Travelling Solo in Summer. A trip to Tromso & the world's northernmost botanic garden
When I announced to friends that I was planning a trip inside the Arctic circle, on my own, their reaction ranged from " you are brave" to "I would love to do that but.."
I had no hesitation in deciding once I had chatted with Emma from ‘Where the Wild Is’. You see, Emma had planned an amazing solo traveller trip for me to Swedish Lapland the previous year. Having never visited Norway, let alone as a single traveller, there were so many questions that I needed to ask.
I love gardens and since I had been to the most southerly botanical gardens in the world in Dunedin, it seemed appropriate that I should want to visit the most northerly. They're in Tromso - so this was the starting point of my quest. I really looked forward to the thought of going to this compact city, but at the same time, knew that I needed to see more of this (beautiful) country. Emma suggested that I experience a few days some distance away beside a fjord in the Lyngen Alps. A perfect idea.
There is no direct flight to Tromso from airports near me, so I headed to Heathrow for my flight to Oslo on 25 July. A wait of three hours and then I had boarded the flight to Tromso. On arrival, I was met by the taxi driver who took me the short distance to my hotel The Clarion. I chose this as my base in Tromso as breakfast and dinner are included. This was important to me, because as a solo traveller I prefer to dine at the hotel in the evenings, in the company of other guests where possible. Also, Tromso
(and Norway) are expensive destinations so it made sense. The hotel reception staff was friendly, and I had no problem in persuading him to give me an upgrade, which turned out to be a suite overlooking the pretty harbour! Well, if you don't ask...
This is the time of year of the midnight sun, so it was lovely to walk out late that evening beside the harbour and imagine what I would see in the coming days.
Arriving in Norway's Arctic capital
Here I should mention that after much discussion with Emma in the preceding weeks, I had an itinerary that fitted perfectly together. Everything in the plan worked so well. I had no worries and always had a contact with Emma should I need it. The only times I did so were to say I that had arrived, that my accommodation was great and to send photos!
After breakfast on the first day, I knew I had to buy a bus pass for the duration, so walked alongside the harbour to the Tourist Information Office. Not the most obvious place to find it turned out, however once I had purchased my pass (very cheap with a senior citizen bus pass) I made my way to the No 37 bus stop, to the Tromso Museum. This museum is a fair distance out of town, but worth the journey if, like me, you're interested in the geology of the area. The exhibition is very good.
On my return to the city centre I chose a fish and chip restaurant quite near the TIO, where I had a tasty lunch. It was now sunny and warm, so this was, I decided, a good time to visit the famous Botanical Gardens. The number 42 bus passes by them, but it was lucky that I asked the driver when to get off. He pointed to the other side of the dual carriageway, so I made my way down through an underpass and by chance, I spotted a footpath with flowers painted on it! After a short walk I found the entrance and the start of a truly wonderful experience.
At the entrance was a display of rare, blue meconopsis, standing tall amongst the silvery haze of sea holly. Taking my time, I noticed that each area was divided into world zones, exhibiting the flora to be found in each one. The whole garden is laid out in typical alpine form, with narrow stony paths leading upwards. The views of Tromso and the fjord from the summit are breathtaking! This is the time to pause and reflect on the sheer beauty of the diverse flowers and rock formations. Sitting snugly between the lichen-covered rocks, yet towering up, are deep blue delphiniums and pink aquilegias. At their feet, tiny campanula, and saxifrage scramble over the scree.
Taking a different path, I was amazed by the bright yellow spires of primula candelabra with foamy, lime green Alchemilla mollis. Turning a corner, I found myself face to face with lovely deep red fritillary set against a dramatic outcrop of black lava rock. I noticed a gentleman approaching and greeted him by saying how much I was enjoying my time here. "Thank you" replied the Head Gardener! Well, this was my opportunity to find out more. He explained that conservation was the main aim of the gardens, particularly the Svalbard buttercup, which is endangered, as there are few insects to pollinate in its natural setting. He mentioned that he had students from Kew Gardens there on work experience- what an amazing place for that! I had, by now, spent over an hour and a half wandering around a stunning environment, which was difficult to leave. The return journey was easier, when the bus finally arrived…
A Midnight concert in stunning surroundings
The beautiful modern Arctic Cathedral is a must to visit; it is accessible by bus 26 or 28 from the city centre, alternatively there is a nice walk across the bridge which spans the harbour. You will find many people taking this walk so you’ll not be alone. And of course, there will still be the midnight glow!
There are concerts most evenings in the summer, for which it is advisable to book. Emma was able to do this for me when I booked my trip. The pyramidal shape dominates the area from all directions; the interior has delightful stained-glass windows. The views from outside looking across the water are bathed in a golden light at midnight.
A three-hour excursion aboard a catamaran taking in views of the fjord, with lunch, was definitely an experience I aspired to. My main concern was how difficult it would be to board it. My worries were totally unfounded- it was easy, with help from the skipper readily available if required! The morning trip began in foggy conditions but quite soon the fog lifted to reveal cornflower blue skies with a warming sun. For this trip, my companions were a charming Finnish family, whose English although limited, soon made me feel welcome.
We were encouraged to try our hands at line-fishing which was my first ever experience. It did not go well, but then soon after, lunch was served. The skipper had made delicious creamy vegetable soup served with rolls, followed by fruit. We saw puffins, porpoises, and a host of sea birds with a back-drop of snowy mountains. Pretty houses stood at the waters edge, some painted typically red, but all commanding wonderful views. All too soon midday arrived, and another adventure ticked off my list.
No visit would be complete without a trip on the cable car, which can be reached by bus 26. It was a sunny morning when I took the cable car (747 metres long) to the mountain ledge. You can enjoy Norwegian waffles and tea or coffee in the pleasant restaurant followed by a stroll to see a wonderful birds-eye view of the city. You will come across many alpine plants including harebells and bilberry flowers in the tussocky grass. Snow also lies in this higher altitude.
The best way to explore Tromso is on foot, because it is such a compact city, with several interesting museums, galleries and restaurants. The old town is well worth strolling around, with hidden gems. Two- or three-hour historical walking tours of the city are also available. One fact to note is that most restaurants are closed on Sundays. I eventually found a small bric-a-brac shop with a small café inside, which provided basic, but tasty snacks. Quite sufficient if you’ve had a hearty breakfast! And you can be distracted by the eclectic mix of items surrounding you as you eat lunch.
I will say that for the entire time I spent in Tromso, as a solo traveller, I felt totally safe. It is a lovely city I would definitely return to.
Into the wild at Lyngen
The next stage of my journey in Northern Norway was to spend time at the beautiful boutique Lyngen Experience Lodge. I was collected late afternoon from my hotel by Reidun, the owner of the Lodge, and taken by comfortable car to the ferry. It was a short crossing of about forty minutes and we then made our way alongside the fjord at the base of the Lyngen Alps. The Lyngen Alps are among the oldest in the world, being formed about 2 billion years ago. They are mostly granite and gneiss and have been moulded and shaped by up to forty ice-ages. So the scenery is pretty dramatic. Lyngen Experience Lodge is a beautiful, comfortable, and modern hotel, set right on the edge of the fjord.
On this occasion, I was the only guest, but Reidun made me feel so much at home. We enjoyed delicious meals, using fresh local produce, including prawns, venison, bacon, eggs…Sunsets from the huge panoramic window are stunning. There are safe walks in both directions from the lodge, beside the fjord. Reidun ensured that activities are tailored to your own abilities and interests.
Each day we went out walking, sharing delicious picnics and sight-seeing. We encountered deer, moose, arctic fox, and beautiful wildflowers in the alpine trails and forests. All too soon it was time to leave but I will always remember these experiences with fondness; it was difficult to say goodbye.