Aurora Borealis…a term that has for years conjured up an extraordinary vision of a great curtain of green light over the freezing snowy tundry of the Nordic arctic.

It long ago captured me as a kind of spiritual journey. Majesty in the sky created by the gods. Colour that comes from  nowhere other than the realms of magic. An icy night, rugged up in warmth and thrilled by the prospect. Excited to know how I would feel when they danced across the sky.

Heaven knows how I wept when I watched Joanna Lumley experiencing her Aurora. And as my time approached I was already teary at the thought of them in my mind’s eye, or was it my heart? How on earth would I respond when she came dancing with her colours across the midnight sky way into the Arctic Circle? How would I feel? Would it be my nirvana? The ultimate moment of death and new life?

But I am ahead of myself.

Leaving London was easy on this cold Saturday morning. A short flight to Oslo and we are in Europe’s most expensive country. In arranging the trip for us and our guests, Linda and I had found an airport to city transfer came to £290 whilst we had budgeted it at £50. Our search eventually found a £100 transfer or of course the train but we had promised our guests a great trip and that started with being collected from the airport and taken to our hotel in style. Our driver was big and black and we wondered what he hadn’t chosen somewhere warmer to live!

Dinner at the port was fabulous…a beautiful restaurant with fresh and delicious fish and a waitress who elegantly played with us all evening. I have always loved Norway and the Norwegians and our night reinforced just why. They are intelligent, nice, have excellent English and this girl had a great sense of fun. It was a great start to our adventure and a lovely way for us all to meet. I was the only one who knew everyone.

Seven of us: Margie and John from a 6000 acre family property near Canberra, Sandy from her Vetinerary Clinic in Florida, Christine from her business consultancy in Sydney, Allan from semi-retirement and a love of cooking in the Midlands, and Linda and I – partners in crime for a decade now, doing the things we love and engaging others to play with us.

Sunday morning’s airport experience was entirely different…a quick coffee in the lobby and we were off at 6am walking with our cases just five minutes in the snowy streets to the station where we took the efficient speedy train to the airport. Even at 6am the woman attendant had a beautiful smile to greet us.

Tromso, 350 miles above the Arctic Circle, at 69 degrees north is the largest Arctic city apart from Murmansk in Russia. Principally built in wood, juxtaposed with some stunning modern architecture, it is on an island which we arrived at through a long tunnel and it is the place most noted for its displays, or from where you start your chase to see this masterpiece in the night sky.

The second long-awaited activity on this trip was sledding with the huskys that afternoon but almost on arrival it was on the off-list because the constant rain over the preceeding 3 days had made the terrain too dangerous for us and the dogs. Bummer. Oh well…we quickly turned our focus to a museum of things Nordic, which was interactive, interesting and had a gobsmackingly beautiful film of the Aurora and the Arctic which found us all in our own silent soliloquy of beauty and reverence.

They certainly know how to do a good fish up here and whilst wine is breathtakingly expensive – at least 100 quid for a bottle of unknowable plonk – meals have so far come up trumps. After an early night we all met for breakfast and then skidded and teetered up the icy road to a Polar Museum to find we were early for its 11am opening. Backtracking we found a huge almost empty bar with the most jovial of bartenders who reluctantly gave us coffee when he thought we should be having beer so Christine appeased him and tried out the local brew.  Back to the museum which was fantastic, complete with live seals and another magnificent film display of Norwegian Arctic life. Linda commented that if she had her life again she’d be up there in the research station working with the wildlife and we all remarked how incredibly beautiful and magical the natural world is….sometimes even more beautiful in the starkness of a still white background.

By 4 we were ready to greet our tracker and set off for god knows where.  Gunnar was jovial even if a little hard to understand initially but over the next 23 hours (and we were only supposed to have 17 with him) we mastered both his language and his sense of fun. Born to a Norwegian mother from the Telemark (in the far north) and a Sami (reindeer herding nomads of yore) father, he has nature in his blood and service in his bones. As we drove heaven knows how many hundreds of kilometers east he was constantly on the phone to fellow trackers to ascertain how the heavens were operating that night and what the weather conditions were. From time to time he got out of the van, looked around, took a 60 second exposure of the skies and evaluated where we had the best likelihood of an Aurora show that night. OK, the decision was made: we head to Finland (had we all got our passports he asked, and yes, there was a border post in the middle of godforsaken nowhere), and then south to Sweden. Not bad for everyone else I thought: three countries in a night. I had been to all three several times before but not three for the price of one!

Our van was chokkers ….. boxes of oranges and bananas, sleeping bags, a kind of BBQ, thick snow suits hanging in the back, two bags of chopped wood, somewhere we knew there was a tent, a crate of snow boots, a shovel, and flung across the top a raft of reindeer skins. How this was all going to play out was still a mystery and it didn’t really matter. We were all having a great time as the kilometers passed and had long since given up caring where we stayed or what time it was. We only wanted the lights and, from time to time, a pee.

That was more difficult than first anticipated…a step off the icy roads and you were up to your thighs in thick soft snow. What fun. So it was girls to the back, boys to the front and of course in the freezing air the girls envied the boys.

Eventually it was decided, by Sandy’s pendulum and endorsed by us all,  where we should pitch the Sami tent. Gunnar allocated snow shoes, shovels, ski suits, and a spot to flatten out. It must have been midnight but noone was hungry and we’d all but forgotten about the lights. It took a good hour to get the tent up, every step you took you fell to your thighs, provoking a lot of laughter. It was a great team effort as the tee-pee like tent went up and we despatched the entire contents of the van into it.  Cleverly there was a wood burning stove with an exhaust pipe that went out the hole at the top so if someone was prepared to put more wood in it from time to time we would be warm all night.

From time to time we stood under the bright full moon, Jupiter and a few stars shining on us, acknowledeging how unbelievably beautiful it was and how lucky we were. Strangely as the night wore on we became more in harmony with our surroundings than with an overwhleming desire to see what we’d come for, but we still hoped she would put on her magical display for us.

But for now food was on the agenda and Gunnar was cooking up a storm of salted cod in our tent and offering beers all round. The only detractor was the thought of a late night pee (well it was already nearly 2am, so early morning pee was more to the point) but to hell with it: you only have one go at a night in a heated Sami tent in the middle of who knows where! Dinner was delicious. The beer was good. Now back outside. All but Allan gave up. Back to the tent, struggled to defrock the ski suit, the boots, the outer layer and snuggle down in the warm bag. Disappointed? No not really, this is such an experience that one piece not there cannot destroy it.

A call from outside….there could be lights….oh fuck….what do we do????  Well we came to see these bloody things so struggle out of the sleeping sheet and bag, into the heavy suit, into the boots, avoid the stove or it will burn your clothes off, don’t fall into the cooking pit, nor where Christine fell to her thighs inside the tent, hats, mittens, all suited up and ready and gingerly we advanced and fell our way to the road where Allan was waiting. It is magical. It is freezing. There is a bright full moon, an icy road; the lorries have long since stopped passing by. It is past 3am. It is utter madness and it is all part of the rich tapestry of life. We are in the Arctic tundra of Finland. It’s the middle of the night. We came for the lights and we are not leaving without seeing them. Ha Ha says the Weather Committee. You can organise this you-beaut trip but you can’t organise us.

Noone was tired but we all slept in that tent on our reindeer skins and when we woke gently waited for Gunnar to arrive and prepare a most delicious breakfast: juice, tea, proper coffee, milk, cream, fabulous bread, herrings, liverwurst, cheeses, tomatoes, ham, salami.  A feast prepared by this amazing guy who’d had a freezing night sleeping in his van. All part of the service. He is awesome.

On the long drive back we ate oranges and bananas and the chocolate he’d forgotten to bring out the previous night; remembered during an hour long wait after a Yugoslav lorry without snow tires had jack-knifed and blocked the road. We could only imagine how much it would cost to get the several rescue trucks out, repair the steel fence along the roadside and repair the damage to the truck, and how for the driver it was probably his last job. Life is tough in the trucking business; competitive and ruthless. If you’re not on the road money is wasted. If you damage the truck, its over!

Back in Tromso after a stellar 23 hours we parted from Gunnar, and headed for the sauna and the hot tub on the open roof of the hotel. Wonderful sitting there in the bubbles looking at boats bobbing in the water, the buildings, the snow covered roads: life in the Arctic at its best. Our farewell dinner was on a small ship cruising up into the fjord to a place where they see Her 4 nights out of 5. Ha the Weather Committe said…this is the 5th night….enjoy the meal and each other’s company for we are keeping from you what you most want.

But we’d already planned a return. Gunnar was booked for the first week of March next year before we parted from him. Marg and John were headed up to Kirkenes in the very north, with a 5 day cruise down the fjords to look forward to and inevitably the lights, but for the rest of us its pretty clear: we want what we want. We didn’t get it first time and we’ll come back for seconds.

It’s life really. If you want to really feel something, as I do, have that magic moment of connection with spirit under those lights, sometimes you just have to wait. Life is not on demand any more than She is. We like to think we are in control..but ha ha, who are we kidding?

So until next March, that was Norway. A magical five days. The two things we came for eluded us. We had an extraordinary time and we’ll be back. Who else is going to join us will show up when they put their hands up!

So for me, it is my last weekend in London – for the moment. An amazing experience in a cavernous underground spa in Covent Garden yesterday, Mother’s Day (UK version) with Hugo and Eve tomorrow and lunch with my very dear octogenarian friends, lunch with a friend who has just fallen in love on Monday, my last Pilates session, a hair cut, a surprise from Hugo and Eve on Tuesday, a function at Australia House, moving out of the fashionable Chelsea on Wednesday followed by the celebration of a new but very special friend’s son’s life and then quietly slipping into the Tuscan hills for a respite before the next adventure.

This has been an absolutely amazing four months. London feels like home. I love her. I am in love with her. I feel alive every moment and excited to be here. I will be back for a longer haul. And I am so grateful that I can.

Until next time, with heart