Earlier this year, a friend asked me out of the blue if I would like to go to Norway. “Where in Norway?” I asked. “Tromsø.” was the reply. I had never heard of Tromsø before this, but it turned out to be an extremely fortuitous question. I quickly googled Tromsø, and decided to go.
Tromsø is the northernmost city with more than 50,000 inhabitants in the world. It is located on an island in the middle of a fjord. Two bridges connect it to the surrounding land. It is a city rich with history, being the base of much of the legendary polar exploration of the 19th century.
We flew out of Berlin-Schönefeld, with Norwegian. The checkin process in Berlin went smoothly, although the express security line for people with no checked baggage might have actually been slower and longer than the regular one. Our first flight took us to Oslo, where we had a short three hour-or-so layover, and we flew from there on to Tromsø. The Oslo airport is beautiful and rather reminiscent of a typical Norwegian home with it’s homely Polar feel.
When we landed, we quickly made our way to rental car counter, (we used Sixt), and got the keys. (Chase CSR used to waive primary insurance fee on the car.) We then tried in vain to find the car in the wrong parking lot. That was actually the rental return lot, while we needed the underground parking garage. We made it out, and went to the grocery store in a mall that is about five minutes away from the airport before we headed for our Airbnb.
Our Airbnb was in Hansnes, a small village roughly an hour and a half away from Tromsø near the end of the fjord. The drive out was fine until the street lighting ended. It seemed like Norwegians drive with a death wish as we kept being passed into blind curves with little regard for the thick layer of frost and ice on the road. Our car had studded tires, but the Hyundai i30 didn’t instill all that much confidence in me. It also took us a while to find the Airbnb, as it was down a slightly hidden drive going down a hill. (The apartment we stayed in is here)
It was a beautiful small apartment overlooking the fjord. Night had already long fallen, so we settled in and I accidentally nuked a box pizza to a hard crisp, and we waited for the lights to begin. Around 23:00, they began to faintly appear in the sky as faint smudges across the star studded black expanse. A full moon shone directly in the field of view for the lights, so even after coming into the prime time for lights, we still could not see them very well.
The Northern Lights
During our second day, we went back into Tromsø and went to the Polar Museum and walked around the city center looking for a proper Norwegian sweater. We had the most expensive restaurant pizza of my life, and headed back to the apartment to plan out our attempt to find a good viewing place for lights that night. During the drive back, though, we were given an amazing show.
The lights started dancing early over the fjord and continued to do so as the moon rose. The lights were green, and moved in streams across the sky silently, as if to an unheard beat. At each stop along the roadside, the lights got better. We stopped at the apartment as the Northern Lights began to fade for the moment. They came back with a vengeance about two hours later, though.
We drove past Hansnes, and went all the way to the northernmost end of the fjord. There, we had an unobstructed view across the water to the mountains on the other side. The lights slowly increased in intensity as they filled the sky and lit the water below. They faded after three hours and we returned to the apartment cold, but amazed.
The next day had a late start. We decided to go back into town and take an aerial tramway up a nearby mountain on the mainland. The view from the top was astounding. We made it there just in time for the sunset. It’s possible to go further down the spine of the mountain to get better views of the surrounding area. The views from the observation deck and surrounding mountains are stunning.
We drove back towards Hansnes and took a different road up into the mountains. After almost being run over by a near drifting truck going the opposite direction, we found a secluded valley off to the side of the road that was filled with a thick coat white frost.
We returned to our spot at the end of the fjord from the previous night and settled in to wait for the lights to start again. They came much later, and started off fairly weakly. They quickly increased in intensity, and started wildly dancing across the sky. The lights were even brighter and more numerous than the previous night. We laid down on the frost and looked straight up into the striated aurora. The stars shined through and speckled the green and purple lights. Hours passed until we got up again as the lights again faded away.
We drove back to the Airbnb, packed up, headed to the airport, and went back to Berlin with the images of the lights still burned into our memories.