Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

Photo 2023-08-02, 3 35 55 PM
9 min read

One day in Tromso (is not enough!)

In early August, I (Merge) was on the Island Princess which stopped in Tromso, Norway for just one day. As I was researching the city and what places to visit and things to do, I became absolutely enamoured with this city! It is known as the “Paris of the North” and is considered the social and cultural capital of Northern Norway. Really, how can you not be charmed and captivated with a city that has attractions like a cable car, a playful city train, an Arctic Cathedral, and what seems like a gazillion museums and science centers, including the world’s most northerly aquarium? And if I wasn’t smitten before, the thought of visiting the Troll Museum was the icing on the cake!! 😊

So it was with a great deal of excitement that I disembarked from the ship that morning. I was a woman on a mission — I had places to go, things to do, and trolls to see! When I had made my first list of places I wanted to visit in Tromso, it had eleven items on it, and that was after I eliminated several that looked very interesting. Despite my occasional Type A personality, I knew that there was no way I could manage even eleven destinations in 9 hours! So with much pondering, I narrowed it down to six, with an additional seventh, if there was time. You can see my seven as #1-#7 on the map’s legend. #8, Breivika, is where the cruise ship was docked.

My research had told me that the bus system in Tromso was excellent, and that I could easily use it for all my touring. I downloaded the Troms Billet app on my phone before I left home, so the night before, I purchased a 24-hour bus pass for 120 NOK (about USD 11). I signed up for roaming Internet access on my phone for the day, so Google maps could now give me all the local transit directions I needed. I was set!

9:21 AM: Disembarked from the ship and walked through the underground tunnel to the other side of the street. It came up right next to the bus stop. Google maps on my phone helpfully told me that I needed to catch Bus #42 to Polaria which was my first stop, and I was on my way.

10:13 AM: Walked in the front door of Polaria, an Arctic-themed aquarium, which is focused on raising awareness about the delicate balance of the Arctic ecosystem and and its vulnerability to the pressing issue of climate change. They have interactive exhibits and tanks showcasing a diverse array of Arctic species, including seals and fish. In addition to exploring the facility, I was also able to watch a couple of their short 15-minute films and watch them feed the bearded seals.

11:19 AM: Left Polaria and made my way to the bus stop to catch bus #39 to the Arctic University Museum of Norway, which the locals just call the Tromso Museum.

11:41 AM: walked in the front door of the museum and purchased a combination ticket that would allow me to also visit the Polarmuseet later. This museum is focused on preserving and showcasing the cultural and scientific heritage of the Arctic region. I really enjoyed the exhibit titled “Dig a grave, bury a boat”. It was about the Viking burial tradition of burying people in boats and the rich finds that are excavated from such graves. But my real reason for visiting this museum was to learn more about Sami culture. The Sami people are the indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic region of Sápmi (which encompasses parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia) whose livelihood was (and still is) tied to reindeer herding. I got to see Sami clothing, handicrafts, and learn more about their way of life. One of the temporary exhibits explored a very sad period in Sami history when the Norwegian government mandated that all Sami children must attend schools in which their language, culture and traditions were banned. One of the quotes on the wall that stuck with me was “There are as many different experiences of attending schools as there are indigenous children. Unfortunately, most of them are not happy tales”. This story bore a striking resemblance to a sad chapter in Canada’s mid-20th century history. A time when we sent our indigenous First Nations children to residential schools where not only were their language, culture and traditions banned, but they were also treated poorly. Alas, history has a habit of repeating itself.

12:24 PM: left Tromso museum to catch the bus to Polarmuseet (the Polar museum), my next stop. Managed to also snag a quick sandwich and eat lunch on the fly. Had to keep moving! At 12:45 I entered Polarmuseet, and my combo ticket that I purchased at the Tromso museum got me waved in right away. This museum is devoted to the history of polar expeditions including the famous ones by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. In addition, they have several exhibits that explain sealing, overwintering trapping, and several stories of famous trappers. The full-scale dioramas were interesting to see and read about.

Taxidermied arctic wolves
The lighting is not great in the photo, but full-scale dioramas gave an excellent explanation of sealing and trapping.

1:30 PM: left the Polarmuseet and caught bus #26 to Fjellheisen, the gondola cable car up Storsteinen mountain that promised panoramic views of Tromsø & the fjords. Got off the bus in less than 10 minutes, but it took another 10 minutes to walk up to the base of the mountain where the Fjellheisen entrance was. At this time of the day, there was no line, and in minutes, I was whisked up the side of the mountain to the top.

Walking up to the Fjellheisen entrance
One minute of the 4-minute ride in the Fjellheisen
Views from the top!
A view of Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Cathedral) as I came down. It is my next stop.

2:38 PM: left Fjellheisen and walked down to the bus stop to catch a quick ride to Ishavskatedralen (the Arctic Cathedral) which was my next stop. The ride itself was only a few minutes, and I was there by 2:50 PM. This church is famous for its distinctive architectural style, featuring a towering, triangular facade that resembles an ice floe or an A-frame tent. The exterior is clad in white aluminum sheets, which gleam in the sunlight. It was built between 1961 and 1965, and is a functioning parish church. The inside was beautiful with a large stained glass window behind the altar. This window, designed by Victor Sparre, depicts the Resurrection and is one of the largest stained glass installations in Europe. Other than taking some quick photos, I did not linger, next on my agenda was the Troll Museum, and I couldn’t wait!

Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Church) from the outside
The gorgeous stained glass window

3:01 PM: Caught bus #20 to the destination I had been waiting for all day — the Troll Museum! It was everything I had hoped for, and more! Whimsical and enchanting, it tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the captivating world of trolls, one of Norway’s most iconic folklore creatures. With a diverse collection of troll figurines, art, and interactive and augmented reality exhibits, it is a delightful journey into the mythical realm, history, and cultural significance of trolls in Norway. I learned about many of the stories that Norwegian children grow up with — fantasy and magic, kings and heroes, trolls and monsters. There were exhibits on Norse mythology answering questions like What did the universe look like according to Vikings? How was the human world created? And how do trolls fit it? And then of course the trolls — who they are, where to find them, and most importantly, how to be victorious over them!

Up the stairs, the museum is in two halls — the road of trolls and the home of the sea troll
This is Jotun behind me, one of the giants in Norse mythology, ancestors of today’s trolls
This is a Bergtroll, or a mountain troll, who lives a secluded life in the mountains
This is Skogtroll, or a forest troll, who resides deep in the dense, ancient forest
This is Sjotroll, or a sea troll, who lives in Tromso, but in the depth of the sea
A diorama illustrating the story of St. Olav and the troll
A diorama of one of the many fairy tales illustrated in the museum
Playing with augmented reality in a full-length mirror.

These next three photos are all augmented reality. They only exist on camera. Another museum visitor helped me take these photos of my close-up encounters with trolls.

4:02 PM: I now had a very difficult decision to make. I had completed six of the seven destinations on today’s list. The only one still remaining was a visit to Magic Ice, an exhibition that consists of dramatically-lit ice sculptures and installations with colorful LED lighting to further enhance the ice experience. And you get a cocktail in a glass made of ice. Their website said that they took groups of people in every thirty minutes at the top of the hour, and thirty minutes past the hour. I had obviously missed the 4 pm entry, and I could certainly make the 4:30 pm entry. But now I had a dilemma. The all-aboard call on the ship was 5:30 pm; if I was out of Magic Ice by 5 pm, would I make it back to the ship on time? Probably, but I would be cutting it close. It was a difficult decision, but prudence won. I chose to return to the ship. Later on board, I found out from other people who visited that Magic Ice would take you in right away whenever you arrived since they were not that busy in the afternoon. So I could have gone there. Oh well! Just for interest, here are a couple of photos of what I missed.

4:07 PM: caught bus #42 back to Breivika, and to the ship. 25 minutes later, I was back in my cabin, very pleased about my wonderful day ashore.

Earlier in this post, I said that I had narrowed my Tromso to-do list down to eleven items, but at the end, only picked seven. In case you were wondering, the four I dropped from the list were the Nordnorsk Kuntmuseum (Northern Norway Art Museum), the Ishavstoget (the Arctic train), the Northern Norwegian Science Centre, and the Tromso Botaniske Hage (Tromso Botanical Garden). I guess this means that I’ll just need to come back to Tromso one day in order to see the rest!

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