Thursday, 16 July 2015

NORWAY: ARCTIC VOYAGE IN SEARCH OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Since my teens, which wasn’t yesterday, I’ve longed to see and photograph the Northern Lights. After nearly 40 years, the opportunity finally presented itself and I set off on a four-day sea voyage in the Arctic Circle in pursuit of my dream. There was only one problem on Hurtigruten’s ‘cruise with the views’ – the almost-constant blizzard. I prayed and prayed for it to lift, which is why my quest, which began in a bar, ended in a cathedral.


Two pints of lager? That’ll be €20, please
I’m in the Flyt pub in Tromso, northern Norway, staring at my till receipt. Ninety kronor for a pint of lager? That’s €10. Surely the barman has made a mistake? But no. He points to the chalked-up price list on a pillar, and there it is. I tell him I can’t believe it – the last time I bought a pint in Norway, it cost me 140 kronor.
“Ah, yes,” he says, “but you’re not in Oslo now.”
Halfway down my second pint, I get chatting with the young English couple at the next table, who are on the homeward-bound leg of their big adventure. They’ve already done what I’m about to do, and they wax lyrical about the voyage, the food on the ship, seeing the Northern Lights and dog-sledding.
“The dog-sledding was the highlight for me,” says Rebecca. “It was a real thrill. I loved it. And seeing the little husky puppies with their amazing blue eyes – they’re adorable!”
I’m glad to hear it, because I’ll be spending my free time tomorrow morning dog-sledding before boarding Hurtigruten’s MS Nordlys to begin my own big adventure on my first ever cruise.

Nordlys (Northern Lights) lager, produced by the world's
northernmost brewery in lovely Tromso, below

Lost, and not only in translation
It’s late, and I have to be up early, so I ask the barman for the quickest way back to the Aurora Hotel, where I’m staying the night. He chuckles, and asks if I’m joking. When I assure him I’m not, he points to a side door.
“Step out there,” he says, “and the hotel entrance is 20 metres in front of you.”
Twenty metres? A couple of hours before, I’d left the Aurora and walked for 20 minutes along the quays, up brightly-lit streets and down dark alleyways searching for Flyt, which had been recommended by the receptionist. When she’d told me to go outside and turn right, she must have meant left – an easy mistake to make, I suppose, in a country where the word for orange juice is “appelsinjuice”.
Propped up in bed, I leaf through a pamphlet and learn that 71,000 people of 130 nationalities live in Tromso; around 1,000 of them are Muslims, and their mosque is the northernmost in the world; the university is also the northernmost in the world, so higher-education doesn’t come any higher; here too you’ll find the world’s northernmost brewery, producing Mack beer. But the most interesting and surprising fact is that while Tromso is 300km inside the Arctic Circle, Iceland isn’t in it at all, apart from a small offshore island. Who would have thought?

Manu 'The Musher' Alayas with one of his dog-sledding huskies
at the Wilderness Centre. Below, a cute husky puppy

DAY 1
A dog named Bite
Manu Alayas, who’s from sizzling Seville where I once saw a street thermometer showing 48C, is the last person I expect to find driving a team of huskies over the frozen terrain. However, Manu the musher (I can’t help humming Minnie the Moocher) tells me he hates the heat, loves the cold and dotes on dogs, so he’s clearly found his dream job.
You’d imagine that working huskies wouldn’t be too keen on being petted, but the ones at the Farout activity company’s Wilderness Centre on the island of Kvaloya, a half-hour bus ride from Tromso, are docile and their puppies are so cute.
All of the dogs have names, some called after Scandinavian cities, others after spices, others still after planets. Film stars get a mention too, with a Brad and Angelina among the canine credits. I get on like a kennel on fire with my namesake, Thomas, but decide to steer clear of the dog next door. Would you readily pat a pooch named Bite, despite assurances that the worst he’ll do is lick you to death?

Despite his name, Bite the husky is a friendly fellow. Below, a thrilling
dog-sledding ride across the icy terrain

Dashing through the snow, on a nine-dog open sled
Cocooned in one-piece weatherproof suits, I and a colleague sit snug as bugs on reindeer hide rugs. The nine dogs pulling us don’t look particularly brawny as individuals, but as a team they’re a powerhouse. The sled weighs 100 kilos, I’m 75, my colleague admits to 90 and Manu is 65 – that’s a load of 330 kilos, yet we skim across the snow, up hill and down dale, at an impressive pace.
At the end of the two-hour, 7km safari there’s time to play with the puppies before ducking inside a lavu – a typical Sami (the indigenous people) tepee – to warm up by a roaring log fire and enjoy a big bowl of reindeer stew. A guy at my table isn’t too keen on “eating Rudolph”, but agrees to one spoonful so he can say that at least he’s tried it. He clears his bowl like a man who hasn’t eaten in a week. Served with big chunks of rustic brown bread that would buckle a chainsaw, it’s delicious.
My bargain basement boots (€20 from Dunnes Stores) prove to be a wise buy. Wherever you find 150 excited dogs itching to get into a harness and go walkies, you’ll find 150 good reasons to mind where you place your feet. Fortunately, there’s a hosepipe where we cleanse our soles before getting back on the bus and returning to Tromso for Nordlys’ 6.30pm departure.

Hurtigruten's MS Nordlys in port in Tromso and at sea, below

Having an ice time
It’s 9pm, and the temperature on the aft deck, which is covered in three inches of snow, is minus 6C. Figure in the wind chill factor and it’s actually minus 24. I’ve never experienced cold like it, but I’ve come prepared. I’m clad in five life-saving layers – thermal vest, I Love Torremolinos T-shirt, lumberjack shirt, Christmas sweater and designer label parka that would’ve set me back €250 new but was only €35 from the charity shop. And I’m freezing. I’m two-and-a-half hours into a four-day voyage and already halfway to hypothermia.
The 100-kilometres-an-hour wind ricochets off the waves and hits me full in the face. The sensation is as shocking as treading barefoot on a Lego brick. I gasp, and immediately regret it – brain freeze! Or, to give it its scientific name, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. I have another name for it, but thanks to the roaring sea and howling wind it goes unheard by the couple from Cork standing nearby.

Snow covers the decks of MS Nordlys on our first night at sea
All frozen hands on deck
We’ve been alerted to a mid-dinner appearance of the Northern Lights by a bing-bong announcement from the bridge. I imagine a frostbitten lookout up in the crow’s nest peering into the distance and hollering “Thar she glows!”, but the tip-off comes instead from NASA’s aurora-watch website and is relayed over the public address system.
Such announcements can come at any time during the dark hours. It means you must be ready to jump up, wrap up and hot foot it to the nearest deck space to catch at least a glimpse of those big green lava lamps before they disappear. Due to their fickle and often fleeting nature, the show can last for anything between 10 seconds and 10 minutes, sometimes longer.
I scan the sky, but it’s too late. The all-too-brief appearance is over. Diners from the earlier sitting are ooh-ing and aah-ing as they review the impressive images on their cameras. Disappointed, I stagger back to my table and scan the menu.

Secure in my boot, this wine won't be decanted all over the floor
Up and down like a fiddler’s elbow
Staggering is something I do a lot of on Nordlys. This has nothing to do with the splendid Portuguese red selected exclusively for Hurtigruten (the ‘g’ is silent) by the Jose Maria da Fonseca winery. Rather, it’s down to the fact that the ship has been pitching and tossing, up and down like a fiddler’s elbow, since leaving Tromso.
Walking the few steps from the buffet to my table is the closest I’ve come to being on a bouncy castle with a plate of prawns in one hand and a rapidly emptying bowl of soup in the other. Later, while heading to the lounge bar at the other end of the ship, I end up dancing cheek to cheek with everyone I try to pass as we’re thrown into each other’s arms. This is probably how shipboard romances start.
Later still, I respond to an insistent rat-tat-tat at my cabin door, only to find there’s nobody there. I return to transcribing my notes with dark thoughts of finding and flogging the mischief-maker. When the knocking comes again, I’m up like a shot and answer the door to . . . nobody. Surely Nordlys isn’t haunted – a ghost ship? I feel a tap on my shoulder and nearly faint with fright, but it’s only the wardrobe door, which has swung open to reveal the culprit a coat hanger clattering off the back panel.
There’s no fear of my half-finished bottle of wine from dinner clattering off anything. To keep it safe while everything else that isn’t screwed down is sliding across the desktop, I’ve stored it in one of my boots.

The food on board MS Nordlys is absolutely fabulous, and the crew are a credit to Hurtigruten

Crab a bite to eat
Passengers are surprised to discover there are no televisions in their cabins (there are in the suites and a couple in the lounge), but I find the break from the box refreshing. Besides, the thought of staring at a small screen when at any moment the heavens could host the most spectacular light show on Earth seems silly. So my first evening on Nordlys has been spent chatting, reading, posting photos of the dog-sledding on Facebook to make friends jealous (there’s free wifi) and waiting for the bing-bong alerts.
And eating. A lot of eating. When you’re at sea, life tends to revolve around meals, though quite a few queasy passengers afflicted by seasickness have missed dinner, which is a shame because the food is fabulous.
More than 80pc of what’s offered in the restaurant is produced in Norway. Hurtigruten’s ships travel up and down the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes, serving 34 ports and providing a lifeline for remote communities, and at many of these stops, local seasonal specialities are brought on board.
In Vesteralen, the chef takes delivery of freshly-caught Arctic char in the morning and serves it at dinner, which is always a casual affair. During autumn, an elderly lady in Hammerfest hands over baskets of cloudberries picked from her meadow. In Kirkenes, king crabs from the Barents Sea are the guest stars on the menu.

Cabins on MS Nordlys come in all shapes and sizes to suit all budgets, from basic to luxury

The small community of Havoysund, one of the many coastal towns served by Hurtigruten
DAY 2
The man with the monocle
After brief early stops in Hammerfest (the world’s most northerly town) and Havoysund, we pull in just before 11.30am to Honningsvag at the southern end of Mageroya island where five buses wait to convey passengers to the North Cape. Our tour guide is Clinton Smith from Zimbabwe, whose humour is as dry as the scores of thousands of Arctic cod hanging on wooden racks that we pass just outside town.
Tell me, what’s a chap from southern Africa doing in the Arctic Circle?” asks a posh-sounding gentleman from Northern Ireland, who’s wearing a monocle and probably has a butler back home.
“Freezing my butt off,” replies Clinton.
His Lordship chuckles along with the rest of us, but wants to know more.
“It must have been a woman that brought you here. Was it a woman?” he asks.
Clinton sighs and confirms that, yes, it was. He met a Norwegian girl on his travels, moved with her to Honningsvag (population 2,500) and, when the relationship ended and she left (population 2,499), he stayed. I’m glad he did, because every snippet of droll commentary as we head for the northernmost point in mainland Europe is a gem.

Arctic cod hanging out to dry in the salty air in Honningsvag
In cod we trust – until it rains
The cod look unappetising to all but the squadrons of squawking seagulls prevented from making a meal of them by protective nets. However, these are the bacalao that are exported in their millions to Portugal, where they feature on every menu.
Cod tongues are a great delicacy in Norway. Top restaurants serve them battered and deep-fried with a simple salad and charge a fortune for them. The heads are sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria where they’re the principal ingredient of a popular nutritious soup, or they stay in Norway to be ground into fish meal for cattle feed.
Some years ago there was an emergency appeal for food aid for Zimbabwe, and super-wealthy Norway, which is usually and admirably the first to respond to any international humanitarian crisis, sent shiploads of dried cod. Unfortunately, nobody thought to send an instructions manual, meaning the Zimbabweans hadn’t a clue what to do with tons of flat, dry-as-a-bone and brick-hard scaly things that smelled suspiciously of fish. So they used them to repair holes in their roofs, and very effective they were too – until it rained and the cod were rehydrated and caused a stink.

The globe monument on the North Cape plateau, mainland Europe's northernmost point

Copacabana, the coldest spot north of Havana
The bus rounds a bend, and Clinton tells us to look out of the right-hand windows.
“That beach there,” he says, pointing to a 20-metre stretch of sand being pelted by hailstones, “is known locally as Copacabana. In July, if it doesn’t snow, we play beach volleyball there.”
His Lordship wants to know what happens if the ball goes into the icy water.
“It bloody well stays there,” says Clinton, “and we have a barbecue instead.”
As the weather worsens, the buses halt in line at the barriered entrance to a barely discernible side road. It turns out we’re waiting for the snowplough, and sure enough it appears out of the blizzard and we follow in close convoy behind it.
Twenty minutes later, we disembark at the North Cape visitor centre, but no one can see it as visibility is down to almost zero. The wind has become so alarmingly strong that it would easily uproot trees, only none grow here as the soil is, at most, 18cm deep. Passengers cling to each other for fear of being bowled over and struggle forward, heads down. At this point, we’re as close to the North Pole as we are to Oslo, 2,000km away.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot metre-high twin twisters of snow whipped up by the gale. It’s the weirdest sight as they dance in perfect synch, bowing and bending like a couple of spinning tops before disintegrating.

Braving gale force conditions at the North Cape. Thank goodness for my parka, below

Writer’s block and a bloody nose
The North Cape rises 327 metres almost vertically out of the sea (Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher are a mere 214 metres at their highest point). The visitor centre on the plateau is a reassuring 100 metres from the cliff edge, but the globe monument beside which everyone wants to be photographed is scarily too close for comfort to the sheer drop. The edge is fenced off to prevent people being blown off, but it’s with some trepidation – and difficulty – that I struggle towards it for a quick photo followed by a tail wind-assisted rapid return to the safety and warmth of the cafe.
Inside, the staff are busy delivering hot drinks into customers’ cold hands. As I sip my coffee, I notice more with curiosity than alarm that my nose is bleeding. The barista tells me it’s nothing unusual – breathing icy air makes tiny vessels in the nostrils contract; when moments later you inhale the steam from a hot drink they expand and burst. I take my pen from my parka pocket to make a note of this, only to find the ink has frozen – my first experience of writer’s block.
The visitor centre has many exhibits depicting the history of the North Cape, which gets 200 days of snow a year, but the 15-minute documentary film of the seasons with a haunting soundtrack that’s shown every hour in the cinema is the highlight. You can buy it on DVD in the souvenir shop, but I opt instead for an oversized pencil with a troll’s head eraser on top. It looks ridiculous, but at least it won’t freeze.

It's not all plain sailing in the Arctic Circle as Nordlys ploughs through rough seas
Alarming false alarm
Back on board Nordlys, it’s time to continue our voyage which will take us around the North Cape and on through the night to Kirkenes, the last port of call before we turn around.
After dinner, I join the hardy souls keeping vigil, and trying hard to keep their balance, on deck. The weather’s atrocious: one minute snow, the next hailstones, then sleet and back to snow, all of this coming at us horizontally and at high speed. At least it isn’t raining.
The public address system crackles into life, but the expectation of a cameras-at-the-ready alert is short-lived. Rather, there comes a warning that the sea is getting rougher, the wind stronger, and everyone outside should get themselves inside without delay. I don’t need telling twice. We follow the crew members who’ve come out to marshal us to safety, and I weave my way towards my cabin where a bottle in a boot awaits.
“Are they ever going to show?” I ask one of the crew.
“Oh, yes,” he says. “Probably tomorrow. If not tomorrow, the next night. The weather will be better.”
I do a bit of googling before hopping – or rather, being tossed – into bed. At least when the Northern Lights eventually appear, fingers crossed, I’ll be able to impress everyone with my amazing knowledge of what they are and how they occur.




The not-so-Northern Lights
During solar flares, huge quantities of electrons are hurtled into deep space and carried on the solar winds, travelling at one million miles an hour. When they meet Earths magnetic shield they bounce off it, like a pebble skimming across a pond, and are deflected towards the magnetic North Pole. There they collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper layers of the atmosphere. The colour – green, blue, purple, red and often a mix of the resulting aurora depends on which atoms are struck and at what altitude. As for the movement, that’s down to the atmospheric currents.
Homework done, I log on to Facebook, and among the first posts I see is an iPhone photo of a spectacular display of the Northern Lights taken only an hour before . . . in Ireland. While I’ve been freezing my butt off, as Clinton would say, in the Arctic Circle, a pal of mine sitting in a beer garden in Donegal has been enjoying a blizzard-free view of what I’ve yet to set eyes on, even though I’m in the best place in the world to see it.

The Christmas card town of Kirkenes and, below, MS Nordlys in port

DAY 3
Nappy days are here again
We arrive in Kirkenes, at the head of Bokfjorden and 10km from the Russian border, bang on schedule at 9am. Punctuality, weather permitting, is something that Hurtigruten (it translates as “fast route”) prides itself on.
Kirkenes was the second-most blitzed town/city in the world during World War Two after the Maltese capital, Valletta. During the Nazi occupation of Norway, it was a base for the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe and a supplies centre for the Murmansk front in the next door Soviet Union, which made it a prime target for Allied bombers.
It was liberated by the Red Army in October 1944, but not before the fleeing Germans had destroyed most of the infrastructure, leaving only a dozen houses standing. During the worst of the onslaught, most of the civilian population of around 2,000 sought refuge deep underground in the nearby iron ore mines (still a major industry), emerging only after the occupiers had been sent packing.
Nowadays, the only thing that falls from the sky in Kirkenes is snow, but the Russians still arrive en masse every Saturday and Sunday morning to liberate the two supermarkets of every last packet of Pampers, which are twice the price at home. A curious sight is the local sea otters that hang around the supermarket doors, like dogs outside a butcher’s, waiting to pounce on unwary shoppers’ grocery bags.
The Norwegians, who call their weekend visitors the Diaper Mafia, like a bargain too, and drive across the border to the Rosneft filling station in Nikel where petrol costs 36 roubles (4.4 kronor, or €0.50) a litre. At the Shell pumps in Kirkenes it’s 14.6 kronor (€1.66).

Fishing boats and king crab cages in the port at Kirkenes
Now you see it, now you don’t
Our shore excursion this morning involves a short bus trip to the Snow Hotel, where business is seasonal – it’s built every November and melts the following May. Finnish engineers put it up, and a team of Chinese ice and snow sculptors are then flown in from Shanghai to decorate the walls of each room.
The driver who collects us from the port, where thousands of king crab cages the size of small cars line the quayside, is Londoner Jason Croton. He tells me he’s been looking forward to our arrival since hearing that a shipload of visitors from Ireland were on the way, and welcomes everyone on board his bus with a cheery “Cead mile failte”.
“Tell me, what’s a chap from London doing in the Arctic Circle?” asks you-know-who. “It must have been a woman that brought you here. Was it a woman?”
Oh boy, here we go again.
Despite his accent, Jason’s a fully paid-up Hibernophile, with an Irish mammy from Fermoy, County Cork. He drove school buses in Newry, County Down, for 10 years before becoming a tour coach driver.
And yes, it was a woman.
“I met a Norwegian girl who was a passenger on one of my round-Ireland tours,” says Jason. “We hit it off, kept in touch, fell in love and, well, here I am.”
“And she’s still with you, is she?” asks the chief inquisitor, who despite being very nosey turns out to be very nice.
“Oh, yes,” says Jason, who’s too much of a nice guy to add: “And why the hell wouldn’t she be?”

The entrance to the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes. Below, the hotel
corridor and one of the individually-decorated rooms


Snow place like home
From the outside, the Snow Hotel looks like a big igloo minus the brickwork. That’s because it isn’t made from blocks. Rather, the Finnish engineers inflate a series of adjoining bedroom-sized canvas balloons and bombard them with snow. When it compacts into an almost metre-thick, concrete-like shell, the balloons are deflated, leaving spacious chambers. That’s when the Chinese sculptors get to work, turning the chambers into exquisitely and individually-decorated bedrooms in which guests drift off in down-filled sleeping bags on normal mattresses separated from the solid ice base by an insulating layer.
Curiously, every bedroom has a fire extinguisher – in a hotel made entirely of snow and ice. They’re hardly the most combustible of building materials, but tour guide Astrid Lund has a ready explanation.
“It’s a hotel, so it’s subject to rules and regulations like any other hotel,” she says.
Tour over, we retire to the Ice Bar, where the counter, tables and chairs and even the glasses are made of ice, which makes it not only the coolest but the coldest pub in Norway. But we still leave with a nice warm feeling.

Passengers chill out in the Snow Hotel's Ice Bar. The next port of call is Hammerfest, below

Knot a good idea
Nordlys pulls out of Kirkenes at lunchtime for the day-and-a-half voyage back to Tromso. The one remaining shore excursion on the itinerary is a two-hour mid-afternoon stop in Hammerfest, where passengers can either take a leisurely stroll, fully-clothed, around the souvenir shops or strip off and take a death-defying dip in the sea. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’d be crazy to miss, so I pull on my parka and set off excitedly to buy a fridge magnet.
The voyage resumes, and with time to kill before dinner I head for the lounge, having seen a poster announcing that one of the crew will be giving a demonstration of tying sailors’ knots.
It’s always a mistake to sit in the front row at any show, and before I know it I’m reluctantly standing before two dozen sniggering passengers, trying – and failing miserably – to replicate the simple bowline I’ve just been shown. Picture a set of tangled earphones and you’ll know why they were sniggering.

The distinctive Arctic Cathedral in Tromso, where passengers can enjoy a midnight concert
DAY 4
Get me to the church on time
The Northern Lights remain a no-show as we continue south, and we arrive in Tromso at 11.45pm at the end of our last day at sea. Half of the passengers board buses for their hotels while the rest of us are conveyed to the distinctive Arctic Cathedral for a midnight concert of traditional folk songs and more familiar classical pieces and hymns.
Overlooking the Tromso Sound, the cathedral is actually a parish church (the true Tromso Cathedral in the old town is the only one in Norway built from wood) and is constructed from aluminium-coated concrete panels. While the wooden cathedral, which was completed in 1861, is in the Gothic Revival style, the concrete one, which was dedicated in 1965, is a stunning example of the white Toblerone school of arcitecture.
The hour-long concert, involving a pianist, a tenor and a soprano, proves to be quite a moving experience, made all the more so by the remarkable acoustics, and when it’s over I sit for a while in quiet contemplation.


The heavenly dancers
When I step outside into the clear, frigid night, people appear to have boarded the wrong buses and are hurriedly getting off. Others stand around, necks craned and pointing. Can it possibly be? I look up, and have to stifle a sob. There, at long last, are the elusive Northern Lights, immortalised in a song from my childhood that was my mother’s party piece and which I’ve been humming since setting off on my Arctic adventure.

“When I was a lad, a tiny wee lad, my mother said to me
Come see the Northern Lights, my boy, they’re bright as they can be.
She called them the heavenly dancers, merry dancers in the sky
I’ll never forget that wonderful sight, they made the heavens bright.”

Through welling eyes, I watch the heavenly dancers perform their delicate, almost imperceptible routine, shimmering against the backdrop of a cloudless, inky black sky, like green gossamer veils wafting gracefully in a breeze. It’s a magical moment, and one that will be forever imprinted on my mind. Which is just as well, because by the time I realise I should be taking pictures and pull my camera from my pocket and start clicking they’ve disappeared, as if someone’s flicked a switch.
I’ve come all this way to photograph the Northern Lights, and end up with a grainy image of some street lights. And a seagull. But at least I’ve seen them, and the mammy was right – they are indeed a wonderful sight.



GETTING THERE
A six-day Arctic Highlights Voyage from Tromso to Kirkenes and back, as described above, flying from Dublin on March 22, 2016, costs from £1,059 (€1,495) per person on half-board. The price includes direct return flights, transfers, two nights in a hotel and four days at sea.
A seven-night Classic Voyage North from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, departing on a choice of dates in January 2016, costs from £689 (€973) per person based on two sharing an inside cabin on full-board. Flights are extra.
A 12-night Classic Round Voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes and back, departing on a choice of dates in January 2016, costs from £995 (€1,405) per person based on two sharing an inside cabin on full-board. Flights are extra.
See www.hurtigruten.co.uk or ask your travel agent.


Clarion Hotel The Edge, on the waterfront in Tromso
STAY
Clarion Hotel The Edge, Tromso: Located 150 metres from the Hurtigruten quay, this super-duper, super-sized (290-rooms) new hotel should be renamed The Cutting Edge. It’s fabulous, and the free wifi available throughout, including in the rooms, is the fastest I’ve ever experienced.
Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora, Tromso: A smaller sister hotel to The Edge, it’s easy to find step out the side door of the Flyt bar and it’s 20 metres in front of you. And get this a free meal of soup, salad buffet, main course and dessert is served every day from 6 to 9pm. For both Clarion hotels see www.nordicchoicehotels.com
The Snow Hotel, Kirkenes: Open from December 20 to April 20. For day visits and overnight reservations, see www.kirkenessnowhotel.com

DOG-SLEDDING
Wilderness Centre, Tromso: Dog-sledding and reindeer-sledding are the main activities in winter. In summer, the focus is on mountain and glacier hiking, kayaking and midnight sun camping. See www.villmarkssenter.no