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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)

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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