Senja Island: Reflections & the Thrill of the Northern Lights

Today is Saturday and after a rainy night we woke to no rain and lifting clouds. This is our last day to drive around Senja Island so we headed to the part we hadn’t explored yet — Fjordgar. The area we drove through has a lot more farmland and the colors are sadly past peak color now and changing from yellow to brown. However, the fjord at the end of the road was just as dramatic as the others we have seen here.

Still winds created beautiful reflections on the water. While we reflected on the beauty around us, we listened to a philosophical discussion on the EconTalk Podcast between the host, Russ Roberts, and MIT Philosophy Professor Kieran Setiya on his latest book “Midlife.” If you like philosophical discussions, you’ll love it. It’s lovely to have the time to listen to a discussion like this while experiencing the beauty of a place we’ve never visited before.

Here’s the link:

Our plan for the afternoon is to rest so we can stay up through the night and photograph the Northern Lights. But first, we enjoyed another lovely dinner at the ABO and got to chat more with Sebastian who works there and is from Argentina. He is a traveler of the world and is now working in Norway. In future years he hopes to visit and work in Australia. We wish the US would do a better job of welcoming hard working, friendly people like Sebastian who would like to work legally in the USA for a few years.

The best time to see the Aurora in the Fall is between 10pm and 3am. As we hoped, the clouds cleared and the stars appeared around 9pm. The Big Dipper was very high in the sky and the North Star was almost directly overhead — very different from how they appear near Seattle. So we gathered the camera equipment and headed outside. Our Aurora show began with a little area of light that steadily spread out into a big circle that filled most of the sky immediately overhead. That lasted for about 10 minutes, then faded away, and then the process repeated over the next 3 hours in the form of various streaks and swirls of light, and one that looked like a giant torch. It was by far the best Aurora display we had ever seen, but the people who worked at the Aurora Borealis Observatory said it was nothing unusual. But we were enchanted, and look forward to future trips to the Arctic Circle to see it again.

The Big Dipper, Aurora & Clouds.

Today (Sunday) we drove back to Tromso and on the way did a quick excursion down another fjord to get a better look at a couple of glaciers that we saw from the main road. While we were there we encountered a family herding their sheep down the road to a new pasture. The sheep didn’t like being herded down the road but they were very happy with all the tall grass when they got to the new pasture.

Tomorrow morning (Monday) we leave the Arctic Circle behind and head south to Brindisi in SE Italy. It’s a long travel day with tight connections in both Oslo and Zurich. Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, but whatever happens we plan to enjoy the adventure. We are excited for the next part of our journey but a little sad to leave this remarkable area. We will definitely stay longer the next time we visit the beautiful fjords around the City of Tromso in Northern Norway.

Senja Island Is Magical!

We left Oslo to fly to Tromso, which is well north of the Arctic Circle, where we rented a car and drove to Senja Island. The flight was easy, although checking bags is all manual with very little explanation. It’s a good thing we are experiential, go-with-the-flow learners.

Who Knew?

We planned our trip to Senja Island and the Aurora Borealis Observatory to hopefully see the Northern Lights. We had know idea our adventure was going to lead us to the most phenomenal Mountain views and spectacular autumn colors. We met some other tourists who had seen the Aurora on Monday night, but that was when we were still in Oslo. We hope to see them soon, but it’s been very cloudy here so far.

The Aurora Borealis Observatory is a remarkable property. We learned about it from Facebook. They livestream the Aurora and we first watched the stream while we were visiting there last year. They are just experimenting with opening the property in “Summer” meaning mid-September. This place has a lot of potential and our little apartment is lovely. But so far the Aurora is taking back seat to the incredible scenery. The cool autumn weather is perfect for hiking, there are no mosquitos at this time of year, and we’ve been having a lot of fun exploring the area in our rental car.

Yesterday we drove to Bergstbotn and Tungenset. The road there is narrow, with no center line but frequent turnouts, and takes you through tunnels to the beautiful fjords and occasional beaches.

The narrow roads and tunnels were a bit nerve racking for Jim. But he managed his stress beautifully with smiles and laughter.

What a stunning and surprising day! Rolling hills, rugged mountain peaks, and forests of aspen and birch exploding in color everywhere. Over a relatively short distance I had to ask Jim many times to park in one of the many turnout so that I could take another photo.

We were on the NW edge of Europe at latitude almost as far north a Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska. And yet, as many people have told us, the Gulf Stream current from the Caribbean keeps the area much warmer than North Alaska —- warm enough for deciduous trees and farming! There are so many small farms here, it was totally unexpected! We strolled the beach and tested the water — it wasn’t that much colder than Puget Sound — amazing!

Cool slow-motion video

And the moss and ground was amazing — it was so soft and spongy. I’ve never felt anything like it.

Today we drove to the nearby Anderdalen National Park for another day of color and beauty (and my crazy hiking hair!)

To be continued . . .

Oslo Part 2: The Museums and Ski Jump

Sunrise in Oslo

September 17: We woke up Saturday morning to beautiful sunshine and the challenge of what to see first. Oslo has so much to see from sculpture gardens to an Olympic Ski Jump to museums of all kinds.

Not that we needed to eat anything after the meal we ate the night before, but our reservation at the “Thief” included a great breakfast buffet every morning, so we started our day with coffee, pastries, fruit, yoghurt and protein before heading out.

Everything in Oslo is easily accessible by electric trolley, electric train, electric ferry or just walking. We began by walking to explore everything nearby along the wide pedestrian promenade that runs along the waterfront.

It was funny because this Saturday was the annual Oslo marathon. It’s a big deal here, and there were at least 1,000 athletes participating, including some very fast ones. Some of the runners do all three races consecutively: first the full Marathon, then the half Marathon and finally a 10K. The competitors who do all three races consecutively looked awfully tired when they finished, but apparently it’s very popular to compete in all three events among the local athletes, where pushing yourself beyond the limit of ordinary endurance is common. We would never do that ourselves, of course, but it was fun to watch all the runners and the pomp and circumstance of a major marathon.

Our hotel is not only beautifully located, with great views, but it has a wonderful spa with a lovely small swimming pool. We had scheduled a spa swim and I felt bad going inside given the beautiful weather, but Jim was right. My body loves to be immersed in warm water (I’m a Pisces you know!) and I have never seen a pool like this. The pool is lined with aluminum and beautifully lit in a way that makes it appear to be shallow at the opposite end of the pool even though the depth is completely uniform. There were also two steam rooms and a big sauna. After our midday swim we took another nap as we continued our quest to recover from jet lag.

It was hard to choose to go inside with the nice weather, but after another walk we chose our first museum: the Noble Peace Prize Museum. It’s beautifully presented. And although it isn’t perfect and the awards are occasionally given for political reasons rather than merit, Nobel’s innovative idea of creating an international prize for those who work for peace and to advance science was way ahead of its time and most of the winners are truly amazing people. You can even take a kind of Nobel Peace Prize personality test to discover what kind of peace prize winner you most resemble.

On the way back to the hotel we ate a light snack at a restaurant called “The Salmon”. Norway’s salmon farming industry uses these restaurants for public relations. This restaurant even has a small attached museum area and film they ask you to see after you finish your meal. We watched the video. It was top notch propaganda. We have no doubt now that farmed salmon from Norway is the key to feeding the world’s growing population. Do you know that more people have eaten salmon than live in all of Asia? Apparently that’s true!

We tried to see if we could get any football on the TV. The answer to that was no. However, the sports channel in Oslo had some very interesting programming. They were covering a chess tournament where the players (#1 Magnus Carlson and a much younger American challenger) sat across from each, but couldn’t see each other because both players were using computers with big screens to register their moves and monitor their respective remaining time available. Meanwhile, the whole scene was being live streamed on the video gaming platform Twitch, complete with live commentary by several chess experts, who used their own giant video chessboard to analyze the latest moves and future possible moves. Finally, IBM’s Watson computer was generating updated odds with every move as to which player was more likely to win, lose, or draw. The odds shifted back and forth, but even though Magnus Carlson had a 90% chance of winning near the end, the young American somehow avoided a loss and earned a draw. Now, we are chess nerds, but I’m sure we weren’t the only ones who found the whole broadcast quite compelling.


September 18: We woke up in the middle of the night early Sunday morning (our time) and streamed the Husky vs #11 Michigan State football game which was played Saturday afternoon Seattle time. Woof! But after listening to the Huskies’ amazing first half performance we just couldn’t stay awake anymore. Sunday morning in Oslo there was sunshine once again so we decided to head out to the “Vigelandsparken” or Vigeland Park. This park represents the life’s work of the sculptor Gustav Vigeland and includes more than 200 life size human sculptures displayed in a very large park setting. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. It’s definitely a must-see if you ever visit Oslo.

We love our hotel, but the hotel coffee – it stinks! So when a local walked by us in the park with her venti-sized coffee we asked her where we could get a coffee like that. It turns out it was only a short 5 minute walk away! So that’s where we went next to get delicious lattes as good as any at Starbuck’s before we returned to the sculpture park for more park walking and photography.

After the sculpture park we took the trolley and a commuter train up to the Olympic ski jump that overlooks Oslo from a hill that is about five miles away and 1,000 feet above Oslo’s waterfront. Jim loves trains, and we both love skiing, so we were both thrilled with the journey. And WOW the ski jump is so much fun. I can imagine how great it would have been with all the Olympic energy. After riding up the elevator to the top I noticed that lots of people were zip lining down. This isn’t usually my thing, but it looked like so much fun that I convinced Jim to join me on the quick 30-second, half-mile ride to the bottom. It was a blast and we were both so glad we did it.

The couple behind us on the zip.

After the zip line we walked to the nearby mountain-style restaurant and had an early dinner while enjoying truly magnificent view. When we made our way back to the train station we met another two people. Both of them had just ran the Oslo marathon and one was from Kirkland! She of course new about Dick’s Drive-Ins and was so excited about our newest restaurant at the Crossroads Shopping Center in east Bellevue. Once again we all marveled at how wonderfully serendipitous travel can be because, as everyone who has been to Disneyland knows: “it’s a small world, after all!”

Sunday was a very full day and Jim fell asleep almost immediately that night after putting his head on the pillow. I read a bit and then got to video with James and Robert, who were just waking up to start their day in Seattle. Technology is amazing!

September 19: We both awoke on Monday feeling more rested. We feel like the jet lag from traveling through 9 time zones is finally fading. We can’t believe it, but we woke up again to sunshine. It was a bit chillier (ranging from the mid-40’s to the high 50’s), but truly glorious.

Today the ferry was our mode of transportation as we traveled from the waterfront promenade to a nearby island that holds many maritime museums, including the “Fram” museum and the “Kon Tiki” museum. The Fram is a large, extra-sturdy wooden sailboat that was specifically constructed in the late 1800’s to be locked in sea ice for several years, so that the polar current could take it very close to the North Pole. Before the currents pulled the ship south again, dog teams would try to reach the pole. The mission was unsuccessful, but the ship survived. After many subsequent trips to both Artic and Antarctic waters, the ship was retired, pulled out of the water and the current museum built around it. The historic ship is presented with videos and lighting that make it seem like its still sailing dangerous, iceberg laden seas as you board it and explore it. Launching specially designed ships to unknown territories reminded us of NASA’s Apollo Missions to the moon. What an amazing display of courage for the crew to risk their lives in a wooden boat, over 3-6 years, to advance science by testing theories about the survivability of ships trapped in crushing sea ice, along with the reliability of Artic currents, drifting ice flows, and the ability of a small crew to survive the harsh conditions and complete isolation of multiple Artic winters.

After the Artic Exploration museum we went on to the Kon Tiki Museum where the story is shared about the Norwegian scientist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl who couldn’t really swim and didn’t really like water, but tried to prove his theory that ancient Peruvians populated the Polynesian Islands by building a large raft with a primitive sail. Most scientists said that such a voyage would be impossible, so Thor built the Kon Tiki using native balsa wood trees, ropes made from vines, and a primitive sail with the hope that the typical easterly current and easterly wind would carry them all the way across the open ocean from Peru to Polynesia. Most scientists thought they would fail, just like most of the early Artic explorers. But they proved it was possible by doing it themselves, catching fish along the way and drinking rainwater that they mixed first with seawater to extend their fresh water supply. It’s such an amazing story. I had no idea balsa wood even came from a real tree. But there was a sample of a balsa wood log and you could pick it up and see for yourself how remarkably light and buoyant it was. So even though the “experts” thought it was impossible, Thor and his small crew proved them all wrong by reaching the Polynesia Islands in less than 60 days.

After the morning museums we took the ferry back to Oslo’s central waterfront promenade for another yummy coffee and then exploration of the medieval fortress and the WW2 Norwegian Resistance Museum. In April 1940, Norway was one of the first western European nations conquered by the Nazis, but the civilian population continued to resist until they were finally liberated by allied troops in 1945.

For dinner we tried a nearby Indian Restaurant “New Delhi” and enjoyed excellent food and service at a reasonable price. The variety of food we have eaten of the last few days has been excellent, from local gourmet, to salmon, to handmade Italian pasta and fresh cheese, to the yummy local sourdough breads, yummy Indian food, and of course, gelato! It makes us think about the Brad Paisley song “American Saturday night” but with an Oslo twist. The world is such a diverse, amazing, and tasty place!

Tonight, I worked on this blog while Jim was able to conference in to his quarterly Dick’s Drive-Ins board meeting. It’s amazing how technology brings the world together.

September 20th: Our last day in Oslo. Time to do the newly opened National Museum and the ornate City Hall before swimming one last time and packing up.

The City Hall is a remarkably ornate building and it is where the Noble Prizes are awarded each year. Because they have multiple political parties — not just two — there are about 50 City Council members. The guide didn’t know how many actually and was surprised that we thought that was a lot. The murals and views are stunning and hopefully inspiring.

Here’s just a taste of what we saw at the National Museum.

We ended our day with a swim in the beautiful pool and packed for the next part of our journey. We’ve loved coming here and are looking forward to the next stop in our Norwegian travel way up north at Senja Island to hunt for the elusive Aurora Borealis. The weather looks much less nice, but you never know? And the area looks spectacular. Either way it should be another fun True Love Adventure!

Thanks for reading!

Travel to Oslo, but first a quick stop over in Rome

September 14: We were excited about our upcoming trip to Europe but prepared for difficult travel, given all the recent news stories about air travel craziness.

However, our journey to Oslo went perfectly, first to Montreal and Rome on Air Canada, and then on to Oslo via Norwegian Air. We experienced no problems or delays. Yeah! We were still very tired when we arrived in Rome at 9AM local time on 9/15/22 (midnight Seattle time). But we checked into the airport Hilton, took a shower and then headed out to try to get some sun and reset our body clocks to the local time zone.

September 15: Rome was extremely hot and humid. We only lasted until just after lunch before we had to go back to the hotel and close our eyes. We slept for a few hours and then headed into the “Jewish Ghetto” district in Rome for a stroll and delicious dinner. It’s named after the confinement of Rome’s Jews by Italy’s Fascist Government in the 1930’s, followed by deportations to German concentration camps in WWII.

But the beautiful synagogue there survived the war and it is once again a small but thriving part of downtown Rome, including 2,000 year old Roman ruins, lots of kosher restaurants and beautiful piazzas and fountains nearby. We are traveling during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There are no synagogues on Senja Island. We wish all of you a healthy year and ask your forgiveness for any wrongs we have done. We look forward to the year 5783!

We never saw this area on our first and only previous visit to Rome in 2001. If you are looking for Kosher food, this is the place to go. We ate at a rather old famous restaurant, Giggetto. It was recommended by our travel agent and had a nice view of the ruins. Other than its location and the fact that it is almost 100 years old, the restaurant is known for it’s delicious fried artichokes. Yum!

After dinner we walked about a mile to see the nearby “turtle fountain” and then the very large “Piazza Novana” with Bernini’s famous “fountains of the four rivers” from the mid-1600’s, which includes an Egyptian obelisk from the first century. Both were recommended by our cab driver. On the way to the Piazzo we stopped to enjoy our first gelato of the trip.

The artistic fountains were stunning, especially at night. It was easy to get a cab from there back to our airport hotel where we collapsed. The next morning we set our alarm to get up in time to eat breakfast and walk back to airport terminal for our 3 hour flight to Oslo on Norwegian Air. Again it was easy at the airport and our flight was on time.

September 16: Norwegian Air is interesting. The plane was a 737-800, but there is no first class, the seats barely lean back and the bottom seat cushions are minimal. The flight attendants are nice, but if you want more than a smile, you have to pay extra, including tea, coffee or soda. It was no big deal, just different, and it offers the only nonstop service from Rome to Oslo. After landing in Oslo, it was easy getting our luggage and a cab from the airport to our hotel, “the Thief” (because it “steals you away from your ordinary life”), which is an ultra-modern hotel on the west end of Oslo’s beautiful downtown waterfront pedestrian district.

Julie and Doug were here this summer to visit Julie’s cousin and the hotel was recommended by him. Great recommendation! It’s beautifully located on one of the piers along the waterfront. After checking in, we left our bags in the room and took a quick walk down the stunning waterfront to get some sun and continue to work on resetting our body clocks to the local time zone. Then we slept a bit before going to dinner. The concierge got us the last two seats at a truly amazing Michelin restaurant: “Kontrast.” We rarely dine at fancy restaurants, but this was special. Delicious, artistic food, beautiful presented. I watched the chef use tweezers to decorate each miniature dishes to perfection. We didn’t do the wine pairing, to their disappointment, but we really wanted to stay awake all the way through the several hour culinary experience. We ate enough food for two days, (& paid the price later) but truly enjoyed ourselves despite still being jet lagged. One of the assistant chefs was from Seattle and knew about Dick’s Drive-In. It’s such a small world!

Tonight we hope to work on our jet lag with sleep and tomorrow we will begin our serious exploration of Oslo.