Snow and the Northern Lights

15 March 2013

Day Two

The next day I slept as long as I could in preparation for a night of gazing skyward,  and woke up to a snowy wonderland!  Apparently it had snowed fairly hard the day I arrived so it was all white and pristine.

Anemone Bed and Breakfast.

I went and made myself breakfast from the food provided for guests.  There was a strange goats cheese that the host, Petra, had recommended.  I opened it to find it was a hard cheese in a sort of orange brown colour – not what I had expected at all!!!  I dutifully cut a slice and put it on my raisin bun as directed.  Not bad.  But still odd.  I tried the jam of a local red berry which was nice and not too sweet as a lot of jams are for me.  The label said Tyttebaer, which I believe is the same as Lingonberry.

My next mission was to go to the supermarket to buy food for the next four days.  I walked out the door and immediately saw a snow blowing machine clearing the snow from the road. 

I was impressed with how quickly the roads and footpaths were cleared for use.  The vehicles seemed to have no problem navigating the streets, nor the buses.  Apparently residents are instructed to use winter tyres from October till May every year, and the buses also have chains on one set of wheels. And it works.  

The walk to the supermarket led me through a car park where the snow was piled higher than the cars!

I assume it's not another car under there.

Grocery shopping was a longer affair than usual as I had to keep translating the labels on products, but eventually I left with food for the week.

After lunch I headed down into the town centre.  The Bed and Breakfast I'm staying at is located at the top of the island in about the middle, next to a reasonable sized lake, and the town centre is down at sea level about half an hour's walk.  It reminded me a lot of Wellington, but with a truckload of snow just dumped on top of it! 

Gingerbread houses.

Like Wellington, but not.
In town I saw the Hurtigruten moored in the harbour.  The Hurtigruten is a cruise ship of sorts that cruises up and down the coast of Norway.  It would be fantastic to do this in good weather, but terribly expensive.

The Hurtigruten in Tromso.
At the Visitors centre I signed up for an Aurora chase trip that evening.  There is a huge business here taking tourists out of the city to see the northern lights.  This trip was a mini bus of about 15 people, run by a woman with a mobile phone checking weather and aurora forecasts.  We started at 5.30pm and finally got home at 3.30am!

We drove for an hour or two east, inland, to find clear skies, and jumped out of the van on a section of road in the middle of nowhere. No aurora, but some lovely stars and the chance to have a go setting up cameras and tripods etc.  After about 10 minutes outside the cold started biting, and we were given a snow suit each, which helped, but didn't quite keep us warm in the -17c temperature.  Some keen eyes spotted a few hazy blurs which it was agreed was the aurora, but nothing much else.  So once my fingers and toes were numb we hopped back in the van and headed in another direction to try our luck.

Another 45 minutes later we stopped on another deserted piece of road, this time in -23 degrees and very strong winds.  Even our guide, Marianne, was feeling the cold at this point. The aurora turned up after half an hour or so as a few more teasing, hazy, not-quite-clouds. But that was all. Marianne pulled out her provisions and started building a fire in the snow where she singed some sausages and warmed up some nearly frozen cheese sandwiches. Much more enjoyable were the warm thermoses of onion soup and hot chocolate. 

I expected the fire to melt the snow and ultimately put itself out, but surprisingly it didn't.  It seemed to form a channel under the surface where the water ran away.

Gathering near the fire for whatever warmth we can get.
After our snack the aurora came out again with a sort of pale green line snaking behind the mountain, but by then most people had had enough of the cold and the fire was almost out. 

I got back at 3.30, exhausted, with cheeks stung red from the wind, but glad I had made the effort.  Even if we didn't see much of a light show, I did get to experience -23 plus wind chill, something I've never done before - and hopefully never will have to do again!


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