Tromsø 2017: Saturday

My flight was at 1.30pm so I planned to head out of Tromsø about 11 or 11.30. Yes, to get to a small regional airport two miles away. However, the moment I reached the bus stop, I took it into my head that the flight was 12.30 so was a tiny bit panicked when I didn’t reach the airport until gone 11.30.

I checked in at the machine. It didn’t like me. It ordered me off to a human and it was while I was waiting for the human that I noticed the departure board showing my flight at 1.30 after all. The human asked how many luggage to check in. My ticket didn’t include hold luggage but I asked how much it would cost – as it was a very full flight, they were delighted to get a bag out of the cabin and into the hold and did so at no charge. Free of my luggage and with an unexpected free hour, I went down to the main road to see if I could figure out how to get to the sea view. Crossing that road on foot seems impossible but I saw footprints in the snow further down. I would follow them. Yeah. They led to a waist-deep snowdrift and there was no getting over the other side of that. I wasn’t sure I was even going to be able to climb out the side I’d fallen into.

There was a child sitting next to me on the plane, a child far too young for his own phone with wraparound edges, let alone his own Snapchat account. But the wifi on Norwegian is still more miss than hit and he couldn’t use it!

At Oslo, free of luggage, I bought a return ticket on the Flytoget, successfully navigated the escalator, tunnel and Indiana Jones Death Turbine onto the platform and went into Oslo, since I had six+ hours to kill.

Oslo is cold and wet and the snow is more like rain and I got lost over and over again, chased down the street by a woman demanding money (it’s ok if they’re waving a magazine), saw the underwhelming cathedral and came back on the train, deciding I’d rather kill the time in the airport than the city.

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 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.

Tromsø 2017: Wednesday evening & Thursday

On Wednesday evening, having almost died of hypothermia in my nice warm bed for some reason, I dressed up warm and went out to see the Northern Lights. It was Cold, about -10 when we went out and when we reached the lavvu, I didn’t fancy getting out of the warm minibus and standing around in the snow staring at the sky a bit. How many times have I been out looking for the Northern Lights and how many times have I seen something Worth seeing? Many times times and twice!

(The Norwegian computer I’m using puts random Capitals on Words and I can’t be bothered to correct them right now. Please ignore them.)

Well, last night I saw Northern Lights Worth seeing. So many lights! They started slow and dim. Invisible at first, invisible to me anyway, then a pale white cloudy band across the sky, then a hint of green and then suddenly there was a huge belt of green and Purple, twinkling, pencilling, dancing, right across the sky. I took photos – 30 second exposure plus 30 Seconds Processing, so it’s really slow and as it was Processing, a man behind me kept shouting “behind you!” so I’d take one photo in one direction, then turn, then turn, then turn. None of the photos are brilliant, nothing like thh ones I took last year, even though the lights were so much better. But it was so Cold. After the peak, the biggest Brightest display, I went back into the lavvu whimpering and squeaking because my hands and feet were so Cold. I had to take off boots and socks and almost put my feet into the fire just to get some feeling back in them.

The lights continued and were still going when we left at gone 11.30 but they weren’t as Bright or dramatic. They weren’t forecast to be good and they definitely weren’t forecast to be dramatic. And we’re not going to get them tonight because today it’s snowing.

It was -12 by the end of the night and the walk up through town back to my hostel was freezing. Really freezing. The sort of freezing where you want to jump from shop to hotel to shop to warm up every ten metres but you can’t because it’s gone midnight and everything is closed.

When I woke up today, it was snowing. The sky is Heavy and grey, it was a white-out earlier and I went out snowshoeing. I’ve done that once before and I was terrible at it. I fell into the deep snow on every other step, had to be hauled out once or twice and my shoes kept falling off. Today the snowshoes were better quality, even I could tell, With a sort of harness-arrangement to attach them firmly to my boots. Admittedly, I mostly followed the Group as we trod Down a path of slightly more compressed snow but we were encouraged to break out into the fresh deep snow, a metre deep, and I didn’t fall in there. And although it was allegedly -7 out, it was warm – snowshoeing is the most warming Activity I’ve ever done, although it does have the downside of leaving you pretty chilly afterwards. The first part was a in white-out in the wilderness but then the clouds started to lift and the Mountains around us began to appear.

We stopped at a supermarket/cafe on Kvaløya on the way back for bolle and hot drinks. Bolle are rolls, sweet ones, like buns, and these particular ones had chunks of chocolate baked into them. I also had some hot chocolate which was just cool enough to drink and Nice and thick, a bit like the very memorable hot chocolate I had in Italy once.

This afternoon’s job is going to be some Food shopping and a Nice hot shower before going out this evening.

Troms 2017 – Wednesday

I got up at twenty to one in the morning, drove to Gatwick without incident, checked in without incident, had some breakfast and got on the plane. Having been driving for most of the night, I tried to sleep most of the way but an hour and half into a three and a half hour flight, there were suddenly snow-covered Mountains outside. When they disappeared into the clouds, I went back to sleep again, only to be woken by the pilot announcing that we were now making our descent into Tromsø and to get the plane tidied up please and while we were at it, there was a view outside to admire. So I admired it.

I didn’t bother immediately leaping on the Flybuss. There was another view to admire but getting at it involved crossing a main road and that was a bit difficult. I did my best, then went back to the bus. The Flybuss, idiot! Should have walked down to the bus stop “under” the terminal and got the local bus.

In the middle of Tromsø, I found my hostel easily enough. There’s fresh snow in Tromsø, fresh enough to be problematic. There are snowploughs all over the place, people digging out their paths, people with poles knocking snow off the roof (and crows helping with this job. Do not stand under the edge of any building or you’ll get your own little snowstorm. I went into the library to borrow their wifi just to check in on Facebook, discovered my battery was pretty much dead already, did a bit of food shopping (they have the tasty crisp mixture I eat in Iceland!) and then caught the bus to the cable car. I bought a day ticket, took the 26 over the big scary bridge and through the suburbs until I thought I’d missed the stop and then suddenly the bus announced “Fjellheiset – cable car”

It’s all been renovated since I was last here, trying to spot the Midnight Sun in May 2011. It’s a 28 person cable car that goes every half an hour, unless they’ve got too many tourists to Ferry around, in which case they just go up and down until they’ve got rid of a load.

The mountain is called Storsteinen, which is Norwegian for Big Stone. It was chilly at the top but not as freezing as it was at nearly midnight in May. I found the viewing platform – you have to haul open a patio door to get out there and I think they’re using it to generate power to run the cable car. It’s so heavy and so hard to get any grip with your feet to pull it. It’s worth it for the view. It’s a good view, over the entire island and all the mountains behind it. The Pingvinhotellet is very visible at the far end of the island (there’s a special Flybuss that goes to that end, if you’re unfortunate enough to end up staying there…). I didn’t plan to stay up there for an hour and half, freezing to death but that’s what happened. I saw the view from many angles, sat inside in the semi-warm to eat the nice Icelandic crisps, went back out and then decided I’d seen Tromsø in every way a city can be seen and it was time to go down before they had to chip me out of the snow.

At the bottom, seeing the crowd of Polish tourists (in matching blue coats and shockingly orange woolly hats) heading for the bus stop, I went to the one before the Fjellheiset one, where I was more likely to get a seat. And it worked. The Norwegian bus driver didn’t recognise a Norwegian 24 hour bus ticket – he talked at me in Norwegian long past the point where it was obvious I had no idea what he was saying, told me “You have to buy a ticket every time. Don’t you know?” and I finally had to point out, in some irritation “it’s a day ticket!” before I was allowed to sit in one of the empty seats and continue my journey. I was right, there was a huge crowd 200m up the road at the Fjellheiset stop and me sitting happily in my own seat. We went round the other end of the suburbs and I got off at the Arctic Cathedral, which is in fact not a cathedral at all. I went inside but these days you have to go pay to go beyond the lobby so I thought I wouldn’t bother. Instead, I got back on a bus – the driver hardly even glanced at my day ticket this time – and came back to Central Tromsø to write a blog about half a day, check in to the hostel, charge my phone and camera and sleep for an hour or two before I go out looking for the Northern Lights until the middle of the night.