The Gallery: Cold

As a family, we are quite partial to a cold holiday.

Plane to lapland
Yes, we get a little snow here in the UK, but there is nothing like posing for a family photo while ankle (or higher) deep in the white stuff.

Family in snow
Of course, you have to  make sure everyone wraps up warm.

children dressed for snow

As long as everyone is dressed appropriately, the temperature doesn’t matter. It might be -10 but you can have lots of fun when it’s cold and snowy outside.

You can build a decent sized  snowman.

Big snowman

You can go on a reindeer trek.

Reindeer sled ride in lapland

And of course there is always sledding.

Sledding Lapland

 

Even the adults can enjoy themselves. Taking control of a husky team is surprisingly satisfying.

Husky team in Lapland

If you aren’t that keen on snowy activities, then how about renting a cottage somewhere cold and just chilling? (See what I did there?)

You could rent a fisherman’s hut, like this.

Lauklines Kystferie

And enjoy a view like this.

Lake view Norway

 

Rent a car and drive around in the snow. With snow tyres, it’s easy and fun to go exploring.

We found a beach.

beach winter Norway

 

Even the rock pools were frozen.

Frozen rock pools
The roads were a bit frightening.

Scary roads Norway

 

But the scenery was truly spectacular.

mountains and lake norway
frozen waterfall norway

We’d recommend a cold family holiday. As you can see, you don’t have to go skiing to have a good time in the snow!

kick sled

 

ETA that these photos were taken during 2 separate holidays. The first seven were taken in Finnish Lapland in December 2011 when we visited Father Christmas with Esprit.
The second eight were taken when we rented this fisherman’s cottage 30 miles from Tromsø in Norway during February halfterm in 2013 and spent a week just driving around playing in the snow and looking at scenery.

This post was written for this week’s Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.

wpid-the-gallery-e1372717730880.png

Not The Gallery: The Northern Lights

We saw many amazing things during our week in Arctic Norway. Snowy mountain passes, frozen fjords, a family of mink swimming to the shore and sea eagles flying high overhead. But the thing at the top of our list was the Aurora Borealis.

We had been worried that the sky might not be clear enough during our visit but we were lucky enough to see it not once, but 4 times, during our week at Lauklines Kystferie.

The first night we spotted the Lights was the night we arrived.  The sky was clear with a waxing moon. It was 9 pm and we had just got the kids to bed after they had been up for 18 hours, I poked my head out the door just in case, and there they were. At first I wasn’t quite sure they were the Lights, but a quick glimpse down the row of  cabins to my right  confirmed my sighting as there were lights from cameras glowing from every other jetty on the shore. ‘ The Lights!’, I said to DH. He took a quick look and then ran around like a mad thing trying to wake the kids so they could see them too.

I stood out on the frozen jetty in my thick socks and gazed at the river of light flowing above me.  It was truly amazing to see. The colour of the Lights is not as usually as bright in real life as it is in photos, but it’s the movement, and the way the brightness comes and goes which makes them so eerie and magical. They didn’t last long that first night- maybe 15 minutes. DH spent most of that time carrying kids down the stairs and trying to wake them enough to take a look at the sky. I wouldn’t have bothered myself, none of them remembered anything the next morning and DH was upset because he didn’t get to see the Lights  move at all.

My photographic efforts that night were pretty bad. I hadn’t got the camera set up beforehand and had no idea what I was doing, but you can see a photo here if you really want to. It’s pretty bad.

The second night, was also clear and the Lights showed up early, at 5:45 pm,  even before the sun had gone down properly.

Northern Lights Laukline Kystferie

The kids had plenty of viewing opportunities. In the end, they got bored and cold, and asked to go inside. The show that night went on and on, until after 11pm. We had considered driving up to the nearby mountain pass on the off chance that the Lights showed up as we were told that the view is unrestricted up there, but in the end there was no need. We got plenty of photos from just outside our back door and DH got to spend hours outside watching the lights move. I stood out on the jetty for so long that I think I had a moment of absolute peace and tranquility, but it could just be I was in danger of developing hypothermia.

Northern Lights Laukline Kystferie

After such an amazing show, we would have been satisfied if we had never seen the Lights again, but the third night dawn as bright and clear as the previous two. Sure enough, around 10pm, there they were again,; streaming over the mountains and dancing above our cabin.

Northern Lights Laukline Kystferie

This display only went on for an hour, but I had enough time to get a photo of DH standing in front of them.

Northern Lights Laukline Kystferie

After that, the weather deteriorated and we had mainly cloudy  nights until our 6th night in the cabin. On the Thursday, there were some gaps in the clouds and we did get a quick, faint glimpse of the Lights one last time.

I know my photos aren’t perfect, I did a lot of fiddling and had to make do with a beanbag tripod and a kitchen chair, but they are proof that you don’t need to be a pro photographer with all the gear to get impressive photos of the Northern Lights.   Actually, getting photos is probably the easy bit, first you have to find the Aurora.

We were incredibly lucky to see them so many times, as many people on our flights home had not even caught a glimpse of them, even though they were in Tromso at the same time we were enjoying the show from our cabin and jetty, 30 kms west.

Northern Lights Lauklines Kystferie

What We Did In Norway

If you’ve been following my posts about our week in Norway last week, you’ll know that we stayed in a wooden fisherman’s cabin beside a fjord, about 30kms from Tromso. It was cosy, yet spacious but kind of in the middle of nowhere, so you could be forgiven for wondering what there was to do. Surely we must have got bored?

To be honest, we worried about this ourselves before we got there but we needn’t have. There was plenty to do.

First of all, I have no idea how, but they have reliable WiFi in the cabins. This means that tablets, phones and computers still work and provide a fallback for if things prove too quiet. This was helpful for both adults and children in our family. The TV had a good selection of channels as well, many of them were in English.

The immediate area surrounding the cabins lies between a very quiet narrow road and the water. While we were there, there was a foot of snow lying and another couple of inches fell one night, so our kids spent a lot of time playing in the white stuff. They slid down the banks in their snow gear, borrowed sleds from the main house and  raced each other down the drive way, built snow forts and also made a snow penguin they christened Penguiy.

Snow Penguin

 When we weren’t relaxing in or around Lauklines Kystferie, we spent our time exploring the tiny coastal roads that followed the contours of the fjords, by car.

One day we drove up to the frozen tip of the fjord we were staying beside and around the other side, went through a tunnel, then across a one lane replica of the bridge from Tromso, to a little island called Sommeroy. There wasn’t much there, even the shop/ cafe was closed but we did find a lovely snowy/sandy beach for the kids to explore.  Afterwards we had a car picnic as we drove home through small clusters of houses dotted around hidden inlets.

We even spotted our cabins across the water.

Lauklines Kystferies across the fjord

 Another day we embarked on an even longer trek through the mountain pass of the convoluted  ‘mainland’  and drove North to follow another coastal road.  We literally drove until the road ran out.

The end of the road

The fjords were like mirrors but the lakes were completely frozen over and snowed on and had snow mobile tracks all over them. Everything was covered in snow and we felt like  proper arctic explorers. Even the small fishing villages we passed through seemed deserted but the scenery was stunning.

Fjord near Tromso

We finished the day on yet another beach where it was so cold that even the rock pools had turned to ice.

Icy rockpools

Most days we had to venture into the Eurospar supermarket  just out of Tromso for more provisions as this was our closest shop. This was a 40 minute journey each way, so we tied it in with other outings when possible.

And we visited Tromso itself a few times. I didn’t enjoy driving our hire van around the city very much to begin with. It’s on an island and is basically one big hill; right handed hill starts proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. On our second visit there we discovered the ‘swiss cheese’ network of tunnels beneath the  town. These are extensive and include several roundabouts and a  parking area and made getting from A to B much easier.

Tromso has an interesting little Polaria which houses an Arctic aquarium, some locally based exhibits, a panoramic cinema, and the ubiquitous gift shop. The kids liked the seals and the little bubbles beneath some of  the exhibits which allowed you to get up close and personal with the seabed.

in the polaria, Tromso

Another day we visited the Polar Museum which has many interesting displays about the history of the area, and attempts to give you a feel for the hard lives that people endured not so many years ago. It’s in a very old, wooded house as well, so a bit crowded, but they have done the best with the limited space they have.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of information about the history of hunting which was something the kids found a bit traumatic. I would have liked to spend more time here but the kids were getting freaked out by the stuffed seal pups so we had to rush a bit. I did manage to get a picture of a Walrus skeleton though, I’ve never seen one before and love the way the front flippers look like they are on back to front.

Walrus skeleton, Polar Museum, Tromso

Our main problem in Tromso was finding somewhere to eat that was suitable for the kids. When asked for a recommendation, the guy selling tickets in the Polaria suggested Burger King but we wanted a proper meal. In the end we walked 10 minutes down the main road to Pastafabrikken, which did perfectly good pasta and pizza. It was a bit flash for us though and there were no other children to be seen.

Another day we went to Peppa’s Pizza which was more our style. It is an American style chain, with a kids’ play area and our lot met a couple of other British kids there which pleased everyone no end. The food was nothing special but the chips were good.

So there you go, Tromso in February is not all cross country skiing and husky sled rides, although these are certainly available if that’s what you are after.

We met several groups of people staying in Tromso and although they enjoyed the city, they were envious of our having had the chance to explore a little. My advice is,  if you are going to go all that way for a bit of adventure, then see if you can hire a car, even if for just a day. We liked the city but on the whole preferred being able to drive around and get out into the wilderness when we felt like it.

Driving around the fjords, Tromso

 

 

Norway: Where We Stayed

Our main objective in going to Norway was to see the Northern Lights, so it was no surprise when Google directed us to Tromso.

But we were travelling with four children and so didn’t want to stay in town and simply join a bus load of tourists being driven around the countryside all night. The kids would hate it and it was their holiday too. We had to make sure they had a good time, and we really didn’t want to inflict them on some poor strangers who were just trying to do a bit of peaceful Aurora spotting.

So DH started looking around for comfortable self catering accommodation, not far from Tromso, where we’d have a good chance of seeing the lights in situ. That’s when we stumbled across  the website for Lauklines Kystferie.

It ticked all the boxes; peaceful ( at least until we arrived), isolated ( less light pollution equals increased chances of seeing the Lights), large enough to house a lively family of 6 with enough stuff to do nearby during the day. The photos of the cabins sold the idea of staying in one to us and we quickly booked a week’s accommodation.

In Feburary 2013, there were no direct flights from LHR to Tromso, so we  flew with SAS airlines and had to stopover at Oslo. We had to collect our luggage and recheck it here though, which was a bit of a PITA as we then had to go through security again. But once that was over, the airport was fine. There was lots of room for the kids to run madly around and play areas as well. Food was very expensive though; we spent over £50 on 3 baguettes and 3 hotdogs!

Tromso airport was tiny, and we were the last flight of the day so baggage collection was speedy and we made our way to the Sixt office to collect our car. We had dithered a bit about hiring a car and thought about just getting a cab to take us out to the cabin, then booking a driver when we wanted to go somewhere. Then we saw the prices charged for this service- £250 each way. At those rates, even if we hired a car and just used it once apart from arriving and departing, we’d have broken even.  As it was was, we used the car almost every day.

The driving took a little getting used to. Driving a manual vehicle on the wrong side of an icy road was pretty nerve wracking and I’m afraid I swore rather a lot for the first 24 hours of driving in Norway. We stopped at a supermarket to stock up on the way to the cabin and spent the equivalent of a week’s shopping in the UK on enough food to last us 2-3 days. If you are going self catering in Norway, it may be a good idea to bring a couple of bags of pasta and a few tins of beans with you!

By the time we’d arrived in Tromso it was dark and so we could see very little of  where we were driving. The next day we realised this was just as well as the scenery we had driven through was stunning but may have just about finished me off after such a long day. We had our cheap Garmin satnav with us but hadn’t been able to pinpoint the exact address of the cabins on it, so were just driving and hoping we ended up where we wanted to. Thankfully everything went well and eventually we arrived safely at Lauklines Kystferie , parked in a very icy car park and we given the key to our cabin, which was a bit like the Tardis-
they look quite small from the outside but once you get inside there is plenty of room.

Lauklines Kystferie cabins

 

The single bedroom downstairs is rather compact but the other two upstairs bedrooms are huge and there would have been enough room to have 4 single beds in each one. The kitchen was functional and well-equipped and the dining living room area was large enough for the 6 of us too. There was a TV showing lots of channels( quite a few in English), a DVD player ( bring some films) as well as reliable WiFi.  There are also two bathrooms with powerful showers and plenty of warm water.

The only slight downside  is there is no washing machine in the cabin, but there is one you can use at reception. There is also no freezer in the fridge so be aware of this if you purchase frozen foods, although I believe the hosts, Hannah and Andreas, would be able to help you out if necessary. All our dealings with Andreas and another member of staff, Trudy, were very positive. They were extremely friendly and went out of their way to help us whenever they could. We hired some kids’ snow gloves from reception for our youngest two and Andreas kindly lent me a tripod for my camera as I was taking photos of the Lights with a bean bag and a kitchen chair.

The wooden cabins were very cozy, especially after coming in from the negative something temperatures outside. But the best bit about the accommodation was the location. They are right next to the water, with an little jetty out over the fjord.  The scene just outside the windows is stunning even at night when it’s so dark you can only see a few pinpoints of light along the coastline. During the day, the colour of the water changes with the light and sky, it was mesmerising and very relaxing.

Lauklines Kystferie view early morning

Morning fjord

Sunset fjord

Sunset fjord

Laukline Kystferie was originally a traditional trading post, which was established at the beginning of the 1900s. 13 years ago, the cabins were built to provide accommodation for families and groups who want to get away from it all, while experiencing some of the beauty and wildness of Arctic Norway.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Northern Norway then I couldn’t recommend Lauklines Kystferie highly enough. It’s the mark of a truly wonderful holiday when no one wants to come home, and I can  report that two days after our departure, all of us are still missing ‘our’ little cabin on the shores of the fjord in Norway very much.

Cabin Tussona, Lauklines Kystferie

 

 

 

What Not To Do When It Snows On Your Vehicle

If you are holidaying in a country where it snows a lot more often than it does in the UK, and you come out of your accommodation one day to find your vehicle looking like this,

snowy van

don’t just take a photo and ignore it.

Remove the snow as soon as you discover your car is covered in the white stuff.  I don’t know about you, but when it snows in the UK, we don’t bother clearing our car. This is because our Previa is so horrific to drive in the snow and ice that we dare not use it until everything has melted.

This is not the case in Norway. All vehicles are fitted with winter tyres which makes them much safer and easier to drive in wintry conditions. So if your car does become covered with a couple of inches of snow, and you don’t remove it manually, then the chances are good that you’ll be out on the road in it with the snow on top.

Obviously, you’ll have to clear the snow away from the windscreen; you wouldn’t be able to see afterwards. But if you are driving a biggish vehicle, say a Ford Transit van, you may not be able to see exactly how much snow has collected on the roof. Let me warn you, it will be a lot.

But unwittingly you will probably set off merrily over the snowy fjordside roads, over the pristine mountain pass and down the hill towards the bridge to Tromso.

In Tromso you may find  yourself driving around haphazardly looking for a parking space with 4 squabbling kids in the back, and in the process you may find yourself  approaching some traffic lights. And if those lights turn red, and you find yourself having to brake, you may hear a ominous scraping from overhead as the entire roof covering of snow slides forward and covers your windscreen completely.

This amount of snow will immediately render your windscreen wipers useless and so you will have to pull blindly to the side to allow the traffic building up behind you to pass. Your next move will be to dispatch your other half onto the roadside to clear the window avalanche, while you sit in the anonymity of the van and continue the important job of indicator monitoring.

The good news is that your children will find the whole episode hilarious and will stop fighting amongst themselves for a full five minutes after you can see again.  Use the time wisely and find a parking space.

Don’t risk looking like a complete idiot in a foreign city centre. Just clear your roof when you clear your windscreen.

Snow Day In Norway

Yesterday the view from our cabin looked like this. You can’t see our deck, but you can see the deck and roof on the building next door are relatively clear of snow.

Lauklines Kystferies before snow

This morning, it looks like this. That layer of snow wasn’t there yesterday.

Lauklines Kystferie after snow

 The weather forecast predicted 10cms of snow overnight; we haven’t been out with a ruler yet but that looks about right.

 

We’ve had something climb up on the decking and check out our back door during the night. We saw a family of three mink swimming across the fjord the other  day, so it could be one of these, or even an otter.

footprints in the snow

The kids are beside themselves with excitement. When it stops snowing they are going to go out sledding. The snow here isn’t great for snowballs and snowmen; it’s too fine, too glittery, but it’s great for sliding.

All 4 are currently downstairs in their PJs, a rare treat for them, and are playing on iPads while watching cartoons dubbed in Norwegian.  They like seeing how close to the English originals the voices are.

I’ve called today a snow day and we are staying put. Mainly because I’m a wimp about driving in the snow but also we’ve been driving at least 60 kms a day on the ‘wrong’ side of the road since we’ve been here. I need a rest and the kids could do with some down time from being strapped in as well.

The locals have no such qualms, I’ve spotted plenty of vehicles blatting along the single lane road seemingly without regard for the freshly laid snow. 10 cms is probably the equivalent of a spring shower for the people who live around here. I have to say winter tyres do make a huge difference to keeping your vehicle on the road. I’ve had a few slides and skids but they have been easily controlled. Okay, we have ended up in the ditch a couple of times but that was my fault and down to poor vehicular spacial awareness.

The weather is supposed to be fine this afternoon, and then possibly clear tonight, so we may even get another crack at the Northern Lights.

It’s hard to be believe that in 48 hours it’ll all be over and we’ll be heading home.

 

 

A Day At The Beach. In Norway.

Today dawned blue-skied and sunny.

‘Let’s go to the beach’, we decided. We weren’t going to let half a foot of snow stop us from enjoying some sunshine and the proximity to sand.

Coming from NZ,  the beach is the only thing I really miss,  so when our hosts mentioned there was a sandy beach only about 40 minutes away, my ears pricked up. I wanted it to see it.

DH was in a good mood from having seen the Northern Lights two days in a row, so was happy to go along with my plan, even though it meant driving 30km in the wrong direction to stock up for a picnic lunch first.

Finally, we were en route after an hour of chasing kids around the supermarket and deciphering food labels . We  were heading out to Sommerøya, a small island on the North-West coast of Norway and the drive was very pleasant.

The road was fairly clear of snow and ice and followed the fjord around, then involved a tunnel and lastly a single lane bridge similar to the one to Tromso. Once we were on the island, we discovered that the beaches were indeed sandy…and snowy.

kids playing on frozen beach

This didn’t bother the kids. Despite it being -3C, they rushed down to the water front in full snow gear, including gloves and spent a happy half hour throwing snow balls into the surf, poking frozen sea urchins and digging holes in the sand/snow.

IMG_0211

Photo credit: Mr Mymumdom

Then typically they came roaring back to the van complaining of frozen ears and fingers, so we fed them a car picnic of ham sandwiches and crisps and we drove happily home.

Fjordside Views, Minced Bovine And A Lightshow To Remember

Three things. That’s all I can offer you tonight.

It’s been a long and tiring day of driving around looking for the only supermarket in Tromso  that’s open on a Sunday, and supervising kids who want to do nothing but frolic in the snow then cry every time they get cold. And despite a lovely night’s sleep last night, I don’t think I’m fully  recovered from our journey yesterday.

This was the view I woke up to this morning.

view from jetty in winter, Norway

Isn’t it amazing? So serene, it seems to change colour every hour of the day. The kids appreciated it too, for about 20 seconds and then buggered off back to bed and left me alone with the view and the WiFi for an hour. It was a perfect start to a Sunday morning.

This was our dinner tonight. DH referred to it as ‘mystery meat’ when he picked it up from the supermarket last night, but very wisely decided to use Google Translate before he fed it to his family.

minced bovine

At least it wasn’t horse and it made a halfway decent taco.

But the highlight of the evening was the reappearance of the Northern Lights. Mindful of how disappointed our children were to have missed them last night, the Lights were kind enough to show up early tonight, at quarter to six! Last night the show was over in 15 minutes but tonight they lasted so long that all the kids  got cold or bored and wandered back inside away from DH and I, who stuck it out for at least an hour before admitting defeat.

This meant I had plenty of time to try and get better photos of the light. The ones I took last night were just awful. These aren’t perfect but I think they are a lot better than the previous effort.

Northern Lights Norway

No tripod either, just a kitchen chair and a beanbag. In fact the Lights are so energetic tonight that they are still going, more than 3 hours after they started.

They have more stamina than me. I’m now off to bed.

Good night.