Christmas in Norway – Part 2

Originally I thought I could condense this into one blog post, but I wanted to really do the trip justice so here you go, part 2!

Alta

On December 26th, we headed to Alta, a 30 minute flight inland (east). Our tiny propellor plane had about 8 passengers on board and I thought I was going to be terrified.

IMG_9958

Actually, it wasn’t that bad and because we didn’t go up that high we could see the beautiful scenery the whole flight. We landed at the Alta airport that only had one baggage claim and took a cab to our next destination: Trasti & Trine’s Lodge. Upon arrival, we couldn’t figure out where to go. The place was like a mini resort / B&B set in the woods with several buildings and a huge dog yard.

DSC01512

DSC01513

Finally we found Johnny the owner, and he took us to our lodge, right in the middle of the action. It had 5 bedrooms and slept a tiny army but it was also perfect for the two of us. And someone had built a cute lil snowman out front.

IMG_9971

Because we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and there wasn’t much around we asked Johnny if we could get lunch at the restaurant. There’s only one item on the menu, reindeer soup, but it was really good. After lunch, to get our bearings of the place, we did a little exploring and walked to the Alta river, which apparently is famous for its Salmon fishing in the summer.

IMG_9969

When we made it back to the Lodge, it was chaos.  A cruise ship tour of 42 people was coming to the lodge to do dog sledding and it was all hands on deck to prepare for them.

IMG_9977

It was so fun to watch the guides put the harnesses on the dogs and line them up for departure. The dogs were so excited to go for the runs. Tyler and I retired to our lodge once it got dark around 2pm and Tyler made a fire in the wood burning oven thingy.

DSC01511

We played some card games and found their copy of Sequence. I got to show Tyler how to play a game that I had played several times growing up. He loved it and insisted we should buy it when we got back to Amsterdam.

For dinner, we walked back across the snow to the restaurant and we were the only people dining. We had halibut with potatoes and veggies with a really good dessert, and of course some wine.

IMG_2200

On the 100 meter walk back to our cabin after dinner, we looked up in the sky and saw the Northern Lights! Right there at the resort.

DSC01507

We ran inside and put on warmer clothes and grabbed the camera and headed into the woods. It was just as intense as it had been in Tromso.

DSC01394

This time we know how to work the camera better and caught some of the pink in photos.

DSC01389

It was so cool to see them again especially when it was unexpected because it was only like 8:30.

DSC01391

We stayed in the woods for a while admiring the lights and then went back to our cabin to play some more games. We kept glancing out the windows every so often, but the lights didn’t appear again.

The next day was probably the most fun day of our entire trip. For our dog sledding adventure, we were paired up with Jason, a native Englishman as our guide, and it was just the three of us in the -20* C weather. He gave us instructions and set us loose. The first step was assembling our team. Armed with a card with the names of my dogs, I set off to harness the first one. Stephy was a sweet black and brown littler husky and she let me put her harness on with no trouble. Koren and Maisje were equally as sweet and were no trouble. Then I tried to wrangle Roggo. He was the alpha male of the group and all white. He was more interested in jumping up to hug me and get in his harness. I finally got him though and led all my babes to the sled. Which Roggo promptly relieved himself on. They were SO excited. They kept jumping up and barking and wanted to run.

IMG_9988

We took off on a 25km loop around the forest. It was amazing to go through the trees and along the river and through the clearings. The dogs wanted to go so fast and it was a little scary when we would go down hills and you had to put the breaks on so they wouldn’t get out of control. My dogs also kept trying to pass our leader’s dogs because they let us use the racing dogs.

IMG_9999

On one particularly steep hill, I tried to turn too quickly and my sled rolled over. I was still holding on as my dogs started running off. They realized I had fallen over when Jason yelled at them to stop and they started rolling around in the snow.

IMG_9991

After we assembled again it was smooth sailing for a while until out of nowhere came a rock and I was on the ground again. I blame that fall on the fact that I couldn’t feel my hands. We stopped to take a few pictures and because I was afraid of frostbite, we headed back in to warm our bones and have some lunch.

DSC01405_Fotor

DSC01397

DSC01406

During lunch, Jason told us all about dog sled racing. He’s taking a team of the younger dogs on a 500 km race in January to train them for the big event, the 1200km race in 2019. They go for a whole week and the owners of the lodge participate every year and have won a few times. He told us that some of the dogs don’t like to race so you have to pick the ones that have the discipline.

After lunch, we suited back up in all of our layers of clothes and the warm suits and this time I put on some serious gloves that looked like oven mitts. By this time (2pm) it was dark outside and we had to wear headlamps. One of my dogs was being used on another tour so Trine told me to take Pudding, who was pissed that she had to go. She wouldn’t get in the harness and on the whole ride she was slacking. Tyler had the opposite problem and got a super rowdy group of dogs that pulled him super fast.

IMG_2202

I think I enjoyed the night ride maybe even more than the day. It was so peaceful out in the woods and the snow sparkled off the headlamps like diamonds. We were just doing loops near the place so we could go back if we wanted to and I started to get familiar with the course, knowing when to lean, when to duck under the branches, and when to put all of my weight on the breaks when we were going down a steep hill. Tyler didn’t get the memo though and went down a hill too fast and tipped his sled over. I didn’t realize he had fallen until his dogs passed me and I had to grab them. We all got a good laugh.

IMG_9993

On our night ride was saw a moose that was maybe 20 meters away. We saw it quickly, so we did another loop and got a better look at it. Later Jason told us he was afraid the moose was going to charge at us. Glad it didn’t.

I wish I had more pictures because it was truly an incredible experience to zip through the trees on the snow with the bright moon and stars overhead. Sometimes you even get lucky enough to see NL, but we didn’t on this trip. I was fine with that though because I enjoyed it immensely. Once we got back we took our dogs back to their houses and spent about an hour playing with the other dogs.

IMG_0059

I became best friends with Slippers who kept jumping up to give me hugs.

IMG_0061

We also met the latest group of puppies who were 6 months old: Brad Pitt, Channing Tatum, George Clooney, and… Bacon.

IMG_0008

Bacon was unplanned.

IMG_0010
Bacon was unplanned.

IMG_2226

We finished the night with a three course dinner of duck, reindeer and chocolate in the restaurant with a night cap of more card / Sequence playing.

IMG_2204

We woke up well rested and played with the dogs before going to the nearby ice hotel to do some reindeer sledding. Reindeer sledding is nothing like dog sledding. The reindeer are not well behaved and they do not want to be pulling sleds.

IMG_2209

The guy that was pulling ours we nicknamed Trouble.

DSC01417

He kept trying to run ahead of the sled in front us us and tip us over. We knew from the start we were doomed when he refused to put his harness on. The guide later told us that Trouble was new at this.

DSC01422

It was a short, but hilarious ride to the lavvu where we met a Sami. Sami are the indigenous locals of Norway and other areas of the north.

DSC01428

He was dressed in a traditional outfit and we sat around the campfire inside the teepee asking him questions about his culture and job as a reindeer herder.

IMG_0025

I thought it was cool, Tyler thought it was weird.

IMG_2213

We weren’t there for too long before we had to get back into our reindeer sled to head back to the hotel. Trouble was a little better behaved on the ride back, but still reckless.

DSC01424

DSC01421

After the reindeer sledding, we wandered around the ice hotel. It was one of the first hotels made entirely out of ice in the world and each year they redo it with a different theme.

DSC01429

The theme this year was vikings and there were very intricate sculptures.

IMG_0037

DSC01464

DSC01433

Included in the hotel was a chapel where you could get married and of course and ice bar.

DSC01436

IMG_0038

DSC01460

I don’t think I would have wanted to stay in the hotel because it was cold AF, but some of the rooms were pretty incredible.

DSC01452

DSC01448

IMG_0052

For our last night in Alta, we enjoyed a dinner again at the restaurant and settled in to play more cards. Tyler checked the radar and saw that the skies were clear, so we went in search of one more night of lights. We walked along the road to an area of the woods that was dark. We saw the lights again.

DSC01469

They were really intense and we saw them dance across the sky one last time.

DSC01473

It is truly a magical experience that you should go see for yourself!

DSC01482

We snapped a few more pictures before we got too cold and headed back to the lodge.

Oslo

Our last stop of the trip was Oslo. Unfortunately, we were only there for a short one night layover because of flight options, but we plan to go back to Oslo during the summer when the sun is up until midnight. It was nice to get back to civilization, and we checked out a few cocktail bars, one of which made the Top 100 Cocktail Bars in the World list, Himkok. It was a funky bar with serpent heads everywhere. And apparently it’s also a distillery and they make their own Vodka, Gin, Aquavit and mystery liquor.

IMG_2235

We had one last fancy dinner to cap off our trip at an old Monastery, called Klosteret.

IMG_2252

It was another preset tasting menu which several delicious courses. No reindeer this time.


I really liked what I saw of Oslo and it kind of reminded me of Copenhagen. I’m excited to explore it more on our next time around.

IMG_0076

I’m excited for all of the trips to come this year, but it’s going to be hard to top this one!

Recommendations:

Tromso:
Pukka travels – we booked all of our tours through Pukka. They were really helpful and provided a good mix of different options. When they had to cancel the snowmobile they let us book the snowshoe tour for no extra cost. They also were upfront and said that we wouldn’t be able to see whales on the tour and rebooked us with a larger boat. Definitely do a Northern Lights excursion while here, or rent a car and check it out on your own!
Huken – gezellig little pub

Alta:
Trasti & Trine Lodge – this was seriously one of the coolest places we have ever stayed. It was a family run B&B and they were very accommodating and the food was always delicious. If you want to stay closer into town, that’s also an option, but then you should really come to the lodge and do a dog sledding day, you won’t be disappointed!
Ice hotel – very cool (literally) to visit, but the food wasn’t great and from what we heard from some of the guests, I wouldn’t recommend staying there. We did the reindeer sledding through the ice hotel and it was an adventure!

Oslo:
Grand Hotel Oslo – beautiful hotel with amazing rooms and bar, it was a shame we were only there for a short time
Torggata Botaniske – cute cocktail bar with vines growing across the ceiling
Himkok – the serpant bar, listed in the top 100 cocktail bars in the world

IMG_0070
My mom always likes to see pictures of the different currencies, so I thought I’d pop this pic in here.

Christmas at the North Pole – Norway

Christmas at the North Pole – Norway

December 22, 2017 – December 30, 2017

To close out our last trip of 2017, we dreamed big. Since we wouldn’t be going home to Nashville for the holidays, we decided to spend Christmas with Santa in the North Pole – or rather Northern Norway. To kick off the trip, we spent four nights in Tromso, followed by three nights in Alta, and ended with a night in Oslo. Keep reading for the highlights of our adventures 🙂

IMG_9770

Tromso

DSC01158

We arrived in Tromso pretty late on Friday evening after some weather delays, but made it to our dinner reservations at Mathallen, a cute Scandinavian restaurant where we ordered the for course tasting menu, and where I also tried reindeer for the first time. My first reindeer experience was subpar. I thought it tasted gamey and felt bad about eating Rudolf, but little did I know it was basically the only option for food and I ended up growing to like it more each time.

IMG_2150

IMG_2151

After our dinner we walked back to the hotel, the Scandic Ishavshotel, in a blizzard. Apparently we lucked out because the day we arrived it snowed a ton and before that there wasn’t much snow which would have been disappointing.

IMG_9834

On Saturday we had originally scheduled an overnight trip including a snow mobile tour and sleeping in a lavvu (aka teepee) with a glass roof so we could see the Northern Lights. Unfortunately because of the lack of snow, snow mobiles couldn’t operate so instead we did a snow shoe excursion.

IMG_2163

Our guide was a spunky little Italian lady who got us bundled in up some intense cold suits and drove us in her Tesla across the island to start our hike.

We were lucky that the skies were clear during the day, and our guide said it was one of the clearest and lightest days she had seen in a while. That news was pretty sad to me because it got light around 10:30am and dark again around 2pm and the sun never broke the horizon.

IMG_2156

Anyway, we enjoyed her stories while we walked through the beautiful forest on top of a few feet of snow.

IMG_2158

One of the people in our group lost his snow shoe and stepped into the fresh powder and sunk past his knee. Deep snow.

IMG_9789

After the tour we got ready for our overnight stay in the glass roof teepee. This was probably the thing I was most excited for on our whole trip and was definitely the biggest letdown.  We didn’t realize the lavvus were a 2 hour car / ferry ride away. We arrived at what was kind of a bed and breakfast with 6 lavvus on the property.

IMG_9824

The host was not very friendly and basically said there was no chance we would see the Northern Lights that night because the skies were too cloudy. So Tyler and I played a few rounds of cards and then retired to our lavvu which was heated by campfire, which Tyler had to keep going.

IMG_9817

We woke up around 3am to see if the lady was wrong and the skies were actually clear. Unfortunately, they weren’t and we stayed outside staring up at the sky for about 20 minutes, hopeful. We saw no lights that night, but we had several more chances so I wasn’t super concerned.

IMG_9840

The next morning we woke up and drove back to the city. We visited the Polaria museum and watched seals swim around for a while and then took in the Christmas Eve church service at the Arctic Cathedral.

IMG_9847

The cathedral was beautiful, a real work of art. The service was all in Norwegian, but we could understand a bit of what was going on because they were putting on a play about Jesus. Also, it was kind of funny because all of the songs had the same tunes, but Norwegian words, like Silent Night.

IMG_9852

A couple that Tyler had met at an EY training in Amsterdam from Luxembourg happened to be in Tromso at the same time, so after the church service, Tyler got in touch with them and they were planning on joining a NL excursion that night so we decided to join. Best decision ever.

IMG_9836

We heard the skies were supposed to be clear so so there was a good chance for a show. We embarked on our journey with about 12 others and a crazy Italian guide named Sal. He explained what the lights were and where we were heading – about 45 minutes west of Tromso. We got lucky because earlier in the week people on the same tour were having to drive 3 hours away to Finland where it was -20* C to see the lights.

After about 45 minutes of driving, we pulled over on the side of the road and hopped out of the car because Sal saw activity. We were on the side of the road overlooking a small town with lights and there were clouds, so the NL weren’t that clear, but we saw them! for the first time! They looked like whitish whispy streaks in the sky. Sal taught us how to take pictures and we struggled to find the right settings, but snapped a few pics.

2

3

DSC01232

Sal was convinced we could do better, so we hopped back on the bus to go around the mountain near a lake. The next place we stopped at was very scenic with the lake and mountain, However it was still pretty cloudy. But regardless, we saw some activity and had some hot chocolate.

DSC01247

11

I guess third time’s a charm because we got back on the bus one more time and went to a remote spot nestled in the mountains. The skies were clear, but the light activity was low, so we made a fire and had some dehydrated meals (aka astronaut food). I wouldn’t really recommend it.After the food we set up our tripods and cameras to wait for the lights. All of the sudden, the lights were in full force.

DSC01287

Instead of looking like whispy clouds, they were more defined and brighter.

DSC01298

At one point there were so many coming out of the mountain that we all stopped to stare.

DSC01301

d

They started dancing across the sky and we saw not just white but green and pink streaks too.

b

DSC01292

It was the most spectacular thing. It got to a point where the lights were so intense that I started to get scared because it was lie nothing I’ve ever seen before and in my mind I was comparing it to aliens.

DSC01303

This intense light show happened for about 5 minutes and we alternated between snapping pictures, clapping, and calling out in joy.

DSC01286

Aurora Borealis.

DSC01291

I can’t believe we saw them dance! It was so surreal.

DSC01289

Our guide said it was the best show he had seen all year. They literally covered the sky.

DSC01300

At some point we realized it was past midnight and had turned into Christmas. We joked that Santa brought us the lights.

DSC01294

Even though it was late, we didn’t want to leave because just when we would start to talk about packing up the lights would grow in intensity and start dancing again. How could we leave when we were experiencing something so incredible that we would likely never see again? So we stood for longer as they swirled and twirled through the sky. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

i

Because Sal had taken us to such a remote place, we almost got stuck there.

h

The driver had to get out the chains to put on the tires and we barely made it up this huge mountain back to civilization. I had made friends with the driver and he said he would never bring people to this spot again because it was unsafe. But I’m so glad we were the first and last crew! After we were out of harms way I fell asleep and we arrived back at the hotel around 2:30am.

On Christmas day, we woke up after about 5 hours sleep to catch our whale watching boat by 8. Because the whales have stopped traveling into the fjords near Tromso, instead of our original tour on a catamaran with a group of 8, we had to take a big ferry boat that could go faster and make it to the best whale watching area.

DSC01358

The scenery on the 2 hour journey to the whales was amazing as we were traveling through the fjords in between snowy mountains and along scattered villages.

IMG_9863.JPG

I was amazed that people actually lived in such remote places.

DSC01311

Once one of the captains spotted whales, we all raced outside to get a better view. It was freaking cold. But we saw about 6 humpback whales traveling together that would blow their spout and then dive underwater to feed and give a big tail flip.

IMG_9913

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see any Orcas because I love Free Willy (don’t call them killer whales because that’s mean and they don’t kill people unless they’re held in captivity at Sea World). We also saw a white winged eagle soaring through the sky which the guide was pretty stoked about. I guess he sees whales all the time.

DSC01345

DSC01340

Overall, maybe because I was tired, or because it was cold, or because it was a long ways away, this wasn’t my favorite part of the trip.

DSC01368

For Christmas dinner, we met up with Tyler’s friends and had a fancy dinner booked. I once again sampled the reindeer and this time I really enjoyed it. We had some good food and good wine and got to know some new friends. It was definitely the most different Christmas I’ve ever had, but we really enjoyed it.

IMG_9943

IMG_9945

Stay tuned to hear about our time in Alta and Oslo!