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Kasteel Well Week 5: Norway

  • March 2, 2013
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I came to Europe with only 1 trip in mind: I wanted to go dogsledding under the Northern Lights in Norway.  Once I had come up with the trip, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from making this happen.  This would be the trip of a lifetime and even if I had to go by myself, I was prepared for it, but somehow I found two castle-dwellers crazy enough to enter the Arctic Circle with me.  Planning the trip became a challenge to complete our mission for the least amount of money possible because Norway was very expensive, but we managed to finalize our plans within a price range that we deemed reasonable.  Fly from Amsterdam to
Tromsø with a quick layover in Oslo, spend a few days in Tromsø, catch an extremely early flight to Oslo and spend the day there, followed by another obnoxiously early flight home to Amsterdam.  Let’s go!

Tromso, Norway

Tromso, Norway

Up bright and early we headed to Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport.  Our direct train from Nijmegen would have us there about 12:00, which would be perfect for our 14:00 flight to Oslo.  The only issue was that as our train entered Utrecht Centraal, all of the trains going north and west of Utrecht were being cancelled.  So thanks to a couple Dutch gentlemen, we learned that everything was being cancelled and they suggested a few ways to get to the airport but as they named routes those trains were cancelled almost simultaneously.  Thus began the rush to the taxis and we caught our breath after we were in a cab headed to Schipol.

Off to a rocky start, we made it the rest of the way to Tromsø without any issues.  After dropping our gear off at the hostel, we wandered out to see what Tromsø looked like on a freezing February Thursday night.  We found a restaurant and quickly made friends with our waiter and he listed off a few places for us to go in town to experience Tromsø.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get Dan in to some of the bars because he wasn’t 20 yet, but we discovered a jazz club and decided to check it out.  The bartender suggested a beer called “Arctic” that was brewed by the Mackol Brewery that was right in downtown Tromsø.  After a long day of travelling, a beer from the “northernmost brewery in the world” really hit the spot.  We stood with most of the people that were in the club but they were all watching the action onstage.  We took guesses on what we thought was going on: a comedy open mic because everyone was laughing or slam poetry because everyone was clapping.  We asked the bartender and discovered it was a birthday party.  So on our first night in Norway, we ended up crashing a birthday party.  Okay then.

Arctic Cathedral, Tromso

Arctic Cathedral, Tromso

We were up bright and early to see what Norway’s northernmost city had to offer.  Our first stop was the Arctic Cathedral – a newer cathedral constructed with a more modern architectural style – although amazing view from the journey over the bridge to the mainland was possibly the best part of the experience.  It was suggested that we visit Polaria – the polar aquarium – that focused on the life around the Norwegian Sea.  Regardless of how old I am, I will never be too old to not find baby seals adorable.  Before we knew it, it was time to catch the bus for our dogsledding adventure.

Dogsledding

The bus took us an hour and a half away from the city lights of Tromsø into the heart of the Scandinavian Mountains and we began to suit up for dogsledding.  Armed with full-body insulated suits and a headlamp, we met our sled teams.  Having been away from home for over a month, I was beginning to miss my dogs and being able to cuddle with every dog on my sled team was a much needed therapy break.  Dan and Conor were going to drive a sled together and I was paired up with an Australian businessman named Denen.  We were the last sled of the group and had trouble keeping our team to a moderate pace.  Our dogs had the previous night off and just couldn’t wait to run along the wilderness trails.  Dan’s team on the other hand couldn’t have been more distracted – their lead dog stopped and was rolling around in the snow at one point – but we found blaming everything on Dan for the entire night was a great source of amusement.

Driving a dogsled is surprisingly simple since you only have three jobs: hold on at all times, break when going downhill or too fast, and help push the sled up the hills.  Our dogs were so powerful and ready to go that we had to break going uphill.  The dogs barked and were rowdy when we stopped, but once they were running they were nearly silent.  The crunch of the snow under the scraping break was the only sound to break the silence in this serene wilderness.  We had a full moon peeking out of the clouds that lit up the entire landscape.  The trail led us across open fields of snow surrounded by jagged mountains jutting into the clouds.  Denen and I talked for most of the ride but we both took time to enjoy the peace that we could find in the scenery and experience.

Bruno - one of our lead dogs

Bruno – one of our lead dogs

The whole trip lasted about 4 hours and we covered 15km via dogsled.  Everyone was led into a lavvu a Sami herdsmen’s tent – and we were treated to a hot bowl of reindeer soup along with some traditional bread and desserts.  A lot of people were shocked that we were having reindeer for dinner, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  If you were curious, reindeer tastes very similar to beef.

The weather was not acting in our favor as we had about 95% cloud coverage and the predicted aurora activity was low.  So the chance of seeing the Northern Lights was awfully low.  However as we were walking to change out of our gear and head home, we looked up and a hole had opened up in the clouds and there were they were.  A bright green stripe jiggled across the sky with a movement similar to Jello.  We all looked at each other stunned and all started jumping around.  I instantly grabbed my camera and we started snapping pictures.  Due to my excitement, I forgot to focus so we each have a pinhole-camera-like photograph with the aurora behind us.  I giggled for at least half an hour after we got back on the bus.  Everything that we had hoped would happen did, and we knew that we just had one of the most magical nights of our lives.

We honestly were not sure how Oslo would be able to even be half as exciting as Tromsø but as we walked out onto the main street, we were reminded of Downtown Crossing in Boston.  The city felt familiar even though we had never stepped foot in it before this moment.  We found our hotel and tourist info and asked where we should see, and after the whole map was circled, we decided to just wander and see what happened.  The first attraction was the Oslo City Hall, which is decorated with giant murals depicting different aspects of Norwegian history.  Painting the murals stopped during World War II when the country was under Nazi occupation but were continued once the war ended.  The city hall is also where the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out each year so that added to the cool factor.

Oslo Opera House

Halfway up the Oslo Opera House roof

We made our way to the Norwegian Royal Palace, which also included the royal gardens that have now been converted into a public park.  The palace only offers tours during the summer months so unfortunately we couldn’t go inside, but we enjoyed watching the guards outside on patrol.  After walking to the other side of the city, we discovered the Oslo Opera House located at the start of the Oslofjord.  It’s modern design allowed you to walk up onto its roof, which provided a nice panoramic view of the city.  The Opera House was a nice find on our search for the Film Museum that we eventually found after almost giving up hope.  Walking through this was like walking through my History of Media Arts & History of Photography classes.  There were the Lumière Brothers next to Edison’s Kinetoscope, next to a magic lantern.  It was great to have a visible representation of everything I have learned in the last year and a half at Emerson.

Exhausted from all of the traveling, I called it a day after dinner anticipating another 6am flight in the morning.  The morning came and before we knew it, we were back at Kasteel Well having lunch.  I still don’t think I’ll get over the fact that I can have a breakfast in a country and then have lunch in another.  This trip was such an effort to plan and execute, but I’m so incredibly happy that we were able to pull it off.  This is going to be something that I will be talking about for a long, long time.

…50 years later…

“Back in the day, I went dogsledding in Norw…”
“Grandpa!  We get it!  You tell us every time we come over!”
“…the first time I saw the Northern Lights…”

If you can get yourself up to Norway, go.  If you do, go up to Tromsø, you won’t be disappointed.

I know I’ll be back.