Norway and the Northern Lights

It’s minus 14 degrees Celsius and the snow is knee deep. We have so many layers of clothing on that it’s almost impossible to walk without falling over. It’s perfectly dark and we can see the Milky Way but this makes it actually impossible to see the camera settings and I have no idea whether I’ve set them to 10 seconds, as instructed, or 1/10 of a second.

Manipulating the settings to a wide aperture and high iSO, also as instructed, can only be done by removing the two sets of gloves and risking frostbite in the fingers but I’m grateful that the camera is already on the loaned tripod. I point the camera at the lights, press the shutter release and hope. If it is 10 seconds I’ve set the camera for, it’ll be a miracle to capture anything because in that 10 seconds the lights have been shimmying and dancing across the sky and the tripod has sunk in the snow.

Norway Northern Lights

After two hours the guide has started a fire and is warming some hot chocolate and toasting marshmallows. It’s a chance for the toes to recover from the first inklings of frost bite and for us to survey the scene. We’re on the frozen solid Lake Lakevatn, close to the Lyngen Alps, above Tromso in the Arctic Circle of northern Norway and we have travelled here with The Green Adventure, in a small group of nine.

There are hundreds of excursions to see the Northern lights from Tromso: from the sea, in a coach party, by dog-sled, overnight, into Finland – any which way you want. We’d chosen the Green Adventure because of the small group size and the desire to see the lights in a remote location, away from the masses. The photographic advice and guidance was an added bonus; one we no doubt wouldn’t have got in a larger group.

Norway Tromso harbour

Warmed up and ready to go, I returned to collect the camera. By now this was covered in a thin layer of frost and any further chance of adding photos, should the lights return, was extinguished by the realisation that both my batteries were showing empty, a feature (luckily temporary) of the severe conditions.

We returned to the hotel in Tromso just after midnight and eager to review my attempts to capture “The Green Lady”, as the Northern Lights are known in these parts. Miraculously, the photos turned out okay, the faint green colouring (to the naked eye) showing a deeper green, more emerald green than white. Somehow I’d also managed to capture the stars and the background mountains in some of the shots. Pure luck though – no skill involved!

We’d booked four nights in Tromso, hoping see the Northern Lights on one of them and luckily we’d seen them on the first night. Mission accomplished!

We spent time in and around the city, visiting the Arctic cathedral, the Kunst art museum and the interesting polar museum. This detailed the explorations of Amundsen and Nansen as well as depicting life in the Arctic Circle. We also took a short trip to see the Ice-hotel in the Lyngen Alps. Worthy of a half day out, this recently opened attraction features ice sculptures shaped by Chinese labourers, their craft honed at the famous city of Harbin.

On the last day we’d signed up for a Fjord Tour by car, with an ex-taxi driver named Edel, who now works as a self-employed tour guide, using the company name Tromso Individuell. Edel drove us for 95 miles round the scenic viewpoints of Kaldfjord and Kattfjord, with a superb buffet lunch at the Arctic Hotel in the village of Sommaroy thrown in.

Unfortunately it was a cloudy February day. With the fjords frozen and the mountains covered in ice and snow it made for some very uniformly grey photographs!

Norway Ice Hotel

The spotting of sea-eagles, seals, otters and reindeer made up for the lack of whales and dolphins, which can be seen feeding in the fjords during December and January.

We had flown to Tromso from Oslo on an internal flight with Norwegian Air, having already spent three days looking round the capital. Briefly, we’d considered purchasing an Oslo pass but at around £47 for 48 hours, its not cheap.

But even at Norway’s sky high prices, one would have to pack in an awful lot of museum entries and tram travel to recoup that outlay. With only a little research, we found that several of the top attractions are free anyway.

This list includes:

  • The National Art gallery, with several of Munch’ s paintings (including his most famous “the Scream”): free on a Thursday
  • The Vigeland Sculpture park, Oslo’s top attraction, containing 212 of the artist’s sculptures
  • The Akershus fortress overlooking the city harbour
  • The Opera House, whose roof slopes to the ground and which has been compared to Sydney’s Opera House. It’s free to walk on the roof and gain a perspective over the city and the harbour. Whilst the building, built in a style to resemble an iceberg at the end of the fjord, is undoubtedly beautiful, the views from it are not. The city is undergoing huge building programmes and we lost count of the number of cranes blighting the skyline.

Even the excellent and moving Nobel peace centre, whose innovative and imaginative display of information about all previous peace prize winners, was only 65 Krone per person.

While we could happily spend our days here at minimal cost, evenings proved to be expensive. Dining out in Norway is not for those who want to conserve their Krone.

A typical two course meal for two invariably cost around 900 Krone, about £90… without alcohol. Even the cheapest wine was over £45 a bottle and so we resorted to drinking tap water and buying a bottle of wine from Oslo’s only outlet, the Vinmonopolet, and drinking it in the hotel. At between £9 and £10 a bottle, it was much more wallet-friendly!

Norwegians don’t appear to have a drinking culture: in restaurants we noticed most people only having the odd glass of wine. But then, with the Northern Lights to provide entertainment, who needs alcohol?

Also check out our article about the Northern Lights in Iceland!