Imagine a place where the pine trees, rooftops of houses in rustic villages and alpine tundra are covered in snow. The once translucent water flowing from a waterfall now frozen solid.
To many, this is a typical winter scene, where plants, animals and humans work harder on the inside than the outside. Except if you’re lucky enough, you may just chance upon the mythical faint green or rose aurora dancing in the sky on your stroll after dinner.
This majestic place is Norway, one of the most breathtaking landscape in the world.
So entranced by the beauty of this country and the legends of the Northern lights that we flew from London to Oslo, embarked on a 16-hour train journey to Bodø, followed by a mini aircraft to Svolvær and an overnight Hurtigruten voyage to Tromsø (See image below), all in the winter. Most tourists visit in the summer. You would think that this is a surefire way for your eyes to feast in all Norway has to offer, except that we have unknowingly booked our flights to coincide with Northern Norway’s famed polar night.
What do you do on days that begin and stay at twilight until darkness descends?
It is surprising how you can transform 11 days in the arctic into a holiday of a lifetime – not having booked many activities and not rented a car.
London-Oslo by plane
Norwegian.com offers free wifi at an altitude of 30,000 feet, allowing me access to my emails, Skype, and Google. Exiting into the Oslo-Gardermoen airport, I was gobsmacked by the cleanliness and sophistication of a 5-star airport, if such a rating existed. One look into food prices and you have a confirmed suspicion that Norwegian prices are famously high – a sandwich here can cost up to £10.
Oslo-Trondheim-Bodø by train
It was 20 minutes to midnight. I was clutching my bag with the anticipation of a 5-year-old as a red NSB train glided into the station. As soon as the train stopped, we raced towards our small but very clean 2-sleeper cabin. It was going to be my first experience sleeping on a train. We explored other carriages and found equally similar sleeping cabins, and a cafeteria where you can get some snacks and beverages.
I cleaned my teeth to a view of snow-covered roofs of houses which had retained their Christmas decorations, pine trees, frozen lakes, mountains and valleys as the train crossed the tundra. Lying on my comfortable bed, the train’s notable movement rocked me to sleep, albeit like a lousy lullaby. I woke up whenever light entered the cabin, approximately eight times through the night, convinced that the Northern Lights were dancing for me outside! There were curtains, eyepatch and earplugs, which I didn’t use.
Awoken at 6.50 am, I felt the real downside to travelling. Bleary eyed and gummy breathed, we were greeted by a dark start to the day and got on to our connecting train. At about 9.30 am, the resemblance of daylight broke out in a characteristic blue twilight, the stuff of every photographer’s dream. The scenic train journey from there on encompassed mountains, villages, valleys, frozen rivers, industrial sites, houses, buildings, sea, and lakes. Each time the train stopped, we went down to film and photograph the raw wilderness and openness of the country. Soon, heavy snow fell on our lips, nose and eyes, and the wind blew the snow in a horizontal motion.
If it wasn’t for the Gulf Stream, Norway would be thrusted into the extreme temperatures experienced by other Arctic countries (Greenland, Northern Canada, and Northern Siberia).
After 16 hours, our sore bottoms were very grateful for the sight of Bodø, which was going to be our overnight stopover before we headed to Svolvær the following morning. National Geographic recommends Bodø as one of 2013’s must-see destination and frankly in the dark, we couldn’t quite see why. When I disembarked the train, the wind was so strong that it lifted me, and the 7 kg hand luggage that I was carrying, half a foot in the air.
We spent the night at Rica Hotel Bodø, which was a 5 minute walk from Bodø train station. Our room in the Junior Suite was modernly furnished, with double bed, dining area, living area, bathroom, and sea view. After a shower, we used the hotel’s sauna facility on site, where we met some new friends. According to them, Bodø is affectionately known as the Vind Holla, or Wind Hole, renowned for its strong wind. That night as I laid on the soft pillow and comforters, I knew that a good night’s rest was guaranteed.
The following day, a generous continental buffet breakfast was served. My eyes and stomach thanked the chef for his wonderful presentation of a variety of cheeses, breads, mueslis, flavoured yoghurt, fried breakfasts, smoothie and juices on tap. If we had spent our day at Bodø, we would unwind at the Nordlandsbadet & Spektrum Velvære, zooming down an 85m waterslide into one of their six swimming pools. We also heard about the Saltstraumen maelstrom, a natural phenomenon where whirlpools form, surge, coalesce and disperse four times a day, which can easily be mistaken as a crisis in the sea.
Continue with 260 hours in Norway Part 2: Svolvær, Lofoten Island.