Chasing the Northern Lights – Part I – Guestpost

There is a benefit of having a bunch of well travelled friends. You can badger them with requests for guest posts. This post is a result of my badgering a well-travelled, well-so-on-and-so-forth friend who is currently based in the cold corners of London. Sownak (whose travel journal can be accessed here http://doesnotxsist.blogspot.in/) When you can’t be everywhere, you have friends who can write a guest post for you. This is a two-part post about Sownak’s experiences visiting the Northern Lights. Do read and leave a comment.

The day I landed in Oslo, I made a promise to myself, that I will see the Aurora Borealis popularly known as the Northern Lights, whatever it might cost to me. And when I boarded the early morning flight to Tromsø, I was happy that I was about to fulfill my promise.

Tromsø is situated in northern Norway, very much inside the Arctic Circle, which makes it a popular destination to catch the Lights. Due to its location near the sea as well as the presence of the Gulf Stream, it is warmer than other places on the same latitude, and is hence more popular. The best time to catch the Lights is between October and March, as during these times, the nights are completely dark. December to February is more suited due to clearer skies.

The flight from Oslo landed in Tromsø at about 10 am. It was like twilight outside and it was going to stay so till about 3 pm, and then it would get darker. I was booked via airbnb and my host was kind enough to pick me up from the airport. After a quick freshening up, I was dressed in 5 layers again, and was ready to brave the nearing zero temperatures.

The aurora forecast was good (check http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/ ), but the weather seemed to be a little gloomy. I was booked for the Aurora tour at about 6 pm, and I had a lot of time to kill till then. There are a few interesting places to visit in the town.

The temperature was nearing zero which means there was lot of ice on the roads, and since this is no city, no one bothered to clear the road of the ice. Even with my big snow boots lined with 200g thinsulate insulation, I was feeling the chill and I had to take care not to step on the ice. It was almost like walking in a mud-ridden street in India, where the only difference was that I was trying to avoid the ice patches instead of the muddy patches. It was time for some hot Gløgg – a warm, spicy drink similar to German Glühwein.

The architecture in Tromsø is quite interesting, from the Arctic Cathedral, to the Public Library, it was evident that the architects tried to break the gloominess of the winter through their creations. And in my opinion, they did not fail.

Tromso City at night
Tromso City at night

Soon it was time for chasing the Aurora. We boarded the mini-van, and our guide took us to a really dark part of the Island. The only light was the light from our cameras and the moon. The best location to view the Lights was from some place which is really dark, so as to reduce the possible light pollution. We waited at the location, partly illuminated by passing cars, but the Aurora was playing hide and seek. The skies were not clear either, and as soon as we got a faint view of the Lights, the sky was covered by clouds.

Star Gazing
Star Gazing
Waiting at the Beach
Waiting at the Beach
Road less travelled
Road less travelled

We moved around to a different place, on some kind of beach. We had to be careful about the slippery ice, and our second phase of wait started there. It wasn’t too bad to wait in a place far from civilization, sitting under the skies, on a beach illuminated by the moon, and sipping a cup of hot chocolate. The faint Lights were visible again, and some of us caught it on camera, but it was not very satisfying.

Moonlight
Moonlight
Sownak in front of the Arctic cathedral
Sownak in front of the Arctic cathedral
Faint View of the Aurora
Faint View of the Aurora
Arctic Cathedral at night
Arctic Cathedral at night

By 12 am we all were cold enough and accepted that catching the Aurora needs a lot of luck. By then the sky was overcast and light snow started. We packed all our camera gear and wrapped up for the night. By the time we reached Tromsø, an inch of snow has covered the roads, and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day (or night), I wrapped myself under the double quilt.

Looking at the pictures, it wasn’t a bad day after all.

Is Northern Lights on your bucket list? Or have you struck it off recently? Do leave a comment.

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