It was with great excitement that we woke up this morning on this, my 61st birthday. Quite a contrast to my birthday last year, which was spent in full lockdown where I couldn’t have a party, couldn’t go out to a restaurant, couldn’t go to the pub, couldn’t have friends over. Here we were in Tromsø, in the snow above the Arctic Circle. How totally brilliant was this? 😊
I opened some of my birthday cards; my presents were still at home and would have to wait until we got back before I could open them. We got washed and dressed and went up to the Lido restaurant for breakfast, as tonight was formal night once again and the free cava would be available, as it always is on Fred ships whenever it’s formal evening. So a great start to my day with a glass of fizz to accompany my bacon and eggs. 😊
Then we returned to our cabin and dressed warmly, as today we were going dog-sledding! We had only ever done this once before, in Canada in October 2011, but at that time there wasn’t yet enough snow so our sled had wheels on instead of runners. This time however, there was a good couple of feet (60cm) of snow lying around, so it would be the more traditional experience. We couldn’t wait.
We presented ourselves at the Neptune theatre at 8.30am to register for our tour. We didn’t have to wait very long for our bus number to be called, and once again we disembarked the Borealis and carefully stepped across the icy road towards our waiting coach. Today, the sky was cloudy and the temperature was about -5ºC, with a brisk breeze blowing that gave a wind-chill factor of about -10ºC. Brrrrr!
We boarded the coach and off we went into the Norwegian countryside; our guide told us the ride would take about 50 minutes. We passed through towns and villages and residential housing areas and our guide told us that 75% of people in Norway are buying, or have bought, their homes; renting property isn’t really a thing here. The snow was piled high by the side of the road and hung heavy in the branches of the trees, roads and pavements were covered in a layer of ice with more snow and grit on top of it, and everyone walked around with ice-grips over their boots or trainers, and all the vehicles were fitted with studded winter tyres. As our driver carried us carefully towards our destination, we felt perfectly safe and we just enjoyed the passing scenery and the snowscape beyond the bus windows.
Finally we pulled up in front of the dog camp and climbed down off the bus. We could see a camp fire and a traditional Sámi tent, called a lavvu, in front of us. Lavvus are similar to the North American tepees in that they are wooden framed and covered in animal hides, but they are less vertical in order to withstand high winds.
We were directed inside the building where there was a changing room in which we were equipped with snowsuits and snow boots. As I’ve previously mentioned, I am only 151cm tall so my suit was far too long in the arms and legs, which were all concertinaed, making me look a little like the Michelin tyre man! 😊 It was also just as well I was wearing thick socks as they didn’t have any snow boots my size (37) and I had to wear a size larger. No matter – as long as we were warm and dry, that was the main thing. I was also wearing a padded hat with ear flaps and some fleece gloves, so we were well equipped.
As we walked along towards the waiting line of sleds, we could hear an immense din of barking and howling dogs, as they jumped about outside their little kennels, absolutely raring to go. Our musher came over and introduced herself as Paula, and told us they had about 80 dogs here, many of which were Siberian huskies with the bright blue eyes. The dogs are given a high-protein, high-calorie diet which they would certainly need for all the exercise they get.
In the wooden sled, we had to sit one in front of the other, so Trevor sat behind me and the musher stood at the back. We had a team of 10 dogs; Paula explained there are usually eight, but because the snow was deep in parts, they’d put an extra two dogs on; the strongest dogs being closest to the sled. All 10 of them were bitches, and they’d all worked together well in the past.
Once Paula gave the command, the dogs shot off like a rocket, pulling our sled smoothly and quickly through the packed snow. It was really exhilarating; the creaking of the wooden sled, the crunching of the snow, the snowy tree branches and the whitescape which unfolded in front of us; I couldn’t help laughing out loud joyously; this was just amazing. In the distance in front of us we could see another sled being pulled by another team of dogs, and I took loads of photos and video clips.
Whenever the sled was going around a corner and it tilted to one side, you had to be careful to lean to the other side to avoid either falling off or the sled tipping over. It was like being on a fairground ride, only much, much more thrilling. We looked up at the trees, the sky, the miles of snowy terrain – wow, what a way to spend my birthday!
About half-way through our ride my cousin Alan rang to wish me a happy birthday. “You’ll never guess what we are doing right now!” I said to him, then proceeded to tell him. “We’re in Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and we are out on a sled being pulled by 10 dogs!” 😊
Our ride lasted about 30 minutes and was really, really excellent. When we got back to the dog camp, several of our dogs lay down and started rolling around in the snow to cool themselves down. Paula said we could pet the dogs so we went along all 10 of them, stroking and patting them and telling them they were “good dogs”. Paula also took a photo of Trevor and me posing beside a couple of our dogs. What a great experience.
We then went back to the changing room to get out of our massive snowsuits and boots and retrieve our coats and walking boots. Then we went into the nearby lavvu to get a welcome hot drink and a slice of carrot cake. One of the dog trainers explained to us how the dogs are looked after, and that they usually retire at the age of around 10 and are put up for adoption. She said there were many families in Norway that had retired sled dogs as pets. It was all very interesting.
Then it was time to reboard the bus for the return journey to the Borealis, during which we once again enjoyed the wintry scenes out of the windows and I took some photos. It was around 12.45pm when we got back, just in nice time for lunch.
I enjoyed some cold meats and crisp salad vegetables, washed down with a glass of cava, and we sat and looked over the photos and video clips that we’d taken this morning. At two o’clock I went along to the hairdressing salon to have my hair put up in readiness for this evening’s formal attire; I would have preferred a later appointment but the only time he could fit me in was either 2.00pm or 6.00pm, and the latter was obviously too late.
In the salon I recognised the stylist, Dom, from the Balmoral, where he had done my hair before. He trimmed my fringe and backcombed my hair to give it some volume, before pinning it up in an elegant up-do, with little tendrils curled at the side of my face. It did mean that, for the rest of the afternoon, I couldn’t go out on deck where the wind would have wrecked my glamorous style. 😊
The afternoon passed in its pleasant and relaxing way, and soon it was time to start putting on my makeup and getting primped and preened for tonight. I love the formal evenings and I was pleased that one of them had fallen on my birthday. I wore a long, open shouldered black dress with a diamante trim on the bodice, accompanied by a pale pink faux-fur stole.
Around six o’clock the increased vibrations from the ship’s engines told us that Borealis was underway again, and we watched as the lights of Tromsø slowly receded into the distance. A lovely town – we’d really enjoyed our overnight stay.
We had previously arranged with the sommelier to have a bottle of Lanson’s Black Label champagne ready on ice, with six glasses for our table. When we arrived at table #126 the champagne was there and our waiter was just putting out the glasses. Then Andy, Kal, Mark and Jan arrived and we popped open the champagne and everyone wished me “Happy Birthday”.
As ever, we enjoyed a fabulous meal served by our attentive waiting staff, and there was no shortage of conversation and anecdotes. When it got to the dessert stage of the meal, a lavishly-decorated cake was brought out for me, and all the waiting staff gathered round with their guitars and sang the traditional “Happy Birthday to You” while everyone clapped along. Then our waiter cut six huge portions of cake and gave everyone a piece; it was rich and creamy and had some sort of peach liqueur in it; in fact, the chef himself brought the bottle over so we could see what it was. Our waiter then said he would box up the rest of the cake and have it delivered to our cabin to finish off tomorrow.
Leaving our table fit to burst we told our companions we’d see them later on at the quiz, and we returned to our cabin to get some rest before the evening’s entertainment at 8.45pm. When we got there, what a lovely surprise awaited me – an ice-bucket containing another bottle of Lanson’s champagne and a box of hand-made chocolates. A note attached to the champagne bottle said “Happy Birthday, With Compliments from the Hotel Manager”. What a fantastic gesture; I certainly hadn’t been expecting it! 😊
We put the champagne and chocolates into the fridge, along with the rest of the cake which had also been delivered. Then we went along to the Neptune Theatre and bagged our usual front-row seats to watch the second performance by the Welsh pop-opera singer Bruce Anderson. Once again, he sang a great selection of songs and we really enjoyed his lively performance.
Then we hotfooted it up to the Observatory for the quiz at 10 o’clock. You have to get up there quickly as it is very popular and all the best seats/tables are quickly occupied. We were lucky enough to bagsy a table round the side, and we pinched a couple of chairs from a nearby table so all six of us could sit together in our “dining bubble”. We got 13/15 – once again it was not enough to win. Then we just spent the remainder of the evening in the Observatory, drinking cocktails, chatting, laughing and enjoying the music of Funky Blue. It was nearly 2.00am before we arrived back at our cabin after a great day. Tomorrow we had our arrival in Ålta to look forward to, the most northerly point of this cruise. We slept soundly.