Two nights previously, when considering what to do for the evening, Nick and I aborted a suggestion to get a cab to the north shore of the island, in an effort to see the Aurora. I say this because what was to happen this evening would demonstrate why it’s often important to seize opportunities when they’re presented.
Today we had booked a boat trip round the island. It began with our signing up to a pre-organised dinner-Aurora tour for the evening but, after some clever negotiations with the captain’s wife, ended with our getting a tour today in daylight, instead of dinner, since we already had plans to eat at Tromso’s finest, the fish restaurant Skarven. Our vessel, a hulking workhorse of a catamaran, seemed a little on the large side for what turned out just to be for the two of us – hardly economically viable on fuel costs alone – but we were welcomed aboard nevertheless by the captain’s wife and offered coffee. One advantage of there being only two of us was that were we practically given free run of the boat. So, after initially enjoying the view of the fjord and mountains beyond in the blue light from the outer deck, we stepped into the warmth of the bridge for the rest of the journey which, it should be said, was agonisingly slow. We couldn’t have managed more than 2 knots the entire time and as a result whenever we passed anything of note (part of the sunken Bismarck, for example) initial awe soon gave way to dismissive indifference. The lap of the island which could, and should, have taken ten minutes, whilst yielding some fascinating conversation into Norway and Norwegian history from our esteemed skipper, began at 11am and got us back into port with just enough time to change for dinner. Well, it was one way of passing the time, I suppose.
Dinner, then, was about saving the best of what Tromso had to offer for our last night. Situated on the docks, Skarven, if we needed reminding from the décor, was all about fish. Photographs and memorabilia of Tromso’s fishing industry adorned the walls and included as its centrepiece what looked like a single whole dried cod suspended on cord from the ceiling that rotated slowly like a compass needle. Needless to say, being the festive season, Skarven specialised in the very thing that had followed us from Oslo since Andre first mentioned it as the seasonal treat: Luttefisk. Essentially, fermented cod. I was duty-bound to try it – and did; it resembled gelatinous fish, if you can imagine – but, luckily, the £45 price tag on the all-you-can-eat luttefisk buffet was outbid by the set menu. Instead, reindeer carpaccio (delicious) and run-of-the-mill fried fish of the day sufficed and very fine it was, too.
Then it was back to the boat. Joining us on this evening excursion were six others, including a honeymooning couple fond of rescuing battery chickens. They’d all joined the tour with dinner included which was, you guessed it, Luttefisk. Lucky them. Over warm tea in the warmer cabin we shared our Norway anecdotes before our captain came down to tell us we were pulling up for our first stop where we might have a chance to see the lights. We bundled outside and, far from thinking we’d emerge into the pitch darkness of open water, found ourselves within swimming distance of Tromso. No matter, the sky seemed clear but there was no sign of the lights. We gave it thirty minutes and then the captain suggested another spot…and took us 100 metres closer to the town. In an effort to facilitate our success at finding the Aurora, and by now seasoned Aurora hunters, Nick and proposed open water and pitch darkness might not be a better offering but our captain assured us light pollution wouldn’t be an issue. By the time we anchored again we were within spitting distance of Sidspissen, the south shore we were advised to try by cab two nights earlier, and the dock. And here we were, on a £200/trip boat for the same thing. Honestly, the Norse gods were chuckling at us now. Ten minutes became thirty…became an hour…became two. And nothing. I felt sorry for the honeymooning couple as the captain’s wife announced we were out of time and had to go back in.
Somewhat despondent – and feeling a little high and dry financially – we chugged the ten minutes into port. Then, as we began gathering our things, a cry from the deck – we filed out and back up top and were met with quite the most astonishing display…even to outdo those near the Finnish border on that first night. It didn’t last long, about half an hour and even then we had to cut it short, but it was spectacular. The honeymooners were overjoyed. Evidently good things really do come to those who wait. And pay.
With our return flight not until the evening – yet without enough time for a full-blown excursion – there was one option available to us: the cable car. Tromso, essentially, is an island in a fjord, with mountains around it and this funicular, built in the ’60s, was an early attempt to attract tourists, enticing them with a view of the town from the top of a nearby peak.
A bus ride over the bridge, in a distinctly residential part of town, we were dropped practically into someone’s back garden for the short walk to the small cabin at the base of the mountain. Having bought a ticket from quite possibly the surliest official I’d ever experienced we boarded quite possibly the ricketiest cable car I’d ever been in. A poster in the waiting room showed it in a better condition (from its ‘60s heyday) when it was billed as taking people to the ‘top of Europe’. Interestingly, this poster featured a pre-developed Tromso in the glories of summer and it looked particularly appealing, I must say. Marketing, eh? With little time for more than a tramp around the snow at the top and a photo or two of the now significantly more developed Tromso town from its ‘60s heyday and, what must be said, was a spectacular view and we were heading back down. It was time to saddle up, check out and bus it to the airport.
If it’s considered that you only get used to a new place just as you’re leaving then this was never truer than in Tromso airport on the way out. As we waited to board we decided on a bite to eat and elected a sandwich. I didn’t even notice until much later that we’d been over-charged by an additional baguette. The indifference with which I’d handed over £23 for what I thought was two baguettes and two bottles of water only goes to show how native I’d become.