Tag Archives: winter

My Top 10 Beautiful Places in Norway

The 8 days I’ve spent in Norway this January were one of the best holidays I’ve had. It  definitely exceeded my expectations.  The thing I loved the most in this country is the perfect mix between civilisation and nature, with a strong accent on preserving the second. In the most remote areas you could spot a cosy cabin and right there, at the corner of a major city you could experience views, landscapes, that only pristine areas can offer.

Sooo… Here are my faves based not only on what I personally saw, but also on what I found out talking to people there, so anyone who reads this could plan an even better holiday.  Sharing Is Caring, so here it is :

  1. Tromso: After all I’ve seen and heard about Norway, this would still be my first choice. It was the highlight of my holiday and a place I went crazy about since I first read about it, a year ago. Luckily, I got there fast. Why I like it? because it’s different from all I’ve seen before. It’s in the Arctic and you’ll feel it the moment you step your foot there. From beautiful landscapes of the fiords, to hills, small mountains covered with snow that surround you from all sides, to frozen vast lakes, to small fiords where the ocean takes the form of a river, surviving the cold without turning into ice; to breathtaking top views of the city where sunset is wow. And there’s more: the activities that you can do: husky dog sledding, seeing the wales, feeding the reindeers, getting to know the Saami culture, the indigenous people living for centuries in the far North, finding their stories, history and traditions. And even more… the northern lights. Tromso is one of the best places in the world for that. And, is not that cold compared to other regions around.
  2. Lofoten: I haven’t been there but it’s the new Tromso in therms of how much I wanna get there. Everybody I talked to in Norway had told me that this place is a corner of heaven. It was constantly the answer to the my question: where do you go on a holiday here, in Norway? It’s also a good spot for the northern lights. Me, I still can’t decided wether to see it in summer or winter.
  3. Train journey from Oslo to Bergen. If you wanna see one of the most beautiful railways in the world, by a ticket for this one. Words can’t describe this. I was sorry the time passed so fast when i finally arrived to Bergen, after 7 hours. If you book online, about one month in advance, as I did, it will cost you 20 euro. You can also stop in Myrdal and take the train to Flåm, on the even more famous Flåmsbana, a one hour train journey which is said to let you speechless.
  4. Bergen: In a recent top I’ve seen of the most romantic and less visited cities in Europe, Bergen was no 1. And I can confirm this. This city, a fishing village in the old times, is now the second largest city in Norway and it is adorable. Those small white houses on the tiny paved streets will make you wanna walk until you get lost again and again. Just forget about destination or time passing and enjoy it. And if you get to Bergen, go see the spectacular top view of the city on Fløyfjellet, the top of one of the mountains around, over 300m high. You can find the cable car starting point in the centre but I recommend walking to the top to see all the views. It will worth it. For those who love hikes, Bergen is a perfect place, with plenty of trails around.
  5. Stavanger: And speaking of hikes, here comes a spot with spectacular ones. You’ll surely recognise from photos seen before Pul Pit Rock (Preikestolen), a steep cliff which rises 604 metres high above the Lysefjorden and offers a breathtaking view. Or Kjeragbolten, a five-cubic-meter large stone suspended above 984m deep abyss, right between two mountains. And if you liked that a lot, you will also wanna see Trolltunga, (Troll’s Tongue), 700m high, offering a magnificent view of lake Ringedalsvatnet in Skjeggedal.
  6. Atlanterhavsveien: or The Atlantic Ocean Road. I think it’s the most spectacular  road I’ve heard of and a true masterpiece of engineering. Imagine a crazy ride on this 8 km road, that looks like it’s floating on the ocean, during a storm.
  7. Oslo: The capital of the country is not to be missed, no matter how much you would love nature and staying away of the city madness. Vigeland Park was my favourite spot, I’ve seen it on a snowy evening and was fabulous.
  8. Hurtigruten: in case you have the time and you want to see the entire western and northern coast, between Bergen and Kirkenes, this ferry journey is a good idea. It sails almost the entire length of the Norway, from the arctic circle and back to the south, completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. It was described as the “World’s Most Beautiful Sea Voyage”.
  9. Svalbard: The most curious fact about this region is that it is forbidden by law to die here. There’s a rational explanation for this: the ground is frozen so the body can’t be buried. But life in one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas on Earth is something worth experiencing. Glaciers, frozen tundra, polar bears, reindeers and Arctic foxes. Also, the northern lights can be admired here, in the endless polar nights during winter time. The sun takes its revenge during summer, with 24 hours of light and the midnight sun.
  10. I will let this open for suggestions, if anyone has.

We plan our escapes depending on our preferences. Wether we want to try new experiences, or to push ourselves to the limits or we prefer to relax and enjoy the places in quiet. In the end, the best holiday is the one that each of us prefers. So enjoy!

My best friends in Tromso: 200 hungry reindeers

I was a passer by in Tromso, Northern Norway, for a few days. People like me come and go, hoping to come back, but never knowing if that place that got so deep into their heart will ever be seen again. We, tourists, travellers or those wanderlust infected, try to see in a blink all we’ve read about on TripAdvisor; we taste the food, try to spell the language, talk to locals, take lots of photos, post them and then talk about how it was with family and friends. But this land actually belongs to them ever since before we existed, before Tromso was a tourist hot spot and a popular hashtag on Instagram, from old times, when no borders were drawn in the North between the regions of Lapland, from Norway to Sweden, Finland and Russia. Back in the days when winters were harsh and snow could reach more than 2m high, the reindeers were already there.

They still live free on the hills of Troms, many of them in herds which are taking care of by the Saami people, the indigenous population in the North. This union lasts for hundreds of years, in perfect harmony with nature, both parts helping each other survive the rough conditions in the Arctic. And a family just like this, with a herd just like that, of 200 reindeers, I was visiting in my last day in Tromso.

For someone like me, coming from a place where reindeers are the fantastic flying creatures in Santa Claus stories, actually seeing them for real is a true excitement. The moment I got off the car and saw a few reindeers behind the fence, on the white vast field covered with snow, among big snowflakes, all I wanted to do was run there and hug every single one of them. But, I hold my breath a bit cause we met our guest first: Lune, a beautiful tall woman, with long red hair, blue eyes like ice, snow white skin and the kindest of smiles. Do you know that type of person that you like instinctively and immediately? That was her. There can’t be a more friendly host. We were invited in the lavvu tent, a very high one made of wood piles and some sort of beige material, with a whole in the top where I could see the big snowflakes coming down to us and disappearing before reaching the fire above. This is specific to Lapland and the people living here for centuries.

We all gathered around the big fire in the middle of the lavvu tent, sitting on wood benches covered with reindeer hides. It was warm and a light scent of wood and smoke made me feel so comfortable. We were told that our mail job for that day was to feed the reindeers, all of the 200 hungry souls outside the door. And since we were going to have a bucket full of food, they will be make an exception and be friendly. In the wild, it’s not gonna happen, they usually run when they meet people but now, during the cold months, the Saami family was protecting them from predators like the links or the sea eagle. The last one usually attacks the small ones by injuring them and than waits patiently a few days until they die. Since during the last years the eagles were protected by the law in Norway, their number has increased and they now represent a main danger for the reindeers. But the worst is climate change. Maybe the most affected areas are those where cold is a vital condition. If we can cope with a few hot days, with an unusual rain fall or with The beast from the East (the recent cold wave that affected most of Europe last week), warm temperatures in the Arctic are fatal for many species. Rain for example was not seen before in those regions, during the winter months. A few days with positive temperatures and rain are followed by icy temperatures and so the ground gets covered by a thick layer of ice that the reindeers in the wild can’t break so they can reach food. So they starve or get too weak to survive the predators.

Maybe one of the most amazing example of how perfect everything is organised in nature is that related to the reindeer’s horns. They grow and fall as a natural process but those belonging to the males, if found in the wild, are picked by the Saamy people while those from females are never taken. They are very easily decomposed and high in calcium. So the female will get back to that place to eat it after she has her calf, this will help her produce milk. Also, other animals like foxes enjoy a good dose of calcium in the harsh conditions in the Arctic, where every source of nutrients is valuable.

And so, with a very good reality check about life in the North I took my bucket full of food and entered the paddock. I couldn’t make more than one step cause 5 reindeers surrounded me, each of them trying to get his head first in the bucket and keep it as long as he could there, enjoying his meal. While one was eating another one was coming from his side and using his horns was telling him that he had enough and was time to leave the bucket for the next one. I wanted to get in the middle of the heard, 20m away so I hold the bucket up and walked as fast as I could. Once there, I was surrounded by reindeers, some big, some smaller, some brown, others almost white, some with small horns, other with big large horns and some even with only one horn, looking quite funny. It’s true, in the first minutes, seeing some of the males with large horns coming towards me fast or starting to hit others with the horns I was a bit afraid. But they are the cutest and harmless creatures. While they were eating I got the chance to touch them and feel how thick and soft in the same time is their fur, the horns that look just like bones and their fluffy noses, breathing with noise every time I got close to them. I think I spent around two hours with them. Since we were told to try to feed the shy ones too, I accepted the challenge to get the bucket to the shyest reindeer of the heard, the one that ran every time someone was getting 3 m close. I moved slowly, closer and closer, stood still when he looked ready to run again and let him come. Finally I won his trust and he came to eat.

It was a beautiful place, a large field surrounded by the forest, mountains and hills, nearby a fiord, all was white and it was still snowing. The sky was turning pink as 1pm o’clock was announcing sunset. I tried the lasso and the 5th try was a success. I took a short reindeer sled ride and I was happy I choose the short option so I could spend more time feeding 4 buckets to the reindeers.

I could have stayed there another 2 hours when lunch was served: freshly reindeer stew, a traditional meal served at weddings by the Saami. Was very good but it didn’t felt right that after playing with the reindeers I was now eating one of them.

We gathered once again around the fire, in the lavvu tent. Now it was snowing so heavily  outside that I couldn’t see a thing. Lone, our host, told us stories about the history and culture of its people, about their traditional clothes full of motifs, each of them having a specific signification like weather the man or woman were married, a signal for others to keep the hands off. She showed us the traditional Saami shoes, made of reindeer or seal skin, with fur on the bottom used in order to prevent slippage. We’ve learned craftsmen secrets like how to remove the hair from the reindeer skin with the help of the water from a river. It was a wonderful lesson about the Saami culture, no better place for that. We ended the day singing yoiks, traditional songs of the population in the North. Those sounds are so out of this world that during the middle age people who were heard singing them were accused of witchcraft and burned alive.

I left the farm happy. It was the heaviest snow I ever saw falling in my entire life, in 1 minute outside the tent I was all white, covered in snow. But that’s how it should be there in the Arctic and that’s what make the reindeers happy.

 

 

Husky sledding in Tromso: becoming a musher

If you have never tried husky sledding before, you might think it’s either a piece of cake or some risk of breaking a few bones. Still, doing something new, for the first time, feels damn good and getting new skills is even better. You never know what kind of rides life might be offering you. So here’s how I added a new “talent” to my CV: being a musher (driver of a dog sled):

It was 10am. My second day in Tromso, Northern Norway, right there in the Arctic. I was already confronting the dark icy morning, rushing to the next new amazing experience in the North: husky sledding. Yeiii! In spite of the freezing temperatures, I was so very sleepy. Traveling for me is equal with sleep deprivation. This is never my intention but somehow I’m really good at doing and seeing a lot but terrible at getting enough sleep. The night before, after 7 hours of northern lights hunting, I came back to my room at 2am. I was too exited to sleep after gazing the breathtaking aurora and having such a unique experience. Somehow, zombie as I was, I got just in time for the tour that was suppose to take us away from the city, to meet the 200 huskies and have a ride as seen in movies!

After a 30 minutes ride through winter wonderland, white landscapes and fiords, there we were at our destination! I could immediately hear the huskies barking the moment we got off the bus. We were offered warm suits, which benefits I was lucky to test already the night before, so a got myself into a red one, picked really fast since I didn’t wanna end up with a blue one. We were told that the training will start outside and we will be taught how to handle the sleigh, the dogs, the speed and the breaks. Wait! What? I was suppose to share the sleigh with 6 dogs with someone who was doing this also for the first time, just like me? Oh, boy! I was presuming experienced mushers will guide us… I got even more worried after seeing how this is done, the do’s and don’ts: How to always use the breaks, one of the 2 types (stronger and weaker) while standing in the back of the sleigh, or, if you are the person that seats down, the anchor, the strongest break available, which was quite heavy and had to be carefully hold in your lap. Otherwise the dogs just run as if this was their biggest purpose in life and you’ll loose them and the sleigh, or you might even fall of. What to do if the dogs will start fighting each other or they get their feet tied up in the ropes, changing places in the wrong way. How to help them pushing the sleigh when needed, how to keep enough distance from the sleigh in front of you to avoid having the dogs injured. And how to pay attention to your phone since the day before someone just lost his in the snow, during the ride. What a ride poor thing must have had!

And so we went to the place where the sleighs and huskies were waiting for us while I was thinking “Why have’t I read more about this before paying the 170 euro?” It was a huge noise, every single husky was barking, looking really excited to start the run. I was welcomed by two white bleu eyed young females, one of them jumped straight on me, with her pows on my chest, hugging me for a few minutes and making my heart melt.

We played with the huskies for minutes and then my ride partner and I found our sleigh and our 5 beautiful and big mouth huskies. And there we were, starting our ride through the forest, one sleigh after another, in line.

Our start was a little slower since one of our two beautiful leading alpha dogs kept stopping to take…well… a piss. We was having a huge dog dilemma: to run or to pee? So he decided to do both in the same time: running on 3 legs with one raised up in biological purposes. It was hilarious to watch him and the other dogs quite angry with him for stopping them too. But when a dog has to go, the dog has to go! Happily the 3 stops were enough for him to solve the problem and he finally started running like a champ. What you don’t see in movies with husky sledding is that they even poop while running. This just adds more fun to the whole experience.

We crossed small wooden bridges build on frozen rivers, valleys with mountains, got close enough so I could see the lake there, then through the forest covered with snow. All was white! And all was beautiful!

If the first minutes I spent them all on efforts to avoid falling off, at our first stop I wanted to change positions with my partner on the sleigh, so I could be the one leading it and the dogs, to be for the first time in my life a musher. And I did it perfectly. I used the breaks when needed, used my body weight in curves, push the sleigh to help the dogs sometimes. It was fantastic, feeling the cold wind on my face while standing on a sleigh covered with reindeer hides. I definitely prefer this instead of sitting. We were laughing, joking, admiring the views and fully enjoying a new experience together with to the cutest huskies, right there, in the Arctic.

 

Hunting the northern lights – a lifetime dream

The Dream:

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been dreaming about the northern lights. It all started as dreams usually do, in childhood: with a tale, one about a polar bear. For a very long time it seemed difficult and definitely too expensive for me to travel to places where this dream was reality and was taking place more than half of each year. I thought the aurora is something that only the polar bears and seals at the North Pole or Antarctica can enjoy.

Finding that you can see it even in Iceland and Northern Europe starting September till late March, in places where you don’t need a fortune to get to, set me on for this experience. I told myself: This must happen!

First Try:

Two years ago, in December, I had my first try in Iceland. I made the plans deeply convinced I was on my way to see my dream come true. Well, nature had other plans. The sky was cloudy for the entire time I spent there. A reality wake up for me: as spectacular as they are, as difficult they might be to catch. I wasn’t disappointed at all, I had an amazing time in Iceland. And I found out interesting facts about the aurora from locals: sometimes even they were not sure wether it was the lights or a funny cloud and that the best moments are when they dance in the sky in multiple shades, from green and yellow to purple, which is more rare. I found this saying about the lights dancing really impressive. I was even more determined to see it. Didn’t know when it was gonna happen or where, I just knew I will.

The Plan:

Getting back home I started looking for articles about this phenomena and the best places in the world to see the northern lights, watch videos, see photos, read about other people experiences. I thought maybe going farther to the North is a good plan. In February last year I came across this article in National Geographic about the best 7 places in the world where you could enjoy a perfect display of the aurora. This is how I first found out about Tromso, a small town in Northern Norway, close to the Arctic Circle. An idilic place among the fiords, surrounded by pristine lands and freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean, where orcas and mink wales come in large numbers, reindeers and moose run free and huskies can’t wait for a sledge chase among the valleys covered by snow.  Just search the hashtag Tromso on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean.

Tromso:

A year have passed, winter came again and here I was in Tromso! In the first evening, at 18:45PM, I was at the starting point for my 7 hours northern lights hunting tour, booked 7 hours before only, on my flight from Oslo, after obsessively checking the weather and the northern lights forecasts and a miraculous last minute change of predictions. The joy of this news kept me awake for long the previous night. It really seemed possible! The sky was so clear, I could see the stars from the city and I was soo excited hearing one of the guides exclaiming: what a great night will be tonight! Her excitement was contagious.

The experience:

And we started our northern lights hunt. It was a cold arctic night, -8 degrees C and windy. The guide checked on his phone the magnetic level of the Earth. Hmm? From 10 to 0 he said now it was 2. Oh, no! A new condition? He continued that the lights are unpredictable and this doesn’t necessarily mean a bad forecast. I remembered than about what Icelanders use to tel me: you shouldn’t go some place only for the northern lights because then you won’t see them. Instead, enjoy your time, the place, nature with all its beauty and if the lights show up, than perfect. But be patient, it’s nature’s will. I have already heard about people trying so hard to see the lights, like the Japanese couple traveling for one week to Iceland for the 3rd time and with no luck. Or the ones that after so many unsuccessful attempts have rented a cabin in the wild and every hour they  used the alarm to wake them up to check the sky and went out in the snow for that. But what people can do for their dreams, right? So I decided to enjoy it and get the chance to see some beautiful landscapes outside the city.

The tour is a very practical and safe idea, though not cheap at all. You can’t find any cheaper that 100 euro. But the guides worth all the money, this is their home, they know the region by heart, know the best places where you can have open sky and even in cloudy nights they can find spots with clear sky. Because in the Arctic weather changes fast, you can leave the city where the sky is cloudy and in 15 minutes drive you’ll have the clearest sky. Besides that you hear great stories and you get to know people from all over the world. And the main thing, you are away of any light pollution.

After about 30 minutes driving, we were in Kvaloya, the biggest island in Tromso area. We made a stop and our guide kept taking photos of the sky with the camera in order to check if there was any activity that our eyes could not see. Yes, this happens too with the northern lights. But nothing. It was the side of the road and the ground was covered with ice, was really slippery. We were advised to avoid the road in order to keep us safe and sound. In front was a small hill and above it I could see the dark water of the fiord stretching down and far away and the moon spreading silver rays in the white mountains.

The arctic night

Something was not ok… Even though I had 5 layers, thermal fabrics, snow boots and so on and left the house confident that I can fight bravely any temperatures, as I have already do the previous days since my arrival in Norway, in 10 minutes outside I was shivering as if I was wearing a t-shirt. The wind was cutting my face as if there were blades. I decided to bravely get in the van. 7 hours spent outside were definitely no option. And also I didn’t get that far to stay 7 hours in a van. But I have chosen this particular tour for three reasons: it was much longer that the most, the guide had a professional camera and was sharing photos after, for free (I tour I found was charging 36 euro for a photo taken by them), this was essential since you can’t have decent photos of the northern light with a phone, no matter how smart it is, and they were also providing us with thermal suits, also for free (some tours were renting them or not having at all). If at first I said no thank you, after the first stop I was then second person in the tour to try a thermal suit. And I’m glad I change my mind fast. After 10 minutes of struggling to put in on all my other clothes, including my winter puffer coat, I finally made it. I was big as a bear wearing this but who cares. At the next stop I tested it and I understand why they call it a warm suit.

The next stop was a beach, surrounded by mountains. Beautiful! In summer surfers were coming here, they told us. But waters in Tromso are only for those who enjoy a swim in frozen waters, even in summer. So definitely not for me. The driver and the guide were preparing a bonfire next to a small wooden cabin, with 3 walls only, facing the beach and build around a table. I was obviously heading down the hill, to the beach, my first beach this year. The wind was even stronger, I had to stop sometimes to stand against it, but the warm suit was doing its job as a pro, keeping me warm. The wet sand left behind by the tide was frozen, but it has kept the wavy shape that the waves gave it. It was dark, some clouds here and there. The moon not too bright. I was alone but could hear the group in the back. I was enjoying the view. A small river was meeting the ocean here but its surface was completely covered with thick ice. A crossed a small wooden bridge built upon it and looked down to the ice. Was white and all covered with frost crystals, some small some like immense flowers. A work of art that man hands can’t perfect. I looked at the stars wondering what’s gonna happen next.

I joined the group. We were from so many places: Andalusia in Spain, France, Hong Kong, Dubai, Germany. Our driver started its story firs. He was from Iceland, he said, “Hale to the Gods! It’s what my vikings ancestors believed in, and so do I” he continued. He told us about the founding fathers of the Norwegians, how their origins were in nowadays Iceland, about the Scandinavian dialects, the old language in the North which is the present Icelandic and about leaving its country after the economic crises in 2008 while his wife was expecting their first child. Life tides have taken him away for good, he then got a new life in Norway and a new family. He asked everyone where were they from and we talked about each place. We talked about movies, books, history and politics. Everyone claiming that the politicians in his country were the worst but the most vocal was the guy from China. We had hot chocolate, tea, coffee and fire roasted marshmallows while looking up to the sky. I approached our guide who was saving no effort to constantly take photos of the sky. It was already 10:30PM. One of a sudden he says: look, do you see it there? It’s a very light activity but there is. I concentrate to see something which I did not even know how it was suppose to look like exactly. And I answered: Yes, I see it. And after a second: Or I wanna see it.

We were preparing to leave again to another place. Sometimes they drive far away, close to the Finland boarder but at that time it was snowing there and the chances were higher around Tromso. One lady started feeling sick because of the cold. It’s when I realised this was not something to joke about. We took everything quickly and drove a few minutes back to meet the taxi that came to take her and the 2 others with her back to the city. We continued our ride on the small icy road where sometimes you have to stop the car to let the reindeers pass. The reindeers seemed to have other plans for that night.

We had our seatbelt on in case of sudden brakes. I was keeping my head close to the cold window so I could see better outside as we were passing by beautiful landscapes. On the left was the mountain, in the right the dark fiord. Our guide kept opening the window letting the cold inside the van so he could observe the sky or take photos in search of the lights. I got something, he said, look! And he showed us on its camera the image of the sky covered by some light green hazy clouds. It was only visible on the camera, not for our eyes and it didn’t look at all like those amazing photos you see on the web.

He said something to the driver. The van was passing fast by the fiord in the cold still night, it was past 11PM now. The road was white and I was wondering wether that was ice. I was enjoying the basket full of biscuits and chocolate candies next to me and I was just looking for another caramel candy when the guide said loudly STOP, stop it right there! The van stopped on the side of the road and I heard the ice breaking under the wheels. It’s the lights! Are just starting now! Quickly everyone, out! NOW!

I got off instantly looking up to the sky. I made a few steps to get away of the van so I can see the entire sky and I turned. I felt how my eyes got instantly wide opened and an immense smile covered my entire face. In the dark frozen night, on the sky full of stars, in three different places, there were big green lines. I now realised the place looked fantastic, a valley where you could see the entire sky and there was no light except one, from a little isolated red cottage. In a few seconds the lines became greener and started to move slowly. I could hear a loud general whisper: Wooooww!!! They were now changing their shape and growing as they were coming closer, above us. I than realised I was actually watching the northern lights, I was there, in the Arctic and my dream was coming true. It was pure happiness in that moment. And I understood now what people meant when they were saying that the lights are dancing. They are indeed. Soon they conquered the entire sky, which became their scene and we were the spectators. It was fantastic how they were moving, as if they were alive. Like lines of smoke and then like curtains of lights very well defined coming down to earth and fading as they were getting closer. We kept our eyes to the sky, there was no time and space, only lights. The lights were then fading and appearing in other areas of the sky, some starting to dance, others just stayed there, still, but visible. This lasted for maybe 20-30 minutes, I don’t know. They called it an episode, the guide said this might be all for that night or only the beginning, it could be an episode or it can last for hours. Usually they start from 6PM till 3AM.

We were in a large valley all surrounded by mountains not very high and almost equal,  in the right there was a huge lake, the dark fiord, with small islands at the shore, all covered with bog reed. A part not wider that 10m was getting even more inland, it looked like a small river but was still as a lake. It was the ocean. Was easy the tell, the lakes were all frozen, covered with snow and those who were not were the ocean, because of the salty waters.

We started taking photos, the guide took patiently photos for each of us with its camera. Those I took with my phone were really bad. You had to wait still for 8 seconds to have your photo taken, knowing that behind you the northern lights were dancing and all the others were exclaiming: look at that, amazing! But photo memories need sacrifice. Anyway, in best moments of the aurora no one was taking photos, you couldn’t take your eyes from the sky.

Our driver prepare another bonfire. This time many of us got involved in the preparation. The bond between us was made, we knew each other not my name but by country of origin, we have shared a lifetime experience and it was enough. The lights were still on the sky, but not as active as before. No wind was blowing. We gathered by the fire, made roasted sausages and talked about politics, again. As our driver friend said: Here, tonight, by this fire, we’re all the same. Sitting by that fire, in that frozen night, looking at those flames, surrounded by those mountains covered with snow and than looking up at the sky and see the northern lights. What a moment! We were all happy and talkative as we were old friends.

It was 1AM. We were all gathered around the fire, lost in our conversation when someone said: look up, it’s starting again! We all raised our heads to the sky and we knew immediately that what we saw was not just a still green line as those from the last two hours were. We all stood up in a second, being ready. It was right above us this time, it was just getting its shape, becoming bigger and bigger and faster than the previous ones. Was moving incredibly, impossible to anticipate its next shape. In the same time in other 3 different places on the sky new lines appeared, also growing faster. The one above us was getting now the shape of a spiral, extending its edges and once they got further from the centre they were transformed into walls of lights coming down to us and changing their colour from light green to deep green, yellow, than light pink and finally into purple. I heard our driver saying: this is why I love my job! For moments like this! This is an amazing activity! Than he disappeared, in search of a perfect stop to take its photos.

The sky was completely covered by moving lights. All were connected now and forming a 360 aurora display. I didn’t know where to turn my head to, wherever I looked the sky was on fire. Was the live description of what I heard: It’s in the darkest nights when northern lights dance the sky. And so they were. It has nothing to do with any video or photo of the northern lights you could ever see. Reality beats every possible recordings or descriptions of this phenomena. Those shapes moving, the vertical rays of colours coming down and disappearing the moment you think they are coming at you, all these can’t be described. We all stood quiet and still admiring the best show that nature does on Earth.

If you whistle to the lights and raise your hands up to them, they will come down to take you, says one of the stories in the North. It’s no wonder so many legends were born around the northern lights.

The next day, everybody I heard was talking about the amazing aurora they saw the night before. Where they saw it, what was it like, what colours, what photos they took, how they took them and that the one at 1AM was fantastic. I know now what an amazing northern lights activity looks like, that a 360 display is rare and spirals also form in rare occasions. And most of all I knew I wanna see it again.

The second night the sky was cloudy and predictions were low. It started to snow. The third night the sky was cloudy in the city but predictions were good. We drove on an island and in 15 minutes drive we got the clearest sky possible. There was some activity but little compared to the first night. Still a truly breathtaking view: a huge valley surrounded my high mountains. We were right in the middle. The 20 cm new layer of snow from the previous night made everything look unreal. It was a few nights before the super moon, so it was so bright, its light was reflecting in the snow and you could even hand write a letter in that light. Green lights were crossing the sky full of stars from one side to the other. All was still and extremely cold, around -11C. A true night in the Arctic.

 

 

 

 

 

Follow your dreams: nordlys (northern lights)

Wow to start a story about a childhood dream you didn’t thought was possible? Thinking about it right now, how it started and how I pursued trying to fulfil it makes me instantly lose myself in reverie, smiling, eyes wide opened.

I was 4-5 years old when my mother was playing for me stories on film strips on the white door of my bedroom. During the long winter evenings there was not much entertainment.  And how I loved stories! We could play one story per evening cause the machine was getting very hot while in use. Thus, each evening I was carefully picking the one. And there was one I liked in particular: about a polar bear living in a circus in Europe and dreaming about the cold dark polar nights, the icebergs and that Arctic wonder: the northern lights and how he used to watch their show while being a cub, in the North Pole. Like a fire on the dark night’s sky, they were described in my childhood story. This very memory stayed with me ever since. I was fascinated.

So here I was in Norway! My evening flight from Bergen to Oslo was delayed due to difficult weather conditions. After 4 hours in the airport we landed an a strong blizzard in Oslo. I went back to the same hostel I used when I first arrive in Oslo, three days before, close to Central Station. Next morning I was having my flight to the no1 destination of my trip: Tromso, at the Arctic Circle, in Northern Norway. A place I’ve read about after my last year’s trip to Iceland, famous for its perfect display of the northern lights but not only.

Although I dreamt since I was a child to get the chance to admire the northern lights, now I was surprisingly relaxed about it. And that’s because I knew I won’t stop until I will see them, even if I had to move to the North Pole for a whole month in winter. And I was excited about other plans I had already and the previous days which were amazing too. But, still, an itch was there… I was terribly curious: about how’s gonna be, what will happen, will I see the lights or not. So I checked one more time both the weather forecast and the northern lights prediction website. I was doing so for the past month, obsessively during the last week. And miraculously, the not so very good predictions have turned now, out of the blue, into very good chances. Was past midnight, I was alone in my room, the street lights were lighting the room with an orange shade and I was so excited I could barely fall asleep, though I was exhausted.

Next morning at 11:35 I was in the plane, took my window seat and right before departure I got my 7 hours northern lights hunting tour booked.

At 13:30, flying over the frozen fiords with superb white mountains and dark blue water from the ocean, I was witnessing one of the most spectacular sunsets and my  northernmost so far. Imagine as far as sight you could reach, the view painted in 3 shades: white, blue and orange. Land, water and sun. Than we flew over Tromso for minutes, getting a perfect aerial view of the city I wanted so much and for so long to visit. Couldn’t believe my eyes: I was in Tromso! What an amazing welcome!

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I was expecting cold, it’s not like you go to Northern Norway in January and you’re surprised by the cold temperatures. But this was arctic cold: -8′ C and windy. The windows from the passage reaching the airport were entirely covered with a gorgeous ice lace. This got me even more excited: Tromso, baby, here I am, ready to be amazed! Let it be cold! Let it be clear sky, full of stars and the darkest of nights. And let me catch them, the northern lights!

I had 5 hours to get to my Airbnb accommodation, to get to know the city a little and prepare for the 7 hours tour: hunting the northern lights.

 

 

How to enjoy a rainy day in Bergen

“Did you had a rainy day in Bergen?” It’s what a friend who used to live in Oslo asked me when I came back home. It’s seems that’s natural for this region. Yes, I answered. Smiling.

Just close your eyes and imagine: it’s January, you woke up in a small room at your accommodation in Bergen where you took only one night, it’s warm and you’re lazy, outside is raining and you hear the big drops punching the window. But you need to shower in a freezing bathroom, pack your baggage and leave the place. The flight to Oslo is in the evening. And this lucky one was me…

What did I do? Stay indoors, make a few long calls home, order some food and took a nap. Kidding!!!

I survived the freezing bathroom, let my baggage there and went out. The rain was bearable, with episodes, it wasn’t cold at all. I was in another beautiful place, had a few hours to get to know the city better that I did the previous evening.

I went back to Bryggen to see it in day light too. No wonder is on UNESCO list of heritages since 1979. It’s a line of old colourful wooden buildings facing the port, with small shops selling Norwegian products and restaurants inside.

 

I took the first street at the left and started to go up. It’s so simple with towns built by the water, you can’t get lost.

Soon the small white houses on little streets appeared again and I stopped in front of many of them to admire the simple beauty.

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But I was on a mission, walking in the rain: to get the best top view of the city, on Floyen, 300m up. And since the cable car is not for me, I decided to walk all the way up. And I had the best views of the city, the harbour and  the red roofs, Things got complicated with the rain that was stronger now and even more complicated when I realised on that weather I cat’t walk further. I was ready to give up and started to descent when I finally found the last stop of the cable car. And so I got to see the gorgeous panorama of Bergen, with the fiords visible in the horizon, the hills, the houses and the dark grey water mixing the light blue-green one. Although it was not that high, at one point I almost got pushed down by the very intense wind.

I could’t take my eyes from that breathtaking view, every detail of it was an entire painting.

The cable car let me after right in the city centre, back to concrete and traffic. And on my way to the best meal I had during my 8 days in Norway. The moment I got to the restaurant I have read about I was freezing, my coat was all wet and I felt tired. I hat meatballs with mashed peas, potatoes, carrots and some cranberries. De-li-cious! I took a place in front of the window for some street watching.

The last hour I spent it to say goodby to those adorable white wooden houses, the small empty streets while the dark was covering the city. It’s funny that today I saw a top of the most romantic places in Europe still untouched by the frenetic tourism. Bergen was number one. All I can say it that I’m happy I got to know it a little bit like that, serene, rainy and beautiful. I love it!

 

How I fell in love with Norway: Bergen

The train journey from Oslo to Bergen took 7 hours. But what a journey it was! 7 hours through winter wonderland where I saw some of the most beautiful winter landscapes. We left behind the frozen lakes and mountain rivers, the so many small red coloured Norwegian houses, all covered up with snow blankets, the dark blizzard, the deep fir woods… hmmm that scent! Than the majestic valleys and fiords with black water and coloured wooden houses on each shore.  The train was right in time although at some points the snow was huge, but these guys seem to speak winter’s language and are dealing perfectly with the harshest winter conditions.

Bergen, the second largest city in Norway looked ready to welcome me and myself I was definitely ready to discover one of my beautiful places.

I walked from the train station to my reservation. I usually get something right in the centre cause it’s practical, fast and safe, since I enjoy taking late night walks alone.

And here I was, ready to be lost in another unknown city, to walk its streets without a destination or limit of time, to stop and enjoy any view, house, window or shop I’d like, as long as I like. Sounds like freedom, right?

I have read before coming to Bergen about the beautiful old white houses made of wood where fishermen lived in the old times. But now I was delighted to see them. In the evening light, on the empty streets this city looked exactly like a gingerbread town and it was entirely mine.

I couldn’t the first decide weather it was more beautiful in day light or by night.

I needed a daylight top view of the city to help me decide. Top views are something I love  deeply and the next day, on a rainy day, I was heading to a breathtaking view on top of Bergen.

to be continued tomorrow

One of world’s most beautiful railway: Oslo to Bergen

Here I was, finally in Oslo! I took a deep breath of cold winter air once I was out of the hostel, around 8 PM, determined to discover some winter wonderland spots in the city. But surprisingly, none. It seemed the fairytale winter, with creamy snow and perfect white views was left outside the city. Little I knew than that I was going to meet Her again, in fool splendour, the very next day.

I found out days after that Gronland, the region of the city I crossed that evening, is not the safest, this in one of the safest cities in the world. I’ve noticed many emigrants there but felt no unsafe sensation. Plus, I found a small store opened, in the corner of one street, at that late hour, and thanks to someone willing to get a better life in another country and ready to work late for this, I bought my breakfast for next morning. A good deal also, compared with the earlier street food dinner: hot dog and a small bottle of water for 10 euro. But didn’t we all heard already that Norway is not cheap. And I’m a hot dog fan.

Still, really cheap was my train ticket for next morning to Bergen: 20 euro, bought online, 3 weeks in advance. Prices can be even 4 times higher. I read about this route only after I bought my plane tickets for Oslo and had all planned, no chance to get there in the 5 days of the initial journey plan. But then, lucky me, I got an email announcing me that my inbound flight to Oslo was canceled, and so I could get another ticket, 3 days earlier than the initial plan. And so, here I was on the train from Oslo to Bergen, on one of the most beautiful railway in the world, as it’s known. And I can assure you it’s even more beautiful than you can imagine. For me it was like that.

The moment we started letting the city behind us, there it was again, the fairytales winter that had amazed me the previous evening, on the way from the airport. Except now, it seemed even more determined to make me say WOOW constantly and transform the summer lover that I strongly am into a white winter addict. The best description for this journey is this: A 7 hours journey through Narnia that I will remember all my life. All was white! From vast fields with fir woods horizons or simply deep fir forests where deers were running freely and wild animals tracks were constantly visible in the snow, to high mountains, than again steep valleys, than even more amazing fiords, frozen lakes to partially frozen mountain rivers with turquoise shades.

This was nature at its best and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was the winter I remembered from my childhood, when snow was as high as I was back than, at the margin of the street right in front of our building. So Norway was the place winter was hiding in all this time. I was so glad I found it. No words can do justice to this beautiful journey:

 

In Finse, at 1200m the snow was huge, covering the entrance of the hotels we passed by. Still, no one seemed worried, tourist were carrying their skis, a man was walking the dog through an alley among snow, the train station workers were doing their job. And it was a blizzard outside. At -8 degrees, this winter was showing big plans till late spring and I liked how people were used to its caprices and let it snow.

The 7 hours were almost finished but I so didn’t wanted this trip to end. Starting the last half of the journey I was often looking at my tracker’s watch to see how much time was left to enjoy this.

I wonder now how these landscapes look in spring, or summer. But I am convinced during winter they are at their best.

After Dale we started to descent, the valleys were smaller but the fiords show up, the temperature outside rose, the snow was smaller and smaller and in my mind I wave my hand to Lady Winter, we have left her behind again. But we were already charmed.

To be continued, hopefully tomorrow but no promises 🙂

How I fell in love with Norway in January: Hello Oslo!

It’s almost midnight and I’m sitting in my living room, with a glass of icy red wine on the wooden empty floor and a lighted vanilla candle. It’s warm and it’s cosy, but I’ll rather be far away right now. Google Map says 4.322 km. In Northern Norway.

A friend whom I talked with today and who has lived there for two years, said to me: You feel as if you’re still there. I know, she said, it’s like that for a while.

In September I booked my flight to Oslo. I started planning the trip: hotel, hostel, Airbnb, train tickets, other plane tickets and of course a lot of google search about that to do in Norway in January. In October my inbound flight got canceled. What a great news, cause the research I have made me soon realise the initial 5 days plan was not enough. So here I was in November, with an all planned trip of 8 days to Norway, and a hidden wish in my heart.

Two weeks before living I was already obsessed with checking the weather forecast in all three locations I was going: Oslo, Bergen and Tromso. Every hour, on three websites. I know, this can’t be ok 🙂

It took me 2 days to prepare the luggage. Try to have clean clothes every day, for 8 days, in January, in Norway, and you got yourself a real challenge.

And in a glimpse I was flying to Oslo, where a beautiful winter in the city was waiting to amaze me. Since back home we had the warmest winter I can so far remember, there it was winter wonderland, as if all the snow didn’t want to go to other places too. If course I took the bus to city centre instead of the 20 minutes train, so I can get as excited as I pleased while seeing the nature looking fabulous in white.

I got to the city centre, found my hostel for that night and went out for a 2h walk in the snow.

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Lovely winter in Oslo

 

 

to be continued tomorrow 🙂