Laid-back is probably the word that describes Tromsø the best. No rush, no noise, few people – aside from quite a bunch of tourists. The frostiness and the snow seem to calm everything down.
Our first adventure is planned for the morning after our arrival. We are brought to a site a little outside of the city to experience dog sledding. More than 300 Alaskan huskies are waiting for tourists – they are named after different themes. There are even some Social Media guys – “Twitter” and “Insta” – others are called “Amazon” (the river) and “Nile”.
The “working dogs” seem eager to pull us through the snow. From time to time one of them starts barking and the others join in. After the meet and greet the sleds are ready. I team up with Jamie from Nashville, USA, and our musher is Nadja – from Nürnberg, Germany. She works in Tromsø in the winter time and loves the dogs. She has even adopted some of the old ones who cannot run anymore.
The wildlife center also breeds dogs – the strongest run near the sled, the clever minds become leading dogs in the front. The best ones take part in races as long as 1.200 kilometers. We drive not more than two or three and wonder whether our leading dog really listens to the “Gee” and “Haw” from Nadja or just runs after the other sleighs and takes a shortcut here and there.
After a lunch with reindeer soup and chocolate cake in a Sami tent we take off our heavy and extra warm snow overalls and head back to the city. To maximize our chances to see northern lights we decide to book a northern lights tour for the same day. After a hot shower and some rest we board the van of Brynjar. He is very optimistic that we will see “aurora borealis” – even thought the KP index is low for the night like on our first day.
But the sky is clear and Brynjar does not give too much about forecasts. I am already freezing in the van so I hope “aurora” does show up as soon as possible. We drive around and stop several times – but no lights, neither northern nor artificial. Brynjar repeats again and again that he does not believe in numbers. Even on our first night we could have seen northern lights: they just came out later than usual – around midnight when we were already asleep. On our tour we do not have to wait so long: Around 10pm we spot a long white tail in the air, not to far from our heads it seems, and Brynjar gets excited. This is it! So, aurora comes in an unspectacular white dress and dances around the clear black sky, like cotton candy. Where is the green? On the photographs. It is spooky: On every picture the cloudy tail appears green, even red or purple. But aurora is not strong enough to reveal its green to the bare human eye. It is like a scary movie: taking a photo and suddenly there is somebody else in the picture.
I tried to understand what nature is doing and, as a fan of short stories, I found this metaphor the best explanation of the northern lights: The sun is blowing us a kiss. It is a solar storm consisting of particles full of energy. They are caught by the magnetic field of the earth, hit the atmosphere and are thus stimulated to glow. I return to the hostel terribly cold and tired but happy.
On day number 2 we take he public bus to the cable car of Tromsø. In five minutes we are brought to the viewing point Storsteinen, 421 meters above the city.
Needless to say that it is awfully cold up there. So cold, that I cannot manage to take a selfie without a big tear in my eye. The wind is almost killing us.
We wait in the viewpoint’s café for the cable car back down. We walk through the residential area with all its neat and mostly wooden Norwegian houses in different colors. Porches, balconies and frozen hammocks directed to the sunny south. Are people ever outside in t-shirt or bikini or having a barbecue? It seems unimaginable.
We reach the arctic sea cathedral, a lutheran church in triangular shape, with one of Europe’s largest mosaic windows. The glass is not as illuminated as we hoped since the sun only shines through in the mornings and the view to the mosaic is partly concealed by a white wall. Anyway, we relax a minute in the quietness and refuel a little warmth, I light a candle and out we go. We walk all the way back across the bridge, “Tromsøbrua”. At the handrail couples have hung up love locks.
After a siesta and warming up at our hotels we get ready for another excursion: a hike with snow shoes. We meet our guide Matthias from Tromsø Outdoor and we drive to Charlottenlund – something like a central park (“friområde”) of Tromsø. We put on our snow shoes with spikes, grab walking sticks and follow Matthias. I feel a little dumb and “overdressed” with snow shoes and spikes while there are people just walking normally or skiing through the park. But soon we leave the official tracks and walk up and down through dark and snowy forest. We see a snow grouse, nordic birch trees and we enjoy the magnificent view from Tromsøya (Tromsøs central island) to the mainland.
A lot of people are doing langlauf in the park, instead of jogging. Their are quite fast and we have to watch out for them flying by and also for their slopes (do not step into them!). The funny noise their ski poles male in the firm snow helps to notice them – it sounds like chewing halloumi cheese. We pass the scientific center that measures the probability of northern lights and soon after that we return to a small shed with a fireplace.
While Svenja, Clara and me spend some time being a child again and ride toboggans down a small hill, Matthias lights the fire. He later tells us that he came from Sweden to live in Tromsø because the climate is a little milder than at home (really?) and now he lives on a sail boat with his girl friend – no luxury, no TV. What an outdoor guy. We drink gløgg out of paper cups and eat Norwegian cake – a pressed pan cake with a buttery filling. Suddenly, Matthias points to the sky. Northern lights! Directly above our heads, despite all the lanterns of the city. The lights even shimmer green – other than than the evening before. No chasing, no waiting. In a moment you least expect it, things can unfold just the way you might wish. Nature’s lesson! We watch the greenish smoke in the air for some time and soon clear the fireplace. After so much fresh air we fall rather early into our beds.
Day 4 is time for seeing the seals! We visit Polaria and watch bearded seals and smaller harbor seals. You can walk beneath their ocean water pool…
…and the trainers feed them breakfast. Bearded seals have not been studied that extensively yet (that’s what they do at Polaria) and there have never been born any in captivity. The two massive ladies are quite cute – one of them cuddles with the wall after she has eaten up all the fish. Movies take us on a cruise through the fjords. We also learn about climate change, the melting of the polar ice and the life conditions of polar bears that get harsher and harsher. In the souvenir shop I am tempted by a wooden key chain in shape of a heart. The wood feels so smooth and we wonder what it is. A German speaking forest ranger behind us knows: It is “karelian birch”. Aha. Although I cannot memorize the name easily: From now on, it is my favorite wood. Polaria is also known for its architecture: The building looks like ice floes washed up to the shore.
In the afternoon I decide to educate myself in the field of booze, at Mack’s brewery. The main beer production has moved to a new building out of Tromsø but they still have a micro brewery. And if you come across the beer topic it is inevitable that is has something to do with Germany. Mack was founded by a guy from Braunschweig! During the Nazi time in Germany they even were the main vendor of beer to the German troops – and they used this for a special kind of resistance. They told the British government what amounts of beer they delivered to which places, so that the Allies could estimate where the most German soldiers are positioned. Today, Mack has quite unique ideas to push sales numbers. During the brewing process they play a certain kind of music – a range of Vinyl albums and a record player stand next to the tanks. Once the beer is finished, they print the song collection on the label of the bottle.
At Ølhallen next door, I taste some of their different brands – 1877 is a really good one! Tromsø is also a culinary experience – Norwegians know how to eat.
Tromsø food and shopping in a nutshell
- Pastafabrikken – Norwegian Vapiano – just a whole lot better
- Risø – mat & kaffebar, hipster place with drip coffee and goat cheese omelette/smørbrød
- Backbeat – Kaffe & Vinyl – hipster place for Vinyl lovers with great vintage furniture and jukebox
- Aunegården – former butcher shop, now a decent bistro with burgers and cakes
- Koselig Cafe Og Hjemmebakeri – try the Tromsø Paninis…yummy!
- Hyken Pub – cozy interior and nice food choices like reindeer steak and fries….yummy!
- Lugar 34 – a cozy little café with bagels and delicious carrot muffins
- Fretex Second Hand – payable clothes and accessories collected by the Norwegian Salvation Army
We had withdrawn cash at the airport – the one and only unnecessary thing we did in five days. Norwegians love credit cards and they make yours burn. At least my credit card had a “hot” holiday.