Rørosmartnan

This past week proved to be incredibly relaxing because school was out. My upper secondary school was off for winter break so I had the entire week to myself. Since I had just gone to Sami Week up in Tromsø, I thought that my next adventure should be a bit closer to home. Luckily Røros is only a 2.5 hour train ride away from me, and it just so happens that their annual winter market, Rørosmartnan, was going on during my winter break.

Rørosmartnan has been taking place since 1644, and it began as a way for hunters to trade their products with the local miners in exchange for supplies. Due to a royal decree issued in 1853, Rørosmartnan is now held for five days starting every penultimate Tuesday of February. It attracts around 75,000 people every year (keep in mind that the population of Norway is just over 5 million so this is quite substantial), and consists of street markets, live entertainment, and cultural programs.*

The first time I went to Røros was in October on a day trip with Alix. Unfortunately, Alix wasn’t able to make this trip down to Røros, but I was accompanied by two other friends, Nicole and Juliana.

Now I generally have a soft spot for the Norwegian train system. Coming from California and its near nonexistent train system, pretty much any functional train system is an upgrade. The trains in Norway are generally pretty good in that they are clean, large, and have wifi. My one quibble with the more regional trains is that they don’t announce stops. This means that I’ve generally been dependent on asking my neighboring Norwegians if I have arrived at my destination (which has been an entirely effective strategy). Luckily, since I had already gone to Røros, I pretty much remembered where the stop was. To make things even better, pretty much everyone on the train was getting off at Røros. While the three of us had decided to make a day trip out of Røros, there were a good number of people on the train who had suitcases and looked as if they intended to stay for several days.

The market itself was excellent. Røros is a fairly small town, but its two main streets, and even a few side streets, were overflowing with people and stalls. Considering that Tromsø’s winter market consisted of only three stalls, I was excited to see how much was on offer in Røros.

IMG_9234  IMG_9235  IMG_9236IMG_9238  IMG_9245  IMG_9344IMG_9248  IMG_9253  IMG_9266IMG_9262  IMG_9264  IMG_9247As you can see from the pictures, there was lots variety when it came to the different products for sale. I was also very pleased to see that Elmo and Winnie the Pooh seem to be fairly universal.

There was also quite a bit of diversity in dress, as shown with the huge fur winter coats. Additionally, a number of Sami attend Rørosmartnan, and there were a number of traditional Sami crafts on sale, such as the leather bracelets shown above. I walked away with a number of products, but the thing I was most proud of purchasing was a Norwegian sweater! Being short means that I am occasionally able to buy a children’s size, and I managed to leave with a lovely children’s sweater for just 200 NOK (26 USD). Considering that most nice non-itchy Norwegian sweaters sell for upwards of 1,500 NOK (197 USD), I was really satisfied with my purchase.

After wandering around some of the stalls, Nicole, Juliana, and I walked around the rest of town. Now you may remember from my previous October post that Røros in one of Norway’s coldest towns, and in 2010 temperatures were recorded as going below -44°C (-47.2°F), so I was hardly surprised to see huge mounds of snow, even though most of the snow and ice has disappeared from Trondheim. One thing that we did appreciate about the market was that there were plenty of outdoor and indoor areas where you could sit and have warm food and a hot beverage.

IMG_9276  IMG_9278  IMG_9283IMG_9270  IMG_9285  IMG_9293IMG_9296  IMG_9297  IMG_9298IMG_9301  IMG_9306  IMG_9326Unfortunately, the slag heaps were really icy so we didn’t get to climb up the bigger ones, but we still managed to get quite a nice view of the city. From there, we went to the local church to catch the beginning of the sunset, and we eventually situated ourselves at one of the local eating joints to have some hot tea and listen to live music before catching the train home.

All in all this was probably one of my favorite trips in Norway.

IMG_9356  IMG_9353  IMG_9363*Since moving to Norway I’ve noticed that I’ve become incredibly averse to crowds. The number of people at Røros probably wouldn’t have bothered me when I just moved to Norway, but having lived here for over six months, I found the number of people at the fair suffocating. To make matters worse, Norwegians are unaccustomed to crowds, which means that they are bad when it comes to things like moving out of the way and (accidentally) hitting people with their elbows, backpacks, purses, shopping purchases, skis, etc.

Reindeer Races

The post you’ve all been waiting for! Considering that I missed seeing any polar bears on Svalbard I’m pretty sure that I can already call the reindeer races the highlight of my Norwegian animal experience.

Now the website for Sami Week is pretty atrocious, but after much button clicking we eventually found the schedule for the reindeer races. Considering the website only has something like five tabs, it’s almost impressive how much effort it took to find the schedule. I’m convinced the webmaster is secretly an evil mastermind since it took us a good 30 minutes to find the schedule hidden away on an obscure section of the Norwegian version of the site. BUT we finally realized that the races weren’t starting until about 1 pm on Sunday. That meant that we were able to introduce the very American concept of Sunday brunch to a few of the local international students. One student, Caspar, graciously agreed to host brunch and let a few people cook in his house. After some deliberation, Kari and I decided to arrive a bit on the late side of things. Our strategic planning meant that we avoiding cooking but arrived just in time for eating. It was perfect.

After we gorged ourselves on pancakes, bacon, scones, and sausages we all bundled up and headed into the center of town. All of the Fulbrighters were quite happy to pay to enter the reindeer races, but some of the international students decided to set up shop at the local Burger King and view the races for free on the second story. Although there were some venues around the racecourse that would provide you with a view, many people were quite content to pay and stand along the course. In my eyes, the most impressive spectator was a guy in a reindeer onesie. How could you tell it was a reindeer and not a moose? Why, the red Rudolf nose on the costume. Sidenote: out of the five Fulbrighters who went to Sami Week only one of them had yet to see a reindeer. The fact that the rest of us were incredulous about this just goes to show how in touch with nature you are in Norway.

IMG_9016  IMG_9014  IMG_9055The main street in Tromsø, Storgata, was blocked off for the race and announcers even translated some of their commentary into English. From what I could gather, there were two different kinds of races. The first race involved one person and their reindeer and was timed. The second race was what we would think of as a more traditional race since it took place between two people. They had junior races for some of the younger racers and I suppose what you would call professional races for the adults. There were even people from Russia who had come to compete.

IMG_9037  IMG_9040  IMG_9081You can sort of see how the race actually worked from the pictures, but it mostly involved a skier being dragged along by a reindeer. Apparently different kinds of skis are chosen depending on what the skier is trying to do. Slalom skis allow for easier control, while cross country skis are better for speed.

IMG_9024  IMG_9046  IMG_9047IMG_9051  IMG_9060  IMG_9061IMG_9070  IMG_9127  IMG_9145IMG_9111  IMG_9116  IMG_9141Once the races were finished, Kari and I bunkered down at one of the local coffee shops. Kari was lost in a book she was reading for graduate school interviews, while I was lost in The Amber Spyglass (the snowstorm didn’t stop me from racing through the sequels to The Golden Compass).

We eventually made it back to our original brunch location and settled in for a pizza party and the first Harry Potter movie. After that, we went back to Kari’s place and called it a night.

Playing Tourist and Winter Storms

Tromsø actually boasts quite a few Fulbrighters (I met at least four of them during our August orientation) and two other Fulbrighters, Alyssa and Sarah, made the trip up to Tromsø for Sami Week. All in all we were a solid group of five people since two of the Tromsø Fulbrighters were out of town. Even though not everyone was able to make it, it was still great to have a mini Fulbright reunion and to have some of the local Fulbrighters show us around town. Lucky for us visitors, the Tromsø Fulbrighters had planned out some weekend activities for us to do.

My first full day in Tromsø was slightly more adventurous than the day I got in. To my delight I woke up to a bright and sunny day so I was quite happy to do some outdoor exploring.

IMG_8970  IMG_8971  IMG_8973Although there were five Fulbrighters attending Sami week, we were all scattered throughout the city. Luckily Tromsø is quite small, and I managed to catch up with most of the other Fulbrighters at the Sami Week lasso throwing competition. While I was hoping that the competitors would be lassoing actual animals, this was not the case. From what we could understand of the competition, the competitors had to lasso a set of reindeer antlers at different distances. Once someone had successfully lassoed the “reindeer” at each distance they were declared the winner. While it didn’t seem like the lassoing involved much technique, I suspect that probably wasn’t the case. I assume that their skills were such that it just made everything seem casual and effortless.

IMG_8980  IMG_8981  IMG_8983IMG_8982  IMG_8988  IMG_8990Once the lasso competition was finished we quickly stopped by the Sami Winter Market. Unfortunately the market was quite small (it only had three stalls) so it didn’t take us very long to look around.

From there we headed to one of the local art museums, Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum. Considering that the gallery was free it was pretty good. There is a permanent exhibit on the second floor and a rotating exhibit on the first floor. One of the things I found really fun about this experience was going with Alyssa, the Fulbrighter who works with Munch paintings. It was fun watching her walk around the paintings and learn a bit more about what conservationists and chemists look for in artwork. She said that part of the time what she is doing is keeping an eye out for conservation work. When I asked if the conservation work is obvious she said that it is supposed to be, but that it’s probably much less obvious to the layman than it is to the specialist.

One story of hers that I enjoyed was about a conservation conference she recently attended in Barcelona. She went to one of the local art museums with some of the other conference attendees and said their group managed to drive the security crazy. Apparently all of them would crowd around the pictures and do atypical things, like kneeling on the floor to catch the painting at a particular angle, in order to examine the conservation work that was going on. I was told that they created quite the spectacle. Fun fact: Picasso used to paint new paintings on top of old paintings, so in some of his paintings, particularly ones with peeling paint, you can actually catch a glimpse of an older painting underneath the one on display. You can now understand why the conference attendees were having so much fun staring at the paintings.

IMG_8998  IMG_9000  IMG_9002IMG_9004  IMG_9006  IMG_9007After that we for a nice lunch at a place called Smørtorget, a combination of café and boutique shop. Once we had filled our tummies we wandered through a few of the local stores before settling down at a different café called Aunegården.

Once we had finished our cakes and hot beverages, we decided to make our way towards one Fulbrighter’s apartment. The weather had forecasted that a storm would hit Tromsø at 4 pm, and for once the weather forecast was correct. At almost 4 pm on the dot we started to see the first snowflakes fall. By the time we made it to Meghan’s apartment it was a full blown snow storm with limited visibility. A quick check of the local news consisted of dire capitalized headlines proclaiming that you should not leave the your house for any reason.

IMG_2643  IMG_2645  IMG_2648Because Kari and I didn’t particularly want to spend the night sleeping on Meghan’s floor, we decided to risk it and see if we could catch one of the buses back to Kari’s place. To our great surprise, in the middle of our wait for the bus a car pulled over and the driver asked if we needed help. We told the driver that we were waiting for the bus and were told that if we were still waiting after the driver dropped off his son he would happily drive us to wherever we needed to be. Of course as soon as he left the bus came, but we were quite touched by the kind offer. We made it back to Kari’s place without too much of a hassle and found out afterwards that we had managed to catch one of the last buses before the bus system shut down. The whole city truly shut down for the storm. On the plus side it did mean that I managed to snuggle up with a book and occasionally watch the storm rage on outside from the comfort of Kari’s couch.

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.