On Top of the World

The next day proved to be my favorite day in Svalbard. Sarah and I woke up on the early side in order to hike one of the nearby mountains, Sarkofagen (the mountain on the left in the first picture). I hadn’t quite realized how much effort it takes to plan anything in Svalbard until talking more to Sarah. Major things that were included in our backpacks were: extra layers, water, flare gun, flares, and a rifle. If we had been scaling a mountain with more than a 30 degree incline, Sarah told me that we would’ve had to carry a shovel, probes, and avalanche beacons. These three things are used to help in the event of an avalanche. Fun fact: one of the biggest dangers with avalanches is suffocation. If you are ever caught in an avalanche you want to wrap your arm in front of your nose and mouth in order to help create an air pocket.

I will also say that there is a significant difference between hearing about polar bear preparations and actually seeing them. Soon after leaving the barracks, Daniel, the other person with us, half loaded his rifle in preparation for the hike.

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The hike itself was gorgeous. At this point in time I’ve traveled around Norway quite a bit, but Svalbard might just take the cake for the most beautiful scenery.

Luckily the path we took wasn’t too steep so we made it to the top of Sarkofagen within two hours. All in all we went from sea level to approximately 512 m (1,680 feet). We were climbing on glacier for a good part of the hike, and at one point contemplated on going into one of the glacier’s ice caves. Unfortunately, we realized that doing so would take quite a bit of time and would require getting a lot of extra gear that I lacked, such as crampons. So we soldiered on to the top of the mountain.

Some things that jumped out at me on this trip were that you could actually see the imprints left behind by former hikers. When you step in the snow you compact the snow on impact. When the weather is windy it can blow the surrounding snow away and leave a type of reverse footprint (see pictures below).

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Other fun things include picking a less steep climbing route to reduce the chance of starting/getting caught in an avalanche, my breath creating so much moisture that it caused parts of my eyelashes to freeze together, my breath creating enough moisture on one side of my face that the hair on that side of my face froze and went white with frost, and alternating between being cold in effectively -35°C weather and feeling incredibly hot due to the hike. I definitely felt like the queen of the world when I reached the peak of the mountain, and while I wasn’t technically at the North Pole I felt as though I was on top of the world.

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The hike down was much quicker, though because we did spend a lot of our time walking on snow covered glacier, it was a bit slippery at times. I definitely fell over more than once and scooted down part of the mountain on my butt. But it was all worth it.

After that we made our way down to Svalbard Gallery, a gallery with some local artwork, and then called it a day. Because Svalbard had only just achieved civil twilight, it was dark the majority of the time that I was there (wreaking absolute havoc with my circadian rhythm). That in addition to the cold weather meant that I spent a good portion of my time in Svalbard hanging out with some of Sarah’s friends and spending time indoors. I was even introduced to a Norwegian miniseries called Kampen om tungtvannet, which translates to The Battle for Heavy Water. The drama focused on the development of heavy water in Norway and how the Germans wanted to use this during World War II to try and build their own atomic bomb. The stars of the program were British and Norwegian intelligence agents who tried to disrupt the Germans and the heavy water plant. While I didn’t understand the majority of the show, it was still nice to watch. The skiing scenes also emphasized how poor my skiing is in comparison to most Norwegians.

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Home Sweet Home

I’ve been back in Norway for the last three or so weeks, but a combination of sickness and laziness have prevented me from blogging about the present until now. Clearly blogging regularly is not one of my New Year’s resolutions. Anyways, now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of things I’m happy to continue typing out my random thoughts and experiences.

I will say that one of the things that surprised me upon my return to Trondheim was realizing that I consider Norway home. Granted I was sick when I arrived, so being able to sleep in my own bed and consume American meds definitely contributed to my excitement, but not even my tiny college bed and modern medicine could entirely account for the level of happiness that I experienced when I came back. So it seems a bit fitting that I should take a moment and reflect on my experiences thus far and the reasons why I love Norway:

  1. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it’s never far away. I wouldn’t label myself as outdoorsy, but I definitely appreciate that nature is never more than a short walk away. Plus, the reindeer are a pretty huge perk.
  2. As a whole, things function really well here. Things tend to run on time, everything works, wifi is everywhere, and you can accomplish quite a bit (banking, travel arrangements, public transportation, grocery store discounts, etc.) on your smartphone.
  3. Overall Norwegians seem to be super active, which means that I’m guilted into exercising.
  4. Norway is an incredibly safe country. I’ve seen five year olds take the bus without assistance and I’ve been told that people regularly leave their young children outside and unattended to nap.
  5. There is a huge focus here on family and less of a focus on work. Almost everything is built to be child and stroller friendly, there are playgrounds everywhere, and Sunday is pretty much a day dedicated to spending time with your family. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that everything shuts down on Sunday (or is super expensive if it’s open) but it’s still nice to walk around and see a lot of families getting in some quality time by going skiing/hiking/running together. The childcare and other welfare benefits for families are also pretty incredible from what I’ve heard.
  6. Work scheduling is really flexible. It’s pretty easy for me to lesson plan at home and I’m really able to take ownership of my time. Granted I, as well as most other teachers, probably have a more flexible schedule than most Norwegians, but overall work scheduling seems to be pretty accommodating.
  7. The small population. Having lived in Los Angeles and Boston for most of my life, I have to say that I enjoy cities. In fact, I’m pretty used to living in crowded areas. That being said, it’s nice to have things be a bit smaller. The biggest perk: public transportation is almost never crowded. Seriously though, Norwegians think having to sit next to someone on the bus qualifies as “crowded.”
  8. A pretty functional public health system (I promise to blog more on this later).
  9. I’m pretty sure that I will never live anywhere more expensive, which means that when I travel everything seems ridiculously cheap.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some things that I struggle with or critique. I mean people go out of the country just to buy groceries and alcohol. It’s a bit ridiculous. But any country is bound to have its pros and cons, and overall Norway’s pros weigh heavily in its favor.

It’s recently hit me that in the six or so months that I’ve lived in Norway I’ve come to see it as home. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to realize that I would actually be quite happy to live here for another few years. Just living here these past six months has shown me why past Norwegian Fulbrighters keep returning to Norway, whether it is to stay permanently or just to visit. And while I don’t intend on moving to Norway permanently, it’s still pretty cool to realize that I’ve fallen in love enough to consider staying for an extended period of time.