Those green pastel ripples, cautiously unfurling in the Norwegian night, weren’t so much lights as simply distinct from darkness. It seemed they were just as shy and lethargic as the whales we were to see the following year, but like the humpbacks, you didn’t want to take your eyes off them, even in freezing Arctic temperatures with no thermals.
The northern lights cruise was our long-awaited honeymoon and began with a train leg from Oslo to Trondheim before the boat wound its way through the Norwegian and Barents Sea to Kirkenes. A cruise ship was similarly uncharted territory and part of me wondered if we would have to dodge bossy reps and toe-curlingly awful karaoke nights, but our voyage on Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol was as calm and undisturbed as the depths of the dark sea.
Arriving in Oslo we made the mistake of asking where the Thon hotel was, which is like asking where the Travel Lodge is in London. The far superior Thon Hotel Bristol was our designated home for two nights and had such a 1920s feel you could almost picture Poirot waddling down its warmly lit halls.
Travelling to and from Oslo I saw wintry scenes British people would kill for at Christmas. The snow was so untouched it was as if someone had forgotten to colour everything in, save for the red, lilac and cream of the wooden houses and the strange yellow icicle fangs hanging from the dark and bobbly rock faces. The train journey to Trondheim was flanked by black mirror lakes, hazy blue mountain tops and odd dashes of colour and angles that gave everything an art deco feel. The only thing missing was the wildlife.
By the time we cast off from the port at Trondheim daylight had been rationed to a couple of hours. The sun rose at about 9:30am and set at 2:30pm, but although sunlight was lacking, around almost every corner of barren fjord outposts you found beautiful little towns glittering in the dark like Christmas markets.
Interestingly, apart from one morning when my hands hissed and screamed after I took off my gloves to take a photo, Norway wasn’t especially colder than the England we left, even in the Arctic Circle. Stranger still, before I arrived I had been terrified of deep water, but the gallons and gallons of freezing black death surrounding us made me feel peaceful. In fact, I was out on deck at every opportunity, watching the rock islands and glaciers drift by like the endless teeth of a fossilised jaw, hoping the clouds would clear to reveal this fantastic cosmic display I had heard so much about.
Just as non-existent was the snow. Believe it or not there wasn’t enough of it in the Arctic Circle – in December – for us to go dog-sledding in Tromso, but meeting the little scamps was enough.
After playing with the Alaskan and Siberian huskies we enjoyed fresh coffee in a Sami tent, and the next day saw us depart for the North Cape, just 100 miles from the North Pole, where it was a race against time to take a photo before the sun was swallowed up by yet more unforgiving and inconvenient clouds.
By this point we were beginning to feel despondent. The lack of natural phenomena and wildlife on a holiday specifically designed to showcase them was beginning to take its toll, and on the final night on the boat we retired to bed early. Not more than an hour later, the captain said the immortal words – aurora borealis – and we stampeded on to the deck, simply throwing a jumper over pyjamas and leaving all the expensive Arctic gear crumpled on the floor following the earlier strop.
The first ripples were most visible out of the corner of your eye, until they began to blot and bloom among the stars.They were extremely faint, making it difficult to capture much on camera, but with their mere presence you felt the light touch of the cosmos and the enormity of space.
Mission accomplished, the very next day we disembarked at Kirkenes, just 30 miles from the Russian border, and were flown back to Oslo. A quick trip to the ice bar, where drinks are served in ice cubes rather than the other way round, brought our trip to a quirky close.
Well, that’s the end of my bucket list for now, so I will have to rack my brains for other travels and tales to regale you with. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts, and thank you for indulging me more than the sleepy whales and decidedly un-energetic particles did.