Norway Part 1: The Arctic

After we decided to move to Paris, I was determined to get to Norway within the year. Norway is an important place for me. Like many Minnesotans, I have some Norwegian heritage. While part of the trip would be exploring where that part of my family came from (which I’ll get to in a later post), we also wanted to see as much of the country’s natural beauty as possible. And attempting to see the Northern Lights was at the top of the list, which meant heading above the Arctic Circle.

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In order to give ourselves the best chance at seeing the lights, we chose to spend two nights in the city of Tromsø. Tromsø has a reputation for being an exceptional place to see the lights — especially in March. It’s also a decent-sized city with things to do during the day, and it is surrounded by stunning scenery (a theme in Norway, we would soon discover). When the sun was up, we spent most of our time wandering around, trying to find cheap food (not a thing in Norway) and taking in the beauty that was in front of us.

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We walked across that bridge in the background to get great views of the landscape and to check out the Arctic Cathedral.

Bridge views aside, the rest of the city is pretty cute. Colorful wooden buildings line the streets, and we found some good food and some passable $12 beers. Plus, everyone was very friendly.

In Tromsø, when the sun sets, the city comes alive. Everyone, it seemed, was there to see the lights, and pickups started around 5:30. While there are numerous companies to do the chase with, we went with Arctic Explorers, and we were glad we did. For us, Arctic Explorers was perfect because the cost includes all the gear you need to be outside in the middle of the night in the Arctic for hours at a time.

We were picked up at our hotel and taken with our six other group members to the warehouse to get suited up. We got snowsuits, boots, mittens, wool socks and hats. Guides also bring thermoses of hot water for making hot chocolate and hydrating trail meals that we ate around a fire both nights. The guides were knowledgeable, accommodating and super friendly. Seeing the lights, however, was the highlight.

The first night we had bad weather, meaning heavy cloud cover. Our guide, Johanna (a Parisian!), had us wondering if we would see the lights at all. But we headed inland in search of an opening in the clouds. Eventually, we found stars! We pulled over a few times to check if we were seeing clouds or lights. We learned that you can do this by taking a picture. Cameras pick up the green in the lights much better than our eyes can. Sure enough, we saw green, and pressed onward to the end of a fjord where we settled in to watch the lights grow over the next few hours.

While we thought the lights from the first night were incredible, they hardly compared to what we saw on our second chase, which wasn’t really a chase at all. We were picked up at 5:45 by our guide Andreas (who also left his office job to pursue other adventures). He told us right away that we had perfect conditions for seeing the lights: clear skies. So, to mix things up from the night before we headed toward the coast.

We stopped in a valley next to a fjord. By the time we arrived at 8 p.m., you could already see the lights beginning to come up over the side of the mountain. They grew to form an arch over the entire valley and then started to move and dance around. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We stayed in that spot until midnight, just watching. We didn’t have a camera with us, but one of the great things about Arctic Explorers is that the guides take photos and send them to you the next day. It allowed us to to sit in the snow and take it all in without worrying about getting enough pictures.

Although our trip to the Arctic was short, it was incredibly memorable. Seeing the lights while surrounded by the stunning landscape of northern Norway was an unforgettable experience that I would recommend to anyone. And if you feel deterred by the cold weather, don’t! It was in the 30s the whole time we were there. Not so bad, especially for our fellow Minnesotans.

Stay tuned for more Norway posts, including a recap of meeting my Norwegian family, tons of fjord photos and a bit about Oslo and Bergen!

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