Costs and logistics of a RTW trip

Costs and logistics of a RTW trip

Friday, March 23, 2012

Travel costs and information for Norway - Oslo, Tromso, Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)


Norway

  • When I visited (March 2012), the exchange rate was about NOK8.9 = £1.
  • Though there are ATMs all over the place so that it's easy to get cash, I found that most businesses actually seem to prefer credit cards - I guess the advantage for them is that they don't have to carry tons of change. 
  • Norway is expensive by any standards, especially for food and drink and alcohol.  You'll be unlikely to get a beer in a restaurant or bar for less than NOK60, and that will probably only be 400ml (i.e. less than 3/4 of a pint) - Norway is the first country I've ever travelled in where the cost of a beer actually put me off the idea of having (another) one.  A main course in a cafe will set you back from NOK140.  I limited myself to eating out every other day (partly for financial reasons, partly because eating as a solo traveller isn't the same experience as dining with others) - the rest of my meals consisted of either bread/ham/cheese bought from a supermarket, or hot paninis/calzones/pizzarolls (usually NOK50-60) bought from corner stores such as 7-11/Narvesen/ICA/Deli de Luca/Kiwi/Rema 1000.
  • No hassle from anyone, and apparently very little crime.
  • Most people that were raised in Norway can speak English, however that won't necessarily be the case for more recent immigrants.
  • Most buildings seem to be well-heated, but not to the point of feeling tropical.
  • Norway is 1 hour ahead of GMT.

London
4th March 2012 £6.49 EasyBus from Baker Street to Stansted, leaving at 5:20AM (they leave on average every 20 minutes) and taking about an hour (i.e. 15 minutes faster than the schedule).  I bought this ticket about 7 weeks in advance and the bus was full.
4th March 2012 £52.79 Flight (Ryanair) from Stansted to Oslo (Rygge), including the extra payment for having one item of checked luggage.  This left at 8:35AM and took 1 hour 40 minutes (i.e. 30 minutes faster than the schedule).  I bought this ticket about 7 weeks in advance and the flight was full.

Oslo
  • There's very little in the way of cheap accommodation in Oslo - even a dorm bed will set you back from £25.
  • There are plenty of down-and-outs shuffling around near the central train station and the lower portion of Karl Johans Gate, but I didn't see any trouble.
  • Public transport on the T-bane (subway)/bus/tram network costs at least NOK27 per hour (depending on how you buy your ticket).  Remember to get the ticket validated at the beginning of your journey, as otherwise you could be liable for a fine if an inspector checks your ticket and finds it unvalidated.  I didn't see an inspector on any of my journeys - there's no way that such an "honour" system would work in the UK.  You can get 24 hour tickets as well as for longer periods.  Taxis start at NOK80 so they really aren't worth it unless you have no other option.
  • The National Gallery is free to visit on a Sunday (vs NOK50 any other day of the week).  You can take pictures anywhere inside except for the Munch Room, which contains (among other pictures) one of two painted versions of "The Scream" (the other is in the Munch Museum).
  • You can walk right up to the Royal Palace (Det Kongelige Slottet) but the only way you can see inside is via guided tour, and they only run in the summer.
  • Cafe Sara in Grunerlokka had a good atmosphere for dinner and/or drinks, and was relatively inexpensive.
  • It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the Vigeland Sculpture Park from central Oslo.
  • There is free wifi at the Opera House, Use It (Mollergata 3), and La Baguette (Jembanetorget), among others.
  • There are free toilets at the Opera House, Use It (Mollergata 3), Akershus, Glasmagasinet (2nd floor, Stortorvet 1B), Paleet (2nd floor, Karl Johans Gate), and City Hall.

4th March 2012 NOK140 Rygge Express bus from Rygge airport to Oslo central bus station, taking about an hour.  Apparently this bus runs based on the plane arrivals at the airport, however you would be advised to hurry to get on it, as if it fills up (like mine did - I got the last seat) then you will have to wait for the next one.  I think incoming flights are frequent enough that the next bus won't be more than 30 minutes or so away.
4th March 2012 £63 (Average) nightly cost for a single ensuite room at the P-Hotels hotel on Grensen.  I booked this about 7 weeks in advance, making use of a 10% discount voucher from Expedia.  The room was compact but fine, with a single bed, TV, radiator, free wifi (though the signal sometimes faded out in my room), and breakfast (a pack of sandwiches, a carton of fruit juice, and a piece of fruit, which is left in a bag outside your room each morning).  The bathroom floor is heated, which is a nice welcome first thing in the morning - it's also handy if you've washed some socks/undies and need somewhere for them to dry.
5th March 2012 NOK340 48-hour Oslo Pass, bought from Tourist Information.  The cost of the pass this year should actually be NOK395, but there had been some (unspecified) errors in the 2012 batch of passes so they were still selling the 2011 passes at the 2011 price (though with all the functionality of the 2012 pass).  The pass enables you to enter over 30 museums for free, as well as having free transport on the subway/bus/tram routes, not to mention providing discounts at some restaurants.  It's also available in 24-hour and 72-hour versions.  With most museums costing at least NOK50 (though some are up to NOK100), and transport costing at least NOK27 per trip, the pass can represent great value if you intend visiting several museums - even though I did a lot of walking, I still got about NOK700-worth of entries and transport out of my pass, i.e. it paid for itself twice over.  Remember that the opening days/hours of museums vary, with one factor being the time of the year, so make sure to plan your visits to make optimal use of the Oslo Pass.  Here is a list of the museums which have free entry with the Oslo Pass (note that some of them are free anyway), together with their opening hours and normal entry fees (as far as I could establish for the period when I was there), and other comments where appropriate.  Several of the most interesting museums (e.g. Fram Museum, Viking Ship Museum, Kon-Tiki Museum, and Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) are on the Bygdøy peninsula, which can be reached on the No. 30 bus from central Oslo, taking about 20 minutes (in the summer you can alternatively take a ferry).

  • Akershus Castle (Festning) (Sa/Su 12-5, NOK70)
  • Armed Forces Museum (Tu-F 10-4, Sa/Su 11-5, FREE)
  • DogA (Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture) (M/Th/F 10-5, W/Th 10-8, Sa/Su 12-5, FREE)
  • Film Museum (Tu/W/F 12-5, Th 12-7, Sa 12-4:30, FREE)
  • Football Museum (M-F 10-3:30, NOK90)
  • Fram Museum (M-Su 10-4, NOK60).  Contains the Fram, the ship built for Nansen's (unsuccessful) expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage.  The Fram achieved its main fame by being Amundsen's ship on his successful South Pole expedition - near the museum building there is a monument to the 5 men who reached the South Pole, unveiled by the King on 14th December 2011.  Outside the museum is the Gjoa, the ship in which Amundsen successfully navigated the Northwest Passage.
  • Historical Museum (Tu-Su 11-4, NOK50)  There is currently an "Arctic Experts" exhibition here about the indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic regions.  Though you probably won't have come to Norway to look at Egyptian sarcophagi, bear in mind that at least you can take photos of the ones here - unlike in either the Cairo or Luxor Museums.
  • Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Tower (M-Su 10-4, NOK100).  It takes about 30 minutes to get to Holmenkollen on the T-Bane from central Oslo, then another 15 minutes by foot to get to the ski jump and museum.  The museum supposedly contains Scott's skis from his doomed South Pole expedition but I couldn't find them.  Note that you need to go through the sliding door on the left when you exit the Tower lift in order to find some stairs to get to the viewing platform right at the top of the Tower.
  • Holocaust Centre (M-Su 9:30-4, NOK50)
  • Ibsen Museum (M-W/F-Su 11-4, Th 11-6, NOK85 (?)) Can only be visited on a tour, on the hour.
  • Intercultural Museum (Tu-Su 11-4, FREE)
  • International Museum of Children's Art (Tu-Th 9:30-2, Su 11-4, NOK60)
  • Kon-Tiki Museum (M-Su 10-5, NOK70)  This contains the Kon-Tiki as well as Ra 2, boats that were used by Thor Heyerdahl to demonstrate how people of the ancient world, using ancient technologies, could have navigated the seas - in particular, his Kon-Tiki voyage was intended to show that Easter Island could have been settled from South America (the prevailing wisdom is that it was settled from Polynesia).
  • Munch Museum (Tu/W/F/Sa 10-4, Th 10-8, Su 10-5, NOK95 (?))  Note that you have to leave any bags in a locker room, and you have to pass through an X-ray machine to get in.  Note also that there is a painting of "The Scream" in the National Gallery as well as here, however photography is allowed everywhere in the Munch Museum (but not in the Munch Room of the National Gallery).
  • Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Tu/W/F 11-5, Th 11-7, Sa/Su 12-4, NOK50 but FREE at the weekend)
  • National Gallery (Tu/W/F 10-6, Th 10-7, Sa/Su 11-5, NOK50 but FREE at the weekend).  You can take photos in here except in the Munch Room, so if you want a photo of "The Scream" then you will need to go to the Munch Museum, which also has a version of the painting.
  • National Library (M-F 9-7, Sa 9-2, FREE)
  • National Museum - Architecture (Tu/W/F 11-5, Th 11-7, Sa/Su 12-5, NOK50 but FREE at the weekend)
  • National Museum of Contemporary Art (Tu/W/F 11-5, Th 11-7, Sa/Su 12-5, NOK50 but FREE at the weekend)
  • Natural History Museum (Tu-Su 11-4, NOK50)
  • Nobel Peace Centre (Tu-Su 10-6, NOK80)
  • Norway's Resistance Museum (M-F 10-4, Sa/Su 11-4, NOK50)
  • Norwegian Maritime Museum (Tu-F 10-3, Sa/Su 10-4, NOK60) NB this doesn't seem to be open on Monday, unlike the rest of the museums on the Bygdøy peninsula. 
  • Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (M-F 11-3, Sa/Su 11-4, NOK100)  This contains about 150 buildings from different eras and different parts of Norway, as well as various exhibitions (including one devoted to Sami life).  Unfortunately the stave church is currently undergoing renovation so you can't see any part of it at all.  There was also a lot of snow and ice on some of the walkways, which made for exciting walking.
  • Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology (Tu-F 9-4, Sa/Su 11-6, NOK90)
  • Norwegian Telecom Museum (Tu-F 9-4, Sa/Su 11-6, NOK90)
  • Oslo Cathedral (FREE)
  • Oslo City Hall (M-Su 9-6, FREE)
  • Oslo City Museum (Tu-Su 11-4, FREE)
  • Oslo Reptile Park (Tu-Su 10-6, NOK100)
  • Vigeland Museum (Tu-Su 12-4, NOK50)
  • Viking Ship Museum (M-Su 10-4, NOK60)  This contains the best-preserved Viking longboats ever found.
  • Voksenasen Gallery (M-Su ?, FREE)
8th March 2012 NOK150 Flybussen express bus from outside the Best Western on Grensen to Gardermoen, taking about an hour.  These buses run about every 20 minutes.
8th March 2012 £51.90 Flight (SAS) from Oslo (Gardermoen) to Tromso, leaving at 10:30AM and taking 1 hr 20 minutes (i.e. 30 minutes faster than the schedule).  SAS ticket prices already include one item of checked luggage.  I bought this ticket about 7 weeks in advance, but the flight was nowhere near full. 

Tromso
  • At this time of year, there's still plenty of snow and ice around.  I found these grips to be invaluable:
 
  • Obviously you shouldn't wear them inside but they're so easy to take on/off that it's no big deal bearing that in mind.  I had no problems wearing these on a pair of size 11 hiking boots.
  • Eurospar has a massive selection of ham/cheese/bread so you can make sandwiches on the "cheap" if you don't fancy dropping large wodges of cash by eating out all the time.  Sample prices are packet of sliced ham (NOK33.5), packet of cookies (NOK11.9), diet cola 1.5l (NOK12.4), packet of cheese slices (NOK35), and pack of "Ryvita" (NOK10).   
  • There is apparently free Internet at the public library, and free wifi at Burger King, Peppes Pizza, and Kafe Verdensteatret (among others).
  • Solid Cafe on Storgata is a lively bar in the evening.
  • De 4 Roser on Gronnegata is a decent, relatively inexpensive cafe (they also have an upstairs restaurant), but it was pretty dead when I visited on a Saturday evening.
  • Many shops are closed on Sunday (including Tromso Souvenirs and Eurospar).
  • Most restaurants are closed on Sunday evening.
  • Postcard stamps to elsewhere in Europe are NOK13.
  • Two things I didn't do were go on a tour of the Mack brewery (at 1PM, minimum 4 people) or go up the cable car (runs every 30 minutes between about 11AM and 3:30PM - NOK120).
  • I think bus tickets are NOK26 for one hour - if you intend making multiple journeys, I think you can get a 24 hour ticket.
8th March 2012 NOK90 Return ticket on the express bus from Tromso airport to central Tromso, taking about 15 minutes.  The return is valid for a month.  The express bus runs every 30 minutes or so during the day but, for getting to the airport, if you have one of the earlier flights then definitely check the timetable as the service is much less frequent first thing.  The public bus is only NOK26 (?) each way, but I figured that with luggage it would be less convenient.
8th March 2012 NOK720 Nightly cost for a single ensuite room at the Viking Hotel on Gronnegata.  I booked this about 7 weeks in advance.  The room was compact but fine, with a single bed, TV, fridge, radiator, free wifi, and a good eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet breakfast.  The bathroom floor is heated, which is a nice welcome first thing in the morning - it's also handy if you've washed some socks/undies and need somewhere for them to dry.  However the sink is rather small and doesn't appear to have a plug, making it less than ideal for doing the washing in the first place.
9th March 2012 NOK35 Entry fee to the Arctic Ocean Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen).  Note that they only accept cash.
10th March 2012 NOK105 Entry fee to Polaria.
11th March 2012 NOK50 Entry fee to the Polar Museum.
13th March 2012 £112.10 Flights (SAS) from Tromso to Oslo (Gardermoen) then Oslo (Gardermoen) to London Heathrow, leaving at 10:15AM and taking 1 hr 50 minutes and leaving at 3:05PM and taking 2 hrs 20 minutes respectively.  SAS ticket prices already include one item of checked luggage.  I booked these flights about 2 months in advance.

Seeing the Northern Lights in/near Tromso
There are numerous pieces of advice scattered all over the web related to this topic, but I didn't find one post that combined all the information that I found useful in my pre-trip planning - plus when I actually got to Tromso I realised that there was some information that I hadn't found anywhere.  The aim of this post is to summarise in one place what I learned.  I visited Tromso between 8th and 13th March 2012, meaning I had 5 nights in which to hopefully see the aurora.

There are several variables to take into account if you're hoping to see the Northern Lights.  The first is WHEN to go.  Ideally you want to go at a time when there are plenty of hours of darkness, so that there is the greatest contrast with the aurora.  This generally means the winter time in the Northern Hemisphere.  For Tromso, that means between September and March.  In fact September and March are considered to be THE best months for aurora viewing near Tromso, because the sunspot activity that leads to the Northern Lights is at a peak around the equinoxes, plus the weather tends to be cloudier (meaning the Northern Lights won't be visible) during the real depths of winter.

As for what time of day to look, in theory you could see the Northern Lights any time the sky is dark, but in practice the best period to look is between 8PM and 2AM.

The second variable is WHERE to go.  You need to be somewhere within the aurora zone, which covers parts of northern Scandinavia (including Tromso), Iceland, and parts of northern Canada and Alaska.  I can only speak of Tromso, and there are several reasons why it is probably the most popular base for viewing the Northern Lights.  One is that it has an airport, so it is easy to get to.  It is a major town (by Arctic Circle standards) so there are things to keep you occupied during the daytime.  And it is on the west coast of Norway so its climate is affected by the Gulf Stream - this makes it relatively warm compared to most of the other potential viewing places.  Tromso also has a fairly active nightlife, which unfortunately you probably won't see much of because you'll be out looking for the Northern Lights :-)

As for where to go locally, you need to be somewhere with as little cloud as possible (though you may be able to see a strong aurora display even through cloud).  In Tromso's case, there is often coastal cloud so you may need to go inland (which will also be colder) or further up/down the coast, depending on the forecast.  Also, because of Tromso's size, there is a fair amount of light pollution meaning that any viewings you have within the town will not be as clear as if you were in the middle of the countryside.  (Some of the resorts you can visit in Canada/Alaska have strict light policies specifically to help reduce the problem of light pollution, but you can't really do that in a town of 70,000 people.)

If you decide to chance your arm in Tromso itself, suggested places are the cemetery behind the town or (continuing up the hill to the top) the lake (Prestvannet).  Apparently the Tromso Camping area (beyond the Arctic Ocean Cathedral) also has reduced light pollution.

However because of the light pollution and coastal cloud, you are most likely to have Northern Lights success if you get out of Tromso.  There are 3 ways that you can do this.  

Firstly, you can use public buses to get away from the town.  The downsides to this are that you won't get any great distance away from Tromso, you're limited as to how long you can stay out as you will need to get a bus back to the town (I think the public buses stop running at 11:30PM), and you'll be outside for the duration of your viewing time (i.e. you'll have nowhere to warm up). 

The second option is to hire a car.  I was told that this would cost about NOK600 for a day (not including fuel) so it is an expensive option for a solo traveller (cf the cost for a tour below).  In addition, it's not everyone that wants to be negotiating wintry roads in an area they don't know in the dark.  But if that doesn't bother you, and you have a map and a weather forecast, then hiring a car might be a good option.  You also have somewhere to keep warm.

The final option, which is the most popular, is to go on a tour.  The guides all rely on the weather forecast as well as local knowledge and possibly their own network of spotters in order to find areas where there is little cloud and hopefully a decent Northern Lights display.  Tours cost anything from NOK700 upwards.  Though there may well be differences between tours in terms of how knowledgeable the guide is about the aurora, how much the guide can help you with setting up your camera gear, the quality of the chocolate cake and hot drink that you get, etc, the main difference is how long the guide is prepared to drive around for - and also how far they are prepared to drive - in order to find the Northern Lights.

There are a number of companies offering tours from Tromso.  The information I will give below is mainly gleaned from the Tromso Tourist Information booklet.  You can book tours directly through an individual company, via Tourist Information, or (probably) via your hotel.  It doesn't seem necessary to book in advance unless you want to go with one of the famous guides such as Kjetil "Joanna Lumley" Skogli or Guide Gunnar (who tend to be booked up weeks in advance), so you can simply book on the day.

Anyone selling tours will have access to both the weather forecast and the aurora forecast, which you may choose to look at to see if it's worth going out that night.  Note that these forecasts are not guarantees of anything!  For example, the first night I was in Tromso, the aurora forecast was the best they'd seen in 5 years.  I went on a tour, we had a decent amount of clear sky, and we didn't see even a sliver of the aurora.  My fifth night in Tromso, the aurora and weather forecasts were both better than for the previous night when people had seen good displays - I went on a tour again, and didn't see much either.

All tours described below leave Tromso at around 7PM.  Make sure you have dinner beforehand, as there won't be much open when you return.  If you need the loo on the tour, just find somewhere where no-one can see you and go ... 

Natur i Nord (Natur i Nord's website)
The main guide with Natur i Nord is Ivar.  His trips cost NOK700.  There were 2 minibuses on my trip, though I don't know if he would increase that number if more people signed up.  As he says in his preamble, he aims to return to Tromso for midnight - on my trip, we got back at about 12:15AM.  This makes this tour one of the shorter ones on offer, and means that it misses a good chunk of the night.  On my trip we had our best sighting of the Northern Lights on the way back to Tromso, which meant that we only stopped for about 10 minutes to enjoy it.

Ivar himself is friendly and seemed to make the effort to say something to each of his customers.  While driving out of Tromso, he put on a video/slideshow that explained the science behind the Northern Lights as well as their occurrence in Scandinavian folklore.  Every time we stopped, he left the engine running in the minibus so that you could stay in the warmth if you didn't fancy standing outside.  We were given a mug of hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake for sustenance.

Verdict: my only quibble with Natur i Nord would be that the tour time is shorter than the other tours. 

Scan Adventure/Adventures
The main guide with Scan Adventure is Karina - the company has been going since November 2010.  Her trips cost NOK700.  We didn't return to Tromso until 2AM, making this a long trip durationwise, which sadly produced absolutely nothing in the way of aurora sightings.  She is a keen photographer so can help you with your camera settings if necessary.  Each customer is also provided with a torch.

Karina didn't give any kind of spiel about the Northern Lights other than mentioning a couple of folk tales associated with them.  She didn't mingle much with the guests during the tour either.  She also said on multiple occasions that she had actually wanted to spend the evening with her accountant but had been persuaded to come out because the aurora forecast was so good - though this was said in a jokey manner, I didn't need to hear it so often.  But my biggest quibble was that whenever we stopped, she turned off the minibus engine meaning that there was nowhere warm to go to - this was on a cold (and extremely windy) night too.  Every review I'd read of any Northern Lights tour had mentioned that you could always get back in the minibus if you were cold, so it was an unpleasant surprise to find that that wasn't the case (at least on this tour), especially as I'd not worn my thermal leggings and other layers because I hadn't been expecting to be in the cold for so long.  We were offered a hot drink and a slice of carrot cake for sustenance.

Verdict: a good duration though we didn't drive that far, but make sure you wear all your cold-weather clothing if you take this tour! 

Kjetil Skogli (Kjetil Skogli's website)
This chap was Joanna Lumley's guide when she saw the Northern Lights.  His tours cost NOK1,750 (i.e. much more than the other tours) but he seems to take fewer guests, he drives further than the cheap tours (e.g. into Finland), and as a professional photographer he can no doubt provide useful tips if you're having problems with your camera.  His website says that his tours generally return between 1 and 2AM but there's flexibility.  Even so, that's one heck of a price! 

Guide Gunnar (Guide Gunnar's website)
This guy is also very popular.  His tours cost NOK950 and he seems to drive similar distances to Kjetil Skogli (the duration is listed as 6-8 hours). 

Arctic Fishing Adventures (Arctic Fishing Adventures website)
Despite their name, this company also does Northern Lights tours.  They charge NOK1,290 for tours that can range as far as Kjetil Skogli and Guide Gunnar's (the duration is listed as 6-8 hours). 

Arctic Guide Service (Arctic Guide Service's website)
This company charges NOK850 and they also drive reasonable distances (the duration is listed as up to 7 hours).  Tromso Tourist Information said that this company takes out as many vehicles as necessary (they do tours for passengers from the Hurtigruten ferry) so in theory they should always have a seat available. 

Arctic Pathfinder (Arctic Pathfinder's website)
This company charges NOK995.  It looks like their vehicle is just a Toyota RAV4 (i.e. only a few passenger seats), so for this price I would imagine that means they don't drive very far (the duration is listed as 5 hours). 

Others
These companies and others also offer tours including dog-sledding, snow-shoeing, visiting Sami households, taking the ferry, etc combined with viewing the Northern Lights but I can't really say anything about those as I neither researched them nor took part in any of those activities. 

My experience
I don't like tours so I decided that I would only take 2 tours and on the other 3 nights I would do my own thing.  The forecast for my first night was so good that I booked a tour with Scan Adventure and, as mentioned, we saw nothing.  I wasn't enormously impressed with that tour for the reasons mentioned above, which made me even less inclined to take further tours in case they were all similar.  My second night, I walked up to Tromso cemetery to see if I could see anything from there, and in fact got the best aurora sighting that I was to have on my whole trip - it certainly wasn't brilliant, but it was definitely green (with the naked eye).  Unfortunately it only lasted for a couple of minutes, then cloud came over for the rest of the evening.  My third and fourth nights, it snowed constantly in Tromso and the forecast wasn't good elsewhere either so I neither went out on my own nor on a tour.  My final night, I took a tour with Natur i Nord and, though the tour was better run than the Scan Adventure one, we saw only the faintest glimpses of aurora (which looked like faint cloud to the naked eye and only looked green after a 30 second exposure on my camera), plus we only spent 10 minutes at the best spot because the tour was due to end. 

Conclusion
From my own experience, I would recommend that you take a tour EVERY night until such time as you have seen the Northern Lights.  I think I was unlucky that in 5 nights I had 2 tours with meagre results, 2 nights of snowing in Tromso, and 1 night in Tromso with a quick glimpse of the aurora, but it just shows that it can happen!  Even more frustratingly, people that I spoke to subsequently had seen decent displays on tours on the nights that I didn't go out.

Also, if I was to go again (which I probably will ...), I would try out Guide Gunnar and/or Arctic Guide Service, as they seem to offer the best combination of price/distance/duration.  I regret now going for the cheaper options.  Of course, the Northern Lights don't discriminate between who they appear to, but if you want to maximise your chances then it seems to make sense to pay that bit extra to be on a longer tour that goes further.  I think I was made overly optimistic by the fact that 95% of all the trip reports I'd read had resulted in people seeing the aurora.

Note also that there's hardly anything open in Tromso on Sunday evening in the way of restaurants or bars, so this is an ideal night to take a tour! 

Photographing the Northern Lights
The best site I found for information regarding photographing the Northern Lights was this one.  However note that this guy is operating in a much colder part of the aurora zone, so that some of the problems he outlines (short battery life, ice on the lens, condensation when going into a warm environment, effect of the cold on plastic parts, etc) will probably not be a big deal near Tromso.

Since that article is quite a long read, I would summarise it as follows:

  • You need a tripod.
  • You need a lens with an aperture of at least f2.8, preferably larger (i.e. a smaller f number), and set it to be wide open.
  • Remove all filters on your lens.
  • Don't bump up the ISO too high or the graininess of the resulting photos will be unacceptable - how high is too high will depend on your camera (e.g. ISO1600 is about the limit on a Canon 50D, but you wouldn't want anything more than about ISO200 on most point-and-shoot cameras).
  • As a very rough guide (it's difficult to generalise across cameras), if you have a f2.8 lens, start with ISO400 and an exposure time of 30 seconds then adjust from there.
  • Shoot in RAW if possible so that you have the most flexibility in post-production.
  • Set the white balance to automatic (though that doesn't matter if you're shooting in RAW), pre-set the focus to infinity (which may not be as easy as you think - see the article), and activate any inbuilt software for long exposure noise reduction.
  • To ensure minimal vibrations, use mirror lock-up and a cable release.
  • Bring a head torch so that you aren't left fumbling in the dark.  However bear in mind that ANY light will ruin your (and your companions') night vision, so use no light if possible or a red light.
  • To aid in not needing a light, practice setting up your stuff at home so that you're familiar with the procedure and with your equipment.
  • Make sure you have adequate cold weather gear (or at least a warm vehicle to retreat to!).  My Tromso viewing outfit - and bear in mind Tromso is relatively "warm" - was a T-shirt, a long-sleeved T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece, a woollen sweater, a windproof jacket, thermal leggings (Marks and Spencers' best), jeans, woollen gloves inside a pair of Thinsulate gloves, scarf, woolly hat, woollen socks inside a pair of cotton socks, and a pair of Goretex hiking boots.  This was just about acceptable, when coupled with a bit of stomping around occasionally to get the blood flowing, though I would advise having a jacket/coat with a hood as if it's snowing a woolly hat just gets wet.

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