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Visiting Tromso - Tromso Norway, An Arctic Adventure
As a frequent traveler, there's something that's always appealed to me about extremes. This is why I was thrilled to be visiting Tromso, Norway, one of the northernmost cities in the world. Never having been above the Arctic Circle before (even when we were in Iceland, we were just below it), I anticipated coming upon a Norwegian wonderland covered with ice, the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above us.
However, since we went to Tromso in July, right in the middle of summer, there was hardly any snow in sight and it wasn't the right time of year to search for Aurora Borealis. Instead, we got to see the Midnight Sun -- also a first for me -- go whale watching and get to know a very warm, friendly and beautiful city.
Tromso definitely wasn't what I'd expected, but the surprises were welcome ones. It took me to a place of clean air, gorgeous scenery and a sky that never stopped being light. Compared to my New York City, Tromso is small, but it made a very big impression on me.
Tour Of Tromso
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Settling Into Tromso
As we flew from Olso to Tromso, we got a preview of the amazing landscape that awaited us. Even from the air, we could see a seemingly endless number of mountains, lakes, fjords and lush pine trees that swept across the land like a green blanket.
Once we landed, we could feel a chill in the air -- even in July -- but it was cool, crisp and welcome. And as we rode into town, we finally spotted Tromso nestled between snow-capped mountains with crystal waters in between.
We chose to stay at the Thon Hotel in Tromso, which was only a short walk from the center of town. We'd stayed at a Thon (which was kind of like the Norwegian answer to a Holiday Inn) in Oslo, but the one in Tromso wasn't quite as upscale. Instead, we felt as if we were heading into an Army bunk and our room added to this idea; it was so small that it could barely fit the two separate twin beds ,,, and it was almost pitch black, thanks to the thick curtain that hung in the window.
Still, we didn't care if our hotel wasn't the most luxurious we'd ever been in -- we were eager to explore Tromso. It was already 7 p.m., but it occurred to us that we could walk around for hours, all night even, because the sun was going to stay out. Never having seen the Midnight Sun before, we couldn't quite comprehend what it would feel like to have the sky be bright at 12 a.m. or even two in the morning.
After enjoying dinner at a steak house, we wandered around town,stopping in the main square to people watch. Since the sun was still out, the place was full of couples holding hands and families laughing together. At the edge of the square was a bakery that made homemade pastries similar to a danish, so we had one as our dessert. We then walked over the Tromso Bridge. The views from the bridge were amazing because we were now right over the water and between the rows of mountains. In the distance, we could see the white Arctic Cathedral, which almost looked like a glacier hanging at the base of the mountains.
We'd learned that a concert was held each night at the Arctic Cathedral to welcome the Midnight Sun, so we decided to attend. However, we still had plenty of time, so we walked around the blocks of houses behind the cathedral. Along the way, we saw a fluffy, puffy, gray Norwegian Forest Cat and attemped to make friends with the little guy. I'd seen pictures of these creatures and as a cat lover, couldn't believe that something so hairy could exist, but this kitty was the real deal. With his enormous mane of fur and gigantic tail, he looked like a king! My husband wanted to call him Thor, but I insisted on calling him Fluff Baby.
Midnight Sun Over Tromso
Tromso Arctic Cathedral
Here Comes The Midnight Sun
Around 11 p.m., we headed toward the Arctic Carthedral for the concert. The design of the cathedral was very simple -- it looks a bit like icicles or maybe a mountain -- but it gave it a very modern an elegant appearance. Inside, the cathedral was pretty simple, as well --no elaborate stained-glass ceilings -- but it had a very cozy feeling. The ceilings were high so that the space felt airy and long windows lined the sides so that the sun's rays would be let in.
We were informed that we'd be hearing some local musicians, including a saxophonist that evening. Having played the tenor sax myself, I couldn't wait. Then at about 11:30 p.m., we heard a single, mellow note of the sax ring out across the church. The musician then slowly marched down the aisle, playing a bittersweet sounding tune.
For the next half hour, we were treated to a variety of classical and jazz pieces, all of which were expertly performed. But what really got our attention were the sun's rays, which continued to trickle in even as midnight approached. It's one thing to hear about the Midnight Sun and know intellectually that it happens ... but it's another thing to see it in person.
After the concert, we slowly walked back over the Tromso Bridge, savoring the daylight sky. Though this was a Midnight Sun, you could see the light shift after a while; at midnight, the sky looked as it does in the late afternoon. However, by about 1:30 a.m., it looked as it does when it's six in the morning. It was almost like having an extended sunset and sunrise and the sky was painted with pinks and oranges.
We finally made it back to our hotel around 2 a.m., but were too wired to sleep. How could we possibly waste time sleeping when we had all of the daylight we ever wanted?! Still, we put that thick curtain to use and pulled it shut, hoping to get some winks. Neither one of us slept well, though, because the sun kept calling to us.
Storsteinen Cable Car
Getting To Know Tromso
The next day, we headed back to the town square for more of those delicious pastries. We then went to the Tromso Aquarium to see their famous bearded seal exhibit. The seals were fascinating, but I also loved the penguins. And I enjoyed the movie about Svalbard, which is an island in Norway not far from the North Pole. I still plan to get there one day so that I can see the polar bears.
After, we walked about three miles to Tromso's botanical garden, which is one of the Northernmost gardens in the world (though to be fair, EVERYTHING in Tromso is one of the most Northernmost!). However, we were more intrigued with the strange weeds that were all over the place. They looked kind of like large Queen Anne's Lace flowers, only wider and flatter. We were told that they're known as Tromso Palms and can be poisonous or cause a rash. Yikes! Happily, we hadn't touched any of these things.
Later, we took the Storsteinen cable car up to the top of the mountain that was behind the Arctic Cathedral. Though the view of town from the Tromso Bridge had been great, we got a spectacular look at the city below.
Making Waves On The Arctic Ocean
Our last day in Tromso was wet and cold, so we decided to go on a whale watching tour. As our boat captain clarified, the whales don't care if it's wet out!
The first part of the tour through the fjord was amazing. A white mist clung to the mountains, making them look mysterious and as we headed away from the town, thousands of birds flew around the cliffs. We then headed into the Arctic Ocean in the hopes of spotting whales.
That's when I began to wonder if this trip was a mistake. I like boats and have never gotten seasick, but man, these seas were ROUGH. The tiny boat WAS tossed and I kept expecting to see one of those 100-foot rogue waves pummel us. Plus, it was freezing. It didn't matter if we were there in the summer -- when the Arctic becomes active, she lives up to her name!
However, after we endured an hour of misery, the seas calmed a bit and the captain pointed out our first whale. Everyone applauded as it lifted its massive tail and splashed back into the water. We then saw another ... and another, and by the end of the journey, our captain had named at least six different types that we'd spied, including sperm whales and humpbacks. It was the ideal grand finale to our vacation!
Tromso, Norway isn't a very big city, but it's full of charm and life. Between the friendly people and gorgeous scenery, we found something to love at every turn.