Norwegian Lapland, “Finnmark” in Finnish, is located in the extreme northeastern part of Norway, north of Finland and west of Russia, bordered by the Norwegian Sea on the northwest and the Arctic Ocean on the northeast. Another icy adventure to the end of the world ! Finnmark or Finnmárku in Northern Sámi is part of the Sápmi region. This vast area is at the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia. Norwegian Lapland is mountainous and characterized by vast tundra areas, steep cliffs, vertiginous fjords and rugged coastlines. But it is not just the wilderness, pristine nature and picturesque old villages that characterize this region. The city of Tromsø, gateway to the Arctic, is “The place to be” for Northern Lights hunters. Everything is on hand to enjoy Aurora Borealis “hunting” in the best spots under the guidance of a guide… Camera slung over your shoulder, are you ready for a Northern Lights safari ? How stupid am I ! The hunt does not start before 7 pm. Just enough time to visit Tromsø and its surroundings.
Polar walk in the city of Tromsø nicknamed the « Paris of the North »
Located 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the city of Tromsø (“Romsa” in the Sámi) has a population of 64,376 and is located in the 9th most populous county with 74,541 inhabitants, a density of 78 per square mile. It is the third largest urban area north of the Arctic Circle after Murmansk and Norilsk both in Russia. The city enjoys a warmer climate than most other places located at the same latitude due to the effect of the Gulf Stream. During the 19th century, Tromsø was nicknamed “the Paris of the North” although no one knows the origin of this nickname. Several legends circulate, but the most tenacious is that its nickname comes from the elegance of the wives of long-distance captains, wives who followed the fashions of Paris. Most of the city, including the city center, is located on the small island of Tromsøya between the Norwegian mainland and the large island of Kvaløya to the west. Tromsøya is connected to the mainland by the Tromsø bridge and the 2.2-mile Tromsøysund Tunnel. The streets of Tromsø are extremely slippery during the winter, and a pair of “isbrodd” (shoes with crampons) can be very useful. With proper footwear, it is pleasant to wander through the streets, passing old wooden houses and modern buildings, including the library with bold curved walls or the Arctic Cathedral, located a little away from the city center. The city center has a large number of old wooden houses. The oldest dates from 1789. Among the older buildings, the Lutheran Cathedral (Tromsø Domkirka) is the world’s northernmost protestant church, completed in 1861. The cathedral has an unusual wooden neo-gothic architecture and is one of Norway’s major wooden churches. It was built using the cog joint method.
« At the harbor of Tromsø
There are sailors singing
Of the dreams that haunt them
Off the coast of Tromsø »
At the harbor, under the faint orange late-afternoon light, you can admire the colorful facades of wooden houses, including the Polar Museum inside an old red warehouse dating from 1830. If you dream of discovering the incredible and senseless expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen (famous Norwegian pioneers of the polar regions) and hear the adventures of trapper Henry Rudi, who killed 713 polar bears, this is the museum for you. To continue the adventure, you can sip a beer at the famous Mack Ølhallen brewery, the oldest pub in Tromsø dating from 1928, and… carefully picking the spot marked Rudi, face two stuffed polar bears! Beer lovers can also opt for the “Tromsø Safari Beer”, a 3-hour visit to local breweries ! But, if you are more contemplative than adventurous, you can simply sit in the harbor and admire the Fjellheisen mountain (4,062 feet above sea level) and watch the fishing boats entering the harbor or docking at the wharf.
Finally, if Tromsø is a big fishing port, it is also an important stop on for the famous Hurtigruten also known as the Norwegian Coastal Express, a cruise and cargo ferry… It is an opportunity to see the fascinating ballet of tourists dropped into the streets, running against the clock to take as many pictures as possible and buying small plaster trolls in the harbor souvenir shops !
Norway has more than a thousand fjords, which look like calm blue lakes. However, the water is salty since they are long narrow inlets. Often described as “nature’s works of art”, they are usually deep (making them accessible to large ships) with cliffs on either side created by glaciers. From Tromsø, exploring the fjords is easy. In the Bay of Eidkjosen, many pleasure boats are moored at the dock; some are still caught in the ice and unable to move. Freezing night temperatures favor the formation of surface ice in these still waters… but if we look a few degrees away toward the fishing boats at the pier… what a beautiful mirror !
« Like a chimera’s tongue, like a liquid, blue flame, the fjord sleeps between the steep mountains, like a long, tortuous lake ».
(André Suarès, French poet)
A few miles away, we discover the Ersfjord, a charming setting like a pearl hidden in the depths of the fjord encircled by high mountains that plunge into the water. The landscape is breathtaking. I am like Narcissus, completely hypnotized by the reflection in the water… how not to fall in love with such a natural beauty… “Mirror, mirror tell me that this fjord is the most beautiful in the world” !
But what is this smell that disturbs my thoughts ? Possibly “Stockfisch“, unsalted fish, normally cod, dried by cold air and wind on wooden racks (hjell in Norwegian) in the open air ? In Norway, dried fish (tørrfisk in Norwegian) is a specialty, especially in the north of the country. The best-dried fish is prepared immediately after capture: eviscerated then dried whole or split along the spine. The fish must be free from injury. Even a small fishhook may disrupt the process of conservation… Washed carefully with seawater, the fish are hung for several weeks on the hjell. After a period between two and three months on the hjell, the fish is matured inside for another period between two and three months in a dry and airy environment. After this last treatment, the fish has lost about 70% of its weight in water, but retains all the main nutrients of fresh fish, including proteins, vitamins, iron, and calcium. It can then be kept for years… Here at the end of the world, not really, but almost… the place is almost free of travelers and inhabitants. We meet the reindeer Sven on the roadside…
The fjords follow one another but are not alike… In Vågbotn the mountains seem to plunge right into the fjord. Grøtfjord offers a breathtaking view of the Arctic Ocean and its beautiful ice-covered beach. If you have a real Viking spirit, go for a dip in the Arctic waters… I think I’ll stay on the beach !
Find more on Lapland
- Lapland, a Winter Paradise
- Lapland, cradle of Sámi Culture
- Lapland: Northern lights like you’ve never seen them before!