The Magical Aurora Borealis (The Northern Polar Lights) in Tromsø
23.01.2009 - 02.02.2009 -7 °C
It has always been my dream to see the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, and I have been listed it as one of my life list goal. This magical phenomenon has attracted me for years. The multi color display of light in the sky is like a mystical dance performance of the Great Universe. It just makes me to wonder how wonderful it is simply to be part of the Universe. At the first moment I saw the Northern Lights on TV, I was totally amazed by its beauty and I wished I could travel north someday to see it in person. But at the same time I worried about the extremely cold weather I might experience as well. I've never been to any place that far north. I thought that to experience what I saw on TV, it seemed to be only a dream...
By the year 2009, thanks for the encouragement I've received from friends and family, what I first considered as only a dream, eventually became a reality. I went to Tromsø, Norway, to see the Northern Lights...
23 January 2009, Friday
10:30 AM (GMT +8) - Leaving from Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal.
11:15 AM (GMT +8) - Arrived at Hong Kong International Airport.
Flight check-in (Virgin Atlantic Airways, Flight VS239).
13:35 PM (GMT +8) - Boarding Time.
14:15 PM (GMT +8) - Take-off.
19:20 PM (GMT 0) - (Approx. 13 hours) arrived in London Heathrow International Airport.
Right after we went through Immigration and got our luggages we needed to rush to the central bus station to catch a coach to Stansted Airport.
21:45 PM (GMT 0) - Service 797, National Express Coach departed from Heathrow Airport.
23:15 PM (GMT 0) - (Approx. 90 minutes) arrived in Stansted Airport.
23:25 PM (GMT 0) - Radisson SAS Hotel London Stansted Airport. Stayed overnight (room no. 2140).
24 January 2009, Saturday
04:45 AM (GMT 0) - Got up.
05:59 AM (GMT 0) - Breakfast at Ponti's Landside Concourse Stansted Airport.
06:25 AM (GMT 0) - Flight check-in (Norwegian Airlines, Flight DY5329).
07:55 AM (GMT 0) - Boarding Time.
08:25 AM (GMT 0) - Take-off.
~ TROMSO - AN UNIQUE CITY OF THE ARCTIC ~
Tromsø is renown for being one of the best places on Earth to see the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights. I chose Tromsø as my destination because I thought it was the most convenience and easiest (for me) to get around, comparing with other polar region.
At 12:45 PM (GMT +1) we landed at Tromsø Airport Langnes. Just few steps from the air bridge we arrived to the arrival area and the immigration desk was just located right at the entrance. There was a little misunderstanding when we went through the immigration. The officers said that one of us had a problem to enter to the country because didn't apply for a visa. According to information we found before leaving home, it showed that none of us need to apply for a visa to entrance Norway. That's why we didn't apply for it. They didn't let us pass until after about ten minutes they confirmed everything was okay. . .
The airport was smaller than we had expected, but it still nice and comfortable. First thing we looked for at the airport it was a money exchange desk. We looked around, walked around and all we found it was a 7 Eleven store at the corner next to the arrivals hall; some car rental service desks at the opposite, minibank automated teller machines (ATM) next to them, a tourist information desk and some unknown service desks located at the back. We bewildered if the money exchange desk was not open yet. We walked to the tourist information but were told there wasn't any money exchange service at the airport, and money exchange service was only available at the banks in the city and some major hotels, and unfortunately, the banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so the only solution was to use our credit card to withdraw money from the minibank automated teller machines (ATM) or to wait until Monday to exchange the money at the banks. What a bummer! We didn't even have 1 øre with us!!!! I asked if we can use euros to pay the taxi driver to get to the city, but were told: "Sorry, euros are not accepted." Awwwwwwwwwwww We only brought euros with us.
So, we got to the ATM to withdraw money. We thought it was the worst day we have had in life... a credit card was rejected...then we tried another one, pin code error, then another one, pin code error as well. What's the worst thing that could happen?
I was worried. How do we get to the city without the money? Many bad thoughts were running in my mind. In this situation I thought to walk to the city but it seemed impossible. I thought to ask the information desk lady for help and I thought ... All in a sudden, Mr. K. remembered that he still had another credit card with him but it was very closed to its expiry date. We were just wondering if that worked. We tried and...it worked!!! :D
So what were the problems with others cards??? We took the money and went outside to wait for the bus to the city center.
Outside, there were many bus stops and there were few taxis at the corner. While I was taking the piece of paper which was written down the hotel address from my backpack, a man walked up to us and asked us where we wanted to go. I handed the paper to that man and told him that we wanted to go to Clarion Hotel Bryggen. He handed back the paper to me and said something which I really didn't understand. He told us to follow him to the van and he said he was going to take us to the hotel. Before I got in the van I asked him how much we pay for the drive. He only smiled at me and said softly: "Please take a seat!"
About 15 minutes we arrived at the hotel. The trip was free. The driver didn't ask us to pay for the trip. Awwww how nice it was! The hotel we stayed is nearby the port. He showed us the way to the port and told us if we want to take a cruise ride the Northern Light Cruise would be a good choice.
After we laid our luggage in the room, we walked in the city to find a place for dinner. It was really cold outside. I wore a pair of leather snowmobile gloves but my fingers were still icy and numb. And for Mr. K., he experienced an intensely painful earache after he had exposed his ears to cold weather. He didn't even wear a hat. I told him to put on his ear flap winter hat before leaving the hotel. He didn't listen to me and we had to get back to the hotel to take the hat and the ears cover.
That night, we only walked for a while. We had dinner in Peppes Pizza. The service was excellent, the staffs were nice and friendly and the food was yummi!!! ^_______________^
We got up at 7:00 AM. The sky was still dark. At 8:00 AM, we got downstairs to the hotel restaurant to have breakfast. The breakfast was included and it was excellent with everything from fruit, bread, pastries, yogurt, cereal, cheese and ham to eggs, bacon, beans, fried potatoes, salmon etc. We sat next to the big windows and from there we could look at the harbor area, the water, the Tromsø Bridge, the mountain and the Arctic Cathedral on the other side of the land.
We had a plan to get to the hill before dawn to take some picture of the early morning color and visit the Arctic Cathedral and Polaria at that day. Before leaving the hotel, we went to the reception and asked the staff where we could find a bus stop to get to the Arctic Cathedral. We were told that we could walk to the Arctic Cathedral instead of taking a bus. Learning that the place we wanted to visit is not far from the city center and everywhere are within walking distance, we were relaxed and happy to leave the hotel to start exploring Tromsø City.
Those are photos taken on the way to the hill. Do you see the last photograph on the right? It is a Chinese Restaurant – “Shanghai Wok”! I was surprised at the first moment I saw that. It seems that all around the world, there's got to be a Chinese takeout place or restaurant. :D
We then walked to the Tromsø Bridge expecting to visit the Arctic Cathedral on the other side. I was so exciting because I had never thought that I could walk across the bridge! The view provided from the top of the bridge was brilliant. The layering of the houses from the bottom to the top of the hill, the harbor and the pink and bluish color of the sky had created a sense of dreamlike state that one would feel like if it was inside a masterpiece of painting.
That is the Arctic Cathedral. It was built in 1965, designed to reflect the nature, culture and faith in the Arctic regions. It was said that the spires of the cathedral represent the 11 apostles left after the betrayal.
The outside temperature was so cold. I began to feel pain in my fingers, as well as to notice stiffness and numbness in my face. I was scared as the pain and stiffness were increasingly worsened. I did wear a pair of hand gloves but I took them off every time I use my camera. Thanks God that I had noticed a convenience store down the road. We got in the store and bought a hot drink to warm up my hands. It was a relief to me as I began feeling relief from my pain and stiffness.
After we finished the drink, we left the store and we noticed a place where we could have a broad view of the bridge and the other side. We walked down the pavement, crossed the road and came to a place where we took the following pictures.
After that, we followed the same route to the bridge and got back to the other side. Suddenly, I received a phone call from my mom. She asked me if we had enough cash to spend (last time when I had a conversation with her on the phone I told her about the incident we encountered at the first day we arrived at the airport in which there wasn’t any money exchange service, and finally we had to use credit card to withdraw money from the ATM). I told her that we were fine and the cash we had could make it through until the following day in which the banks will be opened.
We then walked to Polaria. It is an aquarium displays local marine life and the main attraction of the aquarium is the bearded seals. Moreover, the design of its architecture resembles a partly collapsed series of books, which is very creative and impressive. We spent nearly an hour and a half in the building. The things I most enjoyed to do in the aquarium were to watch the bearded seals swimming around in the pool and to watch film in the Panoramic Cinema.
The time we left Polaria was around around 3:30 PM, and the sky was almost totally dark. We had a plan, that night, to stay out late to see if we can view the Northern Lights. The time when the Northern Lights tend to appear in the sky above Tromsø in Winter (that year) is between 6:00 PM and 2:00 AM. So, we both decided to have dinner earlier, then we could be back to the hotel for some rest, and then go out again when the night falls.
On the way back to the main street Storgata we had found a Thai Restaurant and some takeout places. All of sudden I remembered that there was a Chinese Restaurant located near the Tromsø bridge, the “Shanghai Wok”.
We got in the restaurant. A female came to greeted us and took us to a table. I was wondering if she was the owner of the restaurant. She has got long straight blond hair with a pair of beautiful big eyes. (green or blue). She was wearing a grey color V-neck sweater and jeans. She lit up a candle on our table and brought us the menu. She gave off a really nice and friendly vibe.
We ordered a plate of fried rice, a fried chicken, two side orders of potatoes and two side orders of vegetables. It was a big meal to me and I ended up having a bulging stomach making me look so fat! >_>
We asked the lady how often people can view the Northern Lights, and we were told that the Northern Lights will usually occur in every three or four days but it really depends on the weather. She asked us how long we stayed in Tromsø. We stayed there for only a week. She said that that night may a have chance to see them as the sky appeared to be clear. She brought the newspaper to us and showed us the weather forecast. It showed that the weather would be fine on Sunday (that day) and Tuesday and we might have chance to view the Northern Lights on that night. She mentioned that we might need to stay out very late and they normally appear after ten or eleven o'clock, and it would be very cold.
We paid the bill and left the restaurant, satisfied. We walked back to the main street and went to the harbor to try to get some light houses and bridge pictures with the starry sky before going back to the hotel.
Those are experimental photos in which we jumped in the frame in the middle of a long exposure.
After that, we got back to the hotel around 6:00 PM to take some rest and then got outside again at 8:00 PM to wait for the Northern Lights. We went to the Main Square to wait for the Northern Lights. It was a nice place to stay for hours and it seemed to be a place with less street lights.
It was very cold outside. My fingers began to feel numb. I kept walking around and around the square to keep my feet from freezing, and Mr. K. kept doing exercise to keep warm.
Two hours later, a guy walked up to us and asked: “Are you guys waiting for the Northern Lights?” I replied him: “Yes, we are, and we’ve been waiting here for more than two hours...” Then he continued: “…You have to stay away from the city because the street lights are too bright here. If they are weak you can’t see them here. You can go straight (he pointed at Polaria direction) and within 10 minutes of walking distance you’ll come to a place where there are less street lights.”
We listened to him and followed the direction he gave us. After a couple of minutes of walking, I felt hungry and very cold. I wanted to get in some place for a hot drink. The street was very quiet and most of the cafes and restaurants were closed. We found a Pizza Bar somewhere near Fredik Langes gate and Kalgata. We got in and ordered two cups of coffee. I looked at the clock and it was about 11 o’clock. I asked the female staff about what time they will close. They close at midnight. I found the staff not to be friendly and I felt being ignored. It made us want to leave as soon as we finish our drinks.
We left the Pizza Bar around 11:15 PM, then, we continued to walk and follow the direction that the guy told us to. We came to a place where there is a statue (the Statue of Roald Amundsen). Here looked darker than the Main Square. It was very windy. We stood at the bus stop "Prostneset" and wait.
After a while, we walked to the statue and stood there. Mr. K. kept doing exercise to keep warm and I kept looking up into the sky. All of a sudden, I saw a shade of white color in a curve shape similar to a rainbow above my head. I was thinking to myself: “What’s that?” I asked Mr. K. if they were clouds. Mr. K. looked up and said astonishingly: “不是呵！是北極光呵！嘩！你睇下！” He said they were the Northern Lights! I forgot what I’ve said at that moment. I was very happy. Both of us were really happy. We hugged each other, shed tears and laughed at the same time. All the effort we put into this trip were rewarded. We had been planning this trip for a year and we made every effort to maximize the chance to view this amazing phenomenon, and finally, we saw them with our own eyes!
That moment was absolutely magical and no words can really describe it in all its magnificence. We almost forgot all about the coldness. We set up the tripod and set the camera to manual mode with aperture f3.5 or f4 and shutter speed 30 seconds.
Initially, they moved very slowly across the sky. They were mostly green. Some moment pale green and some moment bright green. Then they suddenly snapped at one end and moved like spirits dancing in the sky. We were amazed by the wonder of seeing them dancing across the sky. The display was spectacular and it lasted about two hours. (from around 11:40 PM till 01:45 AM)
While I was taking pictures at the auroras, Mr. K. noticed a comet or a meteor moving slowly in the sky behind my back. I turned around and saw it! It moved very slowly and we had time to capture it in the picture.
Moments later, the auroras above my head suddenly became drastic. They waved very quickly like a curtain. They were green, red and pink and they were very bright. Their motion varied dramatically. I guessed that was the maximum activity at that night. It was a pity that we did not have the time to capture this magnificent moment because it only lasted for seconds ...
When we were back to the hotel I felt a terrible pain in my both legs from my waist to my toes. The coldness was killing me. >_> I was very tired and it took me several hours to fall asleep. That night I only slept for only one hour then have to wake up.
We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. After that we went to SpareBank to exchange money. There were many people in the bank. While I was standing in front of the ticket machine thinking of which ticket I need (there were two types of tickets but all written in Norwegian and I could not understand), a woman walked up to me and helped us shorten the waiting time. She gave me a ticket with the number 401. Then she took another ticket from the machine and walked away.
After that, we walked around Storgata to look for a new pair of warm hand gloves for me to use in the rest of the trip because the hand gloves I had did not keep my fingers warm.
We found a shop named G-Sport then got inside. The sales staff was very friendly and helpful. He asked me to show him my hand gloves. He checked the label and he said it was strange that the pair of hand gloves I had did not keep my hands warm. Finally, I got a pair of mittens that he had recommended.
At 6:30 PM we met Mr. Kjetil Skogli at Radisson SAS to join the Northern Lights Tour. The tour was booked in advanced. We travelled in a group of 8 people, including Mr. Kjetil, and the other people on the tour were a couple, two ladies and a young girl.
That night Mr. Kjetil drove us to three different locations, but unfortunately, none of the locations can view the Northern Lights. I was disappointed, of course. I expected to see them. I saw them at the night before that night so I thought it was natural to see them again at the following night. I wondered if others who joined other groups saw the lights at that night.
After nearly 7 hours of waiting from one place to another, Mr. Kjetil drove us back to the city around 2:00 AM. Although I did not see the auroras at that night but the experience itself was memorable. The waiting, hoping, freezing like a fridge, the people and the stars I saw in the sky were all special to me.
Anyway, Mr. Kjetil was a nice guide and I would still recommend his tour to anyone who is going to visit Tromsø for chasing the Northern Lights. However, I would also recommend to join more other tours and to stay out late every night to get the maximum chance to view the magnificent display of the auroras.
That day we didn’t have any solid plans for the trip. We wandered around the town, visited the gift shops and shopping centers. Since everything is expensive in Norway, I only bought very limited number of souvenirs. I bought some postcards and prints to my friends and a glass candle holder to my mom and dad.
After that, we went to look for the Tourist Information Center, hoping to get some informations about the places where we could take some beautiful landscape pictures.
On the way to the Tourist Information Center, we met an old man. He told us sixty years ago he was a soldier and the Germans battleship had arrived the harbor and had killed many people, including one of his friend. It was a sad story and I felt so sorry to hear that. He said he comes to the harbor almost every day in the morning to commemorate his old friend. The candle you see on the photo on the right was placed by the old man.
We went inside the Tourist Information Center and looked for places that we could take some pictures of natural scenery. The attendant was very friendly, nice and helpful. He showed us two places on the map where they have beautiful views of natural settings and both of them are easily access by bus. One is Oldervik and another one is Larseng. Besides that, he also told us a site where we could take a panoramic view of the city. He was not only nice and helpful but also very thoughtful. He provided excellent service to every traveler with every detail taken care of, which I was very impressed and I would love to say thank you to him for being so nice and helpful and for making our trip memorable.
We hop on bus number 450, and within an hour we arrived at Oldervik. It is a small fishing village with beautiful natural surroundings.
We took some pictures of the natural beauty of the area, then right away followed Mr. bus driver to get back to Tromsø by the same bus that had brought us there.
Back to Tromsø. We had dinner. Then, at around 8 P.M. we spotted the Northern Lights above the sky while we were walking around the city square. That was awesome! We had chance to see them again! We chased them from the city center to the old dock. Then, we walked across the bridge hoping that we could find a darker place to take some great shots.
It was a great night. I love it!
That day we took a bus and went to Larseng and Hella.
We walked around after got off the bus.
It seemed that we got lost. Not sure where was the village and the place we were looking for. After walking for more than half an hour, a woman drove near to us and pulled over her car. She asked us where we wanted to go. I showed her the map and told her we were going to Hella. She said it was extremely cold out there and it wasn't good to stay outside for long hours. She offered us to get in the car and she drove us to our destination. She was so nice and it was so great to have met her! Before leaving her car, she gave us her contact number in case we get in trouble.
I've never seen such a magnificent scenery in my life! >_> It's really freaking awesome and breathtaking!!!!!
We spent there taking pictures for about 2 hours. After that we walked back to the bus station and wait for the bus to get back to Tromsø.
Do you know who we met at the bus station? ^__________^ I just couldn't believe that. We met that girl/lady who was working at the Restaurant Shanghai where we had dinner on Sunday night. What a small world!!!!! I regret that I didn't take a picture with her!!! Awwwwwww >_>
When we were waiting for the bus she told me about a story of how the children were being taken by the Northern Lights. . .
We had spent the final two days of the trip in window shopping, shopping, eating, taking photos everywhere and everything we saw along the way, staying out lately at night hoping to have one more chance to see the Norhtern Lights, going up to the hill again to look for a spot where we could see a panoramic view of the whole city (i wish the cable car was available as well in Winter, but it was not!).
Well, my story of "The Dance Of The Spirits" - The Magical Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights) in Tromsø, an eleven days of journey to the Arctic Region ends here. Thanks for reading my journal and I wish you could see the Northern Lights in person in your trip to Tromsø or in anywhere on earth where you expect to see it!
To view more photos of the trip, please visit my photo set on Flickr:
1. Northern Lights: http://wikitravel.org/en/Northern_Lights
2. Aurora Forecast: http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/
3. Aurora Hunter in Norway: http://foto.kskogli.no/