Finding Koselig in Tromsø, Norway

By Karissa Barney

On an early February evening, my best friend and I found ourselves boarding a Dreamliner 787 aircraft bound for Norway. Escaping the frigid February blues of New York City to venture through the Arctic circle for a week? I mean, why not? And if we were going to travel north, we might as well go all the way up to the arctic capital, Tromsø. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if there is anything my time in Norway taught me, it was to lean into those cold weather conditions and embrace a koselig way of life.

So what exactly does the Norwegian word koselig mean? Well, the direct English translation means “cozy” but the meaning is much deeper. A koselig lifestyle embraces winter with that warm and fuzzy feeling, a sense of community, friendship, family, and respect for the little things in life. It can be as simple as making a cup of tea after an especially chilly day or enjoying dinner with friends by candlelight. It just so happened that in Tromsø we were enjoying that cup of tea after an afternoon of feeding reindeer, or under the dancing northern lights or on the top of a cliff after snowshoe hiking with an adventurous group of new friends. All of these were moments that I will never forget. And guess what? With a new-found koselig appreciation, those arctic temperatures didn’t bother me (too much).

Roam with Reindeer

One of the most amazing aspects of Tromsø is the community of people who maintain an active, positive, and heartfelt lifestyle in the far North. Nothing captures this more than spending an afternoon with the Sami people. The Sami—the indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northwestern Russia—have a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. They are known for shepherding, fishing, and most famously, reindeer herding.

We went with Tromsø Arctic Reindeer to meet Johan-Isak, his fiance, Pia, and their 200 wild and charismatic reindeer. Johan-Isak is the descendant of a long line of reindeer herders. He continues the family trade with a nomadic lifestyle that follows the reindeer into the mountains during the summer and down into the valley during the harsh winter months. In the last five years, he has begun herding his reindeer into a fenced area to protect them from a rise of predators in the area, such as wolverines, and to properly feed the reindeer who have difficulty accessing food in the icy conditions. About two years ago he began inviting people to his camp for a variety of excursions that include helping to feed the reindeer, enjoying traditional bidos (traditional slow-cooked Sami stew), learning about the Sami culture, and if weather permits, reindeer sledding.

Interacting with the reindeer was magical; these gentle animals are so charismatic and full of life. We spent the afternoon feeding them, watching them play, and learning about the different personalities in the herd. We were fortunate enough to be there when there was snow on the ground so that we could go sledding. After a bit of a chilly ride we found shelter in the Lavvu (a housing tent used by the Sami people) with a bowl of stew and a seat by the fire. Johan-Isak shared with us the history of the Sami, their love for the land, and taught us a joik (a traditional folk song sung by the Sami). As we all sat in the warmth of the Lavvu joiking and watching the fire, I knew that this moment was special. In that moment I fell in love with these people, these reindeer, and this land. This, to me, was the essence of koselig. www.tromsø

Chasing the Northern Lights

The mystique of the northern lights have captivated people for thousands of years. As you travel through the north, you hear myths and legends behind the lights. In Tromsø, they once believed that the lights were spirits. Men and women would hide indoors to avoid unwanted hauntings from the “spirited” lights. Today, the people of Tromsø are fascinated by the lights and will venture near and far to see the “lady in green” dancing throughout the sky.

One of our reasons for traveling up to Tromsø was to hopefully catch a glimpse of the lights. We were on a mission and we were hoping that Scan Adventure would help make it possible. After twelve of us piled into a van in the city center of Tromsø with our cameras and tripods, we headed with our guide to Scan Adventure’s offices to suit up for the cold weather conditions. They provided all of us with arctic snow suits, shoes, gloves, hats, tripods, and anything we may need for a night in the wilderness. The night kicked off driving through the fjords of northern Norway. My face was pressed against the window in excitement as we passed the rigid cliffs that stretched towards the star-studded sky. This was the type of geography I had only read about in stories or seen in photos. Each fjord that passed the window seemed to hold a new adventure or story to be explored. We eventually stopped by a lake that was rimmed with unique cliffs. The guide invited us to enjoy a warm cup of tea, and just like magic the lights appeared in the sky. From that point on we had an eventful night chasing the lights. As soon as someone spotted lady Aurora, the van would quickly pull to the side of the road. Everyone would then pile out with cameras and tripods in hand, and rush to the best spot to catch the show. Here we were, in the middle of the arctic, tripods set up, lavvu tents nearby, lights dancing above us, warm tea in my hand and my best friend next to me while we gazed at the sky in complete awe. That moment: Koselig.

Snowshoe Hiking in the Fjords

One of the most iconic aspects of Norwegian geography are the fjords. A fjord is a narrow inlet of the sea between cliffs or steep slopes and they are definitely something Norway has in abundance. We had been told that many locals in the area begin their morning by hiking up the slopes, enjoying their morning cup of coffee, and either skiing or hiking back down. So we decided to snap into some snowshoes and hike straight up one of the slopes to explore the fjords like the locals do. That’s where Tromsø Outdoor came into the picture. This company offers a variety of arctic activities, guided excursions, and gear rentals. After hearing about the incredible views on their five hour snowshoe hike, we decided to sign up. We met our guide, Simon, and the eight other people on our hike and strapped into the van as we headed towards another exciting day of adventure.

Once we arrived at the base of the mountain, Simon showed us how to snap into our shoes and shared local stories of the area. Hiking was incredible. Every plateau we reached offered a better view than the last. Everyone worked together to encourage each other, bond, share stories and snap photos. By the time we reached the top, we had all become new friends. We stood in a circle laughing and chatting while we enjoyed warm currant juice and snacks. It was that moment that I understood koselig on another level. In that moment I realized that for the Norwegians winter is not something to be endured but enjoyed. And not only enjoyed, but loved and respected. www.tromsø

Even after three exciting excursions, I felt that we had only skimmed the surface of things to do in Tromsø. I got a taste of that koselig life and I know I will be back here one day. Whether you’re looking for an active adventure or cozy dinner overlooking the fjords, Tromsø has something for everyone. And I realized, while traveling home, that I had developed a newfound love of winter. That’s something I never thought I would say.