30 December 2018

At The Top of the World

Tromsø, Norway is almost as far north as you can go (Magerøya is farther but this was plenty far for me) on land in Europe. It's north of the arctic circle and definitely the furthest north I've ever been. Why did I choose to go here in mid-December (as someone who hates being cold)?  I wanted to see the northern lights for my birthday.

The sun doesn't go above the horizon from mid-November to mid-January this far north.  There are about 2 hours of twilight but that's it.  It's dark the rest of the time.  I know people adjust but I would have a very difficult time living there. 

We set off to chase the lights after suiting up in some serious cold-weather gear.  Despite this gear, my toes were cold and we were still in the van.  As I sat in the very uncomfortable, cold van, it wasn't lost on me that I'm very fortunate to have the means and ability to take trips like this.  So I smiled to myself and wiggled my toes to try to keep them warm. Happy birthday to me.

Due to a storm off the coast of Norway, we headed inland to Finland where skies were clearer.  After checking out a few possible locations, our guides settled on a frozen lake in the Lapland area of Finland just on the border with Sweden. It took us about 3 hours to get there and is inhabited by nomadic reindeer herders.  The guides told us that although the reindeer aren't confined in any way, they all officially belong to the Sami people.

The naked eye cannot see as much of the color spectrum as a camera lens can pick up.  Therefore, all the pictures you see of the northern lights are more brilliant than what we mere humans see.  What we mere humans saw that night was rather underwhelming.  The lights just were not very strong.  I cannot take credit for these photos.  They were taken by our guide using camera techniques that I definitely do not possess! That faint greenish glow is all we got (and what's in the pictures is more than what we could actually see).

I'm not complaining that it wasn't anywhere near as cold as I feared (just a few degrees below freezing).  The suits they gave us worked really well (and mine was only a little too big so I was still able to move around). My toes were cold and my cheeks are obviously red but I expected to be miserably cold and, thankfully, I wasn't.
We did see an amazing number of shooting stars and constellations were bigger and seemed closer than I'd ever seen them.  I've seen incredibly clear skies in places like Mali (where there's just no nearby light pollution so there are more stars than you could have imagined) but they all felt so much closer up there.

We stayed there for about 3 hours, I think, and then headed back; returning at about 4am.  Not that 4am looks any different than 4pm. The guides do a really good job of trying to find the best location for viewing the lights but they can't control solar winds and atmospheric conditions.  It's not uncommon to book an excursion several nights in a row in hopes of getting good conditions but I was so exhausted after just one night out like that that I am glad we didn't try it 2 nights in a row.  I might go back again and try my luck another time.  Maybe.  It's definitely something that I still want to experience...maybe even more now that I was teased.

The town of Tromsø itself is cute (it would be interesting to see it in the summer when it's light enough to actually see!) and I had the most amazing vegan sushi ever!  Seriously!  I'd almost go back just to eat that again!!

This is mid-day. We waited to go out until we had the most light.

I like the reflection of the roofs in the puddle.

We walked across that bridge and then took a cable car up the hill.  It was really cold and windy!

I'm not a big fan of winter in cold places and I'm disappointed that we didn't get dancing lights streaking and swirling across the sky but it's basically a crap shoot and we tried.  We can say we saw...*something.*  Better than nothing.

Have you seen the northern lights? Have you gone on an adventure that didn't quite deliver what you had hoped for?