If there is one thing I will remember about Tromsø it’ll be the sound of seagulls. In part because our hotel was right in the port area every time we would walk out we’d hear the haunting, lonely sound of dozens – though it seemed like hundreds – of seagulls.
Tromsø is an interesting place, though for us at least two days was plenty. A city of some 65,000 people, it’s the third largest city in the world above the Arctic Circle and the northernmost city in the world with more than 20,000 people. Yet because of the Gulf Stream it is warmer than cities hundreds of miles further south. Of course, that’s relative: the photos we saw of winter in Tromsø look plenty snowy and cold. And dark. From mid-November until mid-January, you can’t see the sun in Tromsø. I’m not sure I could handle that.And yet there was lots to enjoy about the city. First – and to our enormous pleasure – it’s a great city for food. We had simply the best food we had anywhere in Norway here. Perhaps because it’s a university town it had a real lively vibe to it with lots of activity in the evening. (I was going to say there was activity “after nightfall” but in mid-August nightfall is late and brief.) There was way more ethnic food here than I’d expected. I was just assuming that way up here it would be all bland Scandinavian food but there is a surprising number of immigrants – perhaps war refugees? – from North Africa and the Middle East. And so there I am walking around town and I stumble on an Ethiopian restaurant. Above the Arctic Circle!
In fact, back in the 19th century Tromsø was known as the Paris of the North. While it’s not known exactly how or why it got that nickname (trust me, it’s not Paris), one theory is just that the people of Tromsø even back then were simply more sophisticated than southern Norwegians ever would have imagined. That was pretty much my reaction, too.
We had stopped here on the way north during our “coast of Norway” cruise but really didn’t see anything that intrigued us. That, of course, is why we’re not cruise people: seeing a town over a couple days and nights is a very different (and better) experience than seeing it for a few hours when there are hundreds of other day trippers there, too.
As Norway’s major city north of the Arctic Circle, it is and historically has always been the jumping off spot for Arctic adventures. The Polar Museum here does a really good job of introducing you to what polar exploration in the 19th and early 20th century was like. But that’s not what we were looking for during our brief stay so instead we enjoyed the food, the historic collection of 19th and even 18th century wooden buildings, and the cool vibe. I managed a hike north to the botanical garden and south to a “beach.” Both were … OK. Then it was off to Trondheim for two final days in Norway.
Before we leave Tromsø though one last oddity. From the airport a nice highway takes you through a long tunnel into the city. But in the tunnel was something we’ve never seen anywhere in the world: a roundabout. Yup, apparently there’s a north-south tunnel and an east-west tunnel and there you are, god knows how many feet below the surface, in a roundabout at the intersection.
Who says you can’t still find new and unusual things in the world?