Monday, February 11, 2008

Tromsø, Norway: 25-28 Jan 08

Finally, an update :P

Took a weekend trip to Tromsø (Northern Norway) to catch the famed Northern Lights. It was short, but so worth it.

Touch-down in Tromsø

We took a plane from Copenhagen (Denmark) to Oslo (Norway), and then a connecting flight from Oslo to Tromsø. Very thankful for the half price tickets that a friend told us about, helped in our travel finances, as most of the cost went to the plane tickets. We started off our exciting journey by running for our lives to our connecting flight @_@ I have never sweat so much in an airport in my life. Worse still, we piled on our warm jackets and sweaters as we wanted to pack light by wearing our warm clothing. We were literally steaming by the time we hopped onto the plane, and we made it just in time, thank God.

The little plane that we came in on.

Proof that 7-11 is ubiquitous with its presence even in Tromsø airport @_@

Stepping outside of the airport

And I'll make it official - I LOVE TROMSØ!!! It was so beautiful. We made our first stop at the Visitor's Centre, to pick up any information we could lay our hands on (typical touristy Singaporeans aye). That's when I first discovered I had left my handphone on the aeroplane :| I'll save that story for another day...I have half a mind to blame it on the security checks that they keep making us go through, where I had to take my belt on and off so many times that it was inevitable that I would have left my phone somewhere...(I had my hp pouch strapped to my belt)...but yes, I was careless :( So we finally left the visitor's center after 1 hr of trying to locate my phone. Anyway. Tromsø is an EXTREMELY tourist-friendly place...and I thought it would be more ulu as we head up north, but I was proven wrong over and over again. They have excellent and efficient systems, be it transportation, plumbing, roads etc. Everybody speaks some English and people are extremely helpful. But oh gosh, the best thing is the weather. I thought I'd turn into an icicle...considering how cold Copenhagen is (below 5deg), what more one of the northern-est part of Scandinavia? AND I didn't have any ski-wear...thankfully I borrowed a really thick fleece inner jacket from Carol.

Things that I am thankful for:
  • THE WONDERFUL BOOTS - THANK YOU JIE you've no idea how grateful I am for them...I practically wear them everyday :P
  • my long nike socks

BUT, I found out that I didn't have to worry as the weather was absolutely awesome. It was the same temperature as Copenhagen, but it snowed as we walked around, we were crunching into fresh snow, and it was so beautiful when it suddenly started snowing, and we would look up to see snowflakes floating towards you against the dark sky. It's like what I had imagined from Archie comics...where if you pick up a ball of snow and throw, it'll go *poof* :D I know I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit, but never in my life have I seen snow quite like this. Beautiful.

Our first encounter with Tromsø snow.

Our first day, we just walked around the small town of Tromsø with all we had on our backs. It was amazing to see they had brands such as United Colours of Benetton, Levis, Nike, and all the big brands you could think this small town of a grand total of 60,000 people.

"Mack Brewery - proudly lays claim to being the northernmost brewery in the world."
Apologies that it's a little dark, but the brewery is where I'm pointing at. Hmmm. They can probably lay claim to being the northernmost-anything.

Ol' Mack himself

Wandered into a sports shop, where we stumbled upon a whole array of hunting guns :| They have a lot of wildlife on the outskirts of Tromsø city. Their favourite is reindeer...uh, yum?

We were told that the town was having their Northern Lights Festival that night! :):):) What incredible timing.
Setting up for the performance along the main shopping street, Storgata.

The performances for the festival. Apparently the 'dancers' with torches in the background are the 'aurora-seekers'...or something like that.

The performers

The fire-breathers were quite scary...they looked like they were doing it for the first time @_@

The days are so short in Tromsø, literally. The sun rises about 8pm or slightly earlier, and sets at 4pm. So by the time it's 8pm, it feels really late and I get sleepy :| A rather strange feeling. Everything closes early too, promptly at 4pm. So by then, there's nothing much to do, but walk, eat or sleep.

The mountain that left me awestruck. I first saw it at night as we trouped to our accommodation. I couldn't see it clearly at first, but I first saw white patches (of snow) that was on it, and as I drew nearer, and as I slowly made out the shape and SIZE of the mountain, it scared me quite a bit! But it was a breath-taking scenery to wake up to.

Playing with poof-able, throwable snow :)

They say that to see the Northern Lights/aurora, you have to go to a really dark place to see it on a clear night...but no guarantees. 'She' is said to have her mood, and appears only when 'she' feels like it. Well on our first night, armed with a torch and a flask of hot milo, we walked down about 5km into the valley, where we thought it would be a place dark enough. But it was still too bright as we were still relatively near the brightly-lit city, and the path we were on had really bright lamp-post. We weren't going to wander into the forest in the dark, so we decided to head back. On the way back we saw something really bright just behind the mountain...but it wasn't green. We decided to wait and see what it was anyway...and it turned out to be the rising moon -_- But it was beautiful anyway, except that we were too cold to stay out any longer...and I was kinda wet from happily lying down on the snow to star-gaze, so we just went back without seeing anything that night :P

The 'entrance' to the valley, just where our accommodation was located.

Walking to the bus stop that will bring us to the connecting bridge to the city.
I just can't get enough of the snow :)

The Domkirke - the northern-most church (what did I tell you) which was completed in 1861.
"It bears witness to the prosperity of Tromsø's 19th century merchants, who became rich on the back of the barter trade with Russia. They part-funded the cathedral's construction."

"Ronald Amundsen, the polar explorer (1872-1928). Amundsen spent 30 years searching out the secrets of the polar regions, and on Dec 14 1911, he and 4 of his crew became the first men to reach the South Pole, famously just ahead of his British rival Captain Scott."
Ok I didn't even know who this guy was until I blogged...I didn't have time to read up when I was there, so I just took a picture first and decided I could find out who he was later. And he apparently has the finest set of eyebrows north of Oslo...haha.

Reindeer fur in a souvenir shop. It felt really weird touching it. :| But it's apparently quite popular (despite it's steep price), by the time we exited the shop, 2 of them were gone off the shelf.

A fish shop that appeared out of nowhere, in the main square Stortorget. This is where the fresh fish and prawns are sold direct from inshore fishing boats. I didn't buy any fish from Tromsø, but I managed to buy some Norwegian salmon at the airport...cos it was half price heh (expiring of course).

View from the bridge connecting the Tromsøya island and the city.

View of the city from the bridge. It was reallyyyy windy.

Wandered into a free art museum that showed paintings of Northern Norway in the past, before it was populated into a city. It was there that I learned a little more of the (natives) people, and how the kingdoms of Norway and Sweden tried assimilating them by converting them to Christianity and forbidding their language from the 17th century.

A piece of art in the museum. No, the painting did not fall off the frame.

We decided to sign up for an overnight excursion on our 2nd night. Although it was a little more expensive that what we would pay for a normal accommodation, it included an experience we knew we could not miss, and would be a waste if we were to give it a pass. It included 3 meals in a traditional lavvo, dog-sledding, survival equipment and a chance to see the northern lights in the artic wilderness throughout the night :) It honestly exceeded all expectation because I thought the place (which is actually a site where they breed Alaskan dogs) would be dinghy and run-down. But no, the quality test (which was the toilet) passed with flying colours. It was better/cleaner than any hostel toilet I've ever stayed in, and they seriously looked after us really well. Except that I felt the organization that provided this 'program' was understaffed and the people overworked. The same people who cooked the meals, served them. The same people who serve food are dog-sled...uh, drivers. And these same people breed the Alaskan huskies themselves.

We first arrived at night - where we saw 240 Alaskan huskies (I think Mom would have freaked out :P)...and the people who take care of them know each of them by name.

All suited up, looking like marshmallows and ready for any snowstorm!!

Dinner with the rest of the 'tour group' in front of the open fire. Boy did it feel like Christmas :)

And guess what we had for dinnerrrr...reindeer meat. I was glad that we could have a chance to try some of their local delicacies. Although not appreciated by all...the spanish lady next to me refused to eat anything after she heard what was served :P It tasted very much like beef - it was boiled into a soup with lots of carrots and onions. J-man said it reminded him so much of the home-cooked Chinese soup that we get at home, which was quite true :) Sigh, it was so nice to have a leetle taste of home :):):)

Because we were staying with the people who breeding the Alaskan huskies, we had the chance to 'go behind the scenes' and watch them prepare the dogs for the sled ride and feed the puppies the next morning :) The food looked mushy and gross, but they explained they had to add water to the meat/fruits as the huskies don't like to drink water. But as I was out feeding the puppies, I saw the smart ones get around drinking it by turning over their dish bowl and eating the 'liao' from the snow heh.

We stayed out till almost 1am to wait for the aurora. We heard the previous night that it was supposed to be clear night that evening, but it snowed quite heavily, and I was getting pretty disappointed. I mean, I did come out here especially to see it. But on the bus I tried to diminish my disappointment by counting of all the things that I should be grateful for...that the beautiful nature and scenery everywhere I looked were already testament of God's marvelous creation in itself. And I wasn't saying that just to comfort myself in case I didn't get to see the aurora...but it was really true. I loved being there in the midst of nature and the way it really takes your breath away, because it makes you feel that small, unimportant and awed by some things cannot be imagined or made by man.

At about 11pm, we saw it.

It was indescribable. I'm trying not to be drama or hype it up or anything, but it really was hard to describe looked unreal! It reminded me of the scene in The Lion King, where the older Simba saw his dead father in the sky...the clouds were moving and taking shape. It was almost the same, except that it was an eerie greenish clear hue instead of clouds. I half thought that it was going to form a shape or something legible! The one that we saw at 11pm was really clear and beautiful, it was snaking to the left. It left us speechless, and I was just staring up in the sky, forgetting that I had a camera in my hand. Afterwhile we went to get the tripod, but I couldn't make the exposure long enough for it to be captured on camera. Ah, the whole tripod thing is another story. One thing I regret not bringing is a camera tripod :| We figured it might be a good investment, so we bought one that could be attached to anything stable (we couldn't find a cheap one that could stand on its own). BUT, when we brought it out to use it when the aurora appeared, it was missing the adjoining piece (the piece for the camera to attach it to!). AHHH. -_- So we figured we weren't meant to take a picture of it anyway, and decided to just sit back and enjoy the phenomenon whilst we could. A good thing that we did too, because it didn't last for long. After the snaking line disappeared, a large patch of it appeared - and it was dancing, almost! :) It was moving in such a way that it was mesmerizing. I was so excited. Thank God thank God thank God. After that was gone, we didn't see any that was as clear since. At about 12ish 1am, there was a green hue, but it was more spread out and not so you had to strain to see it.

So that's why I don't have any pictures of the aurora :| But I bought a postcard...:P

Our scrumptious breakfast that we ate for 3 hours! It was the heartiest breakfast that I've had in a loooong while :) Gosh...milk, tea, coffee, juice, bread, cheese, ham, pate, jam, butter....siiiigh. :)


Our McGyver trying to start a fire from scratch


You have no idea how strong these animals are! And they are extremely and real excitable too. 10 of them were pulling 4 grown adults = 3 riders + 1 driver. They are smart and well-trained...they were extremely sensitive to our driver's orders and commands. Good doggies! The dog-sledding was quite fun and surprisingly quite comfortable (I suspect they lined the sled with reindeer fur :|), except for the occasional pelting of ice in our face :P

The dogs all excited for their ride. They have so much stamina - all 13 sleds/teams went out with full loads of tourist thrice!

Playing with the ever-friendly huskies :)

Proof of how strong these dogs are. And for the record, I was making so much noise cos one of them was trying to bite the arm that was holding up the camera :P

Getting the dog saliva off :P

Saying goodbye to the comfy lavvo

Our bus-driver, food server, dog-sled driver, and everything else! He was really crazy-funny :) He has 21 dogs of his own, and plans to compete in the upcoming dog-sled race.

Back to the small Tromsø airport, which has a grand total of 2 luggage belts.

Back to Oslo airport, which is pretty nice and well-designed. Where we also met a strange guy who kept harassing us -_-

Aaaand back to Copenhagen.

The end of our weekend trip to Tromsø :)

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