Northern Lights in Tromsø

When we woke up this morning around 8.30am it was still dark; it would be another 45 minutes until sunrise. 🙂

After getting dressed and having breakfast, we wrapped up warmly and went out on deck. We had to tread carefully because there was ice on the deck and on the hand-rails, but the ship’s personnel had prudently put grit and salt down. This is a first for us – we’ve never been on a ship where they’ve had to send the gritters out! 🙂

We wandered around for a bit, enjoying the clean Arctic air and greeting other passengers who we recognised. Then we went into the Neptune Lounge to listen to a sales presentation showing what future Fred Olsen cruises were available. We already have all our holidays booked for 2015, so we’ll be looking to take another FOCL cruise in 2016. The presentation was very interesting apart for the speaker’s irritating habit of constantly using reflexive pronouns: ‘myself’ and ‘yourself’ instead of ‘me’ and ‘you’. As in “… for those of you who haven’t already met myself…” Aargh! Appalling English.

After the presentaton we had a spot of lunch, then braved the cold to go out on deck and watch the Boudicca manœvring her way into Tromsø, the principal town of northern Norway. Tromsø is a lovely, picturesque town actually situated on an island, joined to the mainland by a distinctive bridge. There is a lot to see and do in Tromsø; visit the Arctic Cathedral, the polar museum or the Mack Øl brewery, to mention but a few.

Once the Boudicca had docked and the ship had received clearance, we were at leisure to go ashore. I dressed in fleece trousers, a hooded sweatshirt, thick socks and walking boots and wore my heavy-duty all-weather coat, a furry hat with ear flaps, and sheepskin mitts. Thus attired, we then made our way down the gang-plank and gingerly walked on the icy and snowy paths into the main town.

We had a look around the shops and the harbour and watched the lights twinkling in the gathering dusk. Yes, even though it was only 1.30pm, it was getting dark already. Watching the sun setting made it feel as though it was early evening, not the middle of the day!

We went along to the Mack Brewery, which is now really a micro-brewery and visitor centre, because the main beer production is now done at much bigger premises 70km away from Tromsø. We found out that they do tours each day with beer tasting at 3.30pm, so we decided we’d come back tomorrow, as we are staying in port for two nights.

We then spotted the welcoming lights and warmth of the Ølhall, or Beer Hall, next door to the brewery, so we decided to go in to have a glass of beer each. Two small glasses (33cl each) cost 130 kroner, or 13 pounds!
When we came out of the pub at 2.00pm it was already dark!

Tonight we had to go to dinner early (5.00pm) as we needed to assemble in the Neptune Lounge for 7 o’clock, for a presentation about the Aurora Borealis. Later on we were going to take a ride out to the coast, where the weather forecast said there would be clear skies and the lack of light pollution meant there was a good chance that we would be able to see the aurora.

The Norwegian guy explained to us who the aurora is a phenomenon which occurs as a result of solar winds being blasted out as a result of flares and sunspots. The high energy sends the particles from the sun far out into space, where they are attracted to the magnetic poles of the earth and they form an elliptical shape at both poles. At the Antarctic the Southern Lights are known as the Aurora Australis, whereas here they are the Aurora Borealis. Fewer people have seen the Southern Lights for the simple reason that Antarctica isn’t populated, and not many people have been there.

At 7.45pm we gathered together all our stuff and disembarked the ship to get on our bus. The journey would take an hour and 15 minutes, but it allowed us to appreciate the Norwegian countryside and all the lovely, individual houses. We noticed that all of the houses were lit up and didn’t draw their curtains so the light from within diffused out into the polar night. Their electricity bills must be phenomenal in the winter!

Eventually we arrived at the viewing place and made our way down a gentle slope in the snow to where there was a hut, some portaloos and a couple of oil drums cut in half in which a fire was burning. The guide explained that once everyone was there (there were four bus loads) he would turn off all the lights. We wished he would hurry up, because we could already see the Aurora forming in the north-westerly sky.

Eventually all the lights were out so we could see the Northern Lights more clearly. It did annoy me, however, that some thoughtless people were allowing their camera flashes to go off all the time, which obviously aversely affected our night vision. Every time a flash went off, you had to wait until your eyes adjusted to the darkness again. I thought those people were very inconsiderate.

We watched the aurora arcing up and over the hill, and shimmering gently. We couldn’t really see any colour; in the darkness the human eye cannot discern colour very well. We had been assured, however, that any photos taken (obviously without flash and a long exposure time) would show up the green.

Walking up the hill away from the buildings, where it was a bit darker, we saw a glow in the sky and eagerly headed towards it. Rounding a jutting rock, however, we saw that it was just the moon! It did have an ethereal halo around it though and it reflected slightly off the glittering frost, making the Norwegian night look very pretty. To the left of the moon the Northern Lights started up again, coming from the east to the west, and competing with the moon and the starry constellations for Mother Nature’s lights in the black velvet skies.

The temperature was -3ºC, but the night was clear and still with only a gentle breeze, so it wasn’t as cold as we had expected, and we were well-wrapped up.

We had noticed that the aurora tended to come and go, so we waited until it faded and went into the lovely warm hut for a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of Norwegian cake, which is a sort of pastry sandwich made with cinnamon and brunost, the well-known brown (or sweet) cheese that is ubiquitous in Norway.

Then it was back outside to watch the aurora again and just marvel at nature and the fact that we were here above the Arctic Circle watching the Aurora Borealis – somewhere else where we can say “I was there.”

After a couple of hours we decided we’d call it a night, as it was still over an hour to get back to the ship. Two busloads of passengers had already returned, so we made our way back to one of the buses, and we only had 20 minutes or so before it was full, and therefore ready to leave at around 11.30pm.

The bus had its winter tyres on (studded) and our driver was skilled at negotiating the icy roads in the dark. In Norway they take snow and ice all in their stride and they are well-prepared for it. Not like Britain, where half an inch of snow is enough to send drivers into a panic, leading to massive traffic delays.

We arrived back at the Boudicca 12.45am, just in time to go up to the Lido Lounge and enjoy a nightcap before returning to our cabin. It was nearly 2.00am before we settled down to sleep.

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