Tromsø 2017: Thursday night & Friday

It’s Saturday morning and for some insane reason, the library doesn’t open until 11am (although I can see people inside! How did they get there? Were they locked in last night?) so this latest blog is being written on my phone in my armchair.

On Thursday evening, off I went to the Kulturhuset and I got home just after two in the morning.

Therefore, I was glad I didn’t have anything planned for Friday morning. When I got up, I toddled off through the fresh snow to the library, leafed through visittromso.no until I found something that appealed – reindeer sledding under the Northern Lights, although the heavy snow clouds weren’t promising much in the way of Auroral activity. True, that trip was cancelled in the afternoon for lack of participants but I immediately found a similar one.

I spent the day in Tromsø, taking in the sights at the harbour, popping into tourist shops & I visited the famous Tromsø Museum. I went to Polaria last time I was here and other than the seals, that was a bit underwhelming but the Tromsø Museum is supposed to be really good. 

It’s not.

The downstairs is full of slightly moth-eaten skins and stuffed animals dating back to the days when the Arctic was a hunting ground and Tromsø a jumping-off point for expeditions to the High Arctic. In 2017, we don’t look at fifty dead stuffed seals in a museum in quite the way we did in 1850. Upstairs are galleries about explorers like Roald Amundsen (local hero, since he set off to his death from Tromsø) and Fridtjof Nansen as well as Isbjørnkongen Henry Rudimentary but it turns out I’m not all that interested in museums.

By evening, the sky was more or less clear over Tromsø and the Northern Lights forecast was reasonably promising. I went down to the harbour, got in a minibus with a Sámi reindeer herder called Ken and went off to Kvaløya.

It was about a thirty minute drive and as we drove through Kvaløya suburbs, the snow started coming down again. We reached the camp and I realised we hadn’t gone as far as I thought – from our small hill, Tromsøya loomed huge in the fjord and the orange glow from the city on the other side of the island looked like a rerun of the great fire of the 1960s.

We were put on the sledges in pairs and sat there waiting for all the reindeer to be harnessed, I spotted that the sky was clearish in front of us. And was that… did I see a green band across the sky, despite the early hour and the epic light pollution? Yes, I did. And it was purple too, and it was twinkling. It was only about for three or four minutes and I don’t think anyone else noticed except the Malaysian lady I was sharing the sledge with (“Malaysia is famous for all the wrong reasons” apparently. The only thing I can think of is the plane – does Malaysia have a bad reputation I don’t know about?). The two photos I got are good – bright green lights, plus the orange glow plus a few streetlights, plus a reindeer in the foreground that you can’t see because it’s too dark.

The Lights were gone within seconds of us setting off – and that was scary because our reindeer set off at a run and the driver leapt onto the sledge unexpectedly, straight into my feet.

It was a better run than last time – we went a bit further and these reindeer got a bit of a move on. Not actually running, but certainly not the very sedate walk I was expecting. It got cold. My feet got numb.

Afterwards, we fed the reindeer. Most of them live semi-feral with the herd in summer but they know where they’re well-off in winter. We had a sledge of reindeer moss, frozen into blocks and some of the reindeer are tame enough that they’ll eat it from your hands. They’re not delicate eaters but they’re careful not to try eating gloves.

Then we stumbled down the hill and back into the bus so we could cross the road to the cabin for a bowl of Sámi soup, some hot chocolate and a lesson in Sámi culture, which included being introduced to the full gakte, including hooked fur boots and massive leather coat, and to a demonstration of the joik.

It snowed again on the way home.

This morning I mistook 7.30 for 8.30 and was packed and out and about before anything in Tromsø was up except the fjord cruise catamaran. 

I have over six hours to kill in Oslo Airport later today but there are three trains an hour that take 20 mins to get to the city centre so I’m going to have my first glimpse of the city.

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