Chasing the Norwegian Lights

A journey to the land of colours in the dark

As the title very aptly suggests, we went on an 8-day tour, literally chasing the Northern Lights in Norway — known worldwide as the “land of the midnight sun”. Of course, during our journey, we realized that this phrase is only applicable for some months, for the sun sets in very early in Norway during winters, and that is probably the best time to see the northern lights.

I visited Norway in 2017, and here is an account of my travel

The Aurora Explained

Before I get into the details about our lovely Norwegian expedition, let me first give you an insight into the Northern Lights itself. What is this phenomenon so widely sought after? Why is it on everyone’s bucket lists?

First and foremost, the “Northern Lights” is a rare phenomenon, occurring only during the winter months. Although there have been instances of Southern Lights (towards the south pole), the lights can only be seen in a few countries that are closer to the magnetic poles.

These lights called the ‘Aurora Borealis in the North are the result of a magnetic collision between the gaseous matter thrown from the Sun’s atmosphere and that of the Earth.

Scientists have predicted a cyclic pattern to the Northern lights, and it is said that they peak once in 11 years. Moreover, a cloudy day or heavy snowfall can make the lights-viewing very difficult as visibility decreases. This makes the Aurora lights enticing, exciting, and elusive.

Through the winter months, travelers from across the globe come to witness the lights, making it an unforgettable holiday experience.

Who can chase the lights?

The only condition here would be your ability to withstand cold. With temperatures going way down to the negatives. Almost anyone can see the northern lights and if you do so with a proper guide (which I recommend, unless you’re a local) you will be well geared with snowsuits and warmers.

Guides for the Northern Lights in Norway have a great connection, they are well prepared and know the region well. They will take you outside the city in as much darkness as possible to see these lights.

Most guides will set up campfires, provide snowsuits, and might require you to walk a few meters. But as long as you can deal with the cold (with the option of sitting inside the van — but that’s no fun) you are ready and prepared to see the Lights.

What do I need and how do I prepare

Warm clothes, warm clothes, and more warm clothes. Thermals and winter jackets are compulsory. However, thick socks and the warmest of gloves are highly recommended.

You can also buy some packets or feet and palm warmers available in many sports stores.

Also, rum/brandy and some snacks are always helpful in the cold

It starts!

Day 1: Acclimatizing to the chilly weather

We arrived in Oslo — the capital city of Norway on the 28th of October 2017. Our flights landed at 12 in the afternoon and we decided to take a taxi straight to the hotel. We realized that it would cost the 6 of us the same amount going via train or taxi and we chose the convenient option.

The hotel we stayed at was Thon Hotel Munch, a 40-minute drive from the airport right at the center of the city. After some rest in the hotel, we walked to a Thai restaurant called Tuktuk Thai. And after gorging on some delicious seafood and chicken, we decided to take a walk in Karl Johans Gate.

Named after the Swedish King, King Charles III John, who was also King of Sweden. The street starts near the Oslo Central train station and extends a couple of kilometers.

Our shopping walk started at a beautiful brick coloured church called Oslo Cathedral. We decided to give ourselves an hour and a half to explore the shopping street before we meet at the Cathedral.

The streets were relatively busy, owing to the fact that it was a sunny day at 3–4 degrees Celsius and a weekend. We passed by regular stores like H&M but did not shop. We walked passed a small bridge with many statues (we realized later that the entire city is filled with those) and down to a beautiful stream separating East Oslo from West. I learned much later that this was also a divide from uptown, hip, and rich Oslo (where we stayed and walked) to a more humble one.

We returned to our designated spot after a relaxing walk by the river. A nice shot of cappuccino at Espresso House (the local coffee shop chain) and some last-minute grocery shopping gave us enough energy to head back to our hotel for some much-needed rest.

Day 2: Museums, Parks and More

Our hotel pampered us with a spread of meats, fruits, bread, and yogurt for breakfast. After a very heavy breakfast, we walked toward the metro station. We had bought ourselves a day pass (a day pass is applicable for trains, metros, trams, and busses) and experienced a metro ride to the Munch Museum.

The museum is dedicated to the life and works of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Ever heard of the famous Scream painting? Here is an image of the same.

The museum is really small with a small souvenir shop at the beginning. We saw a short movie on Munch’s close acquaintance speaking about his life and works.

Post a short walk inside the gallery we headed out to Vigeland Park by a 10- minute bus ride. One of Oslo’s prominent tourist hotspots, the park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist called Gustav Vigeland. The park has more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite, and wrought iron.

We walked around the beautiful park and ended it with a nice picnic lunch — filled with Theplas, curd rice, and Bisibelle baths. We took the tram to Oslo City hall, which is the municipality building of Oslo.

From the outside, the building is of red brick and has two towers, the hall inside has beautiful oil wall paintings. We walked inside the building and walked by the Nobel peace prize memorial for a cup of coffee. Post that we headed back to the hotel to rest for the evening.

Day 3: Fjord Cruise

Fjords are “long, narrow inlets with steep sides or cliffs, created by glacial erosion”. We cruised along the beautiful snow-capped fjords, and many islands on the way that were lit up with red and yellow houses.

After more than an hour of sitting in the boat with a chilly breeze, multiple hot cocoas, and chattering teeth we reach Bygdoy Island. Even though it is not technically an island, ‘ey’ in Norse translates to ‘island’. Bygdoy was an island before glacial rebound made it a peninsular.

We walked to the famous Viking Ship Museum and saw great big Viking ships that date back centuries.

We took the ferry back to Oslo, grabbed some drinks at Ice bar — a bar made completely of ice, ate dinner at Mucho Mas, a Mexican restaurant, and headed back to the hotel to prepare for our flight the next day

Day 4: Tromso

Tromso is a small and quaint town located in Northern Norway. It is considered to be one of the best places to see the lights.

We left for the airport early to catch our 8:30 flight. Munching on some packed sandwiches given by the hotel. Our flight was for 2 hours and we landed in what looked like a pile of just snow! We took a 10-minute taxi to Smart Hotel- a cozy backpacker’s hotel.

The first thing we did after dumping our luggage was to go shopping. Clearly, our snickers were not meant to walk on slippery sleet that had covered the city entirely. We got grips for our shoes, grabbed a bite at burger king, and headed back to the hotel to rest up.

At 6:15 pm our guide Daniel came to pick us up in his 8-seater van. We had a British couple accompany us on the tour. We rode outside Tromso for about an

hour and a half. Daniel gave us much-needed insight into the region, & the lights. He hailed from Czechoslovakia and seemed to be underdressed and quite nonchalant about the cold. Daniel took us to a deserted road and parked to the side. He helped us wear snowsuits and snow boots, gave us toe warmers, and set up a campfire on the side of the road. We waited for about an hour, freezing in — ve 15 degrees Celsius. To while away time, we drank hot fruit tea and sandwiches that were prepared by him.

At about 9:30 pm, just as predicted, we saw streaks of light appear in the sky. They were not “strong” as Daniel put it, but eventually got brighter and stronger. We took a couple of pictures from his DSLR and decided it was time to head back to the warm comforts of our hotel.

We reached the hotel at midnight.

Day 5: Whale Cruise

The first half of the day was packed with a private cruise to watch the whales. We sailed through beautiful archipelagoes that housed the fishing community of Norway. Although we could not see any whales, we had hot codfish soup and yummy soft bread. Our captain was really friendly and helped us get to know the place.

We reached the shore in the afternoon only to realize that the lights tour for the night had been canceled since the weather forecast predicted snow and clouds.

Day 6: Reindeer Sledding

Our final day in Tromso was packed! Our morning started off with Reindeer sledding with the Sami Tribe. The Sami’s are nomads who resided in Northern Norway, Russia, Finland, etc. 10,000 years ago. They breed and herd Reindeer and are considered the original locals of Norway. Our Sami guide Kent gave us a lot of insight into how reindeers’ are bred, about the Sami culture and clothing and tradition. After a 45-minute bus ride to the Sami community, we went for a half-hour reindeer ride in the snow and our activity ended with some hot reindeer meat stew and bred in a traditional Sami Tent.

That evening we headed out again to chase the lights. This time, the chase was much more difficult than our previous one. We rode for about 2.5 hours before we hit a nice forest path where we camped among the trees. The weather was extremely windy during our drive — so much so that it shook our van. It wasn’t very cold since our campsite was surrounded by trees, cutting the wind and protecting us from the cold.

We thought we did not have much luck with the lights but at 10:00 pm the light showed brightly up the sky. Beautiful green and pink streaks danced across the sky. It felt like a painting that came alive. We saw one of the best lights that day with our guide Andrei.

We reached our hotel a little after midnight.

Day 7: Back in Oslo

We reached Oslo in the afternoon and spend the entire afternoon shopping for souvenirs, nuts, and clothes! We ended the day with dinner at an Italian Restaurant called Eataly.

Day 8: Back to Base
A sad goodbye to Norway, we took a taxi at 3 in the morning to the airport and back to our home countries.

Fun facts

  • Christiania — the name of the local cab company was also the erstwhile name of Oslo
  • Norway was once a part of Denmark & Sweden. The King of Norway hence has Swedish ancestry since Norway had to import a King after independence.
  • Norway is called the land of the midnight sun since the sun never sets during some months in the summer.
  • The sale of liquor is monitored and restricted in Norway
  • The national language is Norse and the currency is called Krone
  • Murakami’s Norwegian Wood has nothing to do with actual Norwegian wood — which in winter months is great for skiing

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