There are certain places on earth, capable of making even the most worldly and hardened traveler feel sentimental. There is this feel to them - it's just like falling in love: a certain mysterious inexplicable chemistry in the air; it takes you over, charms you, drags you in, leaving a persistently lingering aftertaste. Tromsø is one of these places - a small Norwegian city with a population of a meagre 66 000. Flanked by mountains and fjords, it is located behind the Arctic Circle, some 2000 km from the North Pole. This is exactly the place where in 1901 the legendary arctic explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) bought his Gjøa ship which took him on his North Pole expedition in 1903. And it was Tromsø from where Amundsen left on his final and fatal flight in 1928 to rescue Umberto Nobile's airship that had crashed on its way back from the North Pole. Amundsen's Latham 47 plane disappeared somewhere between Tromsø and Svalbard; the only remains retrieved later were a fuel tank and a wing, found floating in the ocean. Incidentally, for three weeks in 1940, during World War II, Tromsø also was officially the capital of Norway.
Tromsø is the largest Nordic city to the North of the Arctic Circle; despite the initial feel of finding oneself in the middle of nowhere, it does enjoy a vibrant and dynamic life. The city is home to a university, a museum of contemporary art, the oldest movie theatre in Norway (Verdensteatret) doubling as a cinematheque with an excellent selection of great European films. The building in itself is worth paying a visit: in the early 1900s, the cinema was built for screenings of silent movies; its auditorium, seating 216, is decorated with 1920s murals featuring motifs from Norwegian folklore. (Live broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera productions are held here regularly.)
Tromsø even boasts a film festival of its own and hosts special Silent Film Days (this year scheduled for 6 - 9 September). The excellent Polar Museum, officially opened on 18 June 1978, 50 years of the fatal day on which Amundsen's plane disappeared, is housed in a 1830 building; its permanent exhibition employs sharp realistic visualisation to trace the history of the region: from whale, polar bear and arctic fox hunting, for a long time one of the main trades of the inhabitants of this Nordic locality, to the most legendary of arctic expeditions and development of arctic aviation.
As any city of smallish size, Tromsø is easily and seemingly quickly explored from one end to another. And yet - the stereotype of a typical small town evaporates like ice in the sun after just a few moments. Tromsø is a city where nothing ever is impersonal - regardless of where you set foot: the largest candle store, glass-blowing workshop, Museum of Contemporary Art or any of the countless cafés. The latter deserve a special mention: you would be hard-pressed to find a city boasting such a high concentration of cafés - and what cafés: cafés/art galleries, tiny bohemian nooks, each with a story and ambience of its own. You will find a patina of genuinity everywhere: in wooden buildings dating back from the 18th century and symbols of contemporary architecture. For instance, only comparatively recently the city library, admired by so many visitors to the city, was just an ugly cinema, transformed by a skilful architect's hand into a building that has already become one of the landmarks of Tromsø. Tromsø is also home to the northernmost university (with 10 000 students) and beer brewery.
The most vivid symbol of Tromsø, however, is definitely the Arctic Cathedral, set on a hill opposite the island of Tromsøya; although the structure looks impressive enough from the city, against the backdrop of mountains, to enjoy its magic to the full you have to cross the Tromsø Bridge early in the morning - at the time when the sun is only just getting ready to rise above the mountains. The rosy-orange light is reflected in the giant triangles of the cathedral's windows (they are 23-metre high); white and majestic, it blends with the surrounding landscape, standing out at the same time. The cathedral was designed in 1965 by the architect Jan Inge Hovig; the actual construction of the building took more than ten years. The blue mountain light behind the back façade stained glass window conjures up a feel of magical mirage. Monumental and, at the same time, transparent, it compliments and underlines the magnificence of the landscape.
Perhaps the special light is the real reason for visiting Tromsø. It is the greatest wonder of the Nordic Norwegian city and its vicinity - always different, never repeating itself. Then again - what else could be expected of a place featuring, alongside incredibly beautiful landscapes, striking natural phenomena like the polar night (21 November - 21 January), midnight sun (18 May - 25 July) and northern lights (from October through the second week of April). Tromsø is located at the very epicentre of the northern lights area and therefore is considered one of the best spots for watching it. The wonder of northern lights is also probably the most special thing you could experience in this city seemingly located in the middle of nowhere - if only for the reason that, unlike the rest of seasonal activities available in the vicinity of Tromsø - from dog or reindeer sledging and snow bikes to fishing, walks in the mountains and off-piste skiing, etc. - northern lights are always a miracle no-one can ever guarantee. Either you get to see them, or you do not; besides, like all mysterious and whimsical creatures, aurora borealis does demand a certain amount of attention. Depending on luck, you can spend a week looking for it - or encounter it on the first night of your stay. There are no recipes for finding northern lights; just a couple of suggestions: do dress as warm as you possibly can and try to be outdoors at the time northern lights are most likely to appear, between 6 p.m. and midnight. Do follow the weather forecast, the general aerial situation (wind, clouds, etc.) and - wait. An hour, two hours, perhaps five hours. The perfect time to watch northern lights is at new moon when the flashing dance of colours looks particularly striking against the background of the surrounding darkness. Also, you would be well advised to leave Tromsø for your arctic lights-watching - do go to a place where darkness is uncontaminated by city lights.
The phenomenon of midnight sun is different: sometimes you may stay up chatting with friends until two or three a.m. without even noticing it is already as late as that: it is still daylight behind the window. They say that, looking at Haja Island from the village of Sommarøy (56 km from Tromsø) in the midnight sun, it does seem reminiscent of the symbol of the city of Tromsø - the 1970s Arctic Cathedral. It is up to you to check it for yourselves!Share it:
Keywords: essence, Tromso, town