Hunt for northern lights was the biggest motivation behind this adventure. However, the city, and northern Norway in general, had much more to offer than I had foreseen. The goddess wouldn’t show herself until much later in the trip, but until then there was no intention of remaining idle.
Everything about this place goes against the concept of normalcy, including the things you take for granted. It was an eerie feeling to take a bus departing the airport and to ride on a 4 lane tunnel highway under the sea that also had some round-abouts! I had seen uninteresting videos of this tunnel, but in reality it was a wonder unlike any other. At the end of the tunnel was the city of Tromso, situated on the island of Tromsoya, a text book look of what a cold Scandinavian city looks like.
The darkness stands around you like a wall. Out of the 8 days I was in Tromso, 5 of them were without a sunrise. The day of arrival in Tromso was marked by a gentle snowfall and a stagnant twilight. Following the snowfall, the skies opened up around noon, but the mood the likes of an unending evening lingered. It took me couple of hours to realize that I should finally give up hopes of seeing the sun, at least for the next week or so. Given that I had chosen to fly from Oslo to Tromso, just for this, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Yet, I was. Maybe that is why all the lights inside every house are always on, despite being empty; probably their way to fight darkness. Given that 100% electricity generation is from renewable sources (at least that is the claim), it is a cheap affair.
Unlike the free electricity however, Norway is quite expensive, like the other countries “up there”. Expect to spend quite some amount on simple groceries and restaurants. CouchSurfing, and AirBnB are your best bets. Sometimes hostels could be cheap, however I found the per person/per dorm bed charges quite expensive compared to other places in Europe. Hence the thought, ‘why not pay probably 5€ more and get a room to myself’.
Lots of tour companies offer activities in winter. For example whale watching is only possible in winter months, obviously because other months the whales prefer the Caribbean seas . I suggest to take a RIB boat tour. I chose it because it was the cheapest. But it turns out, that is the closest you get to the huge fellows! When the “ohh so awesome Free Willy whale” suddenly takes a leap in front of you, you can only marvel at its beauty. And after passing the Orcas , the Humpbacks start circling around you. The cold wind did not give me as many goose bumps as the sight of these huge, graceful creatures did. (Album Norway )
Next activity on the list was Husky sledging. Imagine having 50 extremely energetic and loving pets. Admittedly, at the end of the day, I smelt like a pen. But for someone who has never had pets, I was quite surprised at how much one out of five of our “riders” liked me! People were paired up and each pair given a sledge and 5 huskies (so 10 pairs). We had to follow instructions to get the dogs hooked up to the sledge and then some more instructions followed about the do’s and don’t’s up on the mountains. The dogs always followed the tour guide way in the front, and we were responsible for steering and speed control. We were also supposed to get down from the sledge and help the dogs in case the slope up hill was too steep, and they couldn’t pull our weight. We were lucky to have a super enthusiastic and young bunch!! The snowfall, the thick whiteness around that hit our faces, the lovely white carpeted mountains, and the swooshing speed at which we were riding down the slopes … all of it was simply exhilarating! Five stars. Must do. Period.
All this time, the northern lights kept eluding us. First attempt was a tour but that night was a no show. Already having experienced the disappointment in Iceland, this time I was not ready to give up so easily. I was equipped with a car having spiked winter tires, a sim card with data on it and the cell phone with all required websites bookmarked and apps downloaded!! (see the list below). The chase had begun. Second night attempt was a repeat of the lake we had been with the tour (yes we dropped a pin and saved the spot on our map). Lovely moon light, but no auroras. For third attempt we went to a nearby hill to get away from the street lights. No show. Looking at the history, it seemed the activity had gone down totally since the day we arrived , and had yet not resumed. Fourth night was a rainy and cloudy night and I was not in a good mood. I was already trying to make peace with the fact that with just two more nights left in Tromso, there is a high likelihood that I go back without paying my regards to the goddess. For the next attempt, we took some advice from our couch surfing host, and drove inland until Finland , to the lake of Kilpisjärvi. Freezing would have been an understatement. Close to the lake, it was impossible to feel any appendages. But with the amount of determination I had, I ignored the cold and set up my tripod and camera and stared clicking. Some frames started giving a faint tinge of green closer to the edges. It was confirmed (by photos and websites) that there was definitely some activity, but extremely low, invisible to naked eye and right around the area of the bright moon. After couple of hours of waiting in the numbing cold, driving around to find spots with low street light, I thought that was it. This was all I was destined to see. So we started going back towards Tromso, but then decided to spend another hour or so in a spot perched on a pass between two hills, away from all lights and with a good place for parking. The car was rented for another day, and there was no flight to be boarded; We had nothing to lose by waiting some more. After playing with some moonlight shots and constantly jumping in and out of the car, the sandwiches were all gone, the tea flask was almost empty and spirits were quite dampened. I was about to pack my camera and fold the tripod when in the corner of my eye some curtains moved in the window frame of the night sky. And before I could think about “oh are these…” the curtains started flowing all around us. I quickly took couple of shots and they came out brilliantly green! I went snapping for about 15 mins and then realized, I needed to stop. Even if the camera “sees” more detail than your eye, photos can do only so much justice to the beauty that eyes can behold. And there it was.. a full 90 min show! It was breathtaking. Looking at the website I confirmed on the scale of 0 to 9 (Kp) it was at 6. Although there are other factors contributing to the “strength”, this was a good indication. The curtains were mostly white with tinges of green and red at the edges, and they kept moving and breaking apart across the sky. Had the moon been waning or not there, they would have been mostly green and some red (as per descriptions online, I could be wrong).
The ride back was eventless and the activity eventually died down. The next night the activity continued but was slightly weaker with also some clouds forming every now and then. Being up every other night for the last week, we decided not to pursue it further. The magnificent show that I witnessed was, I presumed, there to stay with me for quite a while. And rightly so, even after 1.5 years (yes took me quite a while to write this down), they flash in the inward eye every now and then, when I close my eyes, on peaceful evenings, while listening to serene music and most often at nights.