Search for the Northern Lights – Part 4

Click for parts onetwo and three

As good as it gets, sun-wise, in midwinter Tromso!

As good as it gets, sun-wise, in midwinter Tromso!

New Year’s Eve dawned with the same beautifully clear skies as the previous night. To the south, the sky was tinged with a hint of pink-orange that lightened to a glorious golden yellow as the day went on – as close as Tromsø gets to a sunrise and sunlight at that time of year. It was the lightest it had been all week but it was still strange that the rest of the sky was doing a very good impression of twilight at 11am. Moonrise happened at lunchtime, with a bright almost-half-moon appearing over the mountains to the west.

Lunchtime moonrise

Lunchtime moonrise

I did a bit of shopping, picking up some last minute souvenirs in the tourist information centre and the ‘best souvenir shop in Tromsø’ (or so they proclaimed on the front of the shop). I ventured into the shopping centre for the first time that week, having avoided too much commercialism up to that point! The shopping centre was much the same as shopping centres everywhere (it even had a Body Shop and H&M) which was a bit disappointing. Quite a lot of shops were open for shortened hours on New Year’s Eve, so I bought a couple of things and tried out my fledgling Norwegian on some more unsuspecting sales assistants. One issue with trying to speak a language is whether or not you understand what people say to you in response, which I didn’t! I found out that ‘Happy New Year’ is ‘Godt Nyttår’ in Norwegian and resolved to say it to someone in the next 24 hours. I decided to try and find something with cloudberries in, but the only things I could find were expensive (and heavy) jams, so I gave it a miss. I’ll find some next time I go! I checked out the price of dairy products, having heard about the Norwegian butter crisis and although I couldn’t find any butter, the ‘normal’ cheese appeared to cost somewhere between £10-15 for an amount that would probably cost less than £5 in the UK.

Early afternoon temperature

Early afternoon temperature

As it started to get properly dark, I returned to the hotel to relax and chill out ready to stay up late and see the new year in. I’d been curious as to whether northern Norwegians would like fireworks, but having spotted several pop-up stalls selling fireworks along the main road to the science centre the previous day, I figured they would probably be fairly popular. As it was, the first few fireworks were being let off sporadically at about 5pm, and by 10pm or so there were constant bangs and flashes outside.

At about 11:30pm I wrapped myself up in several layers of warm clothing and started to walk down to the harbourside. Fireworks were going off everywhere, all along the island behind me and spanning the mainland opposite as far as I could see. There were even fireworks going off on top of the mountain already. I started to worry that I wouldn’t know when it was actually midnight because the fireworks couldn’t possibly increase in number! (This video from 2010/11, filmed from the top of the mountain, gives some idea of just how many fireworks there were). Smoke drifted across the rooftops and glowing red flares hung suspended above the city. The harbourside area I was aiming for was ostensibly fenced off but part of the fencing was open and there were lots of people there already. I crunched across the crisp, undisturbed snow to near the water’s edge. A couple a few yards away were getting ready to toast the arrival of 2012 with champagne, while a group tried in vain to light a sky lantern on my other side, almost setting themselves on fire several times in the process.

Up on the mountainside, a small group of torchlights seemed to be up to something, and it soon became clear what it was: lighting flaming torches to spell out ‘2011’ in huge letters. Someone close by commented, ‘well, they’ve got the wrong year, haven’t they?’. A large Hurtigruten ship was docked close by, and many of its passengers were leaning out to watch the spectacle. As midnight arrived, the ship gave a massive blast on its horn and an epic firework display started on top of the mountain. There were even fireworks going up from the roof of the ship, to add to the cacophony of banging, shrieking and fizzing. The mountaintop fireworks were so vast that the entire mountainside lit up in red and green in the darkness. A solitary torchlight painstakingly changed the year to ‘2012’ on the side of the mountain before joining its fellows up on the peak again. I managed to get a couple of short videos of the fireworks:

As I headed back to the hotel, half an hour after midnight, the fireworks were still going in as much of a frenzy as they had been at midnight. The temperature on the shopping centre showed an almost subtropical -6C but it definitely felt a lot colder than that! Arriving back, I wrote out my New Year’s Resolutions, packed the rest of my things and went to bed, ready to head home the next day.

I won’t go into detail about my journey home but suffice it to say that snow caused delays in Oslo which meant that our plane was late in getting to us in Tromsø in the first place. By the time we arrived in Oslo, the connecting flight was long gone, which meant facing a long night sleeping in Oslo airport. However, the airline were very helpful and put up the twenty or so of us who had missed our flight in a posh hotel less than a minute’s walk from the airport. They even paid for dinner at the hotel. Then the next day we were reallocated to seats on one of the first flights to Heathrow, and got home only twelve hours or so later than expected. I was very impressed!



One response to “Search for the Northern Lights – Part 4

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your experience, and seeing the pictures – especially of the lights. There’s a lady local to me who lived in Norway for around 20 years, she named her business Cloudberry 🙂

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