I am from Brazil, the land of sunshine, and whenever I am asked where I come from, people just assume I love going to the beaches, go sunbathing and wear tiny bikinis — that isn’t true. Most of the times, in fact, I just wish I could move to a cold place — sure, hearing the ocean and looking at the blue sky almost everyday seems nice, but not when you are in the southern hemisphere. Brazil is one of the hottest countries and Rio, is one of the hottest cities.
The reason why I have chosen to travel to Norway is because I think it is a very special country, plus, I have been trying to learn the language for the past four years. The mountains, fjords and forests help to build up this “magical” atmosphere, and that what makes Norway worth exploring — thinking that you might suddenly bump into Trolls along the way.
Ok. But why winter?
First of all, is during this time of the year when you are most likely to see the Northern Lights. Yes, it is cold, but as Norwegians say: there isn’t bad weather only bad clothes — and I totally agree. Even though I am used to have temperatures around 35ºC I was very well capable to survive the winter and even when I couldn’t feel my feet or hands, I still managed to make the best out of this trip.
There are some activities that you can only do it during the winter season and I am glad to say I was able to do most of them (or the ones I really wanted to do)… but if you are willing to go up to the Arctic, make sure you prepare your wallet. Here’s why you should consider Norway as your winter destination:
1. Reindeer Sledding/Meeting the Samis
If you don’t know exactly who the samis are, let me explain to you: the sami are the indigenous people that lives in the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They have their own costumes and different languages — some of which are unfortunately dying. It was interesting hearing the stories about them and how the reindeer still plays such an important role in their lives. They once used to wear clothes made out of reindeer skins and fur, nowadays the Sami people are more integrated in the “mordern” world and don’t necessarily need to do that anymore, but, in souvenir shops you will still often see objects and clothes made out of reindeer.
This tour was very much about explaining how the samis used to live years back when there wasn’t electricity or cellphones. It began in a Lavvo — a “tent” in which the Samis used to live in — where we took off our coats and put some thermal clothes. Then the tour guide drove us all to the Norwegian part of Lapland, where we could finally do the Reindeer sledding and later, pet them and feed them. Although I was expecting to be faster, I really did enjoy it! The reindeers are the most wonderful and beautiful animals I have ever seen and their antlers are so cool looking!
When we got back to the Lavvo, we put our clothes back on, sat down, had a reindeer soup with some pink juice — that tasted really good — while the tour guide told us some stories about the Sami culture. He showed us some of the clothes they used to wear, the tools they used to carry around when they had to go up to the mountains by themselves and he finished by yoiking a song (it is like singing except there are no words).
2. Chasing the Northern Lights
I wasn’t really sure if I should take the risk and try to see the Northern lights. When I bought the tickets to Norway I remember checking the weather forecast to see whether it was worth going to Tromsø to see the lights or not. Once I arrived there it was completely different, the weather was really bad and cloudy. I still have no idea why I decided to go through with it when I knew the chances of spotting the lights were very unlikely, but I am glad I did. It wasn’t very strong but it was amazing anyway.
The tour guide was really nice, he lended me his tripod so that I could take pictures, he also taught me how to set up my camera in order to capture the lights. He bought us some food and he made a barbecue in a beach in the island of Kvaløya — which in Norwegian means “the island of the whales”. We ate moose hamburguers and ham, it was delicious and we drank hot chocolate. It was so cold I couldn’t even feel my feet and the wind was pretty strong too. I was one of the few ones who was freezing but having fun, while the others wanted to go back and rush to the van, I really wanted to stay there and look up the sky and see the stars.
Yes, you should be careful when ordering a “Chasing the Northern Lights” tour because you never know if you are indeed going to see the lights, but in my case, I am happy I didn’t give up on it. Most of the companies also give you a refund in case you don’t see anything, but some of them don’t. My tour was the basic one and it lasted around 7 hours.
3. Dog Sledding
This is one of the activities that I most wanted to do, if you do decide to try this when you are in Norway, make sure you book it in advance because everyone wants to try it. I went twice in the Tourist Center in Tromsø and asked them if there were any spots available so that I could go dog sledding and the woman replied by saying it was fully booked. With a little research I discovered there was another company called “Tromsø Villmarksenterer” and luckily they had a spot right before my depature to Bergen, in the next morning.
You can do that in other places too, but I don’t know, for me, being part of this winter activities in the “capital of the Arctic” makes everything seem more exciting!
There were about 300 dogs there and the tour guide took us to pet some of the puppies too. It was the sweetest thing ever! She also told us about the behaviour of the huskies and that we should be careful with our belongings once the dogs like to steal things. After we went dog sledding we also had a meal, we ate reindeer soup and drank water, for dessert, chocolate cake!
I went to Hemsedal with my friend, there I was able to go Skiing for the first time — or at least I tried to. We arrived in the middle of a snow storm, so the weather was very unstable, but we decided to take the risk anyway. Although I sucked, it was really fun to try this and I was also expecting it to be more expensive than it was… considering it is Norway. Hemsedal is really beautiful, the mountains are jaw-dropping, specially when the sun brightens them.
They have the second largest Ski resort in Norway and many Danes go there to ski, it was quite fun hearing people speak Danish and Swedish all the time. One of my happiest memories from this weekend was when I was able to understood what the Danish attendant said to me, the other one was when I finally managed to brake the Skis and slow down before crashing into something or somebody!
Winter sports and specially Skiing is very popular in Norway, so this time of the year the resorts are crowded and there are a lot of competitions and sporty events like that. During my stay in Norway, Oslo was hosting the winter X-Games and Lillehammer the Youth Winter Olympics, unfortunately I couldn’t go to any of those events, but who knows, maybe next time!