Tromsø: Chasing the Aurora

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If you’ve never joined an organized Northern Lights chase, let me attempt to paint you a picture: A minivan full of people from all over the world clad in matching thermal suits, an eager guide craning his neck out the window to search the sky while WhatsApping others for intel, and, later, a bonfire with a bag of just-add-water Norwegian-style camping food to fill your belly while you wait, wait, wait. Finally, when you’re starting to feel your toes go numb in the hard core winter boots you were issued, the sky (hopefully) comes alive. To be clear, not with the same bright green color you’ll see in photos — that’s only visible with your camera using a long exposure, as the human eye (and your cell phone camera, for that matter) cannot take in the same amount of light. It’s more like someone is shining a flashlight from the other side of the sky, with beams of light filtering through pale, milky green clouds for seconds or even minutes at a time.

Is it cold? Oh yes. Our guides told us the below-freezing nights were “hot” for that time of year, but even with the thermal suits, special boots, layers upon layers of wool and hot chocolate you end up quite cold at the end of the trip. It it tiring? Yes again. We joined Arctic Explorers for a two-night chase and our first night — facing particularly difficult weather conditions that took us nearly all the way to Finland — we boarded the bus at 5:45pm and were not back in our AirBnb until 3:30am. Is it expensive? Another yes. Getting all the way up to Tromsø required us to book the by-far most expensive flight we have ever taken in Europe, and then once you arrive the Norwegian prices are on par or maybe even worse than in Switzerland. But was it worth it? Heck yes. We were exhausted and cold and desperately in need of a toilet (I could not bring myself to peel down the one-piece thermal suit and go in icy nature) but we saw the aurora two nights in a row and it was glorious.

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Beyond the aurora chases, we toured the fjords surrounding Tromsø during the limited daylight hours (also through Arctic Explorers) and had a fantastic time. The landscapes are simply incredible and we were lucky enough to be on the tour the first day that Tromsø-dwellers had seen the sun in two months, which made for some lovely lighting. We saw reindeer in the wild (the morning after Gui had enjoyed one of their cousins for dinner) and played on a frozen lake. We kept busy the rest of our stay by sliding around the icy streets and sidewalks of Tromsø, visiting the Arctic Cathedral, sipping drinks at a mountain-top restaurant overlooking the city and enjoying the company of our dear friends from the Netherlands who joined us for the adventure.

As I’ve said before, we normally avoid tours because we prefer the freedom to wander, but if you want to see the Northern Lights in a limited time and lack the magnetic-activity tracking and icy-road driving skills required, I would definitely recommend using a guide. My top tip for staying warm in the cold? Invest in a solid pair of Merino wool long underwear. Yes, it’s stupidly expensive, but your not-quite-as-frozen bum will thank you for the investment. Enjoy the photos!

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