We have just returned from several adventure-filled days in Tromso, Norway where there is plenty of fun (and snow) to be found!
Our first day in Tromso was spent exploring the city. We began the day by stopping in a cafe overlooking the water to try some Norwegian waffles. They are served with a strawberry puree jam and a cream that is reminiscent of clotted cream. They are also eaten with a slice of brown cheese, the taste of which is very difficult to describe. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either so I’m not sure what it was exactly!
As we made our way through a somewhat slippery Tromso, our first stop was the Polar Museum. The museum had a lot of historical items and information regarding the trapping industry and polar explorations in the region. I have to say that the trapping information was a bit much for some of us as it was pretty graphic and a little hard to stomach. After the museum, we walked through the Skansen village area to the bridge connecting the island and the mainland. The wind on the bridge was insane and we really felt like we were going to be blown away at some points. On the other side of the bridge sits the Arctic Cathedral which has a rather unique exterior but a fairly plain interior.
Back across the bridge, we made our way to lunch where we tried the locally brewed Mack beer, fish soup, torrfisk (panfried fish with potato, veggies and bacon), and reindeer wraps. And while the thought of eating seal after seeing the information at the Polar Museum was not at all appealing to some of us, one of us, who shall remain nameless, decided to go for it and ordered the seal which was toted as being caught by a 7th generation hunter.
After lunch, we walked to the domkirke and took a quick look inside. The inside was very plain but the outside was cute.
Next, we stopped at Polaria which is an aquarium. While they had some exhibits on fish and other sea life from the area, the main attraction was the seals. There are many viewing points where you can watch the seals swim by and over you. There was also a feeding and training session that you can watch which was entertaining. The aquarium also showed a couple of panoramic films about the wildlife and scenery of the area and the Northern Lights and how they are formed.
After the town exploration, it was time to begin the real adventure by going on a nighttime snowshoe hike. As we arrived for the hike and began suiting up in our thermal snowsuit and snowshoes, it began snowing. After what seemed like a lengthy process of getting the shoes on correctly and finding the right sized poles, we were off. Let me just tell you-snowshoeing is hard work! The shoes were awkward to maneuver and it was really hard to move through the snow. We got really hot and sweaty inside our suits and the work was exhausting. After hiking for 20-30 minutes, we stopped in a clearing and our guide made a small fire. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see any Northern Lights. We headed back to the center and it began to ice which added to the challenge. At the center, we went to the Alaskan Husky dog yard. There are 300 sled dogs there. We got to meet a few puppies and dogs before heading inside a lavvu structure (like a teepee but in this case made of wood with a fire/cooking stove inside) to have some bacalhau (fish stew), hot chocolate and chocolate cake.
This morning, we headed back to the center for some dog sledding. The day began with another tour of the dog yard where we again got to meet the puppies and more of the adult huskies. Then, we got to go on an hour-long dog sled ride. We went two to a sledge with a musher and a team of 9-10 dogs. During the ride, it was icing and very windy so at times it was very painful being pelted with ice, but mostly it was lovely arctic scenery and a chance to see how the mushers guide the team. After the ride, we thanked our team by petting each one and then went back to the dog yard where we met a lot more dogs. After all of this, we headed into the lavvu again for some lunch. This time we had bidos which is a soup made with reindeer meat and vegetables and more hot chocolate and chocolate cake.
After the morning in the cold, we decided to stay in our apartment and play darts. We entertained ourselves like that for a couple of hours before getting dinner at Art Cafe. We had farikal (a mutton stew which is the national dish), finnbiff (a reindeer meat dish with lingonberry sauce) and fish stew. We also tried some akveitt (alcohol made from potato) and a couple of different Mack beers (white and dark). We finished off with some carrot cake. It was a delicious meal!
Today we woke up to huge snowflakes. We drove to a reindeer center where we began by receiving a food bucket and walking through the herd of 300 reindeer. A couple of the reindeer would eat from your hand, but most just wanted to stick their head in the bucket. We later learned that all of the reindeer were pregnant females. All around the snow-covered field were snowy mountains and water. While we walked around the reindeer, it began to snow heavily. It felt like a perfect winter scene! We then went two to a sled for a reindeer ride. The scenery was very pretty and we were joined by a few extra reindeer as we moved on the outskirts of the field.
When our sled ride was done, we entered a gamme, the traditional home of the Sami people for a lunch of bidos. This was the same reindeer meat soup that we had the day before but this one was more of a stew.
After lunch, we listened to a cultural lesson about the Sami, the indigenous people of the arctic region. We learned about the Sami way of life, language, and clothing among other things.
Then it was back to the apartment for more darts (somebody got a bull’s eye twice-me!) before going to get a snack of pancakes with strawberry puree jam and joining our tour group to chase the Northern Lights.
We were in a small group tour so we were able to drive pretty far to see the lights. On this particular night, the skies were forecasted to be the clearest in Finland so we began the several hour drive to get there. Along the way, our guide provided a lot of information about Norwegian culture and legends, the wildlife of the area, the climate and the science and legends behind the Northern Lights. While we encountered very heavy snow for a lot of the drive, as soon as we got close to Finland, we had clear skies, and once we reached a good stopping place, we immediately had Northern Lights. Now, I’m not going to lie to you-Northern Lights do not look like what you see in the pictures. Rather than appearing as a dark, emerald green, they appear more whitish to pale green to your eye. However, once the picture is taken, you can see the green vividly. We did get to see the lights dancing, and we also got to see a somewhat rare phenomenon of a flare going up and across the sky. Our guide told us that it was an above-average display. While it doesn’t look as amazing as it does in the pictures, it was still really cool and after watching for an hour (in -17C/-2F temperatures), our guide made a fire and we had hot chocolate and cooked reindeer sausage with lompe (potato pancake). Then it was a long drive back to Tromso; we arrived at 2:30am.
We woke to heavier snow than any other day but trudged out to get some Norwegian waffles and join our Fjord boat cruise. We were a little worried as the tour began because the visibility was terrible with all of the snow, but it soon cleared and the scenery was beautiful-snowy mountains, icebergs and an ice field. We were able to see several white-tailed eagles and watched them fly down to the water to retrieve fish with their talons. And then, we got to see a beluga whale! He came to the boat and interacted with the crew. He swam around the boat a lot and then continued to follow the boat as we sailed off. Our son got to sit in the captain’s cabin and learned all about driving the boat, the controls and navigating. Then he got to try fishing with the crew. It was a great experience and as we sailed back toward Tromso, we had a Norwegian salmon fish soup to top it off.
We were greeted back in Tromso with heavy snow coming down as big flakes. We went to dinner where the boys had a smoked moose steak appetizer, and then we had reindeer filet steak, pan-fried cod with mussel risotto and some dark Mack beer.
It was once again snowing heavily in the morning, but we went out to get some breakfast of skoleboller (cream-filled pastry), cinnamon buns and a krumkake waffle cookie filled with cream.
We played a last round of darts before heading to the airport in a heavy, blowing snow. Unfortunately, we had some flight delays, but in the end, we got to watch the plane be deiced before heading out of the land of ice and snow.
It was a short trip, but it was full of really great adventures, wonderful family time and once in a lifetime experiences. The arctic promised to be filled with amazing experiences and adventure and it definitely delivered!