Hallo from Norway! (Part 2)

23 Feb

Thanks for stopping back by to continue along on our recent Arctic adventure! Hope you enjoyed yesterday’s wilderness pictures!

So, the main reason we went to Tromso was to see the Aurora Borealis, aka the Northern Lights. This has been on our Bucket List for many years, so when it came time to start planning, we really had our work cut out for us. Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin this cat- there are plenty of places to view this phenomenon. But here’s the tricky part- you only have so much vacation time; so much money. So our goals became: 1. determining the spot that would be MOST likely to see them and 2. determining the time of year when they are MOST often seen. In other words, we didn’t necessarily choose the trip- the trip chose us! Ha! In fact, our original plan was to see them in Iceland because we’d also like to see Reykjavik. And while, yes, the Lights can be seen from Iceland, it’s less common and they’re often less intense, solely due to the fact that it’s further south. Yep, the further north you go, the better your chances, which is how we ended up in picturesque Tromso- it’s about as far north as you can travel by airplane and it gave us the absolute best shot of seeing ’em! And for anyone who’s curious, the best viewing time is mid-December through early March. We chose mid-February mainly because their Polar Night ends around February 1 and we for sure wanted to be able to see all the beauty that is northern Norway. (No sunlight is seen in Arctic regions from mid-November through January. Coincidentally, the sun never sets during June and July- a friend we made told us that it’s actually just as likely to get sunburnt at midnight as at noon during those months!)


But before we get into the Aurora Borealis, I want to share a little bit about Tromso and all the fun we had exploring it. Tromso is considered to be the northernmost city in the world, with a population of about 72,000 people, which is significantly larger than it seems, at least to me. (For perspective, this is about the same as Phuket, Thailand and Cozumel, Mexico. For Lowcountry peeps, this is about half the population of Charleston, SC, but nearly double the size of Summerville…) Anyhoo, it’s situated on an island (one of thousands in northern Norway) and has been inhabited since the Ice Ages. A neat little tidbit: its city center is home to the most old wooden houses in the whole country, the oldest dating back to 1789.



Main Street, City Center…


Look what we found when we were wandering around! Do y’all remember these from one of my Stuttgart posts a while back? These are markers in the sidewalk in front of homes where the Nazis invaded to take the Jews. Although started in Germany, the project has spread throughout Europe since the 1960s. Couldn’t believe the Nazis made it this far north… 😦


Grabbing a bite in one of the wooden coffee shops…

It really is a beautiful city, especially blanketed in layers and layers of fluffy white snow! We LOVED the architecture- great mix of old and super modern- and all the colors. Our hotel overlooked the harbor, which happens to be one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen, too. From our window, we could watch the boats coming and going, folks walking- and playing- below, the bridge connecting the city center to the other side of the city, and even the famous Arctic Cathedral on the far banks. ❤


Our hotel. The entire bottom floor is their restaurant, which made for the perfect breakfast each morning overlooking the marina…



View from our window when we first arrived…Yep, we arrived in a blizzard!


First morning ❤


The next morning…


Later in the morning- the sun trying to peak out…



The triangle building in the distance is the famous Arctic Cathedral…

The Arctic Cathedral is the most famous landmark in Arctic Norway. It’s actually not a cathedral, but a Protestant church. Made completely of concrete, it was built in 1964, and is still an active church today. The views from its front lawn were fabulous.




Our hotel is on the far bank, directly below the center lamp pole.




Not gonna name names, but someone was LOVING the snow…

The city’s other famous landmark is the Tromso Cathedral, the northernmost Protestant church in the world and Norway’s only wooden cathedral. It was built in the late 1800s, although there’s been a church on the site since the 12th century. It also happened to have one of the best squares in the whole city for snowball fighting ❤




We found a great spot to spend a few hours called Polaria, the northernmost aquarium in the world. But it’s more than a traditional aquarium- it’s designed to be an educational experience and is really geared towards children. In addition to its main exhibit, the Bearded Seals, it had a rock climbing wall, touch tanks (I always think of that scene in Finding Dory now!), a cinema and a ‘sleeping’ polar bear. And the outside was designed to look like ice floes that had been pushed up onto the land by the powerful Arctic sea. Neat! I’m not sure which of us had more fun- the seals were SO FREAKING COOL.




She is always REALLY good at rock climbing…Need to find a way to do more of this…


Entranced by the seals…



Funny aside: Neve became obsessed with all the taxidermied polar bears, reindeer, etc. we saw on this trip. (Seemed like every hotel and restaurant had at least one.) So we used it as an educational time to learn about the process. She’s still obsessed.


A seal swimming toward us…





With her new seal from Polaria 🙂

The city planners must’ve been in cahoots because just a block or so from Polaria is Norway’s oldest- and the world’s northernmost- brewery and pub, Mack’s. Founded in 1877, this gorgeous yet quaint drinking hole, has got to be one of the sexiest pubs we’ve been to- shiny wooden surfaces, an entire wall of chrome taps with more than 75 beers to choose from, stained glass windows…Definitely worth a stop in to hold you over until lunch!


Mack’s Pub



Double IPA and a Stout…Can’t find either of those in Germany! Ha!


Mack’s Brewery


Now, onto those Northern Lights 😉 The Aurora is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically charged particles released from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen. The different gases involved in the collisions determine the colors you see and can range from green to purple to red to white. The lights are seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

As you might suspect, there are plenty of ways to see them- lots of companies, lots of guides, etc. Tours range from huge coach buses, to mini buses, to boats, to snowmobiles, to private guides…We ultimately chose a ‘Base Camp Tour,’ which means that a bus takes you out into the wilderness (you have to be away from the city, obviously, so you have complete darkness) to one of the company’s 4 base camps. They keep up with the weather and the forecasts and the projections, then choose the camp with the best likelihood of seeing them each night. Once at the camp, you get off the bus and spend the evening around a campfire on the ice or warming up in giant teepees sipping hot chocolate and eating authentic Norwegian cake. We thought this sounded like the best all-around option for us, but especially for Neve. All tours have a few things not necessarily in kids’ favors…They’re late at night, they take anywhere from 7-10 hours (you generally leave about 7p and return around 3a, but sometimes as late as 5a if it takes that long for the Lights to show, if at all…), they involve hours in a bus/boat/car…You get the point. So we wanted to choose the one we felt would minimize these things the most. We get to the meeting point that night and are waiting to check in when a guy comes out and announces that there’s been a screw up with the transportation- there are no buses to take us to the base camp. The only option is a catamaran…a cruise into the night in search of the Lights. The best laid plans…Ugh.


Definitely not what we’d pictured and definitely not the best option for us, but what could we do? We’ve got a limited number of opportunities to make this happen and tonight’s forecast is the best of all our nights in Tromso, so…The boat was definitely not the experience we’d wanted. There was something so neat about the idea of huddling around a camp fire, sipping hot chocolate and watching the sky become our own personal cinema…The boat had a heated indoor section with tons of seats, then decks on the top and both ends for when you wanted to be outside. And lots ‘o people. Yuck. Not gonna lie, we were chapped.

But here’s where I go back to my old, ‘the Universe always provides.’ And it does. We hadn’t even been sailing an hour when the sky began to glow a faint green. We were already outside on the front deck- just us and one other guy getting his camera set up- when the guide came on the loud speaker to share the news, and to apologize for encouraging everyone to settle into a seat inside because the lights wouldn’t be visible until at least 3 hours in. Needless to say, we got to have those few moments- just the three of us floating in the middle of that grand fjord- as the sky above us came alive. It was incredible.


Our first shot of the Aurora Borealis…just happened to be with Venus hanging out in the same patch of sky ❤


This is probably a good time to point out that no matter how much I enjoy photography and how much time I spend growing it as a hobby, a professional photographer I am not. Ha! Luckily, we made friends with one of the guides who helped us get our camera settings as best we could for capturing the best shots. It’s tricky because you need to let in as much light as possible, but that, coupled with being on a moving boat, means lots of blurriness and not a damn thing you can do about it. 😦 You’ll see that the majority of our shots are just that- blurry bursts of color- with a few good ones peppered in here and there!





John captured this shot, one of my favorite of the night ❤


It turns out that our night on the boat was the best viewing night of the entire season. Not only did the Aurora Borealis arrive hours earlier than normal, but they were their brightest and the most widespread they’d been in years. At times, the entire sky above us was alive with dancing ribbons of light! However, in an effort to keep it real, I want to add that the pictures you see, here and anywhere else, are a bit more colorful than what you actually see. Apparently this is because it’s impossible for the human eye to take in as much light as a camera can, so therefore there’s no way for the colors to be as vivid. That’s not to say that the colors aren’t still there and aren’t still absolutely beautiful, but just that, for example, when they first get going, you have moments where you can’t tell if it’s just a low lying cloud or the Aurora Borealis. When in doubt, though, the camera can always clear up any doubt- here’s a shot of the plain night sky (no Lights) with just a lighted city in the distance. No green 🙂

dsc_0097 ts1





Neve did awesome! She had a great time, really. Yes, it was frigidly cold and windy on deck at times, but that just meant that we alternated between in the cabin and out. She was amazed by the Lights and had been waiting MONTHS to see them. It was really a terrific thing for John and me to see this through her eyes. ❤ She made it until the last 30 minutes, then…


And as if our hours of eye candy at sea wasn’t enough, when we made it back to the harbor, the Lights came alive once more, visible from the city for the first time in many years! They continued for over an hour, so we even got to enjoy them from our window as we went to sleep (although some of us got to see more of them than others!) ❤



My sweet baby didn’t make it any further than the bed- coat, boots and all. OUT.

I guess the moral of this story is that things don’t always go the way you intend, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t end up with the same result, or even something better. We’ll never know if we would’ve had the same beautiful show by Mother Nature at the base camp. We’ll never know if that experience would’ve been preferable to this one. But what we do know is the overwhelming sense of gratitude we feel for having had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We went to Tromso with the goal of seeing the Aurora Borealis- and yes, the lingering doubt of ‘what if they don’t show and we’ve come all this way?!,’ and we got so much more than we ever hoped for. We not only saw them, but we basked in them…For hours…In the middle of the Norwegian wilderness, floating in a fjord…We did more than just cross it off our Bucket List- we annihilated it. ❤


See you tomorrow for the last installment of our Norwegian Adventure…dog sledding!

4 Responses to “Hallo from Norway! (Part 2)”

  1. jsimssr February 24, 2017 at 2:58 AM #

    For a beach/lake, sunbathing girl, you are adapting to the cold European climate well. For me–Go back to Portugal..#justsayingilikewarm,summeretc.

    • Erin T. February 24, 2017 at 9:52 AM #

      Portugal was another amazing trip and we certainly hope to go back one day 🙂 I still prefer the beach and sunshine, but gotta make the most of our time over here exploring alternatives!

  2. Robin and Larry February 23, 2017 at 10:51 PM #

    Your father and I really should have been with you all – I’m just saying.

    • Erin T. February 24, 2017 at 9:50 AM #

      I’m pretty sure that would’ve been absolutely awesome. Sure would’ve LOVED to have you there with us. You would’ve had the best time and loved it there.

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