Tuesday, November 15, 2016

7 fun facts about the Aurora Borealis

When we say "Aurora Borealis", we are not talking about the Disney princess Sleeping Beauty, who just happens to have the same name. No, when we say "Aurora Borealis" we are talking about nature's spectacular light show, also called "The Northern lights". The northern lights are very common in Norway, mostly during the winter. The best place to see this light show in Norway, is up in the north. Unfortunately, we can't guarantee that you'll see them, because they are very unpredictable and happen most often spontaneously.

1. The name "Aurora Borealis" is actually two different words and names

Aurora comes from the Latin word aurorae, meaning dawn, and Borealis comes from the Latin boreas, meaning the north wind. There is an actual reason why these words are also names. In fact, they are not just names of any kind of person, no, these are names of ancient Roman and Greek Gods. Let's have a small mythology lesson. Aurora, also known by her Greek name Eos, was the Goddess of Dawn, daughter of Hyperion and Theia. According to Roman and Greek mythology, Aurora/Eos renewed herself every morning and arose from the sea in her chariot, carrying a pitcher from which she sprinkled dew upon the earth, as she flew across the sky towards the sun, announcing the arrival of the sun. She gave birth to several children, one of them was a son named "Boreas". He was the purple-winged God of the cold northern wind and was often portrayed as very strong and violent tempered. It is said that the Greeks prayed to him when they were threatened by Xerxes, Boreas caused winds strong enough to sink 400 Persian ships.



2. Galileo Galilei, the infamous Italian philosopher and astronomer, the first to name the Northern lights Aurora Borealis

As explained in the previous fact, Aurora and Borealis are both derived from Latin words. He combined these to together and thus established the term "Aurora Borealis". However, Galileo thought an the northern lights were caused by the sunlight reflected from the atmosphere, which brings us to our next fact:

3. The formation of the northern lights

Time for a small chemistry lesson. The sun constantly sends electrically charged particles into space, called the solar wind. This happens with an average speed of 400km/sec, yet the speed can vary between 250 and 2500km/sec. A small proportion of these particles/ions will reach our earth after a journey of 150 million kilometers. When these charged particles enter the atmosphere and collide with oxygen atoms and nitrogen molecules, particles of light are generated. We can observe this as the northern light as we know it, when enough nitrogen molecules and oxygen atoms collide with the charged particles of the solar wind. 

4. Different ions / different heights = different colors

Ready or not, here's another small chemistry lesson. Ions are electrically charged particles which consist of electrons and protons. The color of the aurora depends on what kind of electrons encounter which type of atoms. Oxygen in the upper part of the atmosphere can cause green or red light. Red light can form in the lower atmosphere when electrons in collide with nitrogen protons. Blue light is fairly rare and is caused by sunlight hitting the top of the northern lights. The traditional green light is formed by oxygen molecules colliding with ions located about 95 km above the earth.

5. We are not the only planet which Aurora visits

Enough with the chemistry, let's get astronomical. Did you know that there are other planets out there that also get a visit from the Aurora Borealis? The lights there are, however, slightly different from Earth's, because of their different atmospheres and poles. The northern light occurs on planets such as Jupiter, Uranus, Mars, Saturn and Neptune. Take a look at this beautiful picture of Jupiter taken by NASA.

Aurora on Jupiter 

6. There are also "Southern Lights" 

These lights have same colors as those in the north, but occur on the south pole. They are called Aurora Australis, and the word "Australis" comes from the Latin word "austrālis", which simply means "Southern". Sorry, no mythological story for this Latin word. The Aurora Australis are only visible when it's summer on the northern hemisphere, meaning winter on the southern hemisphere. They are nevertheless just as beautiful as the Aurora Borealis.

Aurora Australis

7. There are many different folktales about the Aurora

And we're not talking about the Greek and Romans this time. The Inuit, Native Americans, Aboriginals and others all have their own stories and beliefs about the Aurora. For example, there are some Inuit tribes who say that the spirits of animals they hunted are in northern lights. This would mean that the Northern lights are the spirits of seals, deer, beluga wales and salmon! Other Inuit tribes call the northern lights "aqsarniit", which means "football players". They believe that the lights are the spirits of the dead, playing football with the head of a walrus.
The Aboriginals often associated the lights with fire, which has lead to many different folktales in the Aboriginal culture. Some tribes believe that the lights are bush fires in the spirit world. Others have a darker myth and believed that an evil spirit created the lights. 
A Native American tribe in Wisconsin used to believe that the lights were the ghosts of their defeated enemies who were looking for revenge and tried to rise again.
Sámi people in Finland used to believe that the lights were created by whales ejecting a spume of water. Meanwhile, the Sami children in Norway ran back inside their houses the moment the lights appeared, because according to their belief, the lights were evil spirits.
We can talk about these kinds of stories for hours, but I'm sure you get the point.

All in all, our dear Aurora has fascinated human kind for centuries and will keep on doing so as long as we exist. It's definitely worth taking a trip to the far north or south to look at the lights with your own eyes. You will understand why the Indigenous people of our world came up with their folktales and why scientists do their research about the Aurora. You are, of course, more than welcome to join us on our " Tromsø Northern Lights Tour - Aurora Borealis " this winter.

What are your thoughts on the Aurora Borealis/Australis? Have you ever seen this natural phenomenon with your own eyes? Let us know

Picture 3,4,7 and 8 are taken by our good friend Iwan Groot

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

From Fjords to Trolls

 Summer 2016 has come to an end and we cherish great tours with lovely guests from all over the world. We look back on a very successful season and of course we aim for a continuation in Spring/Summer 2017! Over the next few months we will look back on some of our best days in 2016. Here is one of those unforgettable days, a 100% true story!

When people hear “Norway” they often think of snow, moose, mountains and cold temperatures (even in summer). Yes, there are moose and mountains in Norway, but Norway is not always covered in snow. Especially here on the west coast! We benefit from the gulf stream, meaning that our summers can be warm and our winters are not as cold compared to the rest of Norway. For example, in June and July we got to enjoy warm temperatures as high as 33 degrees Celsius! On many of our tours which we did around that time, the guests were actually shocked by these temperatures. One day really exceeded our own expectations with a temperature of 34,2 degrees Celsius, and on that tour we ran our beloved tour “from Fjords to Trolls”.

The day started at 8:15 AM. We welcomed our guests and immediately began our adventure. The tour takes max. 8 hours, which may sound as an extremely long tour. Yes, technically it is a quite long drive from Ålesund to the infamous Troll Road, but our lovely guide certainly knew how to entertain us all by sharing many interesting stories about Ålesund and its surroundings. In the meantime, we also got to enjoy the beautiful nature of the Norwegian west coast.

Fjords and Gorges

Our first stop was at Storfjorden. Storfjorden literally means "The Big Fjord". The fjord got is name because of the fact that it is the largest fjord in the province of Møre og Romsdal with a length of +/- 110 km! The views are simply stunning! Our guide told us that even porpoise whales are in love with the fjord, as they are known to sometimes pass by and say hello. Unfortunately, we did not see one on this particular day, but that did not ruin our moods at all. The fjord itself is already an amazing sight.


We continued our adventure and our next stop was at Gudbrandsjuvet. The name exists out of two parts: Gudbrand is a boy's name, juvet is Norwegian for gorge. The gorge is located just outside Valldal in the Norddal municipality. Valldal is a small village, known for its delicious strawberries and numerous fruit trees. We saw many of them when we drove through the village. When we arrived at the gorge, we immediately got out of the bus and walked towards it. There is a bridge constructed over the gorge, which allows us to walk from one side to the other while taking in the beautiful views. The water drops 20-25 meters and you can really hear the noise. It made us all very much aware of how small we actually are as human beings and how Mother Nature is so much stronger, When the sun appeared out from behind the clouds, we could even see a rainbow over the gorge!


Rainbow in the gorge

Strawberries and Platforms 

Our adventure continued and our next stop was at the Trollstigen platform. However, we had a small stop at a random strawberry stand where our guide bought us some strawberries from Valldal. Since we were already told that those strawberries are a must-try, we were very curious to taste them. Indeed, these strawberries were not just ordinary strawberries. The land in the Valldal area is extremely fertile and therefore a great place for fruit to grow. Especially when you think of the amount of hours of daylight we have in the summer, no less than 20 hours. This all combined causes a higher production of sugar within the fruit. The Valldal strawberries are very red and full of flavor. We all agreed that they taste much better than the commercially grown strawberries.

Cute little strawberry stand

While we enjoyed our strawberries and our guide entertained us with her fun facts and interesting stories, we approached the Trollstigen platform and it soon was time to get off the bus again. There is a cafe and a souvenir shop and we even spotted a few sheep. From the parking lot it is an approximately 5-minute walk to the first platform. We found ourselves surrounded by impressive mountains and a stream which runs next the first part of the path to the first platform. It is actually possible to touch the water, but I have to warn you, it is colder than you might think. The water is fresh water which comes from the mountains and this was already clearly visible while we drove to the top. As we started our walk to the first platform, the views got better and better. Once we got to the first platform, the view was in one word astonishing and it got even better at the second platform. Luckily for us, it was not clouded and we had a clear view on the zig-zagging Troll Road, the valley and the mountains! From the platform, the road did look kind of tricky and challenging to drive because of its sharp turns. Nevertheless, our driver was extremely experienced and managed to drive us safely through each turn. I have to admit that, as we drove down the road, I could feel how sharp the turns were (which was very normal and also very exciting!).

"Have you ever eaten a troll before?"

This was the question our guide asked before she asked us what we would like for lunch. We were on our way to Gjestegård, a restaurant nearby Trollstigen, where they serve a dish called "Trollburger". No, don't worry, the burger is not made of a real troll. Trolls still only exist in fairy tales and not in real life! The burger is made of......... The restaurant is surrounded by the beautiful, typically Norwegian nature: Mountains. Everywhere you look, you see mountains with narrow waterfalls. However, the mountains are not the first thing you notice when arriving at Gjestegård. A huge troll, right next to the entrance, welcomed us. They say that when you rub a troll’s nose, it brings luck, so rubbing the trolls nose is exactly what we did the moment we arrived. Next up, the delicious trollburger!

Flying people

What happened at our last stop, Trollveggen, Europe’s tallest vertical rock face, was something none of us will ever forget. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just fly.... Heights are so frightening, I don't think it's safe", these were just some of the thoughts we shared when we were looking at  Trollveggen. And at that very moment we spotted parachutists who jumped from a plane! Trollveggen, it literally means "the Troll Wall" and it is known among skydivers, parachutists and base jumpers for its height. Ever since 1986, it has been illegal to base jump from Trollveggen. Nevertheless, there have been some dare devil who jumped anyways and ended up losing their lives (the most recent one was in 2012). It is in a way understandable why it can be irresistible for base jumpers to jump from Trollveggen; it is a beautiful sight and the surroundings are majestic and spectacular. In addition, Trollveggen is after all the tallest vertical rock face in Europe, with a height of approx. 1200 meters. Of course jumping out of a plane is not forbidden and a great solution for the extreme sports fanatics. While the parachutists enjoyed the view from the sky, we enjoyed it just as much, or even more, on the safe and solid ground. After this last stop, it was time to head back to Ålesund. This was without a doubt, an amazing day!

Monday, August 29, 2016

A trip to a Fjord Farm

People coming from a big city might not be interested in farming. A trip to a farm may therefore not sound as exciting at first, however, this particular farm is not your average farm. However, we at Norway Excursions, had a tour a couple of days ago to the Herdalssetra farm and we would like to tell you why this tour is so special.

What makes this fjord farm unique?

Well, first of all, it is surrounded by the beautiful Norwegian nature. The farm is located in the West Norwegian Fjords, “right in the heart” of The World Heritage Site. Everywhere you look, you see mountains and waterfalls. Secondly, the farm is popular amongst animal lovers, as it is very animal friendly. The cows, horses, sheep and goats walk around the farm itself rather than having to live in a stable for their entire lives. Lastly, the farm is known for it's cream cheese and ''brown cheese''. They prepare it in the old traditional Norwegian way and sell it to the customers and guests at the farm.

The tour started at 08:15 AM from the pier Geiranger, where we were welcomed by our lovely guide and excellent driver. Our first photo stop was at Eidsvatnet. Eidsvatnet is a lake located in a village called Eidsdal, approximately 30 minutes by car from Geiranger. This particular lake is not just lake, it is mostly known for its high large quantity of trout (yes, you can actually fish trout here!).


After the first photo stop, we continued our trip to the idyllic Herdal Farm, where we were kindly received by the owner and one of his employees. He told us passionately about the history of the farm and explained how the Norwegian brown cheese is made. We also got a look inside their cute little brown cheese ''factory'' and got to taste the ‘cheese’ afterwards.

The little brown cheese ''factory'' and the traditionally prepared brown cheese with flatbread

What is brown cheese actually?

Brown cheese, or Brunost as it’s called in Norway, is a traditional Norwegian topping for bread, crispbread and biscuits. It is made of goat milk and it has a sweet, caramel-like taste. At the farm, they serve it with Flatbrød, (literally translated “flat bread”), which is a typically Norwegian type of bread. It does not look like bread at all, since this ‘bread’ is unleavened. It has a cracker-like taste and it makes a great combination with the Norwegian brown cheese.
We were then allowed to discover the farm on our own. For most of us, it meant cuddling the animals. The animals may seem to be shy and sometimes even look intimidating at first. The sheep and goats are not that interested in humans. It is not advised to chase the sheep and goats, it will scare them off and they will immediately run away. The horses, well, they are mostly interested in theirfood. However, they are extremely curious animals and might even come up to you. Strangely enough, the cows are the most social animals when it comes to people. Some of them have horns which might look intimidating, but do not let that scare you off. If you calmly approach them, there is a big chance that you end up cuddling them.

A mother sheep with her baby

Baby goats cuddling with each other

Socializing with a cow 

A little bit about the horses

The horses on the farm are typical Norwegian Fjord Horses. They are smaller than other breeds of horses, but don't let that fool you. They are also one of the strongest. They mainly live in the mountainous regions of West-Norway and are known for being good tempered. Besides being a strong, muscular horse, they also differ themselves with their unique coat. Most Fjord Horses have a dorsal stripe which runs in the middle of their manes.

Norwegian fjord horses

Our next and final stop was at the Eagle Bend for a panoramic view over the Geirangerfjord. As from 2005, this particular fjord is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage. It is an arm of one of the deepest fjords in the world, but this is not the reason why it is on the list of World Heritage.The Geirangerfjord is in one word breathtaking. The exceptional beauty is formed by its narrow and steep walls, which are decorated by numerous waterfalls. The most famous waterfall is called "The Seven Sisters" (de Syv Søstrene). The waterfall can be found on the Northern wall of the Geirangerfjord and consists of seven separate streams resembling the long hair of seven young women. Legend says that the Seven Sisters are dancing down the mountain while "the Suitor" (in Norwegian called: Friaren) on the other side of the fjord flirts with them. "The Suitor" and "The Seven Sisters" surely know how to impress people with their charm and beauty, because we simply could not get our eyes off them!

After this stop, it was time to head back to the pier. In order to get there, we had to drive down the infamous Eagle Road with its eleven hairpin bends. This road was opened back in 1955 and is open for traffic the entire year around. Since the road on the other side of the village is closed for traffic during the winter months, the inhabitants of Geiranger were basically isolated from the rest of the country until the Eagle Road was finally constructed. Driving down this road, was simply an adventure and we were lucky to be in the hands of
a very experienced driver!

The Geirangerfjord