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.

More stories from this trip


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