A Flight to See the Northern Lights

Only the most determined Georgia Tech-Lorraine students make it to see the northern lights during the semester, and Karsten and friends to the opportunity of a four-day weekend to make the trek up to Norway! Check out his blog for the beautiful photos!

Monday, November 11, 2019 | Written by Karsten

Pretty early in the semester, someone mentioned potentially going to Norway over the four-day weekend in November. While that was a very long time away and many trips away, I was interested, so I began to do research on places to go. The most obvious place would be to go to the biggest city, Oslo. However, I didn’t find anything too unique to do there, so I moved my search further north. This is where I found Tromsø. Tromsø is located in the Arctic Circle and is home to the northernmost university and is the northernmost city in the world – and is one of the best places to see the Aurora borealis. I decided that this was where I wanted to go. However, I made the mistake of waiting to see who all else would want to come along, and therefore didn’t actually book the trip until late October, which made the trip more expensive than anticipated. However, it was still cheaper than being able to see the northern lights at any other time due to living in the southern United States. Two people ended up coming with, so we packed our bags and headed to Tromsø.

We walked out of the Tromsø airport at about 12:45 PM and the sun was already beginning to set. The position of the sun was only the second craziest thing about this trip. We knew the sun would only be up for about five hours each day, but during those five hours, it was barely above the horizon and therefore provided five golden hours of sunlight—a photographer’s dream. However, what isn’t a photographer’s dream is it being 15 degrees out, meaning everyone is bundled up and lenses fogs up almost immediately. We didn’t have many plans for the day, so we went and found lunch while the sun fully set, and then went to find our Airbnb to take a short nap. Once we were rested up a little bit, we took the cable car up Fjellheisen, a mountain on an island adjacent to Tromsø. This provided magnificent views of the city and is the cheapest way to potentially see the northern lights. We lucked out: while overlooking the city lights, a bit of northern lights came out to play. After taking the best hand-held pictures we could manage, we headed back to our Airbnb and called it a night.

The next morning, we went to the Polaria Aquarium and saw their featured animal, the seal. From there, we went and found food, coffee, and $1 ice cream. I recreated my ice cream picture from Banff last winter, as apparently I enjoy eating ice cream in below freezing temperatures. We had a northern lights tour planned for the evening, so that was where we headed next. The Chasing Lights Minibus Tour took us to a different adjacent island, Ringvassøy, and set us up with tripods, thermal suits, a stew dinner, and a fire. Because we were away from the city, we could see the northern lights even better when they decided to come out, and luckily for us, they came out dancing. At about 11 PM, after we had been out in near zero-degree weather for three hours, the Aurora borealis came out so strong that we were able to see more than just the usual green color. We saw red and yellow dance around as well. Thanks to our knowledgeable guide, we knew that these were the strongest that the northern lights could be, and it was absolutely stunning. Not too long after this, we got back on the bus and headed back to the city and then back to our Airbnb, which we arrived back at 3 AM.

The final day wasn’t too eventful, unless you count getting ice cream again as eventful. Our flights left at about 7 PM, so we left the Airbnb at about noon and just wandered around and eventually sat down at a cafe to waste the rest of the time playing cards. After that, we just had the long journey back. When I say long, I mean it—we ended up traveling there and back in slightly less time than we were actually in Tromsø, and we were in Tromsø for about 55 hours. I think the total travel time was about 40 hours, but the lengthy journey was so worth it. Seeing the northern lights was a dream come true and a truly unforgettable experience, and I hope that I’ll be able to see them again some day soon.