Flying to Tromsø

7:58 – Umeå airport. I’m one of the first passengers for the flight SK2023 to Stockholm Arlanda at 9:50. Outside it is dim and foggy but I’m waiting outside anyway to avoid using my face mask that will accompany me the whole day today.

9:43 – Umeå airport. I’m going to the airplane. Of course with face mask. Soon our airplane departs and lifts us above the thick layer of fog and then the clouds. Welcome sun! After we landed in Stockholm Arlanda i realise that it’s as foggy there as home. I have something looking forward to: Japanese food. Then I’ll pass the security control once more. As already in Umeå my camera bag is examined for explosives, this time very thoroughly.

Next stop: Oslo-Gardermoen airport.

Why I’m taking this long and environmentally unfriendly trip by plane? Because the passenger trains from Sweden to the Norwegian Narvik have been cancelled for months. From there I could have taken a bus to Tromsø. Hopefully the train will be opened soon again.

13:46 – arrival in Oslo. And guess what, it’s foggy again. The airbus A320 was almost empty. Only 25 passengers instead of 180. I (and the stewards) have the last 7 rows for me alone.

In Tromsø I first have to show my passport and my employment contract, then I have to go to the baggage claim to get my luggage. It has to go through the custom. While doing that I somehow leave the arrival area where I planned to make a corona test. Since the info desk is closed I have to continue without any test. Maybe I’ll manage to get one tomorrow in Tromsø. This could shorten my quarantine of ten days.

The most visible ad at the airport: Norrøna outdoor equipment featuring a downhill skier. That slope would be hundred times too steep for me but I start longing for snow.

Next (and final) stop: Tromsø. The checkin is in ten minutes.

16:30 – Somewhere above the airport Oslo Gardermoen. Our airplane has started. It is hardly half full. The fog has vanished and I have a view to the autumnal surroundings of the airport.

This landscape looks cosy, a bit like Tolkien’s Hobbiton. An hour later the landscape looks completely different.

Soon the plane starts to sink giving me the probably fastest sunset I’ve ever seen. Hardly more than five minutes later we have landed on the airport Tromsø Langnes where I get a lift of K., my roommate in Tromsø.

Tomorrow I’ll have a day off. The next day I’ll start working at the Norwegian Polarinstitute. Unfortunately from home because I’m in travel quarantine. That’s not the easiest start, but that cannot be changed.

A cold bath in Tromsø

Two days after Annika and I bathed at “our” beach Vitskärsudden in Obbola I bathed again today. Alone at the Telegrafbukta in Tromsø – more than 650 km north from home. It’s a beautiful bay hardly 500 meters from my room.

The differences:

  • While Annika joined me many times bathing at Vitskärsudden I probably have to bath alone in Tromsø
  • Home: the way is more beautiful. Tromsø: the way is shorter
  • Tromsø: the water tastes salty. The salinity is at least 10 times higher as home
  • Tromsø: there is seaweed in the water and sea urchins and probably a lot of other species starting with “sea”. I use bathing shoes
  • Home: the water level doesn’t change quite often. Tromsø: there are tides here with a tidal range of up to 3 metres.
  • Tromsø: Probably the water won’t freeze over the whole winter.

Today the water was 8.5 °C, two degrees less than the last time. My plan is to bath there the whole year round. Let’s see if I manage to do it.

A small after-work promenade

Today I had my first work day at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø. Since I am in quarantine I had to work from home. Not easy when you don’t know what to do yet.

Right after work I took a walk to fight my fatigue. First up the streets, then along some tiny paths through the forest-like park Folkeparken. One of the paths led down to the western shore of Tromsøya, the island which Tromsø is on. Here I started to take pictures.

You see the coloured spots at the right side of the last photo? It’s people taking a picnic. There are not extremely many people around, but more than I expected. They jog, they cycle, they sit round a campfire. They take photos, they act as photo motives. They take care of their children, they walk, they talk. They take a winter bath from the wooden pier, they paddle kayak, they sail. All these people present Tromsø as an awesome place to be. The gorgeous autumn weather is just the icing on the cake.

Oh yes, I miss Annika! Anyhow I think, I’ll like it here.

My way to work

Today I got the test result: corona negative. So I was allowed to go to work at the Norwegian Polar Institute. It’s a bit more than 2 km to walk and I did walk.

Here are 16 photos, from the street where I live to the entrance of the Framsenteret.

As usual: A click will enlarge the photo, then you can navigate by clicking or using the left and right cursor arrows on your keyboard.

Luxury laziness

It’s only a small room in a shared flat I have here in Tromsø, with just a fraction of the space home in Obbola. But there are advantages of tiny rooms, especially when they are under the roof. And in Tromsø.

You can take lazy photos:

For example of the sunset over some mountain range far away:

17:50, kitchen window | 280mm · ƒ/8.0 · 1/40 sec – I laid the camera just onto the horizontally opened window.

Or some hours, when my roommate knocked at the door: Aurora!

21:50, my room’s window | 24mm · ƒ/8.0 · 10 sec – Again I put the camera on top of the window.

Of course the photos are no good, but I consider it as a luxury laziness to take such pictures without leaving the flat or even my room. Anyhow I promise, the next aurora photos will be taken outside.

Hooooot! Hooooot! Hooooot!

Today it was the 5th day I worked for the Norwegian Polar Institute in their office at the Framsenteret in Tromsø. But it was the first day where I was distracted by three loud hoots of a ship. I left my office to walk to a gangway with a view to the seaside. And as I already guessed a Hurtigruten ship was in the process of docking. The Polarlys. I took a photo with my iPhone for this blog.

Normally two Hurtigruten ships should dock in Tromsø each day. A northbound at 14:15 and a southbound at 23:45. A map of today however shows that the Polarlys is the only Hurtigruten ships north from Trondheim at the moment.

(Map source: https://global.hurtigruten.com/map/#norway)

This is of course because of – guess what! – Corona.

After work I left the office and could already see the ship because the landing stage is near the office. I went there to take two more photos, then I went home. Weekend!

I would love to continue with my photo series “bevegelse” (motion), that I started on a Hurtigruten journey in winter 2016. However the next northbound departure on a Saturday is not before 31. October and then the days have become quite short. Probably I’ll must have some patience.

To the photo series “bevegelse” >

Winter is coming … in Tromsø …

This week the temperatures have started to fall.

On Wednesday I could spot the first fresh snow on the tops of the higher mountains and on Thursday evening the top of the near mountain Fløya has got a white cover, too.

Last night even in Tromsø snow started to mix in the rain and this morning all mountains beside of the lowest hill were covered with fresh snow.

The sun sets earlier and earlier each day. Today sunset was 16:52. I took the following photo at the nearby bay Telegrafbukta at 17:27, 35 minutes after sunset.

In three weeks sunset will be at 14:11 and after three more weeks the sun won’t rise for seven weeks. Then there is polar night in Tromsø.

Winter sneak preview – the first snow hike

This weekend I planned to take the Fjellheisen. Fjell is Norwegian for mountain(s) and heis for lift or elevator. Fjellheisen however is not a vertical lift but a cable car up to the mountain Storsteinen (421 m above sea level) where you can have an incredible view on Tromsø, visit the café and most of all can start countless hiking tours.

Today morning I took the bus and changed to another bus near the polar museum. The second bus crossed the large bridge Tromsøbrua over the strait Tromsøysundet and ascended to the bus stop Fjellheisen. I planned to buy a multiple ticket (much cheaper) but the payment failed three times. To my delight I got a free return ticket. Soon the cable car arrived, two other guests and I entered it and Fjellheisen started its way up while I was looking down to the autumnal town Tromsø.

I got of the cable car, walked up some stairs, went through the door and then there it was: Winter ❄︎!

First I just strolled around. The snow was 10–20 cm deep and it was quite easy to walk. Few others people were around although the weather was quite fine – even though not as sunny as I expected. I decided to start my hiking tour by hiking up the nearest summit Fløya (671 m). Sometimes I had to cross knee deep snow, but mostly it was less. I followed some footprints – I wasn’t first this day – and soon arrived at the landmark – whatever it is – on a small pre-summit of Fløya and then on the near summit.

That didn’t take much time. So I continued in direction of the summit Romssavákkivárri (Sami) or Bønntuva (Norwegian) (776 m). Parts of the slopes looked steep but still it was relatively easy to ascend beside of the fact that the snow was deeper here. In the lee it was mostly knee deep and wind-pressed. This type of snow it quite easy to sink in and then you have to take the leg up the very same way it went down, since the snow is way too hard to plunge through. Sometimes I felt like a stork with balance problems.

On the way there were many heaps of stones which are used as waymarks. But you should be very cautious to follow these waymarks strictly in this part of the mountains because there are many tourists how just love to build heaps of stones everywhere. Anyhow, they are nice photo motives.

And so are the mountain ranges in the southeast. It could be the famous Lyngen Alps, but I’m not sure.

On the summit of the Romssavákkivárri I took a selfie. It was sub-zero (my Cola froze) and windy and I was glad about my winter anorak. Next time I’ll take warmer pants with me as well as woollen mittens.

What you may forget when you see these photos is the surroundings. All the snowy mountains are surrounded by straits and fjords of the Norwegian Sea. Here’s a panorama photo taken from the summit.

If you take the telephoto lens (most photos were made with it) you also see the snow line, which is quite low but not low enough to cover the lowlands with snow, too. That have to wait probably some more weeks.

After a while of photographing, eating cookies, drinking, watching, resting and enjoying I started my way back. Some other hikers had passed by and left tracks in the snow that made it easier to walk most of the time. I looked down at Tromsø and watched the weather worsen. From the north clouds with dense snow showers approached.

Several times I stopped. Once to talk to a skier – the only one I met today. He was British, lived in the Netherlands and was in Scandinavia quite often. Later I would meet him again at the cable car and he would give me a lift back to Tromsø. Thanks a lot!

Mostly however I stopped to take more photos.

Up here it was quite sunny and when finally the first snow flakes fell down I already was near the summit station of the Fjellheisen, where I had vegetarian lasagne for a late lunch in the café. It was a quite small portion and of course expensive as almost everything in Norway, but it was tasty. After that I went out again. The sun has started to set and the western sky was orange.

When I looked east I looked into a void. A huge shower cloud had approached and it started to snow. Seven minutes the same motive looked like this:

At 17:00 I took the cable car down, got the mentioned lift of the British man and was back in central Tromsø where I hardly could believe, that I just made my first winter hiking tour. Down in the city everything was just wet and just a bit slippery.

Conclusion: That was a great day with hiking through a winter’s sneak preview. I’m lucky since the snow will probably last for half a year, at least in the mountains.

As usual I made most of the photos with my Nikon D750 DLSR and different lenses. Today however I had another “camera” with me, my new iPhone 11 that I got from my employer, the Norwegian Polar Institute. It’s a huge improvement to my old iPhone SE. First of all the camera is much better and it has a real wide angle lens. Then the phone works in the cold! My iPhone SE would hardly have survived this day while the iPhone 11 was still ⅔ loaded when I ended my tour. Having these advantages I can live with the fact, that the iPhone 11 is bigger and feels twice as heavy than the SE. No ad, just my two cents.

iPhone photos today (all edited with Adobe Lightroom): The 1st one, the panorama and the last one.

A Weekend in black and white

Ok everyone, let’s talk about making photos. I say “making” instead of “taking” on purpose. Photos are not lying around just waiting for you to pick up some of them. It’s you yourself that has to create a photo – or as I use to write to “make” it. It’s about two things: Your camera and your choices.

The better your camera equipment the more choices you have. Each piece gives you additional possibilities whether it is a telephoto lens, a flashlight or a sturdy tripod. Sometimes the choices can be overwhelming. Which photos do I want to make today? Landscape? Architecture? Sea birds? Night shots? People waiting at bus stops? Some of them? All of them? Phew!

I want to become a better photographer. To get better you have to practise. For me practising mostly means focussing on a certain aspect of the whole. This weekend I drastically reduced my possibilities. Instead of using my Nikon DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) I used my new iPhone. Instead of the normal camera app I used an app called Lenka which only takes black and white photos with a fixed focal length (which means you cannot zoom). The only freedom I took was to post-process the photos by changing the contrast and the aspect ratio (and a bit more).

Here are the results. I’ll show the photos without any detailed comments.

Saturday – Sydspissen, the southern tip of the island Tromsøya – clouds and some rain

Sunday – Kvaløya, 430 metres above sea level – winter impressions

Sunday – Kvaløya, a short stroll at the coast – mostly sunny

I’m not content with the last photo. Maybe it’s because the house lacks three-dimensionality but I’m not sure. Beside from that it was real fun to use my self-set restrictions to get another kind of view on the motives around.

But no practising without a goal! My goal is to use the black-and-white photo app to train finding good motives and even when using my DSLR making full-color photos to be able to imagine how it will look black and white.

And you? What do you think about these photos? Criticism is welcome.

Sea kayaking in the dark

It’s 2 °C air temperature, a cloudless sky and sunset at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A good day to end working at 14:30 and do some kayaking.

The reason for that I kayaked today is that I want to join a kayak course the weekend after next but I do not have all the required skills. So Tim, the course leader I’ve been in contact with gave me private lessons today.

I came to the meeting place right before sunset, where I met Tim. We changed clothes in the club house of the “Trulle” sea kayaking association, put on our dry suits, sprayskirts and life jackets and finally chose two kayaks from a large selection.

Then I stopped making photos. First of all I had to focus on everything that Tim showed and taught me. I learned a lot because Tim is an excellent teacher. The first half was mostly about paddle techniques, the second half more about rescue manoeuvres, which literally means capsizing by purpose. Into quite cold water in the dark.

Was it dark? Not really. Although the moon was too low to illuminate the sea there were street lights nearby, some light of the near airport, the lights attached to the stern of the kayaks and our head lights. What a wonderful atmosphere! And as the icing on the cake we got a stunning aurora, that covered half the sky – swirling and moving in green, red, and violet colours.

Tim managed to take pictures from the scenery. So I’m not the photographer of the next photo, I’m the motive.

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

I have to admit that I was quite nervous before the private lessons today but now I’m really looking forward to the technique seakayaking course.

Thank you Tim for giving me private lessons today. I can warmly recommend his company True North Adventures.

October snow in Tromsø

Yesterday evening it started to snow and this morning it still has been snowing. 10 cm of snow cover the streets, cars, houses, trees – it’s the first noteworthy snowfall in Tromsø, since I’ve been here.

The beauty of the snow won’t last long because already on Saturday it will be warmer again and it will thaw away. But hey, it’s only late October. Winter hasn’t even started yet.

And now I’ll take a short breakfast and walk to work.

Full moon night shots

Sometimes it’s worth to go out and make photos in the late evening, especially when it’s full moon, some northern lights and one has a room near the Telegrafbukta in Tromsø.

Dark, windy and wet

Perhaps you saw the photos that I took on my way to work five weeks ago. The sky was blue, it was quite warm and the sun was shining.

Today it was completely different. For the first it was dark. Dark on my way to work and dark again on my way back. Sunrise was at 8:33 and sunset already at 14:21.

Then it was quite windy and very rainy the whole day. Sometimes it just rained a bit, sometime it was bucketing down huge amounts.

Here are some photos from my way to work. Taken with my iPhone and black-and-white again.

The way back was more exciting. When I went round the Framsenteret – the marina to my left – I first thought I was totally lost in the dark. I didn’t know that there was a huge artificial lake to the right. I never saw it before. Carefully I tested with my rubber boot, it was 25 cm deep. Then I realised that this was no lake but the parking place. It was completely flooded. Did it really rain so much? Apparently.

I continued stomping through huge water puddles. My outfit: rubber boots – rain pants — waterproof parka – reflective vest to be seen by others – headlamp (in one of the parka pockets)

Then I realised that even the sea water level was exceptionally high. Would I be able to go back the very same gravel path you can see on the second photo? That path lies quite low and in the morning I could see a chain of seaweed lying on the side facing land. When I arrived, the way was completely gone. I could only see the water of the sea up to the site fence.

To make a long story short: I continued the path. Mostly it was 30 cm of sea water covering the gravel. That still worked with my rubber boots, but it shouldn’t have been more. I was really glad to have a bright LED lamp. Probably I wouldn’t have dared without it. And not it beacme clear that there will come a day where this part of my favourite way to work will be impassable without offshore survival equipment.

Appendix one: and the sun?

Tromsø is located at the latitude of 69° 39′ N, almost 350 km north from the polar circle. That means, that the days not only get shorter and shorter but that there’ll be a time where the sun doesn’t rise and set at all. This time is quite near: In three weeks it will be the last time you’ll be able to see the sun and then again in January.

To illustrate this I made some charts. The y axis of each chart shows the dates from 1 January (top) to 31 December (bottom). Each row shows the solar altitude for that day by color.

From left to right: München, Germany – Obbola, Sweden (my home) – Tromsø, Norway (my current workplace)

Sun | Sun (golden hour) | civil twilight | nautical twilight | astronomical twilight | deep night

These are the main differences:

München has sun each day, but a real dark night, too.

In Obbola in Northern Sweden there’s always at least 4 hours of sun (if the clouds allow it) but it hardly gets dark in summer.

Tromsø has the most extreme changes of sun altitude during the year: Round seven weeks of polar night in winter and almost ten weeks of polar days with midnight sun between May and July.

So there’s much to experience here. The next experience will be the technique sea kayak course this weekend. Probably with a lot of rain at 3 °C and on Saturday even gusty winds round 14 m/s.

 

Technique sea kayaking course

I was really in doubt about writing this blog article and showing photos of the last weekend, where I participated the course Teknikkurs Hav (Technique sea kayaking).

Why? Because my photos lie. They show sea kayaks lying on nice beaches and us paddling in calm waters. All these photos are true but they tell only a fraction of the experiences I made when I kayaked in Northern Norway in the beginning of November.

Saturday – day 1

The paddling course was supposed to take place on Sommarøya. A beautiful place, but quite exposed to wind and weather. Due to the wind forecast (average wind 15 m/s) the instructors chose a more sheltered place for the first course day: Eidjordneset, just 12 km away from the boat house of the sea kayak club Trulle.

We gathered round 7 o’clock in the morning: We are the instructors Tim and Pål and four participants. Kind of luxury! We put the kayaks on the trailer and started driving: Past the airport, over the bridge crossing the Sandnessundet strait, to the left and then taking the turn to the island Håkøya where we parked and changed clothes for the tour. In my case: woollen underwear, two pairs of socks, a thick woollen sweater, drysuit, neoprene boots, gloves and hood. In addition to that the sprayskirt, life vest, towline system and helmet. We do not only dress for the chilly air but for being in the water as well. Tim wrote in the email: “We will be doing a lot of swimming”

We started to dress in darkness but when we were ready it had got light.

We put the kayaks into the sea and started paddling east along the Håkøya. After getting our paddle strokes improved we started to practise partner rescue. One kayaker capsizes, opens the sprayskirt and swims. Then there are different techniques of emptying the capsized kayak and support the swimmer to enter the kayak again. While we were training this several time. As Tim said: a lot of swimming. While practising the wind blew us more and more to the east. Time to turn back.

Now we had to paddle against the wind. First it went quite well but we already could see the huge shower cell coming towards us. Round 2–3 °C in the air. Would it be rain, sleet or snow? No – it was a grown up hail storm approaching. Within minutes we had wind speeds of round 20 m/s howling around us, blowing spray from each wave and throwing hail right into our faces (ouch, my lips!). The instructors decided to guide us to land where we waited for the hail to stop.

Soon the weather was calmer but still very windy. It took a while until we reached the bridge, where we started the tour. On the way back I had one of the rare opportunities to take some photos with my iPhone while paddling. Mostly I was too occupied with practising or catching up.

When we arrived at the bridge we crossed under it, because on the other side the sea was a bit more sheltered. Here we practised a lot of different paddle strokes as edging or low and high brace. This was quite intense – only interrupted by a short and frugal lunch break – and I’ll have to train a lot until my body has understood the movements. We ended with a rescue case: One of the participants had to pretend having an injured shoulder and we had to both give support balancing her kayak and tow her on land. Well, there was a lot of discussion but finally we managed it. Ok, it was only 20 metres or such to tow.

To make it short: changing into warm clothes · putting the kayaks onto the trailer · heading back to the boat house · I got a lift home · hot shower · great!

Sunday – day 2

Two of us met Tim at the boathouse, where we got a lift to a petrol station, our meeting point. As you can see it had been snowing and it was quite slippery.

Now on day two we would drive to Sommarøya and take the second course day there. Great, because the area round Sommarøya is wonderfully beautiful. Sommarøya is more than 50 km from Tromsø and the shorter way is leading through the mountains, so due to the weather conditions it took a longer time to travel there. And that’s how it looked like from the bay Steinsvika on Store Sommarøya.

We paddled to a flat rock covered by breaking waves and tried out some paddle strokes from the day before. That gave us opportunities for more buddy rescues, because of three capsizings. We made a short break on one of shallow beaches.

After that we started to round the island Storholmen where the Sommarøy lighthouse is located. First we tried to stick near the rocks to play with the waves. The further we came to the open sea, the higher the waves became and we increased distance.

Especially at the northwest tip we had waves up to 150 cm coming from several directions so that it took all my concentration just to paddle on while feeling quite stressed and a bit helpless. A bit further the waves coming from the open sea behind us built up to huge rollers and breakers on the shallow bay. I was too scared to join the others that played in these waves (with several capsizings and rescue manoeuvres). Therefore I paddled a bit further to reach a more sheltered part of the bay and wait there not to split the group. One other paddler joined my shortly after. Then all of a sudden a really huge wave came, broke just where we were and knocked us both over. There was nothing I could do. I immediately lost my kayak in the wave and it took a bit of time and help from the others to fetch my kayak and get us in again. I know that I have to learn to paddle under such rough conditions as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy it.

I really was glad about the lunch break. Here Tim and Pål told us about the star rating system for waves. It goes from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), and mostly we had 3-star conditions out there, with one two-metre-wave probably being a 4 star.

Even after lunch I was mentally quite exhausted. But at least we had started heading back and were soon in calm waters again. The others learned some more rescue manoeuvres and such but I kept aside for a while because I couldn’t focus any more.

Finally we made another towing manoeuvre, where two of us towed another kayak while the fourth paddler supported balance. While I was mentally tired I still had physical energy so I tried to drag a bit harder the last part to come up onto the sandy beach as long as possible. And that’s where Tim took this photo of us. I’m in the front – watch the nice violet helmet!

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

Conclusion: This course was too difficult for me. I was too scared and overchallenged. But I had skilled instructors, great fellow paddlers and learned a lot – though the hard way. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to join this course and already decided to take the same course again as a fresh-up next spring.

Just a detour to work

Though Saturday I went to the Norwegian Polar Institute yesterday to get a handover from a former colleague. I went however not the direct way (20 minutes) but a long detour (90 minutes) to catch some air and some light before being in the office until dark.

Just some photos taken with my mobile.

It’s nice to go lightweight and taking pictures with the iPhone. While the photos are impressive considering the size of the lens and sensor, the quality is of course long from that of my Nikon. So next time I’ll carry more weight but probably I’ll be more content with the image quality afterwards.

 

Lunch break

Days grow shorter and shorter in Tromsø so I took a small outside promenade in my lunch break to catch a bit of daylight. Tromsø is so beautiful with 10 cm of fresh snow that had fallen since yesterday.

I’m not sure if the snow will stay for longer or melt away soon but it doesn’t matter for me. That’s because on Sunday I’ll take the airplane home to Obbola in Sweden and will stay there the rest of the year.

But that’s another story that will be told on Sunday when I’ll spend many hours in Oslo Gardermoen and Stockholm Arlanda waiting for the connection flights.