Sometimes I feel like I am doing the best job possible. One of those moments was standing in a frozen Arctic Circle field with sleet in my eyes and reindeer grazing on food pellets I held out.
Feeding Reindeer in Norway
I was nearing the end of my trip to Norway. After visiting Bergen, I rode the Flam railway. But it was seeing reindeer in their natural habitat that I most anticipated.
The Sami Experience takes place in Breivikeidet, a village in Norwegian Lapland just a short drive from Tromso. Per, our Sami guide takes us to the pen where the Sami feed and protect their reindeer during the winter before letting them graze the arctic wilderness in the summer. He gives us each a bucket and invites us to feed the reindeer.
My left hand was full of pellets of Omega 3 and grain that sustained the reindeer during the harsh Nordic winter. My hand was soon engulfed with reindeer. It was a fantastic feeling. Per had instructed me to stroke the soft backs of the reindeer, avoiding their antlers.
Both male and female reindeer have antlers. The male reindeer shed their antlers just before the mating season in September. Females lose them just after giving birth on the spot where they were born. Female reindeer are said to eat antlers to improve their milk.
Sami with Reindeer
We spend a few minutes with the reindeer, but we’re there for an hour. Then we head to Per’s Hut for a warm meal, and he lectures us on Sami culture, including their relationship with reindeer. About 80,000 Sami are living in Lapland. Half of them live in Norway.
Only Sami are allowed to own reindeer. Per and his family have 300 reindeer out of a total of 4,000.
The reindeer are kept in Breivikeidet from October to November. They return to their grazing lands in May, when they give birth to the young. The journey takes several days, and one parent stays home to care for the children. The families finally meet at the end of their trek to celebrate.
Per’s oldest reindeer is 14, a bad-tempered reindeer that prefers to be in the woods nearby rather than in the pen with the noisy, young reindeer. Five predators are attracted to stray reindeer, including wolves, brown bears, lynxes, wolverines, and eagles. Per explains all this as we are served videos, a traditional Sami Reindeer stew. There is also a vegan option.
We could not ride in a reindeer sled due to the driving sleet. The Northern Lights, if visible, were also quickly wiped out. Per was also sick and couldn’t chant a traditional Sami joy.
We had heard junk earlier in the day as we watched the Norwegian Reindeer Racing Championships on the main street in Tromso. This event is part of the Sami Week organized by Midnight Sun Marathon in conjunction with National Sami Day, which falls on February 6.
The course was built in just four hours, overnight. The first thing we see is the reindeer being paraded in front of us. The reindeer can reach speeds up to 60kph, dragging their ski jockeys behind them.
This spectacular event has attracted many tourists and residents of Tromso. The reindeer cover the 200-meter meter course in 17 to 18 seconds. One reindeer was pulled from the race on the day of the Championship due to a stringent test. Snowshoe races are held between the races to allow the reindeer some rest.
Tromso – Museums, Breweries, and Galleries
Tromso lies about 350km above the Arctic Circle in the far north. The third-largest city in the Arctic Circle is Tromso, after Murmansk and Norilsk. Tromsoya is the city’s center. It is connected to the mainland by a scenic bridge.
Since the end of the Ice Age, the area has been inhabited. Archaeologists discovered ancient buildings that date back between 9,000 and 10,000 years. Tromso received its city charter on June 20, 1794. It grew in importance when Bergen lost the monopoly it had in the cod trade. It was called the Paris of the North in the 19 century, perhaps because of the stylish clothing of the residents who surprised visitors from the South.
The epithet can also be used to describe the beauty of the center of the city, where wood houses were built from 1789 to 1904 before they were prohibited due to fire risk, just as in other parts of Norway.
Skansen, the oldest house of Tromso, was built in 1789. The Polar Museum, however, is located in a wharf house built half a decade later. The only wooden cathedral built in Norway, Tromso Cathedral was constructed in 1861. The modern Arctic Cathedral was completed in 1965.
We enjoyed a few pleasant hours exploring the town, visiting the Tromso Museum and Troll Museum and galleries, and the Polaria Aquarium with its jellyfish and seals. The city’s success was mainly due to its role in the whaling and fishing industries. It also served as a starting point for explorers who were heading north. A statue of Roald Amundsen is located near the Polar Museum.
The highlight of the city tour was drinking a beer in Olhallen at Mac. This is the Tromso Brewery, the northest brewery on the planet. There is also a craft brewery located in Svalbard. They have been brewing since 1877. Olhallen has a cozy atmosphere, and the smoky beer is highly recommended.
From Norway to Finland, chasing the Northern Lights
After a delicious early dinner in the Bardus restaurant, we went on a Northern Lights Chase.
As with many travelers, I had a non-existent bucket list of travel destinations, and seeing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis was at the top. As our guide Trine stressed, you must be realistic about your expectations. You might see pink and purple dancing lights at first, but you will only experience a green arch.