25 June 2012

After a night in Olso, I flew north to Tromso.

Tromso is an island in the north of Norway, above the Arctic Circle.  There are approximately 68,000 people living there, and because it is so far north it receives daylight for 24 hours from mid May till the end of July, and conversely, full darkness from end of November to mid January.  Check out this Wikipedia article on Tromso if you want to know more.

I chose to travel to Tromso because I wanted to see what it was like to live in a place that has such strange patterns of something as basic as daylight. How does this affect people?  How do they organise their time?  What's the environment look like?

I'd always assumed that places within the Arctic Circle would be icy wastelands, but after watching Michael Palin's Pole to Pole television series I was intrigued.  He starts at the north pole, then travels down through Tromso.  It was the late 80s and he was interviewing drunk soccer fans, but what caught my attention was that they were sitting in the bright sun, with T-shirts on.

So, I booked a few nights in a bed and breakfast near the centre of the island, near a little lake and halfway between the airport and the town centre.

We flew in over miles of flattened rounded mountains covered in snow, which I assume were ground into this shape by the movements of glaciers for hundreds of thousands of years, eventually closing in on a small island amidst all the white that was not covered in snow. It was a suitably impressive backdrop to my Arctic experience.

From the ground the rounded white mountains surrounded the city,  a reminder of the foreignness of this place.  Some pointy mountains stood closer to the city, that I assume were much shorter to have escaped being worn down, but at that distance and angle they looked the same height.  It was a clear sunny day and the crisp air gave the feeling that winter had only just ended, though it was nearly the longest day of the year.

I took a bus to the bed and breakfast and checked in.  Sadly the owners weren't really in a mood to chat to me about living so far north, but I expect they get this from boarders all the time.  I then went shopping for food because the supermarket was likely to be shut over the weekend. Shopping was an interesting exercise.  I couldn't read the labels an had to guess from the pictures and the similarity of words to English.  Later I downloaded a Norwegian dictionary onto my phone which made life a lot easier, especially when trying to find wheat-free food.

The Bed and Breakfast

Laden with food for the weekend I returned to the B+B.  I was completely exhausted from poor sleep in hostels and the very early start I'd had that morning (I'd not understood that the Oslo airport is actually over half an hour away from the centre of Oslo by train), so with a dizzy head I pulled the curtains for the limited good that did and tried to sleep.

Three hours later having done little more than doze occasionally I gave up, cooked myself some dinner and decided to go for a walk around the lake nearby.  The lake was gorgeous and otherworldly.  It was 10pm and still daylight.  There were birds in chorus over the lake, made me wonder how they deal with the continuous daylight.  They were making noises I associate with flocking to trees to roost for the night, but as there was no night coming I wondered what they intended to do.  The lake was calm and there was a path around the edge of it through some bush.  I met several people out walking dogs or running.  I took my camera and slowly walked around the perimeter trying to capture the strangeness of everything, though I didn't succeed.  The undergrowth was a vibrant new green, and everything was spindly and tall, as though it was trying to grow as fast as possible and get as much sun as possible in the short summer. 

 At 11pm or so I finished my circuit and walked home to try to sleep again.  This time with some success.

Sadly when I awoke the next morning my fever was back, so I took the next few days very easy.  I went into town to buy a hat and some gloves, because I had left mine in Oslo, not thinking it would be cold enough to need them, on which I was quite wrong.  I hunted the tourist stores, thinking it would be a good opportunity to get something suitably Norwegian as a memento.  There were plenty of choices for both hats and gloves, and some absolutely gorgeous intricately patterned jerseys too, but when I converted the prices they came out at nearly $300, so I kept away from those racks.  I ended up with a nearly matching set of red and white hat and gloves with snowflake designs, chosen from a selection of snowflake, reindeer, and santa designs. I figure I'll get good use out of them in really cold weather and at kitschy Christmas parties.

Hat and gloves for nearly $50!

Over the few days I spent in Tromso I visited the town centre several times.  It was absolutely deserted on the Saturday and Sunday, and then packed on the Monday.  It made me wonder where all the people went on the weekend.  There was a market in the square that had goldsmith making fantastic jewellery, and stalls and stalls selling knitted goods.

The main shopping street of Tromso.

I visited the Polaria Museum which included an aquarium and a number of exhibits on the Arctic and Antarctic.  I also visited the Folk Park open air museum as I was interested to see how people lived this far north in the past.  The brochure said the park was open till 4pm, so I went along (after being driven around the island and back because the bus driver said 'yes', when I think he meant 'no', when I asked him to let me know when we got to the park) only to find that by open they meant "everything's closed but one exhibit and the cafe".

And of course the midnight sun.
I took the cable car to the top of a mountain on the mainland and with a bunch of other tourists stood and watch the setting sun fail to set. 
The view over Tromso at 11.30pm.
Out the back snow was melting on the mountain top, and I was extremely glad I was wearing my hat and gloves!

At midnight I came back down the cable car and attended a concert at the Arctic Cathedral.  The cathedral is a stark white triangular building made to resemble and iceberg or a mountain.  Over summer they were running a series of midnight concerts with a range of local classical performers. It was very picturesque and a lovely way to end my time in Tromso.

The Arctic Cathedral.

The interior of the cathedral.

Panoramic view of Tromso island from the cable car.


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