31st Oct 2011 - Tromso & Arctic Norway
Arrival in the Arctic
Left the hotel (having come down to London last night) for Heathrow airport at 5.30am on the shuttle bus for our 7.20am Scandinavian Airways flight to Oslo. Cloudy in London and most of the 2 hour flight, but on arrival at Oslo it was nice and sunny and we had good views of the local countryside as we came into land.
After collecting our luggage we caught a domestic flight at 11.45am for the 700+ miles north to Tromso.
Once again as we came into land the sun was out and we had some stunning views of Tromso during the descent including the famous Arctic Cathedral which stands out quite clearly from miles away.
We landed at 1.35pm with about an hour before sunset. We caught the regular shuttle bus into the city centre about 4km from the airport. Most of the journey was through a network of tunnels – it is the first time I have been in a tunnel with a roundabout in it !
After 10 minutes we reached the terminus right on the banks of the Tromsoysundet (Tromso Sound I think), and after a little bit of confusion with the local street map, managed to find our way round the corner to our Hotel which is also right on the water and has fantastic views across to the Arctic Cathedral and the main road bridge connecting Tromso to the mainland.
A little background
Tromso is situated approximately 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It is at the same latitude as Siberia to the East, and Greenland or Baffin Island to the West. It is right up in the far north of Norway – there are a couple of small towns further North (Alta being the biggest and Nordkapp being the furthest North), but beyond that it is just the Arctic Sea and the North Pole !
Tromso itself has a surprisingly large population of about 65,000 – approximately the same as Wrexham, Rugby or Taunton. It is called variously the “Capital of the Arctic” and the “Paris of the North”, and is home to many of the most Northern things in the world including most Northern Brewery, University, Cathedral, Symphony Orchestra, Botanical Garden (!), Top Division Football Club, Catholic Bishop and Mosque. Thankfully the most Northern Macdonalds is over 200 miles south in Rovaniemi, Finland near the Arctic Circle.
Tromso is on the coast and the area is dominated by islands and spits of land divided by a network of fjords. Tromso is concentrated on an island (Tromsoya) with bridges connecting it to the mainland and the nearest island Kavaloya. The indigenous people are the Sami, but the population is multi cultural and includes Russians, Finns and Kvens (indigenous to Finland).
Because of Tromso’s geographical position above the Arctic Circle, it experiences 24 hour daylight during the summer, however conversely on 27th November the sun will set and will not rise again until 15th January, and then for only 15 minutes ! This is the polar night. We will be having about 6 hours of daylight for the time we are here, but the sunset is at about 2.30 in the afternoon.
As the darkness arrived at 3pm (!!), the weather remained cold but dry. Talking to the hotel receptionist, it is very unusual not to have had much snow by this time of year, and the forecast suggests that none is likely whilst we are here – we shall see.
Tonight we intend to look around the immediate area and familiarise ourselves with the locality before exploring further afield tomorrow. We will also be keeping an eye on the sky for the Northern Lights, although it is quite cloudy at the moment. Tromso is one of the best places on earth to see the Northern Lights, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.
Late afternoon we went for a wander around the local streets. The first thing that strikes you is that you have boutique shops, next to business units, next to moored fishing boats, next to supermarkets, where in other towns all these things might be in different distinct areas.
Apparently Tromso has so many places to eat that a third of the of the population could all sit down to eat at one time. Norway is notoriously expensive so we went into a local supermarket to see the price of food – large lump of cheese £10, Mars Bar over £2, and small ham roll £5 ! We bought some local beer and cider – each about £2.50 which was not too bad. In the hotel a shot of Jack Daniels is £10 – at Heathrow we could have bought 2L of Jack Daniels for £35.
We navigated our way to the start of the road bridge that goes over to the mainland (and the Cathedral) so decided to walk to the half way point. The views of Tromso all lit up on both sides of the water were fantastic although it was not a very pleasant walk with the traffic racing across kicking up salt from the road and making a racket with their snow tyres against the tarmac.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and consumed our beer, then went down to partake in the complimentary evening buffet – breakfast is also included in the price along with free coffee and tea all day, and waffles from 3pm to 6pm which you get to make yourself.
To finish off the day, we went for another wander round town and stumbled across the Bla Rock Cafe which I know does gigs from time to time, and the Bastard Bar which also does live music - there was a show there two days ago.
On our return to the hotel we had a final drink and sat in the dark looking out over the bay at the illuminated Arctic Cathedral and watched the boats coming and going. No northern lights tonight - too cloudy - maybe tomorrow.....