Wednesday, 2 January 2013

polar nights in tromsø

The light seemed a little dim as we flew into Tromsø, a small (but still the ninth largest) town in northern Norway. In the middle of December the town sees a only a few hours of daylight, and even then, its ore of a twilight than anything. As we landed, I took photos of the beautiful bluish, snow covered landscape. We had one major mission during our visit, and that was to see the northern lights. 

We visited the tourist office and hesitantly booked a ridiculously overpriced tour that seemed to be the norm up here. We soon accepted that with only two days here and the given weather forecast, we didn’t really have a choice. That night we set off for the chase, bringing the average age down on a bus full of hopefuls. We drove to a northern lookout point on a private property where the tour company had little Norwegian huts set up to wait out in during the night. Mai wasn’t feeling the best and when we went outside to stretch our legs, she had a bit of a spew. I initially thought was a fairly random spew but was informed that she had some hard core painkillers without eating. Nice.

 The tour was a bit of a rip off and was really just a bus ride to some huts which we sat in for hours. They stated that they would provide dinner, so we didn’t eat or bring anything. Their form of dinner was hot chocolate and coffee that tasted like dregs of bong water. Most people were super keen to stand out in the cold and look at the sky, but given Mai’s state, and our inability to handle the cod on empty stomachs, we sat inside and chatted to a super-excited American Mum, her husband and thier18 year old daughter, They had some amazing photos of their world travels together and it was their fourth or so time on a northern lights tour. They gave me some great tips about how to capture the northern lights that I was very grateful for. Another highlight of the night was talking to the crazy property owner, who reminded us of the ‘Take My Strong Hand’ guy off Scary Movie. Although the forecast was good, we had only 20minutes of the slightest green tinge appear in the nights sky. I was thankful to see something at least but maybe another time.


 Now we thought Norway was pretty expensive in general, but you haven’t seen shit til you come up here. We couldn’t get a place to stay for under $100 as there weren’t really any hostels and it’s a tourist magnet. Tromso sure isn’t afraid of ripping people off. We were very lucky to find a generous offer to couch surf with Robert and Olya. In fact, Tromso was so expensive that we wouldn’t have come up here if we couldn’t couchsurf!

The next day, we went on another overpriced tour (as if we didn’t learn our lesson the first time), but this was slightly more satisfying and up my alley; dog sledding! I was very happy at the end of the day, I think I may have been a sled driver in a past life. Although, poor Mai sitting in the sled was helpless when I hit the side of the tracks and rolled the sled. She took a few tumbles but I think I managed to recover the sled swiftly enough to redeem myself. Good fun!

 The dog kennel was really well run; the dogs were happy and seem to love it. They are given positions based on their personality and run those positions for life. The head dog is always female because they are smart leaders and listen to direction well. Also, the males like to follow the females, so if you put the females at the back you just go in circles. The next two dogs are usually young ones and the back dog is a strong male. The owner competes in the longest sledding race in the world. The tour was fantastic fun, but would have been even better to go by yourself so you didn't have to keep your foot in the break. When you stop the dogs just get super excited and can't sit still but when you’re sledding is silent and peaceful. In the evening gathered in a authentic wood fired hut and were served a traditional Sami meal with reindeer stew and the best homemade chocolate cake.

We went back to Rob and Olya’s place and spent the night getting to know this friendly energetic couple over a few drinks. I think Mai finally met her drinking soul mate, Olya also gets drunk on one shot of vodka :) Rob invited a few friends around, who all played music so we had a bit if a jam but opted for bed early to make our morning flight. If you’re planning n coming all the way up here, I would recommend spending a lot more time (and money) to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights!

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