Monthly Archives: June 2012


This week’s big news: I finally got a haircut.

I should have heeded advice and had one immediately before leaving the US, but I didn’t and have held off as they cost 400 – 500 NoK (approx $80!). Many men here have a ‘haircut machine’ (the type popular with armies) and I was contemplating taking the plunge, when one of my new friends gently told me I really needed to get me hair sorted and then offered to do it.

So, Tuesday evening I was treated to a new hair cut  experience. On the way to my friends apartment he popped into the shop for some food. Then when we arrived, he very carefully cut my hair. After the hair cut came the surprise – he cooked a fantastic meal for me! Truly a man of many talents and not the kind of service I have ever received before.

I know I now need a shave, but here is a self portrait:


Monday brought a last minute invitation to help a friend of one of our staff to get his boat in the water.  So off we went to Grunnfarnes which is about as far as you can go on the other side of Senja. To get there you travel over a high mountain pass where even now it’s still possible to ski. The scenery is very dramatic and stark, made a little foreboding by fog and low cloud (apparently untypical). The descent involves a road which zig-zags  many times  down to Sifjord, followed by a tunnel through the mountain to get to Grunnfarnes. It must be quite hazardous in winter, especially as there are apparently large lorries on the road, transporting fish from the various small fishing communities.

Once at Grunnfarnes, the skipper fitted an outboard motor, we lifted the boat just into the water, then went and sat for an hour, drinking coffee and eating cake, waiting for the tide to come  in a bit and float the boat clear of the stones. As well as refreshments I was treated to some local history. The island of Holmenvær (see the pictures below) was the largest fishing colony in Troms in the 1800’s and one of the largest in Norway with up to 1200 fishermen living there. Now it is deserted.  In the pictures you will also see a large wooden frame, used to dry fish heads, ready for export to Nigeria.

Coffee and history over, we returned to the boat, to find the tide had gone out, not in, so the boat was dragged back into the water, rowed out a bit, and the outboard motor started in a cloud of smoke. Then it was driven (?) round to the harbour, moored and we returned home. Apparently they sometimes take it an hour out to sea: it seems awfully small to me.

Once home, I was invited for a quick trip up the hill above Finnsnes. “It’s an hour up and half an hour down”. Hmm, I think I’ve heard that before somewhere, but it turned out to be true. On the way up, I was also treated to some botany, introduced to people we met and then signed my name in the book in the hut at the top. Only another 19 visit before September, and I will get a ‘something’, but no one seemed to know quite what.

There is a 360 degree panorama of Grunnfarnes which I made here.

A Picnic At The Beach

Sunday continued the glorious weekend summer weather.

After church I was invited to join some Eritrean friends at the beach. You may have previously seen the beach under rather different circumstances only a month ago (see Dugnad)! This time there were blue skies, sunshine and little wind. There were even a few brave souls trying the sea, although I was not one of them. I was again treated to warm hospitality and great food.

Midnight In The Mountains

On the way back from the last wedding in Rossfjord yesterday, I had many local sights pointed out to me. One of them was the transmitter tower on the top of Kistefjell (literally coffin mountain). I was told “it’s an easy walk on the road – about 2 hours up and an hour back”. That peeked my interest. Lots of locals have told me how good it is to be able to walk all night in the summer, so I decided to time a trip to be at the top around midnight, take some pictures and be home for a reasonable sleep before church.

Things were not quite as described. The dirt track (not road) is actually pretty steep in places and once I hit the snow line progress was much slower. The 3 hours round probably included the use of skis: I kept up a good pace and didn’t stop on the way up, but I recon it was at least another hour to the top.  I stopped around midnight, still some way short of the summit – I think I was at about 800m (2400′) of the 1000m (3000′). It was a bit frustrating to be able to see the summit and not get there, but progress through the snow was too slow for the amount of time I had. None the less the view was amazing and with no wind, it was really quite hot in the sun. I took photos, ate my banana and returned back down the track. The snow in places was still 6′ deep (look for the marker posts, buried almost to the top).

There were plenty of animal tracks in the snow, but despite being told it was a popular walk, no human prints but mine. The good news (Raleigh Pittman please note), is there were no signs of polar bears! Once I was back into the forest I spotted a fox which followed me for about 10 minutes, at a distance.

Below are some pictures. Today I also discovered some new, free software for making panoramas automatically in a few seconds (until now I have spent hours doing the by hand). It also allows the creation of 360 degree views on the internet, so here are links to a couple (opens in a new browser window, and you might need to follow the instructions for adding a small piece of software to your computer):

Four Wedings And A Funeral

OK, so it was almost inevitable, and I’m sorry that I can’t resist a catchy title.

Yesterday I had my first visit to Lysbotn kapell. Sadly, this was for the funeral. The lady being buried was well loved and there were many expressions of sorrow at how she will be missed. I’ll update the organs page in the next few days about the instrument.

Today were the four weddings. This seems a lot having been in the US, where one wedding would occupy a good proportion of the congregation and most of the facilities for at least a day. However, I’ve been told that here there can be up to 7 in a day!

The ceremony surrounding the wedding is much simpler – a single procession of the bride and groom (or father) at the beginning of the service, and a single procession of everyone at the end. Flowers for the communion table are simple and put in place a matter of minutes before the service starts and removed at he end. There are other differences too. No gangs of bridesmaids, grooms, etc. The couple, bridesmaid and best man sit on chairs at the front, normally with their backs to the congregation. The service is very short, and about half of it is the sermon. Give of rings is relatively recent, and they are worn on the right hand.

Each ceremony today was different. The first finished with a passionate rendition of ‘How great thou art’ by the brides father (in his mid 70s), know as ‘The Voice of the Sea’ (he was a fisherman). The second wedding was of a young couple from Finnsnes, now living in Tromsø, with a four part accapella gospel group and a duet with the grooms sister and her husband. For the third (and fourth) wedding we drove to Rossfjord with extra music from a two more solo singers, and finally a much quieter and more traditional wedding, although it was slightly ironic that the bride was the registrar for Lenvik.

Weather wise today (celebrated as midsummer’s day) has been beautiful with bright sunshine and only light wind. Perfect for weddings.

Here are pictures from the last couple of days, including the centre of Finnsnes this evening.

Good For The Heart – Bad For The Arteries

Yesterday was a good day.

In the morning it was the graduation ceremony for the language school (Voksenopplæring). About 20 students were finishing, mostly after the 2 year mandatory program for refugees.  As a student, I was asked to play, so what better than Grieg’s Morning, together with a video using pictures of the area and the text of Psalm 19 in English and Norwegian? Things didn’t go entirely to plan (the grand piano turned out to be a keyboard, the stage was so dim I couldn’t read most of the music, and I had to play ‘catch-up’ with the video after somebody started it before I was sat at the piano), but people enjoyed it. This was of course followed by mandatory coffee and cakes.

Then on to celebrate the semi-retirement of one of my colleagues at the church, with reminiscence and ice cream.

After spending the early part of the afternoon preparing for 4 weddings, I had a ‘chance’ encounter with a man struggling with many issues, not the least of which was a deep sense of unworthiness and helplessness to change. We prayed and talked about Jesus words recorded in Matthew 11: 28 ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’. Hallelujah, what a Saviour – Jesus has done it all, if only we will cease our struggles and go to him.

At 4pm it was off to Bardufoss airport with two Eritrean friends. I was the driver and we were going to collect the wife of one of the men. He had not seen her for 3 years due to the lengthy immigration process here. He has been talking about this moment ever since I arrived, and even the completely miserable weather couldn’t dampen their joy.

When we got back to Finnsnes, about 20 people had gathered for a welcome party. I was also invited in and treated as an honoured guest. I learnt a bit about Eritrean culture, hospitality (warm) and food (delicious). As we went in, a lady with a pan of seeds was sat with a small electric stove in the middle of the room. At first I thought she was making popcorn (there was already quite a lot in bowls on the table), but the seeds in the pan didn’t pop, and eventually started to burn. As the room filled with smoke, she got up and headed for door, and I assumed she was taking whatever had just burnt, outside. But then she walked the pan around the room and everyone started to waft the smoke into their faces, inhaling it and nodding their approval. No, it wasn’t drugs, but home roasted coffee! Having watched the coffee roasting we then had figs (not the gooey packaged ones, but hard and sun-dried), special chilli with curried vegetables, and of course cake to go with the (very strong) coffee.  I also learnt you must tell the coffee lady that the coffee is good after the first sip, otherwise she is obliged to start all over – that’s dedication.

So, a day of much celebration and joy – good for the heart – and a diet of cake and ice-cream – bad for the arteries!

Black and White and Colour

As I finished writing last night it was clouding over. The light (as I keep writing) was amazing. Almost the entire view seemed to be black and white, except for a couple of patches of bright blue sky. The camera doesn’t really do it justice, but here a couple of pictures.

A Grand Day Out

Since coming to Finnsnes it has been great to get to know my predecessor, Christopher Briggs. He is a fellow blogger and yesterday Christopher took his 1 day his summer vacation in Lenvik, so we could meet and take a photographic tour. It was a long day for him (several hours of driving and a 2 hour ferry crossing each way), but enjoyable for both of us, especially given the warm sunshine, clear blue skies and no wind.

We kicked off with lunch at the Senjastua, and then Christopher took me for a tour of Senja, including some well known tourist ‘hot-spots’:

  • The observation platform overlooking Bergfjord
  • The ‘Devil’s Teeth’. A mountain ridge which looks like, well, the Devil’s teeth. The best place for photos is across the fjord on a rocky beach with reflecting rock-pools. In order to facilitate visitors there is a car-park, a special (but completely unnecessary designer foot path and matching restrooms).
  • Ersfjord beach, one of the few stretches of ‘proper’ sandy beach. From a certain angle, it could almost have been Pawley’s Island, SC! And it was apparently warm enough for swimming.

We rounded out our adventure with middag back at the Senjastua (on recommendation we had fish tongues and vegetables).

Today several people told me that we have had the arctic summer – and it was yesterday.

Because of the quantity of photos we took, I have put just a small selection below.  Christopher has kindly made all our pictures available for viewing by following these links:

Read Christopher’s account of the day, including his ferry crossings:

A Small World

We’re constantly being told we live in a small and shrinking world.

Sarah and Susanna’s journey to England earlier in the week was also an object lesson in just how small a country Norway is (population not land mass). On the flight form Oslo to Manchester Sarah got talking to the passenger in the next seat. As they were preparing to ‘de-plane’, two ladies from the row in front turned round and told her they had been listening to the conversation. One was an organist who spent a year in the Finnsnes area, the other was the Anglican chaplain to Norway and knew our good friend here, Tracy Rishton. Even if walls don;t have ears, planes certainly do!

Last night I had supper with my landlord (upstairs). I showed them this blog and immediately they found lots of people they knew i the photos. They also told me about their moose (elg) trouble. This time it was not the name that caused the problem but it’s diet. Apparently they like strawberries, or at least strawberry plants, and last week they could only stand by and watch (and film) as a cow and her calf came into their garden and helped themselves! Very distressing.

And today I met with my new friend, fellow blogger and organist Christopher Briggs (he is also my predecessor at Finnsnes). It’s been great getting to know him, and tomorrow we plan to post pictures of our visit to the west of Senja. It also turns out that Dr George Pratt, my senior lecturer at Keele University for a couple of years, also taught Christopher immediately afterwards. As we say, it’s a small world . . .

Chocks Away!

There were a number of expressions used in our home as I grew up, including ‘Tally Ho’ and ‘Wagons Roll’ (much to the annoyance of the teenagers in the house). One that I don’t recall being used, but has a similar ring to it is ‘Chocks Away!’.

When it came time for Sarah and Susanna to fly on to the UK for their summer holiday on Wednesday, the same minimal airport security which allowed me to get photos of them arriving, also allowed me to check the validity of said expression. The plane was indeed held in place by chocks, and I assume somebody must have said the words, because a man came to remove them just before the plane began to taxi.  However, the engine noise is incredible, so I didn’t actually hear what was said. In fact having experienced the sound of a small jet running up it’s engines, that was deterrent enough for me to stay well away from a plane, without the need for any security!

It’s been a busy and productive week, and we hope to finalise details of a job for Sarah in the next few days. But for now I’m on my own again, and everyone I met is very anxious to know if Sarah and Susanna liked it here, was it too cold for them, and will they come back? Initially I thought I would respond in Norwegian ‘Kanskje’ (maybe), but this got some very worried looks, so now I just say ‘Ja’.