In the novel, The Drifters, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James A. Michener, the second chapter is about the flaxen-haired Britta Bjørndahl, an 18-year-old girl from Tromsø, Norway.
After finishing school, she finds a job in an office at the docks, but eventually becomes curious about the world beyond Tromsø, and goes to vacation in Torremolinos, Spain for fifteen days.
The novel follows six young characters from diverse backgrounds and various countries as their paths meet and they travel together through parts of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Mozambique.
When I read it a few years ago, I was as enchanted with Britta’s tales of her childhood in Tromsø, as the fictional narrator of the book, George Fairbanks.
An extract from the book reads:
Britta Bjørndahl was born more than two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle on the island of Tromsø. During World War II her father had been a notable patriot.
For three perilous years, he had resisted the German occupation, hiding out along the fjords and in the mountains to send wireless signals to London or flashlight codes to British ships as they hovered off the Norwegian coast.
At the end of the war four nations decorated him, and in the summer of 1957, the entire crew of a British destroyer flew to Tromsø to relive with him the excitement of those gallant days.
As a huge WWII history buff, I was especially fascinated with the description of the sinking of the great German battleship, Tirpitz, that would “sneak into Tromsø harbor… and hide from Allied airplanes until it was time to rush out and destroy all Allied ships.”
With the sinking of the Tirpitz in the fjords near Tromsø, Hitler lost the last influential ship of his surface battle fleet and this marked the end of Germany’s naval war in northern waters.
After the war, a Norwegian-German salvage operation recovered the remains of the great battleship, but you can see the wreck of the ‘Tirpitz’, in the waters of Tromsø Fjord, Norway, as it was in 1945 in the photo below.By Daventry B J (Flt Lt), Royal Air Force official photographer. This is photograph CL 2830 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain.
When I was planning my Northern Lights bucket list tour, this is why I chose to do it from Tromsø, Norway. My fascination with the fictional young Britta’s stories, and the fact that Tromsø lies within the Northern Lights Oval made me decide that Tromsø was the place to go.
One of the places in Tromsø that I was keen to visit was the Tromsø War Museum (Tromsø Forsvarsmuseum) where the cannons of a Nazi coastal artillery battery and a restored command bunker lie.
According to the Lonely Planet, “the Tromsø War Museum also tells of the giant German battleship Tirpitz, sunk near the town on 12 November 1944, and the Nazi army’s retreat from Leningrad, when many of its 120,000 troops were evacuated by ship from Tromsø.”
The Tromsø War Museum is open on Sundays in May and September, and every day except Mondays and Tuesdays from June through August.
But on the three days that we were to visit Tromsø, the Museum was closed. Unwilling to give up on my chance to see it, I wrote to the Tromsø tourism board and they gave me the contact of the museum’s caretaker, Leif.
So I emailed Leif and asked him if I could visit the museum as I wanted to write about it. He offered to give me a private tour. Unfortunately, when I emailed him before we left, I didn’t hear back from him, so we had to skip our tour of the Tromsø War Museum.
Our Tromsø Hotel, The Clarion Collection Hotel With
It was a long, tiring journey from Pune, India, to Tromsø in Norway, in early September 2018. When we touched down in Oslo, the temperature was in the high 20s and we wondered where the Arctic chill had gone.
We reached Tromsø on a rainy evening, jet-lagged and exhausted, and checked into our charming Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With, which was right on the waterfront.
The weather was a bracing 8 to 12 degrees C, so despite our exhaustion, we decided to explore the waterfront and get our bearings in this new country.
Thanks to the lovely weather, we managed to spend a lot of time outdoors, watching the boats come in and seagulls beg for scraps in the Storgata square.
The Clarion Collection Hotel With was a fantastic choice for us. It was slightly more expensive than some of the other hotels I had considered, but it more than made up for it in terms of location and food.
The best part was that we spent absolutely nothing on our meals. Norway is an expensive place, and if we’d had to pay for our meals, it would have cost us a pretty penny.
However, at the Clarion Collection Hotel With, not only was breakfast covered, but there were free waffles in the afternoon and coffee available anytime.
To our delight – and this is the best part – we found that dinner was also on the house and it was always a delicious buffet with a fish or chicken main course. I felt like we’d died and gone to heaven!
In the afternoons, we had to make our own waffles in the waffle iron, but the hotel provided the dough and toppings.
While we were waiting for the waffle iron to heat up, an American lady came up and stood by me. She asked me if I knew how to make waffles.
Only half-joking, I said I watch MasterChef. She found that quite funny and proceeded to tell us how they saw the Northern Lights a lot in Alaska, where she lived.
Arun and I enjoyed the three autumn nights we spent at our beautiful and comfortable hotel on the waterfront.
The staff was pleasant and friendly and the hotel was very close to the Storgata (the main street) and within easy access of everything you could possibly need.
Other than those two tours from Tromsø, we didn’t venture too far from the hotel, except to visit a supermarket nearby and the Polar Museum, which I’ll cover in another post.
If I ever go to Tromsø again (and I hope I do), the Clarion Collection Hotel With is where I’ll stay. The perfect location plus free food! What more could we ask for in our Tromsø accommodation?
- Chasing the Northern Lights From Tromsø With GuideGunnar
- Tromsø Excursions: Norwegian Fjord Sailing With Pukka Travels
- Lyngen North: Northern Lights, Fjords and Fogbows
- Exploring The Macabre And Fascinating Polar Museum In Tromsø, Norway
Watch a lot more photos from our Tromso tour in the video below.