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Trollspotting with Jonathan French

The first of the 2011-2012 Valle Scholars has arrived in Scandinavia.

Yes, I am here in Norway to drive, document, and ponder the 18 scenic highways that are the Nasjonale Turistveger.  However, without immediately being able to buy a car (still waiting on that competition prize money…), I ventured forth from Oslo, to meet up with a great friend and fellow (now former?) Valle Scholar, Megan Groth, in Tromsø, Norway, to board the Hurtigruten Ferry and sail up to Vardø, Norway, and Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois’s Steilnestet Witch Trials Memorial.

The Hurtigruten and Midnattsol -

The Hurtigruten is the traditional passenger and postal ferry that sails the length of the western coast of Norway between Bergen and Kirkenes.  Megan and I booked passage from Tromsø to Vardø on the Nordstjernen, an older, quaint boat filled with older, quaint passengers from Scandinavia, Europe, and the US.  We had some time to kill in Tromsø, between Megan’s arrival and our departure, so we walked over to the Arctic Cathedral.  Not crazy about the building, but light from the side windows washing across the canted walls was pretty nice.  Best part of the boat trip – the sun never went down and the scenery was amazing.  Second best part: you can close the porthole covers in your cabin.  Oh yeah, those things, and you’re on a boat.  The trip took a day and a half before we disembarked in Vardø at 4am

Zumthor and Bourgeois -

The witch trial memorial is part of the Varanger Tourist Route, which stretches 159 km from Varangerbotn to Hamningberg, in the farthest north east corner of Finnmark, and as such, is the official start of my studies.   To the best of my knowledge, it is also the only Tourist Route project designed completely by foreigners (Swiss and US).  I think that it’s interesting that the Roads Administration chose a foreign architect and a foreign artist to design a memorial that tells a specific story of Norway and its people.  If these projects are in fact stitching together places and experiences that define Norwegian national identity, then why tell this story from a foreign perspective?

One bit of luck – arriving in Vardø at 4am meant that Megan and I were the practically the only people awake in the entire city, and definitely the only ones headed out to the memorial.  We found it unlocked, so we were able to get inside the project and see it in progress.

Graduate student Jonathan French is in Norway to study the National Tourist Routes.  A project commissioned by the National Assembly, the National Tourist Routes are 18 designated stretches of scenic highway developed to promote tourism in rural communities.  The tourist routes utilize architecture, landscape architecture, and art to transform sites along each route into destinations in and of themselves, promoting excellent design and beautiful landscapes as a reasons to travel to Norway.  Viewed as a whole, the projects engage design, landscape, movement and cultural history in a manner that stitches together a contemporary expression of Norwegian national identity.

To keep up on his personal blog, visit : http://trollspotting.wordpress.com

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