So much needs to be said about Tromsø – a northern Norwegian town, a place deep in the Arctic where oil engineers, construction builders, marine biologists and people from all sorts of interesting walks of lives live together.
Tromsø is somewhat special, it’s a unique place where Arctic nature battles warm waters of gulf stream creating a unique place for people to exist and those who exist here are special too!
The town has drawn into its nets fishermen, oil drillers, satellite engineers and adventure seekers from all over the world. This is a truly special place but to see that you need to break away from the swarms of tourists flooding its main harbour.
Tromsø meets me with cold rain that lasted forever. It is in the region of 12 degrees in its warmest month of the year, my whole life gets wet and starts to shiver and guess what the locals do? Right, they’re taking their dogs for a walk… without rain coats and without umbrellas! Basically, the only place where I saw an umbrella here was a souvenir shop. If you need an umbrella when it rains Tromsø is not a place for you.
It is in this rain where I met a lady called Stina who draws and paints the most amazing Arctic scenes and animals I have EVER seen!
And you need to know her story. A few years ago her life has been put upside down and in another person it would lead to a drama but not with Stina. She could not to what she loved most – be outdoors, active, fish and hunt, she had to spend a year at home and most would have given up at this point but Stina takes a pencil in her hand and she draws the most amazing looking lion portrait! She joins an art gallery and starts selling her paintings and drawings which depict wild life and nature of the Arctic.
The thing here is that Stina unlike most artists have actually seen this wild life, she’s not someone who’s sitting in his tiny room in Paris drinking Absinth getting inspirations for his creations in cocaine-infused dreams – Stina has seen all the wildlife she paints for real! Well, maybe apart from that lion but the lion is so realistic and stunning because in his eyes you see the look of a wild animal – something that Stina is no stranger to.
So if you are in Tromsø – try visiting Galleri Nord, it’s right next to Radisson Blu and the post office, just say hi from Serge and Stina will open the door into the fascinating frozen world of huskies, Arctic foxes, northern lights and the amazing polar bears which will look at you as if they are about to jump off the sheet of paper! It’s worth it, believe me.
The Magic of Tromsø
Tromsø lives according to vibrations of Arctic life and the industries that make it. Tell me, what makes Paris or London? I’ll tell you – nothing – millions of people all doing things which are of little or no importance to this world, even the smell of freshly baked bread no longer makes a statement because English bread is baked in massive bakeries somewhere behind a wire fence in Midlands.Our biggest cities are melting pots with nothing of taste there. Not Tromsø!
Tromsø wakes up to the sounds of fishing boats departing its harbours, seagulls seem to command this process.
First planes land at the airport, jets that take people from Oslo but most importanty small propeller planes connecting smaller regional centres. Come to the airport in the morning and walk out, passed taxis, to a petrol station and look around yourself? This is not Heathrow with its 5 terminals of wired fence, armed police with search dogs and plastic bags for liquids over 100ml – Tromsø airport is guarded by the mighty mountains with their snow caps, glaciers and all-seeing hawks.
Just stay there and see a plane land, if it’s a propeller plane you shall hear it’s chopping sound long before it approaches, if it’s a jumbo jet it will seem to dwarf the entire airport! And if you are lucky, Norwegian military pilots will fly their machines a hair above the watch tower – that’s what happened to me and it was amazing! We are the one here and we are all connected through our deeds and through our ties with the Arctics.
Tromsø is a really busy city during the long days of short summers – everything that needs building or fixing has got to be built and fixed before winter binds everything in ice. So central Tromsø reminded me of what I think the 1955 Berlin looked like – not quite 1945 but still rebuilding:)
You see, if you look at what makes up Tromsø you’ll see ruined roads, industrial-style infrastructure and peeling house paint battered by ice and Arctic winds, all these things don’t look particularly pretty but then it is so extreme that it becomes the “beauty” in itself!
There are no cobalt stone roads where they used a nail file to assure the perfect fit of things together. Everything is build to last… a winter or two but it’s also built so that you can survive that winter! These things aren’t pretty by any stretch of imagination but then once you’ve been here long enough this becomes the new style!
I spent a few amazing days in this town, waking up and falling asleep to the sound of massive ships, cruise liners, fishing trawlers and cargo ships – they all remind you of who owns the Northern seas!
There are a few things you need to know in Tromso:
- Alcohol is ridiculously expensive, expect to pay North of 8 Euro for a glass of beer in a bar and you won’t pay less than 10 Euro for the same in a restaurant. But, if you manage to figure it out you’ll find out that once a week there is a cheap beer day here, but I won’t tell you where exactly;) Cheap means you pay 7 Euro for a pint of local lager – not bad, maybe you’ll even have spare coins to buy one for a pretty lady of which there are many here.
- Car traffic is insane, there are seemingly no rules apart from that you need to give way to cars on your right! This means you may be driving down a wide open road and some idiots joining from a residential street with 30kph speed limit will drive into you at full speed, just because they consider themselves being on your right. There are few signs and no road markings (snow!).
- Same drivers won’t ever let you join a line of traffic, I think there is a different concept of politeness here. If it’s their way they won’t move an inch to let you in.
- You’re somewhere nice taking photos, someone pulls up next to you, opens a book and reads it while keeping his engine running! They are immune to noise here! The reason – I guess you do it in winter.
- People will come and talk to you. They will just come forward, tell you what has just happened to them like they’ve seen a trout or a fox and then walk away before you had a chance to say anything back. I actually quite liked this Northern way. Samis are especially big in this.
- The coolest thing about the way they speak it when they say “Yeah” they do it on both the exhale and the inhale… if you hear the “inhaling yeah” this means they’re particularly approving something.
I spent long hours walking up and down the steep streets of the town and could not get enough of it, but at the same time I was not sure that living here permanently would be a great idea, it is beginning of August and I can already feel cold bites in the evenings.
A Story of Two Guys and 5 Fishes
I was at the harbour taking this timelapse, actually watching the camera while it does the job, I still can not get used to the fact that people don’t steal here. And while I walked around the pier a man approaches me and starts saying something. Having discovered that I don’t speak Norwegian he continues in English like no problem at all. His narrative is about the thee massive salmons he’s just seen off the cape, he describes the sizes and where exactly he’d seen them… then walks away.
Another day I was by a bridge washing my shoes in the river, another man approaches me speaking Norwegian then switches into English telling me… that he’s just sen two massive fishes “right there”, one of them was a big cod and the other – a smaller salmon. The man finishes his story with the concern over the fact that there is no lock on the river and that tide brings sea water in, I mentioned that it’s probably an expensive project and the man replies with a phrase which made me really wonder about my entire previous life in Britain… he says “… but it’s only the money”!
You see, when something is done in Britain they’d write about it in such a way “We have just completed building a 20’000’000 GBP dam”, or “we’ve just invested 3bn into healthcare”, they don’t even know what exactly has been done – what the dam was built for or how many people they treated with those 2bn in healthcare – they only think MONEY!
Not so much in Scandinavia and I love it! Thee people think good deeds, for them money is “just money”.
For the Boys… and Scandinavian Girls!
There’s one place you should go to, it is a 160 year old fishing and hunting shop called Andersens Vaabenforretning and it is simply a fantastic man’s den! This is the place where you can get anything for your fishing or hunting needs but also it’s where you can buy a true Norwegian knife!
…and a Swedish Axe! Yes, a Swedish axe which I could not find anywhere in Sweden!
Is it expensive? You betcha! But an axe or a knife is only an equivalent of 12 glasses of beer… do you now see why they all drive Teslas?
The Two Amazing Nights
Tromsø is so affected by the Arctic climate that you never know whether you’re about to see Northern Lights, be snowed under or end up in a cloud – this is what happened to me.
One evening I experienced a stunning sunset, the other – a cloud descended from the mountains and completely blot-out the city! The town was cocooned in thick and very humid fog… but make no mistake this isn’t fog, it’s a real cloud and inside of this could amazing things happen. I walked across the bridge that connects Tromsø with the mainland and I could not resist to grab some dripping water from the bridge’s railings, have you drank a cloud? Well, I have.
And I’m sure if you stay here for longer you will write a book about the weather, it really does have so much influence on Tromsø.
What else can I say about Tromsø – it’s an industrial town, it’s rough around the edges, you won’t get a frappuccino here and if you will then you won’t have enough money left for your Norwegian knife.
Clubbing… forget about clubbing here, it’s not what you’ve seen in London.
Life here is tough, traffic is insane, people are rough… and unpredictable, the weather is rough… and unpredictable… but
But if you see beyond all this you will find real people, the people who fell victims of natural selection in fake worlds of London, Paris, New York… you won’t ever come back to them because their religion will no longer make sense.
It’s only here where you can see what your real self looks like, it’s here where the strength of your character will expose yourself and you will be given that one chance in life to meet real people at the real place called Tromsø.
Don’t miss it!
(Serge Fog, 1-6 August 2016 )