Norway Travel Junkie Diary of

Aimee Raad

Sunday, January 11, 2015
Aimee RaadLike0

I run the Abu Dhabi-based family business by day, and I am a delicacies enthusiast and a freak travel planner by night! Though my advertising background, I currently work in the oil & gas industry, which is serious and boring. So my after-hours are all about researching new restaurants, new bars, and festivals in the world, and continuously planning perfect escapes. So when freak and perfect meet, the result is, indulging in exploring every part of the city/island I travel to!

Here is my diary…

Destination Tromso, Norway

I would say Italy (I’ve been a regular for the past 3 years as my partner lives in Milan – so we always have little Italian getaways) but recently, and unexpectedly, I fell in love with a “subzero” destination – Tromso, Norway.

For who is not familiar with the place (which is quite normal), Tromso is an island in the far north of Norway, considered the capital of the Arctic, and located around 2000km only from the North Pole.

This holiday, we decided to do a little adventure before we meet our friends in Berlin for the New Year’s celebrations and I like the holiday season to be in a winter-ish place – So we picked our getaway and voila! Three nights of snow, wilderness and mesmerization

Stayed at Hotel Clarion the Edge

The Hotel is simply perfect! It is the latest addition to Tromso hotels. The property overlooks the Harbour area, the Arctic cathedral, and the mountains so the scenery from the rooms is unbelievable. The rooms are well designed, warm and comfortable.

It feels like the city’s hot-spot with a great sky-bar, and a fine-dining restaurant by a famous Swedish/New Yorker chef Marcus Samuelsson

The hotel breakfast is incredibly delicious – I would say one of the best breakfast buffet I’ve been to, with a Nordic chef cooking fresh omelets, pancakes, a great selection of cheese and meat, and if you like salmon (like I do) then you are in for a treat!

Month December

In My Suitcase Thermal, thermal & thermal!

Uniqlo heat-tech met the purpose 100%.

The key is not to wear thick items to stay warm, but to layer: thermal + fleece + wool + windproof/insulated jacket and trouser (ours were Canada Goose, North face and Monclear and the top trouser was our ski trouser.

You will definitely need a full-face cover beanie, hat, earmuffs, scarf and gloves! All from wool and thermal, even socks should be thermal – avoid cotton and jeans.

For the shoes, we were wearing après-ski boots.

It is important to stay warm to enjoy the outdoors at best! And if you feel you need some extra layers, a lot of shops sell and rent-out winter clothes!

Diary Our itinerary was condensed with activities for 3days/3nights – just to clarify I don’t like physically challenged holidays, I prefer nice restaurants, lounges, parties, art galleries and traditional sightseeing, but this trip was a WOW!

When we landed, I didn’t believe where we were. I literally had the OH MY GOD expression over and over realizing that I am actually in the Arctic circle, walking through an Arctic storm (which happens most of the nights), snow resting on your jacket and nose, with a -20°C only! after a 12-hour flight with layovers, I expected to be tired but looking at the wonderland around me made me an energizer bunny again.

Before travelling, I communicated with an agency and pre-booked all our activities, especially that it was high season – so always book in advance at least 3 activities, because once you reach, you wouldn’t want to miss any excursion:

Dog-sledding safari: Once at the farm, we played with a bunch of barking huskies that are ready for action (but still very friendly – apparently the dogs are super excited to drive the sled, so once we started they immediately stopped barking) We got instructions on how to drive a dog sledding. Then we started driving into the white landscapes for approximately an hour. The area is totally uninhabited, with mountains, forests, and a river.

Snowmobile safari: The trail was about 1 hour drive each way. Our guide brought us up to 900m.

We drove into uninhabited wilderness and the top point of the trail was a frozen lake, located at the bottom of a mountain, where we stopped to rest.

As we booked the evening excursion, that night was our luckiest, and the stars put on their glittering belts! Yes, the northern lights appeared moving with their green dress just like you’re closing a silk curtain! I can never express what it feels to see such phenomenon above us in the middle of nowhere. The snow, the skidoos, the moonlight and the extraordinary nature! I even got goosebumps while watching them (under 4 layers of clothes and a jacket) – it lasted only 10-15minutes but what a show!

Whales safari: Unforgettable tour! We traveled into the open ocean with a luxurious catamaran, the Arctic Princess (it is my recommendation and Kurt, the owner/skipper, is an amazing host), searching for whales and sea eagles. We learned that humpbacks and orcas come close to the coastline to feed during the winter season, so our chances were good. Though the Arctic storm that day, we started our route and after approximately 2 hours sailing with a magical mountains and fjords backdrop, we spotted two whales around 35 tons each! Then another one and another one! We were like kids in front of a chocolate fountain! On our way back, we were fishing for our lunch and we were able to catch a cod! Kurt prepared the fish and we ate it with a soup his wife prepared earlier.

Northern lights safari: we were driving between different base Stations located in different areas. All had warm shelters (a traditional lavvu tent), toilet facilities, campfires and benches outside.

On each station there was a local host with lots of stories about the local culture and history to tell us! This was our third night, not lucky enough to catch the northern lights, as the Arctic storm was increasing and the sky was full of clouds. We reached the last base by the Finish borders, but nothing appeared!

If you have additional time, you should definitely book the reindeer sledding! Some hotel guests were telling us it was extremely fun!

During all activities, special clothes/shoes/mittens were offered to wear on top of ours; as well, at the end of each trip we were served reindeer meat and vegetables soup in a traditional lavvu tent!

Most of the activities’ camps are about 1.5-2 hours away from the city center.

Dined in Our trip was activities focused, but we were able to try a hot-spot restaurant on our first night: Emma’s Dream kitchen. We were recommended the 5-course menu and we did not regret that at all. The restaurant offers a gourmet Nordic menu focused on local produce with both fresh fish and meat. It is very small so I definitely recommend an advanced booking.

The food in Tromso is all about fresh fish and meat (mostly cod, salmon and reindeer meat). I noticed they cook with a lot of butter while keeping the grease – don’t freak out it’s only to help us stay warm but after a hectic day, we were burning these extra calories!

One more thing, their coffee is one of the best coffees you can have! Everywhere. Really.

Shopped We weren’t there to shop (surprisingly) but we did hit the souvenir shops. However, what I can say from window shopping while wandering the city center on our first day, there are lots of fur and leather shops, and design shops, selling everything from traditional handicrafts to modern pan Scandinavian jewelry and housewares.

Tips 

Yes it is very cold, but if you’re warm enough it is manageable! I was worried I will not enjoy the activities or even walk around the city because of the -15/-20°C especially that I live in Abu Dhabi, but layers, layers, layers and the perfect combination of layers helped a lot!

So just embrace the cold and wilderness and have fun!

The Length of your stay is a key factor as the more nights you stay, the higher your chance to see the northern lights! We only stayed 3 nights but were lucky enough to see such phenomenon (though the aurea borealis is active from September until March but even the guides cannot forecast their appearance – except 1-2 hours before the night)

Samis are the native people of Northern Norway and you will meet them during the excursions into wilderness, as they are responsible (their role is) to provide food and take care of us. Even if you are not a meat lover (like me), it’s definitely worth it to try their dishes and sweets!

Unexpectedly, you will encounter a lot of Spanish, Italians and English guides who left their countries to live in the sub-zeros.

How to get there

We were in Beirut for Christmas so we left to Oslo with Turkish Airlines, then from Oslo to Tromso a 2-hour flight with Norwegian Airlines – Oslo airport is big and entertaining so, you shouldn’t worry if your layover is 2-3 hours.

From UAE, Emirates and Norwegian airlines have direct flights to Oslo.

Remember, when booking such adventure you should go for the entire experience, not only for the northern lights hunt, as no one can guarantee you will see them! Luck is the key.

Yes, people would say Beirut, Switzerland and Austria have snow and you can enjoy winter activities, but there is something with the Arctic air that keeps you mesmerized – I am not a nature friendly and I usually don’t like outdoors activities but the activities we did.

The wilderness we saw, and the luck we had to watch the northern lights put me under the spell!

Can’t wait to go during the summer to enjoy the sunny side of the Arctic.

Dog sledding excursion
Dog sledding excursion
City Center in the afternoon
City Center in the afternoon
Arctic storm before the Whales Safari
Arctic storm before the Whales Safari
Harbour in front of our hotel
Harbour in front of our hotel
Freeze
Freeze
Catching Cod
Catching Cod
Huskies Dogs
Huskies Dogs
SAMSUNG CSC
Northern Lights
Night drive
Night drive
Leaving Tromso
Leaving Tromso
Our morning Chef
Our morning Chef
Out and About in the snow
Out and About in the snow

 

Whales Safari
Whales Safari
Snowmobile excursion
Snowmobile excursion
Reindeer steak at Emma's
Reindeer steak at Emma’s
Yes the tail!
Yes the tail!
With our sami friend
With our sami friend


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