Trip review- one week in Tromso, October 2012
After a marvellous week in Tromso,sitting at Oslo airport writing this review.
Day 0 Saturday- flew from Heathrow to Tromso, via Oslo. Oslo was splendidly sunny, Tromso was sparkling with pristinely white snow which was not expected. Looked like a Christmas card from the plane while landing. Checked into Hotel Scandic Tromso. The hotel is very close to airport. The flybussen does go to the Scandic on request but with three of us it made sense to just take a taxi. Cost 140 kr.
Day 1- Sunday. lazy start after a long sleep and a great relaxed breakfast. Great view from hotel room (top floor facing the mountains and fjords).Nothing in particular planned so just decided to go to the town centre and look around. Bus 24 has a stop hardly 5 minutes from the hotel. Single trip for two adults and a child is 100 kr. Ticket remains valid for 1.5 hours. Unfortunately the tourist information centre was closed on Sunday as were many shops. Left us looking a bit lost. We then decided to go up to the cable car in bus 26. Still within 1.5 hours so the same ticket took us there. Cable car closed for repairs! So took the bus back to the Arctic Cathedral, bus 26 again. Stopped at Arctic cathedral for photographs. It also gave a lovely view of Tromso. The sky was partially cloudy and by 2.30 pm it was turning a bit darkish. So we decided to go back to the hotel and give the sauna a try. In the evening, Tromso glowed to a garland of lights at the foot of snow capped mountains, lit softly by a day before full moon. Amazing view, great photos but they do not show the full extent of the show.
Day 2- woke up in anticipation of our first evening of northern light chasing with Guide Gunnar. Checked the sky, cloudless and blue, hoped it stayed like that in the night. First stop in town today was the tourist information centre. Booked a morning trip to a farm for Thursday with icelandic horse riding (www.nordre-hestnes-gaard.no/). Took info on ferry times. Decided to do that on Friday. Then we went to the beach on bus 34, stop Telegraphbukta (I think it sounded like that!) It was a lovely area where you could imagine all that goes on in summer. The water was aquamarine which contrasted brightly against the thick snow around. My daughter had a time tramping around in the snow. After an hour or little more, we took the bus upto Gieberbukta. Took a number 40 which does a route like a figure of 8 which is a nice overview of the island. Ultimately back to the centre. We decided to take some info from the bus station this time and discovered that you can buy a day ticket for 70 kr valid for 24 hours. On the bus this ticket costs 90 kr to buy from the driver. Also got info on the Tromso card which is 50 kr to buy but then gives you a 25 percent off on the ferry fares.
We now still had time until our evening pick up at Domkirk, so we decided to visit the Nord Kuntsmuseum. Small but interesting exhibit. Especially liked the light and shadow effects in the works of Baade. The last room had a kind of modern movie show with three bean bags around. Don't know about the movie- the bean bags were comfy. Next stop the Bibliothek where you can easily lose yourself (literally and metaphorically). The staff were helpful and pointed out to us the English collection where it was easy to spend a couple of hours until it was time for a quick dinner of packed sandwiches and the pickup from Domkirk.
Can't describe the anticipation on the way to our first viewing spot for the northern lights. Guide Gunnar did not disappoint. He is friendly, informative and it was clear that he would go that extra mile to make sure that his customers get the best chance. The night was clear. The beach where we stopped was surrounded by snow capped mountains glowing in the full moon. Now for the lights.......
Even before they came clearly, Guide Gunnar's expert eyes and even more expert camera had picked up the fine green against the blue night sky. The excitement was building. And then they came- swirls and bands, curtains and streak of shimmering green dancing over the sky. We had seen the northern lights! Not the best show tonight, Guide Gunnar gave it a 4 /10. There were moments of brilliance, but they lasted for minutes. Once there was streak that looked like an S which even glowed pink at the edges. There were streaks that shot out from behind the mountains looking like giant torches. Guide Gunnar lit a fire on the beach where we could warm ourselves while we waited for the show to continue. He treated us to chocolates. All too soon it was time to go back.Day3- woke up just to have breakfast and go to sleep again. In between noticed the moon setting like a silver globe behind the mountains viewable from our room. Got many sunrises and sunsets on our travels- moonset a first! Got a series of stills and a video of the last 10 minutes. Later went for a stroll around the hotel, upto the nearby shops. Back for a nap and to get ready for the evening. This night was clearly a disappointment. Cloudy skies, aurora lasting half an hour, the brightest bits for mere minutes. Surprising how much better the photos look even on a weak display. By this time had also discovered that auroras are too weak to be caught on a camcorder. The 'videos' we see are from sophisticated instruments or time lapse photography from numerous consecutive stills. So my husband set the stills to every 10 seconds and the series looked like a great display- but we know it was not. Thanks to guide Gunnar that we saw anything at all that night.
Day 4- After two sleepless nights, too tired to even go out for a walk. In the hotel until time for our third and last night of aurora chasing.
This is what you call a 'grand finale' (or so we thought, there was more to come, read on). We saw a 'corona' which Guide Gunnar told us was rare and made the night's rating a 10/10. It was like being within a dome of light, with an immensely bright explosion of light right overhead with streaks emanating from it which surround you on all sides. The corona shimmered with green, yellow and pinkish red. The formations started with a hazy white, brightened to green and then with a domino like effect a shimmer would dance through the wall of light. Formations would fade off to be replaced with others. There were times when we did not know which direction to look. A satisfying night by all means.
Day 5- Ready to be picked up by 10 am for our farm visit. Still feeling tired but possibly invigorated by last night's show. Baard picked us up in at 10 am from the hotel. The time spent on the farm is roughly two hours, out of which the horseriding itself is around 45 minutes. But the drive to and from the farm is along fjords which is extremely scenic. Takes around an hour to drive one way. On the way Baard also pointed out an eagle just about to take flight on the waters. Managed to get a pic. The horses were gentle and easy to ride (we have hardly any experience!) and my 11 year old loved it. After horseriding we were treated to apple cake and coffee. Dropped off at town centre. Baard and his wife were very friendly and made real effort to make our morning enjoyable.
We bought our Tromso card topped up for the requisite fare to Harstaad and back, planned for the day after. Dinner and couple of hours at the Bibliothek and we decided to call it a day (or so we thought!)
It was exactly 7.20 in the evening when the bus 24 dropped us off near Scandic. As we were walking up, we chanced to look up and could not believe our eyes, a brilliant northern lights show was on, visible all around the hotel! To maximise viewing of the lights, a dark area, away from light pollution and preferably nearer to new moon than full is advisable. But when the lights are brilliant, nothing stops them. Infact photographs with the full moon or aurora in the background of city lights can be impressive pics. This was our real grand finale- all the more special because it was unexpected. It went on for close to three hours. When we had got the finest moments on the camera, we decided to go back to our room. Our daughter was ready to go to bed. My husband and I set our chairs near the window and sat down to a leisurely dinner. Can't remember when we last had a candle light dinner, but we'll certainly remember our northern light dinner for the rest of our lives.
Day 6- Early start to the day. Caught the 6 am bus to be in time for the 7 am ferry to Harstad. 3 hour trip by speed ferry. The day turned out to be cloudy but on the positive side it did not rain. Also nothing can mask the majesty of the fjords. The deep blue waters bordered by snow capped mountains make a lovely view. We reached Harstaad at 10 am and had 3 hours 45 min until the return ferry. Really not much to do there. So we strolled around, had lunch. By the time we were back it was dark, the lights were coming on in the little settlements at the foot of the mountains.
Sky was really overcast, so no chance of northern lights for this night. Had a nice dinner on our last night at the Kaia near the harbour. Good seafood, prices reasonable by Norway standards. Bus back to Scandic.
Day 7- Flight back to Heathrow.