On the second last day of our Hurtigruten trip up the coast of Norway from Trondheim, we stopped at the town of Bode for exactly two hours 15 minutes. We were offered various activities while we stopped here, one of which was a hike for a couple of kilometres along the coast outside of Bode, another was a fast boat ride against rushing tides. Whilst the hike was enjoyable, the price per kilometre was very high. I must admit I enjoyed the guide’s informative discussion of the Viking heritage of the area as well as the fishing practices that had maintained the population for no doubt thousands of years.
It was approximately another 7 hours of sailing to reach the town of Svolvaer which is situated on an island in the Lofoten archipelago. The light was starting to fade as we approached the harbour but we had gathered at the front of the boat to watch our entry into this port in the fading light of the day. I was very taken with the statue of a local woman greeting arriving ships at the entrance to the harbour. In the background of the image below left can be seen the drying racks for the cod that are the main targets for local commercial fishermen. We were chatting with an English family who we getting off the boat here to spend a few days in this town. It looked and sounded like a very interesting place to spend a few days, particularly if you were a mountain climber!
The map on the left shows how complex this part of Norway is with the Fjords and channels narrowing down, making the ship’s passage trickier than in the more southern waters of Norway. The city of Tromso is on an island amongst large numbers of other islands off the mainland of northern Norway. The city is located on its island of Tromsoya but its suburbs have spread out to islands on either side of the main island, connected by both bridges and tunnels. Tromso is the largest city in Northern Norway and the third largest city north of the Arctic Circle anywhere in the world. Tromso is 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and so if it was the same distance into the Antarctic Circle, it would be covered with snow and Ice all year round.
We stayed in Tromso for two full days in August and the weather was clear, sunny and the folk of the city spent much of their time in the open air. Why the extreme differences between the earth’s polar regions was initially a puzzle to our little group but the answer was very simple…the Gulf Stream. This is an Atlantic Ocean current that starts at the Gulf of Mexico and is a warm and swift stream of water that heads north and eventually runs along the northern coastline of Norway. One example of the effects of the Gulf Stream came up while we were walking along the coast outside Bode. Further up the coast from this town, scientists have discovered a deep coral reef that is a rich source of fish for the locals; this doesn’t happen within the Antarctic Circle. Due to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream, Tromso is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude elsewhere in the world.
I was standing on deck as our ship moved up the channel beside Tromsoya and I was taken by a white building that looked like it had been built of dominos that had collapsed on themselves not long after it they been erected. This building, called Polaria, was in fact the most northerly aquarium in the world and was meant to mimic ice flows pressed against the land by rough seas! We were to visit and enjoy what this building had to offer the next day.
Tromso was our disembarking point from our voyage and we were lucky that our accommodation, Clarion Hotel The Edge, was just over the road from the from the Port building. The iron man sculpture was the only slightly off-putting aspect of the entry to this very pleasant hotel. We had arrived at 2.15 pm so there was plenty of time to go for a stroll around the town once we had settled into our rooms. The map of our first walk in Tromso is set out below. It indicates that we did a slow walk around the central district of Tromso, walked down the main shopping street and wended our walk back home for a pleasant dinner in the hotel that evening. It was a good start to getting to know Tromso.
Not far round the corner from our hotel, we encountered a statue of man who was pretty much the local hero of the town, a figure we would learn much more about over the next two days. He was the Arctic and Antarctic explorer, Roald Amundsen. Looking directly over the channel to the next island from this statue, we had a grand view of the famous Arctic cathedral; only the fittest of the group walked over the bridge and inspected this unusual church.
We turned left and headed up Kirkegata towards the back of the wooden Tromso Cathedral. On the left we passed a small square with a statue dedicated to Richard With, a sea captain who founded two shipping companies out of Tromso, one of which was the Hurtigruten Line which he started with support from the Government to service the trade needs of towns along the Norwegian Coast.
Over the road was the Tromso Cathedral, the only Norwegian Cathedral made from wood. It was very different from the Cathedral we had spent a lot of time exploring in Trondheim. This Tromso Church was built in 1861, over 800 years since the time of King Haakon IV who built the first church in Tromso. We didn’t stay long inspecting this church on our first afternoon but the next day we spent quite some time at a Music Concert set in the grounds in front of this Cathedral.
We turned right on to Storgata, the long main shopping street of Tromso; much of this street was designated a pedestrian zone. It was a slow walk down this street as the group insisted on ice-creams and checking out the Artic animals that decorated the footpath. I wasn’t overly keen on these types of photos as when we encountered a troll outside of a shop, I was the one chosen to stand next to it for the photo.
Further along on Storgata there is a large public square that covers the two blocks on either side of the pedestrian zone. Up the hill to the right there is another attractive wooden Church that is the Catholic Cathedral in Tromso. For reasons I am not aware of, the Church was built in 1861, the same year as the Tromso Cathedral. This large area for citizens to gather is called the Erling Bangsunds Plass, named after an early 20th century trade Unionist and politician. This ‘plass’ stretches down to the waterway that runs between the islands of Tromsoya and Kvaloya.
The main feature on this side of Storgata is the large memorial to whalers and fishers (Fangstmonument) who have lost their lives in the Artic Ocean; 78 people and seven vessels were lost in one storm in 1952. It shows a whaler in a small boat combating the ocean waves. It was erected in 1984 by the Seamen’s and Artic Association. There have been discussions in the local council to move this monument so more space could be provided for festivals and other events and this move has unsurprisingly given rise to concern amongst some sections of Tromo’s community. In the background of the image on the right can be seen the bridge that crosses over to Kvalova Island.
We decided that it was time to circle our way back to our hotel so we headed up the hill from Fangstmonument to the park at the top end of Erling Bangsunds Plass. Here we found an imposing statue of Hakon VII, Norway’s King between 1905-1957. He was standing just in front of a very attractive ‘bandstand’ or ‘Music temple’ as some local call it. In the background of the photo below can be seen another lovely wooden building which is devoted to theatre and music performances…the Radstua Teaterhus.
Both the buildings mentioned above were just over the road from the Tromso Town Hall (the Tromso Radhus) and the contrast between the styles of buildings was quite extreme. To be honest we hardly took much notice of the town’s new Radhus built in 2007. It was no doubt a very suitable building for its purpose but its curious that eyes are drawn more to the Radstu Teaterhus than the modern Radhus; in fact the smaller wooden building is the city’s original town hall from 1864.
The problem however with beautiful wooden buildings in Norway is that they have a bad habit of burning down. In fact, Tromso has a good record for saving its wooden buildings; it has the most wooden buildings of any town north of Trondheim. All these wooden buildings date from the period 1789-1904 but the risk of fire forced the local council to ban wooden buildings from 1904. The oldest building in Tromso was on our tour plans for tomorrow.
We turned left onto Vestregarta and headed back to our hotel. There were significant numbers of older wooden buildings along this street…I was particularly impressed by the narrow building on the right below that had even maintained its turf roof into the 21st century. We hadn’t seen many turf roofs on our travels in Norway so far but they became quite common sights as we drove through the countryside between Tronheim and Bergen in the next week of our travels heading back south.