FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Check the Northern Lights Off your Bucket-List

by Irene Rawlings

Feb 4, 2020

PHOTO: © VLADESCU BOGDAN – DREAMSTIME.COM

February 2020

MY OBSESSION WITH AURORA BOREALIS (northern lights) started in my grandma’s attic. I was there to help her clean out “old junk,” but instead I sat with a pile of old National Geographic magazines — riveted by spectacular photos of northern lights that seemed to shimmer and dance right there on the page.

No one had a bucket list back then, but as soon as such a thing existed, the northern lights were at the top of mine.

Although northern lights are visible in many places — Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Finland, Russia and, sometimes, even the northern United States — I decided on Norway’s dark and remote Lofoten Islands, partly because they are washed by the Gulf Stream, making for milder mid-winter weather.

After landing in Oslo, I took a two-hour flight to Tromsø (above the Arctic Circle), where I would spend a few days before renting a car and taking a scenic, 17-hour car ferry journey to the town of Svolvær, Lofoten’s unofficial capital. Flights from Tromsø to the islands take about an hour — or don’t go at all, depending on weather.

I wanted to stop in Tromsø — the biggest city in the “Aurora Zone” — because it is known for reliable northern-light sightings, a buzzy nightlife and authentic Nordic restaurants. I ate salmon marinated in Aperol and reindeer beef at Emmas Drømmekjøkken, stopped for a drink at Ølhallen (67 Norwegian ales on tap) and ended up listening to a local rock band at Bastard Bar. Each time I stepped outdoors, I was greeted by a blast of icy air (it was minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit) and an incredible light show — undulating ribbons of green and purple light.

Accommodations in Tromsø range from the 4-star Radisson Blu Hotel to studio apartments listed on Airbnb. I chose something different: the Tromsø Ice Domes Hotel in a pristine valley about 60 miles northeast of the city. From the outside, the domes are shaped much like the snow igloos we made as children, but inside they display stunning ice sculptures of Arctic wildlife and indigenous reindeer herder (Sami) culture. I slept, mummy-like, in an expedition sleeping bag on a comfortable mattress covered by reindeer skins but on a bed carved entirely out of ice. In my thermals and pull-over-the-ears wool hat, I was completely warm … except for my nose. Some highlights: guided snowshoeing to look for northern lights, hot chocolate liberally laced with Baileys, a salmon and veggie dinner cooked over an open fire and driving my own pair of huskies on a dogsled tour.

When I boarded the car ferry (heading for the Lofoten Islands) at 1:30 a.m. the next day, the northern lights appeared jawdroppingly brilliant. The trip may have been scenic in summer, but now, in near-inky darkness, we only saw lights of small, coast-hugging villages along the way … and the white, green and purple northern lights shifting and swaying overhead like a silky curtain in the wind.

The scientific explanation — collisions between electrically charged particles carried from flare-ups on the sun into the Earth’s upper atmosphere by solar winds — is a less poetic way to describe aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights). Viewings are best when solar flares are the strongest and the skies are clear. Sometimes the show lasts for 10 minutes, sometimes it lasts all night.

Tromsø, the Lofoten Islands and other Norwegian towns above the Arctic Circle experience a long and cold polar night, several weeks during which the sun does not rise at all. Tromsø’s polar night usually lasts from the beginning of December until mid-January. In late January, a shimmer of pink and gold appears on the horizon as the sun rises briefly at midday and quickly sets, leaving the world bathed in a deep blue light that can last for several hours until night takes over again. Nature photographers come here especially to capture this magical but elusive Arctic light.

When the ferry finally docked in Svolvær, I had only a 10- minute drive to my hotel — Swinøya Rorbuer, a collection of original, restored fishing cabins (robu), each with a kitchen. But why cook? Børsen Spiseri, a fish-centric restaurant in a repurposed quayside warehouse, lay a mere few steps away.

About the dramatic and windswept Lofoten Islands: The spectacular 110-mile archipelago (five large islands — connected by bridges or tunnels — and numerous islets) boasts traditional fishing villages and a history dating from before the Vikings. Aurora borealis season usually lasts longer here, from September until mid-April. Most beaches (there are many) are away from city lights, making them perfect viewing spots. I booked a late-night, slow-tempo ride at stables in the small village of Hov. I rode on Arctic white beaches astride the small, muscular horses favored by Vikings back in the day. A pre-ride dinner of foraged and fresh- caught food was served in a restaurant housed in an old hay barn.

The colorful ribbons of light I attempted to capture on my cellphone are blurry reminders of a long-imagined, finally accomplished trip. I saw northern lights every day of my late January adventure. I’m told that is unusual, and that I’m lucky. I absolutely agree.

INFO TO GO

Most international airlines fly to Norway’s Oslo Airport. A two-hour flight connects Oslo to Tromsø via SAS or Norwegian, and a one-hour flight on regional airline Widero takes you from Tromsø to the Lofoten Islands. Accommodations in Tromsø and the Lofoten Islands can easily be arranged online. Tromsø Ice Domes Hotel is open from December through March (depending on weather) and charges $1,500 per night for two people, all-inclusive. You can find weather alerts for most likely northern lights viewing at aurora-service.eu/ aurora-forecast.

Introducing

FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Feature
Feb 17, 2020

Hurtigruten Offers Antarctica Cruises to See the Solar Eclipse in 2021

If you haven’t started planning for next year’s total solar eclipse viewing, you have some serious work to do. Next year’s total eclipse will only be visible from Antarctica and won’t happen again for 75 years.

Adventure of a Lifetime with Volvo

Looking for a truly unique travel experience and considering a new vehicle? The Volvo Overseas Delivery Program is the perfect solution to create your own adventure of a lifetime. Volvo allows you to custom order your new automobile tailored to fit your needs and desires. They will fly you to Sweden to pick up your Volvo so you can drive and explore Scandinavia and Europe on your terms for up to two weeks.

News
Feb 17, 2020

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines Expand Partnership, with Alaska Planning to Join oneworld

Alaska Airlines and American Airlines announced intentions to create an alliance. Benefits to passengers include access to more international destinations after Alaska joins the oneworld alliance in 2021, new service on American between Seattle (SEA) and Bangalore (BLR), new service on American between Seattle and London (LHR), a domestic codeshare expansion to include international routes from Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle, and loyalty member benefits across both airlines. Loyalty members with additional lounge membership enjoy access to nearly 50 American Admirals Club lounges worldwide and seven Alaska lounges in the United States for same-day travel on American or Alaska flights.

Feature
Feb 17, 2020

Ethiopian Airlines Wants to Build New Airport in Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Airlines announced plans to build a $5 billion airport south of Addis Ababa. The airline’s CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said the airport would be able to handle 100 million passengers a year.

Earn and Redeem with oneworld

oneworld is an alliance of 13 world-leading airlines committed to providing the highest level of service and connecting you to more than 1,100 destinations around the world.

Daily
Feb 17, 2020

Four Seasons Seattle Unveils New Plant-Based Dining Option

Four Seasons Hotel Seattle recently unveiled a new stand-alone menu designed for travelers living a plant-based lifestyle. The wellness-focused, wholesome and altogether appetizing menu includes 10 new dishes.

Feature
Feb 15, 2020

Delta Air Lines Announces New Technologies, Including Parallel Reality

Delta Air Lines showed off several new technology initiatives at CES, the world’s largest electronics show, in Las Vegas last month.

Athens: A city that charms its guests and stirs their emotions

The city took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom, strategy and war, and protector of the city. The financial, political and administrative center of the country and an all-powerful city-state in antiquity, Athens is a major center of culture. A visit to the first-ever museum dedicated to Byzantium, a stroll around the National Garden and a trip to the Olympeion archaeological site will take you back through time.

Daily
Feb 15, 2020

New Luxury Cruise Line, Atlas Ocean Voyages, Rounds Out Fleet

New luxury adventure cruise line Atlas Ocean Voyages continues to add ships to its fleet. The line’s first ship, World Navigator, is currently under construction and Atlas Ocean Voyages just purchased four additional ships — World Traveller, World Seeker, World Adventurer and World Discoverer — to follow. World Navigator is schedule to sail in 2021, with two more ships following in 2022, and the last two following in 2023.