Some of my fondest memories of the past few years are from the time I’ve spent traveling with my husband. Although looking back on our first holiday together, I’m amazed we survived. Never mind went on any more.
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The World’s Most Northernly Holiday Newbies
The first trip we took was to Tromsø. Home of the World’s most Northerly University (Although the more I’ve traveled around that part of the World, the more I’ve realised that’s a title which gets banded around a lot. I’ve visited the most Northerly aquarium, stayed in the World’s most Northerly hotel and even passed the World’s most Northerly vets).
We picked Tromsø as a destination as we had some extra cash and annual leave to use. We wanted to see the Northern lights and whales, but some quick research made it clear Northern Norway would be a safer bet than somewhere more obvious like Iceland.
I didn’t bank on it being one of the most magical places in the entire World. But I also didn’t dedicate much thought at all to what it would be like.
I made assumptions.
The night before we went to Go Outdoors to get some outdoor clothes which would be suitable for sub freezing temperatures. Whilst there I picked up some of those pocket hand warmer things which I’ve still not used (But take on every cold trip we go on, like some sort of weird good luck charm).
Then we hopped on a plane, full of intrigue and excitement. But utterly unprepared. Not taking into account the aforementioned pocket warmers. Because when faced with hypothermia in the Arctic, everyone knows pleasantly warm hands are a real life saver.
A First Glimpse At The Aurora
During the last half hour of our flight, the pilot told us the Northern lights were visible from the plane. I couldn’t see them but my biggest fear about the holiday had already been alleviated. They were there.
As we disembarked and queued to get inside the airport, I looked up and saw a green stripe spanning across the sky. They were faint, but undeniably the Northern lights. If I’m being totally honest I felt a prang of panic. Having dreamed of seeing the Aurora my entire life, I didn’t want to think they weren’t as good in real life. That the footage and photos I had seen was exaggerated. Or not visible with the naked eye (We would be lucky enough to see the Aurora properly just a day later. They were so much better than I could have ever even imagined).
We went and collected our hire car from a nice man who looked like a real life Viking. Then set about finding our hotel, which was just 20 minutes from the airport. Our first holiday together was properly underway. However, as it would transpire we wouldn’t reach the hotel for nearly three hours. Past midnight. Hungry, tired, cold and frustrated.
Assuming 3G would just work, I didn’t bother hiring a sat-nav. The 3G very much didn’t work, no matter how many times we tried to connect to various Norwegian networks. I had no maps synced offline. And by the time this really sank in, we had long left the airport.
In what can only be described as the most optimistic plan ever, we figured we would just wing it. It was only 20 minutes away after all. I assumed we would come to some sort of main street with all the hotels on. What could go wrong?
The icy roads were a challenge enough, but the most worrying aspect was the width. It felt as though the car barely fitted on the lane. With nothing on either side but snow poles to stop us plunging to our death, the driving quickly became terrifying.
We drove in silence, besides occasional outbreaks of bickering about whose fault this was. Or what we should be doing differently. Bracing ourselves every time an oncoming vehicle passed.
In late November, I knew it would be dark. The sun only rises above the horizon briefly giving us around 3 hours of daylight. What I didn’t expect was just how dark the night would be. With no light pollution outside the city, everything surrounding the road we were on was pitch black.
With no visual references, we drove around the same small area for literally hours. Without once realising we had been there before.
What we didn’t realise was how incredibly different that skyline looked in the day. Huge snow capped mountains spanned the horizon in just about every direction. It was a challenge not to get distracted by the beauty whilst driving along. Yet the night before in the dark, we were completely oblivious.
The Tunnels Of Tromsø
The people of Tromsø are very proud of their tunnels. They’re apparently known for it. Something I didn’t know before but realised pretty quickly.
Whichever route we took, we somehow ended up back underground in this sprawling tunnel system. It went on for literally miles. Like an underground maze with no landmarks or signs we could read. Huge fans like airplane engines hang from the ceiling, circulating air and dust.
I’ve since discovered there’s a gym down there and massive car park. I assume for people like us who just reside themselves to the fact they’ll never leave.
I’m not sure how long we collectively spent in those tunnels, or how we ever found our way out. But we did. Eventually orientating ourselves on the map from our hotel booking.
Unable to find anywhere decent to park (and desperate to get out the car), we stopped at the first chance we could and set off in search of our hotel on foot. Keen to put the shaky start to our holiday behind us, my only thoughts were food and bed.
I have no idea what made me book the hotel I did. I didn’t check it’s proximity to anything, or it’s facilities. But it turned out it was a hotel for business travel, with no restaurant. Utterly defeated, I went to bed starving.
That evening I started to wonder if we had done the right thing by coming. If we were going to have a horrible time. And if I had been silly to think we could have pulled this off.
Learning The Hard Way
Whilst I appreciate that picking the wrong hotel and getting lost in a built up area doesn’t exactly make me Ernest Shackleton, that horrible first day in Tromsø was the making of our trip. The start of what I imagine will be a life long fascination with the Arctic. And the first of many experiences whilst traveling which have changed the course of my life.
Everything we did after that felt like an achievement. Everything we saw even more rewarding. Our first day wasn’t the last hairy moment of that trip. But it was the last day that we let it get to us. We started to embrace the adventure of it all and ended up having an unbelievable time.
So much so, when we had to transfer in Tromsø on the way home from Svalbard, I desperately tried to convince my other half to just stop there for a few days. He refused and practically carried me onto the plane as we had work. I’m glad at least one of us is responsible.
Enjoying Every Moment
Now years later we’ve been on many more trips. Using what we learned in Tromsø to plan each one. Two weddings, a renovation and pregnancy later, we’re definitely no longer worried about engaging in some casual bickering (hell hath no fury like a pregnant woman hangry). And we’ve driven allover in blizzards, ice and roads of varying fear factors. Although Tromsø still takes the crown for the scariest.
When I get a major bout of wanderlust it’s not just the standout experiences I miss. I love airports. Reading on long plane journeys. Looking around supermarkets in other countries.
Laughing about the times when things didn’t go to plan.