Imagine a place where the pine trees, rooftops of houses in rustic villages and alpine tundra are covered in snow. The once translucent water flowing from a waterfall now frozen solid.
This is a typical winter scene where plants, animals and humans work harder on the inside than the outside. However, the not so typical scene of winter is the mythical faint green or rose aurora dancing in the sky that you may just chance upon on your stroll after dinner.
This majestic place is Norway, one of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. You would think that booking an-11 day trip to Northern Norway would be a surefire way for your eyes to feast on all that Norway has to offer, except that we had unwittingly booked our flights to coincide with the polar night.
What do you do on days that begin and stay at twilight until darkness descends?
When we crossed the Norwegian sea on a 30-seater Wideroe aircraft to Svolvær, I was sure I spotted the dark fin of an orca swimming in the sea. Landing after a 20-minute journey, a short taxi ride took us to Svinøya Rorbuer, a rorbu resort located on an idyllic waterfront, fringed by the mountains. Upon opening the door to our beautiful fishermen cabin, we immediately felt the relaxing vibe of a home away from home. It was modernly furnished to include a small bedroom, separate living room, sofa, dining table and an excellently-equipped kitchen, fit for cooking most of our meals in the next four days.
From 6 pm to midnight, we began looking up in the sky for signs of the aurora. We joined a Northern Lights tour the same night, which turned into a long drive through the bitterly cold and wet night in search of gaps in the clouds, away from the light pollution.
It was not until the following morning when the sky had cleared that we saw the rustic beauty of Svolvær. I woke up to the sound of seagulls flying over the estuary. Although it was in the midst of polar night, it was bright with light orange streaks that peppered the sky. With each passing hour, the warm shades of yellow, red and purple descended into the characteristic blue twilight. I had never appreciated daylight as much as now, when I knew that it would last only three hours. We started trekking in the southern direction on Gunnar Bergsvei towards Kuba, and along the way we chanced upon a cliff where we stood to watch the ocean hitting the rocks and the sun hiding, just below the horizon. Along the way, I came across big rocks with a luminous sheen of algae on them, an industrial site with dilapidated houses, and rows of A-frames that are used for drying cod in the winter. As we walked past huge rocks breaking the waves, we had the sea in front of us and the mountains behind.
The cool air, cusped with the delicious smell of stockfish, was an invigorating and sublime way to spend the last day of 2012.
The same night, we packed a hot water bottle, blanket, multiple warm layers and set off on our own Northern Lights hunt. As I walked towards the darkness, I saw an unsuspecting wispy green cloud in the sky. It turned out to be the Aurora Borealis! Although it was not nearly as bright by the naked eye as the ones you normally see on photographs, it was a healthy green glow following an extended exposure on my DSLR. At the stroke of midnight, we watched the fireworks on the bridge as 2012 swiftly gave way to 2013. It's wonderful how a difference in a few seconds can fill you with a sudden surge of renewed energy, when you feel lifted from the past and placed into a hopeful beginning of the future.
On New Year's day, we dined at Børsen Spiseri, a traditional fish restaurant that served food from the local produce. There is a certain rustic quality to this restaurant, reflected by the cabin style walls, wooden blinds, and tables, and a soft lighting from the crystal chandeliers. Their menu caters for meat or vegetarian lovers, with delightful starters of smoked arctic char with cream, fresh herring, wasabi and sesame marinated halibut, and creamy cod and potato, each individually served in glass bowls. The real treat is the Norwegians' perennial favourite, the stockfish, which is dried cod with succulent flavours as a result of natural curing in dry winter air. If ever there was any uncertainty about Norwegian cuisines, this is a dish that will banish all doubts. We learned that stockfish is best prepared by simmering lightly in a pan or cooked in melt-in-the-mouth herbed tomato sauce. Exiting into a crisp and cold evening, our heart was warmed by the culinary high point of our trip.
Svolvær is a sacred place, surrounded by mountains, valleys and sea. A place that even Norwegians come for holidays, where Nature's grandeur comes together. Winter seemed like the perfect time to come to avoid the stream of tourists. In the summer, one can even cycle to neighbouring islands, which are all interconnected by bridges. It's also worth visiting the Viking Museum to learn about the history and lifestyle of the Norse warriors, and take the scenic bus route from Svolvær to Henningsvaer, a charming fishing village boldly known as the Venice of the archipelago.
For more about Northern Norway by air, sea, and land, visit samanthahiew.com.