“A community is like a ship. Everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.”
TROMSØ TO ALTA
FINNMARK AND TROMS COUNTIES
Rent an electric or diesel car to see the Aurora Borealis instead of booking a tour. Driving from Tromso on the 91 to Alta ensures breathtaking views of mountains, fjords, and snowy peaks with dancing light shows along the way. If traveling in winter, leave early so you can see both sun and moon on either side of the horizon and enjoy the scenery on deck as two ferries carry you across the water. Be sure to stop at Ramfjordbotn, Balsfjord, Svensby, Lyngseidet, and Samuelsberg for stunning vistas, sunsets, and photo ops. Every corner is like a fairytale, or something out of The Neverending Story. Don't forget to download music before you hit the road- Northern Norwegian DJs, it seems, do not enjoy Rihanna as much as I would like them to. After a two hour nonstop block of house music, they finally played "Love Yourself" and I was never so happy to hear Justin Bieber in my life.
I think this is the best Airbnb we've ever stayed in, and we've stayed in some real stunners. They provided everything we could possibly want, from reflective jackets (a must when there's only three hours daylight) to hot chocolate, heated floors, those little rubber things you put on your shoes to prevent slipping on ice, and an awesome television channel called "Humor 2" showing Fresh Prince, Parks and Recreation, even throwbacks like Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place! Our hosts were so friendly and sweet and the kitchen was perfect- perfect for me warming up the vegan-and-gluten-free cinnamon rolls I found at Co Op Prix. Situated near the university, you can hike around the neighborhood at midnight to see the Northern Lights. You can also visit a local graveyard and walk right up to the water's edge. The Airbnb is a ten minute drive from town, with ample parking.
Set in a lush valley, some areas of which are only accessible by snowmobile, Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel juts up against a river and forest teeming with wildlife. Co-owner Hans Ulrik, who started the hotel with his brother, treated us to drinks before we watched the northern lights from our hot tub. The igloo is surprisingly warm and comfortable, and the restaurant incredibly delicious, with homemade gluten-free bread, chive butter, flavorful veggie dishes, cloudberries, and fresh river water. I wrote a report in school about how snowmobile usage is bad for the environment, but you must do a snowmobile safari with Utt at night. Driving across a frozen lake and seeing all the stars sparkling clearly was like being in the world's best planetarium, especially wonderful since it was a full moon. My husband said it was the best experience of his life!
This was the greatest discovery of my life. Order their thin crust gluten-free veggie pizza with artichokes and a million other vegetables; you won't be sorry. We ate there several times on our trip, and I have to ask: is pizza the unofficial food of Norway? All the restaurants have plentiful gluten-free options, but this tops them all. I prefer it to popular Egon, which strikes me as a TGI Friday's kind of place, with a far more beautiful interior. Note: If eating at a chain bothers you, go to Bardus or Aunegarden instead.
Under the shadow of Mount Tamok, in a valley three times the size of Manhattan with only 70 residents, some locals made me a delicious potato and chive soup, homemade gluten free bread, and a cute and spicy gluten free carrot cake. I was touched. It's a great place to see husky dogs without having to book with a farm, and also an ideal spot to see the Northern Lights.
Reindeer is the specialty at the glamorous, Gstaad-esque restaurant of the igloo hotel, straight from the Laplanders, who herd them over the Finnish border in summer (we came across a Sami native walking his reindeer down the street and talked to him for a few minutes. Our only other reindeer sighting was in the wild- she came right up to us, and pooped). My husband had his in blueberry coulis. I ate Jerusalem artichoke, parsnip mash, an artistic cauliflower puree, and the best potatoes ever, cooked in evergreen oil. We also got a sense of Norwegian community when we made friends with couples from Norway and Venezuela and solo travelers from Hong Kong over ice cubes filled with curaçao. Side note: I found it interesting that the Norwegian couple lived and grew up ten minutes outside Oslo, but made the distinction that they weren't from Oslo. I grew up forty minutes outside Cleveland, and I still say I'm a Clevelander. I thought it was a noteworthy cultural difference. They also explained how everyone in the neighborhood pitched in to keep the paint on their apartment building fresh, clean the streets, shovel snow, etc. Community!
The library of my dreams, by architect Gunnar Bogeberg Haugen, based on the Mexican Candela shells. Originally an old movie theatre, you can sit in the former cinema seats at Perez bar nearby. Go to the second floor of the library, curl up with a Cora Sandel novel, and gaze at the mountains, lights, and Arctic Cathedral across the water.
Built by Jan Inge Hovig, a classmate of the Sydney Opera designer Jorn Utzona, this masterpiece is visible by plane or all around Tromso Sound. The organ, which features reindeer hide bellows, is similarly breathtaking.
This architecturally stunning aquarium is less academic than I hoped, but the seal show is too cute (they perform, not for humans, but to keep from getting bored in captivity, and they are in love with their trainers... they look like cats cuddling with their mother). Polaria, which is designed to resemble ice floes against the water, is a great place to learn about Svalbard and conservation efforts there, plus the MS Polstjerna building is equally impressive.
Built by an 18 year old woman, this historic wooden building somehow survived a great city fire and is now the site of music festivals. From there, visit Gestapo Alley (Bankgata 13), where the Norwegian resistance fought Gestapo torture, and Skansen fortress, built in 1000 AD.
Another thing I respected about the people we met was how active and outdoorsy they were despite the weather. In Cleveland, if there's a snowstorm, people do NOT like leaving their beds, much less spending hours hiking or walking around, as the Norwegians we saw did. Also, dogs and cats don't wear sweaters or little booties like in Paris, despite obvious cold. The pets were perfectly happy running and jumping in the snow, even the tiniest chihuahuas! Anyway, it has nothing to do with Norway but I wasn't wearing makeup in these photos and I'm ok with them. Water only is the best thing I could have done for my skin. And my existing boots and parka were just fine for all my activities, including driving the skidoo.