Off on Our “Lillehammer” Retreat

The next day we were off to Lillehammer! We got up early in the morning to climb aboard what is probably the nicest bus I have ever been on. It had plush leather seats, huge windows with skylights, and a bathroom. It was lovely. The view from the bus was also really nice. Having now lived in Norway for about seven months and having travelled up and down the country, I feel somewhat qualified to say that I don’t think an ugly area exists in Norway.

IMG_9530  IMG_9533  IMG_9536IMG_9547  IMG_9552  IMG_9557Now you may know of Lillehammer from Netflix’s “Lilyhammer,” or from the 1994 Olympics, but in case you don’t, Lillehammer is a town a few hours outside of Oslo that is renowned for its ski jump. Considering that Lillehammer hosted the winter Olympics, you are also probably thinking that it has quite a number of downhill slopes. Well, that isn’t actually the case. The mountains that they used for the downhill Olympic events actually lie outside of the city. The downhill slopes have also been reduced over time since they don’t get that much traffic. In case you don’t follow winter sports, Norwegians excel at cross country and tend to prefer it to alpine skiing. So while we did get to pass through Lillehammer and catch a glimpse of the iconic ski jump, we were soon driving past the town and on to our final destination, Svingvoll. Don’t worry if you’re confused. I was also initially confused to as to why our so called Lillehammer retreat wasn’t actually in Lillehammer, but upon reflection I probably would have been a bit less excited if it had been called the Svingvoll retreat.

Lucky for us we arrived just before lunch was about to start. All of our meals at the retreat were covered by the Fulbright Commission, which also meant that everyone was quite happy to take full advantage of the buffet. Most of us never eat out due to how expensive it is in Norway, so it was nice to be treated to a good (and seemingly endless) meal.* In fact, Rena, the organizer, warned us to not get too excited by the buffet because last year’s Fulbrighters managed to eat so much food that they got sick. I didn’t really know that was possible, but I admit that I’m actually a bit impressed with their commitment to food.

After a hearty lunch and a quick stop at the ski rental place, I decided to take a walk with two other Fulbrighters, Abby and Shay. The Fulbright Commission had agreed to cover a two day lift ticket, and the three of us had decided to use our first day to explore the surrounding area and our last two days to tear up the slopes.

IMG_9560  IMG_9564  IMG_9574IMG_9570  IMG_9567  IMG_9597IMG_9612  IMG_9602  IMG_9615IMG_9622  IMG_9643  IMG_9624IMG_9654  IMG_9678  IMG_9682We had an excellent time simply walking around and enjoying the views. After about an hour or two we returned back to the Thon hotel, which I was recently told is actually pronounced “Toon” instead of “Thon.” Mind blown. I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention to pronunciation rules in Norwegian class and have been mispronouncing the name of this hotel chain since I arrived in Norway.

Lucky for us, the hotel had jacuzzis, saunas, and steam rooms so it was very easy to simply relax and enjoy our time together. Other than that, the rest of the day was spent eating an excellent dinner and whiling the time away in interesting conversations.

*It’s actually quite funny to visit other Norwegian Fulbrighters since we all tend to have limited suggestions when it comes to eating out. Most of us cook since it’s so pricy to eat out, but we do tend to have plenty of coffee shop recommendations. The need for caffeine runs strong in academics.

Trip to Tromsø

For those of you who are wondering, the ø in Tromsø means that it’s pronounced more like Tromsa than Tromso. While Tromsø is not as far North as Svalbard, Tromsø is Norway’s northernmost town and boasts a population of roughly 70,000. It’s the biggest town in Northern Norway (and I believe the only place in Northern Norway that can technically claim the title of town) and, to my surprise, is pretty much shut off from the rest of Norway. The train system in Norway doesn’t go much further than Bodø, where Alix and I went for part of our trip to the Lofoten Islands. As far as I can tell, the only really ways in which Northern Norway is connected to the rest of the country is by car, boat, specifically the Hurtigruten ferry, and by plane.

I’ve been interested in visiting Tromsø for a while but I decided to plan my trip in early February so that I would be able to attend Tromsø’s Sami Week. The Sami are the indigenous people in Northern Scandinavia, specifically Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula (part of Russia). To make matters more complicated, there are different kinds of Sami, and they have different rights and living situations depending on where they live. In Norway, the Sami are well known as reindeer herders and to this day reindeer are an essential part of their culture. Sami have a much stronger presence in Northern Norway than they do in Southern Norway and they even have their own capital, Karasjok, and parliament in Northern Norway. That is not to say that everything is rainbows and butterflies. The Sami have historically experienced a good amount of discrimination in Norway, and this discrimination continues to the present day. According to recent a survey, the Sami experience ten times more discrimination than ethnic Norwegians (United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe). Other obstacles the Sami face include the loss of their native languages and issues surrounding land rights.

Tromsø’s Sami Week coincides with Sami People’s Day, or the Sami national day, on February 6th. This date marks the meeting of the first Sami Congress in 1917 in Trondheim. Why Sami Week is not so well celebrated in Trondheim or even in Trondheim remains a mystery to me. Anyways, Sami People’s Day has grown into a week long celebration in Tromsø and consists of things such as a lasso throwing competition, winter market, cultural events, and reindeer races. Yes, reindeer races are a real thing. In fact, the races were the main reason I was in Tromsø.

Lucky for me, flights from Trondheim to Tromsø are pretty short and easy to catch. My hope was that I’d be able to see the northern lights in my time above the clouds, but unfortunately the sun was up for the duration of my flight. Once we descended however it was a completely different story. I was greeted with snow.

Thankfully the Fulbrighter that I was staying with, Kari, gave me very detailed instructions on how to get to her place, and it didn’t take me too long to find the correct bus into Tromsø. Once I arrived, I was pretty happy to settle in for the night and to curl up with my chosen post-Svalbard reading: The Golden Compass. I’m proud to say that I got unreasonably excited over the Svalbard sections of the book and of  my ability to identify terms such as sysselmann, or governor.