Tromsø and the Northern Lights

Sunday, October 16, 2022

It was a big night last night. Masquerade night on board, it was the best menu so far – lobster bisque, Chateaubriand, chocolate souffle – and we followed that up with more champagne and more chocolate in the private box at the theatre. After all of that we finished the evening at the gin bar and drank way too much.

After too much food and too much alcohol, I finally got to sleep somewhere around 1am – and then we were woken at 2.30am by the captain telling us the northern lights had been sighted from the bridge. We were up, dressed and out the door in 5 minutes but didn’t see anything. It didn’t help that I mixed up my boat directions and we should have been down the back.

I snapped a picture of some funny-looking clouds and then went back to bed feeling disappointed and with the beginning of a hangover that kept me awake until almost 5. As a result, even though we’d docked in Tromsø, I needed some quiet time. Heather and John caught the shuttle into town, but Grant and I decided to hang back for a bit and approach the day more gradually.

Going through yesterday’s photos I noticed that the one I’d taken last night of the funny cloud was actually green and was the aurora. That cheered me up a tad so by the time we were on the shuttle heading into town I was feeling quite perky – until the bus driver’s son, who was sitting in the front seat opposite us, projectile vomited. Grant almost went out in sympathy. Eeeeuw.

Located 350km north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is home to the world’s northernmost university and during the 19th century was known for a time as “the Paris of the north.” These days it’s mostly known for being a great place to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

Being Sunday other than tourist shops there wasn’t a lot open in town so we just wandered. I was surprised to see whale salami on sale in the tourist shops – and available for tasting. Norway is one of the few countries that didn’t sign up to the international bans on whale hunting so it’s legal here. I understand that this is a cultural thing, but… no…just no. Upon googling I read that the vast majority of the population (up to 98%) is against it too. I wondered then whether this is for the tourists, but saw it on a couple of menus around town. Again no…just no.

Also for sale everywhere are trolls. There’s even a troll museum in town – Heather and John went in for a look.

According to the Visit Norway site, troll is a collective term for several types of human-like beings in Nordic folklore and fairy tales with roots in Norse mythology. Both appearance and characteristics vary, and trolls are usually both dangerous and stupid – although despite being stupid, they are known to sometimes set clever riddles you must overcome if you ever cross paths with one.

Once upon a time, these strange and dangerous creatures roamed freely in the mysterious Norwegian mountains and forests. But the trolls only went out at night, in the dark. Because there was only one thing that could scare a real troll: The sunlight.

If they didn’t hide in time, the first rays of the sunlight would turn them into stone. And that is why you can still see their faces and bodies carved into the mountain sides, cliffs and stones all around the country.

Pick a troll any troll

Anyways, without any further commentary let’s take a walk around Tromsø.

Later, after an early dinner we rugged up and headed out on a tour in search of the northern lights.

After driving for about 45 minutes we were deposited in the pitch-dark middle of nowhere. Quite grassy underfoot but sort of spongey and crackling already from the ice on the grass – I guess you’d probably call it tundra. And then we looked up at the clear star-filled sky and waited…and then waited some more. While we were waiting we saw a few shooting stars, but it wasn’t long before the cold, wet grass began creeping through the soles of our shoes. After about an hour of looking at the sky and waiting I decided I was cold enough and Heather and I went back to the bus and left the boys to wait some more.

When the message came through from John at about 10pm that it had started, it just looked to the naked eye as though there were milky, starry streaks through the sky but when I pointed my camera at them it became magical and soon we were able to see the colour and the movement without relying on the camera.

The pics below aren’t great but were all taken with my iPhone. John had set up his SLR on a tripod and his pics were amazing. It was, however, awe-inspiring and well worth being on the bucket list.

On the way back to the ship we saw more from the bus – light dancing across the sky. Incredible. And I got a potential story idea for a future Philly adventure. Philly Barker All At Sea perhaps?

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

21 thoughts

  1. After a rather bumpy start, it does sound like a wonderful day. I always wondered why the Norway pavilion at EPCOT was filled with trolls… and now I know!

  2. Jo, this experience alone would have made the entire cruise for me. Your photos are wonderful, so I can only imagine what your friend captured with his camera. Thanks for the info about trolls. I knew they were a part of Scottish folklore, but I didn’t know about the ‘turning to stone’ part.

    1. It was the whole reason for us choosing this particular cruise so glad we got to see it – it really is weather dependant and we got lucky.

  3. Hi Jo what a wonderful experience you had and to see the Northern Lights in all their glory was spectactular. We are booking to go in May 2024 (hopefully) and can’t wait. Interesting to read about the Trolls it reminded me of the Billy Goats Gruff story. x

  4. Fabulous Jo, those skies are on my bucket list too. When we were out in Lapland we were hoping to see some colour in the sky but unfortunately is was too overcast. The whole area is beautiful, I love your photos of the buildings and all those trolls!! As for whale salami, it’s a no from me too.

    1. We got very lucky – the following night the tour left from Narvik, it was cloudy and they saw nothing.

  5. What a wonderful experience – all good things come to those who wait! Your cruise sounds amazing!

  6. What an amazing experience. I have always wanted to see the northern lights from farther north — did you hear them crackle? I have seen them countless times but never heard them at all. Bernie

  7. Sounds like a great experience, except for the young man throwing up. Yuk! We could see the Northern Lights on our farm in Alberta but I’m sure they were spectacular in Norway. Glad you got to see them in spite of the long wait and cold.

  8. I love your pics of the Northern Lights. I think they turned out quite well considering they were taken with an iPhone at night. That made me laugh that you thought they were funny clouds and didn’t realize until later that you did see the Northern Lights. My husband and I went to Fairbanks in the winter, in part hoping to see the lights, but alas it was too cloudy the whole trip.

  9. Hi Jo, Wow! What an experience. Those photo’s are pretty awesome even if only iPhone shots. How wonderful to be able to tick that experience off your bucket list. The town of Tromso looks so pretty & interesting too but I agree to a big no to whale meat! Love the mythology around the trolls! You seem to soak up so much interesting info to share with us from your travels and I’m here for it! Wishing you a very Happy Easter! xo

  10. What an experience…and I am glad you got to see the northern lights. Weather makes or breaks a natural phenomenon doesn’t it? Thank you for sharing your post with the Wednesday’s Words and Pics community this week. I hope, if you are enjoying a long weekend for Easter, that it is going well. See you next week, I hope. Denyse.

  11. Tromso looks beautiful but a definite no on the whale meat from me! Very envious of your Northern lights experience, you were very fortunate to see them and capture such great photos. It’s on my wish list – hopefully get there soon. Thanks for sharing your adventures

    1. It really does highlight some of the cultural differences doesn’t it? Even though I knew it was legal there it still shocked me to see it.

  12. Yes and it’s quite hard for us (tourists) to criticise when we don’t always understand other nations’ cultures. Coming from ‘colonial’ Britain I’m always conscious of some of the damage we can inflict when we believe we are always right but on the other hand sometimes things have to be said to help protect species/people. It’s a very difficult balance

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