Posts filed under 'northern lights'

Arctic Adventures in Tromsø

 

024I have been meaning to write the quintessential #BucketList post…but haven’t gotten around to. Let’s be honest, haven’t gotten around to much blogging lately. Anyway….a main issue of the Bucket List blog post is I really need to reevaluate my bucket list. I think I might split it up into an American list, and abroad list. To be honest, it wasn’t until I’ve moved to Scotland and started traveling more abroad that I realized how much I want to see of America. That’s a good thing right?

One thing that has ALWAYS been on my bucket list has been the Northern Lights.   I don’t know when exactly I heard about the Northern Lights but I remember thinking, “What the hell?! This is crazy! Why hadn’t I heard of this sooner?!” Then there was pinterest of course I saw (and pinned) this picture on my Bucket List board:

What everyone pins and envisions when they plan their dream Northern Lights trip of course.

What everyone pins and envisions when they plan their dream Northern Lights trip of course.

Because who wouldn’t want to sleep in a glass igloo looking at the stars?! And so it was decided (in late 2015) that we would make my Northern Light dream come true this March. And we were going to stay in a glass igloo. Until I really looked into the glass igloo thing and decided not only against is but against Finland. No offense to Finland….as it turns out Norway is just easier to get to. As for the glass igloo place, well it has some pretty shady reviews, is overly expensive, and you’re stuck in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE FINLAND. It’s not only a pain in the ass to get to, but you have no dining options and are trapped. I quickly realized I wanted to be remote enough to see Northern Lights, but not go stir crazy trapped in a tiny igloo with my husband for days on end. And thus we have Tromsø Norway.

Tipped off to the location from a friend, I realized this island off mainland Norway, well above the Arctic Circle has everything I could want to do, an American hotel chain, many dining options, a beautiful topography, and the Northern Lights. DONE.

Way above the Arctic Circle

Way above the Arctic Circle

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Thursday: Aberdeen-> Oslo -> Tromsø
  • Thursday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Friday 8am: Dog sled
  • Friday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Saturday: Sleep in!
  • Saturday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Sunday: Snowmobile
  • Sunday night: open for possible Northern Light chases if we haven’t seen them yet.

But as always, the great words of Robbie Burns ring true, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Our flight to Oslo got cancelled, so after being present a few different options we took a flight to Stavanger, then to Oslo, where we stayed the night (put up by SAS airlines at the Radisson Blue), and then had a flight out to Tromsø at 8:30 in the morning on Friday. We also tacked on a day and changed our return flight from Monday to Tuesday.

So fine, we got a night to explore Oslo…but that meant our Thursday night light chasing (pre-paid of course) and Friday dog sledding (pre-paid of course) was out. I immediately emailed the Northern Lights group we paid 3 nights with (Thurs-Sat) and they were booked Sunday AND Monday, but put us on a waiting list. As for the dog sledding, also booked all the other days (what did I expect, I booked all this stuff months prior!), but did have a Sunday night dog sledding session available. The snowmobiling I hadn’t booked prior, but our hotel (Radisson Blue Tromsø) had a Tromsø Safari desk in the lobby. This company does some of their own bookings, but also arranges trips through other companies that are actually doing them. When we got in on Friday I went to the desk to inquire about snowmobiling and they said they had no availability Sunday, but did have Saturday. I took what I could get and booked it.

So our schedule turned into:

  • Thursday night: Oslo
  • Friday: roam around Tromsø/sushi
  • Friday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Saturday 8am: Snowmobile
  • Saturday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Sunday: SLEEP IN
  • Sunday night: Dog sledding
  • Monday: Sleep in, walk to the other side of the fjord
  • Monday night: possible Northern Light chase

Our night in Oslo was pretty uneventful. We walked around the city, which was fine but am glad we weren’t planning on staying there too long.   Our hotel was right across from the airport, which was amazing for an 8:30 am flight (we left the hotel after 7:30 haha), and it’s very easy to get a train into the city center. We had dinner in the city center, and after perusing Trip Advisor we found Klosteret Restaurant. Which in English would be translated to the monastery. As can be expected, it was underground with fantastic brick walls and arched ceilings and candles everywhere. Super cool and romantic vibe, super knowledgeable staff that provided us with wine pairings for the two first courses, and a beer pairing for dessert. And it was a beer I loved! I have never ordered a beer…but this beer I would drink. Funny enough, it was from Colorado and was a coconut-chocolate porter…yum. Anyway….was a really nice dinner but not sure I’d go plan a trip back to Oslo.

So I’ll do another post about the ins and outs of Northern Lights chasing…and I don’t want to overlap too much. But after doing 2 nights with Arctic Explorers (we were refunded for the night we missed) and 1 night with Tromsø Safari…. definitely book with Arctic Explorers! They are the best. It’s only a group of 8, you get some food, they build you a fire, you get clothes…they are slightly more expensive than the average company, but totally worth it.

Our first night, after a very lack-luster first glimpse of green, we hit gold….green-gold. In several different locations.

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Campfire with Arctic Explorers, complete with marshmallows. Everyone enjoyed hearing about s'mores from the Americans.

Campfire with Arctic Explorers, complete with marshmallows. Everyone enjoyed hearing about s’mores from the Americans.

The thing about chasing Northern Lights is you leave early (anywhere between 5:30-7) and don’t get back until late (anywhere between 1am-4am).   On our first night, we weren’t back until about 4am and then had to be up at 7am to get dressed, have breakfast, and get to the bus to take us an hour and a half ride to go snowmobiling. We were really tired but were glad we were doing something so fast and active, because it kept us awake. Even though we booked through Tromsø Safari in our hotel, we were bused out to/with Camp Tamok with the Lyngsfjord Adventure group. Our bus was nearly full but some people were dog sledding, some snowmobiling, and some reindeer safari-ing. The website delivers what it promises: “No noise, crisp Arctic air, untouched wilderness, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” It was incredible. I soon realized I like to ride on the back of a snow mobile more than drive, but I did do a little driving on the 15k way out/up. At the turn around point, we were actually on an untouched frozen lake that was about 1 meter and a half under fresh powder. We had 15 minutes then to just tear it up on the frozen plateau. I was quite proud I got to 50 mph…of course E got to 60. He made a pretty accurate observation that I simultaneously get more confident and more tired/lazy at the same time, which was a bit of a scary combination for him riding on the back. Regardless, it was beautiful and I had a blast.IMG_2983DSC_0573 DSC_0576
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When you return all the groups convene in the lavvu (Sami tent) and served a traditional meal: a creamy fish soup with salmon and white fish and vegetables. It was damn good- though not as good as cullen skink if I’m completely honest.DSC_060120160319_133302

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back before 4 which was nice, and our evening pickup for the Northern Lights wasn’t until 6:30 so at about 4:30 we went to get burgers at Huken Pub (ranked #2 for good reason!) Super small (about 20 people could fit comfortably) and with a pretty small menu: mainly burgers or savory pancakes (think taco pancake). Here’s a tip: go up to the bar and order. We sat there looking stupid for a while. Anyway- I HIGHLY recommend it for the burger (there are only 2 burgers to choose from- I told you small).

We got back and layered up (never enough clothing to keep completely warm) and went out again, this time with a totally new group and guide for our second night. We were the only ones of the 8 in the van whose this was our 2nd night. This night wasn’t nearly as good. It snowed most of the trip, we had to get out and push the van twice, and when we did settle down, there was a house with lights on (funny enough, everyone in Norway, EVERYWHERE, especially the remote areas, leave all their lights on all night long, no matter if they’re home or not. And no one really knows why….) and a type of dock lit up across the fjord that weren’t doing our pictures any favors. And then, the Northern Lights were barely visible to the naked eye. One woman actually couldn’t see them at all…she kept asking, “So you never see green in the sky?” When we all saw green (albeit very faint).

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No lights but just a cool pic.

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We got back a little earlier (maybe 2:30 or 3), which was great because I was exhausted. We both were. We were pretty happy to sleep in the next day and slept until almost 1. We really didn’t do anything other than get dressed, go get some crab legs for E and reindeer stew for me (yum) and get ready to head out again at 5:30 for moonlight dog sledding.

Reindeer Strew

Reindeer Strew

We did the dogsledding through Active Tromsø…basically because they had the best reviews in terms of knowing about, being passionate about, and being kind to their huskies. The main guy actually races in the Iditarod and was there during our visit. But we were in great hands anyway. The dogs are all super sweet, although so skinny. I guess this is normal…but so skinny! It’s kind of like me with horses, I think they all must have indoor stables and fancy rugs and treats all the time. These aren’t house pets (though I would make them house dogs), they have a job that they’re here to do. Still, I want all the puppies and horses in my house!

E having some tender moments with an Alskan Husky

E having some tender moments with an Alskan Husky

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Resting up before the 9 to 5

Resting up before the 9 to 5

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Anyway, initially I was super bummed out about having to do the nighttime dogsledding. Now that I’ve done it- YOU MUST DO IT IN THE EVENING. We had a nearly full moon and a crisp clear sky (the hotel was saying how good the night was supposed to be for Northern Lights). It was so bright. And the location. Oh my god the location. If I could live in Norway, I would live here.

Evening dogsledding under the moonlight

Evening dogsledding under the moonlight

When the moon was behind a mountain, it got pretty dark.

When the moon was behind a mountain, it got pretty dark.

Where was I exactly? No idea. About a 45-minute drive from Tromsø. It was so remote and absolutely breathtaking. You get a full get up including AMAZING mittens and boots. Better than we got for snowmobiling or light chasing. It definitely took the longest in this kit for me to get cold.

Outside the dogsledding camp

Outside the dogsledding camp

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So lessons learned….dogsledding is hard. Made harder by the fact I think they severely underestimated our weight. Everyone had 5 dogs, except for one solo gal who had 4. One person is in the sled, the other is the driver. You can switch often and pretty quickly, but it doesn’t matter when we weigh too much for the dogs. From the start we were losing ground. Erik spent most of the time running and pushing and not sledding at all. He thought he was gonna die so at one point I took over, little did I know around the corner there was a huge hill. I wasn’t riding the sled at all, just pushing and cheering on the dogs and we came to a dead stop on the hill. The snow was deep and the dogs and I realized we could not push and drag E’s big booty up. It was pretty hilarious. E had to switch out and get us up but he was really dying. The lead guy came back at one point and asked how we were doing- he had definitely noticed our sled was holding everyone up- we told him a bit slow, so he took one dog from the solo ladies and added it to us. Helped a ton! But still were lagging behind after hills, so much so we couldn’t see anyone and our dogs went the wrong way, causing the 4 sleds behind us to follow and we ran headfirst almost into the leader. He had to create a totally new track/path. Pretty funny. But going back in was a lot more downhill and with the extra dog, we were all able to enjoy it.

When we arrived back at the dog camp, we all stayed in a line waiting for them to bring each sled in and tie up the dogs individually so we’re sitting, freezing our little tails off for a little bit. All of a sudden E tells me to turn around (I was rolling around in the snow with the puppies of course) and right above the mountain behind us were the Northern Lights. It ended up being a pretty fantastic show and I was so glad we had our camera on the sled with us. We didn’t have our tripod so I was lying in the snow with my camera bag and hat stacked up trying to get some height for the pictures. It was amazing. I mean really…magical. To be out there in the middle of nowhere, after such a great trip under the moonlight with the dogs, to then have this great showing of Northern Lights. I couldn’t have planned it better.

If you look close you can see some dog pee I was practically laying in.

If you look close you can see some dog pee I was practically laying in.

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And we got home at like 11pm! Score!!! Seriously, this trip was thrilling, but exhausting.   We got to sleep in on Monday and even though we had great Northern Lights the first night, and the night of dogsledding, didn’t want to regret missing out on anything. So we booked a lights chase for our last night with Tromsø Safari. Much bigger bus, no fire, no clothes (that we were told there would be- more on that in the next post). But we did see the lights…but like the second night…shit location. Lights everywhere. We got a few pics but since we were totally freezing we didn’t want to take our gloves off to mess with the camera, and the background light was terrible anyway, we just kind of enjoyed them.

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Tuesday morning we woke up and started our journey home. Tromsø -> Stavanger -> Oslo -> Aberdeen. Right when we arrive in Tromsø we got news (via Twitter) about the attacks in the Brussels’ airport. Oddly enough, nothing was mentioned at any airport except when we landed in Aberdeen where there was a sign stating if we were there and had seen anything to come forward. It was pretty weird the Norway didn’t seem concerned at all. In fact, we didn’t show a single ID until our flight to Aberdeen. 2 flights without showing an ID…kind of odd. But I have to say I’ve flown down to London without showing an ID as well. Clearly there are some loopholes.

Anyway. I HIGHLY recommend a trip to Tromsø. It’s great for a couple, but in hindsight would be really great with 4 couples and then you’d basically have your own private group for everything. Our hotel wasn’t great, but the food we had always was. It’s not a trip where you’ll have lots of sexy time or anything- you’ll be too exhausted. But it’s pretty exhilarating and romantic even if you pass out the minute your head hits the pillow (or side of the shuttle bus as we tended to fall asleep on every journey). And I can really recommend Arctic Explorers for Northern Lights chasing, Active Tromsø for Dogsledding, and Lyngsfjord Adventure for snowmobiling. You’ll see a wide array of landscapes, and meet some really cool people. So start planning your trip next winter! Oh, and get some cash (Norwegian kroner) to tip these people!!! Seriously, they are working hard to give you a good experience; they are modest and caring…TIP YOUR GUIDES!