An Adventure in Norway
This trip to Norway was probably one of the most memorable trips that I have been on, and probably top 5 in my semester abroad; if you’ve read my Finland post, you know I traveled a lot. Of all the trips I went on, this one felt the most like an adventure. It was a very spur-of-the-moment decision, and because of that, pretty much everything that could’ve gone wrong did. But that was what made it so epic, and so hilarious, and so memorable. I’ll continue with a paper I wrote for a writing class in which the assignment was to write about one specific moment. I wrote about one moment arriving in Tromsø, Norway, which perfectly describes how the entire week felt. It’s long, so skip over it if you don’t want to read it to continue reading about the rest of the week.
WHAM! Or maybe it was more of a THUMP! or KERPLUNCK – is that even a thing? All I imagined was a cartoon explosion (spiky edges and orange filling) with a BAM or a CRASH or a BANG plastered across in white, “Looney Tunes” font when my left butt cheek met the ice. It was bound to happen. It had been happening. For two days now I repeatedly had to get back up, so it was only fair that I literally, physically had finally fallen and had to get back up. The difference was that this time, I wasn’t just getting back up to start my adventure; getting up was half the adventure. I was expecting a by-the-book trip; all according to plan, but that was never going to happen traveling to the far corners of the Earth.
To our dismay, Tromsø was certainly no “Paris of the North,” as its advertisements so proudly boasted. Studying abroad in Helsinki, and having already visited Stockholm as well, a tiny little city in the middle of Fjord-laden Northern Norway couldn’t convince us without an actual Eiffel Tower. There weren’t multiple neighborhoods, instead the town centered really on one street corner by the docks. A bustling Irish pub/sports bar on one corner showing every sport known to man, across it a chic arctic hotel with some modern décor and an ocean view, and a few steps down the blanketed street were the decks where anchored vessels rocked up and down under control of the sheer force of the black abyss they rested on. This city was no place for romance, but it radiated its own unique spirit of triumph, as was the Viking way.
Jack and I had the week off school. The rest of the group had final exams, but we were lucky with our chosen curriculum and had none. We would all be headed to Oslo together on Friday, so Jack and I (being the adventurous mountain men we are) planned to ski, snowshoe, conquer, and claim the Fjords in the North before heading back down to civilization. Of course we didn’t know that throughout our entire time our asses would be hitting the pavement. We were experienced travelers and adventurers; this would be an incredible trip, which also would hopefully involve a spectacle showing of the Aurora Borealis.
We arrived in “Paris” Monday afternoon, excited to get to our cabin and begin the journey. Being so experienced we didn’t realize that our cabin was actually a three-hour drive from Tromsø, or a short ferry ride, which we had just missed. Now we were, the two of us, stranded in a tiny frozen kingdom in the middle of nowhere, with two large suitcases each: our first fall. We could rent a car, or stay the night and be picked up the next day. The “experienced” choice was not to try and drive frozen roads along the deep, dark, and intimidating Arctic Ocean, which certainly concealed some kind of sea monster.
Enter the Scandic hotel, book a room; it was going to be that easy. No, it wasn’t. The Scandic only had one rather pricey room, so they recommended we try one of the other few hotels in the city. We trudged through the snow-covered sidewalks with loaded suitcases only to find every hotel was fully booked: fall number two. So as to not lose the one room available at the Scandic, I booked it on Expedia during dinner. We returned to the Scandic only to discover I had booked a room at the other Scandic. Surprised? Neither was I: third fall.
Finally all was well. We were in bed ready to sleep off a stressful first day. The van would pick us up tomorrow at the third Scandic – yes, there was another. How there are three hotels of the same brand in the same tiny town I don’t know; their Paris campaign must really convince a lot of people.
After a beautiful mini-expedition to some Fjords not too far away, we were ready to cross the city, get in our van, and get to our cabin. There were multiple slips and “woah’s” and “SHIT’s” (and admittedly a few “FUCK’s”) along the way, but we managed to arrive unscathed. The nightmare had ended. The van was in sight, its spacious, comfortable interior drawing me in, waiting for me to collapse in its cushioned, leather arms. I should’ve known it was too good to be – POW! I was no longer looking into the cabin; I was now looking up at the sky. Whoever said humans couldn’t fly was mistaken. I must’ve gotten a few feet of air and some hang time before colliding with the Earth.
It was not until this fourth and final and slightly painful fall that it hit me (yep, pun intended) and I was overwhelmed with laughter. I was sitting on the unyielding, slippery ice, hearing the shadowy arctic waves challenging the boulders that bound them spewing their glacial mist into the crisp, chilling air that filled my nostrils and left my throat with each chuckle. I had been so overcome with frustration that I wasn’t seeing, I wasn’t listening, and most importantly I wasn’t feeling. I was fighting my falls instead of welcoming them. It took me hitting the ice to realize it: I was in Tromsø, the Paris of the North – the Fjords its own Eiffel Tower. How many people have witnessed the majestic Northern Lights swaying overhead, felt the dominance of the frosted mammoth mountains protecting them in this barbaric yet inspiring realm, and stared into the bottomless, unforgiving Arctic all from one spot? I was invigorated because of the adversity, the unexpected. It was my heart racing in my chest that picked me up with vitality for the moment, the challenges I’d overcome, and the challenges I would face, for life is not lived without them.
Throughout the week we would get stuck in a hailstorm with no more than five feet of visibility, not be able to ski due to avalanche warnings, and get hit with a torrential downpour that soaked all our gear. Oh, and we missed our ferry ride and flight to get home. But hey, we laughed.
So yeah, that was our arrival in The North – I’m feeling a bit like Jon Snow.
The Week in Mefjordvaer
If you’re ever thinking of going to the fjords of Norway in the winter, I have some advice for you: BOOK EARLY! Almost every single cabin we looked at anywhere near Tromsø was completely booked, whether it was some resort or a standalone North of the Wall. We stumbled across one little fishing village right outside the town of Mefjordvaer on Senja Island, Mefjord Brygge. If you know anything about Northern Norway, it’s that Lofoten is probably the most popular destination, but because of that it was obviously very booked up, so we didn’t get picky.
Luckily for us, Mefjord actually ended up being a great choice. As we quickly learned when we arrived, we were definitely unprepared to get to our destination, but Tommy, the owner of Mefjord Brygge, was very accommodating the entire time. Anything we needed – transportation mostly – he provided for us.
Our cabin was really nice: two bedrooms I believe, with a fairly sized bathroom, living room, stocked kitchen, and right on the water.
So finally, we decided to go on our first adventure on the first day. It wasn’t a long one, but it was a great introduction to the arctic. What is awesome about little towns like Mefjord Brygge is that they are secluded and right in the heart of the fjords. That made hiking easy for us. Tommy told us about this one great walk to a beautiful fjord: Ersfjord. Jack and I set off to get to the Fjord with a schedule of bus times. One thing we didn’t anticipate: the schedule was wrong. Oh, and everything was in Norwegian. Even though Scandinavian countries speak a lot of English, the little secluded villages don’t. After arriving at a point we knew was a couple miles from the fjord, and waiting for a bus that wasn’t coming, we set off walking.
We walked along a frozen road that edged the arctic, offering spanning views of the fjord mountains around us. Of course, half way there, we saw the bus that we were supposed to take drive right by us. Classic. The whole ordeal took longer than expected, but we arrived at Ersfjord just before sunset. With the clouds offering some breaks in the sky, it made for a dramatic one.
Northern Lights in Northern Norway
That night, once we returned, we hoped that the sky would clear up so that we could catch the Northern Lights. At first, it didn’t seem very promising. We were watching a movie in the cabin, checking periodically to see if the sky would clear up. After a while, I stepped out onto the balcony, and I thought I saw a tint of green in the sky. We left the cabin, dressed warmly for the nippy night, and headed to the dock in the fishing village. Slowly but surely, the auroras came out of hiding and put on an unforgettable performance for us. The sky was on (wild)fire, the lights swaying to the sound of silence, it was like nothing I had ever seen, more intense than in the Finnish Lapland.
No Lights in Northern Norway
The following nights unfortunately were cloudy, and we didn’t catch more of the lights, so the days were highlighted by our activity in the daytime.
Our second day, we decided to do some hiking right out of Mefjord Brygge. There are some decent sized hills/mountains around the village that look over the imposing Arctic Ocean. We explored these for a couple hours, climbing to the top of one, down to the coast for a little arctic sunbathing, got caught in a snowstorm in the process where we couldn’t see anything, and almost got blown away by the gusting winds. Fortunately, we were well prepared with gear from ski masks to face masks for the sharp ice shards to wind-breaking jackets and pants.
Our last adventure at Mefjord was hiking one of the Fjords themselves. After a night of snowfall, there was deep powder, and snowshoes would be required. Tommy drove us to the base of one, and we were off. Snow shoes and deep powder are really hard work. It takes a second to understand how to use them most efficiently, and it is exhausting especially when you’re hiking steep verticals up a fjord to its ridges. It got so hot hiking that I was climbing fjords in Norway in just one layer. Finally at the top of the fjord, I still felt dwarfed. Those mountains are immense in stature, and everywhere you looked you were surrounded by them. If you were at the top of one, you were at the base of another. Hopefully the pictures will put that into perspective.
Finally done with our hike, we had to wait at the bottom for Tommy to pick us up. When he dropped us off, we coordinated a time to be picked up at, and we were on time, but he wasn’t showing up. We didn’t have cell service. We honestly were not sure if he was coming back for us. Not only that, we sat there as it got colder, and it started to drizzle. It wasn’t rain, and it wasn’t snow, it was that in between slush that is kind-of frozen but not really. We had no choice but to sit there for about an hour as the slush rained down on us, soaking us in our gear from head to toe. There was no escaping it. Oh I forgot to mention that we were doing snowshoeing because originally we had planned to go ski touring, but because of the avalanche warnings we couldn’t do that. So considering our luck with this trip, it wasn’t surprising we got rained on like that.
And of course, this short trip wouldn’t be complete without one more disaster. I’ll sum it up quickly. To make our flight back to Oslo, we had to catch a ferry back to Tromsø, and to catch that ferry catch a bus at 7am sharp out of Mefjord. Looking to avoid yet another screw up, we got up with plenty of time to catch the bus. We did, and we made it to the port on time to catch the ferry. We were thirsty, so we stopped in the store to grab a bottle of water, seeing a line to get on the ferry. Of course, we walk out the store after a 30-second purchase only to see the ferry pulling away from the port. So there we were, another blunder, stranded once again. Luckily for us, a bus was coming that goes all the way to Tromsø. However, we quickly learned that the bus would not get us there in time for us to catch our flight. We began to search for another flight out of Tromsø, there were no more that day; only the following. We had to make it back to Oslo because we were meeting our friends there for a short weekend trip before returning to Helsinki. And so, we were forced to use our data to scour the internet for flights out of anywhere near Tromsø, and what do you know, we found a flight leaving from a tiny airport that our bus was going to stop at! The question was, would we even make it on time to that one, it was an expensive purchase for a questionable arrival. We decided to bite the bullet and buy the ticket, and made it to the airport with about 10 minutes to get on the flight, which normally wouldn’t be okay, but it was the only flight leaving from that airport. Finally, we made it to Oslo for a relaxing weekend.
After the adventures we had just had, our friends’ familiar faces were a welcoming sight. We vented to them everything we had seen and gone through to see, and of course they could do nothing but laugh. So did we. It was awesome.
I found Oslo to be very quaint, perhaps because of where I had just come from, but even in comparison to Stockholm. It was beautiful nonetheless, and its mood made for a nonchalant time there. We just walked around, seeing what was to be seen, with no plan (that was a first), and nothing but each others’ company.