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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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