Friday, May 25, 2012

Abel Prize day in Tromsø

Me with the Abel prize winner
The Abel Prize was awarded on Wednesday in Oslo to Hungarian Endre Szemerédi. The Abel Prize is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, created because there is no Nobel Prize for mathematics. The day after the ceremony in which the king grants the prize, the winner visits one of the universities in Norway for a day of lectures and special events. This year the university was in Tromsø, far north inside the arctic circle.

I was invited to be the guest speaker in conjunction with this event, so Pam and I shipped the kids off to stay with friends and headed far far north yesterday morning for what would be an unforgettable day.

From the Tromsø airport we proceeded directly to the new and fabulous science center, Nordnorsk Vitensenteret. Here I got set up for my talk and delivered it to 200 sixth graders. The original plan called for two shows with 150 students each, but a teacher strike just started today in Tromsø and some of the schools were shut down, so the two shows were combined and I was granted a little extra time for my talk, for which I was thankful. The talk was really very fun, and I got to feel like I was the opening act for the star of the day.

Nordnorsk Vitensenteret
Afterwards we met the Abel Prize winner and a host of other officials. Here I am with Endre and with the mayor of Tromsø who's wearing the traditional mayor necklace, a very heavy piece of silver jewelry. "It's your 'bling'," I joked with him.

We had lunch with university faculty, attended Endre's public lecture and then visited the Polar Museum. At the museum we sat with a historian who was currently studying in Tromsø writing a book on the Austria-Hungarian expedition to the North Pole in 1870, a happy Hungarian connection for our Hungarian prize winner.

Harpoons outside of the Polar Museum
We sat in a circle inside the museum and talked exploration with a historian
We had a couple of free hours before dinner, so Pam and I explored Tromsø and did some shopping. What a lovely city! Tromsø is known as the "Paris of the North" because it was an important trading town and men would bring back the latest fashions from Europe for their wives. Tromsø thus became the most fashionable city in the north. Pam agreed that the shoe shops in Tromsø are the best she's seen. We loved the atmosphere of this city, even though it was raining. The mountains are high and close and the city is tight and cozy. There aren't many chain stores in the downtown but a host of small boutiques, many connected together inside presumably to facilitate winter shopping when Tromsø must be very very cold.

The view from our hotel room, showing the mountains, bridge, and the Ishavn cathedral. Spectacular!

The Tromsø library at the top of this hill.
Plenty of plazas and artwork in the city
Dinner with the dignitaries
Pam and I were both invited to dinner with Endre and a small group of dignitaries. Dinner was replete with speeches, an endearing Norwegian custom. The mayor even sang a comedy song he wrote for the prize winner. The food was amazing and the drinks kept flowing. We were in fine spirits this evening and I made many new friends and received several offers for projects and collaborations.

Another great harbor view from the breakfast room
Breakfast this morning at the Rica Ishavn Hotel was one of the best breakfast buffets I've ever had. They served just about everything, including American pancakes – a very rare find in Norway! They even had a dish of omega-3 fish oil capsules, which must be very important for the endless nights during the winters up here inside the arctic circle.

I liked these clocks, giving times for Early, On time, Late and Very late.

We took a morning flight out, arriving home just before the children got home from school. It was a very special day, in a very beautiful and enchanting city. We want very much to visit again during the summer. This city is real gem.

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