Sunday, June 9, 2013

Adventures up North

For the past few years as professional bureaucrat  some of the most interesting things I've been able to work on have related to the Arctic. But despite getting within spitting distance of the Arctic during a work trip up to Nome, Alaska, I had never actually BEEN to above the Arctic Circle*.  Lucky for me Norway has all sorts of Arctic so a trip to the Arctic was inevitable, but I didn't expect to get two back to back trips so soon after arriving.

My first official Arctic experience was a short trip up to Sætermoen, which is a little south of Tromsø on the West Coast. I gave a presentation to a large group of military folks (pat on my own back for giving an hour long presentation to 200 people on 4 days notice) and then spent the evening as a guest at an annual dinner that the group puts on. It was sunny and about 75 degrees the whole time I was there making this first Arctic experience anything but. The sun shone the whole night, encouraging the celebrations to do likewise. The strange thing though, was how temperate the scenery was. Plenty of trees and greenery, which you do not find in Nome or anywhere else in Northern Alaska.

View from my hotel room. 

This was as dark as it got. 

After returning from Sætermoen, I had just about a week and a half (with a trip to Amsterdam in between) before getting on a place to Kirkenes for another work meeting. Kirkenes sits right on the Norwegian border with Russia (yes, Norway and Russia share a border) and not far from Finland. It's a beautiful place, with rocky shores and meltwater lakes dotting the landscape.

See blue dot, yeah, it's WAY up there. 

Here the midnight sun is for real. While mingling with big wigs at a lovely reception, I watched the sun get close to the horizon right at midnight, then start to rise again. This time I went to bed, but peeked out at about 2am to confirm that it was bright and shiny as 5pm outside. So strange.

The meeting itself was interesting, with very high level participation. The participants were even treated to a special cultural event with acts from Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. My favorite was an accordion-playing Finn who did an artistic presentation of being a wrestling coach. If it sounds like it doesn't make sense, then I think you know understand Finland. But it was impressive.

Coast Guard looking over us. 

This view from my hotel room was pretty great. 

The most amazing accordion-wrestling show I've ever seen. 

Sign and bomb shelter left behind by Austrian troops during WWII. 

Sun, at midnight, before starting to rise again.
Kirkenes from the top of the hill.

Back down in Oslo the nights are short and never completely dark, with a dark blue lasting between 12pm and 3am (again, despite my better judgement I have confirmed this with my own experience - the Norwegians definitely are all about using all the daylight that they are given even if it means giving up sleeping for the summer months).

*Note: To fair, after visiting Nome I could say that I had been to the THE Arctic, since the official U.S. definition of the Arctic includes the area around the Bering Strait on down to the Aleutian Islands. Being human, however, we like lines and borders so by Arctic experience by this definition never felt quite right.

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