Tromso – Above the Arctic Circle

December 18, 2016

Green and pink dreams morph into orange and green; this must be the most cheery breakfast room I’ve eaten in. We take a cab to the train station and then a train to the airport. RP’s is on the flight after ours, but he decides to come with us anyway, because you never know with airports. We are flying SAS this time. We have to check ourselves in, get baggage tags from the kiosk and check our bags in ourselves as well. RP’s done with his, but our tickets just won’t read. Then RP says “Hey, I’m not on the next flight. My flight’s at 11:45.” The husband is sure that’s not possible. He is positive that RP is flight is after ours. Since RP has his boarding card, with the time printed on it in his hand, it can mean only one thing. We missed our flight.

I can’t say if it was the holiday spirit or the lipstick magic or if it really just our lucky day as the customer service agent put it, SAS accommodated us on the another flight free of charge.

“Everything is AWESOME!!”

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We reach Tromso close to four in the afternoon. It’s dark as midnight. We check-in at the Thon Polar and head out to look for tours. The Northern Lights tours are cancelled due to cloudy skies. There is no availability for dog sledding and it’s too cold to go whale watching. What do we do? We go get pizza at Pepe’s. This seems to be a popular option; we see it everywhere. At $16 a pizza it sure is expensive and no way gourmet, but it’s good and we are on vacation. Some food, some wine and some research cools my irate mind. We will go reindeer petting and try our hands at riding snow mobiles tomorrow. Tomorrow night, weather willing, we will go chase those lights out. We have found a company that still has spots open for dog sledding the day after and tonight – tonight we are going for what promises to be a mesmerizing midnight mass at the Arctic Cathedral.

“Everything is AWESOME!!”

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We take a bus to the cathedral and are there a little before midnight.  Architect Jan Inge Hovig’s masterpiece is unlike any church or cathedral I have seen before. The form seems to mimic the majestic mountains in the background. In front, the tiny city of Tromso flickers across the water. We are awed. We pick our way up the slippery slope, expecting  to be swept away by moving Norwegian folk songs and traditional hymns in a sublime candlelight atmosphere. We try the door. It is locked. We knock and we try again with no avail. After a quick round of consultation we shuffle around to the back. Here we meet the artist Victor Sparre’s interpretation of the building’s soul – a  fantastic glass mosaic depicting his vision of the return of Christ. There seems to be no activity anywhere in or around the cathedral. Another quick consultation, this time with google shows us that the midnight concert happened at eight p.m. We are disappointed, but the views from up here some what make up for it. We decide to walk across the bridge, back to our hotel. A midnight walk over the Arctic Ocean -what a way to end the day!

“Everything is AWESOME!!”

 

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An evening in Oslo


December 16 and 17, 2015

I have packed all that need. The house has been tidied. The fridge and pantry stocked up for the family. Keys and instructions been given. Paper submitted. Each item triple checked. I fly to Tromso this evening. Everything is going so smoothly, it seems unreal. I’m sure I’m missing something important, but I’m not. I make it to JFK (airport) without a glitch. I have allowed for more time than the husband deemed required. I am at the correct terminal. I have my passport and what the husband said was my boarding card. This is where I think I willed a potential nightmare in. The security line is winding all the way to the back of the terminal. Some people are nervous fliers, I’m a nervous boarder. A lifetime of missed trains and planes has left me with acute boarding anxiety. I ask someone to hold my place, while I try to find a boarding agent to help me jump the queue. When I find an agent, she tells me what I have on the airline app is not my boarding card and I need to get into line to first get a boarding card. I look at the looong line and she looks at me; she asks me to join the relatively short premier customer line.  When I am finally handed my boarding card, I ask the boarder if there is any way she can get me past security in time for my flight. She smiles and points to the long line I had skipped and says, “A lot of these people in line are waiting to board the same flight. You’ll make it.”  In the meanwhile, my place holder seems to have gone so far ahead, that I can no longer spot him. I make it to the flight with 4 minutes to spare for boarding.

 We flew Norwegian. Since the husband handled all the logistics, I didn’t know till I boarded that this is a low cost, no frills airlines. What that means is you pay for each additional service like food, blankets and even headphones. I have a stopover at Stockholm and since there are no clear signs or people to give any directions, I am quite lost about how to get to my connecting flight.  I make it to and past immigration and to Oslo. At Oslo, I walk straight out, without having to clear immigration or customs.  I am genuinely surprised and so is the lady at the tourist information centre, till we realize I was in Schengen zone and I had already cleared immigration at Stockholm. Smooth! Now, a train to the city centre. I’m not sure if I should use my card to buy a ticket, so I change some money. Did I mention, the train station and trains have FREE WiFi? When I get off at my station, I pull up the hotel address and the husband’s directions “It’s a very short walk from the station. I took a cab and got ripped off” Okay.. I put Hotel Thon Munch in my google maps and start walking.  Since the husband took a cab here’s what he didn’t realize – a. the cobblestone sidewalks of Oslo are not meant for stroller bags. b. there’s ice on the sidewalks which makes them slippery and grit thrown in to keep people from slipping, both of which add to the challenge. Low battery alert on phone. Low battery alert on phone. Dead. Thankfully a helpful stranger points me in the right direction.

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The big plan for the evening is to go to a Christmas Market, get dinner and attend a Christmas concert by the Oslo Symphony. The Christmas market is tiny compared to the holiday markets of NYC, but it is charming nevertheless.  It has a little fire place, a talking reindeer head, an ice skating rink and a Ferris wheel.  I try the glogg, which tastes like spiced apple cider. Since it was being sold in a Christmas market it had no alcohol I guess, but it warmed me up all the same. We return to the hotel to pick up RP and then all of us head to the concert hall. We eat some surprisingly good deli fare as we walk to our destination.

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Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

We are late, but in time to sneak in during applause. The programme includes folk melodies, classics and show pieces. The music was soothing enough to lull a baby to sleep. It wraps around us like a cocoon. Music has no language, but the concert is presented in Norwegian.  Herborg Kråkevik sings most hauntingly. We do not understand a word of what is spoken or sung, but the concert touch a chord. The highlight of the evening was Tine Thing Helseth’s trumpet solo. It transports me to the world of dreams. Dreams filled with sonorous sounds and multi coloured lights dancing across starry skies. Perhaps tomorrow this dream will come true.

 

The Boreal Dream

Sometime in Fall 2015

 

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Every person I know has the Northern Lights on their bucket list and we are no different. The husband has a chunk of leave to take before year end and is badgering me about taking it around Thanksgiving. My work and school schedule clash badly and that is not possible, so I push it out to winter break. Here’s the problem – every warm place is as expensive as Mars and there’s no point going to someplace cold from someplace cold. He sulks. I suggest the Northern Lights. I suggest it just to make things brighter, but he lights up.  Next thing I know is, he has finger paused on “book tickets” and I’m being pressurised to commit to travel dates. This is crazy. I have always dreamt of going to Finland, seeing the Aurora Borealis and meeting Santa because everyone knows Santa lives in Finland. The husband has something different in mind. Somehow the tickets are way cheaper to the destination of his choice and that’s where we are going, provided my leave gets approved and we get our visas. Luck is on our side. Everything falls in place.We even manage to coordinate dates and tickets so that the family is here when we get back, making it a super Christmas and an extended holiday.

 

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Rahul Pagey aka RP

The husband’s friend (RP) will be joining us in Oslo, from where we begin our great Scandinavian adventure. Thanks to my massive bungling in dates, the husband will now be reaching Oslo one day before I do. Since it’s winter, there is only so much that can be done and I want to do it all. I make grand plans and the men coordinate. We decide to drop the Bergen Rail ride from Oslo to Bergen in favour of an extra day to chase the lights, but we squeeze in Svalbard, the closest you can get to the north pole.

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Someday my Dream will come True

The final plan has a Christmas Market, a concert, a Viking Museum, an art gallery, a sculpture park, dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, polar bear spotting, aurora chasing, reindeer petting, polar nights and eating in  a Sami tent. I can’t wait to get there.

 

Half the Story

We are back in the new year with a new name. When I started this blog, I couldn’t think of a name I liked enough so I decided to keep it plain and simple. It took me two years to come up with two titles I loved. After a lot of mental debate, I finally zeroed in on “Half the Story”. I’m not telling what the other title was, though there is a hint hidden somewhere in here.

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Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

What’s the story behind “Half the Story”? Well, one beautiful morning it suddenly dawned on me that everything that I record here is just my version of what happened – my half so to speak. If the husband had to tell the story it might sound different. Then there are all the other versions – the friends we travel with, the strangers we meet. I have an active imagination and I picturize everything as I read. Sometimes I even reimagine movies. This means there is also a reader interpretation of these stories that floats around in your heads. Lastly, there are all those little bits that I leave out in an effort to keep a tight storyline. So what you read here is really only half the story.

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Photo Courtesy – Ganesh Sankaran

Leave me a comment to let me know what you think of “Half the Story” – the title and the blog. I love hearing from you.

Here’s wishing all of you a very joyous and prosperous 2016.

P.S – Keep reading, we have plenty of exciting posts coming up