Lapland - Feb 2024

February 2024
Snow, huskies, birthdays. Read more
  • 6footprints
  • 2countries
  • 6days
  • 73photos
  • 1videos
  • 2.4kkilometers
  • 2.3kkilometers
  • Day 1

    Day 1 - Team Assembly

    February 13 in Norway ⋅ ☁️ -7 °C

    Our departure is at the other end of the day. A night time flight to Johannesburg was civilised, a 04:45 alarm clock for Norway, less so. On the plus side, we’re in the pub before 07:00. Vicks and I have some breakfast and a couple of wines/ciders, and wait for our colleagues to arrive. Ant’s train was cancelled, so he’s in a bit of a rush to get to Gatwick, but he, Jiggs, Tris and Liz all make it to the pub a little after 08:00. Our flight is a little delayed as a result, it transpires, of very low temperatures in Oslo overnight, requiring substantial amounts of de-icing before its departure to Gatwick. Boarding is a little hectic. It’s been a while since I flew on a low-cost carrier flight, and I’d forgotten about the political games passengers play over space in the overhead lockers.

    The flight to Oslo is largely uneventful. Couple of wines to grease the skids, and Vicki manages a little nap. Landing into a snowy Oslo airport is a cool experience. As we start to descend, we can see the peaks of snowy mountains poking through the clouds. We realise we’re pretty damn low to the ground, and still can’t see any evidence of an actual city nearby. It’s only as we’re literally about to touch wheels down that we can see much in the way of Oslo itself. We’re transferring to another flight to Tromso, about 1,000 miles to the North, and well inside the Arctic Circle. We approach a security check, and I’m told that the bottle of duty-free Bourbon I’m carrying is going to be confiscated because the dozy retail assistant at Gatwick neglected to put my receipt inside the bag before sealing it. FUMING. Happily, there’s a duty-free store at Oslo Airport, so I grab another bottle of exactly the same Bourbon. Alcohol in Norway is taxed incredibly heavily - as it is across most of Scandinavia. Prices at our destination resort in Lyngen are likely to be financially crippling - hence some Bourbon for the room, to do some pre-loading.

    As we approach Tromso, we can see the frosty looking fjords around the city. We can see the Lyngen Alps to the North East of the town. Both look beyond cold. We check into our hotel. Our room is small, but happily, we’re not planning to spend much time in it. We head out for a beer, and to meet up with the team - who are staying in a hotel round the corner from us. We have a smallish glass of Prosecco - which sets us back £13 per glass. We find our colleagues, and head to a well reviewed pizza joint. Full. We head to an Indian place. Full. We head to a grill-house. Full. It’s Tuesday night in the Arctic Circle, and everywhere appears to be booked. There is a substantial risk of Vicki getting hangry, and I’m not far behind her. The team continue on in search of somewhere to eat, but Vicks and I bail to Burger King, and have the most critically urgent Whopper of our lives. Wandering back towards our hotel, we both nearly have ass-over-tits moments. There’s snow everywhere, but some randomly placed bits of ice that are lethal. Vicki decides it’s time for some sleep. She only slept about 4 hours last night, bless her. I leave her to it, and grab a beer in the hotel’s bar. By the time I’m back upstairs around 22:00, Vicks is sparko.
    Read more

  • Day 2

    Day 2 - Fjord Fiesta

    February 14 in Norway ⋅ 🌙 -14 °C

    I’m awake a little before our 07:30 alarm, and have slept pretty well. Vicks struggles to wake up, but with some gentle encouragement (turning the main light on, poking in the ribs etc etc), she prevails. We grab a quick breakfast, and head out to meet our bus that will take us up to Lyngen. It is COLD. We’re both wearing massive winter coats, but the wind chill is such that they don’t necessarily feel all that warm. I nearly fall over on some ice on a couple of occasions.

    The drive is sensational. The views of the fjords out of the window are just breathtaking. The waters are being whipped by a strong northerly wind, and we’re driving through a blizzard. The water in many of the fjords is completely frozen. It’s warm on the coach, but looking at the scenery is making me shiver. The drive is around 3h30m. Vicks spends much of it snoozing, to take her nightly sleep total to a very positive 11h30m. As we approach Lyngen North, we can hear the wind getting stronger. There are 50mph gales forecast this afternoon, and wind-chill temperatures of -23C.

    The wonderful Marianne welcomes us on arrival. She and I have been in touch a fair bit by email ahead of our trip, so it’s lovely to put a face to the name. The views from the dining room are stunning. We have some lunch - a hearty but very elegant potato and leek soup with lamb sausage for me, and an amazing looking BLT for Vicks. We are introduced to the drinks menu. Just shy of £10 for a beer or a wine. Ant and Jigs disappear out into the howling gale for a smoke. We wonder if we’ll see them again. While we eat, Triston explains to us that the reason we’re here is that he was using his VR set-up to play on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, and he flew over this part of Norway and thought it looked cool. As a way of picking holiday destinations, it’s a new one to me…

    It’s only 60m to our igloo, but the walk involves several instances of us falling over. There is a lot of ice underneath the snow. Further down the hill, the snow is deep enough for me to start sinking into it. This is comfortably the furthest North either of us have ever been, and the conditions are like nothing else we’ve ever experienced. I’m an idiot, and don neither my hat nor my gloves for the walk. This is a regrettable error. After just a few minutes outside, my fingers are so numb that I can barely put the key into the keyhole. Needn’t have bothered trying - the lock is so frozen that the key won’t turn at all. Happily, there’s an app for the resort that allows us to lock and unlock the door, manage the room temperature etc etc. The view from our igloo is breathtaking - we’re only metres from the shoreline, and the Lyngen Alps are just over the side of the fjord. We have a drink in the room, and I then can’t resist going outside. The sun is starting to set to the South West of us, and the wind is still whipping in off the water. After perhaps 90 seconds, I realise it was a mistake not wearing a mask of some kind to cover my lower face - the wind is whipping snow off the ground so quickly, that when it hits my face it feels like a million tiny pieces of glass. Jiggy is bravely sitting down at the water’s edge. I take a few pictures. My legs start to freeze. Sated, I head back into the warmth of our igloo.

    We head back up to the main building around 17:00 to grab a pre-dinner drink. The short (60m) walk is challenging. We don’t stack it, but come close. Walking into the wind is a real mission. Our colleagues join us. Our dinner is fabulous. Some of the best mussels I can remember eating, a great bit of rib-eye with some local vegetables, and a top notch brownie. YUM. After dinner, we repair to the lounge, and we’re joined by Marianne, who claims she never socialises with guests, but that we’re just more fun than most of her usual clientele. Whether this is true, or she's massaging our egos, we're not sure. It’s really fun to hang out with her for a couple of hours though. Her English is sensational, and she keeps up with the ebb and flow of our conversational incredibly well.

    The Aurora light goes off a couple of times. For the avoidance of doubt - the resort change the outdoor lighting from white to green when their Aurora sensor goes off. The first time it happens, we sprint outside, and see - nothing. The second time, we trot outside, and see - nothing. Marianne explains that the Aurora can be tricky to see by the naked eye. When they’re showing modestly, the colours aren’t that obvious. Interestingly, what your eye sees as white, your camera should show as green. It’s apparently quite easy to mistake the Aurora for white cloud. When the lights change for a third time, we amble outside, and can faintly pick up some dancing light in the sky. We’re not talking a massive light show. It’s subtle, but noticeable. I only have my iPhone with me, so change a couple of settings to make sure I’m on a long exposure, and click click click - more out of hope than expectation. The resulting pics are decent, if not mind-blowing. The wind is still blowing hard, and it remains incredibly cold.

    Back in the warmth of the bar, we (well, some of us…) start in on the Aquavit. Aquavit is made in much the same way as vodka, but is flavoured with herbs and spices. My favourite is their Christmas Aquavit, which has cinnamon and caraway in it. We play several rounds of Giant Beaver (Google it) which has us cackling with laughter. The bar closes in decent time. The clock hits 22:15, and we grab another round for the road. Marianne wishes us a good night, we wrap ourselves up for the short but frigid walk back to our igloo, and hit the hay.
    Read more

  • Day 3

    Day 3 - Birthday boy!

    February 15 in Norway ⋅ 🌙 -6 °C

    We sleep pretty well. The whipping wind is clearly audible outside, but it’s actually quite soothing, cocooned in our warm little igloo. I wake up a few times through the night, and look through the glass ceiling of our igloo, hoping to see lights - but no dice. We’re up in good time, as need to leave for our dog sledding expedition at 09:00. We grab a quick breakfast, wish Triston the very happiest of birthdays, and then pile into Lyngen North’s Tesla for the 40 minute ride North. None of us think to take off our coats before embarking, and we’re all pretty warm, pretty quickly. I can’t figure out how the drivers up here are son good at driving on ice. I had a a quick look at the tyres on the Tesla before getting in. They looked like pretty standard Winter tyres, where I’d half been expecting to see snow chains. Whatever it is, I’ve gone from being a little anxious on the bus up to Lyngen yesterday, to feeling completely at ease with Ola bombing around the back roads heading up to the Storslett valley.

    We’re met by Tom, who runs the dog-sledding business. We change into some hardcore winter clothing - Tom says we’ll probably be warm enough in our ski gear, the huskies have a habit of shitting and pissing on their drivers, so advises to wear the snowsuit. Suitably garbed, we’re given the briefest of driving lessons, before heading for our sleds. Vicks thinks she’s likely to make a better passenger than driver, so I’m first up. The dogs are howling, so excited are they to get under way. We get Vicks safely ensconced in the sled, and set off. There are 5 sleds running in convoy with Tom at the front. The shock of the dogs setting off for the first time is really something. They’re only running at about 15-16 km/h, but it feels…. Maybe not faster, but more alive. Steering has a bit of a knack to it. The dogs will essentially follow the sled in front, and they learn the tracks around the valley really well so they know where they are, and where they’re going. If they can cut a corner though, they will, and we have a couple of wobbly moments when they tear off around a corner, and the sled starts leaning to one side pretty heavily. It’s a hugely exhilarating experience - it’s still bitterly cold, but the wind has dropped from yesterday, meaning we can take in the sights and sounds of the forest floor. During our first run, one of the dogs - how can I put this delicately - has to use the back-door bathroom. Rather than stop, he does it in mid-run, demonstrating a strange sort of crab-like running technique, without missing a step. It’s a slightly bizarre, but hugely impressive feat of physical prowess.

    After 30 or so minutes, we pull up at a small cabin in the forest. There’s a campfire burning, and we sit around the fire having a coffee and chatting to our host, Tom - as well as a couple of other guests that are visiting from Qatar (but who originated in Thailand and Missouri). The scenery is stunning - incredibly peaceful. Some of the dogs are having a rest, others are playing. They seem really contented, and Tom clearly dotes on them all. He tells us of the races he runs in. A pack of 10 dogs over something like 1,200 kms is his record. It takes around 2 weeks to complete. We’re invited into the hut itself for some elevenses - a delicious fish soup that the chef at Lyngen North has knocked up for us. Recharged, we set off again for our second run. Vicks has decided that she’s going to remain in the sled, so I’m driving again. Liz decides she’s going to have a go, so Tris is in their sled. We set off on what looks like a fairly innocuous open field path. Vicki remarks that this is where we nearly stacked it on our first run. As sure as thunder follows lightning, the moment she says it, our pack tears off to the left, and dumps the sled on its arse. Vicki manages to turn her unscheduled exit into something of a commando roll. My ejection from the back of the sled is closer to a lobster roll. Tom had warned us that the dogs won’t stop if we fall out, and ya know what? He’s right. They hare off into the distance after the other sleds. Happily, Tom has spotted our misfortune, and quickly manages to slow our pack down while we trot to catch up. After this, things are a little more stable. We spend an amazing 20 minutes running through the forest. The air is crisp and clean in a way I’ve just not experienced before. In the car on the way back to Lyngen, the majority of our party grab some Zzzs.

    Back at Lyngen, it’s beer o’clock, and we toast Tris’ success in making it to half a century. A light lunch later, and we’re all feeling a little jaded. I have a quick nap, wake up feeling tired, so have another one. It is the best possible use of my afternoon. By 18:00, we’re back up at the bar. We have a brilliant dinner, with the highlight being a main course of oven-roasted cod with a spinach risotto. Sublime. Ant’s feeling pretty knackered, so heads to bed from the dinner table. The 5 of us remaining have some drinks, play some games, laugh quite a lot. It’s a fabulous way to spend the evening, and we hope that it’s been a good way for Tris to celebrate his birthday. By 22:30, the bar is closed, and we’re ready for bed. There is promise of some half decent Aurora tonight. I’ve downloaded an Aurora alert app, and set it to wake me up for any particularly good sightings. I managed a couple of quick pics earlier this evening, but there is promise of more and better…
    Read more

  • Day 4

    Day 4 - Highway to the Ranger Zone

    February 16 in Norway ⋅ ❄️ -7 °C

    The Aurora alert never goes off - hopefully as a result of there being no notable Aurora to spot, rather than user error in setting up the alerts. I’m off snowmobiling this morning, but Vicks is having a bit of a lie-in, and staying behind to mooch ahead of our departure. Breakfasted, Jiggs, Tris, Liz and I head up into the mountains, where we’re met by our skidoo rangers. We ride up higher into the mountains, reaching a plateau that feels like the top of the world. The views are simply staggering. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s properly other-worldly… We jump back on the skidoos, and ride down to a frozen lake, our base for the next couple of hours. We head off for a quick snowshoeing hike, then head down onto the lake itself. Thorbjorn is leading our expedition today, and tells us that the lake has over 1m thickness of ice on top of it. For some reason, I’m still a little suspicious that it’ll crack and drown me. Berger (another of the rangers) has drilled some holes in the ice for us to fish through. We’re a little sceptical whether there are actually any fish under the ice, but play along. Whole some fish, others go for a snowmobile ride around the lake.Driving a skidoo is like no other vehicle. Elements of motorbikes, shades of jet skis, but ultimately a unique experience. They’re properly powerful - a supercharged 600cc engine. Opening the throttle has a real kick to it. SO much fun…. We repair back to the wooden tipi, and sit around a campfire having an early lunch of salmon chowder - delicious. It’s time to head back down the mountain. We’ve had an amazing time on the mountain, but we need to meet our bus back to Tromso.

    Vicki has done sterling work while I’ve been out having fun. There’s a Witbier waiting for me on arrival, which feels very much deserved. Although it’s felt slightly warmer today, (strictly speaking less bastard cold would be more accurate) my feet are properly cold. My toes are pretty numb, even after we’re back at Lyngen North in the warmth of the bar. I change quickly, grab another beer to steady the nerves, and ask Marianne to settle up my bill. It’s not quite as bad as I’d feared. Hurrah! We’re onto the Arctic Route bus bound for Tromso by 14:10. Three hours of sensational views await. I settle in to gaze out of the window.

    We arrive into Tromso at nearly 18:00, and start the walk to our AirBnB for the night. It’s an idiosyncrasy of travelling to new places that aspects of a destination can surprise you on arrival. I did not know, for example, that the 10 minute walk to our apartment involved climbing a small mountain. I make a mental note to include topography in my assessment of accommodation’s suitability in future. At one point, there is a particularly steep climb through a park. Where there would have been stairs in summer time, there are small footholds in the snow. Traversing these whilst carrying luggage is particularly challenging. We finally make it to the building we’re looking for, and are flummoxed by our host’s instructions. Some confusion about what the phrase ‘under the porch’ means. We find an apartment that is indeed ‘under the porch’ and walk through the open door. We’re a little confused to find other people already in what we believe to be our apartment. After a brief conflab with the person that it transpires is the host of this apartment, he points us in the right direction for ours. There are definite pros to using AirBnB, but there are downsides…

    Refreshed, we embark out in search of a supermarket, and our colleagues’ apartment. The former proves straightforward, the latter less so. We ultimately discover that they have had similar issues finding the entrance to their apartment, and have ALSO wandered into the wrong apartment. It makes us feel a little better. We have a quick couple of drinks before heading out for dinner. Liz has booked us into what we discover is a pretty fancy place nearby, and she and Tris are treating us as a thank you for joining them on this birthday odyssey. The food looks and sounds amazing. I have a lightly pickled herring dish to start, whilst Vicks has a smoked duck breast terrine. Both are outstanding. Most of the table orders a beef cheek main course, which is sublime. Beautifully cooked, hugely tasty, very satisfying. All is washed down with some some Cremant de Loire, and a couple of bottles of the decent Cotes Du Rhone. It’s 23:30 by the time we’re finished, and I’m flagging. Vicks and I head back to our apartment, and find the uphill battle a somewhat easier proposition this time. It started snowing during dinner, and has grown steadily heavier. We’re expecting 10-15cm overnight. Back at the apartment, I’m quickly curling up for a deep, deep sleep. We don’t need be out of our apartment till midday, and my 10:00 alarm seems a beautifully late one.
    Read more

  • Day 5

    Day 5 - Westbound and down

    February 17 in Norway ⋅ ❄️ -6 °C

    Neither of us has slept particularly well. The bed in our apartment is just way too soft and wallowy. I get wake up at 05:30, and haven’t dozed off again by 06:30, so I get up. Lying on the sofa, I can feel my eyes are still tired. Curling up, I’m quickly asleep, and manage another 90 minutes. As we’re packing up to head home, it starts to snow again, and is really coming down. I think we had about 8cm of snow last night, and similar is forecast today, with a much heavier dump (snigger) due tomorrow and into Monday. We’ve not really seen much of Tromso by day. It’s a properly pretty little city - lots of interesting architecture, some very cool street art around the place, and loads of funky eateries and drinkeries, if you’ve had the foresight to remortgage your house before heading here.
    We drop our bags into our colleagues’ apartment, and head out for some lunch. We find a wonderful little bistro. There’s a momentary deja vu when the server mentions they may not have any tables available, but luck is on our side, and they seat us quickly. I have a reindeer stew, which is a massive bowl of hug, and Vicks has an outstanding burger. Having tried our utmost to spend more than £60 on dinner in South Africa, we now find it’s all but impossible to spend less on lunch in Norway.

    We meet up with the gang, and head to the Troll Museum. They play a large part in Norse mythology, and the museum explains how, where and when this happens. Vicki is distraught to discover that the museum is quite critical of trolls, rather than an opportunity to big them up. I’m particularly taken by the section of the museum that describes Ibsen’s poem Peer Gynt, which was then put to music by Edvard Grieg. A couple of pieces of music from the Peer Gynt suite will be instantly familiar to you. The Hall of the Mountain King is one of my favourite classical pieces - massively evocative of my childhood, for some reason upon which I’m unable to put my finger. Jiggy and I play a traditional Norse game that’s broadly similar to Connect 4, which he instantly labels Connect Thor.

    We have a little wander around the harbour, and end up in a locals’ pub. There’s some (questionable) live music - a guy doing country style covers of contemporary songs. I’d love to say the drinks are cheap, but they’re not. We have a couple of rounds, and it’s suddenly time for Vicks and me to grab our bags and head to the airport. Liz and Ant bravely offer to accompany us back to their apartment. We have a swift sharpener, wait a little longer for an Uber than is utterly necessary, and we’re at Tromso Airport in decent time for our flight.

    Check-in and security are a breeze. Within minutes, we’re rooted in a sports bar in the departure lounge, tucking into a brilliant but wallet-bustlingly expensive bottle of Chardonnay. Our gate is announced, and we hold firm. It’s not a big airport, so it won’t take us long to reach our gate. Our flight is then called for boarding, and we dutifully head down to the departure gate - where we stand waiting for close to an hour. They’ve called us to the departure gate before the incoming flight has even landed - the wank-puffins.

    The flight is fairly chaotic. We’ve not had much to eat today, and there’s no food on the flight, save a couple of small boxes of Pringles. Our drinks choices are also unavailable. We throw a quick couple of G+Ts down the hatch, and both manage to sleep through a decent chunk of the flight. Landing into Luton is actually pretty breezy. The airport’s fairly empty at midnight, so few queues with which to contend. We meet our driver, Andy, who tells us that due to the recent car park fire at Luton Airport, we’ve a c. 10 minute walk in the wind and rain back to the car. It’s a pretty miserable experience. Climbing into Andy’s Range Rover, we recline our seats, and manage to sleep most of the way home. Our little ginger warriors are somewhat interested to see us, and we both quickly collapse into bed.
    Read more

  • Day 6

    Day 6 - Home. Meh. Some reflections...

    February 18 in England ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Good sleeps are had. We're both pretty well rested after our combined plane / car / bed sleeps. We've both been blown-away during our Arctic trip. A few reflections...

    1) The Arctic Circle (generally) and Tromso/Lyngen (specifically) are places of superlatives - the coldest, the furthest north, the most beautiful. Cannot recommend highly enough that you go and check it out for yourselves. Just a wonderful place inhabited by wonderful people.
    2) If you do go, you really do need proper winter weather gear to keep you warm. The first couple of days of our stay at Lyngen had an incredible wind-chill, and without some serious ski gear, even a minute outside was painfully cold. For our activities, we were provided with heavy-duty winter clothing, but even just for getting around our resort, well padded ski trousers, and a down-insulated jacket were a must.
    3) There exists a disagreement as to whether we 'saw' the Northern Lights. I'm in Team YES, my beloved in Team SCEPTICAL. It's important to know that even those of us in team YES acknowledge that ours was a limited sighting. The dancing white lights of the Aurora were clearly visible to the naked eye, but the green hue only visible to a camera lens. There's a version of our experience out there where the green is much more intense, the movement of the lights jauntier. Do I consider it a bucket list item ticked? Yeah, kind of. I would deffo go Aurora hunting again though...
    4) Norway is wicked expensive. The country has a tax to GDP rate of around 45% (compared to the UK's 35%, and closer to 20% in the USA). At face value that seems high - until you realise that Norway has outstanding public services. Everything just works as it's meant to. Not that we needed to use it, but the public health system is modern, efficient and well funded. Compare and contrast... On that basis, I don't begrudge paying £10 for a bog standard pint of lager, but do be aware before you travel that your £s won't stretch far!

    That's all for now folks. Join me in a little under two weeks for a womble around the tropical island of Sri Lanka...
    Read more