With the hope of saving about $60 on our 20 hour train to Narvik in Norway, we opted for the seat only option (sleeper cabins are for the soft). Unfortunately a group of drunken Party Sweeds, three dogs and the sun only staying down for 2 hours made actually sleeping impossible. So we were feeling fantastic when we eventually crossed the border and jumped a bus heading north to Tromso to meet my Nowegian host sister. The roads were about as great as Christchurch when it rains and the bus driver had a rather loose interpretation of where the centre of the road was but we completed our last major trip unscathed. Tromso sits at an impressive 69 degrees north in the Arctic Circle and the sun doesn't set in summer making life confusing for both tourists and wildlife. Kajsa and Tor had been kind enough to lend us their couch and fridge for the last two weeks of our trip and we quickly set about replacing lost calories (didn't bring nearly enough food for the train) and catching up on the last three years.
We had timed our visit to coincide with May 17th, Norway's national day and an excuse for anyone in town to get dressed up and join the parade. Not only does this city (about the size of Timaru) have about 30 different marching bands, soccer clubs and other groups, the high school students participate in a 17 day long end of year party involving matching outfits, pimped out vehicles and bizarre business card practices. All of the above then march through the streets at 4pm while the rest of the Norwegians hang out dressed up in their district's version of the national costume. New Zealand could learn a thing or two about celebrating.
The next couple of days were taken up with expeditions to the Polar Museum, cheesecake that will change your life and a visit to Tor's work which is conveniently an outdoor store. The great thing about shopping in Norway is that you can claim your tax back when you leave the country, the downside is that three pints of beer cost the same as a keg back home and we couldn't afford to buy anything anyway. The real highlight was our mission to the middle of true Sami country (where the reindeer herders live) for five days with Kajsa's parents. We had read all about true Samis on Trip Advisor and it seemed we needed to find someone called Johnny who had a teepee and cooked reindeer the "true Sami way". Unfortunately all we got was a home-built turf hut with a sauna and a house full of knives. Kajsa's Dad speaks enough English that over the weekend we also learnt how Norway is far superior to New Zealand in farming, chocolate and salmonella free eggs. Best in the world mate.
The first order of duty when reaching Karajsok was actually driving across the border to Finland to buy wine since it's cheaper there. I also tried some reindeer pizza which tasted great but brought looks of disgust from the Norwegians at the table - maybe it's only alright to eat it in Norway? I also discovered that all reindeer in the north actually belong to individual reindeer herders meaning that when Bear Grylls came to the Arctic and hunted them he was actually poaching from some poor guy - probably Johnny. Unfortunately there wasn't enough snow to play on the snowmobile and it was the wrong time of year for the northern lights but these are just good reasons to come back and visit again in winter.
When we returned to Tromso Kajsa and Tor had to head back to work so we set out exploring the city and surrounding mountains. We made it all the way up one valley only to find that we needed skis or snow shoes to actually get up the mountain (and this is summer). It's now officially the end of our trip and we leave in two days to head back to the real world. At least we have a solid five days of travelling to come to terms with impending responsibility and our return to Christchurch. Hanging out for a Dunsandel Tavern Pie and a chance to try out my new ice axe, I hear there has been snow.
Rachael and Jeremy