Have you ever begun something blindfolded?

So you know how things go. You are flowing by with studies, work, friendships, relationships when something new gets introduced to your routine. It starts as an off beat recommendation, and whilst you’re not doing anything else that’s specifically central or significant in your life, you join in on the flow of this new thing in life.

Then weeks go by and despite hesitations because of other well established patterns in your life, you find yourself making more space for this new thing. Then you need to sense check, so you pull away, dismiss it, and there it goes it pops up again seeking your attention.

So you start thinking, what to do. Time invested means previous patterns are being challenged, smoked out, and you’re still unsure if it’s a fluke or will stick around for a while. And then more time goes by and it is still there. Sometimes it feels annoying, tiring, unbalanced, but you realise like with most things settling into a new job, relationship, friendship, hobby is an ongoing process of exploration.

And then the penny drops; your commitment to keep exploring is the juice of life, and as long as you don’t get stuck in a tunnel vision, the scheme of things will keep on evolving and merging with who you’ve become.

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Liguria, La Spezia and Cinque Terra

Best known for the five cliff hanging villages along the coast, Liguria offers an authentic taste of Italian daily life by the seaside.

I will begin with La Spezia. A true working port, La Spezia stole my hear not just for its maritime history. It is a truly multi cultural town, dotted with people from accross the globe. Along with the traditional Italian shops and cafes, many other outlets are run by North Africans, Colombians, central Africans, and Asians.

Architecturaly the town is brimming with traditional sepia coloured three floor tall houses, churches from centuries ago and stately complexes embracing church squares. The buildings feature high ceilings, large windows caressing the sharp shadows cast by the blissful Ligurian sun, spacious rooms and grand communal spaces.

The pace of life in La Spezia is slow. Even though I visited during a cold spell in early March, no rain or dropping temperatures can hurry the locals. And that’s the uniqueness of the town in comparison to other. Even though it is the gateway to Cinque Terra, and tourism is a key component to the local industry, it didn’t feel rushed or a place where locals hassle for a quick return. They appear relaxed, welcoming, open to chat and give directions.

The station is a central hub for trains to neighbouring towns and the main big cities in Italy like Genova, Rome and Milan. With a day travelcard, all of the five villages in Cinque Terra are made accessible in less than twenty minutes. Trains run twice an hour until midnight. In the summer, for those seeking the options of a town, an affordable option is staying in La Spezia and coast hopping across the beaches and fishing enclaves of Cinque Terra during the day.

The winning factor in all of this is the weather. The climate is mild, with plenty of sun and a light humidity bringing up the smells of the sea and mixing them up with that of the coastal flora and fauna and the warmth of the earth. Palm trees, pine trees, cactuses…you get the picture. For a real treat take the train from Milan trailing through Genova along the coast where you can discover the many more picturesque towns and villages spreading all along the coast, with none being similar to the other.

Cinque Terra is definitely the right choice for the most romantic and adventurous out there. The five villages of Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza are stunning clusters of pretty multi levelled dwellings swirling down to the fishing ports, interconnected by a maze of steep climbing stairs, walkways and paths layered at variable levels of cobble and tile alleys between, under and below each architectural masterpiece.

The train service makes this a really accessible adventure, with the option of spending a couple of hours at each village, feasible, and even more so being well connected to major city airports a mere couple of hours away.

For a memorable breathtaking break in Europe, search no further. This is truly a stunningly beautiful and unique yet low budget opportunity for a break away from the city hassle in a landscape laid out unlike anything you may have seen before.

Tromso, a guide to Arctic Norway’s far north.

This enchanting Arctic city is exceptionally easy to get to since Norwegian and SAS fly there. Tromso airport is a mere twelve minutes on the commuter bus from the city centre.

The airport is much smaller than you may have imagined. Think of a greek island kind of set up. Just a few more doors between the outside and entrance lobby to keep the heat in and cold out.

I booked a waterside air bnb on the northern outskirts, in gorgeous Kroken, and the connecting bus took just over fifteen minutes from Tromsø sentrum.

Night view of Tromsø from Kroken in winter

Voila, I was, in what felt like the countryside, on the frozen seaside, with the sound of crisp lapping waves surrounded by the warm neighbourhood feel.

Making navigation easy, ie avoiding waiting for a bus for more than five minutes in the Arctic cold, I recommend downloading the following two apps from Google store. Tromsmobilett will store your ticket or travel card which you can purchase through the app. Troms Reise is the local bus departure/arrival and bus planner app.

Northern lights safaris are very popular but on clear sky nights, you really just want to be keeping an eye out to the sky, and walking away from the street lights. The cable car is open until 11pm in the winter, so you could add an edge to your experience, for a fraction of the cost of a safari.

Northern Lights from the coast

Whale seeking is also popular, however as much as I would love to see them, I am not sure of this relationship dynamic so maybe I will be lucky to pass them coincidentally at some point in my life.

The snow here is different. Given you take a trip outside Tromso, you will notice the difference. It is different to the snow in Oslo or anywhere else for that matter. I can only describe it like white glistening gold.

Winter dusk in Tromso

When the northern lights, or aurora borealis, start their wild and unpredictable dance, my first thought was that of water colour paint soaking the paper, or a gymnast’s cord following a complimentary flow.

Going up to the mountain on the cable car is really worth the 190nok. I am not one for a tourist’s gimmick, and almost skipped that. Having done it, I couldn’t have asked for a more splendidly arctic experience with the option of being back in the cradle of the Tromso town within half hour. One tip, to avoid any confusion, although cars run every half hour. If you get there at a busy time, try queing up as they only sell tickets ten minutes before boarding. The views from the top towards the mountains are lunar.

The view towards the north from the mountain behind the cable car in Tromso

Tromso island and the fjords between the mountains are a feast. Try getting there in the morning and by lunchtime for the most dramatic light effects as the sun is just about caressing the tops of the mountains, at midday in the winter. It is the experience of a lifetime.

Tromso is super safe and cute. Don’t be afraid to walk endlessly to the outskirts.

My super cozy self contained air bnb by the water in Kroken meant I didn’t need to spend hours on an aurora safari and could pop out every hour or so after 10pm to look out for the lights, going back for a cup of hot drink and a snack, before returning back to the outside, even really late into the night.

At 10pm, on the dot, the northern lights or aurora borealis would come out and put on their mesmerising dance. It only required walking to the end of my street past the glare of the street lights to absorb it at its the best. Plus being near the water and walking alongside a snowed over beach is something out of this world in itself and something I had not experienced before.

Aurora Borealis in Arctic Norway

Back in Tromso, a warming coffee and bagel, are to be had in my favourite cafe, Lugar 34. I just hoped the coffee was served in a bigger cup. Tip, head for the upstairs and let the surroundings warm you up from times past. I could have spent all afternoon there but things to see and do.

If you are on a budget or only there for a couple of days and have limited time, take the commuter ferry from Tromso to the fjords and islands. In the winter it is worth waking up for the really early morning ones, so you can see the most of the fjords for 240nok. You will be back in Tromso in a couple of hours which means you still have time for the cable car, the art museum and a cafe or pub or two.

Ferry port, Tromsø

For budget nordic household design pieces head to Kremmerhuset where you will find ceramics and home furnishings in affordable prices. Plus it is in a mall in the centre which means you can use the bathroom and warm up. There is even a restaurant with bay views at the top but didn’t have the time to see for myself.

Out of the two Kaffebonas you will get the best views looking out to the Arctic Cathedral, the sea and the mountains beyond, at the one on Stortorget.

For more views, and dramatic architecture, do visit the Arctic Cathedral. I also recommend walking the length of the bridge for an amazing perspective through the fjord. Warning, although you are caged in the bridge does rattle and creak which may not be for the fainthearted. I am particularly bad with heights however got used to it after a few minutes, and a lot of internal reasoning.

When I went to the Art Museum there was an exhibition on surrealism. I loved the curated text and really chimed with contemporary politics. It basically said something along the lines of… ‘in our times of fake news and misrepresentation, surrealism is more true than it has ever been before. Does that mean that our reality has never been this surreal?’

The story of the northern lights is that they are particles which have been charged through a solar storm, and lit up because the north and south poles are the least protected areas on the globe.

Maybe that explains why in a small place like Tromsø there is a lot of enlightenment, let it be in the tiny yet well represented religious communities, the honest portraying of the Sami people and their portrayals of the intruding scadi people, in art old and contemporary, to the apparent open mindness and chilled out attitude of the modern Tromsøeans.

Here is a short video from the airplane taking off

I really hate goodbyes especially from places that unlock iconic moments on the way my brain works and heart ticks.

Tromso in one of the coldest places on earth, makes it for one hell of a warm welcome.