TIP: Purchase your tickets for FLYTOGET before you depart your destination. They cost about $50 US Roundtrip.
INFO: The Norwegian Currency is called the Norwegian Krone (NOK) and is about 0.12 to $1
Oslo Royal Palace
Things to do in Oslo in Winter
Fjord Sauna and the Oslo Opera House
The practice of cold plunges and saunas goes back millenium, proven to be great for your heart, circulation and metabolism not to mention your energy. Anyone that frequents spas has probably seen an ice plunge located next to the steam and sauna rooms. While you may not be one to try this icy tradition I have frequented many over the years in places like Whistler, Colorado and even at home in Los Angeles but visiting a sauna in Oslo in Winter is an entirely unique experience. In Oslo these saunas happen to float; built out of recycled materials and locally sourced wood, they are built dockside over the waters of the Fjord. In the winter you can visit not one, but two Saunas on the Oslofjord, I visited the SørengaBadstuflåte located next to the Oslo Opera House. The sauna holds 15 people max and can even be rented out for private parties. Even though I didn’t stay in long, the whole process was a ton of fun, and got me ready to take on the city.
About to jump in the Fjord
TIP: Avoid the crowds and visit Mid Day.
INFO: Costs $20 for a drop in session. Bring your suit, towel and sandals.
Akershus Fortress seen from the Fjord Cruise
Walking around the Fjord in front of the Oslo Opera House
Car Free Walking Streets
In my opinion it goes without saying that during winter you go sledding, and being on vacation is no exception. Oslo quite possibly has the best city sledding options I have ever heard of. With more than a dozen sledding options, most easily reachable by public transportation the best one is the Korketrekkeren a 2km long toboggan run. You can even take the bus back up to the top!
TIP: Buy an OSLO PASS. The Oslo Pass gives you free entry to 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, discounts on sightseeing, Tusenfryd Amusement Park, concert tickets, climbing, ski rental, and special offers in restaurants, shops, entertainment and leisure venues.
Where to Eat in Oslo
Where to Stay In Oslo
The hotel also has their own rooftop beehive (they even sell the honey) and a few of their rooms raise money for a local children’s charity in Oslo.
TIP: Head across the street to Damestreet for some great photos in this small historic zone with colorful houses.
Visiting Alta in Winter
Northern Lights Cathedral under the Arctic Night
Things to do in Alta
Trasti Og Trine
I am normally very leary about animal experiences and like to do my research to make sure the animals are raised ethically and treated with love. Which was the case at Trasti and Trine. Trine spent 7 years in Alaska racing in the iditarod and other long distance dog sled races before returning to Alta with Johnny, and the love she has for the dogs shows loudly with how happy and friendly they all are. A unique part about dog sledding with Trasti and Trine is that we got to actually harness up our dogs to our sleds. After getting dressed in some provided snow suits, we were handed a list. The list had a few names on it and sizes. These would be our dogs for the trip and we were to find them, and harness them up to our sleds.
Alice and Bacon post sled.
My sled companion and I had 4 dogs and we started with our biggest dog who would anchor the pack. His name was Bacon and he was sweeter than I ever could imagine. After a few minutes of tangling and untangling the dogs we were off. Full MUSH ahead. The sleds operate with two foot brakes, and we were told whatever you do make sure you brake going down hill, I think we all know what happens if you don’t. With the dogs eagerly running as fast as they could we sped through the woods in the polar night. Taking turns as both passenger as musher I got a real taste of what long distance travel by sled would be like.
INFO: Staying at Trasti and Trine starts at just $75 per night.
Dogsledding under the grey light of day.
Dogsledding under the grey light of day.
Sorrisniva Ice & Igloo Hotel
Cloudberries are a native berry in Northern Norway and picking them is illegal to non residents of the north. A delicious and unique fruit they have a taste that reminded me of lingonberry and raspberry.
The first Sàmi Cabin
Reindeer Herding with Visit Natives
Bundled up and ready for the snowmobile journey
After a brief introduction with Nils Sara and a hot cup of coffee a large bag of clothing was thrown on the floor. Snow suits, hats, mittens and gloves galore we were told to dress in as many layers as possible for the next leg of our journey. Already wearing long underwear, fleece pants and snow pants I pulled on a snow suit, reindeer fur hat, and wool poncho over my jacket. Then we loaded our bags onto a sled, and wobbled our way into several rows of seats on a slay that would be pulled by Nils and his snowmobile. With thigh deep snow our slay now weighed down by six snowwomen didn’t even budge. But a few heaves and hoes later we were off into the dark winter landscape of Finnmark for quite possibly the coldest ride of my life. For 90 minutes we traveled through the tundra, leaving the roads of civilization far behind us. I’d love to tell you here about what the landscape looked like, but I had my eyes closed for most of the journey. Iced over by my breath my goggles were useless, and I was so cold..to get through I meditated and imagined the warm sun hitting my body as I lay on a beach. One imaginary sun tan later we finally sped through some wire gates that meant we were entering Nils land, and the cabin we would be staying in for the next few days. Nils cabin is rustic, and completely off grid.
Chopping wood for the cabin
Arriving to the cabin I was quickly elected to help Nils chop some wood for the wood fired stove that sits in the cabin, the sole source for heat in his 3 bedroom house.
Our first order of business was meeting two of his young reindeer, whom were a few hundred feet from the cabin tied to a tree. These two reindeer one white and one brown were going to be domesticated, so Nils could have them help around the property. Still unsure of people we offered them pellets and walked them on their leads. Nils said it would take them just 2 weeks to become accustomed to people and able to walk like a dog on a leash.
Nils and Oddbjerg Sara Enjoying some Vodka in a gaotee
The Sàmi have lived in the arctic region for hundreds of years, subsiding off the land their diet consists of reindeer, fish, berries and other game meats. That first evening we headed into the Lavoo which is a structure much like a teepee, that traditionally the Sàmi have lived in while herding. Inside the lavoo we started a small fire and strung up some large sections of reindeer meat, which Nils had cured earlier in the year. The meat would be smoked for 6 or so hours over the low burning fire and prepared for our dinner the following night.
Smoking Reindeer Meat in a lavoo
That evening we cooked up some arctic char that Nils had caught in the nearby stream before the land was covered in snow. That evening we also met Nils’ wife Oddbjorg and 3 of their 4 children, whom came in late in the evening after finishing school in their village a few hours away. His wife and children spend the week in town where Oddbjorg works as a teacher in the reindeer husbandry school.
Al fresco Restrooms
Waking in the morning, I stalked the fire with wood and headed outside for a bathroom break. Did I mention the outhouses are located about 100 meters from the house, which means bundling up in snow pants and mittens for any trips to the john. With Nils out with the herd and family still asleep we were on our own for breakfast, heat and power. A kettle sits on the stove around the clock offering hot water for tea, cocoa and coffee at any time of day. Cowboy coffee on the stove I headed back outside to start the generator since I was the only one who knew how to start one.. Fifteen minutes, and dozens of cranks later I finally got the lights on in the cabin, and was greeted with a selection of breakfast items, my favorite being Norwegian pancakes which are much like crepes and some homemade cinnamon bread.
Snowmobile and sley we drove through the tundra
Nils had already checked the herd that morning and now it was our turn to meet his more than 700 reindeer. Speeding through knee deep snow I sat on the back of a snowmobile as we drove through the tundra. It was one of the first days the sun had come out in months. Now seeing the tundra for the first time in light, the deep snow covered everything in a blanket of white. The monotone colors of the snow where backdropped by a pink and orange sky for in the few hours of light the sun just barely crossing the horizon is stuck in a mixing of rising and setting. One of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. We drove on for some 40 minutes, my hands ungloved to fly my drone had already lost feeling in the far below zero temperatures of the arctic circle. [Shooting video in the arctic is a whole other level of skill, which I will talk more about in another post.]
Coming around a bend I at first saw just tiny specks on my monitor, that on a summer day would have blended in well with the landscape. And then they were all there; hundreds of them, sometimes in perfect lines following in each others footsteps, other times leaping and bounding out of the way of our sled. Nils tends to his herd almost every day of the year. In snow or rain, sunlight or night it is a tradition that has been passed down by his father, and from his father’s father and so on for as long as they know.
Reindeer from above
Drone still in the air and camera in hand we sped through the trees, herding the reindeer back into one group. The deep snow was a bit much for our sled and we soon found ourselves face first into a soft pile of snow. Thanks to Lia from Practical Wanderlust our sled crash can be watched again. The sled was bruised but not broken and after some slight modifications we were back in motion. Capturing photos of the reindeer was not easy. Between the 6 of us we were down to just two cameras, most of us having frozen lenses, fogged glass or both. Iphone working fine and backup lense on my camera I happened to get a handful of shots before the herd scurried off.
Later in the evening I sat down and showed Nils and his family some of the footage I shot on my drone and the pride and happiness in their faces to see their lifeblood from a new perspective was truly priceless.
Oddbjorg Sara in traditional clothing made from reindeer hyde
Nils Sara in traditional clothing
After the dying of the light we headed to the cabin to cook the reindeer meat we had smoked the night before. Chopped and boiled with butter the lean meat was served up with potatoes, Nils favorite. The evening ended with stories and joiks in the Goatee, a yurt like structure that has been a traditional home for the Sàmi, made out of branches and animal skins and warmed with a WWII era stove. Nils and Oddbjorg, told us much about their traditions that night as we sat around the fire. They also told us how climate change has changed their ways of life as the planet warms. Endangering their way of life and the culture and traditions that they have protected for so long.
Joiks pronounced like yoik are traditional chants that the Sàmi have been using for hundreds of years. Originating years before as a way to calm the reindeer and scare off predators.
Just before turning in for the evening that night the last check on my Norway bucket list was filled in. With a random snap of a camera lens we saw the dancing light of the Aurora Borealis. Almost invisible to the naked eye, it shines with a glowing green brilliance from the monitor of my camera. For 30 minutes I stood in the freezing night clicking and adjusting the settings on my camera, hoping to get just one photo of this natural phenomenon, before it danced away. Truth be told I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to night photography, but I did manage to get that one photo afterall.
The next day we returned to civilization and along our journey back by sled happened upon a neighboring reindeer herd. The days now getting slightly longer with each one passing had become even prettier than the day before. The sky was like an eruption of cotton candy for as far as I could see. The herd ran alongside us for what seemed like miles, dancing and prancing in the whitest of snow with the pink and purple horizon seemed like something out of a fantasy and far from real life.
Want to herd reindeer in Norway? VisitNatives has several trips throughout the year with Nils and his family where you can learn about the traditions, culture and practice of the Sàmi. Visit Natives works to help us better understand indigenous cultures and respect the fragile ecosystems that they protect. You can join Nils throughout the year at his winter or summer cabin or during one of the reindeer migrations. Visit Natives also offers home stays with the Masaai in Tanzania.
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