Northern Lights Cruise with Saga – Chapter 6


We crashed through the Arctic Circle at 1.17pm at a speed of 16 knots , just as we had sat down to have Sunday lunch. Excellent beef and Yorkshire pud by the way. We were 66 degrees north of the Equator. Apparently this position of the circle is not fixed and over a 40,000 year period it fluctuates by up to 2 degrees. Not a lot to worry about then. It felt like a sense of  adventure and achievement . It was – I have never ventured this far north before. Not that I had contributed much apart from being on board. It wasn’t  just me, it was everyone. We were all in the same boat. I would like to think that we had all contributed by lightening the load on the ship by eating the mountain of exquisite food enabling this wonderful ship to travel faster. 

Tromso We ploughed on through a sea that was slapping and banging and showering the Saga Pearl II with spray.We felt safe and the extra good news  on board was that outside it was iceberg free. 

The sea sickness tablets are working well. The inventor of Stugeron should be knighted for services to mankind and happier holidays. 

Much discussion on board regarding the sighting of the lights. They appeared again last night giving us a superb dancing performance of silent visual fireworks. Much more colourful and imaginative. It’s a 10 from Len! 

I loved Tromso – 350km north of the Arctic Circle. Latitude 70 degrees north. Population 70,000 plus. I could have stayed here for days and will certainly be back one day. It seems to have a purpose and a reason for being. The approach was gorgeous. As the early morning sun began to stir the mountain tops were tinged in pink- like an ice cream topping.

It is the largest city in northern Norway and some say the prettiest too. It survived almost intact in the war and many wooden houses remain – some are up to 200 years old. Colourful too. Red, yellow, orange ,green and blue and all shades in between. Reminiscent of the houses in Nova Scotia where we spent some time ten years ago. These colours are unfortunately slowly disappearing. Today the trend is to uniform, bland white facades. Shame. 

Tromso Location, location, dream location. A location to die for. Tromso sits on an island surrounded by a dramatic backdrop of jagged mountain peaks and water as far as the eye can see. A wonderful perfect dream setting. It is this position, locked in between mountain and fjord which protects the city from storms and windy weather producing a mild maritime climate. Up to 28C in summer. 

It is a city of northernness. The good people here are proud of it. A large university- the world’s most northerly gives the city a vibrant feel. Nightlife is excellent probably due in part to this influx of students. Cafes, bars, theatres, concerts and art galleries are always busy. This city knows how to party. 

It has the world’s most northerly botanical garden and distillery too. More pubs per head than any other city in the whole of Norway. It is the Polar capital of Norway, gateway to the Arctic and the Paris of the North (not sure about this one). But apparently the good people here used to dress in the latest fashions, hence the nickname.

Tromso The outpost of civilisation. The end of civilisation (as we know it?). To the north of the city  Europe’s largest uninhabited wilderness area awaits. 

Snow-capped  peaks reflect in the jet black water. Air so fresh, clean and sharp and snow so deep. Yet, many pavements in the centre are kept snow and ice free by cleverly designed under pavement heating warmed with heated sea water. 

We spent a leisurely couple of hours coffeeing and cakeing our way around the city and trying to stay upright on areas of uncleared ice. Window shopping was great fun and very cost effective. Shops were full of woollen products. So much wool that you wonder if every sheep in the country are standing naked and shivering after their annual haircuts. The god of profit prevails even here. You could tell who were English. The red thermal jackets were a bit of a giveaway, as was the grimacing and disbelief at the prices being charged. For the same price you were asked to pay here for a pair of snazzy jazzy leggings you could probably buy a couple of sheep in the UK. 

Tromso Saga once again excelled with the choice of optional excursions. Fancy reindeer sledding? You’ve got it. Hunker down under a wool blanket and relive a Dr Zhivago moment as you are drawn through untamed wilderness by a reindeer. It is the oldest form of transport in the north and so much a part of Sami culture. A covering of snow always stirs the heart. And to finish off a perfect few hours you are served coffee and Bidos, a Sami meal of Rudolph the red nose  and fresh vegetables. 

For a more adrenaline charged ride dogsledding through a snowy landscape was on offer. Much more environmentally friendly than a snow mobile and much more fun too. First meet the dogs, the huskies are so friendly and then lie back and enjoy the ride as they run hell for leather through the wilderness. Coffee and cake by an open fire in a traditional ‘lavvu’ tent ended a fabulous day. 

We chose a much more leisurely, but just as enjoyable experience. Tromso island is joined to the mainland by the Tromsobrua – a lovely whale-back bridge. And standing proud next to it, the world famous  iconic cathedral. Triple A rated – architecture, acoustics and Arctic – and our first call on our morning trip. Strikingly modern, built in 1965. It is the complete opposite to the wooden church in the city centre. Built in 1861 and still beautiful especially today in the sunshine. The shape of the Arctic cathedral is modelled on that of a Sami tent. It reflects the nature  beliefs and culture of northern Norway. Tromso This masterpiece by Jan Hovig is very impressive, especially the huge mosaic window, ’The return of Christ’. Made of La Dalle glass it comprises 186 sections and is Europe’s largest stained glass window. Astonishing. Unlike any other church we have been in. It is home to concerts throughout the year. The midnight ones are always a sellout. 

A fabulous drive around the island skirting the ever-present  fjord. It was here where the Tirpitz (sister ship of the Bismark) was sunk by the British. 

In the Planetarium situated on the university campus we were treated to a magnificent film about the Northern Lights. Our eyes cannot take in the colours very well. What appears white in the sky is seen as the traditional green on photographs. The best time to see the phenomenon is 9 or 10 pm and two hours either side. The most common form is the pale green halo. We have been lucky because we have seen an explosion of colours, shapes and movement so far.

Tromso The green aurora occur about 60 miles above our head and the reds much higher – up to 200 miles high. A good camera can pick out these colours. This was an excellent presentation – with just the right amount of science and technology.

Back in Discovery Lounge for our traditional afternoon tea. Stuart played ‘White Christmas’ on the piano which was appropriate with the massive piles of snow on the quayside. The fruit tarts once again superb. The scrumptious scones did nothing to help keep my sugar levels down. Ah well, I am on holiday. No wonder everyone falls in love with Saga Peral II. Her charm is infectious. Pearl may or not be a singer but she is a mighty fine cruise ship.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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