Starmus brings science and art together in Trondheim

Trondheim is a small but delightful city on a Norwegian coastal fjord. Many go there to stretch their legs touring its streets, or walking scenic trails.

The Northern Lights dance over Trondheim’s historic wharves. Image credit: Visit Norway

But I visited Trondheim, this June, to stretch my mind by attending an out-of-this world festival where I met the world’s leading celebrities from science and space.

Starmus is an irregular but massive event that brings together some of the world’s brightest brains, bravest adventurers and even a few rock stars in a unique combination.

This year, in Trondheim, I was surrounded by so many astronauts, it felt like being on the International Space Station!

Among them were two veteran spacemen who took the most remote journeys yet made. Charlie Duke and Harrison Schmitt both walked on the Moon during the historic Apollo 16 and 17 missions.

Hearing them speak of those pioneering adventures was awesome, especially when they were joined, via Skype, by Apollo 11 legend Buzz Aldrin.

Younger astronauts included NASA’s Terry Virts, who has orbited in the space station and walked in space.

My mind was blown, too, by futuristic talks by our own Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, and Professor Stephen Hawking as they looked far ahead to mankind’s future in space. That will be the ultimate travel ultimate “cruise” – a voyage to distant stars.

Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke speaking at Starmus in Trondheim. Image credit: Max Alexander/Starmus

Other celebrities included veteran US broadcaster Larry King, rock artists Steve Vai, Devin Townsend, Grace Potter, Nuno Bettencourt, and The Pineapple Thief, plus 11 Nobel prizewinners.

What to do in Trondheim

There’s plenty going on in Trondheim outside festival time too. It is a comfortably compact city which is easy to get around.

In the heart of Trondheim, you find the Old Town Bridge, an 82-metre long wooden crossing of the River Nidelven that has stood for more than 300 years. It makes a great vantage point from which to admire the colourful old wharves and other buildings that line the waterway.

And it leads to the lively zone of Bakklandet with inviting cafes and boutiques. Wine is expensive in the local eateries. But if you want to splash out at a restaurant or bar, there’s the whole range of cuisines, clustered around the River Nidelva.

One restaurant in the old town will even hire out fishing rods. You can also fish from a jetty and cook your own catch of the day on the barbecue grills provided.

A short walk through attractive parkland brings you to the historic Nidaros Cathedral, which grew from a wooden chapel erected over the tomb of Viking king St Olav.

He’s the nation’s patron saint, though he wasn’t so popular back in the UK as a rebellious teenager. That’s because he joined a horde of Vikings who pillaged England, killing the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1012.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s a longer walking trail, the Ladestien, stretching nearly nine miles along the edge of the fjord on which Trondheim lies. Take a picnic and enjoy beautiful views across the woods and the water. A number of ancient pilgrim trails also converge on the city.

For those who would rather be active on two wheels, the city has a cycles to rent from racks around the city. You can rent them for three hours at a time, using an electronic card that you pick up at the central Tourist Office.

There are many cycle lanes, plus, unique in the world, the Trampe Bicycle Lift, which helps riders climb a steep hill to one of the suburbs.

Guitar legend Steve Via performing at Starmus in Trondheim. Image credit: Max AlexanderStarmus

Trondheim is perhaps not a destination for sun-seekers, though in summer it gets more sunshine than most. The sun only sets for around three hours a day in June, because the city is just south of the Arctic Circle which has the midnight sun.

I found it pleasantly warm during my summer visit, though the weather can change in minutes from rolling cloud, through showers, to blue skies and sunshine.

In mid-winter the seasons are reversed, with just a few brief hours of sunshine a day and long hours of darkness . . . plus plenty of snow.

Autumn and spring, when the days are as long as the nights, are great times to go if you want to see one of Norway’s great free attractions, the Northern Lights.

Trondheim is a great place to see this natural lightshow, without paying for an expensive cruise. The city’s shoreline faces north, giving you a dark sky in which to see this natural lightshow.

Remember though, that its appearance can never be guaranteed, and you’ll need to wrap up warm against the nocturnal chill. You WON’T see any aurora in the summer months because the sky never gets dark.

You might worry that Norway is expensive. But you can get cheap flights to Trondheim with Norwegian, a budget airline with a modern, eco-friendly fleet of comfortable jets, and a fast-growing reputation.

You can cut costs when there too. A number of hotels include a free evening buffet as well as breakfast in the room price. Buy food for picnics at the supermarkets or from stalls at the lively markets.

Another top tip, followed by the locals too, is to buy your wine and spirits at the duty free on arrival at Trondheim’s airport, Værnes, where it is as cheap as in the UK.

Starmus was the brainchild of astrophysicist Garik Israelian. Guitarist Brian May is one of the event’s key supporters, along with Peter Gabriel, and would have been there but for Queen’s world tour.

Previous festivals have been held on Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Go: Norway

There are cheap, direct flights to Trondheim from Gatwick with Norwegian. Prices start at around £40 but vary greatly, depending when you fly.

You can also book a package stay with the airline. Other UK cities fly with other airlines via Amsterdam or Oslo.

If you do it yourself, hotel room prices start at around £80 a night at the Thon Hotel Gildevangen, which offers a free evening buffet as well as breakfast.

Find out more from the tourist information centre at visittrondheim.no/en

Note: This is a full version of a report of my visit to Trondheim as an invited guest of Starmus in June, 2017. An abbreviated version appeared in The Sun.

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