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Beautiful fjord in Vagnes, northern Norway

Norway overflows with natural beauty, doesn’t it? And the traditional houses complement the scenery. So why not stay somewhere really special on your holiday, and enjoy traditional Norwegian beauty inside as well as out? If this interests you, I know a wonderful place that is affordable too.

Stunning Norway, from the bus window!

When searching for places to stay in Norway I gravitated towards Tromso, as we were keen to see the aurora. But I soon began to despair at the cost of accommodation, even through Air BnB. Somehow I stumbled upon Det Rode Huset (The Red House.) What a treasure! Located 24 km outside of Tromso – happily on a on a bus route- this traditional home from the 1880s is a dream come true.

An old photo of Det Rode Huset, Norway

It is a cliche, yes, but this home has been lovingly restored by Sollag Bessesen and her husband, who lived there themselves for many years. Painted & stenciled wooden floors, ceilings, and nooks & crannies meant that looking around the structure of the house was a delight- not to mention the items around the place, like the spinning wheel.

The house was warm and cozy, and there was also underfloor heating in the bathroom/wet room, and the shower was powerful. My hubby Terry still misses it!

The kitchen meant we could save loads of money by making our own meals, and it also gave fantastic opportunities to cook with Norwegian ingredients like delicious, fresh-from-the-sea cod, and reindeer purchased direct from the Sami. In fact, reindeer is now Terry’s favourite meat. (I’ll do an upcoming post just on food.)

Terry made YUM hash with Tromso smoked ham

The cost of renting The Red House for the week was great value- under €700; even less than staying at the hostel type accommodation in Tromso!

Additionally, as we were away from the city lights, we had a better chance of seeing the aurora borealis– this saved us over €120 per person vs doing the cheapest Northern Lights tour/chase. Oh, and see the Lights we did– 6 out of the 7 nights 🙂 That would have cost us around 1,500 if we’d paid to chase each night!
Click to read more about seeing the Lights, & my photos & tips.

Renting a compact car cost apprx €350 when we went in February 2013, but we ended up just using public transport: bus 450, which stopped 40 meters or so from the house several times a weekday. (Less on Saturday, & not at all on Sunday- but with the fjord, hills, snowshoes & a push sled all at the house, who needs to go anywhere? )

You can buy a bus ticket for 1, 2, 4, or 7 days, and from Tromso to Skittlnev Skole (the stop for the house, FYI skole means school) is 3 Zones according to the Tromso transport website, where you can check prices and times. The bus ride is a very enjoyable journey along the fjord, and we never got bored of watching the light change on the snowy mountains, boats go to & fro, and getting wee glimpses of peoples’ lives as we passed their homes.

 So charming: Det Rode Huset, Vagnes, Norway. PS: the boot warmers/dryers are BRILLIANT!

A great value for a family or few friends’ holiday, the house sleeps 5, with a bedroom upstairs and down. The beds are all singles, so do be prepared for that, and if you are very tall they might be a bit small. Still, to see the Northern Lights dancing from your cozy bed– I’d sacrifice a double any day!
I also was a bit gleeful when I saw some places renting snowshoes & sleds when we had use of them for free; more added value!

Sollag has plenty of maps and other tourist info at the cottage, and is very helpful in general- she answered my many emailed questions, and went beyond the call of duty to help us arrange some things. She and her husband were very friendly and kind— and of course that makes sense, when you feel the gentle warmth with which they’ve restored & decorated the house.

Vagnes, Norway

Det Rode Huset is a welcoming, handcrafted gem of a home in a spectacular setting, (surrounded by a few neighboring houses & a small school so you don’t feel too overwhelmed with wildness,) where sea eagles fly and amazing sunrises & sunsets create beautiful shifting colours and light. At night all is calm, and in the winter the Northern Lights may dance. What a wonderful place. Our time at Det Rode Huset couldn’t have been better.

Oh yeah, and in my Norwegian food post I’ll tell you about the fabulous fresh fish you can buy with just a wee walk down the road!

Heaven.


The harbor of Oldervik, Northern Norway. The high arctic calls.

Northern Norway ignited in me a wanderlust for further travel in the Arctic Circle. I’ve always been fascinated by the high arctic, especially its light, ice, and animals. In the wilds of the Arctic Ocean are the Svarlbard islands— halfway between Norway and the North Pole. There you will find ice caves to explore in winter, pristine landscapes, and more polar bears than people. I’m definitely saving up my pennies for that trip! Or, actually; trips– it looks like summer and winter each offer unique experiences. Sign me up for both!

Boats and a seabird wait in the partially frozen harbor of Oldervik, Norway. Wanderlust must wait, too.

Until then, I’ll re-live my time in the Arctic Circle through these Norway photos. I’ll write more posts on that amazing Northern Norway trip, (click here for my Northern Lights post,) and participated in LetsBeWild.com’s Wild Weekly Photo Challenge for bloggers.

The week’s Challenge was Wanderlust. I entered these Arctic photos– they make me long to put on my snow boots again! AND I got an Honerable mention 🙂

The way out to sea. Oldervik, Norway
A sailboat sleeps by the fjord in Vagnes, Norway, dreaming of travels to come.

 Enjoy your Arctic Dreams!


Northern Lights, Tagnes, Tromso, Norwat

This long helix of the Northern Lights was amazing

Is there anyone who wouldn’t enjoy looking at the Aurora Borealis?

Or anyone who wouldn’t enjoy at least one of these: good food, spectacular scenery, traditional and modern arts & culture, friendly people and, oh yes, a sea eagle or 2?

Who wouldn’t want go to Norway to experience all those things? Oh, wait, I see– you would like to go, but…Norway’s expensive, right?

Well, yes– BUT we found some ways to save lots on our trip, and we think we had a better Norwegian experience for it!

We visited in winter, hoping to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis,) as many hope to– and we did. Not just once, or twice, or even 3 times. We saw the magical lights dance on 6 nights of our 7 night stay! 

Several factors came together to make this possible- and none of them involved taking an expensive Northern Lights chasing tour. (I’m not knocking them- we just couldn’t afford to go on one, with the cheapest single night’s chase aboard a big tour bus costing around €125 per person.)

Tips: Seeing the Northern Lights

1. Plan your trip for when the moon is dark, or only a sliver of waxing or waning. That way, even if the lights are only force 2 on the scale of 1 to 10, you still have a chance to see them- they won’t be competing with moonlight. During our trip the strength forecast was 2 & 3 and yet we still saw fantastic Lights as they didn’t have to compete with moonlight.

 

de rode huset, outside of Tromso Norway. Beautiful traditional cabin

2. Get out of the city/suburbs. As with the moon, light pollution can drown out the quieter auroras.

We stayed at this wonderfully charming restored cabin, dating from the 1880’s. It is  wonderfully situated by a large fjord- brilliant aurora-wise because there is lots of open space to view the sky. To have the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights you want as much of a 360 degree view of the sky as possible. We saw them from all areas of the sky, not just the North.
Additoinally ,it was a blessing to have a prime viewing spot just 40m from the house, so we could take aurora spotting in shifts. The Lights can appear at any point/s after dark. They tend to show up between 6pm to 2am in the Tromso area of Norway; a long night in the cold!

3. Get a Norwegian SIM card for your phone (will tell you more in another post, but Telenor have an affordable one) and check the European aurora forecast on sites like http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/Europe. On the right hand side of the site you’ll see 2 wee maps- they get updated every couple of hours- they’ll help give you a rough guide as to what expect. (PS: UT is pretty much GMT- and Norway is 1 hr ahead.) The sun’s cycle is meant to be active this year (2013), so it’s a good time to go. (Lights season generally Oct- March. We went in Feburary.)

 
Northern lights outside of tromso norway

4. Keep your eye on the weather forecast, & if you’ve rented a car (about €350 a wk for a compact car in winter) you may be able to drive away from cloudy skies. We had no car, but did have some cloudy skies. Yet we still got to see the Lights in between the clouds. Also remember that just because ’tis cloudy doesn’t mean it will remain so– and ALWAYS keep checking for yourself rather than relying just on forecasts of weather or aurora!

 

5. I don’t have to tell you to dress *very* warmly & in layers, do I? 🙂 You will see the lights better from outside– although we saw many from the house windows! If you are taking photos, a good camera is necessary, especially if the lights aren’t storm force bright. We just had a little Samsung digital, and though we set the ISO to 800, the longest exposure time available was 16 sec. Apparently 20-40 is ideal. Still- we are thrilled to have the ones we do, and are so glad we bought a tripod.

northern lights over the fjord, vagnes, norway
 

You must have a tripod for those long exposures; there’s no way to hold a camera absolutely still for so long and in the cold. We got a great value one for about €25 on this site. As I said, we did get pics, but many were disappointing , & none were like the fancy ones you need the good gear for. Buying a really good camera is now on my bucket list! 

 

Don’t forget to charge up the camera fully, & bring extra batteries if possible. The cold drains them quickly. Putting the camera in your coat when not in use will help save them, too.

 

The last night we were at the cabin we went to bed early as there were no Lights to been seen, it was cloudy, & we had to get up at 3.30 a.m. to start our journey back to Ireland.

Luckily, though, I woke a bit after midnight & looked out the window. A HUGE array of dancing, shooting, red and green Lights FILLED the sky! I quickly woke Terry, and we watched as the aurora played. It was the best we had seen! When it quelled a bit, we hurriedly dressed, got the camera & went outside. But the show was over. Though I stayed up the rest of the night hoping for pictures, listening to the waves & the occasional seabird’s call, the Lights had waved us their goodbye. And we loved it.

Here are some more of our Northern Lights photos. I’ll have more Norway photos & tips, plus the info on the wonderful, affordable place we stayed, in upcoming posts. If YOU’VE  got Northern Lights tips or stories, please do share in the comment section at the end of the post. 🙂
Thank you! Susan

northern lights erupt from cloud, norway
The Northern Lights blasting out of a cloud, Norway. There were red shoots, too, but I didn’t get pic in time. Was scary!
large swathe of green aurora borealis norway
The Aurora (Northern Lights) over the fjord, Norway
green swirls of aurora over the fjord norway
A beautiful swirl of aurora over the fjord, Norway