About a year and a half ago, our then 8-year-old Fiona, wanted to know where we could travel and be able to play properly in the snow. Our children have grown up in Seattle and London–—both mild climates— so when there was the occasional snow it was usually a mere dusting. Try as they might the kids would work the soft fluffy stuff into a semblance of a snowball to throw at one another which then always seemed to poof away in the air before hitting their siblings. “Where could we go, Mommy and have proper snow?” After a short think I suggested Norway, selfishly because we hadn’t been there and also because where else but the arctic circle could you safely guarantee snow? “That’s what I want for my next birthday then.” Fiona said. Her birthday being in December I mentioned to her we would be safer to travel in February for the best chance of snow.
December rolled around and we knew what we had to do. We searched Airbnb for a house rental. We knew we wanted a week of snow play so that our children could have the proper winter wonderland experience. Snow, lots of it, outdoor play, indoor hot chocolate and a roaring fire…we found a cabin 90 minutes outside of Tromso, it was perfect! Since it was a simple 6 bed cabin, in a very small town well outside of the city it was available for a very reasonable rate of £433 for five nights.
We searched online for airfare and learned that at that time of year we would have to connect through Oslo. We travelled on a Friday evening from Heathrow to Oslo on SAS and stayed the night at the Thon Hotel Gardermoen . A shuttle bus quickly whisked us away to the hotel the kids delighted with the snow falling outside. While Stephen checked us in they played outside giddily with rosy red cheeks. I kept thinking just you wait until we are up north. There was maybe an inch of snow on the ground in Oslo, so much more promised in the near future. The hotel was fantastic for families, offering a free continental breakfast and great murphy bunk beds–very modern with Scandinavian ingenuity.
Our flight the next morning was short and the views from the aircraft over the snowy mountains and of frozen lakes were breathtaking. Excitement was setting in. I felt like a kid myself looking forward to enjoying the snow for a whole week as I had growing up in New England. I knew how much fun we were all in for and it was hard to stay present with the anticipation of seeing my kids’ faces.
After landing at the very tiny Tromso Airport, we picked up our rental car and went to Jekta market (a very large grocery store) after being advised by our cabin host to do some shopping. Apparently there were markets nearer to the house but they were quite basic. We stocked up for our week with lots of fresh veggies, fruits, and warm meals. We planned to get to the house and stay put, to relax and have no agenda except whatever we were in the mood for at the moment–a week of blissful isolation from the world.
The drive out was gorgeous and it was hard to not stop the car every few minutes for a photo. As we got closer to our destination, the pavement ceased to exist and we drove on snow surrounded by plow-created walls of snow. We circled lakes and paralleled rivers. Everything was white as we entered the valley more deeply, with the mountains towering over us on every side. It was jaw dropping beautiful.
Our cabin was on a farm adjacent to two other homes owned by the same family. Each with plenty of space and privacy from the others. We were the cute red cabin in the center. The owners came to greet us shortly after arriving and were very welcoming and kind. They promised to bring the kids sleds and Norwegian kickers. They also talked about a dog sledding farm down the street from us that would be happy to take us all out sledding should we want to. Perfect, this was checking off all of our winter dreams boxes. The cabin was warm with heated floors throughout the ground floor, a wood stove, full kitchen, living room with flat screen tv, bathroom and laundry facilities, a small bedroom and upstairs there were 3 single beds and one double. Over the course of the week, I mentioned to the owners some items missing from the kitchen which were remedied the same day. For us, this was the perfect place for our week in the Arctic. We were stocked up with all the essentials and had a cozy place to hang out together.
We ventured outside in the afternoon once we received our sleds. The real thrill was the Norwegian kicker, a stand up sled on two long rails like skates. It brought us quickly down a plowed hill at the farm and we could go two at a time as they have a seat in front for a child or groceries. Within 24 hours we made snow angels, went sledding, had a snow ball fight, rolled down hills on our sides, pulled icicles off our cabin and warmed up with hot chocolate.
In the evening we ate popcorn and watched movies until the real darkness would set in then we would bundle up and wander outside in search of Northern Lights. Our first two evenings we were lucky enough to see them dance in the sky as we’ve heard it doesn’t always happen when people travel here. How disappointing that must be! It was bitterly cold at night but we persevered and were grateful for our stroke of luck.
We drove back to Tromso on one day midweek to buy more groceries and to see the city that we had departed so quickly upon arrival. We had a wander around town and visited the Polar Museum. It was an educational experience for all of us to learn about the people in the region and how they survived living in such a harsh place. Many interactive exhibits, stuffed animals and animal skeletons kept our three kids entertained throughout. Afterward we stopped for coffee and a pastry at Kaffeebonna to warm up and fortify before heading back out of town. We strolled to the Market Square and admired the views of the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Cathedral. Massive blocks of Snowy ice stood in rows within the square. We had no confirmation as to why but it seemed like preparation for an ice sculpting competition.
We did manage to book an excursion dog sledding with Northern Lights Dog Sledding Adventures which you can read more about here….
Our secluded artic cabin week left lasting impressions. We felt completely alone in the Northern Norwegian wilderness which was so incredibly peaceful and quiet. We played a lot in the snow and balanced it with lots of warm down time sitting by the fire playing games and watching movies which seemed to make the whole tribe happy. I have never in my life been to a place where mountains had surrounded me on all sides and so closely like here. It was breath taking and mesmerizing and I felt like I could never tire of looking at it. I’m grateful that my kids finally had this experience and had become professionals at snow wardrobe changes by the end of the week. The Norwegian people that we encountered spoke beautiful English and everyone was genuinely kind and helpful. Most importantly, I would tell you that I would never visit the same place twice ordinarily as there are just too many new places in this world to explore; however, I am pretty confident that I am not done with Arctic Norway yet. I loved it, we all loved it and if you ask any of us we will recall it with the very fondest of memories. A real treasure of a birthday trip and I am so grateful for the dialogue with my daughter that started it all.