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Flying Solo: Christmas in Norway

Here’s how my first solo vacation happened.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

4:00pm: While staring out the window of my office, I decide I need a break from literally everything.

4:01pm: Google “places safe to travel alone as a woman.”

4:02pm: Click article about safe countries, skip country #1, read about country #2: Norway.

4:03pm: Read recommendation on Norway’s page about Christmas cruise to hunt the Northern Lights.

4:04pm: Resolve to book cruise after work.

5:00pm: Leave work.

6:00pm: Call Hurtigruten and book cruise.

6:30pm: End call and book flights.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Naturally, I missed my connecting flight to Oslo at Heathrow airport. I’d made the dual mistake of choosing a tight, one-hour connection at a very busy airport and packing manicure scissors in my carry-on bag. For the record, you can have manicure scissors in your carry-on bag, but the security folks felt the need to dig through my entire bag to pull them out, inspect them, deem them ok, put them back, and cause me to miss my flight in the process.

So, I took a four-hour nap at the airport lounge.

Thanks to the kind people at Heathrow security, I also missed the sun in Oslo. As you may or may not be aware, Norway in winter is a very dark place. The sun is only up for a few hours a day, usually 11am to 3pm. And even when the sun is up it feels like you’re in perpetual dusk.

Upon arrival into pitch-black Oslo, I ventured out for dinner at a lively restaurant named Tullin’s Café. A large table of coworkers were celebrating the holiday season, another a table of birthday revelers. One thing I love about traveling alone in a foreign country is that you can be around people but not in their conversation. You get the buzz of an evening out, but still enjoy your own thoughts because you can’t understand what other people are talking about. It’s like the ability to be extroverted and introverted all at once.

The cruise launched the next day from Bergen. I opted to get there via train, one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world. After Bergen, we would cross the Arctic Circle and end in Kirkenes, a city at the top of the world that borders Russia.

Each day, the ship docked at two or three ports. Some places the ship had excursions, others you could wander on your own. I did a beautiful hike in Alesmund, drank a flight of Christmas beers at the northernmost brewery in the world, Mack Brewery, and went on a guided tour of the Nidaros Cathedral at Trondheim.

The Nidaros Cathedral at Trondheim in the snow.

We had an over the top dinner buffet to celebrate Christmas Eve: king crab,

scallops, reindeer, salmon in five different preparations, and four different desserts. By this time, I was great friends with the other three Americans on the trip and two Australians who’d joined our table. We ate and drank, sang carols, and danced around the Christmas tree.

And then, the best Christmas gift of all, the Northern Lights. Should you desire to be in complete, utter awe of nature, add the Northern Lights to your bucket list. And go in search of them as many times as you have to.

The day after Christmas, the ship docked in Kirkenes and I learned a major, important difference between America and Norway: in Kirkenes, absolutely nothing is open the day after Christmas. Except the Shell gas station.

The only thing open in Kirkenes the day after Christmas.

Back in Oslo, some places closed for a week or more for Christmas break (!!). Alex Sushi came highly recommended to me by Lonely Planet, but their harborside location was closed between Christmas and New Years. I walked an entire fifteen minutes in the dark (remember, no sun) and cold to a second location. I imagine once I make it to Japan I will have a better sushi dinner, but until then…

Aboard the M.S. Polarlys.

Ready to go?

· Hurtigruten – I chose the 7-day cruise from Bergen to Kirkenes

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