Who in their right mind plans a trip above the Arctic Circle in December?
Our answer? Who ever said we were in our right minds?
So we found ourselves in Bodø, a Norwegian city whose name we struggled to pronounce until we arrived and heard the residents saying it. It sounds a lot like "Buddha," yet somehow we could tell that they were not referring to an Eastern mystic.
It was an easy walk from the train to our hotel, which was hard to miss since the Scandic Havet is the tallest building in town.
While we were walking, David mentioned how great it would be if we were high up and facing the ocean.
He must be the mystic, because that's right where our room was.
Pulling out all the stops
We didn’t waste any time, or what little daylight there is way up north in the winter, getting out to see some of the city's landmarks, beginning with the Bodø Kathedral.
The cathedral, like almost everything in Bodø, was built after World War II because nearly the entire town was destroyed in a German bombing raid in 1940.
The church has a classic style, with an eye-catching free standing bell tower, but the most fascinating part of our tour was a demonstration of the remarkable pipe organ.
Organist Brian Hepworth took us up to the loft and explained the inner workings of this incredible instrument.
He began by showing us the different tones and qualities of the various types and sizes of the thousands of pipes.
Then, like icing on the cake, he gave us a bit of a private concert.
We could feel the movement underneath us when he pulled out the various stops that control which pipes are sounding.
Then he pulled out all of the stops (yup, that’s where that old saying comes from) and we really felt the power.
We know that the word is wildly overused, but awesome is about the only way to describe it.
The importance of aviation in Norway
Perhaps the town’s most recognizable building is the Luftfarstmuseet, which is the Norwegian Aviation Museum and is cleverly designed in the shape of a giant propeller.
One blade houses historic displays of civilian aviation, and the other showcases military flight. In the middle there is a control tower overlooking the active Bodø airport.
We started in the tower and watched (yes, we sat at the console and pretended to assist) a couple of Scandinavian Airlines jets come in to land.
As with many remote outposts like Bodø, aviation played a big role in recent history, because flying makes the far corners of the globe so much more accessible. Although, we must say that we enjoyed arriving by rail.
For many years sea planes were the usual aircraft throughout Norway, until landing strips began appearing around the time of World War II. The museum features a large collection of these classic aquatic planes.
Most are of the pontoon variety, with floats in place of landing gear, but there are a couple of the old “flying boats” as well. These are designed just as the name implies, like a boat with wings over the top.
The military side has several Nazi-era German warplanes that crashed in the nearby mountains on display.
There is also a beautifully preserved Supermarine Spitfire, which is often mentioned as one of the best fighters the Allies had.
The Norwegian Air Corps flew several of these while operating out of Great Britain while Norway was occupied.
After our history lesson we walked across the street to the Bodø Spectrum, a huge indoor waterpark and swimming complex which includes the Spectrum Spa. No way were we passing up the chance for some sauna action in the arctic.
So we steamed and basked under a sunlamp for a while, then soaked in the outdoor hot tub before heading back to our fabulous high-rise room overlooking the harbor.
<--The view from our room at Scandic Havet!
One of our biggest reasons for venturing into the arctic at this time of year was the hope of seeing the northern lights, but alas, it was not to be on this night.
The clouds were not going to break and give us a clear view of the sky.
But what spectacular clouds!
Going with the Flow, the World's Strongest Flow
Just after sunrise, which happened around eleven AM at that time of year, we hopped on a bus to the Saltstraumen.
This narrow channel between two fjords forces the tide waters to rush through, forming incredible, massive whirlpools and eddies as the sea levels desperately seek to equalize.
On the way we passed one of the few remaining medieval structures left standing anywhere in the area, the Bodin Church. The little white church was built around the year 1240 in a typical stone design for that time, and is still in use today.
When we reached the Saltstraumen, our driver took us over the bridge that spans the straights to get an aerial view of the swirling designs that the wild currents form in the water.
Then for a closer look, we pulled off under the bridge and walked to the water's edge.
WATCH: You've got to see the video to get the full idea of the crazy speed!
Clinging to the rocky shore, we could feel the water rushing by as the tide was rising.
When the tide turns and heads back out to sea there will be a brief time that the straights are calm as the levels are equal, but soon after the process will reverse itself and the water rushes just as fast in the other direction.
All of this churning makes this a prime feeding spot for fish, and the local fishermen know it.
It was quite a show to watch as they threw lines out into the rushing current and reel in coalfish and cod.
Those fish had to be pretty dizzy by the time they made it to the surface.
As we rode back to Bodø, our bus nap ritual was set aside. The scenery was too damned stunning to risk missing by nodding off:
So did we see the Northern Lights?
The sun was already setting as we rode back into town, and seeing a few breaks in the clouds was giving us high hopes that tonight might be the night for some momentous Aurora action.
It had better be, because it is was last chance before heading back down below the circle.
In preparation for our sighting (we were thinking positive) we took a stroll out to the end of the seawall that protects the harbor.
We had heard stories that this is a popular spot to stand and face the wind and surf when storms blow in off the Norwegian Sea.
There was a pretty brisk breeze as we made our way to the lighthouse at the end, but nothing close to the crashing waves washing over people we’d seen in photos.
Maybe we aren’t quite as brave as they are, but then they do it in the summer.
Around ten o’clock we headed down from our room to the dock beside the hotel to scan the northern heavens, and lo and behold a greenish glow began to appear.
As it grew brighter, our doubts that it might just be a reflection, or something else, were removed.
This was most definitely the aurora borealis, not a spectacular display, but certainly one nonetheless. We even managed to capture some of it on camera.
Yet with the cold and fatigue from the trip, even this excitement couldn’t keep us from crawling into bed.
Veronica didn’t stay down though, she ventured back out after midnight, just in time to catch a much better aurora episode.
This time there were some waves and even various colors. After clicking her brains out on the camera, and trying every possible setting, she felt confident enough that she had captured the moment to go inside and wake me up.
When I saw the photos I jumped out of bed and threw on my clothes and a coat. I had to see this!
But alas, by the time we got back out only a faint glow remained. We waited and watched for a while, but it was getting seriously cold -- like arctic cold – so we went back inside.
So who in their right mind plans a trip above the Arctic Circle in December?
We do, and we’re glad we did.
David and Veronica, GypsyNester.com
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