A Travellerspoint blog

Week 15: Leading up to the Road Trip...

You'll have to read on to find out where...

Hello! I’ve been studying all weekend, have one exam under my belt, and I think I need a little break – here’s my promised update on life post-rocket range!

THE CHRISTMAS TABLE

I’ll be honest, Christmas was about the last thing on my mind when I arrived home from the Rocket Range - as far as I was concerned, I’d received my present two months early. However, I was in Tromsø for less than a day before I heard rumblings of the first parties of the season.

And so, on Saturday night (thanks to some skilled ticket-procurement on Vidar’s part) I found myself at the great Norwegian tradition of Julebordet – literally translated, the Christmas table. And the table was loaded to the breaking point:

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Vidar was just as excited as I was about the menu:

  • pinnekjøtt (cured, smoked, and cooked lamb, absolutely incredible)
  • ribbe (pork boneless ribs)
  • middagspølse (dinner sausage)
  • stewed red cabbage (surprisingly tasty)
  • potatoes (boiled whole, Norwegian-style)
  • and (I kid you not) puréed swede.

(The common name for the rutabaga in the rest of the world is the “Swedish turnip”, often shortened to just “swede”. Makes for a rather interesting image the first time you hear it…)

We had a great supper, good affordable drinks, and I even managed to avoid excessive fidgeting with the table decorations by breaking out my Great Western Poker Dice - they were a surprising hit.

(note that minor fidgeting still occured - I'm only human, after all.)

After we were all pokered out, we headed downstairs for the traditional leisure activity of the science building:

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(We may or may not have been occasionally late for lecture because of this…)

ERASMUS!

Jørgen and I made a snap decision and caught the last bus downtown and headed for Driv on Saturday night. The entire harbourfront was stunning on a cool November evening:

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We arrived at Driv, I took a deep breath and paid the cover charge (for me, it’s almost like gambling..) and walked into… an empty bar. It looked like my gamble had severely backfired.

And then Erasmus arrived.

No, I’m not talking about the Catholic theologian (for those of you who knew that such a theologian existed). Erasmus, which stands for something long and difficult-sounding, is one thing the Europeans have figured out far ahead of we North Americans. It’s an excellent program that encourages student exchanges within Europe by clearing away much of the red tape involved (and trust me, there are swaths of it). Erasmus guarantees recognition and transfer of credits, ensures that no extra tuition need be paid, and even provides the students with a bit of pocket money.

Oh, and all these students from other European countries? They tend to have fun at Driv on Saturday night. And I know plenty of them.

It was a spectacular night – a few drinks, a few dances, some relaxing conversation out on the harbour pier, and a free game of pool thanks to a skill learned at Notre Dame (when the change machine has been removed, you simply have to know which lever to press). Unfortunately, there were no pool cues – but of course you know that didn’t stop us.

After a few rousing games of crud, I finally arrived home at 4 AM, gave Dad and U Nick a shout via Skype (It was something like 10 PM in Ontario, I think they were rather taken aback by the call) and tucked in.

A GOOD REFERENCE INDEED

In my backpack at all times I have a little orange reference book entitled “Physical and Mathematical Tables”. It’s a highly useful collection of unit definitions, physical constants, atomic properties, logarithms, and many many more. It was first published in 1904, and I believe my edition dates from 1960.

The reason I’m bringing this up: Monday’s Cosmic Geophysics brought a debate on certain electromagnetic units, and I reached into my backpack for the final answer. However, Professor Brekke forgot all about the topic at hand when he spied my little softcover:

“That’s Clark’s book!”

(at this point, I checked, and yup – written by John B. Clark.)

After restoring his jaw to its undropped position, Professor Brekke explained that he’d used the very same book as an undergrad and hadn’t so much as seen one in forty years. He was extremely pleased to see that I was using it, and he ended his lecture with the kind of smile one gets after seeing an old friend.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I ran across such a book, you might look at the faded blue ink on the front cover:

John R Zrymiak
Math 151
U of S Regina Campus
Summer 1962

Thanks Gido!

MAIL! - CANADA-IN-A-BOX

Partially by my request, Mom and Dad sent me a spectacular parcel with all things Canadian inside:

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I’d like to point out the rather strange-looking blocks at the bottom-right. Those are, in fact, chalkbrushes. It’s been my experience that this little invention hasn’t caught on in Europe, as they prefer to use sponges. As you might guess, the sponges become rock-hard in a matter of days, and thus need to be wet to accomplish any sort of cleaning of the board. Wet brushes mean wet chalkboards throughout the lecture, and anyone who’s tried to write on a wet chalkboard knows how well that works…

So, I thought I’d thank my professors for the year that was by giving them this little token from home – and so far, it’s been a great hit. Thanks Mom & Dad!

PRESTVANNET SKATING RINK

Wednesday was a great day.

Why? Well, on Wednesday the “THIN ICE” sign that had for a month stood sentinel over Prestvannet Lake, daily dashing my dream of putting my Bauers to their proper use, finally came down.

And so, my walk around the lake to school has become a skate across it:

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(note that’s not me with the hockey stick – still working on finding one for less than $250.)

(Oh, and that’s also not me in the orange – but the picture of Alex turned out far better than the picture of me).

This. is. so. cool. There isn’t a skiff of snow on the entire surface, and it makes even the Olympic ice back home look like a backyard arena. Even if I can’t pack my skates home, they'll have ended their career on a beautiful lake beneath the mountains and the Arctic sky.

(related story: in our quest for a stick and skates, Raimo and I headed to a secondhand sale organized by the local hockey club – alas that I mistranslated the part where it said “Youth Equipment”. Ah well, it was a still a great chance to get out of the house on a Thursday night.)

ADVENTURES FROM THE NOBS

On Tuesday, Raimo, Alex, and I attended a guest lecture from two visiting French exchange students who presented their “cultural learnings” during their time in Tromsø.

Sounds like a strange way to spend a school night? Well, the students in question were Marie and Pierre-Marie.

We laughed, we cried, we even managed to pay attention – no small feat at the end of a school day. Marie & P-M told us of Nantes (the “Venice of the West”, as opposed to Tromsø, the “Paris of the North” – true story) and highlighted some of the key differences between France and Norway (Marie: “It is much coolder here!” [French accent implied]). And then, as Geology students do, they launched into an analysis of the local French topography – the pictures were lots of fun to look at.

We followed up a great presentation with a free meal of Yonas pizza (the good local pizza); I wouldn’t normally mention this, but I have a new one for Dad:

Chicken.
Peanuts.
Curry sauce.

No comment.

MIDTERMINATORS

(credit to Mark Boots for coining the above – or at least, exposing me to it)

The majority of the week was spent working on our Satellites & Rockets midterm / report on the Rocket Range week. I’m not going to go into details, but I thought I’d let you know that I've never had this much fun with a midterm. A full third of it involved researching various satellites and their launch, orbits, missions, operations, propulsive maneuvers, and everything. I was on NASA websites, ESA websites, and generally had an awesome time. For marks. This class kicks butt.

Just hours before our departure for the weekend (more about that soon!) Alex asked to bring my camera to his place so he could photograph his work for the online submission (digital cameras: the poor man’s scanner). A quick shot of Alex and his room (which is far nicer than mine):

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Oh, and since I was at Alex’s room, I thought I’d highlight one of the strangest features of many Norwegian bathrooms:

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That’s right. The toilet is in the shower. Not only that, but the majority of bathrooms (including Alex’s) don’t have any defined “shower” area – it’s just a curtain with a drain in the floor. Even in hotels and bathrooms where space is not at a premium. Cultural learnings, indeed.

Posted by adamvigs 06:46 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

Week 14a: PhotoRockumentation at Andenes Rocket Range!

...because the story's so good it deserves to be told twice.

Hello!

It's officially the polar night, my classes are coming to a close, and my first final is less than a week away!

Quite simply, last week (er, last last week) was one of the best weeks of my life. Over five days at the Andenes Rocket Range here in Norway, we assembled, tested, and launched a rocket. A real rocket. 80 g's of acceleration. Mach 3. Twice the altitude of a 747. I'm still pinching myself.

I took pages and pages of jot notes, official notes, snapped pictures, dashed off e-mails, and accumulated a binder's worth of paper at the Rocket Range. I literally have enough to write a book. And (because I'm a perfectionist), when I do sit down to write that part of my trip, I want to do it justice. Alas, the tiny matter of studying doesn't lend itself well to novel-writing.

MY PLAN

SO, I have a compromise. I've uploaded all sorts of pictures from the week, along with more comments than usual, as a sort of "interim" posting. You can find the picture gallery here (use "Previous" to go through them in chronological order): START HERE

To keep you entertained, I've also found a link to the official Norwegian Government promo video here (starring yours truly): NAROM VIDEO

Even better than that, here's a neat little video put together by Chris from the U of Oslo: TOP GUN

And finally, a little link to one of my friend's blogs (thanks Vårin!): VÅRIN'S BLOG

FAREWELL!

Now that that's done, I'm going to prepare for my examinations, attempting to keep the blog updated on life post-rocket range. Once I catch up, I'll come back to the Rocket Range and put it all together into the great story it deserves to be.

As for right now, it's nearly bedtime and I need to get some studying in before the evening's through! I hope you enjoy the links and photos I've posted, and will do my best to keep you updated on life in Norway as my time here draws to a close.

Cheers from the Polar Night!

Posted by adamvigs 13:58 Archived in Norway Comments (2)

Week 13: The deep breath before the plunge...

(it was supposed to be posted last Sunday - hope that explains the continuity errors!)

Holy smoke, it’s another blog posting!

As you may have noticed from the not-so-subtle hints, something very exciting is happening soon – so exciting that I’m getting this week’s travelogue written ahead of time (and probably with slightly less quality than usual – apologies) so I have nothing else on my mind while I get to.. well, you can wait until the bottom of this posting to find out.

Onward and upward!

MØRKETID

The dark time approaches. And yet, I’m excited. Actually. Because in the dark time, the sky comes alive. For example, colours have begun to appear unlike any I’ve ever seen before; beyond the Aurora, the clouds themselves often have an otherworldly glow about them in the twilight that lasts for hours:

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Also, the moon is playing tricks on us. Recall that when the moon is full, it is exactly opposite the sun from the Earth's point of view. Since Tromsø is tilted away from the sun all day long, this means that it’s tilted towards the moon – all day long. And so, in the last full moon cycle, it stayed in the sky for days. And in December, in a month’s time, the moon will be in the sky for two weeks, and then will disappear for two weeks. Then, it will truly be the dark time.

I can’t wait.

On a humourous note: the meteorologists have to adopt a new symbol in the dark-time to indicate a cloud-free day. After all, you can’t very well call it a “sunny” day when there’s no sun to be had. So, we now have this little guy on the weather page:

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Clever, eh?

CULTURAL CUISINE

Food this week took on a decidedly international flavour:

  • On Monday, I made NACHOS! Good ones too - with cheese and olives and tomatoes and peppers (but no jalapenos - Norway's are decidedly sub-par). I made a tray-full, and shared them with the Elverhøy crew of Oksana & Mikhail (Russia) and Darcy (USA).
  • Wednesday found us in Pierre-Marie’s kitchen for an international student potluck - unlike mine, his table(s) can comfortably seat a dozen or more:

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And oh, the food:

Team Germany (plus an Australian) prepared a huge spread: "Farmer's pot", a chicken & cheese casserole, mushroom gravy, and a tasty pasta salad. Not to be outdone, P-M chipped in with a fish and potato dish, while the Spaniards cooked up some apples for dessert.

As for me, I managed to throw together some of Mom's best oatmeal raisin cookies (again from the Wilcox cookbook), which went over very well – for some reason, they reminded everyone of Christmas. (Side note: this lead us into a discussion on eggnog –does anyone know of a way to describe eggnog that doesn’t sound revolting?)

The highlight of the night: nectarine dumplings.

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But they were so much more than mere dumplings. Alex and Raimo actually wrapped dough around an entire pitted nectarine, baked the whole thing, and rolled each one in hazelnuts, cinnamon, and icing sugar. No picture or description could do these things justice; they were among the best desserts I’ve had. Period.

After cleaning up, we spent the rest of the evening playing Mafia, a great game of balderdash – I fully intend to bring that home to Canada, so be warned.

NORWENGLISH

As I’ve happily noted in the past, the typical Norwegian has a pretty good handle on English. Because of this fluency, my Norwegian friends find it quite funny when their countrymen translate Norwegian phrases literally into English.

Take, for example, a Norwegian rally driver named Petter Solberg. Solberg is renowned for his unique interview style:

  • “I had a very big fart, and suddenly I f****d off the road.”
  • “I had bad pigs in my dekk.”
  • “But but, it isn’t only only you know.”
  • “I’m driving around the corner, and crash in the Christmas tree.”
  • “I just take full fart and drive.”

Note in the above that “fart” is the Norwegian word for speed, winter tires are called “pegg dekker”, the Christmas tree was simply a pine tree, and “But but, it’s not only only” is a completely valid Norwegian phrase (“men men, det er ikke bare bare”) – albeit one that doesn’t translate well

And my favourite: “It’s not the fart that kills you, it’s the smell.”

I could tell you that “smell” also means impact or crash… or I could just let you admire the beautiful sentence for what it is.

~

Note: I’m sure that English speakers commit these gaffes as well; but, since I can’t give you any examples, I’ll present you with one German one courtesy of Jana: “Ach du lieber Herr Gesangsverein, mein Englisch ist nicht von schlechten Eltern, aber ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.”

Translated literally: “Oh dear Mr. Singingclub, my English is not from bad parents, but I only understand train station.”

What it means: “Oh dear; I speak good English yet I cannot understand this”.

Well, I thought it was funny.

SATT. ROCK., ‘N ROLL

Thursday’s class was all about communications satellites. Due to the vast distances between earth and geostationary orbit (36,000 km or so), the signal received by the satellite from Earth will be extremely weak, on the order of picowatts or nanowatts. For the same reason, the satellite must have an extremely large amplifier such that it can rebroadcast the signal at a strength that will reach the Earth successfully.

However, there’s a catch; if you accidentally send the satellite a strong signal, it will literally fry itself in its attempt to amplify your strong signal to a much stronger one.

And so, we played a game: if our satellite has an amplification factor of 10^12, what will the output signal strength given an input signal:

  • 1 picowatt? 1 watt.
  • 5 nanowatts? 5 kilowatts
  • 1.21 milliwatts? ONE POINT TWENTY-ONE JIGAWATTS!

Needless to say, if we tried to power a DeLorean, we’d fry the satellite.

Oh, and did I ever mention that EP kicks major butt? For this class, it prepared me for:

  • Telecommunications
  • Rigid-body mechanics
  • Signal analysis
  • Heat flow
  • Electronics
  • and so much more…

Simply put: I have the Physics background to understand what’s going on and the Engineering background to know what to do with it. Or at least, I will one day. It’s gonna be sweet.

ROOFTOP!

Before heading home for the weekend, Raimo, Alex, and I headed up to the roof of the Auroral Observatory to check out the view:

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Once again, that’s the midday sun. Just thought I’d let you know.

Raimo felt it necessary to point out the mountains of Kvaløya:

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while Alex chose to spend his time lounging in the sun:

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It’s worth noting once more that this was on the roof. Back home, this would merit a suspension at the very least. But in Tromsø, they even supply the lawn chairs.

THE WINTERS OF MY CHILDHOOD…

They called me a fool for even considering it. Yet in my suitcase from Canada I lovingly packed my battle-scarred Bauer 3000s, confident that life just wouldn’t be the same without my skates.

And on Friday, my foresight was finally vindicated.

Well, sort of – but you’ll see what I mean.

To celebrate our weekend freedom, Loes (Netherlands) Jana (Germany) and I decided to test out the newly-open-for-the-season Tromsdalen Skating Rink. As the day went on, my excitement grew; I was flying down the wing with the wind in my hair even as we crested the hill to the rink and… I was stopped by a force far more crushing than an open-ice hipcheck:

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I can say with complete and total honestly that the concept of “speed skating” had never, EVER, crossed my mind. Not once. Ever.
After recovering from this shock (believe me, it took some time), we headed into the warming hut, paid our two bits, and jumped on the ice. And guess what? We had fun:

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Oh, sorry; that’s Jana in the brown and Loes in the very Dutch orange and blue. We had a hard time convincing her to wear her skating jacket, because she didn’t believe it was truly skating with skates like these:

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Luckily, we convinced her that even without proper speed skates, there was still a lot of fun to be had – especially when Jana and Loes attempted to skate backwards.

(note for the non-skater: speed skates have a longer blade; and even cooler, "clap" speed skates have a hinged blade, allowing the blade to contact the ice throughout the entire stride. The more you know...)

And as a final treat, we met one of the Norwegian competitors at the Master’s-level (senior) World Championship - yes, I’m serious. I secretly attempted to keep pace with him for one of his warm-up laps (i.e. tried to keep exactly opposite the track of him). I sprinted the entire lap, and glanced over – I’d made no ground whatsoever, and he was barely trying. I guess I’ve got some work to do on my long-track.

All in all, it was a perfect night for skating: clean and fast ice, crisp air, and the starry sky above. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to break out my Bauers in Tromsø!

LANGUAGE EXCHANGE

A funny thing happened on Facebook on Friday…

Jørgen updated his status as the following: Jørgen Agersborg skriv rapport å drikk øl.

Curious, I sent him a message asking him why he was writing his report TO drink beer; wouldn’t it make more sense that he was writing his report AND drinking beer? He replied back impressed and told me that I was correct on both counts; he’d just been using dialect.

(that was the part where I felt a little proud of myself)

As the conversation wound down, Jørgen started tossing the word “eh” around fairly liberally (he’s been practicing where to use it). I teased him for overusing it and he asked why I’d only just noticed.

As it turned out, he’d been using it completely naturally throughout the conversation and it hadn’t even registered. In Jørgen’s own words: “Looks like I’ve got the hang of this, eh?”

PENULTIMATE RANDOM THOUGHTS

  • I don’t want to tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

    “What’s that picture on your desktop?”
    “Oh, it’s a grain elevator.”
    “…”
    “…”
    “A what?”

    It cracks me up every time.

  • For some reason, Thursday found the Canadians a little blue. Luckily, Jamie and I found a great cure for the missing-Saskatchewan blues: I cracked open a deck of Canadian cards and we played cribbage! We followed that up with a meal of Lipton's chicken noodle and Vigneron-style cucumber salad – it was

  • Oh, and on an entirely random note: two of the Norwegian travel websites featured my blog on their Twitter feeds! I don't think they're going to pay me any time soon, but it's still kinda cool to have a little exposure outside of Canada – and if anyone’s reading this who found me via Twitter, thanks for getting this far!

NEXT WEEK…

I’ve got a little bit of sad news to tell you: the blog may have to take a bit of a vacation.

Why? Well, I missed an entire week of school for one very good reason:

WATCH ME!

(scroll down to the bottom for a video in English - or use Google Translate on the whole page)

And so, once I catch up on the two assignments due in three days, the exercises in four days, and the term paper due next week, I’ll tell you all about the week I launched a rocket.

Yup, dead serious. It was so cool.

See you then!

Posted by adamvigs 03:34 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Week 12: Ørndalen!

Because I apparently spend more time at the North Point of this island than in my own room...

Good morning!

In stark contrast to some of my previous postings, I actually remembered my camera this week – if pictures are worth 1000 words, you had better prepare for 25,000 word essay.

And if you’re not the sort that takes idioms literally, enjoy!

THE GROOVY GREEKS

(the title is a reference to a riotously funny series of children’s books, “Horrible Histories”, which feature history “with all the nasty bits left in”. Highly recommended.)

In Monday’s Cosmic Geophysics, we were discussing the distribution of air in the atmosphere. Thanks to modern experiments, we know that the atmosphere is densest at the Earth’s surface and decreases exponentially with height (about ten orders of magnitude between us and the Shuttle – on another note, that means that the Shuttle actually has to deal with air resistance).

Without going into too much detail, this exponential relationship is defined by the parameter called the scale height; this is the thickness the atmosphere would have if it was simply a layer of constant density.

The cool part (the reason I tangented into atmospheric physics): the Greeks knew about this scale height. They measured it two millennia ago using (ready for this):

Two bowls of water and a pipe.

Father Murray had it right: we owe everything to the Greeks.

C-Eh-N-Eh-D-Eh!

Monday's mailbox held a special treat for me:

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Thanks Mom!

(on another note – I've learned on my travels that the Mounties are a genuine Canadian symbol. I can state with confidence that next to the Maple Leaf (and of course, the associated syrup), the Mounties are something people all over the world know and know Canadian. Oh, and hockey.)

A LONG-OVERDUE TRIM

As you may have noticed from my recent pictures, I’ve been stubbornly refusing to get a haircut while in Tromsø (the cheapest option checks in at about $50 CAD, and that’s not exactly at a reputable establishment). My expanding locks have been endlessly commented on by family and friends, especially over Skype – A Lori was particularly blown away, and that was at Thanksgiving, over a month ago!

Tired of hair constantly brushing my ears, I’ve been trying to find a friend with enough courage to give me a quick trim – with the constant reassurance that all they have to do is make it short. Proving that the French know more than just cheese and wine, Marie kindly volunteered to take on my challenge.

And so, on Wednesday night, Marie came by just after six for my hair appointment! We set up in the dungeons of Elverhøy (my dorm), much to the entertainment of various passers-by. It was great fun, and lasted much longer than a normal haircut would – after all, it was a social affair. The best part: she did a great job. As we discussed, I thanked her by whipping up a standard Canadian university student meal (she preferred that over something fancy) of Kraft Dinner with fried ham and peppers, raw veggies, and dip. It was simple, tasty, and satisfying – and somehow even managed to please the refined French palate..

Oh, and I also whipped up a batch of Eat-More Bars (recipe courtesy of Norine Schmalz via the Wilcox Community Cookbook) – they turned out perfectly, but I think I may have eaten one too many in the cooking process…

Note: the fried ham was more of a cured side of pork than a proper ham – my Norwegian isn’t quite at the point where I can identify cuts of meat (I can, however, tell you which is chicken, which is pork, beef, etc). It’s okay though, because it was still смачно! (I’m not going to translate this one for you, sorry – but Google is more than willing. Hint: it’s in Ukrainian)
.
ARCTIC HIGH SOCIETY

Looking sharp with my new haircut, I picked out dress clothes to match and caught the bus to the north of the island, where a few of my Ørndalen friends were throwing a formal dinner. Grace, Linnea, and Josh really outdid themselves, in atmosphere:

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presentation:

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and attire:

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(if you’re just tuning in, that was Grace from UK, Josh from Thunder Bay, and Linnea from Finland – with Loes from the Netherlands almost making an appearance)

Believe it or not, this entire affair took place in the local laundry building! Ørndalen’s kind enough to offer a community kitchen perfect for hosting such things; it was a far cry from Marie and I squeezing around my tiny table at Elverhøy earlier that evening.

As for me, I arrived just in time for dessert and cocktails, and had a great time drinking champagne, eating-More, and taking my turn DJing on Josh's new speakers. (Queen was particularly successful, though the Arrogant Worms and Shoom each made an appearance – gotta expose these kids to Canadian culture somehow.)

Oh and if you’re wondering what I wore? See Grad 2006, Grad 2008, Sheps Formal 2007, Sheps Formal 2008, Darren & Hayley’s wedding, Engineering Awards, etc, etc, etc… It’s good to be a guy.

TIP-TOP OF THE ISLAND!

On Friday, Loes and I trekked all the way up to the top of Tromsøya, the island Tromsø is located on. Granted, the 140 m peak (approximately the depth of the Qu’appelle Valley) didn’t offer the quite the thrill as Tromsdalstinden (the 1200 m mountain I climbed back in September), but we had been told that the view was great and the hike was fun.

Since we are quickly losing daylight (the sun set at 3:30 or so, though twilight lasts for hours), we Carpéd the Diem and set out right after lectures ended. We made our way down the slippery streets:

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and, after an enjoyable hike along Lysløypa (the cross-island ski trail), we arrived at the peak just as the sun disappeared. And as promised, the view was awesome:

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We could see almost the whole town from here – it was a great spot to take pictures from:

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or just somewhere to sit and think:

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Thanks to Loes’ camera (with the spectacular zoom lens), we were also able to get a nifty shot of the moon as it peeked over the mountains (note that it was much cooler than these pictures show):

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The final shot was taken after we had descended from the peak all the way to Nordspissen, the north point of Tromsøya. The beach (or rather, slimy kelpy rocks) was less than photogenic, but the water made for a nice picture.

One personal victory: I defeated the vertical bog! Apparently, the nasty water-filled spongy ground that soaks your every step is helpless against freezing temperatures – we even hiked up a frozen creek bed without the slightest dampness. Revenge is sweet.

PERSPEKTIVET

Some time ago, Michelle (my Buddy’s buddy – see Week 6 for details) invited me to come check out the local “photodocumentation” gallery (preserving history and culture through photographs). Having rigourously proven that I needed a break from equations, I headed to the Perspektivet museum on Saturday afternoon for a little culture.

While the first floor gallery on Georgian women was off-limits for photography, I was allowed to snap a few pictures from the exhibit on the lives of Russian fishermen. I’m not going to attempt to explain why, but these three pictures struck me:

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Feel free to make your own interpretations – as an Engineer, I don’t have much experience in such things, but I seem to recall that’s what art is all about.

On the top floor of the museum (which, in its past lives, was a Mack family house, a boarding-house, a community centre, and much more) was a neat little exhibit on Tromsø’s past; I found the picture of the harbourfront particularly enjoyable:

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(if you look closely, you can see the building Driv is housed in – and this postcard is almost 100 years old!)

Oh, and I got to meet Gitta Jønsson, the namesake of my street:

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While the Norwegians get a full paragraph, the English were only privy to:

“Gitta Jonsson, a leading figure in Tromso’s socialist movement.”

Succinct translation, that.

And finally, I snuck a shot of Michelle hard at work:

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(as I’m sure you’ve guessed, the museum wasn’t exactly swamped with people – I have a hunch that if she felt up to it, she’d have enough time to construct a paper-clip chain large enough to encircle the building. Or something to that effect).

Thanking Michelle for the surprisingly enjoyable afternoon, I grabbed my bike, headed up the hill, and quickly learned how not to attach 2L pop bottles to the back of a bicycle. I think I would have appreciated the geyser much more if I hadn’t just paid through the nose for the bottle at the local 7-11. Live and learn, eh.

HAPPY HALLOWE’EN!

Apparently, Ørndalen is the place to be for a party: following up on the great success of Wednesday’s dinner party, Saturday night found us all in Grace’s kitchen for a spooktacular soiree:

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Oh, and they absolutely outdid themselves in the party food category:

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Throw a fog machine, spooky music, and a large crow into the mix, and you have one awesome party venue. And just for fun, a few costumes; the good fairy:

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The bad fairy:

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(yes Tendler, that’s a half-litre can of Strongbow)

The witch:

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and, er, Josh the Ripper:

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Oh, and my costume? Well, I was going to go as a Russian, but after seeing the Soviet at the museum, I decided to stay true to my roots:

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(I also had a bottle of CC in my hand all night. It was a good prop.)

The party was a great success – we head about 50 people show up, so many that the floor started shaking (yes, I was a little worried). Afterwards, we all piled onto the buses for the Hallowe’en party on-campus at Bodega. All in all, I had a fun night and even managed to catch the final bus home for my early morning ahead…

WRECK!

Sunday morning, six intrepid SUT divers risked life and limb by diving in the middle of Tromsø harbour, right in the shipping lanes.

The reason: a real-live-100 year old wreck.

The wreck, named “The Russian” is purportedly a treasure ship of a Grand Duchess; true or not, it’s still a neat story.

After allowing the senior divers (Gerhard, Magnus, and Jon) time to find the wreck using a line from the shore, we launched Little Red Riding Hood (SUT’s inflatable) from the industrial section of Tromsø harbour, and headed out to the harbour for what promised to be an awesome dive.

Unfortunately, the fates were not on our side today. The second group of three became two when Malin ripped her drysuit entering the water (a freak occurrence to the point of being near unrepeatable). Camilla and I continued on down to the wreck, but had to cut our visit short when Camilla signaled to me that she was having issues with her air (I learned later that she was experiencing the first signs of CO2 poisoning, a serious problem 100 feet below). Staying together, we slowly made our way back to the surface, taking great care to degass ourselves on the way up.

As much as you may be surprised to hear this, the excursion was far from a loss; I had the opportunity to lounge in a pleasant little boat with good company as the sun set over the Tromsøysund, and we even broke out the oars for some exercise and environment-friendly propulsion.

It just goes to show; it’s not about what happens in life, but what you make of it.

CLOSING

Random thoughts I can’t fit anywhere else:

  • The Shuttle main engines use turbochargers – massive turbochargers. How cool is that?

  • I shared Don McLean’s "Vincent" with Loes (about one Dutchman to another); she quite enjoyed it, but informed me that the entire world pronounces Van Gogh’s name wrong – all I can tell you is that if you wind up with phlegm in your mouth, you’re on the right track.

    (“Starry Starry Night…”)

  • Oh, and I also learned that salsa and cheese make good waffle toppings.

Cheers!

Posted by adamvigs 12:07 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

Week 11: A Polar Experience

Finner, Flippers, and Fotos - oh my!

Well, we’re down to the wire on this one – I promised myself I’d never leave a blog writing later than Sunday, and it’s officially 10 PM. Wish me luck!

(note: posting can happen later...)

WAX ON, WAX OFF...

In Monday's Cosmic Geophysics, Prof. Brekke lectured us on the behaviour of electric currents in the upper Earth atmosphere. Midway through the lecture, he turned to us with a grin and said, “As a matter of fact, 40 years ago I was one of the first to measure these currents.” I think I’ve mentioned this before, but he wrote the textbook – apparently, he was far more than qualified to do so. Really makes one sit up and pay attention, that.

A BLOND(E) JOKE?

While doing homework with Vidar and Jørgen (who was – no joke – eating Fisherman’s Friends as mints. Never seen that before), Jørgen asked if I was headed to the Med students' Oktoberfesten this weekend. Having already been invited by Loes (my Dutch friend in Med), I joked to him that of course I was – my dad would be rather unimpressed if I turned down an evening with a tall blonde.

Well, Jørgen is about 6’4”, and as blond as they come. Needless to say, there was a rather awkward pause in the conversation before I clarified that I was, in fact, talking about a girl.

Believe it or not, we’re still friends.

DON’T LAUGH!

Thursday’s Numerical Simulations class provided more than a little to chuckle about. We’re now under the tutelage of Prof. Melandsø, a physicist who takes a rather less rigorous approach to the mathematics we’re performing. In his own words: “There is a proof for this, but it’s long and rather uninteresting, so just take my word for the fact that it’s true.” (As Jørgen said: Go Physics!)

However, Prof. Melandsø’s English isn’t quite at the same level as Prof. Mjølhus, and occasionally he says something a little entertaining. For example:

“I know that this seems boring now, but it will come in handy: consider this foreplay for the next section.”

Because we’re all mature adults, we managed not to laugh out loud. Rather, we.. well, I'll just let Jimoein take it from here:

(Scroll ahead to 01:37 for the part in question. Or just watch the whole thing – it’s spectacular.)

STUDENT LIFE

After Numerical Simulations, Thursday was just one of those days when it was great to be a student. Thanks to a cancelled class, I had eight hours to kill on-campus. Forewarned, I packed enough food for a small army and found myself a nice little corner to camp out in; I had my laptop, a refrigerator, power, a comfortable couch for reading, and a desk for working. In addtion to all life's amenities, my campsite was located on a cosy little balcony overlooking one of the lobbies. It’s not fair to have that much fun doing homework.

(note: a big thank-you to the UiT computer department, who kindly lent me a converter to keep my laptop going-and-going-and-going… once again, Norwegian hospitality kicks major butt.)

Oh, and great news for procrastinators everywhere: I learned this week that Google has incorporated a flight simulator into their Google Earth program. In other words, I can now fly an F-16 over an ultra-realistic model of the globe...

It’s a wonder I’ve even managed to write this blog.

WHAT, ME PLAY WITH BUTTONS?

Thursday evening in Norwegian, we actually got to use the language lab (our dwindling numbers have dropped below 16, allowing us to use the 16-seat classroom). Each of us got our own little cubicle complete with headset and large panel of buttons, and we did listening exercises for about half an hour. It was great fun; I particularly enjoyed Odd’s grin as he asked me if I needed any assistance. (I’d been absentmindedly rapping away at the help button more-or-less the entire time we were in the classroom – did I mention my button panel was lit up like a Christmas tree within about ten seconds of me sitting down?)

SHOPPING THE SIGHTS

Thanks to my intensive set of Satellite and Rockets lectures last week (I know, such a hardship), I had Friday off! So Jamie and I went downtown for shopping, errands, and one excellent cheque-cashing. We managed to successfully navigate the skating-rink that was the trip down - sliding was actually easier and more efficient than walking. (Related life-lesson: on a three-speed bicycle, don’t use the handbrake. Ouch.)

Taking advantage of the ever-scarcer blue sky, I also remembered to take some pictures of downtown. Here’s the big street, Storgata:

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Kong Haakon VII (and a bandstand with what appears to be a red maple motif):

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And a nice shot of Our Lady Catholic Church:

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After the fun round of shopping downtown, I dropped my parcels off at home and went right back out the door to the other mall for groceries (scholarship comes in, cash goes out – that’s just how it goes). As a matter of fact, I’m getting much better at grocery shopping – it only took one hour and there was precious little shaking, smelling, peering, and questioning. I’m pretty proud of myself.

On a similar note, I’ve more or less adjusted to life without a car, though I am getting a little tired of having to run after the bus. However, today put that all in persepective: the only thing worse than running for the bus?

Running for the wrong bus.
With groceries.

However, I was in such a good mood that I flagged the driver for the next stop, got off, walked back to the terminal, and caught the next bus home. It was fairly pain-free for a bonehead move on my part - easy karma is always appreciated.

FINNER!

Er, my apologies. That title was supposed to say “Finnish Dinner”, but somehow there were some letters that got missed…

(note: I’m not actually sorry. But I’m sure you knew that.)

On Friday evening Linnea invited her friends to her Ørndalen vacation-house for a traditional meal from home:

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As you all know, I’m a big fan of food, so I jumped at the chance to try something new. And I wasn’t disappointed:

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The main course was a type of pea soup – but it had so much more in it than just that, I really should have written it down…

However, I do remember traditional toppings: as you can see in the picture, they’re (ready for this?) raw onion and mustard. Let me tell you this about that, there’s nothing that adds kick to soup like raw onion and mustard. And hoo boy, was it tasty! I’m never going to look at mustard the same way again…

Up and to the right you may just be able to see the other main course. These consisted of flatbread baked hard into boats, then filled with a potato filling and topped with a hard-boiled egg spread. Think perogie filling on whole-wheat tortillias with egg salad on top, and you’re somewhat close – but it was so much tastier than that!

And finally, for dessert, the pièce de résistance:

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What you see above is a Finnish pancake. About an inch thick and tasting rather like a fusion of pancake and French toast, it melted in my mouth – especially with Linnea’s mother’s homemade crabapple jam sent all the way from the States. I was stuffed. It was great.

After dinner, we caught a bus from Ørndalen all the way south to Telegrafbutka, where friends of ours were camped out on a beach. But more on that later…

POLARIA

On Saturday, Loes and I headed to Polaria in a last-minute attempt to give our brain cells a fighting chance before the Oktoberfesten that evening.

Polaria is the local aquarium, highlighted by a trio of large, bearded…

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…female seals. Hmm. Bet you weren’t expecting that.

We were lucky enough to catch the feeding / mental stimulation (the politically correct way of saying trick-performing) of the seals; however, it wasn’t until one of them clambered onto land that I realized just how big 200 kg actually is:

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The seal experience was made even better by the portholes, elevator-size glass enclosure, and glass tunnel that surrounded the tank. All of these allowed for exceptionally enjoyable gawking (over 270° of visibility) by the museum patrons – no word on whether the seals felt the same way.

There were a number of smaller aquariums in Polaria, with plethora of strange and unusual fish, crabs, shrimp, and other sea life too bizarre for me to describe. We wandered from tank to tank (all of which were uniquely shaped and beautifully landscaped) soaking it all in and sneaking no-flash photography whenever we had the chance. One of the tanks was shaped literally like a globe:

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(the EP in me can’t fail to mention that the spherical tank also provided an intense and powerful magnification effect – the little guy on the front of the glass appeared about three feet long when viewed from the side.)

Of all the photos I took, my favourite:

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Go ahead and chuckle, but this guy’s got better peripheral vision than Wayne Gretzky. Just don’t try a staring contest – you will lose.

After a great panoramic movie on Svalbard (wow, what a place!), we headed over to the exhibit on Arctic exploration and transportation. The highlight was a surprisingly realistic naval simulator set in the Tromsø harbour. I cruised my way past Tromsdalen bridge and the Arctic Cathedral:

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and followed that up with a trip to Driv on the harbourfront (a picture which I’ve taken many times before):

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(and yes, I let Loes drive for a bit too.)

On our way out, Loes tried her hand at her first snowmobile:

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whereas I, being of a more practical nature, found transportation that was, shall we say, more refreshing:

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(in case you’ve forgotten, Mack is the local brewery.)

On a strange note: the museum giftshop was proudly selling sealskin boots, vests, and mittens. I’m not taking a stand for or against the fur industry, but I did find this to be rather at odds with the whole preservation-and-protection theme of the museum; curious if anyone else feels the same.

OKTOBERFESTEN

Okay, first things first: this was NOT what you’re thinking. We didn’t have a beer hall, or lederhosen, or steins: more’s the pity. Oktoberfesten translates literally as “The October Party”, and is an annual themed costume party put on by the Tromsø Med students. I’d been assured by all my Norwegian friends that this was the party we just couldn’t miss; the liquor would be cheap, the music would be great, and the decorations would be spectacular. This year’s theme was “Back Alley”, and the Med students didn’t disappoint:

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This was the only picture I managed to sneak of the dance floor, but I’ll do my best to give you a mental picture. The party was held in the long, slender atrium of the Med building, ideally suited as a back alley. We entered via the main staircase, tarped just for the occasion to double as an Underground access point. Every wall of the alley was covered in a mural of some sort of brickwork or graffiti – even the bathrooms had phone numbers scrawled on every surface. One of the bars was themed like a café, and one was themed like a seedy hole-in-the-wall. There was a tattoo parlour, a fortune teller, a hot dog vendor, and even a window dancer (always a guy – terribly sexist on their part). And as a final touch, clotheslines strung everywhere. I was in awe.

The costumes were spectacular: there were cops and robbers, cats, dumpsters, cars, radios, Ninja Turtles, cigarettes, traffic lights, bums, gangsters, and at least one Spider-Man.

Oh yeah, and the party was great too: my camera stayed safely stowed while I was in the thick of the party, but I managed to sneak one picture of Loes and Einar (one of her flatmates) on our way out of the rabbit hole:

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Einar was dressed as one of the Norwegian nationals currently imprisoned in the DR of the Congo, while Loes dressed (as she joked, true to her Amsterdam roots) as a streetwalker, albeit not nearly to the extent that some of the other girls at the party did.

And me? Well, I went as a hooker too – only I wore knee-high socks, shorts, and my rugby jersey.

Get it? Hooker? Well, I thought it was funny.

After obtaining some free peanuts using cold hard logic (I convinced the vendor at the end of the night that giving them away was a better option than throwing them away), we caught a ride home from one of our friends. Even without the beer halls, it had been a great Oktoberfesten.

AURORA!

It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here!

This weekend marked a period of high solar activity and relative darkness on the Moon’s part. In other words, timing was ripe for a beautiful display – and the Arctic didn’t disappoint.

On Thursday night, I was blessed with a beautiful shimmering green curtain over my head as I biked home from an evening watching House. I was incredibly lucky there were no cars on the road – with the amount of time I spent biking with my neck craned skyward, I never would have seen them coming.

Friday night found us on the pitch-black shores of Telegrafbutka, gawking up at the night sky once more. The waves lapped on the beach, the Milky Way and billions of stars twinkled overhead, and the aurora danced… it was beyond words.

(oh, and there were photoluminescent phytoplankton on the beach. Every step we took revealed tiny glowing dots. That was so. cool.)

Like any good performer, Nature saved her best for last. And on Saturday night: purple. Wow. Wow. It was almost violent – I can’t remember the exact term, but we were being treated to a burst-type aurora – it was moving like a fire in the heavens, ablaze in green and violet across the starry sky. Even the locals admitted that Saturday night was a good display.

And in the hopes of giving you even a tiny taste of what we could see, I’m posting the following courtesy of Raimo and Julianna (another Canadian) – I hope you enjoy!

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve got some homework that needs tending to, so I’m going to wrap this up. Something you might find entertaining: in the great Vigneron tradition of using far too much black pepper, I recently bought my fourth shaker – you never realize how much you go through until you start buying it yourself.

Oh, and daylight savings time kicked in this weekend (the sunset moved over a full hour in one day – that was a little depressing) so we'll have to re-sync to 7 hours difference – it’s not a nice round number like 8, but such is life. (Of course, I’m talking to the Saskatchewanians here – the rest of you can go about setting your clocks as normal).

Take care, and keep your stick on the ice!

Posted by adamvigs 08:39 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

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