Whale watching in Tromsø, one year ago.

I just met a good friend for dinner, and we realised something.

The last time we met more than a year ago, life could not have been more different for both of us. Especially for her.

The last time we saw each other was in October last year in Copenhagen. At the time, I was wide-eyed with fascination after moving 10,000 km up north, while she had felt trapped living in Singapore and wanted to move somewhere else. That was what compelled her to go on a solo trip to Europe, and I was lucky enough to have her visit me while I was still studying in Denmark.

Fast forward a year later, she is living half a world away in San Francisco, a whole new world of opportunities right in front of her. While what brought her there might not be a job like how she had planned, she did break free in the end and is in the midst of her own kind of adventures.

Whereas for me, I am situated slightly less up north than last year. While I knew that I had signed up for a life of uncertainties when I decided to drop everything back home and enroll into my Master’s programme, it still did not prepare me for just how different and unexpected things could be in a year’s time.

Exactly this day last year, my sister would be arriving at the Central Station in Aarhus and we were about to embark on an exciting adventure in Norway. I would have broken down the night before because my computer had crashed 10 minutes before my exam deadline, forcing me to submit an incomplete paper without the bibliography. I would have feared that I might get expelled for accidental plagiarism and might have called my programme coordinator crying and begging her to still allow me to go to Berkeley even if I were to fail that exam (I passed). I would also have barely recovered from the shock of having my room broken into in the midst of my exam period.

This year, I am having a quiet night in my cosy room in London (theft-free, hopefully) on a Saturday, my legs sore from standing for 7 hours a day for the past 5 days working in a shop in Camden Market. Instead of going further up north for my winter break, I am flying home to see my family and friends again after having been away for only 4 months.

And as I am sitting on my bed overlooking the misty night pondering about this, I realised something else about myself.

That I truly am a procastinator.

It has been exactly a year ago since I went to Tromsø. Whilst I did manage to scrape something up about my successful Northern Lights chase, I have completely ignored writing about another major nature wonder that we did in the lovely city (and had spent equally a lot of money on): the whale watching.

Being a great travel planner that I am, I did not even know that whale watching is a highly recommended activity in Tromsø. It was not until a random guy who came to teach us fishing in the freezing cold on our first night there told us about it that we came to know about such expeditions.

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The said random Norwegian fishing guy.

At first we brushed the idea aside as some kind of tours that tourists get cheated into. However, when we failed to see the Northern Lights on our first attempt, my sister and I resolved that we would not leave Tromsø until we saw something else other than some snow and the all-day darkness.

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Okay and maybe the pretty city lights.

Continue reading “Whale watching in Tromsø, one year ago.”

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The little great things of Tromsø.

As much as I think that the Northern Lights are one of the most incredible natural phenomena, I find it a pity that Tromsø is known for simply that – a gateway to see the Northern Lights. There seems to be very little else known about the city – most people out of the Nordic countries have never even heard of its name before, when in fact this place has so much to offer and is absolutely gorgeous.

I was guilty of exactly that – I came here aiming and caring for nothing but seeing the coveted aurora borealis. And knowing my tendency to not do any proper research before visiting a city (in a bid to be pleasantly surprised), I almost had no idea what was waiting for me at the largest town in Northern Norway.

Not only did Tromsø pleasantly surprise me, but it also took my breath away with its Arctic city charm. There is no earth-shatteringly famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Buckingham Palace in London. Instead, what Tromsø boasts is its own existence: a cold place in the Arctic with 24-hour darkness for a few weeks in the winter, the midnight sun in the summer, and of course the occasional visits of the Northern Lights. It is also nestled on a beautiful landscape with both mountains and the sea decorating its view – together with the city lights emanating from the houses, it makes for an absolutely breathtaking sight.

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The warm city lights contrasting with the white snow are possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

Despite not visiting any museums nor tourist attractions when I was there, I left the city being charmed endlessly. Tromsø showered us with many little things that made every moment so precious.

And it started the moment we landed at the Tromsø Airport.

Being greeted by Father Christmas.

My trip started rather horribly with me losing my luggage at the Oslo airport (due to my supreme idiocy). But it was instantly cured the moment I stepped into the airport building as we were welcome by the sight of this familiar guy waving at us.

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It was a much needed warm welcome to our coldest destination; naturally, we couldn’t leave without taking a picture with him.

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I’m pretty sure he was smiling underneath that big beard.

Continue reading “The little great things of Tromsø.”

‘Chasing’ the Northern Lights.

Parties and large gatherings generally confuse me. Anything that requires me to divide my attention between more than two people at the same time or where I’m required to make any kinds of small talks makes me nervous. This is why I normally retreat to the shadow of a bar the moment I get there, or speak to the same person whom I’m comfortable with for the next three hours and refuse to move my legs to speak to someone else across the room just in case I bump into a person that I have to make small talks with on the way there. It’s worked well for me so far and I think I have a mutual unspoken understanding with fellow party-goers whereby I normally ignore most people and they do me and that is the start of a beautiful friendship.

So it surprised me beyond words when, a week or so ago in the bar, people started approaching me to speak to me. I found out later that it was mainly driven by two things: my last blog post about the series of Murphy’s law happenings in December (thank you for all the messages, comments and concerns by the way. I did not expect it to cause quite a stir since I feel perfectly fine most of the time, but I am still very touched by it all); and the Northern Lights.

Until then, I thought that I was the only weirdo who wanted to see the Northern Lights so badly. I mean, someone even called me ‘crazy woman’ in my face for going even further north from Denmark to Norway during the winter when most others were travelling south in search for more warmth and the sun (I take being coined a crazy woman as a compliment by the way). But from my conversation with people and the reactions to my Northern Lights pictures, it turned out that a lot of people did want to see them, but I guess was the only weirdo who was crazy enough among my class mates to actually do it.

And since I seem to have reignited the sparks in some people to tick this off from their bucket list, I thought I would share some tips from my trip to Tromsø which I believe would be helpful in planning for Northern Lights trips (especially at the last minute).

Getting to Tromsø is not hard, considering it’s at the Arctic.
Tromsø is located in Norway (albeit a very northern part of it). This means that as long as you can get yourself to Oslo or other major cities in the Nordic countries, you will be able to find flight connections there, thanks to SAS and the more affordable Norwegian Airlines. I live in Aarhus, Denmark (a rather inaccessible city to say the least), and in order to get to Tromsø, I had to take a flight to Copenhagen, then to Oslo before finally landing at Tromsø. It was pretty straightforward, especially considering how far north Tromsø is and how Aarhus has the smallest international airport I have ever seen in my years of travelling.

Tromsø is an easy city to navigate and extremely beautiful.

Tromsø is a small city, and the airport is very accessible from the city centre. There is a direct public bus that takes you right to the city centre and to the biggest shopping mall in the city. The city centre is very easy to navigate (and this is coming from someone with a horrible sense of direction), and you can pretty much walk to all the main attractions.

Plus, the city is beautiful, both during the day (though the sun never rose during the three days we were there) and at night.

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And if you are lucky, some random Tromsø guy would approach you and teach you how to fish while you were admiring the view.

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Be prepared to spend a few nights there.
We saw the Northern Lights after our second try and people have been calling us extremely lucky. Apparently some people waited for a whole week and still did not get to see anything.

The thing about the Northern Lights is that there can be no guarantee for you to see it. We have been preached by the tour companies and the tourism websites that there are 3 necessary conditions for you to see the Northern Lights: the sky must be clear, there must not be any light pollution, and the Northern Lights itself must be active. This means that you could end up with a really cloudy day, and you could spend the whole night chasing for a clear sky and when you found an opening among the clouds, you could see all the beautiful stars twinkling at you but no Northern Lights in sight because it was not active.

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Clear sky + minimal light pollution but no Northern Lights on our first attempt. To be fair, the view was still gorgeous.

So you would have to come back the next day on a different tour and hope that all these things are aligned. I have got to be honest with you – the uncertainties can be nerve-wrecking so always be prepared for the worst!

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This was the only Northern Lights we saw on our first attempt. It lasted for about 2 minutes.

Continue reading “‘Chasing’ the Northern Lights.”

Best looking bus stop in Tromsø.

I am so behind my travel writing that before I know it, it is Christmas Eve. Since everything is closed here in Oslo (and pretty much the whole of Europe, probably), I decided to finally tie myself down on a chair in my hotel room and write.

The problem is, I don’t even know where to begin. Should I start from the time when I flew from Aarhus to Shanghai just for the weekend? Or my perfect weekend in Stockholm celebrating Santa Lucia? Or when my room got broken into by two thieves? Or when I was caught in snow blizzards with some friends in Copenhagen?

But since it is Christmas, I have decided to talk about something happy and share with you a little secret for a beautiful photo spot in Tromsø (and also because I don’t have all the pictures from the other trips in my computer), which we discovered by accident while taking the bus from Hamna to Tromsø city centre.

In a bid to see the Northern Lights from the comfort of our room, I had decided to book an Airbnb flat away from the city lights. But the problem with that was that in order to reach most of the attractions in the city (including to go for a tour to see the Northern Lights), we had to take a 30-minute bus ride. And because of the remote location, the public transport route did not exist in Google Map. Thank goodness our Airbnb host was extremely helpful and Norwegian people are as willing to help strangers as Danish people that we managed to locate the obscure bus stop amidst the pile of snow that covered the city.

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Our bus stop was just round the corner from this bend.

Continue reading “Best looking bus stop in Tromsø.”

Header of the Month: Autumn in Oslo.

Even though I live in a single-season country, I have always closely identified November with autumn ever since I visited Oslo in 2009.

It was my first time coming head on with how autumn looks like and feels, walking on leaves-strewn paths in the park, admiring colourful trees that are in the process of shedding their leaves, and of course going around in a trench coat to keep warm from the chilly weather.

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I fell in love with autumn then and there.

I visited Oslo very briefly on a cruise trip from Copenhagen. It was something organised by our university, where they would put all of the exchange students on one cruise and shipped us to Oslo for a day trip. Our cruise departed from Copenhagen harbour on a beautiful afternoon.

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Continue reading “Header of the Month: Autumn in Oslo.”