beautiful little trail leading past a old farm buildings, smokehouses, and a peaceful little creek and waterfall:

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Thankfully, this made up for the short time we spent at the Museum. Oh, and there was a section that wasn't for those with weak stomachs: a very thorough demonstration of various traps used by the Sámi - they were remarkably clever and effective, but we started getting a few chills as we walked past a dozen or more.

WE'RE HERE FOR HOW LONG?

But after that was done... we had eight hours to kill in a town with nothing. And I mean nothing. So what else? We went to the bar.

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For a small town bar, it was pretty impressive - I was able to get a pizza large enough for two meals for less than fifteen bucks,

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and the view was great!

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(yet another pizza story: I tried the meatlover's. It included shrimp and mussels. It tasted like... pizza with shrimp and mussels. I actually wound up picking the mussels off. They wre good and all, just not with the pizza.)

(Dad, if you're reading this, can you bring a Houston's Pizza to the airport when I fly home?)

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We bought cheap Finnish groceries (tube steaks and rye buns - recommended by Linnea as a Finnish delicacy) and after confirming that there was nothing more to do in this town, headed back to the bus for a nap.

Well, at least, that's what I did. Others went back to the museum coffee shop. But the nap kicked major butt.

Oh, and I also snuck into the hotel and unwound on their piano, to the delight of a few of the other students - I really appreciated the chance to play and the enthusiastic listeners.

BERNHARD'S FIRST MISTAKE

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Finally, we made our way to the church for our tour (though to be honest with you, it just looked like a small-town church). And we waited. And waited. And finally, the trip organizer called the number of the tour guide, and without saying anything (that I heard), started walking away from the church.

And into the souvenir shop.

Apparently, there had been a mix-up and he had booked us a tour of the.. souvenier shop. Good news for the shop, they made an absolute killing. But cultural? Hmm. Maybe not quite so much.

In sum total, we had spent about eight hours in Inari, with a grand total cultural exposure (not including the local barfly culture) of 45 minutes, plus taxes.

TO KARASJOK

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We boarded the bus at 5 or so and headed back to Norway, to the "Administrative Capital" of the Sámi peoples, Karasjok. In a pensive mood, I wound up sitting shotgun (on the tour-guide's seat) with my iPod, just staring out at the highway ahead through the massive front window. It was so calming - I remembered how much I love just driving (or riding) and I was able to do a lot of good thinking.

We pulled into Karasjok at about 9, and proceeded to get utterly lost. Again. The amount of turns we took, we were all convinced that it must be a huge town. We were so surprsised when daylight came and we learned how not-big the town actually was. Strike two for Bernhard.

ACCOMODATIONS

In Karasjok, we had the choice of staying at the hotel, the cottages, or the pub. Six of us had decided to stay in a cottage, but after learning that they only slept four, I suggested the boys sleep in the pub. And so, after dropping the half-dozen students off at the hotel, the bus made its way up the hill to the pub.

And then the roller-coaster ride began.

Halfway up the hill, the bus got stuck. And started to slip back down the hill. And drove back up the hill. And started to slip down. Repeat about a dozen times times. Include major tilting on occasion. And a genuine fear that our driver would lose control.

We finally slid our way down to the bottom of the hill and received the all-clear to disembark (which we happily did).

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Then Josh and I made our way up the hill to the pub that awaited us.

And wow.

What a place.

Not only were the rooms in perfect condition (just like any motel room, clean, tidy, and relatively new), but there had been a slight mix-up in translation.

It wasn't a pub, it was a failed nightclub.

TWO PERFECT OPTIONS

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Picture this, if you will; a hotel wing on top of a hill. Go down the stairs and you're in a comfortable meeting room with television, couches, and a fireplace. Open one door and you find a sauna; open another and you find a full kitchen.

Open the third door and... you're in the middle of a small urban bar with one striking feature: a huge circular dance floor in an attached concrete structure. With party lights and a disco ball.

And here's the part that still blows me away. Not only were we allowed to use it, the night manager encouraged it - turned everything on, gave free reign on the ice and glasses, even explained the sound system. In short, we had our very own nightclub at our disposal - and the whole night to use it.

Ecstatic about the potential ahead, we booked it down to the cottages where the majority of the students were staying ahead. It turned out the cottages were everything you could ever want from a vacation home - snug little wooden huts complete with sauna, potbelly stove, couches, and a beautiful forest locale. We were almost convinced to stay for a quiet evening there.

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But with some cajoling, we managed to hike everyone back up the hill (no more than 10 minutes) to the pub.

THE BEST NIGHTCLUB YET

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I'm not even joking. I had more fun with thirty friends and our own DJ than I think I've ever had at a proper nightclub. It was a great night - from the cold pizza to the mock coat-room (I even handed out tickets) to the great dance music to the surprising skill with which I was able to recall a thing or two from my dance classes at the U of S. I even had the priveledge of dancing to Boney M's "Rasputin" with two real live Russians.

And as shocked as I am that we had access to such a place, I still can't get over the fact that the proprieter was even encouraging us! He let the fun go until half past three, extremely generous on his part. Exhausted and exhilirated, I tucked into bed. After a terrible day, it had been a singly amazing night.

BERHNARD STRIKES AGAIN

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(pictures above from the morning walk about Karasjok)

Five short hours later, I was up and showering. We had another church tour scheduled for 10 AM, at the oldest church in the region (courtesy of the Second World War). After taking stock of who else made it to breakfast (precious few), Jana and I headed out in search of the church. Luckily, our hillside perch made spotting the steeple pretty easy, and we set off towards the city centre (valid in this case, as Karasjok has a few thousand citizens).
The walk was highly enjoyable, with a beautiful sky and great views of the frozen river and the Sami parliament building on the riverbank. But halfway to the church, we were given great pause for doubt. For the bells of a DIFFERENT church had just started to ring.

Damn. Decisions, decisions.

I reasoned that logically, the old church should be the one in the city centre, and with Jana's assent, we continued downtown. We caught up with another one of the Germans, and arrived at the church a little after the scheduled tour (maybe ten minutes or so).

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And there was nobody in sight. Not even our fearless leader Bernhard (who had told us the night before that he might be "too tired to make it to the tour") or his crew from the cottages.

It had turned out that there had been a mix-up, yet again. Bernhard had forgotten to confirm the tour, and so the church had simply forgotten about him. He had taken his cottage crew to the wrong church (the new church on the hill), and there received a tour consisting of "This is our kitchen - this is our boot room - this is our worship area. Any questions?"

And so, our second church tour flopped.

THE LORD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS

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However, there was a nice end to this story - though it had nothing to do with our organizer. The three of us made our way to the new church, and as soon as we got in, my eyes lit up. There, in the corner of the gorgous hardwood church (everything - chairs, walls, roof, everything) was this beautiful work of art:

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Learning a long time ago that for things like this, there's very little harm in asking, I found the priest and inquired as to whether or not I could take on their organ.

And he said yes!

After playing to my content, I caught up with Alex and he informed me he was planning to stay for the service; having a few things on my mind, I decided to accompany him.

And I was extremely glad I did - beyond the chance for reflection, it also afforded me an opportunity to witness one of the neatest services I've ever seen. As I said before, the Sami parliament is located in Karasjok. Over 90% of the population speaks that language. Thus, the entire service was given in Norwegian - and translated immediately into Sami by a lovely old lady at the priests's side. We sang in Sami, and more than a few of the men and women were wearing their traditional dress. Beyond the beaty of the service, it was the single greatest exposure to the Sami culture of the trip. And it wasn't even planned.

(and on a Norwegian note: I even managed to recognize the Gospel - pretty proud of myself.)

JUHLS' SILVER GALLERY

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After a relatively quick bus ride (highlighted by reindeer and an awesome nap), we arrived in Kautokeino, the "cultural" capital of Sami (seems like everything's the capital - or maybe that's just Bernhard again).

Our only destination was Juhls' Silver Gallery, a house/museum containing the life's work and collections of a husband-and-wife team of artisans specializing in silversmithery, but dabbling in nearly every art form imaginable. (Note: they're both still alive, and both still living in private quarters of the museum). I can't even describe to you what this place was like; it was a gallery, it was a store, it was a museum, it was even a barn (there were chickens and sheep in one room). And architecturally, it was incredible - curving roofs, random little staircases, no right angles, and spirals into the ground. It's too bad I was too exhasuted to properly appreciated it - about the only thing I can tell you about my time there is I got dismantled by Flo in a game of chess:

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After about an hour oohing and aahing at the paintings, mosaics, tapestries, and prices, we piled onto the bus for the long drive home.

(I feel bad that I wasn't able to write more about the gallery, it was one-of-a-kind and very cool - they've got lots more pictures on their homepage here if you want to go look.)

HOMEWARD BOUND!

Excited for my food from the day before, I opened my grocery bag to make my sandwiches, and realized I'd forgotten to buy the hot dogs! And so, I had two mustard and cheese sandwiches befrore anyone felt bad enough for me to donate some meat to the cause.

Regarding the trip home: again, it was highly enjoyable. A highlight for me was when I regaled Anya (a Russian, for crying out loud) and Flo with the tale of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union. I also carried a phrasebook around with me all weekend; while never using it on anything important, we had a lot of fun using various German, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and French phrases on each other.

Finally, I want to mention that Berhnard was in top form on the drive home by: (a) insisting that we watch a cultural Sami movie even when a majority of the students wanted no such thng, (b) refusing to stop at a gas station for food, despite the fact that we had 7 hours ahead of us (c) stopping at the "alternate" Sami parliament for 15 minutes for pictures when it was pitch-black and we couldn't see the building, let alone take pictures of it, (d) being exceptionally difficult to convince that dropping students off after midnight with all their luggage and a 1 km walk home was not a good idea, and (e) giving us a tour of Tromsø as we pulled into town near midnight - in a tour-guide voice.

HOME!

We arrived near midnight, I got home, flopped into bed, and listened to the Riders beat Calgary. A great end to a weekend that, though a near-disaster in terms of "cultural" content, manged to be one of the most enjoyable I've had yet. It just goes to show what a difference friends can make.

P.S. My dinner that night consisted of tinned mussels and crackers, while lunch the next day was.. tinned fish and corn. And that was for an 8-hour day. Next time, I'm coming home to a stocked fridge.

~

Hope you enjoyed that tale of my road trip to Finland - hopefully you'll hear from me soon!

Posted by adamvigs 06:56 Archived in Norway Comments (4)

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