Whilst the scenery of Tromsø was jaw dropping, I had assumed -wrongly- that we could spend all our time there walking and exploring. For a start, the mountains were not easily hiked on and whilst there were hiking paths, the cold and limited day light meant it would be pretty dangerous to take off on a long walk as we weren’t prepared for it. When it got dark, it was pitch black so wondering around outside wasn’t advisable and our hotel had literally no facilities, not even a restaurant.
This left us with more darkness per day than light and a lot of time on our hands. Northern Lights optimal viewing time was in the night, so we spent the afternoon and evening exploring Tromsø town. We only had one meal out, an average curry which cost £90 due to it being so expensive in Norway. We had to find other things to fill our time, one of my favourites being Polaria, the world’s most Northerly aquarium.
The building itself is designed to look like an iceberg. Inside is a good sized aquarium filled with fish and marine animals from the North Atlantic, along with a group of seals from Svalbard. It was interesting to see the seals so close up and they did seem to be well looked after, but it was a shame to see them in captivity. I’m not sure if they were rescued or how they came to be there. Polaria also had lots of information about polar expeditions, whales, the Northern Lights and Tromsø.
Whilst walking back from Polaria to our hotel, we saw the Northern Lights for the first time properly. They appeared out of nowhere, seemingly just about the houses and danced around manically, a vivid green colour. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and stood still, staring upwards. What made me smile was how locals just carried on with what they were doing as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
One evening we were at a loss for things to do, so went into the tiny tourist information centre and got tickets for a round trip by bus and ferry from Tromsø further North. We traveled for four hours by ferry and bus, only to miss the second ferry at the other end. Our bus driver was a lovely local lady who was furious the ferry had left as she had told them she had two people wanting to catch it. In the middle of nowhere, I began to panic a bit but the company organised a taxi for us. We drove for four hours -it would have cost hundreds but thankfully the poor bus company handled it for us- through very icy mountain roads. On the way back I looked at the huge icicles on the sides of the road and the Northern Lights through the sun roof which were an amazing blue colour. I had been scared we would be stuck there for the night, but in spite of everything which went wrong I enjoyed the drive.
During the polar night all houses are illuminated with carefully placed fairy lights. Every window, door and roof is framed, making the town look like something from a Christmas snow globe. Outside shops and restaurants lanterns are lit with candles, I asked the lady who helped us when we got stranded, why they did this and she explained it was to cheer things up during the months of darkness. There’s even a competition for the best lights! When I got home I got two similar lanterns and placed them outside my front door, along with lights in each window.