For T’s big birthday he requested a grown-ups-only weekend away, just the two of us. February birthdays and long weekends don’t really lend themselves to sitting on the beach or lots of city wandering. If we’re going to be cold, I thought, let’s go somewhere where the point is to be cold. We’d already had our ski holiday so I promptly booked a surprise trip to the Arctic circle. Somewhere even he hasn’t been on his travels to 70-something countries (“73!” he insists beside me), and a chance to fulfil some of our travel ambitions- to maybe see the Northern lights, the fjords and experience some of the Norwegian way of life.
I won’t pretend it wasn’t a real mission to get there. Whilst you can fly direct to Tromsø from London, our parenting and work commitments made this tricky; and I didn’t want us to spend too long in the city itself. I had chosen an idyllic-sounding two days in the remotest of locations- perhaps fine if you have a helicopter at your disposal, for us mere mortals 2 flights, a winding 4-hour car journey and ferry ride across the slate-grey Norwegian Sea away. As it happens, the journey was a part of the experience. A rare child-free chance to travel (with hand luggage only!) and make a dent in a book for the first time in months. We felt like we soaked up so much in a short time through the eagerness of our host, ex-fisherman Svein, to share tidbits about local landmarks or evangelise about Norwegian schooling, healthcare, renewable energy, the oil fund, common land… whilst we gazed at the fantasy of Norway itself.
We snaked around mountains sleeping like old gods, first along one side of frozen inlets, then the other, catching glimpses of ice-fishers with their kicksleds; and on one occasion “moose!”. Straightforward wooden houses in the Nordic colour palette of burnt red, mustard yellow, cream and occasionally lavender-blue; don’t perch or squat in the hardened snow but stand, like a fact of life, neither proud nor humble.
We didn’t see the Northern Lights. T and I are well-matched in neither possessing the stamina nor dedication to gaze at the sky until the small hours, hoping for the right break in the clouds to coincide with the famous green haze for fleeting seconds when you are looking in the right place. Instead we enjoyed the easier pleasures of a warm cabin, wine, locally cooked food, peaceful sleep and getting up in time to see our own northern light – the sun rise over the fjords which turned the island into a glorious glare of white and primary colours as we kicked and slid our morning away.
“Only here for 2 nights!” each new person exclaimed. But we crammed what we could in: playing and sledding with huskies, laughing as the dogs ate snow whilst bounding through the trees; indulging my wish to snap away at every brightly covered cabin we passed; and eating my fair share of smoked fish and brown cheese.
When we retraced our blown-over tracks back to the city after only two nights the low-rise brick and concrete buildings and busy airport seemed a little strange. A short trip but an epic journey.
Details of our trip: