Out of Darkness

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Arctic Dogsledding in Tromso, Norway

It’s late January, the time of year when the itch of cabin fever is becoming more difficult to scratch and pangs of guilt from utter laziness refuse to be ignored. Short winter days and long winter nights have long settled in for the season. In a place like Spain where the sun-kissed landscape spends most days basking in pleasant weather and ample sunshine, the winter darkness and dampness has a tendency to take its toll. But, when I’m starting to succumb to the mid-winter blues, I’m reminded of a place where winter is the belle of the ball; where darkness blankets a glistening, snow-laden landscape; where colorful light dances in synchronized ribbons across the sky for hours on end. In these moments of winter weakness, I whisk myself away back to Norway.

First stop: Bergen

Beautiful, beautiful Bergen. Starting point of the famous fjord tour and oh so charming, this west coast city was everything I imagined it would be. A-frame wooden buildings in a rainbow of colors border the quaint walkway along the harbor. Despite the cold, wet weather, Jeff and I were enchanted by the strands of white lights that framed the quaint buildings. They seemed to invite and welcome travelers and locals alike saying, “Don’t let the weather deter you!” Ducking in and out of cafes and restaurants may have been our only refuge from the cold, but we preferred exploring the charming alleyways and urban hikes. Our willingness to embrace the darkness rewarded us with some spectacular views.

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Looking out over Bergen

Next stop: Oslo
Taking the train from Bergen to Oslo was an experience I won’t soon forget. We boarded the train in darkness and departed from the platform a little after eight o’clock am. We settled into our seats for a six hour journey, shoes off and books in hand. It wasn’t long before I caught glimpses of frozen lakes, imposing glaciers and fields of fluffy white snow from my window seat. I was glued to the window, staring out over a landscape unlike any I had ever seen. When full (albeit somewhat dim) daylight finally graced the land just after 10:00 am, the scene was almost too overwhelming to process. Crystallized waterfalls frozen mid-plunge clung to the undulating rifts of one fjord after another. Quaint villages glowing with faint light in the distance stood nestled into the mountainsides. Lakes that resembled extensive plates of glass weaved in and out of fierce glacial ridges. This was the epitome of Norway’s indescribable beauty. I realize this stop was supposed to describe Oslo, and while the capital city oozes culture and history (Vikings, anyone!??), Norway’s rural landscapes distract me even in my memory.

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Viking Museum, Oslo

Last stop: Tromso

They say Tromso is one of the best places on Earth to see the elusive Northern Lights. And, for all of the impressive superlatives that Norway is quick to boast, I would have to agree. Located high above the Arctic Circle on the coast of the Norwegian Sea, Tromso stands as a beacon to the North Pole on the tip top of Norway. There’s little light here in the dead of winter, and what few daylight hours can be enjoyed cast an eerie twilight over the panorama of white. But, the skies are clear and the setting is perfect; it’s just what we’ve come for. We suit up in layers upon layers of winter gear, our futile attempt at armor against the subarctic temperatures. We knew there would be a lot of waiting involved on our Northern Lights “chase”, so we also brought along an appropriate amount of good humor and patience. Then, into the darkness we ventured in pursuit of something that cannot be guaranteed to be seen at all! But there we were, braving the extreme cold in the middle of a secluded field an hour outside of Tromso, waiting. We were shivering and dancing in place and nearly frozen to the core when a faint green light appeared in the sky. Slowly and almost undetectable at first, then bold and seemingly on fire, the sky lit up in undulating ribbons of green and faint purple. Graceful strands of color danced across the sky in ripples, shimmering and waving against a crisp-black night sky. Forget the cold. Forget my frozen toes and fingers. This is a bucket list moment, a once-in-a-lifetime unforgettable moment.

So, when I’m facing bleak winter days, Norway reminds me that light and beauty can still be found in the darkest of places.

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Northern Lights, January 2013
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Northern Lights, January 2013

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