There was the most beautiful moonrise this morning, greeting the darkest day of the year with its astonishingly huge and orange glow poking gently above the mountains. We are now, quite literally, in the midst of the polar night which reminds me that from tomorrow each day is becoming very gradually a little bit brighter. A comforting thought, though I do not find myself craving the sun as I thought I might.
Its quite amazing how one gets used to things. I recall back in August suddenly noticing at 2am that it was actually kind of ‘dark’. Commenting on this to a Tromsønian, the response was “welcome to midday in December”. This was impossible to imagine at the time but now the blue-ish light of a similar quality feels positively bright and I can hardly believe that this little island was ever basked in sunlight. The effect it has on my sense of time is also interesting. Not so much in terms of my daily pattern, but longer term. The drastic contrast of the surroundings now compared with when I arrived makes the summer months feel like a lifetime ago. In that bizarre way that time manages to feel stretched and squashed all in the same moment.
We have been given many helpful hints on how to cope with the dark period. My favourite being the ‘daglyslamper’ (‘day light lamps’) which were provided by the university – every morning you could sit infront of one of these energy emanating lights for a healthy dose of vitamin D. Whether they ‘worked’ or not I wasn’t too bothered – a free cup of tea, a chat with other internationals who were no doubt to be found there, and a nice shot of placebo was good enough to make me cheerful in the morning! My least favourite darkness remedy is indisputably the loved-by-Norwegians fish oil, known as ‘Tran’, which I bought a bottle of after countless locals told me of its essential and magical qualities in the Arctic wintertime. Something which, after attempting several times to stomach the weirdly slimy substance, I can safely say I am happy to do without.
The perks of the period leading up to the full polar night were the days in which the short window of light in the day splashed the clouds with pink and sprayed the sky with orange so that, even though you never saw the sun, you felt it was still giving you a bit of a performance. One particularly memorable and slightly surreal moment was on top of a local hill when looking in one direction we were treated to the calming deep blue of a beautiful ‘sunrise’ and turning around, the warm streaky colours of a gorgeous ‘sunset’.
This was just as we reached the ‘hytta’ (‘mountain cabin’) which was to be the venue for the fjellgruppa julebord – a Christmas gathering with the hillwalking group. A fantastic weekend at the end of November in which a group of around 25 walked/skied up to this wonderful wee hut perched amongst the snow covered mountains on the mainland and shared food, beer and stories. The icing on the cake? A most spectacular display of northern lights which brought even the northern Norwegians out of the cosy inside to gaze up at the green strips stretching and curving across the entire sky, diving into the dark silhouettes of the mountain peaks and twisting majestically above our gaping heads. The cherry on top? A sauna, prepared by my Finnish friend and enjoyed by me, her and an Italian girl with the cooling-off method being rolling in the snow under a intensely starry sky with the ghosts of the aurora borealis fading into the blackness. Extreme sauna-ing even for a Finn!
Since then we have enjoyed the build up of a Tromsø Christmastime. Lights were stung up in around town giving it the cute feel of a fairytale village. A large tree helicoptered-in and lit in the town square as the people of Tromsø gathered for the old Norwegian tradition of holding hands and singing around the Christmas tree.
Despite the shops suddenly being full of ‘jule-everything’: juleøl, julekaffe, julemelk, julebrus, julepølse… (Christmas-beer, Christmas-coffee, Christmas-milk, Christmas-juice, Christmas-sausages…), the general Christmas spirit up here does feel somewhat more wholesome, tasteful and less commercial than what I feel used to being bombarded with back home. I have yet, for example, to notice any neighbouring houses competing for who can plaster their walls and gardens with the most gaudy blowup-snowmen-building-reindeer who’s antlers dance to the tune of jingle bells while a huge flashing Santa teeters on the chimney top.
Just some pretty lights on the trees and stars in the windows.
My exams were over by early December and I had the perfect celebration of this in the form of a visit from a very good friend of mine who travelled up for a week of the Tromsø experience from where she is currently working in the South West of Norway. Ellie and I had a most wonderfully relaxed and festive time and it felt so special to have someone to show around and be part this place which means so much to me now. For two days of her stay, I booked the University-owned summerhouse on the neighbouring island, Kvaløya (the same place I stayed back in August on the kayaking trip) which I have now fallen in love with as the perfect, cosy retreat to the real countryside. We baked biscuits, played board games, watched such Christmassey classics as ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Home Alone’, went for ‘night-time’ walks, made snow angles, lazily read our books in front of the fire with hot mugs of gløgg (like mulled wine), ran outside to watch the northern lights and even got another round of Extreme sauna-ing as we “swam” (ahem. dunked…) in the icy fjord.
Back in town, we went to a very impressive and heart-warming performance of The Nutcracker with a cast ranging from 4-year olds to adult professionals and did the necessary sightseeing of the Arctic Cathedral (nice to have an excuse to go inside finally!).
Since Ellie left, I’ve been busy with a cleaning job I’m taking over from a friend while she’s back home for Christmas and having many goodbye dinners with other internationals before they travel to their various countries; some returning after a week or two, others not. I had a lovely final day with one German friend as we went cross-country skiing from the north of the island to a frozen-over lake in the south. It was in fact my first ever experience of this which I think went fairly well considering… I performed some pretty dramatic falls on the steep corners which were almost my favourite parts of the 3 hour trip! Other than the joyful feeling of success when I managed some without tumbling into the snow. There is a fantastic course, the ‘lysløyper’, which covers the entire island and means that (for the experienced…) skiing is probably the most efficient method of getting around. I look forward to several more months of practise!
So, with Christmas (which I’ve very kindly been invited to spend with a friend’s family) imminent, another couple of weeks of chill-time ahead and the warming knowledge that the sun will soon begin its slow journey back to us, nothing feels too dark or gloomy in the land of the all-day night-time.