Jeez, what an adventure and its only day 2! Monday had been tiring but what a blast, and the best is yet to come. I was quite particular when choosing the hotel as there are quite a few to choose from, but I wanted a harbour and Fjellheisen view and boy, what a view it is when it stops snowing! Seriously though the hotel is perfectly located, very comfortable and clean, easy going and not fussy, the room size is great and the bed very comfortable, important as I usually have big problems with my sleep, I often can’t…..I have an overactive brain…..it doesn’t stop thinking…..
Ok, so I have a thing about Trolls, no, not the annoying dangerous internet ones, the mythical, no, they are real aren’t they? Yes, Trolls in my mind are ancient but did exist in some form, bathed in mysticism and ancient lore they first came into my imagination as a child 50 odd years ago when hearing “In The Hall of The Mountain King”, a piece of music composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875, incidental music for a play, the sixth scene of Act 2 in Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play Peer Gynt. I can still recall the sounds of the old heavy doors closing as young Peer runs out to the mountain with his tail between his legs so to speak. It was a track on a record, yes vinyl, those circular black disks that needed a needle, turntable and amplifier, those were the days!
My musical influences have changes significantly since then and as I write this I am listening to the rock group ‘Yes” in particular their song ‘Awaken’ from the Album ‘Going for the One’, which is very apt for what happened last night, but more of that later.
It’s Jules the Troll. 🙂 The Troll Museum in Tromsø is a very clever museum as it caters for all ages, even us old gits. They have managed to include enough historical content to make it really interesting for the older generation, whilst making it fun for the youngest of children, playrooms allow interaction whilst numerous tablet pc’s spread around the exhibits really bring things to life in a fun sort of way. You have to enter open minded and imagine Trolls existence in some form and if you do, go SLOWLY around each exhibit as there is a lot of information available to the inquisitive.
The clever use of VR really does make a difference with Trolls popping out all over the place, this particular one is actually helping you work out where the troll is on the map, which was both interesting and fun at the same time. If you have children they should love it, especially if you have included the subject prior to your trip and maybe done some research about the history, or watched the odd Troll film as I have done recently. Anyway, it’s great fun and a good way to spend an hour or so out of the blizzard and freezing weather outside.
After a trip to the local tourist office to get a map I was desperate for a good coffee, and with a few minutes wandering around the beautiful streets, hardly a recognisable brand in sight which for me was awesome, I discovered Tøllefsenhjørnet, a coffee and wine café so entered and got myself a most beautiful Latte. Not in a posh cup with bells and whistles, just simply presented in a glass on a paper mat, jeez it was good, really good, I went for a double and it really hit the spot nicely.
Tromsø is beautiful, almost unspoilt by western brands I have only noticed a BK (you know the burger thing) and a Hard Rock Cafe in my wandering so far. There are lots of shops with character and individuality no two looking the same, it’s not dissimilar to when I visit some regions of France, keeping local and supporting small businesses. Yes, it probably costs a bit more but you are directly supporting the local community, local people, local families which I suspect makes for a much stronger feeling of belonging and connection.
Sorry, off my soapbox and it’s time for lunch no less. I had booked Bardus last year, months ago having trawled various platforms looking for recommendations, checking menus etc. to ensure that I stood a chance of eating well, I am fussy, I like good food, I hate paying for something I can cook better myself, cooking is my serious hobby so I am sure you can understand I am not being awkward, well not much.
My waitress was a lovely Portuguese lass who obviously knew her trade, well she was a delight. I had picked Bardus for one reason only; Cod Tongues….! Yep, that little known delicacy unless you recently watched well known Swedish Chef Nikolas Ekstedt on YouTube, cooking them on………. guess where…….. my final destination………Lofoten Islands.
We discussed options at the bistro, I wanted the cod tongues but they also hands an unusual (for me) special on, Rose Fish! It’s red and ugly but beneath its lurid Outer layer is a delicate white flesh, I was convinced and so I got a starter portion of Tongue and the main of Rose Fish with a variety of additions to tempt the palate, which they did admirably!
Wine, it would be rude not too as I was on a vacation so the recommendation was a Portuguese Alvarinho, apparently my new friend/waitress got her mum really drunk in Portugal one year on this stuff, so at least I know it has some alcohol in it, it worked a treat and matched very well.
I am not normally a dessert person being diabetic but i manage to control it well so can treat myself from time to time, this was it for today as there was to be no posh meal in the evening, a Chocolate Fondant with matching dessert wine was ordered and damn good it was too. If you fancy a decent lunch, try Bardus, it has a slightly funky relaxed vibe and the food and service was excellent. The wine grapes in the dessert wine are often used to make ‘orange wine’ where the skins are left on after pressing. It was sweet, spicy and slightly apple flavoured but worked surprisingly well with the oozy Chocolate Fondant, which was cooked perfectly.
I wandered back to my hotel and started to compose, if I don’t write my blogs up I forget the nuances and character I am trying to re-create. Surprisingly it was snowing (again) heavily, the phone popped, it was Markus from Greenlander Tromsø the Northern Lights people………bugger… I had come all this way and hoped it wasn’t a cancel message! Phew, nope, he wanted us all to meet earlier at 17:30 as the weather in Finland looked good, wait, we are in Norway!
There was a small group of suspicious Northern Lights chasing types outside our rendezvous, the Scandic Ishavshotel, a stones throw, or may be that should be a medium snowball distance from my gaff the aptly named Hotel Aurora. They were sort of mingling, it was difficult to see if there were couples, groups, singletons but as promised, just before 17:30 two ‘hunting’ vehicles appeared before us and two smiley types popped out and started to behave like guides! The groups made a beeline for the guides and before we knew it, we were assigned our vehicle and fellow hunters for the evening, a brief explanation and off we went into the sunset…. Nope sorry I should have said blizzard as it was snowing extremely hard again!
Matteo was a really cool guide, had a sense of humour and was well travelled. He explained to us the number one, rule for chasing the Northern Lights, clear weather and tonight Finland is the best option. So any of you that know the area (HaHa) the roads are at best, variable. I am not saying they are not good, but when you are forced to use snow tyres and its on/off blizzard conditions, the snow ploughs are tanking the E6/E8 trying to keep things moving and many of the roads are not lit you know this journey won’t be easy or quick!
So after about 1.5 hours we stopped for a fuel and 10 minute rest break to stretch legs, pee, catch a coffee or whatever was available at a garage much more sophisticated that any uk effort as you may see in the picture above, there was a lot on offer if you fancied ‘wiener’, kebab, or burger! The journey had only just begun but we were ‘following the weather’ as Matteo had told us. I was sitting next to Michele, a 3rd year medical student who had travelled from Hong Kong for a 3 week tour of Europe, we had a good chat about medicine, what she was going to specialise in (ophthalmology) and the fact she had done this the night before and since a glimpse of something, that was actually more than a glimpse, so tonight might be ok! Don’t believe the figure of 2 hr 18min above, it took about 3.5 hours to get to our final destination.
We crossed the border into Finland……….it’s a long way in blizzards, roads with no lights, snow tyres, the weather continued to look rather unpleasant and all off a sudden we pulled over, Matteo jumped out and proclaimed it’s starting, then a coach pulled up and we moved off, to a ‘secret location’ that now isn’t if you grab the co-ord’s above, I had my GPS on, my watch and phone recording when I took pictures you can see we were on a lake pretty much. The white line is the Swedish border and yes, we crossed over a frozen river too into Sweden, how adventurous.
Who has seen the film twister, seriously now, they look for tell-tale signs something is going to happen, then race in convoys to see who can get their first and record stuff, take pictures, get that amazing bit of kit into the eye so they can capture measurements. Yep, they was us last night. The human eye cannot really see Aurora, it needs a camera, approximately 15-20 seconds exposure, the right aperture, look closely and towards the lower mid right above you can see a slight green fog, to the eye in real life its like a grey mist.
All of sudden it seemed to ‘switch-on’ a bit more, and more, and more, and more. We had decamped onto the lake, donned our arctic suits and started to look skyward and see dancing patterns slowly emerging. Our guide set his Canon EoS 5D camera up, a quality piece of kit, tripod stuck in the snow and started to take some shots of us all, and helped us set our own cameras, those that had bought them along on the extra tripods we had elected Greenlander to provide, it helped a lot. It was -11 on the lake, very cold and the car had its heater running so we had the chance to warm up occasionally, if it got too much!
After about 30 minutes time melted into nothing, we were all looking skyward in awe, moving around to try and get different angles, views, colour bursts which the naked eye couldn’t see, but cameras could. I used my Leica D-Lux 7 to good effect early on and later moved to my iPhone Pro Max, which was surprisingly excellent being easier to manage in the freezing cold, despite having arctic gloves on!
Matteo lit up a fire in a metal open framed pit at some point and small seats were arranged in a circle so we could enjoy the warmth of the embers. Hot delicious carrot soup was passed around in individual thermos flasks along with some seed crackers, a bottle of Tabasco doing the rounds was soon empty. One of the group had acclimatised earlier by eating 2 ice-creams on the way up which didn’t work at all but was a cause of laughter and amusement. It was someone’s birthday and a small marble cake appeared with a candle on it, we all sang happy birthday, the cake passed around and we all were part of a nice touch, for a very special moment.
By the time we got back to Tromsø it was 02:15, we had set out at 17:30, these guys are more than dedicated, they do this every night in season and based on last night, they are the best, committed, we WILL find the Aurora, over 6 hours driving in the worst of conditions, like Ice Road Truckers with an added blizzard for good measure. I woke up at 08:00 and shortly after a message from Matteo with a link to the pictures he took for us, awesome.
……………………..Until next time……………L8ers………………