In the land of the Midnight Sun

By Ruchira Mandal

It was summer in the land of the Midnight Sun. Summer drawing to a close, admittedly, seeing that it was almost August, but the sun was still holding out pretty strong against the impending darkness. It was bizarre, getting used to the never-ending daylight of Tromso. We pulled down the window shutters of our hotel rooms before going to sleep, trying to pretend it was really night outside, but the shutters couldn't keep out the cries of the seagulls, that like the sun, were on duty 24 hours a day.

On the date we had chosen for a midnight rendezvous with the sun, however, it remained hidden behind the clouds. It was a damp, wet sort of a day and the dip in the mercury did nothing to help our already plummeting spirits. However, luck smiled on us later in the afternoon, as the skies cleared. We packed our scarves and mufflers, had an early dinner at the Chinese restaurant we had discovered on our first morning in Tromso and then set off towards the Arctic Cathedral on Bus No. 26. (I'd like to add here that the bus service in Tromso is wonderful. There are charts detailing information on routes and bus timings at every stop, and the people are friendly and eager to help out the tourists with directions. The buses also have something called a 'one-hour ticket' for return journey provided you return by the same route within an hour).

We arrived at the Arctic Cathedral to find the striking, somewhat triangular structure bathed in glorious sunshine, and its doors firmly shut. The notice on the door said the church remained open to visitors till seven in the evening in summer; we wondered why it was closed in broad daylight before remembering it was nearly 11 pm by the clock. We could have waited of course, for it to open for the midnight concert, but we wanted to experience the Tromso midnight from a higher viewpoint.

So we left the cathedral behind and walked on. Stopping to ask for directions a few times, we finally arrived at the cable car station. One cable car ride later, we were atop a mountain, the monarchs of all Tromso, with a wide expanse of fjords and mountain ranges unveiled beneath for our survey. Although the 'Paris of the North' is mostly pleasant in summer, it was freezing cold at such high altitude, and there was a strong wind blowing, chilling us to the bone. But we braved it all, waiting for midnight. All around us, people were getting their cameras out, ready to capture the moment. We were nearly there; the sun was right above the mountains facing us, blazing bright, as if daring us to contradict its presence. And then the clock struck twelve. It wasn't like a sunrise in the hills, or a sunset at sea; there were no blending of colours, no play of light and shadow. But the Midnight Sun was still magical, in its own inexplicable way.

But our night wasn't over yet. We dawdled for a bit, before taking the cable ride down, and consequently missed the last bus to town. There was nothing else for it, so we began walking.

The city was asleep. The very air breathed slumber over the peaceful Scandinavian cottages. We walked along empty streets, past silent houses and closed shops. It wasn't dark, but the sun had disappeared for a few minutes and was now coming out again. We could see a faint pink blush along the eastern sky, while on the west hung a ghostly silver moon. It felt like we had walked into the picture of an enchanted city in a book of fairy-tales.

We had to cross the long bridge connecting the mainland to the island city. After walking for more than an hour, we reached our hotel. The warmth inside was inviting. We wished a cheery good morning to the man at reception who returned the greeting with an amused smile. Up in our rooms, we hit the pillow straightaway; daylight or not, we weren't about to relinquish our sleep.

How to get there: Tromso is located in Northern Norway. One can reach Tromso via road from Helsinki (there are daily buses in summer) or take a train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, and then a bus to Tromso from there. There are also SAS (Scandinavian Air Service) flights connecting Tromso to Oslo, Bergen and other Norwegian cities.

Ruchira is an M.Phil student at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Her writings have been published in anthologies, newspapers and magazines. You can read more of her work here.

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