A little over two years ago, my brother, his girlfriend and I flew over to the north of Norway, to spend a few days chasing the northern lights, watching killer whales and doing dog sledding in the region of Tromsø. Though we stayed there just a few days, we all experienced it as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Because it was. Despite the three hours of daylight per day, the seasickness, and me slipping on the snow every five meters. It wasn’t my first time in Norway, but it was the first time (and I hope, not the last) that I discovered its amazing landscapes under one meter of snow. Every time, the country had such an impact on me that it took me – well, a little over two years – to be able to put words on it. So, here’s three things I learned from Santa’s headquarters – or Lapland.
LOOKING AT THE SKY
« The sky is pretty clear tonight, we can easily see the stars ». My friend looked up and nodded. « Actually, I never really look at the sky », she answered. And I was the same before I spent a whole night hoping to see at least one tiny aurora borealis.
We went chasing the northern lights in November. The sky was cloudy and we even experienced a small snowstorm, preventing us from crossing the border to Finland, where our guide was hoping we would get luckier. We didn’t see them, but I remember standing there, at night in the wilderness, stretching my neck to check if I could spot a star. Or even the moon. Because if you can see the stars or the moon, you’re able to see the northern lights. At one point, I walked away from the group, just to be more mindful of where I was and what I was doing. That bigger-picture feeling stayed with me, and these days, when I walk home after work, I still look at the Dutch sky and think, « A little further north, this must be good weather for northern lights ».
EMBRACING THE SILENCE
Some people hate silence. Silence in conversations, for example. They believe that if no one is talking, an underlying social awkwardness emerges that needs to be fixed, and they start filling in the blanks with whatever is on their minds – sometimes increasing the awkwardness. Some people don’t mind at all, as silence gives them time to reflect on what has just been said, and helps them give better advice. Or because sometimes, they don’t need words to connect. Silence speaks for itself.
I’ve turned into a silence-addict. When I write, I don’t even play music (as I am writing this post now, my neighbor is taking care of it anyway). Lapland in particular, and nature in general (when one is far from any urban or open-spaces noises), helped me learn to switch off and enjoy the silence.
(And by the way, I feel like we should stop using the expression « to switch off from… ». Every time we escape urban life and put our smartphones away, I believe we actually switch (back) on.)
ENJOYING THE COLD
My Dutch grandmother calls it « gezond koud »: the sky is clear and blue, the sun is shining, but the temperature has suddenly dropped, and the air is crisp and cold – a nice cold, that could kill your germs and your negative thoughts all at once. That’s why it is « gezond », « healthy ».
I’ve always liked this kind of weather, but I learned to love it while I was in Lapland. When you live in the Netherlands, winter days are mostly rainy or cloudy, and contrary to what you might think, it is not so cold (anymore). But I don’t care about 8 or 10°C if the sky is fifty shades of grey. My best winter in the Netherlands was when the canals froze and we walked on it. When we had ten layers of clothes on, but also a pair of sunglasses in our bags because the sun was blinding. Light has a direct impact on your mood and happiness. In the north of Scandinavia, you have to learn to appreciate the few hours of daylight you get, and you have to learn to live with cold temperatures. But once you have put on your comfiest sweater and your snowshoes, once you are not freezing anymore, you can finally appreciate the « gezond koud » as it is. You sit in a pub with a warm drink in your hands, you light the candles and you embrace the hygge.