Traveling to see the Northern Lights is one adventure that is on a lot of people’s travel bucket list and today’s guest contributor, Vanessa A Nirode, is no different. This past December, Vanessa took a last-minute trip to Norway’s northern most city, Tromsø, to spend her Christmas vacation trying to find the spectacular, but often elusive, light show as well as dog sledding, snowshoeing and even camping.
This past year, the temperature in New York City on Christmas Eve was almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I went for a walk Christmas morning down Lenox Avenue toward Central Park. Outside the Finefare Mart a man yelled to anyone within earshot.
“Where’s my white Christmas?! I want a white Christmas! Where’s the snow? I want some white snow on my white Christmas!”
I knew exactly how he felt which was why, a day later, I boarded a flight to Tromso, Norway in search of a proper white winter, dog sledding, and, of course, the Northern Lights.
Tromso is as far North as you can get in Norway. The city is about 217 miles North of the Arctic Circle and experiences a Polar Night from about November 26th to January 15th. During this time, the sun never makes it above the horizon. At the end of December, when I was there, there were a few hours of twilight every day between 11:00 and 14:00. The rest of the time, it was completely dark.
There is something sort of magical about so much darkness. A soft quiet and peacefulness surrounds Tromso with a steady undertow of excitement, intrigue almost. I felt as if I was a co-conspirator in a mysterious hidden agenda.
Tromso has its tourist activities well organized into one central website, but my friend and I decided to go to the Tromso Tourist Office on our first day. If you’re into standing in line, you can talk to a real person there and they’ll help you book the activities you want. We opted to use one of the two computers located near one of the entrances and booked our own activities. As we did, the line to see a real live person got longer and longer until it stretched outside the door.
For those looking for arctic-style adventures in Tromso, keep in mind that the activities are not especially cheap, but they are, for the most part, extremely well organized.
Our first activity, run by Tromso Lapland, was reindeer sledding and an overnight in a Lavvo, or Sami tent in the ‘wilderness’. Our guides, Ken and Ronald, who you can see pictured on their website, were born and raised in the Sami culture and therefore, very knowledgeable on that front. Sadly though, I wasn’t all that impressed with the reindeer sledding. The sledding consisted of sitting in two’s on wooden sleds while reindeer walked slowly around a circuit. I suspect it’s much like riding in a horse carriage in Central Park except, of course, for the sub arctic temperatures.
Spending the night in a Lavvo was interesting in the way of experiencing an ancient culture. For some reason, I expected the Lavvo tents would be part of a larger, real or simulated, Sami village but instead, they were just three tents set up on the side of a mountain. Both guides left during the night and we were alone out there. This activity ended up our least favorite one but, we did see the Northern Lights that night which made the rather hefty price tag (about 250.00 USD each) worth it.
Our next activity was snowshoeing with Tromso Outdoor. We really enjoyed the five-hour guided snowshoe Kvaloya hill climb. This was my first time using snowshoes, but since our guide gave such excellent instructions on putting on the shoes and how to walk in them, I felt like a pro in no time. Snowshoes and trekking poles are included in the price of the activity. The hill climb is not crazy steep and is manageable by most people with at least a moderate level of fitness. Once you get to the top, there is warm fruit drink and cake waiting for you with a spectacular view that lets you forget how cold the air is. Tromso Outdoor also has a store in the town where you can rent skis, snowshoes, or bikes to embark on your own self-guided adventures around the area.
The final and favorite activity we participated in was a dog sledding adventure with Tour in Lyngenalps. Dog sledding is surprisingly fun and exhilarating. One person sits in a wooden sled pulled by five dogs and one person stands at the back of the sled to work the brake and help keep the whole thing from tipping over. The dogs are extremely strong and energetic. The hardest part is applying pressure to the brake to keep them from running off at full speed and toppling the sled and the person in it. Our group was made up of ten sleds, each pulled by five dogs, with the lead sled steered by the guide, a rather brusque young lady with what seemed to be a Russian accent.
The dogs were very well trained, although the ones pulling my sled did get themselves tangled up with each other at some point and we all had to come to a stop while they were sorted out. I didn’t mind stopping at all and took the opportunity to pet and tell the dogs what a good job they were doing, resulting in the dogs seizing the opportunity to check my pockets for treats. After sledding, we went for a meal of the best fish soup I’ve ever had at a nearby restaurant, served by a delightful lady known only as “Grandma”.
The drive back to Tromso was long after such an adventurous day. We stopped multiple times searching for a Northern Lights show but, unfortunately, luck wasn’t with us. Finally, three hours and many naps later, the van dropped us off. I dreamt of dogs that night and woke with the sensation of being cuddled by multiple furry beasts at once.
We spent our last night hanging out in our cozy two-bedroom cabin at Tromso Camping. The campsite is over the bridge and away from the big hotels and center of the town but within walking distance if you’re a walker like I am. Mountains surround the cabins and if you are lucky and everything aligns just right, you’ll get a fabulous light show from the front porch of your cabin.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my last minute Norway trip. The people (and even the darkness) were warm and welcoming and I would love to go back and stay for longer, maybe even experience the full length and magic of the Polar Night.