A Travellerspoint blog

November 2015

Tromsø - Oslo - London - Bristol

Homeward bound

overcast -3 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After a lovely deep sleep, I drag myself out of bed at 06:30 this morning. For breakfast I have one of my all-time favourite Christmas Eve breakfast: 'lefse med sylte' – pressed cold meat (made with flesh from the head of a pig – not dissimilar to brawn or head cheese, but with less jelly) rolled up in a flat potato bread.

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Getting to the airport takes longer than anticipated, not just because we have to ensure the car is filled up with diesel before taking it back, but also because of the icy road conditions this morning. After 1500 kilometers of incident free diving in Norway, David skids at the very last roundabout. Thankfully there is nothing in his path, so no harm done.

We also struggle big time to get from the car park to the terminal entrance at the airport on foot – the sloping path is covered in black ice. After a slow and very careful shuffle, we finally make it to the door, trailing the bags behind us.

At the SixT counter we are somewhat surprised – and a little embarrassed – to find they have already heard about our little unfortunately telephone conversation with Lørenskog Vets (find the story here). Fame (?) at last...

Waiting for the flight to depart from Tromsø, I make two observations:

1. Reindeer get everywhere. Even on pizza.

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2. The digital generation would be lost without their gadgets

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SAS Flight from Tromsø to Oslo

“To the 'gentleman' in seat 18A: if the two inches you reclined your seat gave you half as much extra comfort as it gave me extra DIScomfort; you must have had a wonderful flight.

Lucky you.

I am currently trying to regain some sort of feeling in my legs.”

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The connection at Oslo was already a tight 55 minutes, and our flight departing Tromsø 25 minutes late adds to the rush. The fact that we land at Gate 12 and the next flight departs from Gate 57 doesn't help either. I have never been any good at running, especially not after being cramped in a tight airline seat for two hours.

We make it as the last two people to board, just as they are closing the gate. The upside is: we have three seats for two on this leg! Room to spread and give my knees some much needed space!

The approach to Heathrow is always exciting, and I don't think I will ever tire of looking out of the window to see all the famous landmarks of London spread out below me. Even on a dull grey day through a dirty window...

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And with that, I will bid you farewell - for this time - and get back to planning my next trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:23 Archived in Norway Tagged oslo travel flight norway sas northern_lights tromsø home_at_last homeward_bound Comments (0)

Alta - Tromsø

A dull, grey day with excellent accommodation to finish on

overcast -13 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

There was no mouse waking us up last night thankfully – although I did hear the dogs howling at the moon at some stage during the night.

We leave a beautiful sunrise behind us (as well as a cool -13 °C) as we start our journey back to Tromsø today.

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The promise of a dramatic sunrise soon fizzles out and settles into a dull, grey day.

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Even the tunnels seem to be grey today, with a strange mist hanging in the air.

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These red barns with the bridge leading up to the upper floor, are typical Norwegian, and bring back many happy memories of learning to drive – reversing up the sloping bridge, driving down, reversing up, driving down...

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And here is the actual barn bridge and car I learnt on, in a photograph from 1975!

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This journey from Tromsø to Alta and back has made me fall in love with Norway all over again. Not that I was ever out of love with her, but I guess I was too young to appreciate the beauty of the country and its people when I lived here; and during our visits since, the main focus has been on seeing family. This time I have been overwhelmed by the scenery and charmed by its inhabitants.

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The road conditions this morning are not good, with slippery ice covering the surface. Thank goodness for studded tyres.

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The roads are regularly cleared, ploughing away the snow and scraping the ice. Those ice scrapers don't do the road surface much good though and by the end of the spring thaw, deep ruts have appeared in the roads – it must be a maintenance nightmare!

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The scenery along the coast really is quite delightful. Unfortunately there are not many places for David to stop so that I can get out and take photos. I do manage a few 'drive-by-shootings' though.

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As we get nearer Tromsø, we notice a lot more snow on the ground. Not just on the ground: fresh, white snow is hanging heavily on the branches of birch, spruce and other trees.

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Where the forest is thickly vegetated, the snowy branches make for a fascinating abstract monochromatic effect.

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Each bend of the road brings with it another magnificent vista.

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It looks like there might be bad weather ahead...

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By the time we get to Sørkjosen, the light is already beginning to fade.

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Approaching Oderdalen and the first ferry, we see a string of cars coming towards us and realise the ship must be in port. Just as we head around the last bend and into the holding area by the jetty, however, the boat starts to close its bow. Bugger. It's another hour before the next crossing.

Thankfully the workers on board spot our car, and open the gate again, just for us. Such great service!

We pop to the on board café for a late lunch of 'pølse med brød' – probably the most popular fast food in the country.

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I really struggle to order food in Norway – the Norwegian language has no word for 'please'. To my ears it sounds so rude to just ask for “two hot dogs”. I add a “thank you” at the end, but it doesn't sound right.

Although not exactly haute cuisine, the sausage fills a gap and at Kr 35 each (ca £2.70), I can't even complain about the price.

We've been wanting to see elk on this trip and we finally do – in the shape on a photograph by an excellent Norwegian photographer on the wall of the ferry café.

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Today is just a day of driving, and once we hit Tromsø, the traffic is awful. I just want to get to my destination now.

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This is our last evening, and we have treated ourselves to some rather nice accommodation as a treat. We stop at Eide Handel again to buy a few bits of food for this evening as well as some stuff to take back to the UK with us. We wait here for the owners of Tromsø Apartments to turn up and guide us to the house.

And what a house it is!

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Looking quite ordinary from the outside, the interior is nothing short of luxurious. Decorated in a minimalistic retro style, the open living space is stylish and elegant, and the kitchen is a cook's dream!

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I love the way the house number is carved into the door and glazed! As is usual in Norway, there is a small entrance hall where you take off your shoes - it is considered rude to keep your footwear on when entering someone's home in Norway.

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Just off the hallway is the dining room and from there, the bedroom. The dining room also leads onto a lovely balcony overlooking the Tromsø Fjord. Shame it is cloudy tonight as that would be an awesome place to watch the northern lights from!

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A small 'everyday kitchen table' leads us into the spacious main lounge area.

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The bathroom has lovely warm underfloor heating!

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Finally, the kitchen. A decent size, but at first glance it is just an ordinary kitchen. That is, until we see the built in coffee machine, the enormous corner fridge, built in electric wine cooler and induction hob.

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We start opening cupboards and drawers, and soon realise that this is not your average rental 'apartment'. A Kenwood Chef and smoothie maker are amongst the numerous 'gadgets' we find. Shame we are not staying longer!

I rustle up a couple of reindeer steaks for dinner,as you do.

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This is followed by 'fløyelsgrøt', a kind of porridge-like dessert made from butter, flour and milk; served with sugar and cinnamon, and a 'smørøye' – 'butter eye'. Healthy it is not, but this dish brings back many happy memories from my childhood.

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No aurora hunting tonight, just chilling on our last night in Norway. For this time. We most definitely want to come back!

Posted by Grete Howard 10:51 Archived in Norway Tagged road_trip coast travel fjords scenery beautiful norway alta tromsø norhern_lights Comments (1)

Alta and Finnmark: Northern Lights!

♪♫♪ And there was dancing for my birthday, dancing in the sky ♪♫♪

semi-overcast -13 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We both slept really well last night – the beds may be narrow, but those mattress covers on top makes them super-comfortable! That is, until 01:45 this morning when we were woken by a mouse! Yes, a mouse. He (or she) was in the rafters, gnawing away at the wood and the noise reverberated throughout the whole little cabin. After much banging on the walls, it finally scampered off and we were able to go back to sleep.

The original plan was to drive up to North Cape today, but after mulling it over we decided that it would be too much driving in one day. As the last part of the journey there involves driving in a convoy, it would mean (at least) a 13 hour day); which wouldn't be too bad if we didn't want to go aurora hunting this evening. Plus we have to drive back to Tromsø tomorrow.

Alta

So we decide to stick to some local sightseeing instead today, starting with the city of Alta.

Northern Lights Cathedral
Designed by architects Schmidt Hammer Larsen to apparently look like cascading waves of the northern lights, Alta's modern cathedral was consecrated in 2013.

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Sunrise

There's a beautiful sunrise today, so we spend the morning driving along the coast trying to capture it on camera.

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The sunrise goes from being pale and interesting to bold and dramatic! The whole sky appears on fire with huge swathes of glowing orange above the mountains.

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Reflecting in the broken ice on the Alta fjord, the sunrise is nothing short of sensational!

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Continuing on a small side road on one of the 'fingers' of the fjord, I make David stop every few hundred yards for a different view.

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Well, it is my birthday, so he has to be nice to me. Just for one day it won't hurt him, although he is finding it quite difficult! In reality of course, David is nice to me every day, and any comments are just gentle ribbing.

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David stays in the car, checking out the weather forecast for this evening while I run around with my camera outside in the freezing cold.

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The spectacular sunrise fades into a more 'pale and interesting' sunset.

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We are surprised at how little snow there is here compared with Tromsø. We are not disappointed that it is not snowing though. We want clear skies for later!

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At the end of the track at Russeluft we decide to head back to camp for an early finish today – the forecast is looking good for the aurora later, so it could be a long night.

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Post Boxes

Unlike England, where mail is delivered right through a slit in your door; in Norway often all the post boxes for a whole street are situated in a common and convenient place. Our road at home had ten houses, and everyone's letters were delivered to the collection of post boxes in the central part of the street.

Parcels usually have to be collected at the post office. It makes me very grateful for the UK postal service where the postman (or woman) will carry parcels right to your door and knock to ensure safe delivery.

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Shopping

Looking for somewhere to stock up on some food, we find everywhere closed as it is a Sunday. Eventually we end up in the petrol station where I get a few treats as well as tonight's dinner.

Troika
One of my childhood favourites, this chocolate is filled with three layers: jelly, truffle and marzipan. Interestingly enough, I don't like marzipan on its own, but love this bar!

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Finnmarksvidda

A bleak and unforgiving mountain plateau (Norway's largest), the temperatures can reach -50 °C on Finnmarksvidda in winter.

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So this is what it looks like where we were in the dark last night!

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Birthday Celebrations

Not since we were in the dry country of Sudan in 2004, have I had a birthday celebration without alcohol. Because of the strict drink-driving laws in Norway (0.02%), we decided we were better off not having any at all. And as we as are going out searching for those northern lights after dinner every evening there doesn't seem to be any point - or time - to imbibe.

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Villa Farris
So here I am with my non-alcoholic bubbles for the special day. Villa Farris used to be called 'fruksjampagne' (fruit champagne) when I was young, but had to remove the word 'champagne' for copyright reasons. I always enjoyed it as a treat when little, and it is still as good as I remember – a fruit flavoured carbonated drink.

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Pyttipanne
Swedish in origin (I believe), pyttipanne is a hash, usually made of leftovers. I add the sausages we didn't eat the other day to a mixture of onions and potatoes. And very nice it is too.

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It's GO for later according to the norway-lights website, so we take an afternoon siesta to prepare us for a long - and late - night. Not sure I will be able to sleep for the excitement though...

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After a delightful nap I have some much appreciated chill-time chatting to friends on Facebook and replying to numerous birthday greetings.

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Dinner
'Spekeskinke med eggerøre' – cured ham with scrambled eggs - has always been one of my dad's favourite dinners, and we used to buy a whole leg of ham every spring which would last us all summer. I am taken aback by the whiteness of the eggs - I am sure we once had a choice of white or brown eggs in the UK too! Now I only ever see brown eggs in the stores - I wonder why?

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Aurora Hunt

As soon as we have eaten, we set off into the wilderness again. Same place, same time, and soon the same car from last night join us too.

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So we sit and wait. And wait. And wait. I get out of the car to take a few test shots... and discover that in my excitement at the prospect of northern lights this evening, I forgot to put my jeans on. I do have two layers of thermal long-johns, but no trousers. Oh well, the underwear is black, it is dark, and we'll never see the other people again, so who cares.

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So we wait some more. We sing all the verses of 'ten green bottles'. We play 'I spy'. We reminisce about holidays past. An then we wait some more.

After about an hour and a half, I go outside to fiddle with my tripod. What is that in the sky? A thin green stripe? Excitedly I yell “aurora” at David and rush to take a few photos.

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It's not spectacular, but it is most definitely the northern lights. It is a fairly thin line which doesn't do much, but I have created this short time lapse video to show the little bit of movement we do get.


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While we are busy watching the green display in the sky, the dog team from Gargia Lodge come back from their evening exercises. We saw them go past earlier, with the dogs all tied together at the front, but instead of a sled, they are pulling a quad bike.

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OK, so they are not actually pulling the ATV, it is presumably there to emulate a sled for the dogs to have a purpose for their running. These are racing dogs, so need to be kept in tip top condition ready for the season.

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Ten minutes later and the light display is all over, so we get back in the car to warm up and wait some more. Twenty minutes go by before the lights make another appearance, this time they start fairly weak, get brighter and longer; and eventually the arc covers the entire horizon!

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The display goes on for 45 minutes this time, so I have the opportunity to play around with different foregrounds... such as David, or the car. Not much else available around here.

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With a three quarter moon, the foreground is lit up surprisingly well; in fact, I have never seen a moon shadow so pronounced before!

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Not before the last of the arc fizzles out do we go back inside the car and pour ourself a much deserved coffee! Two very happy campers, although David is disappointed that his video camera refused to play! I have therefore played around with another time lapse video from some of my shots.

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We don't even have time to drink the coffee before I yet again spot something in the sky. The people in the other car don't seem to be taking pictures, and I haven't seen them get out of the car yet. I wouldn't have thought they can see much outside with their headlights on.

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Feeling extremely happy to be witnessing this, I can't believe it when the lights suddenly increase in luminance, and start to dance across the sky, creating swathes of electric colour across the whole of the horizon from the south east to the north west. What an amazing display.

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As has been said many times, photos cannot do justice to the dancing lights, so here is another time lapse...

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Ecstasy sets in and I find it hard to control myself. The expressions “Oh my gawd”, “wow”, and “this is amazing” are somewhat overused this evening. The display is too big to fit it all in despite a 16mm lens, and I don't know which way to face my camera.

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I lock my main Canon EOS 5D III on continuous shooting and leave it to do its own thing while I set up the spare camera (a Canon EOS 6D) on another tripod facing the opposite direction. Because this camera is not fitted with such a fast lens, I don't find it as successful, and of course I only have one remote control so it is a bit fiddly with the 6D using self timer for each shot.

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All good things have to come to an end, and by ten o'clock there are no more green lights in the sky. We hang around for another couple of hours or more, with no further activity, before we call it a day.

Still on a high from this evening's display, I try to capture the glittering bits of ice on the side of the road, grasses and trees, sparkling in the car headlight beam. Truly an enchanted end to a magical day!

Posted by Grete Howard 05:15 Archived in Norway Tagged winter scenery sunrise holiday cathedral norway aurora northern_lights finnmark norge alta aurora_borealis gargia gargia_fjellsture altafjorden altafjord canon_eos_5d_iii Comments (2)

Lyngen - Alta - Gargia

Sunrise, sunset and moonrise. All within a three hour period. Followed - much later - by the northern lights. Sort of.

semi-overcast -15 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It's still snowing when we go out this morning, but thankfully it doesn't look like it has been snowing heavily all night, as the new snowfall isn't that deep. Deep enough, though.

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The light is mysterious and magical as we make our way towards the mainland and the main E6 highway to the north today.

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As we wait for the ferry, we make another attempt at phoning the SixT car hire place to ask about the tyre pressure warning light that came on yesterday. This time we make sure that the + sign is at the front of the number, not at the end; and thankfully we now reach the right people. They confirm our conclusion, that it is nothing to worry about and it's perfectly safe to continue driving. Good.

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Seeing this guy with his snow-blower, brings back memories of the fun parts of clearing the snow back home.

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Even if we don't see northern lights or experience anything else on this trip, it has been worth coming to Norway just for today's drive along the coast from Lyngen to Alta. The scenery is magnificent, and although it has been said many times that pictures cannot do these things justice, here are a few photos to show some of the vistas we see:

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Whenever David can, he stops for me to get out and take photos. Most of the time, however, it is just the usual 'drive-by-shooting', as these roads are quite narrow and winding, with very few places to stop, or even pass any slow-moving vehicles.

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Is that blue sky I see? This bodes well for our northern lights safari tonight!

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Although it is -4 °C now, because there is no wind it doesn't feel that cold when I nip out of the car without a jacket to take some shots. I don't linger though...

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Although to the untrained eye (ours), the road doesn't appear to need clearing, we see a number of snowploughs on the journey. The local authorities seem to be very much on top of the winter maintenance in these parts.

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In a huge lay-by we stop to have a car picnic overlooking the mountains and the sunset. Up here there is a bitingly cold wind making the 'real feel' very much lower than the actual temperature of -6 °C.

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Today there is absolutely no fear of me falling asleep, as the scenery and sunrise/sunset are absolutely breathtaking! The main E6 hugs the coastline, weaving in and out of the fingers of fjords, inlets and islands, with bridges and tunnels. Although the Arctic winter light is captivating, we so want to come back in summer to do this journey during never-ending daylight!

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Unlike the UK where it is often over in a few minutes, the sunrise and sunset seem to go on forever here in the north. For 2.5 hours we have a bewitching sunrise merging seamlessly into an equally delightful sunset, painting the sky and mountain peaks in hues of pink, orange and purple.

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All too soon daylight fades over this beautiful coastline yet again.

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Suddenly we spot the most incredible moon rising over the mountain on the horizon. With nowhere to pull over, I snap away feverishly through the window of the moving car – this has to be the most extraordinary moonrise I have ever seen! Words cannot describe it, and pictures do not do this magnificent, spine-tingling moment justice.

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A mere ten minutes go by before we can find somewhere to stop – in the small village of Talvik – so that I can put my tripod up to photograph the moon properly. In that time it has already risen considerably higher on the horizon and is no longer quite so dramatic.

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Gargia Fjellstue

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From Alta we are turning inland to get to our accommodation for the night – Gargia Fjellstue, and by the time we get there it is completely dark. So are the lodgings. No lights on inside the main building, nor any of the cabins. We try the door. Locked. We ring the telephone number we were given in the booking. Voice-mail. What do we do now? At -15 °C it is too cold to stand around outside, so we get back in the car and ponder our next move.

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After about ten minutes or so, a young girl appears, walks past the car and around the back of the reception/restaurant. Lights are turned on, and the front door unlocked.

As we are checking in, David comments that she speaks very good English – turns out she is in fact English, from Oxford! Mathild, as we learn her name is, tells us everyone thinks she is a Norwegian who speaks good English. “Just like me, then” I quip, but it isn't until I reply to her in Norwegian that she realises I am serious!

The lodge keeps a number of dogs for sled racing purposes, and Mathild hands me the most adorable three week old puppy! Apparently the young mother ate all the other puppies so this one is being hand raised. The puppy is gorgeous and nestles up against my neck, grunting in a very similar way to the baby wild pig I snuggled up to in an almost identical fashion a few weeks ago in Kenya.

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The dog yard

We settle in to our comfortable little 'hytte' – a small wood cabin with grass on the roof – although the air inside is fairly cool when we arrive.

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The cabin may be small, but it is very welcoming and cosy. The main room features the dining area, sitting area and kitchenette.

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A bathroom off to one side, as well as a bedroom.

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One feature I notice, which is typical Norwegian, is the pull-out bread board in place of a top drawer in the kitchen.

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Dinner
As soon as we've settled in, I start to make dinner. Having turned on the hot plates, I can't believe how long they take to heat up. Being used to induction cooking at home, the classic electric cooking rings seem so old-fashioned and slow. I wait, and wait and wait for the butter to even start melting. I bought a couple of whale steaks in the supermarket yesterday; one of my many nostalgic foods for this trip. Whale was almost as common as beef for Sunday dinners back home.

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I know it is a very controversial subject, and I don't want to get into a discussion about the ethics of whale hunting. I would just like to point out that the minke whale available for food in Norway is not an endangered species; unlike cod - the most popular variety used for the English fish and chips.

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Whale is nothing like fish or seafood in appearance, texture or taste. It is more akin to a very lean steak.

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Whale steaks served with mushrooms and potatoes in a creamy sauce.

Sugar Tongs

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These very commonly used tongs in the sugar bowl remind me of a rather old Norwegian joke: “The farmer was well known for popping behind the cow shed for a quick pee, even while having visitors; and his wife was fed up – and embarrassed – that once back inside, he didn't wash his hands, and would grab a couple of sugar cubes using his fingers. One of their friends suggested the solution was to get some tongs.

A week later the same friend was yet again having coffee and cakes with the farmer and his wife, when she noticed the farmer disappeared outside, came back in again, and as before, used his hands to help himself to sugar.

“Did you not get any tongs” she asked the farmer's wife. “Oh, yes, I did” she replied “and I hung them behind the cow shed...”

Aurora Hunting

Gargia Fjellsture has free wifi in the cabins, and the signal is strong enough that we can check out the various weather and aurora forecasts for this evening. It is not looking too brilliant, but we decide to go off in search of the lights anyway.

This is one of our favourite sites for aurora forecasts.

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Mathild recommends we carry on up the track past the cabins, for four kilometres, to a high plateau where there is a large area suitable for parking.

We find the spot without any trouble, and from here we can see in every single direction, without much light pollution. I set up my tripod and take a few test shots to determine which settings are best for the conditions. There is quite a glow from the bright lights of Alta, and the presence of the moon means it is not pitch dark outside, which makes it easier to navigate around.

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After a short while we are joined by another car and we sit there and wait and wait. Then we see something... It may be a cloud, but as the camera can pick up way more colour than the naked eye can, I take a few test shots.

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Yes, it is definitely a green hue in the sky, but it is very weak and mostly hiding behind the clouds.

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For the next three hours, we sit, wait, drink coffee, pop out to look at the sky, see a cloud, get back in the car, drink some more coffee, stand outside wishing the clouds to go away....

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Finally we admit defeat and make our way back to the cabin. The rooms have heated up while we were out so I don't have to go to bed with all my clothes on after all.

Posted by Grete Howard 10:13 Archived in Norway Tagged landscapes mountains sky snow winter sunset coast travel roads scenery sunrise clouds holiday fun beautiful moon norway ferry moonrise wind cold aurora northern_lights night_time stunning alta car_hire road-trip aurora_borealis snowing biltrend nord_norge e6 norwegian_coast night_photography gargia gargia_fjellstue snow_plough snow_plow ploughing moon_rise talvik self_catering sugar_tongs Comments (1)

Tromsø: Lyngen Alps, Kaldfjord and Sommarøy. And Finland?

Snow, snow and more snow. Oh, did I say snow?

snow 1 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Breakfast

Breakfasts in Norway are generally very similar to lunch and usually consist of open sandwiches with meat, fish, egg or cheese. The bread is most often wholemeal and quite dense. My breakfasts (as well as packed lunches for school) in the 1960s and 70s used to contain home made bread with either Gouda cheese or a salami-like deli sausage called Stabburspølse made from horse meat, pork fat and blood. My favourite! The school did not allow white bread or sweet fillings for lunch, and the headmaster personally checked each and every sandwich-pack! Fruit and vegetables were allowed but no snacks such as crisps (chips) or chocolates!

Unable to find Stabburspølse in the supermarket yesterday, I bought something similar, made from lamb meat, pork heart, beef heart, pork meat and beef fat. I am delighted to find it tastes very similar to the one made from horse.

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I have another slice of bread, topped with 'rekesalat' - a rich mixture of prawns, sugar beets and mayonnaise - another treat we used to have occasionally at home, which makes me think fondly of my mother, as it was one of her favourites.

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Sandwiches are nearly always the open variety in Norway, not one slice of bread either side of the filling.

Cheese
David is not as adventurous as me when it comes to food, and is happy to stay 'safe' with Jarlsberg – at least it is a Norwegian cheese! In my day (gosh, that makes me sound sooo old!), we didn't talk about different cheeses by name; it was either 'gulost' (yellow cheese) or 'brunost' (brown cheese). The former was almost always Gouda, whereas 'brunost', AKA Gjetost, is a caramelised whey cheese made from goat's milk – an acquired taste. One I have not acquired!

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Brunost

It is still not quite daylight when we go out at 9am this morning - today sunrise is at 09:56 and sunset at 13:02.

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Parking in the snow and cold

Parking our car outside the house in the cold and snowy north is very different to what we are used to. One of the things we were advised to do, is to make sure the windscreen wipers are up so that they don't freeze onto the windscreen overnight.

Other suggestions include:

Take the snow brush and ice scraper in with us. Should we come out in the morning to find the car covered in a foot of snow we will be glad we did.

Let the cabin of the car cool down before we close the door to reduce the amount of ice forming on the windscreen overnight.

Be prepared to get up early to clear the driveway so that we can get onto the main road. The roads in Norway are cleared regularly, starting very early in the morning (our side road back in the 70s was usually ploughed by 7am), but the disadvantage of this is the ridge which is often left by the snowplough across your driveway!

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The original plan was to visit the Arctic Cathedral and a couple of Tromsø's museums today, but being surrounded by so much beautiful scenery it seems a shame to spend the day indoors. Yesterday at the SixT counter, Hans-Ivar (the guy who helped us with the car) was explaining to us which fjord is best for whale watching; so that's where we are heading this morning. Faced with a choice of seeing whales or visiting a museum, the whales win hands down!

Lyngen Alps

If you thought continental Europe had exclusive rights to Alps, you'd be wrong. Norway has its own mountain range known as Lyngen Alps, stretching some 50 miles east of Tromsø, with several peaks reaching over 1000 metres high.

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The area is truly stunning, with steep sided, snow clad mountains tumbling directly into the blue fjords.

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If you are wondering what those red poles by the side of the road are – they are markers to show where the edge of the carriageway is and road surface ends. They help both drivers and the snowplough stay on the road rather than end up in the ditch when there is a lot of snow.

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Svensby – Breivikeidet Ferry

We return to the ferry at Svensby this morning to travel back towards Tromsø again.

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There are a few more waves this morning, and while not exactly 'rough', we can certainly feel the movement of the boat and the crashing of the waves.

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Sitting in the car on the ferry deck is quite a strange experience, as we cannot see anything other than the very top of the mountains. It's like being in an enclosed simulator – one of those things you get at fairgrounds which are supposed to emulate the movement of a fighter plane, racing car or roller-coaster.

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Upstairs is a nice seating area, with a small café, as well as toilets. This morning most people seem to be staying in their cars, however.

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Key Battery Low

This morning a warning appears on our dashboard about the key battery being low. Not wanting to be stuck in icy conditions unable to get back into the car, we ring the number on the car hire receipt to see what they suggest we do. A nice your girl answers the phone and after ascertaining that she speaks English, David proceeds to explain the situation. “You need help with the car?” she asks after his fairly lengthy summary of the problem. David goes over it again, carefully choosing different words this time in an effort to be understood. As the girl on the other end still seems confused, he hands me the phone, and I go though the whole scenario in Norwegian. She lets me finish then says calmly: “I understand your problem, but you have come through to a veterinary hospital.”

Oops.

Feeling rather embarrassed and foolish, I profusely apologise and sheepishly hang up.

Sunrise

By the time we get to the other side of the fjord, the mist has rolled in from the sea and there is snow in the air. By 10 o'clock, however, we see a glimmer of sunrise – maybe it will be a nice day after all? Blink and you'll miss it. The forecast is not good...

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Biltrend

After the earlier humiliation, we decide not to risk phoning SixT again, and when we spot the BILTREND showroom (we have one of their adverts emblazened in big letters on the side of the hire car) we call in to ask them about the key battery. The friendly sales person changes it for us free of charge. How nice. We tell him about the vet fiasco, and discover that we did call the correct number, but the + sign had somehow ended up at the end of the number rather than in front. How does that work?

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Elk

We are both really hoping to see elk on our travels! And I guess if we are unlucky enough to hit one, we now at least have the number of a veterinarian. Very useful!

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Whale Watching

We head for Kaldfjorden where the orcas were spotted earlier this week. Guess what? It's snowing! Near Ersjordbotn we stop at a viewing area, but all we can see is snow. And more snow.

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And then the really bad weather comes in from the right.

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We can't see a thing any more. Not that we could see much before...

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Thank goodness for coffee and 'pepperkaker' (thin Norwegian ginger biscuits).

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The storm passes as quickly as it arrived – although we can still see the bad weather blowing across the horizon.

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Watching several fishermen bring their boats back in to the harbour, we realise that the weather forecast was probably right.

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David tries his best to check out the weather and aurora predictions for later, but isn't having much success with his laptop or his phone.

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With zero visibility, strong winds and horizontal snow, we decide to abandon the idea of whale watching and take a road trip around Kvaløya Island instead.

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Kvaløya

It has never really got light today, and before we know it, sunset is upon us. It is really hard to tell at what point sunrise ends and sunset starts as they just seem to blend into one twilight zone.

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It's a beautiful coastline, even in this light. Or rather, lack of.

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And then the snow sets in. Again.

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The scenery is magnificent – providing you like black and white, and you don't actually want to see it.

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Driving Conditions

The snowfall intensifies, and soon we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard, with a white-out – or rather a 'grey-out'. Here we are the ones making tracks in the road, the first to have driven this stretch since the snow started a couple of hours ago!

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The one saving grace for the driving here is the fact that the car is fitted with studded tyres, giving extra grip in the snow and ice. It would be stupid, foolhardy and downright dangerous to attempt this journey on summer tyres.

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Sommarøy

Having come this far, we decide to continue over the bridge to Sommarøy.

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Havfrua Kro

The weather is just as atrocious out here, so we find a 'kro' (road side café) to break up the journey and grab a bite to eat. The island is a popular tourist destination in summer due to its white sandy beaches and beautiful scenery, but at this time of year it is desolate and we are the only customers in the diner.

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For some reason this place makes me think of the 1990s American sitcom 'Northern Exposure'.

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Karbonadesmørbrød
Before I left the UK, I made a mental list of all the nostalgic experiences I wanted to have while in Norway. Eating 'karbonadesmørbrød' in a road-side 'kro' was one of them.

'Karbonader' is the Norwegian version of a hamburger, and as a 'smørbrød' (open sandwich), it is served on a slice of wholemeal bread, topped with fried onion. It is sometimes served cold, but here I get it straight out of the frying pan. This is (or at least was when I lived in Norway some 40+ years ago) one of the most popular cafeteria menu items in this country.

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Waffles
Waffles are a Norwegian institution, and you will find almost all snack bars, cafés and even restaurants serve them. Every household has a waffle iron, and inviting someone over for waffles is common. In our house waffles were most often served with raspberry jam or freshly stewed strawberries when in season. I am therefore quite surprised – and a little disappointed – to find this one is filled with the ubiquitous brown cheese. I don't like brown cheese, but never being one to turn down a food just because I think I won't like it; I decide to give it a second chance and taste it with an open mind. It is actually not bad!

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Eplekake
While David sticks to the more international choice of burger and chips (no surprise there then!), he does at least order something Norwegian for dessert: 'eplekake' (apple cake).

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Now, anyone who has ever visited Norway will agree with me that it is NOT a cheap country, I was therefore not too shocked when the bill came to 340 Kr (ca £26) for a burger and chips, open sandwich, apple cake, waffles, Coke and hot chocolate.

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Norlendinger and nordnorsk

One thing that has struck me since landing in Tromsø yesterday, is how friendly everyone is. Norwegians are not known for their friendliness, at least not towards strangers. I am beginning to think that this is the north-south divide, and that 'nordlendinger' (northerners) are more cordial than the people down south. The lady owner of the diner joins us for a long conversation, wanting to know all about how I ended up in England, what I did for a living, what it is like to live in England, how easy it is to get a job etc.

I love chatting with people and making new friends, but I have to admit that talking to strangers is something I have been feeling a little apprehensive about on this trip. Obviously, growing up in Norway, the first language I spoke was Norwegian. However, I left when I was 15, and since then 99% of my oral and written communication has been in English, therefore my Norwegian is not so much rusty as immature. My vocabulary is that of a teenager and after leaving Norway, my conversation in the language has been almost exclusively with my parents, resulting in a lack of knowledge – and confidence - of small talk, professional contact and chitchat.

Add to that the fact that this the country uses two official variations of Norwegian: Nynorsk (directly translated: new-Norwegian) and Bokmål (literally book-tongue). While mutually intelligible in their written form, I really struggle to understand the former when spoken. There are also 248 recognised dialects, although it is popularly said there are as many dialects as there are inhabitants in Norway. I find 'nordnorsk' – the dialect spoken in northern Norway – extremely hard to understand. Not only is the pronunciation very distinct, many words are completely different to the ones I would use. The image below goes some way to explain the differences even just in the simple word I.

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Over the Mountains

We make our way back down to Tromsø over the mountains, where the driving conditions are just as bad, and I let David down by snoozing most of the way. I just can not keep awake! Must be his smooth and safe driving...

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Tyrkisk Peber
I pop a few Tyrkisk Peber to try and stop myself from dropping off to sleep – these are another acquired taste for sure. They are hard liquorice sweets, with a salt and pepper soft centre. Very strong and very unusual.

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Shopping

Hans-Ivar at the car hire place recommended the Eide Handel supermarket as the best place in the area to get traditional Norwegian food. He was right. I am excited to find reindeer meat, whale steaks, cloudberry jam and a few other favourites from my youth.

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At the entrance is a lady selling her own home made 'lefser' (thin, flat potato bread) with sugar, cinnamon and brown cheese, and she is offering free tasters! Delicious! It isn't until after we get to the car that David tells me how much the lefse we bought was: 149Kr. Gulp. That's nearly £12. For a sweet 'cake' thingy....

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Chocolate
As the weather is so awful this side of Tromsø, we decide to take a trip inland towards (or even into) Finland; hoping for clearer skies – and ultimately northern lights – as there is usually less precipitation the further away from the coast you get . We stock up on snacks to keep us going through the evening so that we don't have to return to the house for dinner.

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SMIL is a milk chocolate with a soft centre, not dissimilar to Rolos, but with a runnier filling.

Tromsø

But first we have to get through Tromsø, which is easier said than done and we get somewhat lost in the one-way and dead-end road systems. At least we get a 'sightseeing tour' of Tromsø by night. Or, more correctly, Tromsø after dark, as it is only 16:30 now, it just feels like the middle of the night...

Tromsø has a rich history dating back around 11,000 years and the city centre contains the highest number of old wooden houses anywhere in Northern Norway with the oldest building dating from 1789. It was the only city in Northern Norway to avoid serious damage during WWII (most of this area was burnt to the ground by the Germans) and it even served as the capital of the free Norway for a few weeks after Germany invaded Norway in 1940. We can't really see much of the town in the dark though, so we just admire the Christmas lights.

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Hurtigruten
It looks like the Coastal Voyage ship is in town. Hurtigruten is a daily passenger and freight shipping service along Norway's western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes, completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. Although it does carry passengers, it is not a cruise ship as such - for many people living in isolated coastal areas, it is a way of life as their main contact with the rest of the world, carrying goods, cars and even the post.

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Ishavskatedralen (Arctic Cathedral)
Officially known as Tromsdalen Kirke, this iconic symbol of Tromsø is technically not a cathedral at all, but a parish church which has popularly attained the moniker 'Arctic Cathedral'. On account of its striking shape and position on the harbour, it has also been nicknamed the 'Opera House of Norway', referring to its (somewhat sinuous) resemblance to the Sydney Opera House. The artist himself is said to have given several different answers at different times when questioned about what inspired him to create this particular design: the Sami tent, icebergs, fish-drying racks and the local style of boathouse amongst others.

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Snow, snow and more snow

Almost as soon as we cross the bridge from Tromsø to the mainland, the snow starts to come down heavily. Really heavily.

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Crunch Time

We are now having to make a decision – do we carry on towards Finland, or do we make our way back to base? From here to Kilpisjärvi in Finland takes around 1.5 hours in perfect driving conditions. Today's circumstances are anything but perfect. We will have to drive back again too of course, which is another 2.5 hours at best. So we are talking about 5-6 hours driving in this snow. Once we get to Finland there is no guarantee that the weather is going to be any clearer, nor that the aurora will make an appearance; so it could all be a total waste of time.

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Decisions decisions.

Talking it over, we come to the conclusion that it is best – and safest – to abandon our the long journy to Finland and any hopes of seeing the northern lights tonight.

We see a small road off to our left and assume it to be a shortcut back to the house. After a kilometer or so, we realise that we have made a terrible mistake, as the snow is falling unbelievably fast and furious now – I can't remember ever driving in such treacherous snowy conditions. Visibility is down to around 3 metres, and we start looking for somewhere to turn.

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That is easier said than done. A single track lane, with no turnings off, nor any obvious passing places or laybys, we end up travelling for another couple of kilometres before cheekily using someone's driveway to turn around.

At least back on the main road the snow is constantly kept in check by ploughing.
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Check Tyre Pressure?

Great! Now we have a warning message to 'CHECK TYRE PRESSURE'. That's all we need! David goes out into the snow to have a quick look at the tyres to see if there is an obvious puncture or flat.

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There isn't anything glaringly evident, so we cautiously drive on. But not until we have taken a quick break with a coffee from the thermos and a Kvikk Lunsj – another Norwegian 'institution', very similar to the English Kit Kat.

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It's a relief when we enter a tunnel for a while, as although those dancing snowflakes in the headlights are mesmerising and very pretty; they are extremely tiring on the eyes, especially for the driver.

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As soon as we find a garage, we stop to check the tyre pressure properly. The gauge says 28 psi on each of the four wheels. The manual tells us it should be 33 psi at the front and 36 psi at the back, but doesn't mention whether this is for summer tyres or studs or both. We are reluctant to make any changes to how we received the car, as it is obvious that the pressure has not changed; it is unlikely for the pressure to have changed an equal amount on all four tyres since we took charge of the car. We drive home to 'sleep on it' and will make a decision about what to do tomorrow morning.

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Back Home

About eight inches or so of snow seems to have fallen since we left the house this morning. As suspected, the snow plough has been here this evening, and created a ridge across the road by the entrance to the house.

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Clearing the front step and drive is one of the things I do not miss about living in a cold climate!

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Hjemmekos

So, instead of watching the northern lights over Kilpisjärvi Lake in Finland, we now find ourselves back at the house, where we 'koser oss' with 'hveteboller' and 'julebrus'. The Norwegian word 'kos' does not have a direct English translation; although it is similar in meaning to the English word 'cosy', it encompasses a much wider emotion: a feeling of contentment, happiness, good friends, good food, comfort, warmth and much more. 'Kos' can be a verb ( we 'koser'), noun (that is 'kos') or adjective ( a 'koselig' place). Norwegians like to combine two or more words to create one longer one, so 'hjemmekos' is 'kos' at home, 'julekos' is 'kos' at Chritsmas, 'lørdagskos' is 'kos' on a Saturday and so on.

Hveteboller
Yet another Norwegian 'institution' is this simple currant bun. Ironically, if you google 'hveteboller', the top entry describes it as 'kos'!

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Julebrus
Another one of those combined Norwegian words, 'julebrus' is merely a Christmas soda or pop.

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We may not have seen the northern lights today, but it has certainly been an enjoyable day, and in many ways it is good to be able to have an early night, as we have a long drive tomorrow.

Posted by Grete Howard 10:11 Archived in Norway Tagged snow norway aurora northern_lights car_hire road-trip tromsø self-drive lyngen biltrend eide_handel nord_norge troms kro havfrua_kro sommarøy kvaløya hjemmekos Comments (0)

London - Oslo - Tromsø - Lyngen

And now for something completely different

snow -4 °C
View Inside the Arctic Circle Tromsø & Alta 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We always like to vary the type of travel we do as much as possible, and this holiday can hardly be more different to our last sojourn when we went exploring the deserts of Northern Kenya: we are travelling in search of the Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway.

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This holiday is also a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. Not that I have ever been to Tromsø before, but I grew up in the south of Norway and I occasionally feel drawn to 'Gamlelandet' (The Old Country) which I left in 1973. I went back many times in the first few years to see my parents who lived near Oslo, but after they too emigrated to England in 1998 to be near me, holidays to Norway became a thing of the past.

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Booking the flights

Before I launch into telling you all about my trip, I want to regale the tale of booking the flight to get here.

Having seen a great flight on Skyscanner which offered a 14 hour layover in Trondheim, I was a initially little put off by the name of the agent:

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But the flight was cheap, the timings great, and it meant I would get to visit Nidarosdomen (the cathedral) in Trondheim which has been on my wish list since I was a small child; so we decided to go ahead anyway. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, so it seemed. The flight was secured, all information input, credit card details taken and all was going well.

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So far, so good. Then a box popped up on my screen to say the price had gone up by £20. “A little odd” I thought, but these things can happen I guess, so I accepted the change and continued. Just as I thought it was a done deal, another box appeared on my monitor:

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What??? You gotta be ******* joking! Obviously I did NOT accept this change in price – how can the cost suddenly DOUBLE - and more - in a matter of seconds?

According to one review site I checked afterwards, I am not the only one who has had problems with Cheap-O-Air in the last month or so.

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Oh well, I live and learn.

Maybe I should have checked out the travel agency before I tried to use them rather than afterwards, but I am not one for relying on other people's opinions. When booking flights / hotels / restaurants / destinations, I prefer to trust my own instincts rather than clouding my perspective by creating preconceived ideas based on someone else's point of view. I like to start with an unprejudiced and open mind, where I can make my own evaluations and impressions. Hence I rarely check review sites before booking anything.

As for the flight, it was back to the drawing board again for me; thankfully no money lost on the abordted booking. Using the tried and trusted site GoToGate, I managed to book a flight which was even better priced than the original El Cheapo one, but I had to miss out on seeing Trondheim unfortunately. Never mind, there is always a next time...

So.... we now find ourselves on the way to Tromsø.

Automation

I am amazed at how everything has become so automated these days. We checked in on line for the flight yesterday and printed our own boarding cards. At Heathrow the bag-drop is self-service, and we attach our own tag. To get through to Departures we scan our own boarding cards.

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At Gardemoen Airport in Oslo, we have to collect our luggage, and again the bag drop is self-service. At an unmanned check-in desk, we just scan our original bag tag, place the luggage on the scale/belt and press GO. The bag disappears down the chute, hopefully to reappear in Tromsø.

While we were lucky on the flight between Heathrow and Oslo, with three seats for the two of us, on the next leg a 'generously proportioned' chappie sits next to David, making it quite a tight squeeze. I still manage to sleep some though.

Tromsø

By the time we approach Tromsø airport, a weak sunset is already in progress, at 13:30. At this time of the year, daylight is in short supply this far north.

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At 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and 69° N, this is the most northerly place we have visited to date, and only the fifth time we have been inside the Arctic Circle; the others being Rovaniemi (Finland), Narvik (Norway), Kangerlussuaq (Greenland), and Kiruna (Sweden).

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Tromsø is the first airport I have been to which offers an official 'Selfie-Spot'. It has to be done – it may be the only northern lights we get to see...

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Car Hire

At the SixT counter we discover that David has booked the hire car through the Town Centre office in Tromsø, not their airport branch. Oops. It turns out to be a blessing in disguise though as we are offered an upgrade to a Mazda 6 for a very small daily supplement. We also receive a massive amount of free advice about where to go for seeing the whales that have gathered in the fjords in the last couple of weeks, to see the northern lights and which supermarket has the best selection of traditional Norwegian foods.

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And what a car the Mazda is! Electric heated seats, built in Sat Nav, electrically heated and operated wing mirrors, electric lumbar adjustments, radar assisted parking plus a major amount of other electronic gizmos. One happy geek driver! The passenger is also very happy, with plenty of legroom and individually adjusted heating for driver and passenger.

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Self-Catering

We stop at the nearest supermarket to get a few supplies on the way to our overnight stop. We are renting self-catering accommodation rather than staying in hotels on this trip for two reasons: trying to curb the cost of eating (and drinking) out in Norway; and more importantly, I am hoping to recreate a few memories from my childhood by cooking traditional Norwegian food.

As we leave the supermarket, it starts to snow. Heavily.

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Accommodation

We carefully selected all the accommodation to be away from the main cities, avoiding major light pollution areas, as well as parking difficulties (we all know how David panics about finding somewhere to park). The first two nights we are renting a five bedroomed house away from Tromsø, which is all very well and good, but as you can see from the map below, roads are few and far between in this region and the area is made up of a number of islands. As the crow flies it may not be very far, but the journey there involves a couple of bridges and a ferry ride, so takes a bit of pre-planning.

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Breivikeidet to Svensby Ferry

Ferries are obviously very much a way of life here, and the whole operation is very slick. The RO-RO (roll-on, roll-off) ferry arrives and opens its bow like a huge whale ready to swallow us.

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We roll on, the mouth closes and we're off! I detect free wifi emanating from the bus parked next to us on the ferry, and try to 'steal' a bit to reply to an email to my friend Kay and wish another friend, Larry, a happy birthday. No such luck.

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At the other end, the whale open his mouth again and we roll off.
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Lyngen Mountain House

From the ferry terminal it is a short drive to Lyngen Mountain House. It's a lovely traditional house in a small settlement. There is a convenient key safe by the door and we are soon inside in the warm. The owner, Kjetil, has kindly been in earlier to light the fire for us.

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The house boasts five bedrooms, but judging by the size of the rest of building, I would guess that the original bedrooms have been subdivided to add to the sleeping arrangements. Each of the bedrooms is small, but adequate, but we struggle to find the bathroom. We try all the doors upstairs. Nothing. Then it must be downstairs. It's not obvious and we open and close each of the doors on both floors of the house several times, as if the bathroom should magically have appeared since last time we opened that door. Nothing. How very odd. There MUST be one around somewhere.

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Eventually David has the idea to go outside into the little (unheated) hallway just inside the front door. And there it is, off to one side. Phew! I was beginning to get a little desperate...

Dinner

I rustle up some quick and easy food. As a child growing up in Norway, it was always a treat to have 'pølse med lompe' – the Norwegian style hot dog - a sausage served in a flat potato bread (like a wrap).

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David is happy as he likes 'pølse med lompe' very much. He has also found himself some 'eple cider' - non-alcoholic cider.

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For dessert I bought some ready made chocolate pudding and custard. In the UK I find the custard far too thick, so was happy to see that the 'vanilla sauce' I remember from my youth is still pleasantly runny!

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Before leaving the UK, David set up his mobile phone with a European Data Package and tethering for the laptop because this house has no wifi available (or as they said on the flight: “vaifee”). Unfortunately the phone signal is not strong enough to be able to use the laptop, so we are unable to check the usual northern lights websites before going out tonight. We checked them late last night, and the forecast was very doubtful for this evening. The weather outside is very cloudy, but we will try anyway.

Aurora Hunt

Soon after we leave the house it starts snowing. Again. Knowing how quickly the weather can – and does – change around here, we still continue up the west coast of Lyngen.

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I take a few test shots, as sometimes a weak aurora can be detected by the camera sensor even if you can't really see it with the naked eye. It can also be quite easy to mistake clouds for northern lights and vice versa.

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The brightness we see on the horizon turns out to be just the glow from Tromsø city lights.

In addition to bridges and ferries galore, the Tromsø area is well endowed with tunnels, such as this one.

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At Koppangen we stop and have a coffee from the flask we brought with us, while waiting for the weather to clear up. It doesn't.

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It's a pretty place... but no northern lights.

The highlight of this evening is the enormous icicles all along the side of the road! Many are up to eight feet tall – I certainly don't remember those from my winters in Norway as a child. Yes, we had icicles of course, but not entire rock faces covered with them.

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We make one more stop for a test shot before heading back to base. I keep seeing clouds, thinking they are dancing lights in the sky. No... they are just clouds. It is still snowing.

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By the time we get back to the house around midnight after having been out for four hours hunting the elusive aurora, the sky has cleared up some and I can see stars, but no northern lights.

We have the option of staying up hoping the clear sky will bring out the northern lights later, or go to bed. Having been travelling since four o'clock this morning travelling, we choose the latter.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:15 Archived in Norway Tagged tunnels holiday norway ferry aurora northern_lights car_hire tromsø skyscanner cheapoair self-drive sixt lyngen snowing Comments (1)

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