The friendliness of the people of Norway was apparent from the moment we landed. Our bus driver who drove us from the airport to our hotel, didn’t even check tickets – his priority was to help load the luggage and get us out of the snow. After everyone was on board those of us without tickets presented at the front of the bus requesting to purchase our fares. People must be inherently honest in this country. Later in the evening, when we were walking through the city, he was driving past and smiled and waved at us.
Thon Hotel Polar
While reviews always play a part in our search for a hotel, we weren’t only looking at luxury accommodation. For this stay, we decided to find a top end room in a less expensive hotel. This led us to the Thon brand, a Norwegian based chain, and chose the Thon Hotel Polar. We went with a business room, which was recently refurbished and gave us oodles of room plus a lovely view of the church and mountains opposite.
Our stay began well with the helpful and friendly man on reception, Christian, who greeted us with complimentary chocolate on our arrival. Our room had a large sitting area with a lounge, coffee table and two chairs, a desk, ample hanging space, and a long wall of windows framing the view. The incredibly comfortable bed was latex, topped with a comforter and the Scandinavian tradition of a duvet each.
The buffet breakfast was very busy, sometimes with difficulty finding a seat, and people rushing to claim extra food to stow in their bags for later on. Prices are so expensive in Norway, that some feel the need to make the most of the complimentary breakfast; however, one nearby embarrassed tourist had to be told not to save food for later as those yet to breakfast would not have enough. However, the kitchen staff did need to ensure that hot food stayed hot – the only time I had food hotter than luke warm was when the kind woman on duty offered to cook me a vegetarian omelette, as there was not one already prepared. There was certainly enough cold fish and cheese choices to satisfy any pescatarian.
New Year’s Eve
We had read some articles on visiting Tromsø at this time of year, and many commented that the weather often did not cooperate, and that it wasn’t the magical, fairytale city many expected. We found the opposite. Most of the time when we were out and about, there was little more than a light snowfall, yet everything had a light dusting of the enchanting fluffy white stuff. Falls overnight and clear days made it perfect weather to explore the city and take Christmas card photographs.
A day pass on the local buses gave us transport to visit a number of things we were interested in, and we began with a ride across the Bruvegan Bridge to the mainland to the Fjellheisen Cable Car. The cable car runs from Sollieveien up 421m to the mountain ledge of Storsteinen in just 4 minutes (7m per second). From the top you can choose to take a number of walks or simply enjoy the expansive panorama of Tromso from the viewing platform.
We decided to forego the café option for lunch at the top of the mountain, and instead headed back down in the hope to beat the post lunch line for the return cable car journey. We had spotted a promising lunch option near the bus stop in the middle of Tromso – Peppe’s Pizza. We stupidly got excited by a sign for vegan pizza. What arrived (after a lengthy wait – the service was terrible) looked nothing like our imagined pizza. Apparently, there was kale on it, which must have been the couple of tiny green flecks that looked like shallots. At least it was ‘No Meat Monday’, which meant we got our meal for nearly half price! Must say, it was some of the worst pizza we’ve ever had! Should’ve found a place with a trusty soup option.
After some down time in our room and some celebratory NYE Prosecco, we headed out again on another bus ride to take us once more across the bridge, this time to the Tromsdalen Church (fondly dubbed the Arctic Cathedral) for our New Year’s Eve concert. We jostled our way with all the others into the full house. Some punters had not booked online and were turned away at the door. Due to the nature of the full house situation it was four to a pew, and we chatted to a pair of Brit sisters around my age. Lovely company, also teachers, but they were grateful for their fewer teaching days in a year compared to us!
The concert was nice; a trio of consummate professionals performing appropriately seasonal pieces. We then walked the kilometre back across the bridge with our furry coats keeping out the -13° chill (the apparent temperature was much lower). Pockets of fireworks had been going off since about 5pm, slowly building in momentum all around the city, culminating in a big 2019 being lit up on the side of the mountain opposite the centre of town. We continued along the water back to the hotel, finished the Prosecco and fell into bed, just as the party was starting for many others…especially those young things teetering in the snow in their short skirts and stilts with masks on as flimsy as their dresses, on their way to a posh party at the Sky Bar atop The Edge Hotel.
Onwards to our cruise aboard Hurtigruten’s MS Nordnorge…
Accommodation: Thon Hotel Polar