Thursday, 28 July 2016

Bird on the engine cowl of 737-800, refuses to move, and delays flight

Not a care in the world. Probably enjoying warm feet in this 11ºC (52ºF) Adelaide winter day.
I was on a standard commercial Qantas flight (QF764) yesterday (Wednesday) returning to Sydney from Adelaide, Australia. We had reversed from the gate, but were pausing before our turn to reach the runway.

I was sitting in an aisle seat exit row (row 14) on the left hand side of the plane, when I realised there was a lot of chatter and mobile (cell) phone cameras being deployed.

A 'Maggie' - Australian slang for Magpie (actually the Piping Shrike - the emblematic bird on the state flag of South Australia) was perched on the end of the left hand engine cowl.

One of the passengers reported it to the cabin staff.  We started our taxi to the runway, and the captain noticeably revved the engine and braked several times, but soon we came to a stop. Next the captain came on the PA to announce that in 'more than 30 years of flying . . .' he had never seen this happen, and due to the concern about the bird being sucked into the engine on takeoff, if it didn't fly off before hand, the Airport safety detail was being called, and we might suffer a small delay.

Much chat and socialising and sharing of phones and photo snapping and banter of charging fees for the images etc etc ensued.

I didn't have a window seat, so couldn't see exactly what was happening, but after a small further delay, our Piping Shrike decided to wing it, and we were on our way.

Scheduled departure was at 3:50pm We ended up departing around 4:15pm.

The shots of the intrepid bird were taken by the gentleman in 13A. Many thanks to him, and the other passengers who relayed my photographic request.

You can rev that engine all you want, and stop and start, but I'm staying here! Piping Shrike on engine cowl, QF 764, 737-800 Adelaide to Sydney 27 July 2016.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Skyteam Lounge Heathrow - Terminal 4. I was a bit disrupted.

There are some airport lounges that are very memorable, and some, that are not.

Or, it may have been because of the un-notified change in flight times that meant I wasn't concentrating on the lounge, but harbouring the rage of an airline passenger spurned.

From relaxed to edgy

You see, this was the day of our flight January 2nd 2016, a flight we had made a preliminary booking for in April 2015. 

Trying to be thoroughly modern, I have begun to spurn paper itinerary's and load up to Kayak, where I can access them from all my devices. That is all very well, but when Kayak doesn't update, and you don't thoroughly check the final itinerary sent to you by your travel agency (because you are trying to rid yourself of paper), then you can get into trouble. Well inconvenience. OK, disruption.

Fortunately in the hangover fog of New Years Day, while watching various BBC series in the comfort of our London friend's TV nook, either me or Mickeli (I claim it was me - but we've been together so long that we no longer argue about such small things - but it was me), looked at the last downloaded and printed itinerary, rather than relying on our digital diaries and realised that instead of a leisurely departure for Heathrow, say at 11am for a 2:45pm flight, our departure had been marched forward by nearly 3 hours to midday! 

Suddenly this meant packing the night before, or an early wake-up. Remember we had enough luggage for 5 weeks - covering climates from the arctic to the tropics. Not to mention accumulating Xmas presents that if not heavier than the ones we had brought with us, were bulkier. Oh, and did I mention that we had to fit in 2 pairs of snow boots that we didn't have on the outward journey?

My mind was not on the lounge, it was taking umbrage at the inconvenience of it all - and wondering if I had in fact put everything I needed for Vietnam into one case, and everything I didn't need into the other.

If we had arrived at midday for a 2:45pm departure, then it would have been lunch time in the lounge. But arriving around 9:15am meant it was neither breakfast, elevenses, or lunch. Very disconcerting - which is actually code for making me grumpy.

How all that accounts for me taking almost no images of the  lounge except for the toilets is something I will leave you to fathom.

Desperate plants clinging to wall and life

Here is the Skyteam signature living wall (more 'just clinging on' wall), similar to the one in Sydney. Really, it looked a bit sad and desperately in need of a little horticultural attention - and I didn't pick the worst bit.

There is nothing sadder than a badly maintained living wall. It doesn't take much to take it from a thing of joy, to a charnel house of skeletal remains.
The lounge is actually quite nice, and was almost unoccupied. I presume that the morning rush was over. There was very little food offering initially when we arrived. It seemed they were at change-over hour between breakfast and lunch. And most importantly, there was no champagne to start.

To compensate for my complete inability to take pictures of the main areas of the lounge, you might want to go the the Skyteam lounge site for their 360º view. You can also have a look at Head for Points review which has a few of the pictures I failed to shoot.

Otherwise all I have for you is these:
Get me out of here! Rainy Heathrow. Take me to tropical heat - somewhere like Saigon - oh right, that's where we are going. View from the Skyteam lounge Terminal 4 Heathrow.
And these, that make me feel a little perverted.

Door to a shower on the left, door to a stall centre right, towel dispenser right
Or these that make me feel like I want to go . . .

Basins and urinals. Nice fixtures, and plenty of space. Oh and a child height urinal in the middle.

And this that looks slightly medical.

Stall. That finish is brushed steel, even though it sort of looks like frosted glass, it isn't.
 And these below, which are the correct pre-flight cocktail.

The drink that is suitable for any time of the day. Hand crafted Bloody Mary's by me.

My reflections on the lounge are of course coloured by the way I was feeling.  We had just spent 4 weeks in quite mild winter weather in London on a pre-Christmas whirl of social engagements, visiting friends and relatives, followed by Christmas, the northern lights in Tromsø, and the excesses of New Year's Eve.  We were exhausted. We wanted to stay and going to the airport and sitting in that lounge reminded us that we were on our way home to Sydney - admittedly with a few nights of R'nR in Saigon. Our mood was not elevated.

All in all, the lounge was perfectly good. Not great, but way better than the Vietnam Airlines lounge in HCMC.

Goodbye London. Lets hope that there is no one sick on this 787 to Saigon.

More stories from this trip

Sunday, 10 July 2016

The chase to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from Tromsø, Norway

Just a taste of what we saw on the first night - in retrospect the bad viewing night.

The highlight of my Northern Hemisphere Christmas trip, besides spending Christmas with our very good London friends, was to see the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

I'm going to cut to the chase on this post, giving you the goods at the end of the rainbow - the actual trip before I give you the background and planning and detail. You're welcome.

The Start

We used Chasing Lights as our tour company, booking two chases on successive evenings. 

We were picked up at our hotel around 6pm, having been asked to be ready from 5:30pm.  There were 12 people in our group - so that was the two of us, and our 2 London partners-in-crime and 8 others - mostly under 40. Tour staff on both nights consisted of a guide, and a driver/factotum

Once settled into the tour bus and on the road, the process of the tour was explained as well as a general description of the Aurora Borealis as a scientific phenomenon. In essence, we would be driven to a light pollution free and available site to view the the phenomenon, that was within range (roughly 3 hours driving). Being able to enjoy the view by ourselves was also an important consideration not to mention un-interrupted cloudless views on publicly or privately owned land that they had permission to visit. As I understand, both of our viewing points were within national parks.

Now that 'sun' you see in the sky, is actually the moon. Those white spots you can see, are the stars.  This is really what we would consider 'pitch black night sky' with a good moon. I show this to give you an indication of the long exposure and other manipulation required to provide realistic images to show you the Aurora.

The photos

I'm going to get the elephant out of the room - actually a couple of pachyderms.

The first is that nearly all of the image here were taken on our two chases, but not by us. Part of the package is that the photos the tour guide takes are made available to the tour guests. There is a very good reason for this, as the professional images are waaaay better than anything we took. That's partly due to lack of skill, and partly due to the non-professional nature of our photographic equipment.

Image my partner Mickaele took on his Cannon EOS D60 - with some auto correction in photoshop. Note the lens artefact in the middle of the shot.

Image our guide took of roughly the same phenomena at roughly the same place at the same time with her Sony ILCE 75, with whatever photoshop settings they use to enhance their images.

The other element, the processing of images they do, more truly matching your memories of the events. Believe me, none of the photos here - however over saturated, exposed and enhanced come anything near the experience of being there and seeing this natural miracle yourself.  But I'm not going to pull any punches. You have to suffer to enjoy it . . .

This is from the 2nd night, and that burst of light that looks like the final bit of a sunset is actually the lights from a nearby town. You can see how something like that light source can interfere with sighting and images of the Aurora.

The driving and the waiting, and the waiting and the driving

The other large beast in the room is the extreme boredom of driving to see these lights and waiting for them to appear. Especially on the 2nd night - when the novelty has worn off. Each of our chases lasted around 8 or more hours door to door. On the first night we drove just shy of 3 hours out of Tromsø, waited and viewed for about 3 to 4 hours as the lights waxed and waned and then drove back. Our return time was about 2:30am, so we were dead tired.

Mise en scène for our first night of chasing the lights. Van in the background, fire on the right, hot chocolate, freeze dried meals and thermoses of hot water in the orange bags centre. Oh and a bit of northern lights in the sky.

Having seen the lights on the first night - we ummm'd and ahhh'd about stepping out to see them again. Three things contributed to our decision: we had pre-paid a fortune, we were taking a bottle of rum with us, and it was possible the lights might be even better the 2nd night.

We were sooooo glad we did.

Men in suits - actually its hard to confirm the sex. Those blue and black things are the thermal suits - kind of padded condoms. They are fuzzy, because the image exposure is more than a few seconds, as opposed to fractions of.

The Lights

I do not have enough superlatives to describe the sight of Aurora Borealis.

It is beyond imagination.

The curtain dance. Chase 2 I think.

OK, most of the time it is not as vibrant as you see in the professional clips. But they have been processed and enhanced, and speeded up, and a film crew has spent months at multiple locations to find the ultimate version.

Oh, that's definitely working now. The celestial switch has been turned to 'ON'.

You are going to spend one or two night looking at them, so they will not be as filmic. What they will be is exciting.

Our viewing party
On our first night, they appeared just above the mountain horizon. They came and went, moving a little, but seemed a little distant ain indistinct. They were still exciting. They had the slow and careful animation that you think only comes out of the old Disney studios, but this is mother nature doing it.

That little bombardment of particles from the sun is making that mainly green light dance and wave, and shimmy and waltz across the sky. It is delicate and bold all at the same time. Etherial, but intensely real all together. No picture here, or even by the best national geographic photographer can duplicate the joy of actually experiencing this natural phenomenon.

Multiple curtains. If only you could have seen them sway.
If we had only seen them the first night - and the tour company accents the fact that you may not - we would be more than satisfied.

Until we saw them the 2nd night.

Now, this is apparently rare - those red/pink tinges apparently are not seen often, so you can forgive me having enhanced them a little when processing this image.
The 2nd night was phenomenal. Unlike the first night where the lights had just been atop the visible mountains (image that heads this story), on the 2nd night they filled the sky, were practically continuous and gave us the full wavy curtain effect.

Aurora dancing behind the trees.

They were so overhead and continuous that the easiest way to view them was laying down on reindeer skins on the snow and just looking straight up. In fact they went on sooo long, that after 3 hours, we were almost bored. Almost.

And that just kept on going right overhead.

Food and refreshments

The tours are very well planned. You get appropriate toilet and refreshment stops along the way, and while viewing, you get a round of hot chocolate, a bonfire to sit around (and for some to warm their feet by, and a hot (reconstituted) meal. BYO alcohol is highly recommended by us. It warms you up.

The re-constituted/freeze dried meals, are made from Norwegian grown ingredients and manufactured in Tromsø. The hot chocolate is very welcome, warming and delicious.

Snow covered pines, with northern lights background.

Clothing and warmth

Being Australian, we were totally afraid of how cold it might be, and had been warned to prepare for -20ºC  (-4ºF) temperatures. Chasing Lights provided a suggested list of clothing. We followed it almost to the letter (mittens over gloves - or preferably - the ones that combine the two). We also had backup advice from our friends who had been the previous year. They re-inforced the list, but accented the essential nature of chemical foot and hand warmers - and they were right.

We bought a whole bunch of cold weather gear from Katmandu in Australia, as well as (cheapish) snow boots in London (Mountain Warehouse in North End Rd, Fulham). In fact we had to devote separate cases to our cold weather gear.

All that on the left is cold weather and arctic clothing with some overflow on the right. I squeezed in a few pairs of shoes (OK five pairs, but some were sandals) on the right.

We thought we were prepared, and the coldest it got while we were on the chase was only -10ºC.

We were not prepared.

Promised by the tour company were 'thermal suits'. They did not sound figure flattering and we were not the only ones who were over confident about their cold weather preparations.

Having initially refused the suits, we were asking for them within the first 10 minutes of our first night chase. Not for in the van - but for as soon as we found our viewing location. Standing around for long periods looking at the sky is not conducive to warmth. Let me just say that everyone ended up with a thermal suit on, and although we looed like a collective of blue Michelin men, no one cared.

Yep - they're still going.

All the people who didn't have snow boots (we felt smugly superior) did borrow the tour company's within the first half hour - including our two English friends who are supposed to know about this sort of stuff.

Chemical warmers - not an option - a necessity!

Not only that, but in less than an hour, nearly everyone had chemical hand warmers in their mittens, and foot warmers in their boots.

Until this trip, I had never conceived of the pain of having continuously cold feet. Despite one pair of standard wool socks and two pairs of thick merino wool socks encased in snow boots, my feet were getting colder and colder, until I inserted the foot warmers. Even then my feet didn't get warm - they just didn't get any colder.  Don't even think about doing this trip in winter without them. Not the re-usable ones - forget them, they take too long to 'recharge' go with the disposable ones, and make sure you have at least a pair for hands and feet for every day you are in this arctic weather.

Tromsø with the town cathedral with copper spire.

Why Tromsø?

Our choice of Tromsø was based on lots of research, and the recommendations of some close friends who had joined the chase a year before in Christmas 2014.

Our chase site had to be in Europe - since that was where we would be and a sighting had to be as certain as we could make it.  We looked at a bunch of options, including Orkney Islands, Greenland, Iceland, and various other spots in Scandinavia.

On a combination of travel and flight convenience, cost, infrastructure for the chase, time available (you can go on 5 to 9 night cruises) and our good friends recommendation, Tromsø it was.

Still there, still dancing

Chasing Lights - our tour guide company

We couldn't really fault this company. The communication via email was prompt, responsive, and thorough. They provided every detail we requested, all sorts of options including with accommodation, and without. We chose to book our accommodation separately, as we could get a better room for slightly less than Chasing Lights were quoting. They offered us other tours - like dog sledding (apparently a literal shit fight) and wildlife tours, which we declined, and they were not pushy about it. The only thing they did encourage us to do, was book more than one night, and I think they were right about that. Cloud cover could severely impede viewing the lights - which is one reason to go chasing more than one night.

They were not the cheapest, but they were the most professional, running a number of tours each night. They could communicate with the other tour parties in their company to find out what they could see, and where they were. This meant that we did not bump into other chasers either night, and had our freshly snow covered viewing area all to ourselves.

The other thing they provided - was everything you needed from the warm clothes and hand warmers through to camera tripods and expert photographic advice. Some of the smaller operators - although good - don't offer this sort of comprehensive service.

The guide told us they had an extensive network of sky camera's that helped them identify where activity was concentrated, and what viewing area might be best.

Our guide provided expert knowledge and assistance with photography, and the driver on both nights assisted us with putting on, and getting out of those quilted condoms. I did not realise how clumsy all that clothing could make you. Much appreciated.

Seeing the northern lights is not a cheap activity. We spent a lot of money on warm clothing, despite borrowing some items from a friend who had visited the antarctic. Flights and hotel accommodation were not cheap either - although they could be done more cheaply than we did.

Our two nights chase cost us €185 per person, per night. This included pickup and drop off, thermal suits and boots, and hand and foot warmers (although they did run out one night), camera tripod, meal and chocolate drink, photography advice, and digital photos - including portraits of us against the northern lights.

Whether you choose Tromsø, or some other vantage point - do go and experience the Northern Lights. You will not forget them.

More stories from this trip

Friday, 8 July 2016

What do you do when someone is already in the room you have been assigned? Clarion The Edge Hotel, Tromsø, Norway.

In the continuing saga of my first northern hemisphere Christmas, we decided to get a touch of real snow and cold, which just wasn't available in London (London was having a balmy winter, with midday daytime temperatures around 16ºC (60ºF). Our excuse was to see the Northern Lights, and one of the best places to do this, is from Tromsø in northern Norway.

Map courtesy of Prof Google Maps. The red thing indicates Tromsø, in case you were asking.
You can review the flight report, or our pleasant encounter with the Plaza Premium Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 2 as part of this trip.

Our Arrival

Our flight had been delayed leaving Oslo by over an hour, reportedly due to a fire at Tromsø airport - although I can find no confirmation of this.

The view at midday from our room.

Now, for this time of year the weather was mild. But to me, it was freezing, and the experience of everything being covered in ice or snow was novel. We waited our turn for a cab in a covered and enclosed waiting area with an electronic sliding door.

A new sight for me - frozen downpipe in the streets of Tromsø

As the door slid open, and let in a gust of sub-zero air, I got my first sense of what I was in for. Thank goodness I had taken one of my warm, wind jamming jackets as hand luggage.

There was chaos while a large family tried to get far too much luggage and too many people into a normal sedan. The taxi queue resumed some order as the large group stood to one side, and waited for a more appropriate people mover. After about 15 minutes, we were soon on our way - mainly via a series of tunnels to the centre of Tromsø, about 5km (3 miles).

It was after midnight, so the image below is closer to what we saw, rather than the beautiful mauve midday image above:

Christmas tree?  Looking from our hotel towards the harbour and town. Snow!
For me our destination might as well have been an alien planet and the check-in process and alcohol consumption rules only added to that perception.

The Hotel

Our introduction to this hotel was not good . . .

We were dropped right outside our hotel Clarion The Edge - some 10 or so metres from the entrance. We were a bit tired and fractious, since we had left our London home about 11am and here it was more than 12 hours later.

The Foyer, looking back towards the entrance. Lounge/Bar to the right. Picture taken around midday.

There was a long but fairly patient queue of guests waiting to check-in. The queue grew, but the number of staff on the front desk did not.  There was one poor night manager struggling with guests who spoke different languages and with different levels of comprehension, not to mention patience levels.

To the American couple who were actually at the wrong hotel, it was not the check-in staff's fault you seemed to have no idea where you were staying. In fact, it would have been polite to thank him for making several phone calls to find out where you were staying, and to provide you with directions, since you didn't appear to have any readable record of where you were meant to be staying. OK, it was late and you were tired, but being plain rude and abusive did not help anyone's mood. Thank you very much.

Reception the next day while waiting to change our room assignment. Three people staffing reception, as opposed to just one the night before.

We did have a record of our booking, and it was honoured - except that we didn't get our harbour view - which turned out to be the least of our problems. Up in the lift behind us, and up to the 6th floor. While we were faffing about trying to make our keycard work, someone exited our assigned room, and they were not a cleaner.

That's odd we thought.

We finally sorted out our keycard and tentatively entered the room. On the left was a bathroom, and there is a reason I remember that, because, as I passed it, it was - let me just say - obvious that it had recently been used.

That was enough for me. I couldn't tell you much about the room, but I was not staying in a room that someone else obviously had access to. We retreated immediately, and while I waited, my partner Mickaeli went downstairs to sort it out.

We eventually got a new room assignment and exhausted, dumped our things so we could hit the foyer bar asap and catch up with our friends.

Foyer sculpture and Christmas tree. Stairs up to mezzanine dining, with lift column centre.

We were hoping a drink would help - but we were yet to face our first encounter with the strange and restrictive rules of Norwegian alcohol consumption. When ordering, we were told by the lone staff member that the bar would close at midnight.  With a queue of punters waiting to check-in running out the door, who we suspected were as tired and thirsty as we were, this seemed a foolish decision. To make things more efficient, we ordered double gins and tonics. This is not permitted. Apparently Nordic law does not permit the service of doubles. However our bartender did not come down in the last shower.  This dilemma was not new to her. Quick thinking, and she served us 4 x G and T's, and 4 gin shots with 4 bottles of tonic.  Apparently this was permissible - presumably because it was two rounds of drinks, or it looked like they were for 6 people.

Another shot of the foyer, looking towards the entrance. The metallic ceiling glistened gold and silver and purple, quite an opulent effect in a contemporary hotel. For once, I didn't mind all the Christmas decorations.

A couple hundred people arrive, one barmen, one check-in person, and the bar runs out of the only thing they have to eat - potato crisps! Fortunately, our friends had been out to the 7/11 around the corner, and got something which consisted almost totally of toasted bread and melted cheese. Given these temperatures - we didn't complain.

We chatted amongst ourselves and observed the mainly young crowd. We thanked profusely our bar-person for deciding to keep the bar open, and provide us with yet another round. A word to the wise: Always keep the bar staff on side. They can make your life heaven or hell.

Eventually we crawled back to our newly allocated room, and just crashed - possibly a little the worse for wear.

Floor plan, with the three different rooms we 'occupied' in order. The 1st and 2nd rooms was on a different floor, but, with the same shape and location. And yes, all the room doors did open outwards into the corridor.
We ended up staying in two different rooms, and seeing three in total. On the floor plan above, #1 shows the first room we were assigned, but that was already occupied. As you can see, it is a big room, but did not have a great view over the inlet.  The view would have been more like the shot below. This was actually taken from Room #2, and shows the rooftop of the shopping centre opposite the hotel.

This was actually our view out of Room #2, where we spent our first night, after rejecting Room #1 because it was already occupied.

Other than  breakfast, sleep, and our first night in the bar, we spent very little time at the hotel. As you will hear in the next post - our Northern Lights experience kept us up all evening and into the next day two nights running.  We didn't do that much physically, but it was exhausting.

View at midday - yep that's as light as it gets - beautiful though.

After spending a night in Room #2, we realised that we had paid extra for a deluxe room and so went down to reception and plead our case. The staff were very responsive to our predicament and very soon, we had been allocated Room #3, which had the fantastic views that head this post, and the view below.

View during 'daylight' from Room #3.  You can see the inlet (Fjord?), bridge and the soaring Arctic Cathedral.
As you can see from the Foyer images, this is a fairly funky contemporary hotel. The room interiors did not disappoint, although the overall feel was probably 3.5 to 4 star, or maybe that's just my association of Scandinavian design with Ikea - probably unfair.

Floors were colour coded in equally vibrant shades. The weirdest thing was all the doors opened outward - I presume for fire safety reasons.
The rooms were 'sharp', with a sense of place - note the reference to horticulture.

Local plants identified on wall silhouettes. Timber banded light fittings form a theme throughout the room

Bedding was white with deep brown headboards, buttoned in yellow, and orange/red and rust pillow accents. The queen bed (actually a little larger than an Australian Queen at 160cm width) featured separate duvets, as is common in European hotels. Given that I sleep 'hot' and my partner sleeps 'cold' having separate covers was wonderful.

Simple, clean colour palette. Good lighting and bedding. Blond wood everywhere. No bedside clutter though - just very helpful international powerpoints and switches.
Looking towards the front door with wall art.
The lounge, block-out drapes, and windows with those wonderful views beyond.

There were quirky touches throughout the room, but not too many compromises on practicality.

'Clarion loves a great view' - one of many little 'sayings' displayed around the room. Cute?

Laying on the bed - space for bag storage on the left, luggage rack/shelf under the TV, desk to the right.

The room was pretty compact. Not small, just tight, with minimal storage and wardrobe hanging space. The wardrobe meant you needed to hang things flat (like an old fashioned wardrobe), rather than parallell to the wall - if you know what I mean.

To the right of the front door is a thin wardrobe, with cupboards, and coffee and tea making facilities. Opposite, are a bunch of recessed hooks where were excellent for hanging up all the cold weather gear (not pictured)
The hotel room had everything you needed, but it was pretty efficient with space. I would estimate it at about 30 square metres (around 320 square feet) maybe a touch less - and this was a deluxe room.

More quirkyness - notepad, and exhortation to review on tripadvisor. As a graphic designer, I appreciate the consistent look of all the graphic elements and consistent copywriting.

The room might have been small, but at least they provided decent sized bathrooms.

Bathroom in dark grey and white, photographed using the whole wall mirror. It was a decent size, and had subtle touches, like a combination of matt and gloss tiles. Toilet was to the left in this image.
More cuteness with the amenities, but again consistent design, and colour coded!

Bathroom Amenities

Organic amenities were by Dharmazone, and were quite pleasant. They also got over my pet hate with bathroom amenities. I'm longsighted, so usually wear glasses to read packaging like this. Well, as you might imagine, I don't really like to have to resort to wearing my glasses in the shower.

Usually it is impossible to work out which is what in the bathroom amenity stakes without my glasses. Many a time, I have washed my hair with body lotion, and conditioned my skin. The cute little bottles had large written quotes, and colour coding! Excellent. No need for glasses in the shower, or carefully arranging the amenities with my glasses on before I took them off and got into the shower.

Score points Dharmazone!

The staircase. Reception and bar to the left, lounge/library to the right, and breakfast/dining upstairs on the mezzanine.

The Restaurant

For some reason I don't have any shots of the dining room or the hotels breakfast spread. Breakfasts were great as befits the hearty meals you need for fuel against the cold. Great range of hot and cold options, with lots of fresh fruit and salad, presumably flown in from somewhere warmer. Fantastic range of breads and cheeses.

The restaurant also had a range of table styles, standard sit downs for 2, 4 and 6. Some larger communal tables, both standard height, and bar height with stools. Cuisine was grouped sensibly (European breakfast, Asian, pastries, hot food etc). Coffee was automated, and possibly the only letdown to us coffee addicted Australians.

We only ate at the restaurant for breakfast - taking our lunch elsewhere, and our dinners as part of the Northern Lights chase.

Buildings around the port of Tromsø.

Tromsø town

Our 2 whole days in Tromsø consisted of making sure we were up before 10am, so we could enjoy breakfast (finished at 11am - jut when it was getting light). Wandering around town, and finding something for lunch. Then catching up on our sleep in the afternoon until we met the Northern Lights Chase team about 5pm each evening. These images should give you an idea of how picturesque it was, even though at this time of year (late December) there are only 3 hours of 'daylight' - I use the term loosely - more like dusk - between the hours of 11am to 2pm.

Christmas decorations in one of the main shopping streets, around midday. Some of the cutest decorations I have seen.
Tromsø harbour with the Arctic Cathedral in the distance.
The municipal library during the 'day'.

Towards the harbour, with fishing sculpture (or snow slide, depending on your age) and Arctic Cathedral in the background.

If I had to live here, I would definitely develop SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) depression, and may be forced to buy and use knitting kits like the below:

This is what I would end up purchasing and knitting if I lived in Tromsø over winter and suffered from SAD.
. . . and to give you a taste of what is in store, and what would relieve my depression if I lived here - the Northern Lights:

One of our first glimpses of the Northern Lights about 3 hours out of Tromsø on our first night chasing the lights.

Bouquets and Brickbats

Tromsø is a delight. It was a great base for our search for the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). The hotel, Clarion The Edge was more than a good hotel, although it did have some definite 'could do better's'.

Check in took for ever, as only one person was assigned to staff reception over night. We heard later from other staff, that all the night manager had to do was lift the phone and other staff would have come in to support him.

Rooms are stylish, although small, but contain everything you need. I preferred the views towards the harbour, but there was nothing wrong with the mountain view from the rooms that faced the opposite direction.

Norwebian alcohol laws are weird to an Australian, but are there because the society does have a pretty bad alcohol addiction problem (and so would I if I had to live in twilight for half the year).

Hotel management looks like it needs more flexibility in reacting to unforeseen circumstances, like flight delays, although bar staff did make their own decision to stay open given the late flight. Unfortunately, they did not have the snack food supplies to support the decision.

The hotel is not the only choice at this level in Tromsø, (Clarion have other hotels in the town) but based on our stay and research, close to the best option available.

The other hotel we nearly chose was the Radisson Blu, but the Clarion The Edge was newer, and the design looked better.

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