Category Archives: Norway

The Best Holiday Ever

Yes, I know. Not everyone would be thrilled to be going overseas with only 2 days’ notice. But I was. Spending almost 3 weeks in sub-zero temperatures, not seeing the sun for 2 weeks, camping in a tent in the snow, sleeping in the car and even the prospect of travelling so far to see a natural phenomenon without any guarantee of success would not be everyone’s idea of the perfect holiday. Gee, we could have just stayed home and enjoyed (or endured!) a long stretch of 40+C days instead. But I’m so glad we went, and not just because we missed Adelaide’s heat wave.

It was wonderful to revisit places we had seen 6 months ago, in mid-summer. At the time, we wondered what it would be like there in winter …. and now we know. Once we got used to colder weather than either of us had ever experienced, and worked out what to wear, the cold didn’t bother us much. Okay, so I wasn’t brave enough to get out of the warm car when it was -36C, but getting out and about in slightly warmer but still sub-zero temperatures, and even sitting watching for aurora was fine as long as we wore enough clothes. The Norwegians are right – ‘there’s no such thing as cold weather, only inappropriate clothing’.

I had always thought that winter inside the Arctic Circle meant existing in complete darkness, and was very happy to learn and experience that it’s not so. During ‘polar night’, which is the opposite of ‘midnight sun’, it does get light even though the sun doesn’t shine above the horizon. The light is weak, like pre-dawn light here, and it only lasts a few hours. For the first few days, we were looking for dinner at 4pm … well, it had been fully dark for HOURS by then, feeling tired at 5pm and sleeping in until it was light … at around 10am. We never really did wake up early unless we used an alarm, but then we don’t at home either.

We did see the Northern Lights … 3 times. The first 2 nights we were inside the Arctic Circle (the night we slept in the car, and the next night when we camped in the tent), they were there. Not spectacular displays, and if we had realised how elusive they really are, we would have paid more attention and spent more time outside watching them. But because they were just there almost as soon as we arrived to watch them, we figured they would be there all the time and we could see them whenever we looked up at the sky. So, so not true. The third time we saw them was the first night we stayed in the cabin at Birtavarre, but they were mostly hidden by cloud. We could see them through the cloud, but wasn’t a good show.

There are 2 enduring images that I’ll carry with me as memories of our trip, and neither were photographed. The first is the one Greg mentioned, of the couple walking their baby in a pram when it was -36C. The other is of a mother pushing a child on a swing in a playground in Kiruna. It was 4.30pm, -5C and pitch black outside. And it reminded me that wherever we are in the world, kids are kids.

As always, thanks to everyone who has read, commented and sent messages – while we really write and share our photos for our own amusement and to keep a record of our travels, it’s great to know that we entertain other people as well.

Just a few last words … for Greg. Thank you. For planning and organising our amazing holiday; for buying the equipment, warm clothes and other essentials; for doing all the driving, including that long, difficult snowy drive back to Stockholm; and most of all, thank you for your adventurous spirit and for taking me along with you!

South to Stockholm

It was a long cold 1500km drive south from Birtavarre Norway to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. We spent another fruitless night looking for Aurora. It was a clear night with the temperature dropping to -18C, but no sign anywhere of Aurora.

We left Birtavarre at 5:00am, and within a couple of hours we were back in Finland, refuelling the car with cheaper Finish Diesel (about $A2 a litre) rather than expensive Norwegian Diesel ($A3 per litre). When we refuelled it was -24C  and we worked our way through northern Finland for about 100km with the temperature dropping even lower. The temperature finally dropped to -36C with the cars clutch starting to play up getting heavier to use. We thought it might be the cluch fluid freezing , but it turns out clutch fluid does not freeze until -59C, so something else caused the clutch to play up when it was very very cold.

We crossed south into Sweden with the temperature still hovering around the -36C level. We drove through a town where a couple were taking their baby out for a walk in a pram, and it was still -36C.

We finally had the sun rise over the horizon in northern Sweden, unfortunately we drove straight into the low sun for a couple of hours.  By the time it got dark at about 2pm we had covered 500km, but we still had a 1000km to go. Once we got to Lulea the road got wider with more overtaking lanes. Around about 600km from Stockholm it started snowing again and you have difficulties overtaking the trucks on the overtaking lanes. The trucks kick up light snow that billows around like dust on an Australian dirt road when you follow them. When you overtake the outside lane has a lot more snow sitting on the road because not as many cars use the outside lane. So you pass on the outside lane driving through layers of snow trying to peer through the snow being thrown up by the truck you are passing. Very difficult.

We stopped at a parking bay about 11pm and slept in the back of the car, waking again at 5am to do the last 350km to Stockholm. We refuelled the car at a Service Station about 40km from Arlanda Airport with only 2 hours before our flight left. We asked the service station attendant if he could take some our of discarded camping equipment, and he kindly volunteered to take it to a local charity. With a very fast and rough repack, and a very superficial clean of the car (it was still caked with ice on the rear) we rushed  to Avis to return the car. Hopped on the bus from Avis to Terminal 5, checked in, did the usual long wait in security, changed out of our thermals, and by the time we made the gate, they had started to board the plane.

-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
-36C. The cars clutch started being very heavy and we did not dare turn the car off.
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the wamer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Dawn and -36C. Judy staying in the warmer car (which still had ice on the inside of the windows however)
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun
Trees covered in snow in the pink light of the low morning sun









Birtavarre, Norway

After chatting with Christian, our campground host, about how best to see aurora, we put in a concerted effort last night. It was cloudy, but there were patches of sky visible most of the time, and we hoped that the cloud might just clear away. It didn’t, but we drove 8kms out of the village to the end of the (cleared) road to see if it was any better there. It wasn’t, but along the way we noticed that most of the houses had lights on inside – when we drove along here in summer, we had assumed that most of the houses were just holiday places, but apparently not. The Scandinavians have a lovely tradition of putting a small light or a standard lamp in every window. Around Christmas and New Year, there were a lot of decorative lights,  nearly all of those have gone now, but there are still lights in a lot of windows. And indoor plants too.

We set the alarm to wake up every 2 hours overnight to check the sky and make sure we weren’t missing anything. At 5am, we both saw Lights behind the clouds, but the cloud was too thick to give us a decent show. We gave up after that and slept in until dawn … at 9am.

Greg walked around the campground this morning, taking some of the photos that are in the previous post. There are moose/s around here. I saw one last night and Christian showed us bare patches on trees around the cabin where they had stripped the bark off to eat. There are footprints around the cabin, and I’m being careful when I go outside in the dark – I don’t really want to meet a moose up close. We donned several layers of thermals and other clothes and walked into the village, which has 2 ‘supermarkets’, a car mechanic, a pretty church and probably a few other shops that open when there are more tourists around. The mobile library bus was at one of the supermarkets when we were there.

January is the worst month, according to Christian.Long, dark, too cold to snow and not enough snow to make things interesting. December is good because of Christmas, and February is good because the days are longer and the snow sports people start arriving to do their snow thing.

Tonight, the sky is completely clear and we’re hopeful. It’s our last night here, tomorrow (Tuesday) we have to do the 1600km drive back to Stockholm, which will mean a very long day’s driving, a stop somewhere along the way for some sleep and an early start on Wednesday to get the rest of the way before midday. And then we fly to Dubai for a couple of days to thaw out before heading home on Friday night.

Trees with the bark stripped and eaten by moose
Greg sitting out in the snow watching for aurora

[mappress mapid=”8″]

Mad Dogs and Fishermen

…. go out in the winter dark. Apologies to any fishermen reading (*waves to Ian Banks and Mark Nash*), but really they must be some of the craziest, most dedicated people alive.  We have seen them ice fishing on frozen lakes where they have to use big ice drills to cut a hole in the ice in order to fish, and today as we were driving out of Tromso, there they were standing on the bank of the fjord with the temperature hovering around -15C. I can’t even imagine how they managed to stand still for more than a couple of minutes, let alone put tiny pieces of bait on a hook when it’s that cold. I do admire their dedication though.

So we spent a couple of nights in Tromso, but had no luck finding any Lights. The first night, we drove across to Kvaloya Island and found a dark spot with views across the fjord, but didn’t see anything. Last night we didn’t even bother going out looking …. and of course there were some Lights where we’d looked the night before, but only for 30 minutes or so, so even if we had gone back out, we might have missed them. It can be a very frustrating pursuit, trying to find these darned Lights.

We liked being back in Tromso, especially as we didn’t get a parking ticket this time. But parking in a parking station for a couple of days cost nearly $40. Cheap hotels don’t have parking, and the least expensive hotel that did have parking was an extra $100 per night, so using a parking station was the best option for us. We wandered around the city centre yesterday morning, browsing in an electrical store and a sports store that had a winter sale. We don’t need anything, but it was interesting to see just how many different kinds of thermals they sold. Merino thermals were around $40, which seems cheap compared with Australian prices, but we already have 3 sets each and I’ve been really happy with the polyamide ones we got at the Columbia sale just before we left. Much more comfortable than the polypropylene ones I’ve had for …. almost ever.

The Tromso library is a magnificent new building that has great views over the fjord and looks across the water to the beautiful Arctic Cathedral. The Library is 4 or 5 storeys with a glass front to take advantage of the view and the light. As always when I’m visiting a library in a foreign country, I headed to the English language section and looked to see how many Tim Winton books they had …. only one, Dirt Music, but I was happy to see that.  The library is open every day and has lots of spaces for sitting, reading, using computers , accessing newspapers and magazines and, of course, borrowing books. It’s right next door to the local cinema.

We fly to Dubai on Wednesday, so we have a couple of days left before we have to take the rental car back and catch a plane. We’re spending them in a tiny cabin at Birtavarre (you can see some photos here), which is at the end of a fjord 170kms east of Tromso (much less as the crow flies …. those pesky fjords!), and about 80kms north of the Finnish border. We drove through here on our way to Nordkapp, but don’t really remember it as it was just another tiny village on the edge of yet another fjord.  We’re the only ones in the campground and it’s the usual Norwegian cabin set up – a couple of single beds, small table, 2 chairs, electric hotplate and this one also has a fridge which is a bonus, although we don’t really need it as we have our own, and it’s still -15C outside. There is a huge mountain right behind us, and one of my first thoughts when I saw it was ‘oh, I guess they don’t have avalanches here’. There’s not much snow on the mountain at the moment anyway. Our host, Christian, is a very helpful man who speaks excellent English and has told us quite a lot about the Lights and where to find them around here. He was born on the property when it was a farm, and has spent most of his life here, apart from a few years in Oslo. He and his family also own a house in Italy and they spend time there as well. He still farms some of the land, but the campground and cabins have taken over from farming as his main occupation.

It’s currently cloudy outside, but we’re hopeful ….

Frozen Waterfalls
Frozen Waterfalls
Fjord south of Tromso
Fjord south of Tromso


The narrow ends of the Fjords have started to freeze over
The narrow ends of the Fjords have started to freeze over
The sun never made it over the horizon, but its starting to get dark at 1pm
The sun never made it over the horizon, but its starting to get dark at 1pm


Birtavarre Campground, our cabin is behind our white car, we are the only guests
Birtavarre Campground, our cabin is behind our white car, we are the only guests
The sunrise that is south of us showing up on above the mountains of the fjord at Birtavarre
The sunrise that is south of us showing up on above the mountains of the fjord at Birtavarre
River behind the campground at birtavarre
River behind the campground at birtavarre
Sleds for sale at the local Coop supermarket
Sleds for sale at the local Coop supermarket





Tromso, Norway

How disappointing! After watching all the websites for information about the solar flare and CME, with all their predictions for some great Lights last night, we stayed up late watching the clear sky for any activity and  … nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a sausage.  I went to bed at 10.30pm and Greg crawled in at 2am mumbling something about Tromso in Norway having some great Lights and that we should go there. Okay then, let’s go.

So we did. We drove north and then west for 350 kms to Tromso, and our longer-term readers may recall that we got a very expensive parking ticket here 6 months ago. We’re reading the parking meters extra-carefully now to try and avoid making THAT mistake again.

As we drove, the temperature dropped lower, and lower and lower. We started the day with the thermometer on our cottage porch showing -18C, and at some stage early this afternoon, the car thermometer showed the outside temperature as -29C. It all just feels bloody cold to me, but I think the difference is how long you can stand to be outside ….. and at -29, that’s not very long at all!

We saw the sun, briefly, for the first time in 2 weeks! Just a little tiny bit of it sat right on the horizon. It looked like it was setting the whole time, it was that red ‘sunset’ colour, but it was really just skimming along the horizon from east to west for an hour or so before it disappeared at around 1.30. The sky was a clear, pale blue, with a pink tinge at the horizon for the few hours of daylight.

Tromso is such a pretty town. It spreads along both sides of a fjord and all the lights looked lovely as we drove along and over the  bridge to the town centre. We’re staying at a ‘cheap’ hotel for a couple of nights. Cheap by local standards, but still over $110 per night, which is expensive to us. There’s very little snow here compared with the other places we’ve visited inside the Arctic Circle, but there’s enough slippery ice on the roads and footpaths to make walking a potentially hazardous experience. We’ll have to go out of town to do some aurora-watching, to get away from all the lights.

Greg snuck into a supermarket when he was ‘getting someting from the car’ this evening and found his beloved lefse. I’ve just eaten some and it reminded me that I didn’t really like it much …. so it’s all his, and he’s delighted about that. Any spare Norwegian kroner at the end of our stay here will be spent on lefse, I’m sure. Here’s the Wikipedia article on lefse. Greg likes a commercially-made variety that is filled with butter (I think) sugar and cinnamon.

The coldest it got on our trip north, -29C. We thought it was cold in the morning when it was -18C
Snow mobiles at the supermarket
Scraping ice off the inside of the windscreen. This was not just after we started but after an hour of driving with the heater running.
Actic Sunrise, about 11 am. The sun just peaks over the horizon and then and hour or so later drops back. The first sun we had seen in a couple of weeks
Actic Sunrise, about 11 am. The sun just peaks over the horizon and then and hour or so later drops back. The first sun we had seen in a couple of weeks
Hard to see in this photo, but there was a "Light Pillar" a beam of light extending vertically from the sun caused by ice crystals ib the air
Hard to see in this photo, but there was a “Light Pillar” a beam of light extending vertically from the sun caused by ice crystals ib the air


Lunch spot at the Servo. It was -24C so we ate lunch in the car with the engine and heater running the whole time
Lunch spot at the Servo. It was -24C so we ate lunch in the car with the engine and heater running the whole time
Tromso Library
Tromso Library


Arctic Beer - $A30 for a 8-pack, at the Supermarket!
The most expensive beer in the world. Norways Arctic Beer – $A30 for a 8-pack, at the Supermarket!
Tromso Wharf
Tromso Wharf with the bridge in the background
Tromso shopping, don't slip on the ice
Tromso shopping, don’t slip on the ice
Lunch in Tromso - Club Sandwich $A31, Chicken Bacon Baquette $A18
Lunch in Tromso – Club Sandwich $A31, Chicken Bacon Baquette $A18


[mappress mapid=”7″]

A day trip to Narvik in Norway

We spent most of yesterday in the apartment in Katterjokk, doing exciting stuff like washing clothes, catching up on what’s happening on the interwebz and cooking a delicious dinner of pulled pork and vegetables. We tried to buy more pulled pork at the supermarket today but they have sold out. Now we’ll be looking for it every time we go into a Swedish supermarket. We ventured out last night to do some aurora-watching, but even though it was a very clear (and cold, down to -7C!) night, there wasn’t much solar activity and the aurora weren’t all that exciting.

So today we were ready to do some exploring and decided to drive to Narvik, which is 45kms away. It still amuses me that we can do a day trip to another country, which probably just means I’m easily amused. As soon as we got across into Norway, the countryside changed – it became more mountainous, and where this part of Sweden is mostly unpopulated outside the towns and villages, in Norway there are houses, huts and holiday cottages dotted all over the place. The sky was full of pink clouds that look like sunrise/sunset clouds, even though it was 11am and at the moment the sun doesn’t rise or set at all. I did find out that the sun will rise in Narvik on Tuesday for the first time in a month … and then it will set 30 minutes later. We’ll be watching for it  on Tuesday, but I’m not sure when it actually rises here. We’ll let you know.

We drove to Narvik and on the way I remembered that Greg had really enjoyed Lefse, a Norwegian pastry, when we were here 6 months ago, so we made it our mission to find some for him. Except that all the shops are closed on a Sunday and we had both completely forgotten that. So we walked around the city centre for a few blocks, trying to walk on grit and not to slip on the icy footpaths. It’s warmer in Narvik than in Katterjokk, and not as snowy, probably because it’s located on a huge fjord which gets warm(ish) water from the Gulf Stream. As we walked, it started getting dark and we loved looking at all the houses and lights perched along the sides of the fjord. Very pretty. There is a ski slope just above the town and we saw people skiing, but the real ski season doesn’t start for another month or so when there is more snow. The checkout operator at the little supermarket here told us that it can get down to -40C, and Greg has just read that the snow around here can last from late September to May!

We drove back to the apartment with the 63 Norwegian kronor ($12) in coins that I had brought from Australia, so I guess we can regard it as possibly the cheapest trip to Norway ever! We’re planning the next part of our trip, and the choices were to go to Norway or Finland. Just those few hours in Narvik reminded us of how expensive Norway is …so we’re heading east to Finland. We want to stay inside the Arctic Circle, in the hope of seeing more Lights, and have booked a cottage just across the border for a few nights.

Dawn at 11am – except we will not actually  see the sun rise over the horizon for a few more days. We last saw the sun a week ago.
Going for a drive is a twenty minute operation. Get the car started run it for 15 minutes in the -7C temperature then scrape the rest of the ice of the windscreen, so you actually see out of the car.
The studded winter tyres that came with the hire car. The metal spikes improve the grip on the icy roads
Main street in Narvik. Carefully walking down the very icy footpaths. Many of the locals were wearing spikes that fit over their shoes and give them better grip in the ice.
Reminding ourselves how expensive Norway is.The large pizza at the top equates to $40 Australian Dollars for just one Pizza.

[mappress mapid=”5″]

Christmas drinks Glogg which is alcoholic and drunk warm, and Julmust which is non-alcoholic and drunk at Christmas and Easter
Christmas drinks in Sweden- Glogg which is alcoholic and drunk warm, and Julmust which is non-alcoholic and drunk at Christmas and Easter