Search for the Northern Lights – Part 2

Click for part one

On the third day, I was supposed to have been going cross country skiing but unfortunately the conditions were too wet for a beginner. So instead I had a look around the harbour area, marvelling at the size of the Hurtigruten ship arriving into Tromsø (Hurtigruten was an option I considered for my holiday but decided to stay in one place in the end). There weren’t that many people around and they were all very well wrapped up against the cold, which led me to wonder: does everyone in Tromsø have permanent ‘hat hair’ in the winter?

The epic bridge (photo taken on the first day)

The epic bridge (photo taken on the first day)

I walked across the epic bridge that connects the island of Tromsøya (where most of Tromsø city is located) to the mainland. It took me a good 15-20 minutes to cross it and I’m a fairly fast walker, so that gives you perhaps some idea of how long this bridge is!

View from the epic bridge

View from the epic bridge

My destination on the mainland was the cable car (fjellheisen) that goes up Mount Storsteinen. There’s a bus that goes from the city centre to the cable car, but I prefer to walk. The bridge ends next to the stunning Arctic Cathedral which is one of Tromsø’s best known and most visible landmarks.

The Arctic Cathedral

The Arctic Cathedral

A short walk through a residential area led me to the lower cabin for the cable car where there were several people waiting. I managed to get a student ticket for the fjellheisen (a bonus of visiting a university city is that no-one bats an eyelid when you ask for student discount) and, once we’d all wedged ourselves into the car, the vertiginous ride up the side of the mountain began. At the top, there was a small building that houses a cafe, which was closed on the day that I visited. Most people headed straight out of the doors to look at the city below. From the viewing deck, the city was glowing in the dusky blue light that counts as daylight in Tromsø in midwinter. I went out from the building, further along the edge of the mountain, a very windy place to be with no fence to catch you. The wind was whipping the powdery top layer of snow up and sending it disappearing over the sheer drop so I was a little careful about how close I got. The snow was very deep and I heard several shrieks of shock from people who had stepped and fallen further into it than they expected, and the laughter of their companions as they tried to rescue them.

View from the top of the mountain

View from the top of the mountain

It got cold on the top of the mountain so I descended the cable car again. I could actually have walked up and down the mountain on what are apparently quite well maintained paths, but sore feet from walking to the museum and back on the previous day meant that mountain climbing probably wouldn’t have been a great idea. I crossed back over the never-ending bridge and had a look around the shops for a bit, then returned to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s outing.

For my second attempt at seeing the lights, Ivar put me on the other minibus, driven by his colleague Roger. I somehow didn’t notice until it was pointed out by a fellow English person on the bus, but Roger has one of the broadest Geordie accents since Ant and Dec, though he’s actually Norwegian. It turns out he spent almost 20 years living in various places in the north of England and has retained the accent after moving back to Norway. Once everyone was safely installed on the buses, we headed out again, further inland this time, eventually stopping on the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. It had looked promising on the way, a couple of brighter stars visible overhead, and a scattering of thin, hazy clouds. We made our way out of the buses and looked skyward, where a faint grey-green glow arched overhead from horizon to horizon. It was already better than the previous night, though I still had no real luck with my camera. The clearish sky and hilltop location meant that it was quite a lot colder than before. As on all of the trips, Ivar handed out hot chocolate and homemade chocolate cake about halfway through the evening, which was very popular. Of course, as soon as the cake was being handed out and people stopped looking upwards, the lights decided to shift up a gear and put on a quite spectacular display. They arranged themselves into the familiar bars and blades and shards of luminescence that I associate with the aurora, glowed with a subtle, indescribable pale green, then looped and curled around in what I believe is known as an auroral substorm. The lights changed, undulated, swayed and breathed across the sky. I spent a large part of the evening leaning backwards over the bonnet of one of the minibuses, to save myself from neck strain and jaw ache from gazing in wonder at the spectacle above.

A thin layer of cloud started to cover the sky at this point, but the lights were impressive even through the haze, and they danced on for a long time. I found it funny that you could tell when they were doing something particularly interesting, because a few people were quite audibly excited, and they laughed, gasped and shrieked at the amazingness of it all.

One more aurora trip left – would the weather hold out?

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2 responses to “Search for the Northern Lights – Part 2

  1. I am so jealous of your TRIP (and your will power to walk when public transport is available!). This is on my list of things to do before I die 🙂

    • It’s actually not just willpower and good intentions – I worry that I’m going to end up on the wrong bus/going in the wrong direction/in the middle of nowhere. At least I know where my feet are going! 🙂 Definitely a recommended trip overall, a good time to go is in the next year or so as it’s a solar maximum and the lights aren’t as good in the intervening years.

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