Next European weekend away, somewhere a bit different.
We’re heading to the very top of Europe – the furthest North I’ve ever been – and 400km North of the Arctic circle.
It was my first time flying Norwegian Air. So impressed with the free wifi! Kept me entertained for the 3.5 hour flight! For the last 15 minutes or so, it became so bumpy. One of the worst turbulence areas I’ve been through. It was a tad scary!!
2015 country number 4 – Norway
I was rather surprised that when we got off the plane, we had to walk outside for a while. I wasn’t quite dressed for the zero degree temperature yet!! Passport control was a tiny little room. Luckily we were one of the first off the plane, so we didn’t have to queue outside!! It took a few seconds to move through and we managed to walk straight onto a bus into the city – so quick!!
The bus cost 120 NOK per person return (£9.80 each) and took about 10 minutes to get into the city. Our hotel was luckily just a short walk away from the bus stop, so within 20 minutes of landing we were arriving into our room!
Saturday 14 March 2015
I was impressed by the hotel breakfast – so much fruit! I ate my own weight in melon, then we headed out into the cold! We’re staying right on the Tromso harbour, it was a cold misty day, but we could see across to the white snow-covered mainland. It was also a bit rainy, which was a little annoying.
First activity of the trip – dog sledding! We were picked up at 10am and drove out of the city, across to a different island – Senja. It took about 40 minutes to drive to the home of the sledding dogs.
We had brought waterproof, warm clothes and boots with us, but here we were given heavy duty snow boots and an all-in-one snow suit to wear!! Then we went back outside (in the rain – luckily not heavy rain) to meet the dogs. Here they have 105 dogs! Some of them were in their outside huts as they weren’t running today. They were so friendly and came up to greet you and some jumped up too. They weren’t too scary!
Next up, we were given a quick introduction to sled driving – being the “musher” i.e. the driver. It came as a bit of a surprise last night when I had done a bit more reading about what I had booked (a while ago…) and we realised that we would have to do the sled driving ourselves!!
Each sled has 6 dogs and fits 2 people. One person stands on the back of the sled and drives, the other is a passenger sitting on some reindeer fur on the sled. The driver is largely just responsible for stop and go and a little bit of direction. That was it and we were shown to our sleds. As we walked over to where they were all set up, all the dogs started barking and getting really excited. It was so loud. We ended up on the first sled, right behind the guide on his sled. As soon as I stood on the back, the woman asked if I was ready, I said yes, not really knowing if I was ready or not, and before I knew it we were off with such speed and force!!
The guide in front was leading, he set the route to follow and made sure that everyone kept up. There were 9 sleds in total. As the driver, I had to ensure that we didn’t go too fast down hills and run into the dogs – I had a brake for that. And also when going up hills, I had to do a bit of pushing myself. We were going across such beautiful snowy landscape. White for as far as you could see, only broken up by the odd patch of trees. It was still raining a little, so we were totally soaking, but the sun was coming through, so a lovely rainbow formed across the sky. It was so pretty.
We stopped now and then, so that everyone kept up. This also gave the dogs a chance to roll around in the snow and cool down! Apparently they get a bit hot in this mild (5 degree!) weather – they are more suited to the minus degrees!
On one of the stops, I took my gloves off to take a few photos. As I was putting my gloves back on, our dogs got a bit excited and suddenly just decided they wanted to go. My foot was on the brake, but it took me by such surprise that I was thrown off the sled. Mummy was left on the run away sled. Luckily the guide in front managed to catch them before they disappeared off too far!! And I was left, in snow up to my knees trying to clamber out!!
We were all fine, but I got a bit of a telling off for taking my hands off. After that, my hands stayed glued on, to the point they began to hurt…!!!
We were out for 90 minutes and travelled over 15km. It flew by!! It was so much fun! When we got back to the base, we said goodbye to our 6 dogs and sat warming up in a fire-warmed teepee with some tea and cake!
When I first read about things to do in the area, I had dismissed going dog sledding. I thought it was perhaps a bit mean to allow dogs to pull you along. But actually, they love having a job and they are so excited and happy to be doing it. They clearly love pulling people along. I’m so glad I went!
We were driven back to the city and arrived back at 2pm. After changing into some dry clothes, we headed back out to explore the city of Tromso. By now it had stopped raining and some of the mist had lifted.
The harbour was really pretty – lots of boats dotted around, seagulls flying and snow capped mountains all around. We walked along the edge of the harbour, down to the Polaris building. This is a cool shaped building like a stack of white books falling over.
We browsed around a supermarket – I love foreign supermarkets! It was so expensive!! We also went inside the Tromso domkirke, this is a wooden church and one of the largest in Norway. Not hugely exciting.
The main shopping street was busy, full of local Saturday shoppers. At one end of the street there was a huge children’s concert happening. A large stage set up, with singers on all afternoon. After a couple of hours wandering, we headed back to the hotel to change into warmer clothes, ready for an evening outside. The hotel serves a (free!) dinner at 6pm and it was surprisingly good! Well, their vegetarian options were very limited, so I had a huge plate of salad, but I was happy with that!
Although we didn’t have long to eat, as we needed to head back out again at 6.20pm.
The next adventure – and the main reason we are here – Northern Light hunting!
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis is a light phenomenon that occurs at the poles, resulting from solar energy and charged particles trapped in the earth’s magnetic field. Electrons transfer energy to oxygen and nitrogen molecules, which creates an excited state. As these excited state oxygen and nitrogen atoms return from their excited to normal states, they emit light energy.
I have wanted to see these for so long. I am so excited. But also nervous incase we’ve come all the way here and won’t get to see them!! We were picked up at 6.30pm in the town centre and began our drive out of the city. There are several options for watching the lights – stay in the town and hope for the best (not always great as the weather can be cloudy and the light pollution can decrease the perceived intensity of the Aurora). You can join a minibus, or larger coach tour which drive you out of the city in search of a clear sky.
We opted for a small mini bus tour with a well regarded guide. Just 12 of us for the evening. The guide had selected his preferred destination – a rocky beach at the Grotfjord. It took us an hour to drive the 40km here and we arrived at 7.30pm. A scramble down an icy embankment, in the dark, and we set ourselves up on the rocks. Everyone spread out a bit along the beach. We found a large rock to sit together.
We had no idea how long we were going to be here for. How comfy did we need to make ourselves?! I guessed at maybe an hour. But then the guide started to build a fire, perhaps we’ll be here a while then…! It was a great spot. It would have been lovely in the daylight, a beach made up of large rocks and views out across to some islands. We were at the edge of Norway, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean.
After an hour, I began to wonder whether we would actually see anything. The guide was convinced they would start in the east (to our right) and move across the sky towards our left. Then suddenly someone shouted out that they could see something! Where?! A white spot in the sky. I put my camera on a 30 second exposure and just like magic, a nice green photo came out! Wow! They were there.
I took a few more pictures and each one ended up with more and more visible green – it was building up. But just looking at the sky, it looked like a white cloudy patch. I was honestly imaging bright green dancing across the sky.
Slightly disappointing that nothing was particularly visible to the eye, but each of my photos was getting better and better. Given we were so far from light pollution and air pollution, the sky was so clear, so it was completely full of stars. So many stars.
Soon, the white patch was a long stream across the sky. To the camera, this translated to greens and pinks. So pretty (in the photo anyway). This stream moved (slowly) towards the south and had soon passed over our heads and was no longer visible.
It was now 10pm, 2.5 hours of sitting on rocks, outside in the cold. I thought perhaps we would leave now. I had enjoyed watching the white stream and my pictures looked great. But the guide had other ideas, he started handing out cups of hot juice (finnberry) and a local cake – lefse, a thin cake filled with a cinnamon and butter mix. I went to sit by the fire for a bit. Getting a tad bored. He said we would wait just a little longer.
A new stream started to form, this time from the top of an island to our right. This was a lot stronger and just a narrow line. It almost looked faint green to the eye. A short while later it was over our heads and started moving quite dynamically, now visibly green and swirling around.
I scrambled down the rocks for a better view away from the fire. But it was over so quickly. A short while later, it did it again. So cool!!!
11pm and now cold as well as a bit bored. 3.5 hours here. It felt a long time! But the guide was insistent. He was staying for another hour and a bit.
So resigned to being here for a while longer, I played around taking more pictures. There were still faint green patches around. Then suddenly, the narrow line was back again across the sky. Moving so fast this time.
It split into two lines above our heads. This time colours were visible – greens and purples.
Then with no warning at all, even faster moving colours and a very thin luminescent white line. Purple, white, blue, green, pink all forming a tight ball above us. This ball was moving so fast, colours dancing across the sky.
It began to spread from the centre, like a wide dome over the top of us.
Colour falling from the sky.
I didn’t know where to look, the entire sky was alight with colour.
Wow, it was amazing. No words can explain. I’ve seen nothing like it ever before. We had witnessed a corona. This is a very rare form of the lights.
We stayed a while longer just in case something else happened. But that was it. The main show was over for the evening.
There was of course still patches of white (green) around, but no more moving visible colours.
The guide explained that as the lights had moved south, he knew they had to return back to the north. This is what we were waiting for. By the time we left the beach it was 1am. 6.5 hours on that beach. Crazy! And I was now freeeeezing!
Totally chilled. I was glad when we arrived back at 2am and I could have a long hot shower!! What an amazing night.
Sunday 15 March 2015
We enjoyed a lie in this morning, only venturing down to breakfast at 10am. But wow what a difference in the weather – a bright blue, clear sky. Not a cloud in sight. The harbour view was a total contrast.
It looked like a summers day – brightly coloured buildings and bright blue water, reflecting the sky. It felt so different to the rainy, misty day yesterday! After spending the next few hours lazing around, it was time to head off cross country skiing!!
We were picked up at 1pm and drove up out of the city, up some very steep roads! And within 5 minutes, we had arrived! At the city’s cross country ski runs – Charlottelund. It’s so strange that minutes from the city, you are totally transformed into a wintery wonderland of snow and forest.
These ski runs run from one end of the island to the other – a ski highway. People use these to travel around – to go to work and to university. This particular area is a very popular park for families, particularly on the weekends. What a different world! It was so cool!! We were given ski shoes, skis and poles. And a quick lesson on cross country skiing.
We had joined a very beginner group, in theory for people who had never skied before. But rather unfortunately, everyone in our group apart from us had skied before. It’s a little different from ‘normal’ skiing, you are going across flat land as well as up and down small hills. The main route has two ski runs on each side and a flat area in the middle. It’s like a road, with road rules. You stick to the righthand side and the middle is used by skaters only – another type of skiing, fast on thin skis.
We slotted our skis on and started to have a go. It felt slippery. (Obviously….!!). And quite unlike anything I’ve tried before. I was a bit scared of falling over. But soon got the hang of it and it was so much fun!! Of course I was the slow one.
The rest of the group had speeded away and were miles away from me. After (just about) getting the hang of flat. It was time to go uphill. You basically just walk. The weight on one ski stops you from moving. And if you slide back, you can put your skis in a V shape. I made it up the hill! Then there was a couple of kilometres ahead of us. I wasn’t sure if I could make it all that far. But I carried on and had to do quite a few downhill bits – you have no control, you cannot stop, you just go, fast. I fell over at one point – it was my only way to stop!!
We stopped nearby to a shooting stadium for some hot berry juice and lefse, before carrying on back the way we had come. Mostly uphill this time. It was so much fun! I was a lot better by the end. But I need a lot more practice….! We got back at 4pm and were pretty tired again!! We didn’t do much else this evening.
There was quite a nice sunset – although we are East facing, the orange light reflected on the snowy mountains. Pretty. Then sadly as it became dark, the clear sky became filled with clouds. So no chance of seeing the lights again from the city.
Monday 16 March 2015
Another lie in today, feeling a bit achy after the past couple of days! After another massive plate of melon, we headed off to explore the other side of the city, across the harbour to the mainland.
We caught a bus, a blooming expensive bus, at £5 each, to go about 10 minutes. Total waste of money!! We were heading up the mountain, via the cable car – the Fjellheisen. Except we just missed one, how annoying. 30 minutes until the next one. This again is expensive, at £13 each! It takes 4 minutes to reach the top of Mount Storsteinen, at 421m high.
The view was lovely – again it was such a clear, blue sky day. You could see all around the islands, white snowy mountains all around. The only problem – the wind. I could barely stand!! It was ridiculously strong! It was possible to wander around the top of the mountain a bit, but it was so cold from the wind we didn’t last long!!
Back down on the ground, we wandered around the housing area making our way back to the main road. Some things we noticed – some peoples drives were totally thick with ice. All the roads around the city are mostly clear, with the snow piled up at the edges of the road. But the ice is slippy and a bit scary! Wheelie bins have little wooden houses around them (perhaps to stop them blowing away). And all the houses are really cute, all different designs, made of coloured wooden panels. Really pretty!
We bumped into a local supermarket and popped in for some local brown cheese and lefse to take home!! And then up to the Arctic cathedral. This huge white triangular building is made up of lots of white triangles slotted together. Sadly it’s not open in the mornings. There is a large stained glass window at the back, that we could see by peering in!! When we bought our (ridiculously expensive) bus ticket this morning, the guy said it was a return. Rather annoyingly when we tried to get the bus back to the city, the driver said actually our ticket had already expired. It’s return within an hour only, we had been an hour and a half. Ridiculous. So we walked back. Over the long bridge connecting Tromso Island to the mainland. It was actually a nice walk, given it was a bright sunny day. We collected our bags from the hotel and sadly left back to the airport. There weren’t any direct flights back to London today, so we have to transit via Oslo. Our first flight left at 5pm, just as the orange sun was reflecting on all the white peaks. The views were so pretty. Reflections of the mountains in the fjords and white for as far as you could see. We didn’t have long in Oslo – just one hour. And it was a huge airport! We had to walk from one end to the other, luckily it was plenty of time and by 8.15pm, we were on plane number 2 headed back to London.