A STEP AWAY FROM THE NORTH POLE
On January 2013 I found myself in a bit of a standoff; I was burned out by my job and in desperate need of a getaway. I really needed to be away for a few days, so I started asking some of my close friends to take a few days off and head somewhere.
I started suggesting different locations lowering prices and costs on each new try. For each suggestion I kept getting different answers and "no´s"... Soon I realized I was getting ditched by my friends... and there was nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people are just not into your frequency or cannot align with your timings.
Two weeks later I got tired of it and found myself thinking that if I was to wait on someone I wouldn´t be going anywhere fast. And that´s when I made one of the best decisions of my life; I picked up my phone, looked up for skyscanner and searched for the cheapest flight I could get to run away from home for a week.
The first choice that came up was Milan… which I had already been already a few months before... Much to my surprise, the second one was Oslo... Oslo, capital of Norway, said to be one of the most beautiful countries in the World…
Norway... a "home" to the aurora borealis, the magnificent northern lights, which had been in my must-see list for years. Without a second thought I decided that I was going to buy that plane ticket and figure out later how to get to Lapland and into the cold North. Two days later my sister got on board and joined the trip.
This is how my unforgettable trip to Norway was born. And this is how, two weeks later I was landing in Oslo and heading up into the Artic Circle and on the verge of the North Pole in the next day...
- OSLO -
Oslo is definitely not the most beautiful or appealing city in the World. Specially on Winter and when there are only three hours of daylight.
It is a city much more prepared to live rather than to know or visit. There are not much touristic spots and instead you get streets filled with restaurants, cafes and the largest number of designer shops with the baldest (and most expensive) furniture design in the World.
Money is actually the biggest concern you need to worry when visiting Norway. This is probably the most expensive country in the World (and it is probably also the richest ...); coffee price, for example, is prohibitive and you cannot get a burger for for less than $20/16€...
Oslo is not a very big city (even by european standards) and with freezing cold temperatures and low daylight it can get a little gloomy. By contrast norwegian people are generally very nice, warm and welcoming. Almost everyone speaks english fluently as english is considered their second language. Trust me, it a big plus, as you will not understand a word of norwegian.
When in Oslo be sure to check the harbour area and spend some time on its waterfront. There are not many places to visit so you will most likely get to know the city in one or two days. The Opera House building, Operahuset, is arguably its most well-known building and attraction; and it is obviously a must-see, specially by night, when its lights bring a different life to it. The Royal Palace and its gardens are nice to walk or pass by and the recent Aker Brygge neighbourhood is also worth a visit as it shows you the new architectural ways the city is developing.
- TROMSO AND LAPLAND -
To arrive in Tromso is the same as arriving at the end of the World. Tromso is considered the northermost city in the World with a population above 50.000 people. It is your last outpost of civilization before the oblivion and the eternally peaceful North Pole.
Tromso is widely considered to be one of the prime spots for aurora borealis sightings. On clear nights, the northern lights can be seen hovering above the city if you get far enough from its lights. If not, if you rent a car or book a specialized tour, half an hour drives and clear nights will most certainly guarantee you some good sightings. But remember, the northern lights don´t show up every night and it can be a longshot.
Anyway, even if you are not able to have small glimpse of the northern lights (which would be a shame when you travel this far north) you will certainly be able to enjoy the city.
Tromso has got a charm only reserved to small cities lost in the middle of nowhere far away from civilization. In Tromso you don´t feel isolated but you will most certainly feel disconnected. And, that, above everything else, is a blessing.
- THE ISLANDS: KVALOYA AND SOMMAROY-
In our second day in Tromso and since weather conditions were favourable we decided to rent a car, leave the island and explore the surrounding area and roads that cross the well-known norwegian fjords.
Believe me, it is completely worth it. The roads are easily driven, well kept and snow cleaned regularly. The landscapes are mesmerising... You can drive for hours and miles and not be able to see a living soul. And the peace and silence when you stop by the water is something you cannot describe.
Along the way you will find small fishing villages that invite you to stop and enjoy the quietness of this simple way of living.
It is not only the silence of the fjords and the mountains that moves you. It is the solemnity and grandiosity of the landscapes that surround you. You can´t help but feel the weight of eternity in this almost untouched place of the Earth.
When you return to Tromso at the end of the day, you just wish you could stay here forever.
- LYNGEN ALPS AND DOGSLEDDING -
I will not deny that Dogsledding was always a very ambivalent issue on my mind from the day I decided to travel to Norway. As an animal lover and an animal rights supporter, I had always perceived dogsledding as animal abuse. But I cannot also deny that the images you usually see from this nordic activity always transmit such a sense of freedom that I had always thought of one day doing it.
From a lot of online testimonies I had decided that I would give it a try and book a dogsledding activity from a company that had positive comments concerning animal care. And I decided that upon getting there if I had the minimum doubt that dogs were not taken care or being subject to abuse or even unhappy I wouldn´t do the activity and would report it.
Well, the thing is... I couldn´t be more wrong with my concerns. As soon as you get to the camp, you can´t imagine the happiness and strong, happy welcome you get from these amazing dogs. When they spot humans arriving they start jumping and running around you just wanting to meet you. Some of them put themselves right in front of the sled looking at you and waiting for you to ask them to run. And you can immediately notice the strong connection and bond between the dogs and the people that take care of them.
The fact is that Norway is extremely cold. As in, -20ºC cold this time of year! And these dogs are not meant or "designed" to be kept quietly and calmly in the cold. In fact, running and exercising is the only way to keep them warm and hot. So, as soon as they spot you they know that their exercise is about to begin. And one can argue about the weight they will be carrying... well, these are not regular dogs and each sled has a minimum of six dogs attached to it; these are strong, environmentally adapted dogs... when you divide the weight by the number of dogs each of them ends up sliding (not carrying) less than 15kg each. And you cannot imagine the joy that explodes when they start running.
Clearly speaking, each sled has a brake you can use if you feel that the sled is going toofast... Believe me when I tell you that these dogs don´t want you to use the break!
And then, there´s the sense of freedom I had always got from the pictures I had seen. Well, I must tell you that it is true... It is one of the best feelings in the World and one I must tell you everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. One image that will stick with me forever is the one above... Running like wild, going down a mountain with a view over the sea and the amazing fjords of the Lyngen Alps region is a tremendous feeling. For a brief moment I closed my eyes and I can tell you I was flying...
- TROMSO FOR A DAY -
For the next day we decided to just rest, hang out and explore and enjoy the city for a day; no activities planned, just walk and eat. We were fortunate that the weather helped a lot during our stay in Tromso. If not for that we would not have been able to appreciate its magnificent waterfront the way we did...
Tromso like most of the several last outposts of the World gives you that feeling that there is nothing more beyond that. At least nothing more than the raw power of nature in front of you.
Tromso is not a big city. Actually you can easily get to know it in one afternoon. It is separated in two and divided between two islands only connected by a beautiful bridge that when lit up in at night gives the city a distinct unique character. Reduced to its size you can understand why some people call it the "Paris of the North". On the other bank you can also visit and see the Arctic Cathdral, designed by Jan Inge Hovig, inspired by the Sydney Opera House and shaped almost like an iglo.
Its minimalistic interior is amazingly clean, bright and admirably lit only by glass panels. You need to remind yourself that at this time of year you can get less than three hours of daylight so it is even more surprising how bright it can get. You feel like you are inside an ice palace.
- THE NORTHERN LIGHTS -
I feel like I saved the best for last. Like I wrote before, the initial reason for this trip was mostly due to my desire to watch the Northern Lights. We were in fact blessed by three clear nights that allowed us for some displays of the aurora borealis. They were not extremely strong as solar activity was not at any peak during these days but the fact that I was able to witness one of the most amazing shows that Nature and this planet is able to give us was more than enough for me and I couldn´t have asked for more.
Norway is one of the best places in the World for these sightings. Besides being an amazing beautiful country it is located right on spot on the Arctic Circle, the only places on Earth where you can watch it. You only need to ask for a clear sky, no light around you and solar activity happening during that period.
Suddenly, on one of those nights, while looking up the skies on a cold icy beach I found myself thinking about my grandmother and on how many saints she would be praying to just by watching it; and how fortunate I was for being able to be in that place. Like I already wrote on one post on my Iceland trip, "if there was a God, this would be the way that he would write".
And this is it... a memorable week in the northernmost part of the World... Lapland and the Artic Circle in all its glory and might. I hope I was able to make at least feel the will to get to know it one day.
But I also know that Norway is much more than this. It can only be too late when I am able to land on it again....
If you want to see all the pictures from this trip check my Norway gallery here or follow the link below.