“It always looks different. The light changes, the sea changes ...”
Although she travels the globe and works with famous musicians in places like L.A. and New York, Ida Tolou still thinks Tromsø is an incredibly exciting city.
“There is in fact lots happening in this small place. There are many events and people are really involved. It really feels a bit like a big city.”
Ida Tolou, musician
From the harbour, we can see a triangular facade stand out against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains. The Arctic Cathedral is Tromsø's most famous landmark and is the first of Ida's three cultural highlights.
"I think this is the first place you should go to when you come to Tromsø. It is an incredibly unique church, with very special architecture."
The cathedral reflects the Arctic nature. Its appearance changes when lights illuminate it in a variety of different colours, and when it is lit naturally by Arctic light and the midnight sun.
Ida grew up in Tromsdalen, just down the street from the cathedral.
"There weren't any buildings here, so people used to ski down the hill. The cathedral was first built without stained-glass. The problem was that in summer, when we have 24 hours a day of sunlight, people couldn’t see the minister during the service due to the sun shining through the windows. Everybody started to wear sunglasses to church. The minister didn't like that, since he thought they might be dozing, so they had to build the stained-glass."
In addition to being a major tourist attraction, its acoustics have made the cathedral a favourite arena for concerts. This is where Ida's story comes in.
"I started singing in the choir there when I was 10 years old. I have also been a choir conductor for the youth choir, and I worked as a substitute cantor in the cathedral when I was younger," explains Ida.
The Cultural Triangle is a series where renowned Norwegian cultural personalities show you their favourite spots in Norway's biggest cities, and give you their best local tips on where to eat and sleep, and what to see.
“Lots of things there have helped me develop as a solo performer, and as an artist.”
“I need to have a key for my 'work' in the church, right?”
Note: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there have not been any northern lights concerts and only a limited number of midnight sun concerts in the last two years. The concerts will hopefully soon be held as normal again.
“When I was working here and the church was empty, I used to stand here and practice singing a little on my own.”
Experience Ida's beautiful singing further down the article!
We cross the bridge that connects the two centres of Tromsø and proceed to Ida's second cultural highlight.
Scandic Ishavshotel has an excellent location on the harbour in the city centre. From here, you can appreciate the Arctic Cathedral from a different angle.
If you're lucky, you might also get to see the northern lights.
“It's very cool that the hotel looks like a ship.”
We join Ida in the elevator up to the hotel suites, where she recorded her first music video.
Although almost all the rooms have stunning views of the Arctic landscape, a suite must of course have a little extra luxury.
“Here, you have a perfect view of the mountains. You almost get the sensation that you are completely alone here, too, as if you are standing on a mountain in a way.”
Make sure to rise and shine early! The breakfast at Scandic Ishavshotel has been named the best hotel breakfast in the county seven years in a row.
Scandic Ishavshotel is one of many excellent accommodation options in Tromsø. You can stay in a comfortable hotel in the city centre, with cafés, shops, and culture attractions at your doorstep or get close to nature in a cosy cabin outside of town.
Watch Ida sing 'Nordnorsk julesalme' by Trygve Hoff in The Arctic Cathedral. The song is one of Norway's most well-known Christmas carols.
We leave the hotel and stroll through Tromsø's main pedestrian street, Storgata, just in time for the magic hour, when everything is bathed in blue light.
"People really use their city. There are a lot of pubs and cafés, so you have something on every corner," says Ida and points towards a sign that says Kaffebønna ("The Coffee Bean").
"Kaffebønna is Tromsø's answer to Starbucks, you could say. It's where people hang out."
When you shop in Tromsø, you can find everything from handicrafts and souvenirs to high fashion shops.
"Postludium is a cool second-hand shop, where you'll find a lot of vintage stuff. It is good for the environment and the profit goes to the Church City Mission," Ida explains.
Remember to take a detour out to Vervet, a recently developed neighbourhood just next to the bridge. Sample something delicious from the bakery Vervet Bakeri!
Tromsø is often called "the Paris of the North" and "the Gateway to the Arctic Ocean", due to the city's history as a hub for international trade.
“The fishermen used to sail to Tromsø on their boats, bringing with them clothes for their ladies, and exclusive fabrics from abroad.”
In Tromsø, you can almost find more restaurants than people. Many places serve authentic Northern Norwegian seafood and arctic dishes. With the Arctic Cathedral and Scandic Ishavshotel still in sight, we continue to Ida's third and final cultural highlight. The restaurant Skirri at Kystens Mathus has a perfect location by the harbour. Tell the chef you want the catch of the day, and you are in for a real treat.
"It's amazing that the chefs can go to the fish counter in the back room and pick up fresh fish. And that the catch varies. It makes it very lively," says Ida.
At Skirri, we are welcomed with a big smile.
As usual, Ida sets her sights on one of the window tables.
“This is actually one of my favourite dishes, one that Grandma always used to cook".
Ida is served steamed halibut, with a butter sauce, accompanied by crispy bacon, trout roe, glazed vegetables, and grilled fennel.
“They put heart and soul, and all their knowledge and thought into the food here.”
After a thoroughly Northern Norwegian meal, we say goodbye to Ida – but your journey does not have to end here!
Scroll below to see all of Ida's recommendations on what to see, what to eat, and where to stay in Tromsø.
Ida Tolou's music journey began from the first moment she sang on stage as a 7-year old. She then went on to sing in her local church in Tromsø, where she immersed herself in the world of performance, connecting with her community through her soulful voice. Joining her older brother's progressive metal band as a child, Ida's raw talent quickly became apparent, where she not only had a strong voice, but strong writing skills and could easily create an entire song from scratch.
Today, Ida begins to establish herself as an artist in the international market. In 2020 she signed with the American record company Heads Music, where Wyclef Jean is one of the main producers.
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