A Travellerspoint blog

Week 5: One Month and counting!

Alas, no other unifying theme this week

Happy Autumn!

The trees outside my window are already starting to turn – while I’m pleased that I’ll get an even better view of the mountains, it’s a beautiful reminder that like the Tracy Lawrence song, “Time marches on…”. I’m doing my best to make the days count; I hope you enjoy this week’s adventures!

(and I realize it’s already Friday of the next week, but don’t worry, you (should) be getting the next post soon enough – I’m in the middle of my very own long weekend ^_^ )

SURE BEATS SLUSHY SASKATOON STREETS

Remember when I said that my walk to school was along the shores of a beautiful lake near the top of the island? On Monday, I finally remembered to bring my camera along on my walk to school:

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Like I said in the heading, it definitely trumps College Drive.

The path winds its way around the lake and eventually makes it to the campus of the Auroral Observatory. I take a few of my classes in the main building:

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and a few of them in the little yellow house around the bend:

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The little house is actually the original Auroral Observatory from the 1930’s; it’s where the observation of the Northern Lights all began. Needless to say, it’s where my cool classes are.

Inside the old Observatory are two meeting rooms; the downstairs one (with the couches) was all locked up, but I managed to sneak a picture upstairs:

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That’s Alex from Austria grinning for the camera – he’s the feoretical fysikkist that’s been helping me with all the vector calculus we’ve been doing in Plasma Physics (yup, it’s just as hard as it sounds).

A DAY IN THE NERD LIFE

So far, my Cosmic Geophysics class has been a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’ve really been enjoying the informative and useful lectures with a great balance between theory and application (a middle road the Engineer always strives for).

In today’s class for example, we managed to prove (using fairly simple ideal-gas theory) that the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere will decrease by 10 °C per vertical kilometre. This was especially cool to learn, as it was only a few days since I’d been on top of a mountain (1200 m a.s.l.) and noticed this cooling effect first-hand. (note to my fellows on the USST and the 1km climb: this cooling effect is a good thing for our climber!).

It was one of those easy derivations that make surprisingly good predictions – at least, in the atmosphere that a human being can normally experience. And my professor even seems to like when I ask questions in class, even when I refer to the vertical coordinate as “zed”. Though I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m crazy for taking so many classes while I’m here.

HE'S GONE COUNTRY

The highlight of a Monday evening otherwise spent doing homework was an email from one of my Norwegian friends. Believe it or not, he thanked me for downloading “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas” on his computer the weekend before and asked if I would mind recommending some more Country music for him.

With Alan Jackson ringing in my ears, I sent him the best of the best with a few of my favourites thrown in. There’s just something about spreading my music here that I really enjoyed, and I thought you’d like to hear about it.

ON TECHNOLOGY

Tuesday morning started bad.

Very bad.

I logged onto my laptop, and I discovered that I had no internet.

Words cannot describe this catastrophe. Gone was my phone, my access to course material, my television, my library, and my link home. Luckily, the IT guys were on their A game and had the whole thing up and running in under an hour. But what an illuminating hour that was. You know, maybe this is a sign that I’m too dependent on the internet, that I should cut the technological umbilical cord while I still can.

But there’s no time for that now, House just finished downloading.

(oh, and the muses of Technology gave me a little reward as the day went on: I went to the student sports hall to pay my SCUBA membership and learned that they use thumb-print technology for gym access. How cool is that!)

A FUNNY SUBJECT

I want to take a few minutes to tell you about my Numerical Analysis professor, one of the more unique individuals I’ve met here. He’s one of the old guard of the Math department, having taught the majority of his colleagues (indeed, his co-professor is a former student); we’re often left wondering whether or not he’s got his hearing aid turned on (we've deciphered that "maybe" means that he didn't hear us, but is too polite to say so).

As to his teaching style: he never hesitates to call upon a student and ask them if they understand or not - and yet, it’s not the negative type of singling-out that other professors do when students are asleep / inattentive. He’s very aware that he’s teaching students from a variety of backgrounds, and has been exceptional in quizzing the class as to their experience with the topic at hand. Like many other researchers deep in their field, he’s constantly expressing regrets that certain topics are beyond the course - we spend quite a fair amount of time discussing things, “we’re not going to discuss.” Finally, he’s quite willing to answer any questions; we wound up having an entire section of Tuesday’s lecture labeled “Adam” as it was in response to a question I’d posed the previous week.

My very own lecture – not too shabby.

He also has the continuously entertaining habit of using the word “funny” when one would normally use “interesting” or “useful”. This leads to such deadpan sentences as, “The upcoming assignment will be a funny one,” or the classic, “I am confident that you will find Fourier Series to be a very funny topic.” Anyone who’s taken MATH 338 under A. Cheviakov knows that the latter statement couldn’t be less true.

And the best part: according to his other students, he says the same thing in Norwegian. Funny, eh?

SO CRAZY, IT JUST MIGHT WORK

On Wednesday, we had a special treat in Cosmic Geophysics. Our professor was away, so he arranged for us to have a guest lecturer. For two hours, Professor Esser (say that three times fast) gave us a fabulous lecture on anything you’d ever want to know about the Sun. It was illuminating, to say the least.

For example, did you know there’s a valid theory concerning the link between solar activity and global warming? No, I’m not kidding. It’s a known fact that more solar activity causes more cloud cover (has to do with the radiation ionizing particles when then allows water vapour a condensation point). It follows that more clouds equals better Earth insulation equals more retained heat equals increased greenhouse effect. We’ve observed heightened solar activity over recent years – to say the least, it’s a theory worth looking at.

MARCH 13th, 1989

Most of you in the audience probably don’t remember where you were that day. Some of you (including myself by a month and four days) weren’t even born yet. And yet, every one of my professors remembers it well.

That was the day the Aurora brought Hydro-Québec to its knees.

The story as I’ve heard it told in each of my three Physics classes: on the 8th of March, a solar flare erupted from the north-west quadrant of the sun. The flare had a diameter of 3 Earth radii and extended 70,000 miles into space, ranking it among the largest ever recorded.

Think about that size for a second – we’re talking a giant fiery explosion THREE EARTHS WIDE. That makes the distance I flew to Tromsø seem like next door.

Within 8 minutes, the X-ray and UV radiation released by the flare made its way to Earth, alerting cosmic researchers of the record solar activity. Excited, scientists around the globe prepared for the days ahead.

The researchers knew that the solar flare signaled by the electromagnetic radiation was accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (a high-energy stream of particles expelled from the sun by the explosion). Since the particles (with mass) had to travel at a finite speed significantly less than the speed of light (which the radiation travels at), the nerds of the world were well warned of the incoming solar assault.

Unfortunately, they rather neglected to mention it to their non-academic compadres.

On the 12th of March, the charged particles reached Earth, causing the Earth’s magnetic fields to fluctuate wildly. Communication satellites were knocked out, and there were power surges and electromagnetic interference in every corner of the globe.

A majestic aurora was seen as far south as Texas, causing some American citizens to fear that the dreaded nuclear armageddon of the Cold War had finally taken place. On that same theme, the geomagnetic storm knocked out the broadcast of American radio in Russia, causing speculation that the Kremlin’s censorship practices were up and running again.

However, it was in Québec that the true potential of the storm was realized. Electrical ground currents induced by the magnetic storm were unable to discharge through the rock of the Canadian Shield. Instead, they found their way into the far less resistant power grid, causing wild current spikes as the DC current worked its way through an AC system. Breakers began to trip like dominos, and the entire Québec grid collapsed within 90 seconds.

Six million people had to survive a cold Quebec winter night without power, costing an estimated $10 million in damages. If not for a few sturdy transformers on the US-Canada power junction, the entire East Coast could have fallen at an estimated cost of $6,000 million dollars.

(thousand million being the Norwegian numbering system)

Oh, and get this: “Hydro-Québec still remains more vulnerable due to Québec's position on a large rock shield that prevents the current from flowing through the earth. What's more, Hydro-Québec's grid is made up of very long transmission lines, making it even more vulnerable to the Sun's temper tantrums.”

Between that and the ice storms, I think I’ll stay in Saskatchewan, thanks.

…you might be asking why I told you all that detail? Well, I think it’s an amazing description of the effect the sun can have on the Earth, and I feel strangely proud that something that happened in my country a month before I was born has such a noted place in the annals of aurora research. Plus, it’s a cool story.

REINFORCEMENTS!

Wednesday evening was the closest I’ve felt to Saskatoon since I arrived in Tromsø; I made two phone calls across the Atlantic, both of which gave me plenty to grin about.

The first call was to Professor McWilliams, my U of S prof who started my Tromsø adventure with one little email so long ago. On Tuesday, she had sent out a message about another Norwegian exchange program (this one for but a week – a single course rather than a full-blown semester abroad). Jokingly, I replied back to her that I was interested – especially if they would pay me out the travel stipend in cash.

After she realized I was kidding, we talked about the exchange and realized something very cool: the new exchange student would be spending their week taking the very same intense course that I was. In other words, the U of S was sending another Physics / Engineering Physics student over, directly into my adopted home.

Needless to say, this was great news for everyone involved. The new student (plus a few from the U of A and U of C) could leave Canada knowing that there was someone waiting on the other end, while I can politely request the transport of maple syrup and akkavit back and forth. This is going to be pretty cool – especially if one of my friends from back home manages to land the spot.

And the other call: I ended my night off with a hilarious four-way Skype with Pref, Tendler, Sean, and Mandi. I was enjoying the visit quite a bit, but I was confused by references to “reinforcements”, “healing”, and “arm your magic-repel armour”.

Apparently, the boys were deep in a game of World of Warcraft (an online multiplayer game) and figured they could use the open line of communication for more than one purpose. I’ll admit, it was effective – I could tell by the death and killing (and the lack of swearing) on my speakers that they were doing well. Hopefully they don't run out of Hot Pockets.

SATELLITES, ROCKETS, & GYROS – OH MY!

I hope you’re not tired of hearing about how cool my classes are, because Thursday’s lecture on Satellites and Rockets was incredible. Highlights from today’s introduction to orbital mechanics(!!):

  • I gained an appreciation of how difficult it is to keep a satellite pointing in the direction you want it to while it’s orbiting the Earth which is in turn rotating about its axis and revolving around the Sun – we don’t have enough Greek letters to cover all those rotations…
  • I finally understand the Coriolis effect! (it’s that crazy pseudo-force that causes hurricanes to rotate one way in the Northern Hemisphere and a different way in the Southern Hemisphere. Also rumoured to have an effect on toilets, but I believe that’s been disproven on Mythbusters… sigh.) If you need an explanation, please e-mail me – I’ve known how to do the math for a long (long) time, but I finally understand it!
  • If you’ve ever played with a gyroscope, you know that once you set it spinning, it resists your attempt to twist it. This can be (and has been) exploited in satellite telescopes; they have large, heavy wheels that spin within the satellite to help it resist outside forces and keep telescope pointed in the same direction. On a related note, this is also why a properly spiralling football (i.e. not the one that I throw) will stay in a spiral – the spin keeps it straight and true.
  • Oh, and we derived THE ROCKET EQUATION. How cool is that?

One last story: the final question our professor posed to the class had to do with the location of the centre of mass of a grenade which explodes in mid-flight. Instantly, I flashed back to Physics 30 with Tay and his love of things that go BOOM! Needless to say, the question was a breeze (the centre of mass continues along the original parabolic trajectory, regardless of how far / fast the fragments fly away).

Did I mention how much I like this class?

THIS IS THE WORD THAT NEVER ENDS…

Anyone familiar with the German language knows that they have a love of incredibly long compound words. Alas for outsiders like me, Norwegian has the same construct.

However, when you examine their reasoning, it really is quite logical. Take for example, that big yellow vehicle that transports children to and from their classes each day. In English, we call that a school bus. However, the Norwegian rationale is that since we are speaking of one specific thing, we should use one word: schoolbus. It makes sense, when you think about it; each word thus describes a single concept. It’s perfectly fine as long as you can tell where one sub-word ends and another begins – therein lies the trick.

This compounding-with-impunity can lead to some rather entertaining words. For example, the Norwegian word for elevator repairman is heisemontør, combining the words for elevator and repairman. Easy enough, eh?

But what if they go on strike? Still one concept, still one word:
heisemontørstreike.

And if a repairman crosses the picket line? Then he’s a
heisemontørstreikebryter.

And if a man is leading the crossing of the picket line?
heisemontørstreikebryterorganisator.

And if we’re speaking about this man’s girlfriend?
heisemontørstreikebryterorganisatorkjæreste.

And if the girlfriends of the leaders have a meeting?
heisemontørstreikebryterorganisatorkjærestekonferanse.

And if the meeting is cancelled, giving the girlfriends free time they weren’t expecting? This is still one specific type of free time, free time gained by the cancellation of the meeting of the elevator repairmen strike-breaker leaders’ girlfriends. One concept, one word:
heisemontørstreikebryterorganisatorkjærestekonferansefri.

Granted, this is an extreme situation. But it’s completely valid. Wish me luck!

VERBAL TICS

Speaking with as many international students as I do every day, I’m learning plenty about the way in which I speak English. And I’m not just talking about being Canadian, eh. For example:

  • It’s scary how often I use idioms and colourful language in everyday speech. This often leads to entertaining situations where I have to explain why it was that curiosity killed the cat, or why we say “wait up!” rather than just “wait!”. (My favourite so far was when I attempted to relate “beat frequency” to “beat up” – I used a drum beat as my intermediary.)
  • I also get to learn new international phrases as my friends attempt to directly translate their idioms into English – for example, “flat humour” is the German way of referring to polite applause. I like that one.
  • My occasional pronunciation laziness really catches up to me when I speak with the students here. For example, when I say, “Pardon me?” I tend to glaze over the middle syllable. Marie (from France) finally asked me what I meant when I kept mumbling, “Pahme?” Whoops.
  • Finally, my tendency to ask “How are you?” whenever I make a phone call tends to throw the Norwegians off-guard: “How am I? Oh, well, uh, I’m doing well, I suppose – thank you for asking!” This is in addition to my “strange” habit of making small talk at local businesses (or in the case of the Wilcox Post Office, a full-blown life update).

However, in some ways Canadians are viewed as less polite than their European counterparts: for example, according to Alex, it’s much more common in Austria to applaud at the end of a routine lecture – to not do so would be an insult. It’s been a great treat to learn about different cultures like this, even though I haven’t left the North of Norway for the last month – the wonders of an international institution.

THE OUTPOST MENTALITY

Paraphrasing an idea from Will Ferguson (quite possibly the funniest man Canada has produced in the last decade), Canada (and Canadians) are defined by what he calls the “outpost mentality”, a notion that we are attempting to establish ourselves and gain a footing in an unfamiliar landscape, be it geographical, cultural, linguistic, or political. Canada, he argues, is a sum of these outposts (Acadia, English Victoria, the First Nations, etc.), each of which is at risk of disappearing altogether. We are thus shaped by a vague built-in sense of isolation and of survival, even as we live, work, and breathe the easy life of the 21st century.

The reason I bring this up: this is how I grocery shop. My European friends are very much of the let’s-go-buy-today’s-meal persuasion; they pick out only that which they need for the immediate future. As for me, on the other hand: at last count, I had approximately three weeks worth of meat and vegetables in the freezer, and at least two weeks worth of dry goods (soup, pasta, tinned veggies, etc.). Not to mention my supply of indestructible Wasa bread. What can I say, it was on sale.

Oh, and I got my scholarship cheque today, so I also bought some beer. Life is good.

DODGE, DIP, DUCK, DIVE, AND… DODGE?

That’s right, it’s time for DODGEBALL!

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The Buddy Tromsø program organized a dodgeball tournament Saturday afternoon for any and all students to join in.

Unfortunately, they rather forgot that Saturday afternoon comes after Friday night.

I was impressed to see a few of my friends from the previous night at Artur drag themselves out for the 11 AM start. (I was myself spared any hangover by my stubborn refusal to have more than two $15 beers. Especially when I knew what was planned for Saturday night…)

After narrowing down the rules to be used (apparently the game varies quite a bit across a dozen different countries), we took to the court. My team consisted of another Adam (in the white), Max (blue), Leslie (red) and the killer Jana (with the ball):

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We had a surprisingly good team, helped largely by the fact that I learned to walk en pointe:

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…okay, maybe not. But Chris Zrymiak can, you should ask him sometime.

Long story short, we managed to win in a hard-fought final, and netted ourselves free movie tickets! Not bad for dragging myself to school on a Saturday.

(note: the bike ride home on the three-speed was – well, let’s just say that I’m going to be in great shape if I keep stubbornly refusing to walk my bike.)

[INSERT PICTURES HERE]

Saturday evening was spent at the Immatrikuleringsfest, a Sciences-student welcome banquet & social. Highlights included a delicious smorgasbord (I redefined the phrase all-you-can-eat-shrimp - it wasn't pretty, but damn did it taste good) and – ready for this one – a NOK 10 (toonie) bar! Sure, they only had one kind of beer, and it was lukewarm at best, but it was cheap!

It turned out that our table of five (myself, Alex fr. Austria, Raimo fr. Germany, Marie et Pierre-Marie fr. France) were the only non-Norwegians there. We thus missed out on the entertaining toast from the men to the women, and the women to the men (each followed by the Viking-esque standing toast of SKÅÅÅLL!). Regardless, we still had a great night socializing with each other and with the Norwegians, topped off by an excellent walk home under the stars.

Unfortunately, I rather forgot to bring my camera, but I promise I have good pictures coming – something for you to look forward to!

Final random thought: Even though there was a cash bar (operating at a loss, I’m pretty sure) the Norwegians all brought their own alcohol! I’m serious, this was a formal suit-and-tie event, and people are walking in with cases of beer, bottles of wine, flasks… definitely something I wasn’t expecting.

SØNDAGSDYKK!

You may think that after staying up all night two nights in a row, I’d be interested in a quiet Sunday at home?

Then you haven’t been bit by the diving bug.

Sunday’s dive was bound for Kvitbergan, another beautiful locale on Kvaløya:

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(note: I also learned the location of my previous dive if anyone’s interested. It was on also on Kvaløya, at a site called Blåmannvika. You’re welcome.)

Today’s dive was with (L-R) Morton, Camilla, and divemaster Asle:

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(I think – and if I got a name wrong, I’m sorry, it’s tough to remember sometimes)

It was a beautiful dive along a steep but lively ridge; there was tons of sea life, beautiful crushed-shell sand, and a decent current to keep things interesting. Asle also had an excellent lamp that reminded me how much colour sixty feet of water can take away. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my second dive of approximately 40 minutes.

Oh, and my drysuit leaked like a sieve. Forgot to mention that part.

Don’t worry, I had an awesome time – it was actually fairly refreshing to dive in Arctic waters with Artic waters all around you. The only lame part was the trek back up the shoreline; climbing a slippery slope is not made easier when you’re retaining enough water to look like the Michelin Man. In the end though, I made it to my dry clothes and we had a great laugh about the whole event (the best part was when I took off my first layer and Asle commented that my bunnyhug didn’t look that wet – then I showed him the nickel-sized patch on my right arm that was dry and three shades lighter).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sunday evening, I found myself stuck with an undownloadable country song in my head. Thinking quickly, I used Skype to call 620 CKRM in Regina to try and squeeze onto the request hour. Unfortunately, I missed out this week, but Adam Bouvier was ecstatic to receive a caller from Norway and asked me to promise that I’d call in again. So if any of you listen to the Sunday Morning Request show, keep your ears on…

Though I missed the request show, Adam reminded me about the afternoon Rider game – excitedly, I tracked down Jamie, who had already logged onto CFL broadband. We thoroughly enjoyed the slaughter that was the Banjo Bowl, and I was able to drift off to sleep satisfied that somewhere Nan (who will probably be the first to read this) was proud of her Riders tonight.

Believe it or not, this week marked one month since I left Canada, arrived in Norway, and arrived in Tromsø. It’s been a life-changing experience so far, and I look forward to sharing the rest of my adventure with you. Cheers!

Posted by adamvigs 11:13 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Week 4: Experiments in Weightlessness and Altitude

The lowest and highest I've been yet...

It’s Monday night, I’ve done more math today than I care to discuss, so naturally I’m drawn to the equation-free world of blogging – hope you enjoy my random tales of the past week!

NEWTON MUST BE DRIFTING IN HIS GRAVE…

In order to share with you some of the really cool things I’m learning in-class, I’ve been jotting down some of the more unique and strange facts I’ve learned.

Aside: you should see me, I take great notes and stay awake and everything – it’s amazing how motivated I am by something as simple as genuine interest in the subject matter. And Jon, if you ever get around to reading this, maybe you had a point about letting the kids pick what topics they want to study. Maybe.

Monday’s fun fact: Gravity has a significant effect on the plasma (charged particles) that exists in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, unlike *EVERY* other situation where gravity produces a net downward effect, this gravity causes the particles to slowly drift horizontally across the Earth’s magnetic field. So much for “an Unbending Force attracting all Bodies within the Sphere of their activity towards their Very Centers”.

(okay, maybe that doesn’t sound like a fun fact, but it’s the first time in five years of mechanics and free-body diagrams that gravity hasn’t acted downward. I think it’s cool.)

Another cool thing I learned in school: Death doesn’t come instantly in outer space. Because there’s no air, there’s no way for your body to lose heat quickly, so you don’t freeze to death. Also, you wouldn’t instantly blow up like a balloon. As boring as it sounds, all that happens is the air begins to come out of your blood (via the lungs, as per normal) – in other words, you get the “bends”. Eventually your brain shuts down due to a simple lack of oxygen. It’s estimated that human could survive in outer space for up to two minutes without any irreversible effects. In fact, in a space suit test gone wrong, a technician spent a full 14 seconds in a complete vacuum with no ill effects. And in another test, another unlucky technician spent 4 minutes in a low-pressure environment, again without lasting effects. Doesn’t quite make for great TV, does it?

(note: you will get one massive sunburn and there is some bloating and some freezing. But the asphyxiation gets to you first.)

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON FOOD

How To Boil Water: A Bachelor's Guide to Cooking At Home

Yup, it’s a real book.

Given to me a decade ago by my Boonya (maternal grandmother) in her infinite wisdom as part of her awesome Grandkid Book-of-the-Month club, I brought it with me as one of two cookbooks to help me get through the four months. Luckily, I was already beyond the title (no matter what Sam tells you), but it’s been a great help on such things as stocking a kitchen and dining thriftily.

I’ve been quite lucky to share a kitchen with a decent cook (with his own deep freeze!); it’s quite reassuring that whenever I need a ladle or peeler or strainer or cheese slicer (not kidding), Alex and his cupboards are there to help. I’ve also worked out a pretty sweet arrangement with Jamie on the first floor: we’ve been trading leftovers! It requires no more cooking, but the meal’s new to the other person - not bad, eh? Campbell’s condensed mushroom being rather lacking in these parts, she also showed me how to make a mushroom sauce from scratch – cooking at home is going to be a breeze after this.

And on a final food note, I find I really miss the social aspect of group dinners at Sheps. Regardless of what was on the menu, I always enjoyed the company – it was a great break to look forward to in any day of homework. My dorm feels much more like an apartment building this year, with closed doors and quiet hallways. I’ve been doing my best to keep my door open and my handshake outstretched, but I don’t quite think the whole place is going to go bowling anytime soon. Much less with anything resembling malt liquor.

NORSKKURS

In true Norwegian nospacestyle, the above translates to (you guessed it) Norwegian Course!

Now before you get all excited, this is a beginner course, and I’m not even sure if my study program will allow me enough time to take it. However, I made it to the classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and can now haltingly introduce myself (with heavy amounts of forethought and a liberal sprinkling of long pauses):

Jeg heter Adam.
Jeg kommer fra Canada.
Jeg studerer Ingeniør Fysikk.

Hopefully, I can continue with these classes, even if just to get through the supermarket cashier without resorting to grunts and hand gestures.

(actually, they all speak spectacular English – but the hand gestures make for a much funnier mental image. You’re welcome.)

Oh, and did I mention that Norwegians don’t even bother to conjugate their verbs? It’s marvelous!

SUT!

After a great Wednesday of classes at the observatory (highlighted by an introduction to Prof. Chris Hall, who knows and has been to the U of S), I packed up my trusty red ND HOUNDS duffel and trotted down to the SUT headquarters.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to mention. They’re the scuba club.

SO WHEN YOU SAY DRYSUIT, YOU’RE SAYING I WON’T GET WET?

As soon as I heard there was a scuba club in Tromsø, I did everything I could to sign up. There were a few near misses last week (scheduling conflicts and a poor memory on my part), but today the stars finally aligned and I found myself on time at the clubhouse, ready to be suited up.

Today’s dive was going to be a memorable one, as it marked two firsts for my diving career:

  • Due to the chilly water temperature, SUT uses drysuits for their dives. For those of you who aren’t divers, a drysuit is a flexible, waterproof, full-body covering that, well, keeps you dry (and therefore warm). This is opposed to a wetsuit, which allows water to seep in but still keeps you as warm as you need. Both also provide protection against the various obstacles (e.g. sand, rocks, and coral) you can potentially brush against.

    When you dive with a wetsuit, you use an inflatable life jacket (called a BCD, buoyancy Control Device) to regulate your buoyancy (if you’re a space nerd like me, you can think of it as your own personal gravity control – adjust it just right, and you’re weightless!). Diving with a drysuit is trickier, because you need to maintain a comfortable air pressure inside your suit. This, in effect, provides a second BC that you need to keep tabs on.

    Unfortunately, the air in your drysuit doesn’t always go where you want it to. For example, it can all gather at your feet, a long way away from the handy exit valve on your arm. This can cause a rather entertaining situation (provided there is no danger of decompression) where someone performs a feet-first ascent, unable to shed the excess air that has gathered there. Dad was rather upset he didn’t get to see this happen to me in person.

  • Speaking of Dad, this was my first dive without either of my parents. Turns out I can cope without them, but I tended to rely on their abilities to navigate, select proper weights, and manage safe bottom times and decompression stops. Luckily, I had a great divemaster in Gerhard.

And that’s in addition to the fact that I was diving in a Norwegian fjord above the Arctic Circle. Because that wasn’t memorable enough already.

THE DIVE!

After another set of metric conversions (weight in kilos? height in cm? pressure in bar?), myself and my two diving companions headed out to the island of Kvaløya. It really seems to the local centre of outdoor activities – but I’m not complaining one bit.

We pulled up to the dive site, a beautiful rock promontory jutting out into the fjord. The sun was falling below the mountains to the south-west and casting its glow onto the cool green waters all around us. It was a location that just begged to be photographed.

Unfortunately for you, I was far too busy ensuring that I didn’t drown to take pictures at the opportune moment. By the time I shed enough gear to think of taking a few photos, my little Canon PowerShot wasn’t quite up to the low-light challenge. You’ll have to use your imagination a little on these – if I ever get back there, I promise I’ll take some great ones.

We were able to pull our little Toyota right up to the dive site:

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and quickly jumped into the beautiful blue-green Arctic waters:

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The dive itself went quite well. The drysuit did, in fact, take some getting used to – I couldn’t imagine trying to operate one of those without a good amount of scuba experience to begin with.

Surprisingly, the fjord bottom was not quite as rocky or as steep as I’d expected – there was a steady downward slope, but it wasn’t even close to the infamous drop-off at Deep Bay, Clear Lake MB. And while there were a few large boulders (covered in all sorts of anemones and underwater plant life), the majority of the seabed was sandy.

As to the sea life: there were some very cool (and harmless) clear jellyfish, a few baby cod and other fish (all of them fairly small), starfish everywhere, and one absolutely massive crab that had to be many times past his normal life expectancy. In other words, there was lots to look at and I enjoyed the entire time we were under.

After the dive (max depth 15 m, bottom time 0:50) we headed to a nearby mountain stream to wash off our gear:

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Not only was the fresh water great for our equipment, it was a neat experience to swim and snorkel in frigid waters otherwise unswimmable. Trust me, you would NOT want to swim in this creek without some sort of protection – and this was in September.

After our dip in the surprisingly strong stream (allowing yourself to be pushed over smooth rocks and tiny waterfalls is a great time), I disrobed and discovered that yes, I was dry! I even wore my shorts all the way home, prompting another comment about that crazy Canadian bastard who doesn’t know when to wear long pants. If only Devon Adams was here to show them what a true man in shorts can do…

All in all, it was a great dive – it had been about a year and a half since my most recent dive, so experiencing the floating and sinking and weightlessness was like seeing an old friend again. Hopefully I'll make it out again!

Oh, and to make things even sweeter, the leftover-sharing with Jamie netted me a piece of warm apple crisp when I got home. It (and a glass of The Famous Grouse) helped me get through a night of homework that I’d put off because of the dive. Life is good.

TROMSDALSTINDEN!

After a Thursday spent learning Norwegian (“Hva gjør du?”) and defending the sanctity of the letter-size paper, I was excited when Friday dawned bright and sunny. I’m lucky enough to be done school at 11 AM on Friday (by far my earliest ending time) and I was determined to enjoy the beautiful weather while I still can. I convinced Linnea (my Finnish hiking buddy) that today was a fine day for a hike. Unfortunately for her, I have this nasty tendency to aim high:

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Yup, that’s my bag. Overlooking a plateau a kilometre or so below. Pretty cool, eh?

In true Norwegian style (“I’m bored – let’s go climb a mountain”), we set out from the bus at sea level to the very peak of Tromsdalstinden, the highest summit in the area. The peak rises to just over 1200 m above sea level, and it’s visible from almost anywhere on the Tromsøya island.

We’d been told that it was a relatively straightforward hike, with a well-marked path and no experience required. So naturally, Linnea and I figured that we could take it on all by ourselves. (with a little trail mix, some apples, and a few cameras, of course).

We quickly learned that straightforward and easy are not the same thing. Actually, we learned a whole pile of things:

  • Just because it looks like gravel from your point of view doesn’t mean it is gravel – it could very well be large boulders a long way away.
  • It can be difficult to judge relative size / distance when you are looking upwards and have nothing to reference to (e.g the moon-horizon effect).
  • It’s worth the effort to stay near the trail (even when the trail is no more than red spray-painted dots across a boulder field) – three meters the wrong way could result in a nasty 500 meter one-way detour.

The whole experience was exhilarating. We spent seven hours fording streams, scrambling over boulders, and skirting near the sheerest drops I’ve ever seen (I’m sure they’re paltry by Norwegian standards, but for me, 150 storeys is a long way to fall).

And even though the climb took a lot longer than our optimism predicted, the summit was all we could have hoped for:

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There was a beautiful resting place, a cairn with a book to sign (clearly made note that I was Canadian from the flatlands), and an unbelievable view of the town:

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After enjoying a quick snack on the summit, we scurried down, having been told that we were against the clock (the sun sets ever earlier) and that the descent would be just as tiring as the ascent. Luckily, we made it all the way down unscathed, and congratulated ourselves on our most extreme adventure yet. We were exhausted in the best way possible.

TROMSDALSTINDEN, TAKE TWO

After I wrote the above account, I ran into Linnea on-campus and she gave me her Nikon Digital SLR pics from the hike. I’m going to let these pictures do the talking, as they’re absolutely incredible and really show what difference a decent camera and a good eye can make. Enjoy!

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FRIDAY NIGHT

And what do you do after the great accomplishment of summiting a mountain?

You go to a Norwegian rock pub. Where else?

After an enjoying a few beers at Blå Rock with Jørgen, Vidar and company (my old Fadders from Debut Week), Jørgen asked me if I was willing to come back to his place for a drink – he’d been keeping a bottle of whiskey for a while, and wanted to share it with someone (like a Canadian, for example) who’d appreciate it.

It took me all of a millisecond to said yes.

What followed was another excellent night of cultural learnings: I educated my Norwegian friends on Canadian humour and the finer points of the word “Eh?” (one of them was greatly confused why every Canadian t-shirt he’d ever seen had this strange little word on it). In turn, I learned about Norwegian music, student life, celebrities, royal family, and anything else we could think of.

IT’S A SMALL COUNTRY AFTER ALL

And for curling fans out there: It turns out Jørgen is second cousins with...

wait for it...

Pål Trulsen.

(for those of you non-curling fans out there, he won the gold medal in Salt Lake in a HUGE upset over Kevin Martin).

Not only do I know who Trulsen is (I think he’s the only Norwegian personality I knew before arriving), I remember…

  • watching slowly, ever so slowly, as Martin’s rock slid two inches too far…
  • the endless analysis afterwards – was there a sweeping error, was there a throwing error…
  • and Trulsen (I believe Dad called him an unmade bed) standing atop the podium with his King Harald in the audience.

I remember alright.

Apparently, most Norwegians are barely aware curling exists. So Jørgen was shocked when I reached so strongly to his cousin’s name. Sensing skepticism, I immediately launched into a story of Brier and Scott, of small towns and big cities, and of a prairie tradition.

Oh, and I also mentioned the Brier Patch.

Cultural learnings indeed.

ONE MAN’S GARBAGE…

On Saturday, a group of elementary schoolers and their parents held a fundraising garage sale. It was one of those everything-must-go deals, which meant that I got some great bargains:

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In the above:

  • lock for free (they couldn't figure out how it worked - it only took me a minute)
  • waffle iron for $4
  • oven mitt for $1
  • alarm clock for $3
  • 2 lunch boxes for a buck apeice

and....drumroll please…a real live toaster! It's not even funny how much I missed toast – anyone at Sheps can attest to the role it plays in our daily snacking, so I’m extremely pleased to have one. No more oven toast!

And the deal of the day, for $19.95 (including shipping and handling) - A BIKE!!!

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It's old, it's heavy, it's got three speeds, and I'm suspicious that it may have belonged to a girl at some point (the pink bike lock may indicate as such) but it's a bike, gosh darn it! I just need to pump up the tires and I'm mobile!

After doing the week’s grocery shopping, I settled in to attack some long-ignored homework – pretty lame for a Saturday night, but it was one of those necessary evils.

SUNDAY’S RESTING…

Sunday was a pleasantly quiet day around the dorm – no hiking, no shopping, just relaxing and homeworking. Two random thoughts:

  • When I first got to Tromsø, I thought that the roads were insanely small. However, I’ve revised that theory slightly. The roads are perfectly reasonable for the cars that drive on them – if North Americans could somehow be convinced to scale down from massive trucks and SUVs, we could save a lot of money on asphalt and have a lot more green space. Though I can’t see that happening anytime soon.
  • Mark Fredheim was right – the North Atlantic seafood is in a class of its own. Even frozen and thawed, my catch from Grøtfjord was still among the best fish I’ve had.

ENDING ON THE RIGHT NOTE

Just as I was finishing up my meal, I heard music drifting down the hall. Normally this wouldn’t have registered, but there was something different. This music… this wasn’t a recording. It was a piano. And someone was playing it.

So I had to go check it out.

It turned out out that two of the girls that live in one of the apartments in my building (much larger than my dorm room) have a piano.

And a guitar.

And a violin.

Wow.

I spent an hour and a half playing the instruments (with even a few duets!), enjoying a glass of wine and a drink of Polish stomach bitters, and just generally socializing. I had completely forgotten how much I missed music, but the time just flew by. What a great way to end a night and a week.

You know, I really am so thankful for this whole experience. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have this amazing opportunity, and I hope you’re enjoying reading about it as much as I’m enjoying writing about it. Until next week, take care!

Posted by adamvigs 16:24 Archived in Norway Comments (2)

Week 3: Space Physics!

It's really not fair to like your classes this much.

Hello, and welcome to what will now likely be a weekly blog installment. Don’t worry, there’s been lots going on that I’m looking forward to telling you about – so sit back and enjoy the week that was!

I AM NOT A THEORETICAL PHYSICIST

That (plus some crazy plasma physics) was what I learned on Monday. I’m proud to pursue the Iron Ring in Canada, but there’s no Engineering at UiT, so here I’m hanging out with the theory boys. And my first official assignment – hoo boy. I’m pumped for the classes up here, but I’m going to have to break out my pocket protector and bottlecap glasses if I’m going to cut it in Tromsø.

Luckily, I’ve found a few theorists to relax with: Alex from Austria and Raimo from Germany. And even better than that, we’ve been linking up homework sessions with meals, all of us realizing on our own how much easier it is to cook a good meal for three rather than one. Alex’s spaghetti was tasty enough to make me forget my Maxwellian woes – hopefully I can squeeze them into my little kitchen and return the favour!

The other highlight of my evening was culinary as well. I believe I’ve invented a new dish: peanut butter and jam on crispbread (a Norwegian specialty; thick airy crackers). The locals may think I’m loony, but after eating my peanut-butter-and-coldcut sandwiches for so many years, I’ve learned that all that matters is the taste.

MY MASTER’S PROGRAM BEGINS: COSMIC GEOPHYSICS

After a pleasant walk downtown for Tuesday morning errands‡, I headed to the Auroral Observatory for my first Master’s class: Cosmic Geophysics.

Wow. I’m still grinning about it.

I can finally answer the question I was most often posed before I left: what exactly is Cosmic Geophysics?

To start the class, our professor expressed his distaste for the English translation of the course title. In his opinion, he feels that “Physics of the Upper Polar Atmosphere” (the name of our textbook) is a far more appropriate class name.

And he should know – he wrote the textbook. Oh, did I mention that my professor also happens to be the Department Head, a renowned polar physicist and author of a half-dozen books on the Northern Lights? Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

After an absolutely spectacular lecture in my new aurora-and-solar-radiation class, I headed to the University to catch another lecture, then made my way home. With a little help from Alex my Russian roommate (and his rapeseed oil – canola apparently not translating so well), I managed to make a stirfry with wild rice that surprised even myself. Maybe I can hack this cooking business after all…

‡ quick note on the lack-of-car situation:

  • pros: lots of relaxing walks, good for the environment, good exercise.
  • cons: carrying all shopping home and lots of not-so-relaxing mad dashes for the bus. Sometimes over a mile, and a backpack to boot – gotta love it.

LYSLØYPA 2009!

Yes my friends, the Debut Week festivities are still going strong! Wednesday night was the great UiT tradition of Lysløypa, one of the most interesting pubcrawls I’ve ever been on. Named after the ski trail that stretches the length of Tromsøya, this pubcrawl contest sees the various Fadders and their Fadderbarn attempting to visit as many pubs as they can in a given time, accomplishing various tasks for points.

However, there is one small catch. Actually, in our case, there were four of them:

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You may wonder why the other four members of my team are standing so closely together. Well, you see, it’s rather tricky to stand a manly distance apart when your hands are tied together.

Nope, not kidding.

It’s quite an experience spending your entire night tied to the fate of four other humans. The ropes were loose enough for some freedom (no hand-holding, thankfully), but drinking definitely took co-operation. And when one team member has to have a drink at each pub, there’s a lot of teamwork to be had.

So our two groups of five set out from the beautiful Tromsø harbour:

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And headed out on the town:

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And as soon as we started walking, I started grinning. The reason: our locally-raised Fadder was in the middle of the chain of five, and so he was leading the way. To my delight, we naturally fell into the classic Flying V of the Mighty Ducks. I’m not sure why I found it so amusing, but I can say with certainty that the Flying V is the best way to get around if you happen to be tied to four other people. That may come in handy one day…

What followed was a great night where we hit twenty of the Tromsø pubs in a short three hours (for a town of 60 000, they certainly have a lot!). Some of the more memorable ones:

  • A converted movie theatre (the oldest in Northern Norway);
  • Blå Rock, a really neat 5-level classic rock pub that specialized in Samuel Adams;
  • The infamous Train Station pub, which is apparently where the drunks in town go – but they had Alan Jackson and Kilkenney, so I was pretty content;
  • A converted wharf warehouse with bare timbers and lofty ceilings;
  • The London Fun Pub – which was rather depressingly dirty, dank, and without any good English beers whatsoever.

Getting around proved to be a half the fun – for example, there was one spiral staircase where the poor soul on the outside experienced a rather nasty crack-the-whip effect. And don’t get me started on the circus that was going to the bathroom – we certainly freaked the hell out of some patrons who were aghast that four college students were so casually hanging out in a tiny washroom.

There were also a few pubs where we had to accomplish certain tasks for points. One such stop featured the Men’s Choir who challenged us to sing a song that they’d never heard before. So naturally, I dusted off one of my Ukrainian Christmas carols in great Sheps tradition. We got more than a few points for originality on that one.

In a similar musical vein, we also performed a rousing rendition of “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, complete with spot-on mariachi cues.

All in all, it was a great way to learn the local pub scene, and we even got to have fun acting like little kids again:

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And then we proceeded to compare how the trampoline springs were reacting to our input forces. Sigh.

ROCKETS AND SATELLITES

Literally, this is why I’m here.

Back in April, in what seems like another world, there was an e-mail sent around the Engineering Physics department. It offered an exchange opportunity to a university in Northern Norway – on the surface, not much different from many of the other transfers floating around the College.

Except for the class entitled Satellites, Rockets and Space Instrumentation.

Without that class, I guarantee that email would have wound up in the trash bin along with the countless others I’ve received from the College over the years. But it was there. And instead of the email finding its way into the abyss of digital deletion, I found my way to a charming city above the Arctic Circle with a certified enrolment in a class on rockets and satellites.

And so it came to pass that on Thursday morning, a full week into my classes, I finally experienced the lecture I’ve been looking forward to for since I first heard the name “Tromsø”.

And it didn’t disappoint.

For three hours, Professor La Hoz and his five students sat in the meeting room of the beautiful old house on the Northern Lights Observatory campus and talked space. It was a friendly and pleasantly informal discussion-based lecture, helped by the fact that the meeting room feels more like a living room than a classroom (the leather couches somewhat contribute to that).

We talked about space successes and failures, design elements common to all spacecraft, the strains of launch and the perils of outer space. And that was just the intro lecture. I can’t believe I’m being paid for this.

TEXTBOOKS!

I often tease Jessica for being in love with her textbooks… but look at these!

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In case you can’t read them, they are, from the top:

  • Spacecraft Systems Engineering!!!!
  • Physics of the Upper Polar Atmosphere
  • Numerical Analysis
  • Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion

Life is pretty great when you get to hand-select your classes.

Continuing with this math / physics theme, I present yet another

RANDOM THOUGHT OF THE DAY: METRICIFICATION

Norway is a metric country. And when I say metric, I mean everything. Shots are measured in deciliters, weight in kilograms, paper in centimetres, everything. This illustrates that a Western country can function without feet and ounces, even one that trades with non-metric countries. (though they likely don't have quite the trade with the Americans that we do...)

However, there is one great silver lining for Canadians. Our Frankenstein-like mishmash of measurement systems has the singular benefit that we are fluent (or at least haltingly so) in both systems. Thus, I’ve become known as that conversion-crazy-Canadian because I’m constantly reverting things into familiar measures AND into Canadian Dollars (e.g. ground beef in kroners per kilo isn’t exceptionally useful to me). It’s a skill most Norwegians lack, so they’ve been quizzing me on this and that – and I’m not even that great at it (there’s been a few times I’ve wished Bob Miller was around – I don’t remember exactly how many conversion factors he’s memorized, but I know it’s way more than me).

Bottom line: while running two systems at once may cost our economy billions yearly in extra labels and accidents (see Mars Climate Orbiter), I don’t mind the ability to go back and forth. Except for troy ounces. That’s just silly.

WHY NERDS SHOULDN’T SHOP

After a great Friday morning of Satellites and Rockets and an absolutely kickass stew for lunch, I headed down for the week’s shopping at the big grocery stores.

I’m a bit of a math nerd, so when I saw a sale advertising “All Prices ÷ 40%!!!!”, I had to laugh. Apparently, nobody told the marketing team that when you divide a number by a percentage (which represents a fraction less than one), you actually INCREASE the value of your number. So unless the $4 bags of chips were now selling for $10, I think the sign may have been a bit misleading.

Oh, and I apologize if the math tangent bored you. To make up for that, here’s a shopping nerd related comic:

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Better? Excellent.

My only other observation from the shopping trip: it’s scary how quickly you become accustomed to near-illiteratacy and the inability to understand passing conversations. Thankfully, there’s always someone helpful around if I ever get exceptionally lost or confused.

WORD OF THE DAY

After an enjoyable evening with my Fadder group (highlighted by free cognac and a general admiration for Canadian money), I headed to Ørndalen for an international student party. The various residents of Ørndalen had decided they wanted to host, but none of them were willing to offer their house for the evening.

So naturally, the party was in the common building. A.k.a. the laundry room.

Nope, not kidding – this place has too many great stories for me to start making things up. Believe it or not, we had a great time: the music was good, and friends of mine were everywhere.

The highlight of my night was learning how to spell a new favourite word of mine. It’s a Russian “untranslatable”; in other words, there is no English word that parallels it. The word is nedoperevipil, and as explained to me, it means “the state where one has already drunk too much yet is convinced that they are perfectly fine to continue”. Or, as Jon (Zrymiak) so eloquently rephrased it when I told him, the “We’re not that drunk!” stage.

After having a far better time than should be allowed in a laundry room, I collapsed onto a spare mattress at one of my friend’s houses in Ørndalen. I had an early bus to catch the next day.

FRESK LUFT 2009!

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, excellent news for the day that lay ahead. I’d signed up for Fresh Air 2009, a one-day outdoor event hosted by the outdoor student groups at UiT. In addition to a scenic bus ride across Kvaløya and a barbeque lunch on the beach, we were able to do as much hiking, climbing, swimming, diving, and kayaking as we could squeeze into five hours.

Over the course of the afternoon, I attempted a tightrope (with EXTREMELY limited success – I managed to take one step without a shoulder to lean on), hiked to the top of a nearby hill and let the insane wind nearly blow me over, waded into the water (the aforementioned wind rather look the fun out of swimming), and even managed to talk my way into one of the instructor’s kayaks (I may have embellished my canoeing experience a bit, but it was totally worth it to go in an actual ocean kayak with a rudder and everything).

(yup, that preceding paragraph was just once sentence. Parentheses are awesome.)

To make the whole Saturday even sweeter, I spent some time lounging on the beautiful ocean beach, meeting some great Norwegians. It turned out not many of the international students were determined enough to decode the Norwegian posters for the event (thank you Google Translate), so I was once again in the minority. It's strange: there are a few of my international friends who are having trouble getting to know Norwegians, but I keep finding myself dropped right in the middle of them with no choice but to socialize. It’s been one of the best unlooked-for positives of the whole experience.

Oh, and I forgot my camera, but I took pictures with a friend’s – so keep your eyes out, eh.

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Never trust an card-powered internet-ready remote-server clothes dryer, for every computer will crash eventually.

SUNDAY’S RESTING

After this non-stop week, I relished a Sunday spent at home, cooking and homeworking.

In the evening, I headed downtown to the Buddy Tromsø kick-off, where international students are assigned Norwegians for cultural learnings. The program is free, and includes hikes and football games, so I jotted my name down. The social was enjoyable, the free pizza even more so, and hopefully I’ll have some great stories coming up about my adventures through the Buddy program!

And that was my week – hope you enjoyed!

Posted by adamvigs 00:01 Archived in Norway Comments (5)

Days 15 / 16: The relaxed weekend…

Maybe my last, but I really enjoyed it, don’t worry.

In an effort to improve efficiency and eliminate unnecessary clicking and webpage hosting, we present the first ever two-in-one post!

(and if I keep getting assignments like the plasma one I was sent tonight, you’ll be lucky if I don’t scale back my posts to monthly.)

SATURDAY

Having had an extremely enjoyable Friday night, I found my Saturday to be much shorter than normal. After finally dragging myself out of bed, I enjoyed a true Norwegian lunch of Wasa crispbread, Jarlsburg cheese, and liverwurst – open face, of course.

(oh, that sounds tasty – I think I’m going to go grab a snack.



okay, I’m back. Yup, that was good.)

Unfortunately for all you back home, I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning and organizing – very productive and satisfying for me, but not so good for the blog. Ah well, it had to happen sooner or later.

After a satisfying supper of real red meat (it’s not that common over here), I headed over to my godfather’s for a relaxing night with the godchildren. (For those of you just tuning in, this godfather program is the university’s method of getting new students acquainted with the city – it’s been a great thing for me, I’ve met a pile of Norwegians this way.)

Once again, I had a great night trading stories about Canada and Norway back and forth with the locals – one of my godfathers in particular astounded me with his knowledge of Canada’s government - better even than many of my Canadian friends. (e.g. he even knew about the Governor General and the Commonwealth setup – and remember, he’s a physics student, not a PolSci major).

After the social, we packed up and headed to driv – I wasn’t planning on a night out, but one of the students had told me that it was worth it to see the night’s setup.

Curious, I followed. And what I saw amazed me.

DRIV: THE COMPLETE STORY

In a sentence: driv is the single best nightclub I’ve ever been to. Tonight it was Saturday, and tonight it was “Helle driv”. In other words, they pulled out all the stops. And it was amazing.

Imagine, if you will, a standard city nightclub – a dancefloor / stage combo, two bars, and scattered tables and chairs. A pretty nice place; not too big, and not too small.

Okay, so that’s what driv has on the first floor.

The second floor complements the first, with seating overlooking both the dance floor and the lounge halves. It also has a pool table and a foosball table, plus its own bar (specializing in the finer drinks that I enjoy). In other words, it’s a great place to relax.

And cleverly enough, there are three staircases connecting the two floors, neither of which are even remotely steep or dangerous. So it’s a great two-floor bar.

Above the two-floor bar is a huge hall, where we had our final introductory programme meal. Tonight, however, it had its own DJ, playing entirely separate music from the guy downstairs. And it had its own bar.

So now we’ve got two totally separate parties under the same roof. Pretty cool, eh?

But wait, there’s more.

Take either of the two staircases UP from the third floor and you wind up – where else? The fourth floor. And as it turns out, the fourth floor has cathedral ceilings that redefine the word “loft”. And it’s got the single greatest stage I’ve ever seen in a bar. Ever. It’s basically a perfect concert venue at the top of an already awesome bar (which, may I remind you, already has a stage on the first floor).

And if that wasn’t enough, nestled among the timber rafters, there’s a fifth floor overlooking the stage on the fourth floor. Just in case you don’t want to be in the thick of the mosh in front of the stage.

Finally, factor in a beautiful and spacious harbourfront patio with its own music, and I believe you have the perfect bar. Capable of hosting four separate events at once, or (as it was tonight) one giant Helle driv.

It was definitely worth the walk.

SUNDAY

Having scouted out the Catholic cathedral in Tromsø earlier on (see Day 4, I believe), I decided to wake up a little early to catch Mass. After an enjoyable service highlighted by the one of Mom’s favourite psalms (the Prayer of St. Francis) sung in Norwegian, I headed to the harbour to meet the bus for the day’s mountain climbing expedition to Tromsdalstinden!

Unfortunately for me (and about five other students), the bus had left earlier than scheduled. Luckily, there was another expedition headed out momentarily.

Taking stock of my day, I decided “what the hell” and signed up for my first ever day of bouldering.

HOW TO SCRAMBLE OVER LARGE ROCKS: A TUTORIAL

In a nutshell, bouldering is the art of reaching the top of large rocks such as the one below:

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This may sound odd, but hear me out. The idea behind bouldering is that it allows you the thrill and challenge of bare-face rock climbing while never ascending beyond a dangerous height. In other words, you get to have fun climbing without needing to worry about pitons, carabiners, ropes, and all the other complexities of traditional rock climbing. Above all, you can have fun trying dangerous moves on the boulder safe in the knowledge that the ground is only a few feet away (and covered by a rather large crash pad – kudos to our guides for bringing those).

The bus took us down the same fjord as last Sunday’s excursion, but we stopped at a different bay this time:

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and hiked up into the boulder field:

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As you probably can tell, not all the boulders in the field are of the suitable 2m-5m range that boulderers like to climb. To get to the climb-friendly rocks, we had to scramble across patches like this:

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which was actually quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, I also had another run-in with that damnable vertical bog (see Thursday’s post) and a nice colony of biting red ants.

But it was all worth it to see sights like this one:

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After practising a bit on the rock in the first picture, I decided to make my way up the south face of slightly larger and pointier one (believe it or not, all the rocks have names – I’ll let you know if I remember what this one was called):

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Oh, and for the record, I’m really not good at this. Nor did it help that our guides were unable to get decent shoes for us – my vertical bog-soaked runners weren’t exactly the best for gripping.

All excuses aside though, I did manage to make it up:

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and got to have one fleeting moment of glory – at which point one of the Polish girls cruised up a much harder route in half the time.

“Dude, you just got shown up.”

Sigh.

All in all though, it was an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon – tried a new sport, met yet another round of new Tromsø and international students, and spotted my first reindeer!

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(trust me, he's there - right in the very middle)

EVENING

I ate, I emailed, I blogged – and at some point, I’ll even get around to my homework. See you sometime soon!

Two random thoughts:

  • The route we took from downtown Tromsø to the airport actually tunnels through the island instead of going over it. That’s cool enough in itself but get this: they actually have two sets of traffic circles under the island! Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s something pretty freakin sweet about a cavernous intersection of tunnels under a mountain.

  • As I’m writing this (actually on Sunday, no less), I’ve noticed something: it’s getting dark. When I first got to Tromsø, there was always brightness. But now by 11 o’clock, it is officially black.

    The polar night cometh.

Posted by adamvigs 09:06 Archived in Norway Comments (1)

Day 14: Perogie!

Nope, not kidding. Read on.

Oh, Fridays without class – now I know how Education feels…

SHOPPING!

Unfortunately though, I didn’t get to enjoy my sleep-in. Instead, I went shopping for textbooks (they’re not cheap here either… sigh) and groceries. On the way, I picked up a few very special ingredients – flour, sour cream, and green onions, for example. Luckily, Mom and Dad had scouted out a major shopping centre for me, so I was able to go to the bargain centre for lots of good deals (including a few which I couldn’t quite translate – wish me luck on those!)

VERTICAL BOG?

After I finished my shopping, Jamie (the Canadian) and I set out for Ørndalen, the residence on the north-east of the island where a number of our friends live (with big kitchens). Not wanting to wait for the proper bus, we caught one to the north-west end of the island, planning to find a short access path to the major cross-country trail that crosses all of Tromsøya, and proceed from there to Ørndalen, as I had done a week before.

Sounds like a good plan? Yeah, nobody else thought so either.

We found an access path, alright; and in fact, it was only about 600 metres from the road to the main ski trail. What the map didn’t show was that the path consisted of what we Saskatchewan kids have dubbed the “vertical bog”. Unlike your traditional wetland (which is usually in a low area of some description), this Norwegian monstrosity can’t be avoided by taking the high ground. It simply is, everywhere.

Imagine, if you will, a broad hillside consisting of spongy grass. Now imagine that every step on this grass causes you to sink into the water that lurks just beneath the surface. However, the water doesn’t ever flow down the hill! It just stays there, and creates this infuriating obstacle to your otherwise clear path.

And the best part: there’s almost no way to tell which is the wet spongy grass and which is the dry spongy grass until the cold grey water is seeping between your toes (having already cruised past the shoes and socks).

After we got over the initial unpleasantness of wet feet, we were able to laugh at the situation (always a good thing) and carry on to the ski path (which wasn’t nearly that far away at all, vindicating my navigation skills slightly. But my feet were still soaked).

PYRØHY!

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Canadians had put their heads together (like good Canadians do) and decided that we were going to try our hands at making perogies from scratch! (perogies being rather scarce in Norway...) All three of the SK students had made them before, but there was always family around (and therefore little need for such trivialities as recipes or measuring cups). Luckily, I brought my trusty Wilcox Community Cookbook to Norway, so we used that as a starting point and went from there.

(Mom also provided the best guidance she could by electronic communication – thanks Mom!)

Much to the entertainment of the Norwegians, Finn, Brit, American, and non-prairie Canadians, we assembled our ingredients in the large and spacious six-man kitchen and started up

The dough had a pleasantly simple two-ingredient recipe (courtesy of Bobbi Yanko), yet turned out just as well as any perogie dough I’ve ever worked with. While it was sitting, we threw together a potato-cheese-onion filling that turned out spectacularly well.

On a side note, we were quite resourceful in our use of cookware, from the tried-and-true water glass method of cutting the perogie dough to our improvised rolling pin (a dowel from a paper towel dispenser- not bad, eh).

When we finally had everything prepared, it was a simple task indeed to make the actual perogies – I never got a picture of them, but they looked spectacular all lined up on the cookie sheet.

And finally, we got to cook them:

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And yes, we fried them after boiling. In our defense though, there was a mix-up with the pot on the first batch (the heat was turned off), and so frying was the only way to salvage what would have otherwise been a soggy mess.

And oh man, did they taste good. Especially with all the fixings:

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And to top this awesome meal off, I pulled out a few treats from home: a cherished box of Goodie Rings (all the Canadians gasped in delight when they spotted them) and the last of my Canadian Club.

In other words, it was a great time. I should cook things from scratch more often.

FRIDAY NIGHT!

I caught my private bus from Ørndalen (well, I was the only one on it, so it felt private…) and headed to the University for a social at the Natural Science cafeteria. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-Norwegian at the event. But once again, I’m pleased to say that that didn’t impact my night in the slightest. In fact, I was something of a curiousity: “Hey guys, you gotta meet this guy – he’s from Canada!”

After a great few hours hanging out on-campus, we caught the last bus to downtown (unlike Saskatoon, the buses here are actually a reasonable way to go out on the town) and headed for driv, the student bar. I’m quickly beginning to realize that it’s where everyone goes – but I’ll save the pièce de résistance for tomorrow’s blog.

The night was a blast, but I unfortunately still had my starter perogie kit with me. I suppose it’s one of those life lessons: if you have a paper bag of flour in your pack, stay off the dance floor.

After my long walk uphill home (as Jamie noted, it certainly sobers you up), I checked my watch and excitedly realized that the Riders were playing! I called my parents for the score in the game… and wished I’d stayed at the bar drinking.

Aside from that 5 turnover effort, it had been a great perogie-filled Canadian day abroad. Wet shoes and all.

Posted by adamvigs 00:31 Archived in Norway Tagged food Comments (1)

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