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Magic and healing in the Artic Circle…

There is something peaceful and healing about being in Nature; You can learn a lot about yourself while hiking in the mountains or on a quiet stroll on the beach. You can find resolutions to questions, find a patience you thought was lost, or let go of something you have carried for a long time. Walking through the little trail by our house does wonders whenever I need to clear my head. When tensions are high at home, we will all go for a walk or head to the forest for a hike. As most of you know, 2023 was among our most challenging years. In December, I received a small inheritance from my grandmother. We decided we would save it. The only thing we would do was travel to one of the top two places on our list. It was between Tromso, Norway, and Greece. The two places could not be more opposite. We knew Z had a winter break in February, or Greece would happen in summer or fall. Maybe we were impatient; perhaps we needed a holiday NOW. We decided we would go to Tromso.

Tromso, Norway, is above the Arctic Circle, and everyone talked about how Aurora Borealis was meant to be the most active she (yes, I refer to the lights as she) had been in the last 12 years. The best months to see her dancing in the sky are November-March. Like I said, Z had a break coming up in February. So it seemed like the best decision. We booked our flights, got proper winter gear, and began my research on Tromso. The one thing I read repeatedly was to be patient if you’re chasing the lights. Even on a clear night, there is no guarantee she will show. I read about the KP index and joined all the Northern Light alert pages on Facebook. I felt like I was an expert. More on this later…

Our travel day was a long one. We had to get up at 6 am to get to Schipol Airport. Our gate changed three times in an hour. Finally, we were off to Oslo, where we had a 6-hour layover. We had decided after much research it was worth it to pay to be in the lounge in Oslo. Food in Norway is costly. We could spend 90 euros for one meal, or 87 euros, and have unlimited food and drinks and comfortable seating. The lounge at Oslo airport is lovely. There were big couches to relax, “fire” places to create a cozy environment and a nice buffet. If you are a vegetarian, you are covered. There were no meat options, which is fine as Z is a vegetarian. The only hot food was two different soups. Nonetheless, waiting 6 hours for a flight to Tromso was comfortable. The airport wasn’t busy at all, and it wasn’t huge, so Rob and Z could go outside a few times to get some fresh air and let Z run off some energy in the snow.

I chose the flight I did because we would be flying into Tromso at night, and I knew many people had reported seeing the lights from the plane on their flight in. Rob had the window seat. He was on the lookout. As we were descending, he turned around excitedly. He and Z quickly switched seats, and Z covered himself and the window with Rob’s sweatshirt to block the light out. He quickly turned and told me to look. By the time I got to the window, she was gone. I wasn’t bummed; I mean, we still had many nights to see them.

Getting to Tromso city center is a quick 15-minute taxi ride. We stayed at Quality Hotel Saga. It was perfect for us. The room was spacious, with updated modern furnishings, heated bathroom floors, and a breathtaking view. The location was right in the center so that we could walk everywhere. After checking in, we realized we were hungry. The salad bar was good in the lounge, but we needed dinner. At this point, it was after ten, and everything was closed except 7-11. It was not exactly what I was thinking for dinner, but it was what we had. Z, on the other hand, was so excited. He had only seen 7-11’s in movies; what he knew about them were the slushie machines. What 9-year-old wouldn’t be excited about this? We made our way over. I got a slice of pizza, Rob got a hotdog, and Z, well, Z got popcorn; it was too late for a slushie. As I said, it was not exactly what we wanted, but it was decent, nothing like what I know 7-11 to be.

When we woke up in the morning, I had forgotten to close the shades, and with the morning light, the view was even more magnificent. Z didn’t see the mountain across the harbor because it was so cloudy and snowing hard when he went to bed, so we woke up to him exclaiming WOAH! It’s so beautiful!

Sundays in Tromso are slow. Everything except a few tourist shops are closed, and even those do not open until noon. So we had a little bit of a lazy morning; we enjoyed coffee in our room while admiring the view and made our way down to breakfast. The hotel had a beautiful breakfast buffet with the freshest food every day. It is included when you stay there. After breakfast, we got ready and explored the town. We walked down to the harbor and had snowball fights; all Z cared about was the snow. We continued to walk a bit and realized quite quickly how small the city of Tromso was. It became evident why people book more than one excursion and why most people come for about three days. We were here for five and had only one excursion. I wondered if we would get bored as we walked around this small, charming town.

One of the only restaurants open on Monday was Hard Rock Cafe. Usually, we would never go to a chain like this; however, if I am honest, They had a buffalo chicken sandwich with Ranch dressing on the menu, and my little southern heart was excited. Judge if you must. It was a little neat. We were at the northernmost Hardrock Cafe, and the food was excellent.

After lunch, Rob found an Artic Botanical Garden. Entrance was free and only about a 20-minute bus ride away. We made our way there, and the snow started falling harder than I had ever seen. We still had about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop. It was beautiful. However, once we arrived, we saw nothing but snow. I had never seen such a picturesque winterscape. There were, however, no botanicals to see. So we made our way back to the city. After checking out some shops and playing in the snow, we decided to take a beat in the room and warm up.

Monday after Breakfast, we needed to get Rob new boots and Z proper snow pants because he forgot to pack his. Shopping finished, and we made our way to the Troll Museum. It’s a small yet interactive museum. We learned about the history of trolls in Norwegian culture. We built mountains and rivers in the sandbox with a projector. It was so calming that we could have played with it for the rest of the day. Alas, other people wanted a turn as well.

After spending some time at the museum, we made our way to the tiniest bar in the universe. It is a little building with a small covered seating area behind it. You can get hot cocoa, tea, mulled wine, beer, and soft drinks. Food-wise, there are three choices. Reindeer Hotdog, Pork and Beef Hotdog, or Veggiedog. We weren’t hungry, so we had a beer. Z ordered a hot cocoa and played in the snow while Rob and I chatted about anything and everything. I felt we had not just talked like that for a long time. It was nice connecting in that way.

After returning to the hotel, Z was not ready to be inside, so Rob and I enjoyed coffee and tea, reading our books in the hotel lounge, and watching Z play in the snow. I was fighting a cold, so we decided to head to an early dinner at Burgr so I could sleep early. Burgr is a staple in Tromso. It is a small Nintendo-themed joint; it may seat 25 people. The burgers are amazing, and they even have an old-school Nintendo you can play. I will give you one guess where Z was throughout dinner.

The next day was probably our busiest day. We had breakfast at the hotel, then made our way to Polaria. It’s an aquarium of sorts. There were lobsters, crabs, and jellyfish. Mostly, you go to see the Arctic seals; they rehabilitate them and eventually help them get back into the wild. You can come and go as you please when you get a ticket until they close at 4 pm. We stayed so we could watch the seal feeding and training. They were so cute. I found a place called Blaze close to Polaria. It is a glass-blowing workshop; you can watch the artist’s work and purchase pieces. I love glass blowing, which I have always wanted to learn to do. Thankfully, the boys enjoyed it, too. Dinner was at a lovely place called La Famiglia. We always find an Italian spot since pasta is Z’s favorite. The food was terrific.

After dinner, it was time to make our way to Fjelheisen. The cable car takes you to the top of the mountain for a fantastic view over Tromso. The KP index was a bit higher this night, meaning that the lights were closer to us than they were to the pole. It was also meant to clear up a bit, so we were hopeful we would see the lights. It’s about a 5-minute ride to the top, rewarding you with one of the most amazing views. We felt like we were on top of the world. A restaurant is at the top, so you can relax with a drink or bite and enjoy the view. We would explore and then go in for a hot cocoa rinse and repeat. While the clouds did part, there were no lights that night. It was still quite magical. I sat alone for a bit and reflected on the last year and how I was letting go of it. Being surrounded by nothing but the night sky can slow everything down. The cable car runs until midnight. If you are not on the last one, you must hike down. We headed down around 11 as we did not want to hike down a snowy mountain in the dark!

By Wednesday, I realized why people book more than one excursion. We had done everything the little town had to offer. The excursions could get expensive, though, which is why we only booked one. There are many things to choose from; you can go Dog sledding, Reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, and more. Rob had a quick meeting after breakfast, so Z and I spent the morning going to shops and playing in the snow. He loves those cheeky tourist shops. Then, we made our way back to the tiny bar. I felt it was my duty to try a hotdog. I went with the Beef and Pork one; I couldn’t bring myself to get a reindeer hotdog. It was one of the best hotdogs I have ever had. There is always a line for the bar. While I was waiting, Z found the beginning of a giant snowman, and he decided he would finish it. The whole line was watching him build this massive snowman. When the middle and the head fell off, everyone in line said, “Oh no!” Z did not stop; everyone kept saying, “Man, he is smart, he is determined, and that is impressive.” When he got the snowman back together, they all cheered for him. I was a proud momma.

Back at the hotel, we hung out in the lounge playing Go Fish and BS; it was meant to be very clear that night, so Rob and I decided to go to this lake in the middle of Tromso, about 2km from the hotel. The KP index wasn’t very high, but maybe we would have a better shot at the lake if it were away from the city lights. After a fantastic dinner at the hotel, we bundled up and headed to the bus stop. You still have about a 10-15 hike to the lake from where you get off the bus. You must hike back to town if you are not on the last bus. We were ok with this, as it was only a 30-minute walk back. When we arrived at the lake, it looked like a snowy field. The lake was frozen under the snow. Rob and Z built an igloo to sit in and be a little warmer. We were there for about an hour before Z was ready to go. He was so cold. So we headed to the bus.

At this point, if I am being honest, I was starting to feel sad. I didn’t want to show it because Z thought he was disappointing us since he wanted to leave. I reassured him it was all okay, and it was. I was feeling down, but not because of him. See, the night we went to the top of the mountain, the KP was higher, and we saw nothing. Once we were back at the hotel after coming down from the mountain I got a text from my friend who was in Iceland. She saw Aurora dancing over the harbor by her hotel, and I was beyond happy for her. I checked the Tromso Lights Facebook page, and people reported seeing them from their hotels beside our hotel. I stood with the window open, staring for what felt like forever before I gave up and went to bed. So when we had to head back on Wednesday, I felt sad and like I wouldn’t see them. When we got back, Rob and Z went up to the room; I walked around the block staring at the sky and, if I am honest, crying. I didn’t realize it meant so much for me to see them. I didn’t understand why I was so emotional about it.

Thursday was our last day. We got a late start after breakfast. We had a lazy day strolling around town. Z wanted to go to one more shop. I wanted a handpainted ornament. Then, one last stop at the tiny bar. This time, we sat by the fire, roasting marshmallows and talking about how the amazing trip had been. We were all excited because our excursion was that night. After the tiny bar, we packed up at the hotel and headed to an early dinner. At 5:45, we loaded onto the bus to head to the Sami Farm.

Sami people are indigenous to Scandinavia. Their culture was lost for years, and they were not allowed to sing their songs, which they call joik. The people who took their land thought the songs of joik were from pagan practices and were sinful. Joiking is a spiritual way of singing about respecting nature and the Sami way of socializing. It wasn’t until the 1970s that they could reclaim their culture. At the farm, we were greeted by our host, who welcomed us with hot cocoa and tea. We helped feed the 300 reindeer on the farm. They were so majestic and gentle. We enjoyed a small Sami meal in their tent while listening to the stories. We even joined in on some Joiking. The meal consisted of reindeer stew, which is why we went to dinner beforehand. We enjoyed the salad and the chocolate cake, though!

The sky was so clear, but the KP index was very low. Our guide said we probably would not see anything. I was hopeful, though. See, the date was 2/22. My mom’s favorite number was 22. I swear I felt like I was willing the lights to show. After the meal, we all walked out of the tent. We looked up, and one of the other travelers, a photographer, said, “There it is!” At first, I couldn’t see anything, and he showed me his camera. You can’t see her with the naked eye when it is very faint. So I got my phone out and started taking photos, and it showed up. I was elated but wanted to see her dancing in person, not in an image. I kept looking up, being patient, and suddenly, I saw her! She isn’t green, pink or any other color you see in photos, she is like a pale white ribbon dancing in the sky. A flood of emotions came over me. I began to cry, and I mean cry. I felt like a weight was leaving my body. I felt like my mom was saying she was here and it was ok to let go of everything I have held onto since she passed away five years ago. This was a moment that I would remember forever. I felt like watching Aurora dance above me; I was healing in real time. I was filled with gratitude. I looked over at Rob, who may not admit it, but I saw him tear up. On the other hand, Z was playing with his new friend, who happened to be from Amsterdam.

On Friday, as we made our way to the airport, the snow-capped peaks of Tromso’s mountains faded into the distance, leaving an indelible imprint on our hearts. At that moment, a sense of weightlessness enveloped me, as if the burdens of everyday life had been lifted, replaced by a profound sense of freedom and clarity.

This adventure, I realized, was more than just a holiday— It was a life-changing journey, a profound experience for the soul. Over the course of five days, amidst the rugged beauty of the Arctic landscape, We all learned invaluable lessons in patience, resilience, and the art of letting go.

Stay tuned for more adventures with Rob, Z, and me…

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs.

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