So, I have to admit this one, I am cheating a little and writing this last instalment post-Christmas, having fully recovered from the awesomeness that was this trip, and the full day that it took to sort and publish all of the associated photographs!
At the end of the second trip report, you may recall, I’d just arrived back in Tromsø following 24 hours spend in the inky darkness of Svalbard, pretty much as far North as it is possible for a civilian to go on the planet!
Upon our return, we stayed in an incredibly charming place called the Polar Lights Home – which was a gorgeous little apartment set high in the suburbs of Tromsø – the sort of place where it is constantly pitch black, there is snow and compacted ice everywhere, it’s very very steep, oh, and there are no pavements!! Every trip outside of the apartment was nothing short of an adventure!!
For us, it was such a welcome change to be staying in an apartment, as we’d been missing the mod-cons and benefits of having our own utilities and kitchen space etc. Once we’d managed to find the local supermarket (we learnt that ‘local’ meant well over a mile away, and a trip that wasn’t helped by Google Maps!), we found it really nice to have our cupboards stuffed with Norwegian foods, even if we hadn’t considered that we wouldn’t be able to read the cooking instructions properly in our rush at the time to cry ‘HA!’ in triumph, having eventually deciphered what it actually was, haha!
We were fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights near nightly whilst we were staying at the Polar Lights Home, helped greatly by it being set much higher up in the landscape than downtown Tromsø, and really benefiting from a lack of light pollution. It was really odd, however, as we’d be on our way to the supermarket whilst exclaiming in delight as the Lights danced right above our heads, and all the locals were just walking around as if nothing was happening – they’re clearly spoilt by this phenomenon!!
Michele, who owns the Home, kindly lent us some reflectors for our clothing so that we wouldn’t encounter issues in the darkness with the traffic – mine was a nice normal one, but Max totally didn’t believe me when I told him that he’d been walking around with a big happy elephant on his clothes for the duration until the very last day, haha!
On our first full day back in Tromsø, we were incredibly fortunate in that some humpback whales had been spotted in the nearby fjords, which had the locals all very excited – apparently the whales had never been seen anywhere near this far inland before, and were never normally in Arctic waters at this time of year either. It was a massive deal, getting on to the national news in Norway, and the story even made it across to here on the BBC!
The trip out was absolutely breathtaking, the views over the mountains as we sailed through the fjords with the twilight just starting to break through genuinely were some of the most picturesque sights that I have ever seen in my life! It was a bit odd at first, as everyone else on the trip all just stayed indoors drinking tea and eating, so we had the whole of the back of the boat completely to ourselves. Why people chose to stay inside against braving the cold to see such a spectacular sight, I will never, ever, understand!
In terms of the whales themselves, we were incredibly fortunate and saw tens of them! All you could see and hear for miles were spouts of water going up, with the occasional tail fin slapping against the water as the whale dived back down. We managed to get really close up to some of them, though unfortunately we saw none of them jump, and it truly was a magical experience for everyone on board, our Sami guide (Trine) and her family too! Within a matter of minutes we discovered that it would be impossible to take a picture of the animals for various reasons, and so it was really nice to just abandon the camera and run around the boat spotting these magnificent creatures and simply enjoying the moment. Heaven!
There isn’t so much a tourist schedule when you visit Tromsø, as much of the related industry is experience-driven and out in the outskirts/wilderness, and so this tiny Arctic city is pretty much reserved for retailing the necessities. With such limited offerings in mind, we decided to visit Polaria (a little bit like a Sea-Life Centre) and the Polar Museum.
Polaria’s main attraction are the four seals that it has. I have to admit, that I wasn’t much of a fan, it all just seemed a little too much captivity for me, though the animals did appear well looked after and the keepers clearly loved them. They also had some rather retro 1970s quality nature films about Svalbard and the Northern Lights, which we endured, but frankly for fifteen pounds each to get in, you expect more than just this and a few starfish!! It passed a few hours, but it wasn’t really fit for purpose in my humble opinion, and when we look to return to Tromsø (which we shall do soon!), I’m afraid Polaria just won’t be on the list of things to do!
The Polar Museum, by contrast, was a marvellous find! It documents Arctic life, and expeditions, and covers everything from polar bear trapping techniques and sealing methods used by their ancestors, through to models of the ships that they used to sail the Arctic waters, and a vast collection of Arctic taxidermy. All-in-all, a VERY interesting museum (only marred slightly by an Australian couple following us around, taking turns in reading aloud from the guidebook like it was story-time, and exclaiming ‘the bastards’ very loudly when they saw the sealing exhibit!).
I’m very glad that we split our trip up in to three segments, as by the time we’d come back for this third segment, we were ready to just ‘live’ the Arctic life, and that was exactly what we were able to do for these five days – perhaps the best collective of five days that I’ve ever had in my life! Everything just felt so much simpler up there, and the distance that you feel from the rest of the World and its problems is near-palpable! We didn’t feel the need to rush around, and we were able to feel equally as happy and contented when we were out watching whales as we were curled up on the sofa of the Polar Lights Home with a nice book and a snuggly duvet.
Souvenir wise, we got some lovely little snowstorms for my family (well, we were in the Arctic!!), and also some trolls (below) – which do actually have a connection to the area, as I believe that many people in the Far North genuinely believe in the existence of trolls and leave saucers of milk etc out for them!
We decided to treat ourselves, and purchased a lovely hand-made glass plate which we both fell in love with, and we also bought an ethically sourced reindeer hide too! (which I have named Herbert Groobert, which naturally must be pronounced in a Norwegian accent).
Before anyone objects, the reindeer hide is totally ethical, these animals are raised in the Far North much in the same way that we breed cows here in the UK. Reindeer are semi-domestic animals, farmed in massive herds, and are bred for food and clothing etc – all parts of the animal are used, and they’re treated incredibly well by the farmers. This one is truly magnificent, and we fell in love with it upon first sight – it even still has the tail!
Coming back from Tromsø to Heathrow was something of a massive bump. We’d gotten used to having loads of space, clean air, friendly people, and adventure right on your doorstep! We were used to enjoying and making the most of the 2 hours of Arctic twilight, and suddenly when faced with 10 hours of proper daylight back in London, it seemed almost daunting. On the one hand, it has been great to get back to ‘civilisation’ as it were, and all of the convenience that it affords, but I think we’d both be fibbing if we didn’t admit that we’ve left our hearts behind at the Polar Lights Home, and we’re definitely planning a return journey within the next 18 months or so!
Until next time Tromsø…!
For anyone interested in our holiday snaps (and there were a lot of them!) you have two options:
The Photostream has the much nicer and easier presentation (and would be my first preference), however, none of the captions copied across to it.
If you would prefer to read additional commentary, please look up the Facebook album, which is publically available to all, and you can cycle through the same photographs there!
Whilst I was away, I got in to the TripAdvisor bug, and if you’re thinking of going to Tromsø or Svalbard, or just want to see what I really thought of the places and experiences which I have briefly mentioned here, then you can get all the gossip here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/members-reviews/musicalmadgari