My first interest in visiting in visiting Finse was probably a remark by Damien on the first Trip To Tatooine back in 2003. At the hotel Marhala on the Isle of Jerba he casually remarked that after the trip he was off to Norway to visit Finse. I have to admit that impressed me a little to just take off to Norway like that. Of course I had seen the tiny amount about Finse on the ToysRGus traveller web site, but it had never occurred to me to make the trip. I imagined it was just a snowfield, very uninspiring and nothing compared to Tunisia, plus I wasn't that familiar with the film. Then I remembered an earlier feature in the Star Wars Insider magazine, the writer made the actual locations seem difficult to find as if you needed insider knowledge about where the filming actually took place. Plus the photos were taken during the snow melt, so it looked a little less like Hoth. I still needed something more to make me want to go.
But my main focus was still on Tunisia, I love that place, I love the desert. I would watch programs about Lawrence Of Arabia, watch Arabic movies and read the tour guide books. I would revisit Tozeur several times and spend days exploring around Star Wars Canyon, meeting locals and seeing some amazing sights. Someone said that snow was like a desert in many ways, the silence, isolation, cleanliness, the endless horizon and the lack of anything, yet there is so much there if you can just appreciate nature. I still needed some further motivation to make the trip though.
So there I was on March 4th 2006 stepping off the flight from Manchester and walking into Oslo airport. I had a little over an hour to spare before Jeroen would land and then a further four hours before the train to Finse left Oslo Central. I had a wander around the airport and waited for Jeroen who walked through the arrivals gate and then walked off in the opposite direction! After a chat and a bite to eat we collected our pre-booked train tickets and headed off to Oslo. For some strange reason it seemed Oslo Central train station didn't have any trolleys for luggage but anyway there was plenty of time.
We headed off down the snow covered platform, well it's not really a platform since it is at the same level as the rails, and after 20m we came to a stack of beer barrels, behind the beer barrels was a familiar sign, it said 'FINSE 1222'. We had found it, it really was so close to the train station. In the daylight we would wonder how we ever thought it would be hard to find. But before doing anything else we had to have a quick explore around the outside of the hotel and take some silly photos.
Because we arrived after the normal meal times we had a buffet meal before retiring to the bar for a drink (note that is 1 drink at hotel prices!) and talk with the manageress, Merete, about getting a guide to show us the filming locations. As luck would have it an ex-resident of Finse was in town for a Red Cross training week and knew the filming locations because he was also a child extra in the movie. Merete fixed us up with a meeting for the next day and then showed us what little Star Wars items the hotel had to offer. Firstly downstairs where there is a set of framed photos and some facts about the filming, then back to reception where we were allowed to wear a genuine rebel snow trooper's head gear (but no goggles). Merete explained that no one at the hotel really cared about the movie and that it was all in the past. I got the impression that although she knew about the movie she had never actually seen it. In fact most of the staff had probably not seen it, it really is no big deal in Finse. Although she did not mind the occasional visit by the fans she did not want it overrun by them. I think she sees the hotel as primarily for outdoor activities.
The hotel breakfast was fantastic, every type of breakfast you can think of plus a few more! The hotel's dining / lounge area enjoyed a magnificent view of the glacier and surroundings. Make your own sandwiches for later because the hotel does not serve lunch, although the reception does sell cake, coffee and drink.
There wasn't much to do after that but retire to the lounge, play a few rounds of Star Wars Top Trumps, have a can of beer from the airport and wait for dinner to be served. There was a different menu every evening however the wine list prices are enough to give your wallet a coronary!
Now we had been shown the locations we decided to revisit them the next day on cross-country skis, which we rented from the hotel. It wasn't the best gear but it was all that was available. We had no idea how long it would take but Merete had mentioned it was maybe 4km in a straight line and 7km of actual walking. Apart from being tricky on the downhill slopes there was little trouble on the skis and the exercise made sure you were never cold, in fact quite the opposite, at times I would be unzipping my coat to cool down a little.
The first port of call was at the second battlefield site, just a stone throw away from the main glacier site. Here we collected samples of snow and rock for the collection. Figuring the snow up there is pure and feeling a little thirsty I thought it safe to eat a few handfuls of snow, with apparently no after effects. The main glacier looked just a stones throw away however it seems to get there involves navigating up one long uphill slope, very exhausting but worthwhile. Another set of snow and rock samples were collected, before tucking in to our sandwiches from the hotel's breakfast bar. Trouble is, it's so cold up there that the sandwiches started to freeze after a few minutes out in the open, just like our fingers as well! The way back was again via the Han Solo rock.
After dinner in the late evening we bumped into Kenneth at the hotel bar and he went through the 'Making Of' photos we took with us. He explained roughly where each was filmed, when we get to Lukes crashed Snow Speeder he pointed to Dex and said "That's my friend". So the Dex actor in the studio didn't travel to Finse, instead they used a local boy as a stand-in. This was confirmed when I watched the Empire Building dvd a week later back home. Kenneth gave us an autograph and his address and we agreed to send him some photos from the movie.
Well the journey was over and it was time to board the train and return to our normal lives. Don't let anyone put you off making this journey, Finse is an easy place to reach and once there you'll have no problem spotting the locations. It was an amazing trip!