My sister and I landed in Norway and everyone spoke to us in Norwegian, assuming we were natives. She definitely looks more viking than me but with us both being blonde (OK, only one of us naturally) I guess we fit the bill and it turned out to be a recurring theme throughout our trip. It was our first time in Norway, let alone the Arctic Circle – I thought a chance of seeing the northern lights and dog sledding in Tromso sounded like a good 30th birthday present for my sister, so armed with ski jackets and thermals (it was February after all) off we went.
After quietly giggling to ourselves about skiing being on all the TV screens (we couldn’t believe a seemingly obvious cliche was actually true) and watched by faces reminiscent of those watching football in the pubs back home, we made our way to our guest house through the snowy roads courtesy of a very friendly taxi driver. About 20 minutes later we pulled up outside our guest house, one of many houses along the steep road with big picture windows and beautiful views. We were greeted at the door by the delightful Oystein, owner of the Anemone B&B.
A Scalpel in his Pocket….
He welcomed us in and showed us to the ‘pink room’ which was one of four off the main kitchen area. Our beds hadn’t quite finished being made and even though we offered to do it ourselves, he seemed to take delight in showing off his dexterity with the bedclothes, assuring us that being so tall he feels like he is made to do it and he genuinely seemed to love it. After we’d stood there rather awkwardly watching him, he took us through to the kitchen and explained some of the rules of the guest house to us, the main one being that we get breakfast included the first morning but definitely NO OTHER MORNING. By the enthusiastically loud way he told us this it struck us that, unwittingly or not, this was a rule that had been broken many times before. He then took a small wax cylinder out of the fridge and proceeded to scrape out a bit of the fudge-coloured substance with what looked like a scalpel he produced from his pocket.
It turns out the strange beige-brown stuff was actually caramelised goats cheese. My sister looked at it in in horror but forced herself to eat it out of fear of offending him. I actually love goats cheese so was slightly more enthusiastic – it was very sweet and very tasty. We sat down with him in the lounge area to look at a map of the town on stools that were so ridiculously high (definitely made for norwegians) it took us a while to climb up onto them. He proceeded to explain how to get to the bus stop, the supermarket etc which was all very useful information, except slightly hard to take in as he had a tendency to leave pauses in strange places, followed by a very slow “mm-hmm” as if he was telling himself for the first time as well as us.
Confessions to a Polar Bear
When he got on to telling us about the meteorological centre, which is a useful landmark as well as being an interesting place to visit of its own accord, his eyes brightened as he told us all about the stuffed polar bear outside and how he walks past it every day and tells it his deepest darkest confessions. As his six and a half foot frame shook with mirth, we thanked him for all this brilliant information and made our way to the supermarket.
Taking joy in looking at all the different foods in the supermarket (as I always do in foreign lands) and avoiding the ‘fish pudding’, we were pleasantly surprised that the bill wasn’t quite as astronomical as we feared. We walked back, loving the swish-swish sounds of people cross-country skiing through the lit-up woodland paths. The guest house is really cosy and on our return we met our fellow guests – a young Austrian couple, a girl from Hong Kong (who liked drying her hair at 3am, even though the walls were paper thin), a UK guy called Colin who stays here regularly (more about him later). There was also a man dressed like an orchestral conductor who was cleaning the kitchen when we got back. We never did find out whether he was a guest or not.
Tromso is known as the gateway to the Arctic and actually sits around 400km north of the Arctic Circle. It’s a lively, bustling town, with a large university population, some great restaurants and more pubs per capita then any other town in Norway. All the buildings are very modern and tasteful with clean, simple lines. It only took around 30 minutes to walk into town but as most of it was downhill it was a little challenging and very slippery in places. Of course, only the tourists seem to have trouble – the norwegians were flying down as if there was no snow or ice at all. I think they must have special soles 😉
Reindeer Burgers and a Stunning Cathedral
It was around zero degrees and was cloudy so didn’t actually feel too cold. There are lots of things to do in Tromso – it’s a nice town to wander round with some lovely clothes shops and a fantastic jewellery shop which we ended up spending about an hour in and buying some unusual jewellery. Late afternoon, we decided to get the cable car up to the mountains to watch the sun set. We got off the bus one stop early by mistake so it was a twenty minute walk to the cable car – but actually we timed it well as they go every half an hour and we arrived 5 minutes before one was due to go. Plus the fact we got to nose at all the beautiful houses along the way – scandi design is so cool.
The setting of Tromso really is magnificent. There was a cafe at the top so we settled down on the reindeer skins, got a coffee and watched it get dark. They were running a slideshow in the cafe which was reflected in the window, cruelly teasing us that the northern lights had come. It was so chilled out up there that we ended up staying for dinner (a reindeer burger). We got the last cable car back down at 10pm and then walked to the Arctic cathedral for a Norwegian and Sami folk music concert that the very friendly lady in tourist information had recommended. It was beautiful music – almost jazzy in parts and very modern-sounding. The cathedral itself was stunning too – it’s a triangular shape and has one of the largest stained glass windows in Europe.
Wow. Dog sledding was an absolutely amazing experience. We drove to Camp Tamok which was about an hour away and could hear a cacophony of barking dogs when we got there! We got all suited and booted up and then got teamed up with our huskies. They were smaller than we thought and all looked so different – they were lovely! The sleds have 2 at the front, 1 in the middle and 2 at the back. We got taught how to mush (which was really just how to use the brake as the dogs steer themselves) and then we were off! We took it in turns – I was first up.
The dogs were so strong and we kept flying along and nearly going into the men in front (who were 2 italian brothers of 73 and 80!). We wanted to go as fast as we could (and so did our dogs) but couldn’t allow our dogs to tangle as it’s highly likely they would fight each other. There were a few very narrow bits but the dogs know what they’re doing. The men in front fell off in one of these narrow bits though – being snow they were unhurt and we had to brake our dogs pretty quickly! It was so peaceful whizzing along through the snow and mountains. We returned to camp, had a big plate of fish stew by the fire in the sami tent and gave our dogs lots of well-deserved rubs 🙂
Some Pretty Tasty Food
We returned to our guest house to be met by Colin (who always seemed to be carrying a gigantic box of cereal – I think that’s all he survived on) who was keen to show us his northern lights pictures of the previous night. It got us excited for our trip although by the 50th picture that excitement was beginning to wane….
We got the bus back into town later on and went to Emma’s Kitchen which had had great reviews. It cost a lot but being a foodie, I thought it was totally worth it and was the best meal I’d had in a long time. The flavours were so fresh! I had an elk amuse bouche, reindeer carpaccio with lingonberry gel, fried cod and then reindeer fillet. Incredible. We then went in search of a lively bar (which there were plenty of) but wishing we were better dressed! All the women were wearing nice outfits and heels (heels in the snow and ice??!) and there we were in our big thick jumpers and mickey mouse boots. We had some cocktails and would have loved a dance but felt a little self-conscious (not to mention sweaty-footed) in our seemingly over-the-top attire.
Chasing the Northern Lights
Tonight was our night chasing the northern lights with Guide Gunnar. I hadn’t appreciated how much effort goes into finding the best spots – all the guides ring each other and there are frequent stops along the way to check the sky for activity. Then it’s a case of driving to the area with the hole in the sky that has potential for activity which made it very exciting! We put on big snowsuits to keep warm and lit a fire on the beach whilst we waited. After an hour we’d had no luck so drove on. It was then that my sister realised she didn’t have my camera. We looked everywhere – in all our pockets, the coach seat and floor – it was nowhere to be seen. I thought she must have out it in an air vent in the snowsuit thinking it was a pocket. I was feeling annoyed that I’d lost my photos, feeling tired and disappointed that we hadn’t seen the lights so far.
Half an hour later, Guide Gunnar got a call so we headed back to the mainland and north east and stopped in an area that was supposed to have clear sky. As we got off the bus, my sister felt something under her foot – and there was my camera! We couldn’t believe it, neither of us could understand how it got there – or where it had been. It was the only one we had between us so thank goodness it appeared – especially as then after another hour of waiting, the lights came! I managed to get some OK photos even without an SLR camera (although I could have done with a tripod). However, Guide Gunnar took some that were way better than mine so I’ve included those here too. The lights were incredible – and I was surprised by just how moving they were. It really did feel like you were witnessing something very special.
If you’d like to experience what I did, here are the details:
We stayed at the Anemone B&B but as writing this post, I have found out the guest house is permanently closed – a great shame as it was a fantastic little place.
We ate at Emma’s Kitchen
We did our dog sledding tour with Lyngsfjord Adventures
We chased the northern lights with Guide Gunnar
Please let me know if you’d like any more information about Tromso or the activities I took part in by leaving a comment below 🙂