Week 2: May 15 to 22

May 15: Seaside Trip

May 15 vlog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygo4cTkjZoA

Playful laughter, gentle waves and the serenity of seaside calmness – that was today.

Chantaie and I, with our new friends Lars Miguel and Jon, went to the seaside settlement of Grense Jakobselv. It’s the furthest northeast you can go in Norway before crossing into Russia. It’s about one hour from Kirkenes.

Chantaie, Lars and Jon in Grense Jakobselv

Chantaie, Lars and Jon in Grense Jakobselv

On the way, we drove through so many different terrains. It was really quite neat. First, we drove through a very rocky valley, with great protruding boulders. The land had a reddish tinge to it and the trees were windy and bare. I felt as if I was transported into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien!

As we continued, we entered a very snowy area where the snow beside the road was nearly a metre high at times.

Before we knew it, we entered an oceanic surrounding with yellowish grass and brown sand.

Near the beach of Grense Jakobselv was a stone church. It’s over 150 years old and was built by the Swedish King Oscar II. There didn’t seem to be anyone in it, but, at the foot of the church was a very interesting graveyard. What made it interesting was the fact that some gravestones were over 100 years old, and many had lost their etching altogether. More interesting though, was the diversity. The names on the gravestones were from many different countries and cultures including Norway, Sami, Finland and Russia.

King Oscar II Chapel
King Oscar II Chapel

The beach and surrounding area were of course a true beauty. It was very cold as the Arctic wind brought in the waves from the Barents Sea. We found King Crab remains and even a large fish skull.

Grense Jakobselv Beach
Grense Jakobselv Beach

On the way home to Kirkenes, we drove though fog that had settled into the hill tops and above the thawing lakes.

I’m discovering that Norway has a very diverse geographic makeup. In one hour, you can drive through snow, pine tree forests, rocky and barren land, mountains and even go to the seaside. I must say, I am falling in love!

Fun Fact: Grense Jakobselv is 2,556 km from Oslo.


May 16: Bunkers and Jumpers

On Sundays, everything except the town’s two or three gas stations is closed. So Chantaie and I took matters into our hands and explored Kirkenes!

We went on a jog and then a walk through the city and really discovered a lot. First, Kirkenes is quite hilly – my thighs are still sore! Second, we learned that there are still a lot of functional bunkers from WWII in the city.

WWII mountain bunker, transformed into recreation complex
WWII mountain bunker, transformed into recreation complex

One particular bunker in the mountain has been turned into a recreation complex! How neat is that?

Chantaie and I could not believe it. Hopefully in the coming days we can check out the inside.

Continuing on our walk, we saw lots of people cleaning up their front lawns. This is in preparation for tomorrow – Norway’s National Day, May 17. There are at least two parades passing through town, a big soccer match and much celebration, so everyone must make their front lawn presentable! I am very excited to experience Norway’s National Constitution Day tomorrow, it should be quite a sight and festivity to take part it 🙂

Our final destination on our walk was climbing to the summit of one of of Kirkenes’ highest points. You can see the whole city from atop it, as well as the fjord leading into the Barents Sea.

Chantaie and I enjoying a summit overlooking the Kirkenes Fjord and Barents Sea
Chantaie and I enjoying a summit overlooking the Kirkenes Fjord and Barents Sea

The view from this summit was spectacular and the sky was crystal clear.

Kirkenes is a very interesting place temperature-wise because it can drop 15 or 20 degrees in less than an hour. This is because the city gets its air from both Gulf Streams and the Arctic – which occupy two totally different places on the temperature spectrum. The Gulf air, which I have now learned, is the reason why Northern Norway does not have permafrost. It’s one of the only places in the world at this high latitude without permafrost.

Well I must get some sleep, the National Day parades start at 9:00 tomorrow morning and I don’t want to miss any of it!

FUN FACT: The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. It declared Norway to be an independent nation.


May 17: Constitution Day

May 17 VLOG: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DeVNUbRTQo

Fashion Journalism Story – “Chic Vintage in Trondheim Village:”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur5YZ5DkwgA


Today was Norway’s National Holiday, Constitution Day!

Everyone had flags on their homes, in their hair or flying from their cars. And, I’m pretty sure the whole town of Kirkenes was in the parade!

Norwegians celebrating May 17 in Kirkenes, clad in traditional dress
Norwegians celebrating May 17 in Kirkenes, clad in traditional dress

Now that last line, “I’m pretty sure the whole town of Kirkenes was in the parade” is actually very awing. The national pride in this town, and as I understand, this whole country is immense. Women, men, children and even pets were dressed in traditional costume, or in red and navy at the very least. Everyone from the local gymnastics team to politicians marched in a cross-town parade, with most of the citizens walking behind. The children’s band played the entire time, and hoots and hollers from onlookers never ceased.

I even donned a Norwegian badge and joined the parade! It was a great experience.

In addition to Norwegians in traditional dress, many Sami attended, clad their customary Gakti. I learned today that the Sami flag is a recognized national flag in Norway, and, Sami is an official language.

Another interesting part of the day was the soccer game. Apparently, it is tradition for a Norwegian team to play a Russian team on the National Holiday of May 17. Historically, the teams were made up of members from each respective army, but today’s game was fought between 14-year-olds! I guess the tradition has changed throughout the years.

FYI – The video above, “Chic Vintage in Trondheim Village,” was shot and recorded last week. After some technical difficulties, I have finished it and it’s live. Here is a description:

In Bakklandet, the old village of Trondheim, a vintage clothing store cozies up between two wooden, brightly coloured shops. It’s owner and chief designer, Hege Biermann, named it Stella Snella, and it’s home to not only vintage but re-designed originals.

The store’s seamstresses un-hem, un-zip and un-bustle fashions of past to create truly unique originals, made completely in Trondheim, Norway. “Chic Vintage in Trondheim Village” profiles this shop’s twist on a vintage store.


Published Article: “Ocean acidification could cause loss of biodiversity in Barents Sea”


The Barents Sea is particularly vulnerable to lowering pH levels and increasing acidification, say some scientists. Its cold water temperatures allow it to absorb greater amounts of CO2 than warm waters, meaning, the Barents Sea could acidify quicker than other water systems in the world, threatening biodiversity.


May 18: Pancake Tuesday

The Barents Observer got a little taste of Canada today – pancakes with maple syrup!

Some of my colleagues enjoying pancakes with Canadian maple syrup
Some of my colleagues enjoying pancakes with Canadian maple syrup

Chantaie and I decided weeks ago that we’d bring pancakes and maple syrup to our colleagues at the Barents Observer.

In fact, the suggestion to bring a maple syrup product came from the Norwegian Ambassador in Canada herself, Else Berit Eikeland. And, boy was she right!

The maple syrup was a hit with our new Scandinavian colleagues. The office was abuzz with the sweet smells of this not-so-common Kirkenes treat. Some had tried it before, others hadn’t.

One thing was certain at the end of the day: maple syrup = satisfaction!

Today was an exciting day journalistically, as you will see with the story linked above. I love journalism! It’s the best feeling getting deep into a story, becoming obsessed with its nuances and hearing someone pick up the phone when you call for an interview. I get to learn something new everyday!


May 19: Food impressions so far

So today was a day at work, which was fun and interesting as usual. There was even a delegation of U.S. Army Generals visiting. We got to meet them and share a presentation with them.

I thought the blog post for today could focus on my Norwegian food experiences thus far! Everyone loves food, so I believe it’s a safe topic 🙂

Brunost - Norwegian Brown Cheese
Brunost – Norwegian Brown Cheese

Brown Cheese: It’s called “brunost” in Norway and it’s a caramelized goat cheese. It literally tastes like caramel meets goat cheese, which may sound strange but is SO good. It’s really great on toast with jam or on waffles.

Reindeer: So in one day you can see reindeer grazing then go to a restaurant and eat it, kind of like cows in North America. It was odd at first for me because I think of reindeer as Santa’s cute helpers, but in real life, they can’t fly – I can verify that now. But reindeer meat is quite good. It’s a bit more gamey than beef, but pretty much the same idea as venison/beef. The most interesting thing that happened to me regarding reindeer meat was when I ate out at a “Surf n’ Turf” restaurant and the logo was a fish and reindeer, not a fish and cow!

Open-face sandwiches: At lunchtime, and most of the time sandwiches are eaten, they are topless! But don’t worry, they are well dressed 🙂 Sandwiches hardly ever have a second piece of bread on the top, instead many Norwegians stack all sorts of goodies on the bottom piece of bread and eat it like a piece of pizza. Today I had a hard-boiled egg, cheese, salami, mayo, ham, turkey, cucumber, tomato, and probably more that I’m forgetting! Mmm they are the best, the taste of the sandwich contents are so much better without that second piece of bread.

Tubed Food: Picture a toothpaste tube, except with food in it. You can get things like tubed bacon and tube caviar. I have only tried the tubed mayo so far, I’ll keep you updated.

I’ve really been enjoying trying new food! I look forward to more. I will be travelling around the country in the coming weeks, so hopefully there will some regional specialties. Until then, it’s a constant guessing game of what I’m actually buying at the grocery store!


May 20: Fish Farming Excursion

Excellent, excellent day.

Our colleague at the Barents Observer, Jonas, took drove us out to a Kirkenes fish farm to interview its general director. It was really interesting to actually visit a fish farm and see how it all works.

This one, Kirkenes Charr, grows and exports arctic char. The fish live in very cold, freshwater that comes from the Norwegian mountains. Kirkenes Charr farm is particularly newsworthy because it won Norway’s highest acclaim for the best raw seafood product last year. Their fish has now been in high demand in Norway and especially in Russia.

They export 1/2 million fish per year and in their three-year life, the farm has never had a disease outbreak. In fact, a fish has never died of illness there.

When we got back to the office, Chantaie and I did a story package – she wrote the story part and I did a video story! It was great working as a team on it.

Check out the story package on the Barents Observer

Video story:


May 21: Bodø

I am writing to you from Bodø, Norway. It’s located just above the Arctic Circle. We are here for the Barents International Press Meeting.

There are 72 journalists from across the Barents Region, which is Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Unfortunately a group of about 12 journalists from Murmansk, Russia aren’t coming anymore because of complications from the Icelandic volcano ash cloud.

Bodø is a port town, just north of the Arctic Circle. It’s cradled between jarring, rocky mountains and a harbour teaming with ocean life. We’ve only had the opportunity to walk around the harbour, so I hope we’ll see more of this ocean town tomorrow and Sunday!

(more blog below video)

Some strange and funny things happened to me today!

First, we found a baby in Oslo airport. Yes, it’s true! This little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler was wandering around with no one in sight watching him. He’d wandered off from his family. It is quite a busy transportation hub and I can see how a 2-foot tall little guy could walk out-of-sight in a split second. Anyways, Chantaie and I spotted him and followed him around as he seemed to scan the bustling crowds for a familiar face. Then, a frantic father came scurrying towards us, scooped up his child and said thank-you umpteen times. I can’t imagine the emotional roller coaster he must have experienced in those 10 or so minutes.

From there, we decided to get a coffee. Well, that was a heated situation – literally. I think this coffee shop must have talked to Tim Horton’s and been inspired to make REALLY hot coffee! I thought I could manage holding the coffee in one hand and pulling my carry-on in the other, but let me tell you, I was wrong. After about a minute walking, I had to make a big decision so as to not burn my hand – do I interrupt a group of middle-aged business having a pint at an approaching table or drop the coffee on the floor? I think you know what I did 🙂 I don’t think these men understood what I was saying, but they sure read by body language and proceeded to chuckle. They helped me wrap some paper around the cup and sent me off with a smile.

Bodø harbour
Bodø harbour

Tomorrow should prove to be memorable. There’s a seminar for “Young Journalists in the Barents Region” where I’ll get to meet journalism students and young journalists in Scandinavia and Russia.

I’m also looking forward to exploring more of Bodø.


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