Tromsø: The City That Stole My Heart

Quite often in life, plans are made and we have certain expectations, however, reality rarely lives up to the ideals we think up in our heads. There is always something that goes wrong – the hotel sucks, the landscape isn’t as pretty as we’ve seen in pictures, we fall out with our friends… all manner of things could turn a dream trip into a nightmare. Luckily, my trip to Tromsø in Norway was not one of these ill-fated adventures; it was the most wonderful experience of my life, and more than lived up to my expectations. In fact, within five days, I completely fell in love with this amazing place – Tromsø stole my heart.

I arrived in Tromsø with my friend Katie after months of excitement and careful planning. Stepping foot onto the icy runway at the airport was the first time it truly felt like I was doing this for real, as I’d been dreaming of this adventure for so, so long that actually experiencing it seemed somewhat out of reach. But here I was, in the city I’d been obsessing about! It was really happening!

stuckAfter a little hiccup with our rental car, we headed off to find our AirBnB home. This was easier said than done as there were road closures near the house. After a few failed attempts to find the house, a man drove up beside us and we asked him for help. This was the first time we encountered true kindness on the island – the man was in a hurry to get somewhere, but agreed to show us how to get to the house anyway. We were blown away by this kind gesture, and we felt sorry that we didn’t know who this man was. We really wanted to thank him for helping us.

Finally, we made it home. The house we stayed in was so wonderful – the rooms were clean and nicely decorated and our rooms were warm and comfortable. Our host Ronny wasn’t home when we arrived, and there were two ladies staying there already. One of them talked to us for a while, giving us tips about Tromsø and the house. After chatting with her, we decided to head out into the night to see if we could catch some Northern Lights. We were not disappointed!

We drove out towards Sommarøy, another island about an hour out of the city. On the way, we stopped at Ersfjordbotn, where we found a really beautiful mountain view. We set up our cameras to get some shots of the scenery, and within a few minutes, Katie noticed lights in the sky. Dancing green lights had appeared in between two mountains in front of us! We frantically tried to get some shots, squealing like excited children all the while.

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Not long after the lights showed up, a coach load of people arrived and they flooded the scene. This made it difficult for us to get any more shots, and we decided to drive off elsewhere to see if we could find a quieter spot. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong direction – we found out a few days later that the lights had been strong over Tromsø itself! We only spotted them again in Sommarøy, and even then, they were barely visible with the naked eye.

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Still, seeing the lights is something neither of us had experienced before. We tried to explain how it had made us feel and settled on the idea that it was a “pure” kind of happiness we’d rarely felt in life. I can honestly say that this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and to have seen the lights after only being in Norway for an hour or so made me feel unbelievably lucky.

The next day, we decided to get up early and watch the sunrise over Tromsø. We headed down to the Southernmost tip of the island which boasted stunning views in all directions. We were there for ages, taking countless photographs of the orange and pink skies over the snowy mountains across the water. It was then that we truly started to feel the cold. Our fingertips were freezing from taking our gloves off to operate our cameras, but the pain was worth it. The sunrise was incredible.

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After a nap, we decided to drive out again and capture the scenery in Ersfjordbotn and Sommarøy again in daylight. In the darkness it had been beautiful, so we could only imagine how spectacular the mountains and fjords would look during the day. Of course, we were not disappointed – the scenery was absolutely stunning!

A contact of Katie’s had recommended a cafe in Ersfjordbotn, so we headed there in hopes of grabbing a hot chocolate. What we found there was so much better than a hot chocolate – the view from outside the cafe is quite simply the most beautiful I have ever seen. We never actually bought anything from the cafe as we were more interested in lapping up this stunning scene and taking photographs of it.

After a while, we were starting to feel really cold, so we decided to head to Sommarøy, but there was a problem. The car park was on a steep slope, and now the ground was so icy that we couldn’t get our car up onto the road. We tried several times to get it moving, but it was going nowhere. Luckily, a young couple were also just leaving, and the man came down to help us out. He told us to try to reverse up the hill – this didn’t work either, then to our surprise, he started pushing us! I don’t know how he managed it, but he pushed us all the way to the top of the car park. We sat in the car for a moment, astounded, and also a little fearful as there was a terrible burning smell coming off of the car now. Eventually we plucked up the courage to drive off. We didn’t want to risk driving further away from Tromsø, so we gave Sommarøy a miss and went straight home. Luckily we made it back without any major problems and were able to rest a while before heading out on our Northern Lights chase that evening.

The Northern Lights chase was an experience full of unexpected surprises, but also disappointment. We went in a small bus and our guide Bert told us lots of interesting information as we drove along. We actually ended up visiting both Finland and Sweden that night, which I had not expected, however, we didn’t see many lights. Bert was able to pick up a few on his camera, and he kindly emailed us his photographs, but there wasn’t much for us to see with the naked eye.

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At the Norway-Finland border. Courtesy of Bert at Chasing Lights

The highlight of the adventure was sitting around a camp fire on top of a frozen lake just over the Swedish border. We enjoyed a delicious stew while Bert explained why the Northern Lights occur. He then gave us some advice on shooting the lights and night photography. He certainly helped me improve my skills, which I am very grateful of.

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The next day we got up really late, a little before midday. We had been burning the candle at both ends and I was most certainly feeling the effects of this. I had a raging headache and stiffness in my shoulders and neck. I had to resort to strong painkillers which made me feel quite zoned out. Feeling tired, and with heavy rain outside, we decided to have an easy day. We took one drive out to Tønsvik and sat in the car in case the lights showed up again. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see anything, so headed back home to chill out at home and have a quieter night. Katie cooked us a delicious dinner and we played Two Truths and a Lie until we were too tired to think anymore.

norway27webThe weather wasn’t much better the following day, so we decided to head into Tromsø city centre for the first time. We visited a cafe for a bite to eat and invested in some shoe spikes and hand cream. We also ended up taking a trip to the police station to hand in some Russian money we’d found in the street!

In the afternoon, we visited the Polaria aquarium and got to witness the seals being fed. It was very busy and crowded there, so I didn’t have the best viewpoint, but it was still a worthwhile experience. I also bought some souvenirs there to take home.

That evening, Katie had persuaded me to step out of my comfort zone and experience the night life with her. I was a little apprehensive as I don’t really go out all that much usually. I suffer with social anxiety, and being in busy, loud places full of strangers switches me into panic mode, but I didn’t want Katie to miss out, so I tagged along. We ended up in Blå Rock Cafe, a small pub that played rock music. It was a cool place, and even though I still felt anxious there, it was warm and friendly enough for me to deal with.

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Gravity defying drum kit

An unexpected treat for me at Blå Rock was meeting a bunch of really cool Norwegian people – there were about eight of them, mainly guys and one girl. They were really fun and friendly and welcomed us into their group. They were interested in our travel stories and told us about their culture and experiences. One in particular stood out for me, and I hope we will keep in touch. We did pinky promise that if I came back to Tromsø, we would meet up and check out some tourist attractions together. So yay, I made a friend!

The next day, we were off again. This time, we were going to the Villmarkssenter to go dog-sledding! It was our last day in Norway (as well as Valentine’s Day) and we were super excited to spend the day with over 300 gorgeous dogs. When we got there, we were informed there had been a change of plan. There wasn’t enough snow there, but instead of cancelling the sled rides, they were driving the dogs out to Malangseidet, about an hour away, and we could join them there.

norway32webBefore deciding if we wanted to extend our day that much, we took a walk outside to meet some of the dogs who were at their kennels. They were so beautiful and friendly, however, some were a little more boisterous than others, and Katie ended up having her hat stolen and destroyed by two dogs named Face and Tube. After trying to wrestle her hat back from them, Katie slipped and fell on the ice, really hurting herself.

It was touch and go whether we would end up joining the trip or not – Katie was in a lot of pain, and seriously shaken up, but she eventually decided to go anyway. The staff had been very attentive to her, and despite our previous agreement to arrive by car, they allowed us to travel on the bus with them, meaning we got a chance to rest and be more comfortable before our sled ride.

At Malangseidet, the dogs were already waiting for us, and they were getting really excited. Being in amongst so many howling dogs has to be one of the most intense experiences of my life – I almost cried!

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sledrideThe sled ride itself was truly exhilarating. I’ve never experienced anything like it! The dogs were so enthusiastic about pulling the sled, and we even had a few bumps as we careered into some small trees en route! It was snowing at the time, and as we went around the course, we came across some really beautiful views. As soon as the ride was over, I just wanted to get back in and go again!

As we travelled back to the Villmarkssenter, I felt so emotional. The scenery we passed was unlike anything I’d ever seen – cute little houses set right on the edges of the fjords, tall trees climbing up the snowy mountains – it was all so picturesque. I kept daydreaming about what it would be like to live there… maybe one day I will.

After enjoying a meal and meeting some cute puppies, it was time to go home again. We packed our cases and had a shower, then headed out one last time. We wanted to go up in the Cable Car and take in the view of the city from above. It was absolutely spectacular! I could have stood there for hours had it not been so cold.

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Once we were down on ground level again, we decided to take one final drive back towards Sommarøy. We had a strong feeling we wouldn’t get to see any Northern Lights as it was very cloudy; it was more a case of wanting to enjoy this wonderful place as much as we could before leaving the next morning. As we drove around, Katie was in a real dilemma – she wanted to stay. So did I, but I had to think about my work, so I couldn’t even entertain the idea. We sat in silence as we weaved along the roads to Ersfjordbotn, where we stopped once more. I felt so sad, knowing I’d be leaving, and I could practically hear the cogs turning in Katie’s mind as she tried to decide what to do. The mood was only broken after Katie accidentally got into someone else’s car after taking a quick walk. It was the light relief we both needed, and not long afterwards, we headed back home for the night.

The next morning, it was time to go. It broke my heart every second we were driving to the airport, and while inside, both of us shed some tears. Even more were shed on the plane, and many more have been shed since I’ve been home… Never in my life have I missed a place as much as I miss Tromsø. The mountains, the fjords, the people – everything was wonderful. I genuinely believe it won’t be long until I return – this is a place I don’t think I can stay away from for long. I am well and truly in love…

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Courtesy of Katie Simmons

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