An arctic journey

The below appeared in a newsletter I sent in February 2023 after coming back from Alta, Norway. My travel newsletters take quite a lot of work, but I love sharing my experiences and give out tips on what to do and where to go. Sign up here.
At the beginning of the month, we spent a few days in northern Norway. I have always been fascinated by remote places. We stayed in a very cozy cabin in Alta, well above the arctic circle line. The light had just recently come back (these regions experience around three months of polar night), but the conditions were still right for the beautiful Northern Lights to appear at night. 
Our days were slow and dictated by the way the sky looked: up early to catch the light rise up from behind the mountain, out on the tracks for some cross-country skiing until lunch time, when the light started to dwindle, then quiet time in our cabin, reading and looking out on the mountain.
Alta cabine
We loaded wood in our fireplace and sat by our big window.
As I reflected about my fascination with these places, I wrote pages and pages in my notebook. I do not have a habit of keeping a diary, though I often write notes in my phone or on my studio notebooks. Pages with shape measurements are often intercut with reflections about what it means to be an artist.
A few of the words I wrote:
Being surrounded by landscapes so majestic that our actions matter little, or better yet where our actions should be as light as possible, settles the mind. It is OK to be here. Just to be and observe. Staying in contemplation is enough”.
I was reflecting about my own internal struggle and how, no matter how hard I work at it, I often don't feel like I am enough. It is difficult to let go of this part of me and the pressure I put on myself. 
I crave the silence and harshness of these places to quiet down those voices in my head.


Our destination was Alta, Norway, in the Finnmark region. Alta is a small town, the northernmost town with more than 20,000 inhabitants, and is a fascinating place. While being well above the arctic circle line, it benefits from a sheltered boreal climate, which makes it more hospitable than you would think. The proximity to a fjord and the Gulf Stream make it warmer than the rest of the region. The often clear skies make it an ideal place to observe the Northern Lights (Alta is where the study of the Northern Lights started). 
Getting there is easy: we flew to Oslo with Norwegian Airlines and then took a connecting flight to Alta. The flight stops over in Trømso, but you do not need to get off the plane. Unfortunately, traveling by train so far north is not possible. 
Once at the airport, we rented a car and drove around 25 minutes to our cabin at the Bjornfell Lodge. 
I cannot recommend this accommodation enough. The staff was great (they even kept the kitchen open late for us on our arrival) and the cabin was spectacular. We rented skis at the hotel and used them for the rest of our stay. The cross-country ski tracks are just a few meters away from the hotel. You can ski in and out of the hotel if you are so inclined. If you are into alpine skiing, the hotel is right next to the slopes and also operates the ski center. 


 On our second night, we took part in the polar night bonfire trip. We dressed up with snowsuits and were picked up on snowmobiles and driven to the top of the mountain, where we cooked our food over a bonfire and listened to stories by our wonderful guide Ian. We were hoping to see the aurora borealis, which had appeared just a few hours earlier. 


Our rest day from skiing was a Sunday, so we had limited options. However, Alta is an interesting little town, with lots of history.
I highly recommend a trip to the World Heritage Rock Art Center in the Alta Museum. The bulk of the rock exhibition is outside and you cannot visit it in winter, but the museum is rich and captivating, detailing the pre-historic rock art found in the region, the Sami culture, the study of the aurora borealis, and so much more. The café overlooking the fjord is a must try.
We also visited the world-famous Northern Lights cathedral: a newly built church which also serves as a community center. The basement features a fascinating exhibition about the study of the aurora borealis, which started right here in Alta.


The name of the game in cold climates is layers.
I recommend the 3 layer system: warm wool base layer (look into high quality brands like Odlo or Craft), lighter middle layer (usually a light zip-jacket) and protective outer layer. 
If you are active outdoors, your layers should keep you dry and warm at the same time.
Don't forget a good beanie and gloves. 
If you travel to Norway in the winter, expect a lot of snow. Make sure you have warm and comfortable shoes that you can take on and off quickly, as hotels often require you to wear slippers indoors.
Northern Norway is not reachable by train, and I highly recommend renting a car once you get there to be more independent. That being said, driving from the south of Norway to the north is an incredibly long journey, so the best way to reach these areas is to fly.
There is a lot to do and see in the region. Make sure to book everything well in advance.