Saturday, March 15, 2014

As white as snow

Day 2 of 15 in Tromso and we had already accomplished our goal for coming here. The Northern Lights were locked away in our memories forever (or until senility sets in, whichever comes sooner). Now what?

Well, after talking to our extremely helpful hotel staff and visiting the tourist office we found there are quite a few unique experiences that can be had during our time here. Initially the weather was wonderful, a touch above zero (during the day), so finding somewhere to hike was an early goal. Tromsdalstinden Mountain is just across a bridge from where we were staying and a cable car takes you half way up. From there it is a leisurely (slippery, steep and soft snow) hike to the summit consisting of a pile of rocks and a metal flag.

But the view was stunning. Beautifully white snow under the perfectly clear softly sunny mid afternoon sky and then subtly tinged with colour when the endless sunset arrived. Not mere seconds like in Belize (near the Equator) but several hours long. We both had slips on to our asses and were freezing cold by the time we got back to the restaurant at the top of the cable car, which made the coffee in the open fire heated room an experience of its own. We did not leave until dark and after taking some night shots of Tromso lit up brightly beneath us.

For our 17th anniversary (its been THAT LONG?) we decided on a dog sled ride. Initially apprehensive (I was worried about how the dogs would be treated), our fears were allayed by a local we got talking to in the cafe on the mountain. He assured us they love to run and are well treated. The trip was booked and at the appointed time we arrived at the pickup point for the half hour drive to where the ride takes place.

Perfect weather and (nearly) toasty warm in our arctic duty overalls and boots under a blanket in our sled. Dogs so cute the way they scampered along in their socks, rolled in the snow with excitement and howled whenever they stopped they were so impatient to get going again. Our gentle young driver had to put an anchor on our two front dogs whenever we stopped to stop them taking off. At the end of our ride he invited us to thank our dogs, saying "There are no angry dogs or sad dogs, only friendly dogs and shy dogs; they love their work." Sure enough, when we stroked them they all looked very happy but a couple were a little shy.

Loved the dogs :-)
Lunch in a Sami hut
We had lunch of soup and reindeer stew with thick mud-like coffee in a traditional Sami hut (the indigenous people of Norway and parts of Finland). We had a few moments with the puppies before we were reluctantly placed on a bus to return to Tromso.

It wasn't all perfect sunny windless weather; it took a change for the worse about eight days in but by then we had done our outdoor activities :-) We caught the fast ferry to travel south to Finnsnes and then snuck on to a cruise ship for a much slower trip back,  alternating between braving the bitter cold and wind for unobstructed views and enjoying the warmth of looking out the wide windows.

On our third last day we hired a car again to explore the countryside and try our luck at seeing the Northern Lights again. The Aurora tracker had forecast good conditions but the weather was not looking good. It ended up being a very white wintry day; the photos looked black and white. The scenery was stunning: stark semi snow clad mountains of black rock, grey still fjords iced over in parts, mounds of ice clinging to cliffs like frozen waterfalls or mini glaciers (which gleamed in the car headlights at night), streaks of blue hued ice in the snow fields on the road to Skulsfjord, and pee yellow water where the snow had melted to slush. Most buildings were primary coloured rust red, mustard yellow and quiet blue like in Tromso but there were occasional splashes of green or cobalt blue as well as the typical greys and off whites. At night we could see a glow behind the clouds which we're pretty sure was the Northern Lights because it was too late to be the sunset and was coming from a different direction to the moonlight. The white world was just as beautiful at night with the snow glowing in the car headlights and town street lights (and faint Northern Lights?), and the houses lit up by lamps.  

Seen on our way back from
the Museum
Of course this does not add up to 15 days. But after our gruelling three week whirlwind tour of Central America, it was time to slow things down and smell the roses in preparation for a month long tour in India. Some days we did nothing at all but watch the snow falling outside our very comfortable room, watch the TV, wash our clothes and cook meals in the shared kitchen/living areas in this cosy warm hotel/hostel. We visited the Museum, Art Gallery, and Polarium with its gigantic aquariums, funny seal shows and panoramic movies of the science of the Northern Lights and the scenery of the Arctic Circle. One night we even went to see the movie Gravity (brilliant) in 3D, special screenings due to the Academy awards occurring at the time.

Anniversary Dinner at Egon Restaurant
It has been a wonderfully relaxing time, and full of gluten free food in this very gluten aware country, pizza 3 times!!! But be warned, Norway is not cheap. Two weeks here would have lasted us two months in South America, but sometimes you just need short spells of pampering and luxury between the more hectic periods. Which coincidentally enough brings me back to my current situation, over Vienna and at an altitude of 10,668m heading towards India and a drastic temperature change ...

The dog sled ride in action

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