a year in tromsø

The anniversary marking my first year in Tromsø has come and gone – I arrived on August 2nd, 2015, and this year on that date I found myself back at the airport as I embarked on a quick trip to Canada. The past few weeks have been a bit crazy and intense but I’m back in my cozy apartment now and have a moment to reflect before diving headfirst into my second year as a graduate student here (hello, thesis; let’s get acquainted, shall we?).

Living abroad for extended periods of time is a curious experience, sometimes exciting and invigorating and other times isolating and deflating. I’ve had the incredible privelege of spending long stretches of time abroad before, and each experience is different. Norway has presented us with both incredible experiences as well as unique and frustrating challenges. But at the end of the day I usually feel very lucky to be living in this littly city in the Arctic, and as I’ve said before on this blog, one of my favorite things about being here is documenting the changing landscape around me through the seasons’ changes.

I’ve shared many, many photos of Tromsø on my Instagram account over the past year, and sometimes I have little videos to share too. What started as a whim – collecting little snippets of autumn into one video – turned into a four-part series of snippets of Tromsø in each season. I thought it would be fun to share those videos all in one place. (If for any reason the embedded Instagram videos below aren’t showing up for you, they’re also collected under the Instagram hashtag #ayearintromsø and can be viewed there.)

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Summer snippets. #sommeritromsø #ayearintromsø

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Autumn and winter are shorter, because Instagram’s limit for video was 15 seconds when they were posted, but I was able to be more indulgent with spring and summer.

I also enjoy revisiting photos of the same places in different times of year, and I think that our iconic peak, Tromsdalstinden (known colloquially as just “tinden,” or “the peak”) is a perfect example. On the top is a photo from February, and below, one from last month. Both photos are taken from Prestvannet, the lake on top of the island. I love seeing the lake frozen over and covered in snow in winter (with ski tracks!), while it forms a glassy mirror of sorts in the summer.

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I must admit, looking back through photos from the past year has gotten me more than a little bit excited for the arrival of autumn… the midnight sun has ended, the nights are growing darker, and soon this whole landscape will change yet again. September will bring visiting friends, and it’s always nice to have things to look forward to.

autumn days

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If October was “focused” last time I wrote, it got busy. Very busy. The last two weeks of October were my absolute busiest so far, and I’m hoping that the frenzied pace peaked with the two presentations I gave last Friday and I’m on the descent side of the slope now.

In between and around a bunch of schoolwork and an extra three-day course I took (focused!), I’ve continued to enjoy life in Tromsø.

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I made pickles for the first time. I used the light pickling solution from The New Nordic and these were a delight (that’s radishes on the left and onions on the right). One of the bonuses of living in Norway is that I can basically find any of the ingredients used in that cookbook. I also made some fancy cookies which I can’t show you yet, but more on those later (edit: the piece went live, so now I CAN link you to those fancy cookies!).

I collected a few short video snippets I’ve been taking over the last couple of months into one video. It’s just snippets, but for the curious, here’s a glimpse of autumn in Tromsø:

Mørketida, which I mentioned in my last post, draws ever nearer (or is already upon us, depending on how you look at it). Daylight Savings Time ended here on October 25th, which very suddenly made the days feel much shorter. The sun set today at 2:30 in the afternoon and it’s really not long now before the sun disappears for the winter. One thing that makes the dark easier to cope with, though, is the northern lights that visit us when the weather’s clear. I don’t get tired of watching them from my living room window. I love how they often look like twisting green flames coming from behind the mountains to the east.

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Another thing that makes it easier to cope is snow. About a week ago we had our first snow in the city. It started snowing on the 26th and by the morning of the 27th there were several inches on the ground. It stuck around for a few days before mostly melting away, but man, it was beautiful. From what I’ve heard, the snow-melt-snow-melt cycle is pretty common here, but after Christmas the snow is more likely to stick around (and it also starts to get lighter again, so that’s when skiing season really begins).

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This city is absolutely charming covered in snow. It’s such a treat to see my daily landscape transform so dramatically. The university campus, too, looks a little bit more magical in the snow.

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So between the northern lights, the dramatic skies, and the snow, I think I’m going to get by okay during the dark season.

october

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Hello there! October’s been busy. Or maybe “focused” is a better word. My whole time here, since arriving in Tromsø, has been quite focused. I think I’m feeling it more now than I did before because September had me entertaining visiting friends and family for a few weeks, and in August everything still felt so new, and there was so much work to do to start getting settled. But it’s been weeks without any of that and I’m beginning to realize just how much my uni program is dominating my attention.

I’ve been following along a bit with Slow Fashion October (and the Instagram hashtag #slowfashionoctober) and while it’s been really fantastic to see some of the conversations taking place, and I’ve even started drafting a few blog posts to join in, the truth is that that’s just not where my head’s at right now, you know? (Though I absolutely encourage you to check it out if you haven’t!) For two months I’ve been intensely focused on school: on so much reading, on trying to make sense of the syntax of Tagalog (not what I expected to be spending so much time on, but grad school is full of surprises), on trying to choose topics for term papers and presentations. I spend more time in the university library than I do in my lectures; it’s basically my second home. Add to that the fact that my husband’s in a very focused place as well (holed up at the home studio in our flat working on a film score), and that sense of focus is compounded. I think it’s turned me a bit antisocial.

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Chris and I were talking this week and I realized that in the nearly three months since I’ve arrived in Tromsø at the beginning of August, I’ve left the island of Tromsøya maybe three times? And each of those three times was just across the bridge to the mainland, which is still part of Tromsø, either hiking or taking the cable car up Storsteinen (that mountain on the right in the photo above). Tromsøya’s not big: it has an area of 8.8 square miles, or 22.8 square kilometers (for the Pacific Northwesterners, that’s roughly the same as Cypress Island, which lies to the southeast of Orcas in the San Juans). I literally haven’t left Tromsø in almost three months; my world has been very small. I guess it’s no wonder I’m starting to feel a little restless, and October tends to bring on that feeling in me anyway.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying myself, though. I think the focused isolation actually suits me pretty well (what that says about me, I’m not entirely sure). There’s so much here that I actively appreciate on a regular basis. I love my commute, as weird as that sounds; the bus ride to campus is almost always beautiful and in the changeable weather it’s almost always different. The northern lights have been spectacular in the past few weeks (before the rain we’ve had for the past week started) – I can still hardly believe I can watch the aurora from my apartment windows. With the first storm of autumn a few weeks ago the mountains got their first dusting of snow (which has now mostly been washed or melted away, but it’ll be back soon enough).

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The student welfare organization recently held an informational meeting for new international students on how to cope with mørketida – the dark season. With the nonstop rain we’ve had for the past week, it’s feeling closer than ever. Because Tromsø sits so far north, there are two months in winter when the sun doesn’t rise above the mountains in the south. We’ll say goodbye to the sun on November 21st, but in the meantime the days grow increasingly shorter. And yet I find myself looking forward to the dark season. It’s an excuse to cozy up indoors (and it’s definitely helping with that academic focus I was talking about – it’s harder to be tucked away in the library when it’s nice out), to take some time to rest, to light candles and enjoy the quiet. I’ll also be getting out of town at the end of the month, finally, for a quick trip. I’m looking forward to that too.

More soon, I hope – but for now, it’s back to reading.

an autumn walk around prestvannet

One of my favorite walks in Tromsø is the loop trail around Prestvannet, a lake at one of the higher points on Tromsøya. It’s a small lake (the loop trail is only 1.7 km) but the surrounding area forms a public park and nature reserve. The lake itself and its marshy perimiter are a nesting area for a variety of bird species. It’s only a twenty minute walk from my flat, but when you’re up in the park, it’s a serene spot to go walk, run, or simply sit and reflect. It’s a sanctuary.

My sister-in-law is in town for a visit and we took a walk up there this evening so I could show her the lake, and I was pleased to see Tromsø really starting to show its autumn colors (it was all green the first few times I was up there, as seen here). It’s a special joy to watch the landscape begin to change like this for the first time.

I hope you enjoy seeing this shifting landscape too, and I’m looking forward to documenting it throughout the seasons.