As mentioned in my previous post, we headed to Norway for Christmas after a short visit to Copenhagen.
I will admit, I was tired…and cranky. We had an 8 AM flight so we were at the airport by 6 AM since it was considered international travel. The interesting thing about this whole trip from Denmark to Sweden to Norway to Finland, we never once had our passports looked at. No identification ever. Just our boarding passes were used to get on the planes. Very odd and I don’t think typical of flight travel (something with the Nordic Passport Union might be why).
We had a brief layover in Stockholm. It was great that there was a little play area for the girls so they were able to release some energy before another flight. They also flew very well. Snacks and sticker books along with some screen time is what kept them calm both flights.
We landed in Tromsø, Norway missing one piece of luggage. It had been kept in Sweden for some reason. We were told it would come that evening or the next day. This particular piece of luggage also contained my winter boots, grandma’s clothes and some other winter gear. We also had plans for outdoor adventures the next day so yeah…not great but we’d have to manage with what we had. Luckily, the girls had all their gear. Grandma and I would have to brave the cold.
After a bit of a snafu with the rental car, we were on the road toward our AirBNB. It was also about 4 PM and pitch dark so we didn’t get to see much of Tromsø. We did get to go over a HUGE bridge. I couldn’t get a picture of it due to, you know, the dark. Pictures of it upcoming…
Anyway…we made it to our AirBNB and it had a wonderful view. We just had to step out on the steps and we could see the fjord and mountains surrounding it. Gorgeous!
The girls were also excited to see SNOW!!! After grocery shopping and eating, we came back to the house for them to play in the snow. They made a snowman and we had a snowball fight. The temperature was just around freezing with no wind so it was excellent outdoor fun!
On Monday, we split up and the two groups had very different experiences.
Group 1: Grandparents, husband and Claire
As told by a 7 year old.
We got on a bus early in the morning for an hour and a half. Some snowmobilers got off the bus first. We then drove a little longer to the dog sledding place. We went inside and were given winter gear. I only got boots because I was a kid (I was the only kid).
Then we went outside. Our teacher was named Lucy. She told us what to do and how to guide the dogs. She said to not put your feet in the middle because doing that could break the sled.
We then got to meet the dogs. The dogs were good and we started to ride. I was a passenger and I held on really tight to some handles. At one point, my feet even went off the sled. But I didn’t fall off!
One of the dogs was running and pooping at the same time!
Our ride was over an hour and it was fun!
We undressed and then we got to eat some reindeer stew. It was really delicious! But I couldn’t have seconds. They ran out!
We got back on the bus and went back to the where we dropped off the snowmobilers which was where the ice domes were located.
The ice domes were so cool! We watched a video about how they are made. First, they blow up a huge balloon. Then they throw snow on it. They wait another day then throw more snow on it. They do this many times. When all the snow has frozen, the balloon is deflated and pulled out. Artists then come and do all the artwork inside.
You could even spend the night there if you wanted to. It’s not an ice bed but there is an ice frame around it. I would like to spend the night there sometime but Grandma said she wouldn’t want to.
I also got a drink of fruit juice in an ice glass. It was cold!
After our tour of the ice dome, we went outside to see some reindeer. There were even baby reindeer! We didn’t feed them, the tour guide did. That was the end of our trip and we made the long drive back to Tromsø.
Group 2: Avery and I
Avery was too little to go on the dog sledding tour so I looked around for something for her and I to do. I decided on a reindeer sled ride. It allowed young children and I could ride right along with her.
We arrived by bus just outside of Tromsø. Avery was a little upset she wasn’t with her sister but I tried to tell her we were going on a ride too.
The group started off in a tent with a roaring fire. Norway is home to the Sámi people. The Sámi people are indigenous to the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of Russia. They are best known for their involvement with reindeer herding.
The speaker told us about the reindeer and how we would be allowed to feed them. He went through many rules and I decided right there that Avery and I would just watch. No way I was going to have her trying to feed a semi-tame animal with antlers.
We were split into three groups and Avery and I were in the group that got to go on the sled ride first. We were told to sit in the sled and not to get up for any reason. Getting up could spook the reindeer. After everyone was seated in a sled, we started going.
There was one guide with the lead deer and Avery and I were in the very back.
Now here’s where it gets hard for me to write. *deep breath*
After a couple minutes in, one of the reindeer ahead of us came loose. It stopped and someone was telephoned to come hook it back up. No problem. Once the reindeer was hooked back up, the guy jumped behind the deer. This spooked that reindeer and it started galloping. This flipped over the poor riders sled with him on it. Luckily it stopped and while the sled was being straightened out, I realized our reindeer was now unhooked. I tried to signal to the worker that something was amiss. And I’m not sure if it was my signaling or the commotion of the flipped sled, but our reindeer took off at an all out run with us hanging on for dear life.
It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I was holding on to Avery and the sled with all my strength. I switched from screaming for help to trying to be silent hoping the reindeer would slow down.
It did not. We headed toward a group of small trees and I worried about us hitting one but the deer decided to run around them. Next, it headed toward the feeding area. The workers were trying to corral our reindeer to keep it from entering the feeding area where other guests were. Other reindeer started running with ours and I then started to worry about us being trampled if we were thrown out in the middle of the them.
The workers were continuing to try and corral our out of control deer. They were working to get it into a smaller, fenced in area. The next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion for me. I saw it. The barbed wire fence and the pole. The first thought was if this deer tries to go through the wire, we are in serious trouble. Instead, it veered left and that’s when our sled hit the pole. Avery and I went airborne. I tried to hold on to her as hard as I could but we hit with such a force, she flew out of my arms. I swear I saw her head hit the side of the sled.
The image that will stick in my mind for the rest of my days will be when I turned around and saw Avery laying face down in the snow and dirt. I get teary eyed writing about it now. I thought she had been knocked unconscious but she was crying and ran right into my arms.
We were both surrounded immediately by the workers of the camp and even some guests. Everyone was making sure we were ok. I felt fine. I was more worried about Avery. She had a bruise forming near her eye and said her neck hurt. I immediately was concerned about a concussion. I was asked if we wanted an ambulance. I didn’t hesitate; I said yes. I didn’t know the extent of Avery’s injuries.
Now the rest is a blur. I cried most of the time. Avery had calmed down after being given a cookie and some water in the bonfire tent. She was wiping away my tears the rest of the day. The workers were trying to talk to me and wanted to know what happened. They were all very kind and spoke good English. I’m pretty sure I even talked to someone who had once worked or interned in Fort Dodge, Iowa (small world).
The ambulance showed up and they did a quick rundown of Avery. We asked her what hurt, where she thought she got hit and what happened. They decided she was likely fine but wanted to bring her to the hospital so it could be documented by a doctor in case something changed in the next 24 hours.
So away we went on my first ever ambulance ride. Avery recounted that the ambulance ride was one of her favorite parts of the Norway trip because she didn’t have to be in a car seat and she got a stuffed lemur toy.
The doctors office was uneventful (thank goodness). The doctor checked over Avery and asked her lots of questions. She asked her what happened before the accident, what happened during and what happened immediately after. This was all a way to determine if there was any brain injury. Avery remembered everything and spoke clearly with her. The doctor ran through what I should watch out for over the next few days and that we should sleep in the same bed as well.
In retrospect, we were very lucky to walk away from this event mainly unscathed. Avery just had a few bruises and I had a small one on my leg. I was also extremely sore the next day. The mental side was hard as I went to bed for the next week or so reliving it before falling asleep and thinking about what all could have gone wrong (I’m happy to report I’m much better now).
In summary, Avery and I’s first day in Tromsø did not start on a good note. The company (obviously) reimbursed us, an employee was with us through it all, and they decided to pay for a northern lights tour for us. We do not blame them. We were told the metal part of the harness had broken which had never happened before. Reindeer are still wild animals. Our experience will likely bring a change to the reindeer excursion.
Tuesday was much less crazy. We decided to sleep in. Avery had an uneventful night in our bed so I was trying to keep a positive attitude. Our plan for the day was to go into Tromsø and take a ride on the cable car that takes you to the top of a cliff that overlooks Tromsø.
The way to get there is pretty cool as well. Tromsø has a big underground road, complete with roundabouts and rock formations. It also connects to the underground parking. While it may not be the cheapest parking, it is very convenient just to pull up in a non-icy parking spot with plenty of room. Parking out on the street, especially in downtown Tromsø, seemed a bit precarious. It is very hilly in the downtown area and if our rental car had not had studded tires, we would have been sliding all over. Therefore, parking in the underground lot (Fjellet P-hus) was nice.
The cable car was on the other side of Tromsø island. We were there just 30-40 minutes after opening and it wasn’t too busy. So up we went…
WOW! This provided an amazing view! It was definitely colder on top of the mountain and more windy. I was wishing I had put on my snow pants when we reached the top. Luckily, there was an indoor area where we could escape the cold (and don’t forget, my winter boots were still lost in the luggage).
The girls were also very happy with the little playset buried in the snow. They worked at digging out the slide and going down it for quite a long time. They also both said they were warm and happy. Claire also tried to make friends with any children that showed up to play too.
The sights from the top of the cliff were breathtaking. Downtown Tromsø sits in the middle of a fjord on an island. Although it was cold, it was wonderful to capture these pictures (click on picture to see larger).
I should also point out that Tromsø is 350 km (217.5 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. It was warmer than normal while we were there (just above freezing) but dark. We noticed there is really only a “glow” for about four hours during the day. The sun “glow” started around 10 AM and ended just after 2 PM. We had planned our trip on the cable car wisely!
After grabbing lunch at Fjellstua Café (amazing salmon and all allergens are listed on a small menu), we went back down the cable car. We were informed that some people do hike up or down the mountain and only buy a one way ticket. We were very happy with our round trip.
I want to point out that we drove by the Arctic Cathedral. The outside has gorgeous architecture. It definitely doesn’t look like your usual church. We thought about touring it but a quick Google search showed that it was closed for tours due to Christmas worship.
Since the glow was about gone, we decided to go to Polaria. Polaria is an Arctic aquarium that hosts seals and other Arctic sea life. When we arrived, they were starting a hands on/learning lecture for kids. So that was where we stopped first.
The girls loved it. Claire was scared at first and stayed seated with the adults while Avery and I went to the front to touch the sea creatures and learn about them. It didn’t take long before Claire was up at the front asking questions. The teacher did a great job explaining all the different creatures to the kids. It was only our girls and two other kids so it was nice and personal as well. Oh and it also had a real cool backdrop of the seals swimming by.
After that, we explored the aquarium. It was pretty small so we allowed Claire to explore it with her new friend she made at the lecture. The grandparents caught a video on the northern lights. Avery found a play area with a HUGE slide (in her words). I hung next door to Avery in the climate change section. It had a lot of sobering but good graphical pictures/displays.
We then heard an announcement for the seal feeding/training. We made our way up to that area. There were four seals. They all had different names and while I’ve already forgotten their names, Claire remembers them (she’s in bed now so I’m not going to wake her up).
We were told that they feed/train them at least twice a day. The training is to keep them fit and their brains active.
The training started well but then one of the seals seemed to give up. The seal just kept swimming and poking its head up. It completely ignored it’s trainer. The trainer did say at the end of the session that it was likely scared of something and I have a suspicion it was my daughter’s stomping up and down the wooden steps. *sigh*
After Polaria, we called it a day and went back to the AirBNB to watch some Home Alone 2 (we had watched #1 the night before).
Christmas Day we decided to take it easy. There wasn’t going to be much open in Tromsø. It really didn’t feel like Christmas to me due to 1) we were traveling and 2) Santa didn’t visit. Santa didn’t want us to have to haul presents back to Denmark on an airplane (they were under the tree when we arrived home).
After some talking, we decided to go to Frozen 2. Frozen 2 was actually released in Tromsø on Christmas Day so we figured we had a good shot of getting in. I looked online and they offered it in three different languages; Sámi, Norwegian and English. We obviously picked the midday English one.
The theater was pretty neat. It was underground and had the most interesting snack bar I have seen. The popcorn was in hot, cooler looking containers and you picked out your size. There were also bacon flavored crisp (maybe pork rind) snacks and a few other choices. And so much candy! It was very hard to convey to the girls they were only getting popcorn and a drink.
The movie was excellent. It was in English but with Norwegian subtitles. I also now have all the Frozen 2 songs downloaded and memorized.
We went home to relax before the big northern lights tour that night.
The northern lights chase started at 5:30 PM. My in-laws and I drove back into Tromsø and met the group at a hotel. It was a small group of only 16 and two guides (one driving, one talking/chasing).
After loading onto the bus, we made our way to a warehouse. Here we dressed in outdoor gear. The tour company provided us with snowsuits, boots and gloves/hats if we needed them. Then we loaded back into the small bus and were told we were going to Finland.
I asked the tour guide if we needed our passports but he said they don’t bother checking at the border and if they do, they typically let the tours go right on through. So we headed in to Finland, a two hour drive.
The tour guide explained to us how the fjord on the coast can create a trap of moisture (orographic lifting or windward side of the mountain) which creates clouds that would prevent us from seeing the lights. We were headed into Finland which was farther inland and on the leeward side of the mountain where the chance of cloud cover is lower. He said it is known as one of the driest spots in Finland.
I found the aurora chase very comparable to storm chasing. We weren’t technically chasing the lights, we were chasing clear skies. There was a lot of cloud cover so we were just trying to find some breaks in the clouds. He was calling his friends and other guides around the area looking for updates on the cloud cover in their location. A lot of patience was needed just like for storm chasing. But with aurora chasing, you don’t have to worry about your car getting hailed on.
We pulled into an area with a frozen lake. We were given headlamps. I grabbed my camera and tripod and we headed out onto the lake. There were only a few breaks in the clouds and the guide was hopeful we would see something. Over the horizon, I saw a bit of green. It was the northern lights!
To me, it honestly looked more like light pollution that you see reflecting off the clouds from large cities. We were starting to settle down on the lake when our guide came back and told us to pack up. His friend was reporting better clearing north.
Another 20-30 minutes back the direction we came from, we settled on another frozen lake. This time our guide said this is where we were staying put. He set up his camera, cleared a spot for a fire and set down some blankets/mats. He also started explaining to us how the lights happen (science here), the best events he’s seen and other facts about chasing the lights. We stayed in this spot for probably over an hour, maybe closer to two. We also had freeze dried soup (gluten-free chili for me) and marshmallows (tasted way sweeter than Kraft Jet-Puffed mallows).
During our stay there, I grabbed a lot of pictures so below is the slideshow of all I caught and my favorite one.
The above pictures are unedited, JPG images. I did not edit them BUT my camera was set to certain settings to make sure I caught the most amount of light and color as possible. They did NOT look quite this colorful to the naked eye. I would say it was more of a dull green. Our guide said that social media is ruining the lights as many of the aurora borealis photos are highly edited. He said many people on his tour expect to see these huge colorful displays when in reality, it’s not quite that powerful. He also stated in the many years he has been giving tours, he has only seen five corona events which he would rate a 5 out of 5. He rated our experience a 3, maybe 3.5.
Around midnight, we finally made our way back to Tromsø. I slept most of the way (it was late) but we did witness two moose on the way back. We didn’t return back to the cabin until around 3 AM. Long day!
Thursday we said goodbye to Tromsø. We cleaned the AirBNB up and loaded into the car (luckily, we had a noon flight). Tromsø treated us with a pretty “sunrise” before we arrived at the airport.
The flight to Denmark was uneventful (no passport checks) and the train ride back home was simple.
We said goodbye to the grandparents the next day who were real troopers for putting up with our impatient travelers (me sometimes) and battling jet lag.
In retrospect, it was a good trip with some much needed relaxation sprinkled in. Next winter though, I think I may want to go somewhere more tropical with more sun and no reindeer.