Our first target for our Saturday was to go and visit the Polaria Aquarium that we had first seen from our Hurtigruten boat as we arrived in Tromso. We decided very early on our visit to Polaria that this institution was much more than an Aquarium. We would have spent half an hour walking around the outside of the building on arrival, looking at the boats displayed there and reading the large information posters set up outside the main doors.
This institution seemed to have a broad range of interests/concerns that they promoted, well beyond the attractions of its fish and seal aquariums. There were presentations both inside and outside the building about the impact of climate change on the Polar regions and the amazing experiments that were being run by scientists to research this process. A good example of this is illustrated by the ice-marooned ship (R/V Lance) in the image below left. For six months this ship spent frozen in the polar ice while scientists on board took measurements of snow and ice thickness, searching for answers to why the ice was melting so much faster than before. Apart from the environmental conditions, the people on board had to be on constant alert if they went off the boat for roaming polar bears. The map on the right shows the spot where R/V Lance was iced in, north of Svalbard islands and not the far from the North Pole.
Inside the Polaria building, it describes itself as “an Arctic Experience Center for the whole family”. We enjoyed immensely the huge tanks with both the seals and fish being either very interesting or very entertaining. After spending a fair bit of time examining these sea creatures, we sat down and watched a movie about ‘Svalbard- Arctic Wilderness’. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Artic Ocean, north of mainland Europe. It was discovered by Dutch explorers in 1596. It officially became part of Norway in 1920. It had been used as a base for Arctic exploration in the 19th century as well as Arctic Tourism becoming a thing for wealthy and adventurous northern Europeans to engage in. It was a beautiful film of the native wildlife and I sensed a part of me thinking that visiting Svalbard wasn’t an entirely ridiculous idea.
From Polaria, we walked up the hill and found Storgata which was the main street of Tromso and we knew since the previous afternoon that it would lead us back to the centre of town. As we turned onto this street, we noticed the tunnel entrance that would take traffic under the channel and over on to the next island. When we arrived at the Tromso wooden cathedral in the centre of town, we discovered that we were visiting on the weekend of an annual music festival where there were open air music venues scattered around town. We of course bought ourselves a coffee and settled down to enjoy some very entertaining bands. Each venue seemed to have their own music style and the cathedral centre seemed to cater for the singer/songwriter scene
As we had more places to visit today, we decided to walk onto the next music venue which we found was just down the road at Erling Bangsunds Plass. The music at this venue seemed to be the place for those locals whose interest and expertise was in Techno music and there were a number of tents set up for these guys to share their skills in sound manipulation. We decided that it was festivals like this one that had made some locals look for more space in this central gathering point and moving the Fishers and Whalers Memorial might be a convenient and good economic decision.
Our destination was another Polar Museum but this one was very different from the Polaria we had visited earlier in the morning. The name of this museum, housed in an 1830’s warehouse, was Polar Museet. The museum’s permanent exhibitions dealt with…
- Sealing and trapping
- The expeditions of Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen
There were many presentations about the great Norwegian Polar explorers but the most space was given over to the heroism and achievements of Amundsen. The saddest presentation told the story of his death which was of his disappearance in 1928 when he and the crew of a French Flying boat went searching for members of an Italian polar expedition who had foundered in ice north of Svalbard. The plane crew were never heard of again and it was believed they were forced to make an emergency landing on an ice floe. Two petrol tanks from the plane were discovered floating in the Artic Sea and showed signs of attempts at getting the plane flying again. This was a very sad ending to an adventurous life for Amundsen and his crew. The photos of Amundsen on the right are a display item from this museum
The two images above were taken of the area outside the Polar Museet. The photo on the left shows an outdoor exhibition of various types of harpoon launchers covering the history of whaling and seal hunting for some centuries. The image on the right looks up at the Skansen building, the oldest house in Tromso built around 1790. It was built as a home base for the administration of taxation on traders in the region. The mound on which it sits is also a man-made construction but little is recorded about its function. It is known to have housed during the Napoleonic wars.
During our time visiting the Polar Museet, the sound coming from Skansen indicated that it was another music centre as part of Tromso’s music festival for the weekend. It appeared that the Skansen building and surrounding yard was the centre for Heavy Metal music. We headed up to have a listen but we had arrived too late for the session.
From the Skansen area we headed back towards our hotel. On the way we passed a small park on Storgata where the two lovely statues of female athletes (above, left) were displayed. From here we walked down to the foreshore and headed along the water-front. Unfortunately, we passed the entry to Tromso’s Troll Museum and I was compelled to have my photo taken at the door. I am not sure how many Troll Museum’s there are in Norway but it struck me that a museum of legendary creatures from the mystical past of Norway would be in short supply to provide many actual exhibits in such museums. Most of the trolls I had seen had already been seconded to stand in shop doorways around the towns and cities of this country. However the Tromso museum has resolved this issue by taking a new approach to these Norwegian folk heroes.
“The Troll Museum in Tromsø is the first and only troll museum in Norway, created using modern Augmented Reality (AR) technology. Here you will get acquainted with Norwegian fairy tales and legends, get hands-on with AR technology, and have a great time exploring Norse folklore.”
Today was the day we would make our way to Tromso’s airport to head back to Trondheim to start our car journey south to Oslo. In the meantime, we had a few hours to take one last stroll around this very interesting city centre. We headed up the hill from our hotel towards part of Tromso away from the waterfront. It was a lovely walk as the sun was rising but the mist still hung over the waterway that separated Tromsoya and Kvaloya Islands. As usual the parks were a great combination of gardens, blooms and sculptures.
We headed along from the park and came to a school (Torgsenteret , Gyllenborg skole) where a giant, tile mural had been completed on the south wall of the school. It showed school children happily climbing the Tree of Knowledge. The mural is topped by a large rooster blowing a trumpet. This could represent the school shouting about the quality of their students or possibly an oblique reference to an 18th century Norwegian poem called ‘Nordlands Trompet’ in which the poet praises the quality of the citizens of Nordland!
We were very impressed by this giant work of art, more so when we learnt that the mosaic artist was Marit Bockelie, 85 years old in 2022 but was approaching 80 when she completed this mural in 2016. The statistics of the mural are also impressive. It weighs two tons and is 80 square metres in size. The glass pieces come from Vienna and other bits of stone used were locally sourced.
Continuing to walk back down the hill, we found ourselves back at the Erling Bangsunds Plass and Tromso’s lovely wooden Catholic cathedral. The view ahead was amazing with the mist swirling around Tromsøtind mountain over the water and occasionally a sight of the Arrtic cathedral on the opposite bank of the channel. I was very surprised when researching the artist Marit Bockelie that this view was a regular part of her walking in Tromso and that she had completed a mural of this very view. This mosaic is on the wall of a shopping centre, Torgcentret, which is down near the waterway in central Tromso.
At the bottom of the mural there is a quote shared by the artist.
“Velkommen hit du første lys med solens vare vinterkyss og evig kjærlighet du bærer med som alltid aldri svikter.”
“Welcome here, your first light with our sun’s winter kiss and the infinite love you carry that never betrays”.
Having visited Tromso in late Summer/early Autumn, our time there was very different from what the Tromso Tourist Bureau would have had us do. Those seeking the other attractions of this Arctic City need to come at a different time of year to see…
- Northern Lights (September to early April)
- Midnight Sun (from May to July)
- Whale safaris (between October and February)
- Tour the Tromso Fjords
- Cross Country Skiing
- Cable Car riding or hiking on the other islands near Tromsoya.