Tromso, Norway – February 2013

After travelling to Spitsbergen I rather thought I was done with vacations in cold countries until I learned about the solar maximum in 2013. Predictions said this winter would have the best displays of aurora borealis for the next 50 years, so I postponed a relaxing spa vacation in the tropics and booked a trip to Tromso, Norway. At least I already had the appropriate clothes.

Tromso is known as the Paris of the North, and while I was sceptical after Spitsbergen, I have had to revise my opinion. The town offers lots of different restaurants, galleries, museums and interesting architecture. Especially the cathedral of Tromso is well known among architects. My favourite restaurant was the Sushi Point close to my hotel (the Radisson Blu) which served the best sushi I’ve ever had. You also get some sun hours in winterly Tromso. In February, sunrise is approximately at 8.30 and the sun will set at about 15.30.

Our tour operator for chasing the aurora borealis was Marianne Bergli, a woman who truly loves the northern lights and will do her utmost to ensure you have a wonderful experience. I can unreservedly recommend her to anyone wanting to see the northern lights. Marianne took care of everything, from picking us up at our hotel, to locating the lights and supplying us with food and hot beverages – hot chocolate in my case 😉

She knows the area very well – thus providing beautiful photography opportunities – and will chase the northern lights to Finland when the cloud cover makes this necessary. Additionally, she has snow suits for cold weather conditions – they kept us warm in Finland when the temperature dropped to minus 33° centigrade.

In all, I spent 5 nights with Marianne and was rewarded by some spectacular displays. I really enjoyed watching the aurora light up the night sky, dancing above us in red and green, with the corresponding reflections in the sea below, and even forming coronas from time to time. The scope of this phenomenon is incredible – it often stretches over the whole expanse of the sky. It’s easy to imagine the origin of Viking mythology when observing the aurora. I would definitely love to go aurora hunting with Marianne again the next time I visit Norway.

Another highlight of my vacation in Tromso was going dog sledding. I’ve wanted to try dog sledding for a while now so I booked a tour with villmarkssenter before coming to Norway. The conditions were practically ideal – blue skies, sun, glittering snow, the surrounding mountains, the sea and 300 dogs. I was there as a guest musher and as such allowed to drive my own sled (thankfully following somebody with a whole lot more experience than me). Before starting, I met the excited dogs (which live in pairs outside), and the cute puppies.

The sled was pulled by six dogs, which all have their separate tasks, with the lead dogs responding to the verbal commands. The dogs could pull my weight easily and they just love to run. They are also very impatient if you have to stop, making a lot of noise and trying to start running again, so it’s important to keep your weight on the brake. Driving the sled was lots of fun – a bit similar to motocross, where you also go back with your weight when going downhill and so on. I would certainly like to do a two day dog sledding expedition if I get the chance and I’ll need to check opportunities for dog sledding in Austria as well.

By chance we learned that the Norwegian championship in reindeer racing would be held while we were in Tromso so we decided to check it out. The reindeer were pulling the contestants on ski, who had to hold on to the reindeer’s harness. The start must have been the tricky part of the race because the drivers often lost their grip, leaving the reindeer to run the distance alone. While these teams were of course disqualified, the reindeer seemed to enjoy running alone just as much, completing the distance at full speed 🙂 .

In short, I had a great vacation in Tromso and, surprisingly – despite the cold weather – I would love to visit again.

A few examples of the beautiful aurora displays:

dog sledding…

…and the reindeer race:


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