quinta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2008

Brrrrrrr...But Worth It !

Trying to get away from an endless work week? Maybe treat yourself to a long weekend without the company of haunting phone calls and never ending emails to respond to? This equation sometimes sums up to visiting destinations with warm climate, blue oceans, a comfortable hammock and usually topping it off with that ever so popular coconut shell filled refreshing beverage- most likely accompanied by a short straw for that occasional stir.

A spontaneous conversation with a convincing friend in Stockholm and my thoughts of beach suddenly turned into cold mountains, a small quaint town, humble people, hot food and high hopes of visually experiencing one of life’s most explosive natural night time phenomenons. Sometimes it takes a simple phone call to change what we think “should be” to something that “could be”. We were on our way to a somewhat forgotten town that without the mention through conversation it’s a hidden secret for most-a place within the Arctic region... Tromso, Norway.

Once exiting the highway from the airport we entered what at first seemed like any normal tunnel. What made this monstrous earth opening so abnormal? It was the several roundabouts we approached within. It was definitely a first for me. Coming from Portugal where you can’t drive a few kilometers without “going round and about” , this definitely captured my attention...and in a tunnel? At times I pictured myself stranded wondering which road I would have to take to get to the surface and other times it felt like we were in a television set,something right out of a sci-fi series.There was light up ahead and we eventually exited this “make believe rocky environment” and approached our little island.

NY winters; snow that at times fell during the entire course of a night making it impossible to open our front door in the morning would make anyone think they can be prepared for the worst cold conditions ever. Boy was I wrong! Be sure to leave all your useless designer winter clothing behind and pack warm. Include a good coat, a wool scarf, some gloves, thick socks and winter shoes. Your favorite sweaters should not be left out of the equation.

Sometimes surrounding ourselves with beauty has a cold and “semi dark price” to pay. When I asked our waitress at Emma’s restaurant what time the sun came up in the morning she replied, “ In the morning? Only late January. It’s the month of welcoming the sun back”. If it weren’t for her rosy cheeks and her ever so kind attitude, I would have thought we were in some kind of “cult town”. Might I add she suggested the most scrumptious tasting lamb ever-cooked to perfection!

It was night time when we landed and night time when we departed. It was a bit strange not to see the sun for the entire weekend. Don’t let that physiologically trick your mind when it comes to eating. When was the last time you ate lunch and it was pitch black outside with a drizzling touch of moonlight making it’s way through the clouds? It wasn’t easy trying to figure out what time of day or what time of the night it was. It's normal to look at your watch from time to time thinking the batteries might have stopped !

Our first day out on the town and I thought, how did Transylvania outrank Tromso’s dark winter months for the birth of Mr. Count Dracula’s tales. What a perfect setting! The only thing missing was a spooky castle somewhere in the mountains on the other side of the bridge which separated the mainland.

We went for long walks along the icy covered sidewalks.May sound dangerous but you get used to it after one or two close calls of your bum making contact with those “cement/iceberg corners”. Wasn’t easy to see if it was the slippery type of ice below the thin layers of snow or the granulated type that helped to have a better grip. Be sure not to walk around with your hands in your pockets to avoid any “face damage” in case luck and quick reflex aren’t on your side…anything but the face I say!

Philip and I were short of time and we were not going to leave Tromso without getting a taste of the “miracle aurora in the sky”. After visiting the tourist office and eliminating skiing, coastal steamer journeys, snowmobiles, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing and ice fishing -I think the photo of people laying on reindeer hide wrapped in blankets next to a hole about the circumference of your average dinner plate-patiently holding a thread in the freezing waters below made this option easy to delete from our list of choices-we decided on the aurora and high speed dog sleigh riding with a traditional meal served at the end.A bus picked us up in the center of town and 40 minutes later we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. It reminded me a bit of upstate NY visiting my sister’s summer cabin. Nights so beautiful you can almost touch the stars without those “civilization lights” interfering. The fact there were huge tents and a lot full of 300 husky dogs awaiting our arrival, I knew “it wasn’t Kansas anymore”.

We were escorted into a wooden cabin(heated thank goodness) where the hosts took one look and handed us “snow uniforms” without even asking our sizes. I guess some things just come natural after a while. Zipping ourselves up from head to ankle, changing our shoes for some serious snow boots and covering our heads with fur hats to protect our ears(all of which was provided by the tour),we were off into the darkness.We were in groups of two per sled (also lined with reindeer hide)a warm blanket to cover our legs and one instructor who would stand on the back of the sled in order to control those ever so friendly dogs. At first you feel bad for these anxious four legged creatures but you shortly realize it is what they were born to do-not to live in a city going for an occasional walk to a nearby park and lifting their leg!The first pack took off, then the second, then the third, then the fourth and then...we heard what we thought meant “muuuush” and off we went. I’m not sure who was more excited,the dogs or us. The instructor’s simple command and the dogs went from jumping jacks to sprinting canines. I’m not much of a “snow buff” but wow!! We took off into the wilderness following the tracks left behind from the previous sleds. Shortly after our instructor was explaining how perfect the night was to see some action in the sky (not a cloud and good wind facture) we turned to our right and saw a slight formation of a drifting green light increasing in size as we spoke.It would last a short time and later develop in other parts of the dark starlight sky during our 2hr sleigh journey. It was the residue caused from explosions on the suns surface drifting to our atmosphere and making contact with the magnetic particles in the sky-causing an explosion as big as an atomic bomb. Thousands and thousands of miles away and we are left with the colorful expression of space touching our earth’s atmosphere.

The anticipation finally came to an end and our stomachs were beginning to create a little “atomic rumble” of their own,well,at least mine was. It was time to head back to the site and eat. We entered a huge tent with a fireplace blazing in the center. Our hosts prepared us a traditional dinner, reindeer stew- the way the Sami people prepared this dish for centuries. Sami’s date back to the Roman days and were given little importance throughout history. Although they made great hunters, trappers and reindeer herders, they were considered by the church and schools to practice an inappropriate way of life and little importance was given to their way of living. Only up until the late 1960’s’s, with the help of riots and protests emphasizing the importance of their contribution to Norway, they were granted the right to continue to develop their culture as a part of Norwegian heritage.

So much to do-so much to see and so much to learn from this breathtaking Arctic region. One thing is certain, if the winter months have so much to offer I certainly look forward to the “midnight sun” in the summer time and doing this all over again-only in the “opposite/reverse mode” of course ! Humm, I wonder if there’s a reindeer salad on the list of goodies!

Chef Guerrieri


2 comentários:


Amazing... Besides the obvious mystery and exciting feeling of adventure, one must appreciate even more such simple things in life as a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea. Great Holiday Tale!

Hang loose.

APR disse...

We live in a beautiful world, don't we Michael?

You just made me dream a little, with this astonishingly beautiful, sensation boosted, contrasty flavourfulness description of yours... It's just magical.

Boy, do I want to be there and experience those things..

You've got a wonderful storytelling ability. How about using it more? Lot's of stories dying to come out of that head, I'm sure.

Keep those juices flowing.