The Gateway to the Arctic, The Paris of the North, Home of the northernmost almost-everything–northernmost university, brewery, cathedral, even the northernmost burger king– Tromsø is probably the liveliest city of the Arctic. And I do mean lively! Tromsø has the most number of bars per capita in the whole of Norway. Night life is just buzzing! But it wasn’t only about the night life, of course. It was a totally different world from what I, the tropics girl, am used to. The whiteness of snow blending with the colors of autumn was a real feast to the eyes. The view of snow-capped mountains and houses across the fjord was priceless, may it be day or night. I fell in love with this city over the weekend. As I was recalling my adventures in this city, I don’t know why I kept on remembering song lyrics and was subconsciously singing them in my head…
Late yesterday night, I saw a light shine from a window*… On flights, I try to sit by the window if possible, so I can have a view of the clouds and the land. For the flight from Oslo to Tromsø, I was sitting at the very back of the plane, on the window seat of course. Halfway through the flight, the pilot’s friendly voice announced, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, if you look out the window both to your right and left, you can see the northern lights…” The rest of his announcement was lost to me as I looked out in excitement. And there it was, the Aurora Borealis. It has always been my dream to see the Northern Lights, and on Seat 24A of SAS Flight SK4434, my dream came true. I couldn’t quite put into words what the Northern Lights looked like. It’s like a green magical curtain that was slowly dancing. Well, it wasn’t dancing so much as shimmering. Aah, words are not enough to capture the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. I was glad I saw it from the plane, because then we were in the same level of the atmosphere, and it was so close… The only downside was that I couldn’t take a proper picture! The darkness and the thick glass windows of the plane made it impossible… So yes, I have fulfilled my dream of seeing the Northern Lights, but I have nothing to show for it. Too bad it was cloudy in Tromsø, the clouds hid the Aurora throughout the rest of my trip. But picture or no picture, the sight of the Lights will forever be ingrained in my memory. Seeing a majestic thing like that is something I will remember forever.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow**… As the plane was descending and I looked out the window of the plane, I was treated to a view of white. I was pleased to see that the landscape was covered in snow. It was dark and all i could see were the white glow of the snow and the lights coming from the city. When we landed and I took the taxi, I couldn’t help but feel like a child seeing the snow like it was my first time. I spent last winter in Japan, but since I stayed in the southern part of the country, the snow was no more than a few centimeters thick, which would easily melt once the sun came up the sky. What I saw was for me, THE snow: snow that covered the houses and mountains, snow that my boots can sink to when i stepped on it, real snow! Hahaha. I just came out of the airport and was just in the taxi and I already thought that the trip was worth every penny.
Oh, I love the night life, I got to boogie***… I must say, Tromsø parties. It parties hard. I have already been to Oslo on a Saturday night, and the capital’s nightlife is nothing compared to Tromsø’s, where there are much more people out on the streets at night than during the day time. When I was there, it was the beginning of the Insomnia Festival, a celebration of techno music and culture. We watched remarkable performances from Norwegian bands at Driv, a popular student bar. Almost all the bars are open until 3am, filled with people dancing like no one is watching… and yeah, with people dancing TOGETHER like no one is watching. I have never seen so many couples kiss and make out in a dance floor before my Tromsø trip… It was one of the most interesting people-watching experience I have ever had.
You can paint with all the colors****… Going around Tromsø is like visiting another planet for me, what with the snow enveloping everything. Sometimes it’s puzzling to see the red and yellow leaves strewn on the snow, and the snow in turn is covering the green grass… I mean, is it autumn or winter? But I guess that’s the beauty of Tromsø, you can have the best of both worlds.
Come on, vámonos*****… Sometimes I feel like I’m like Dora. Hah. It’s really stupid to compare yourself to a cartoon character with ugly bangs, but I sometimes remember her theme song out of the blue when I’m exploring a new place. I really enjoy going around and have the feel of discovery, taking pictures of anything I find interesting; and Tromso has a lot of interesting things to offer.
We wandered a bit around the University of Tromsø, where my friend Glennda is currently studying. It’s the northernmost university and offers a lot of good courses, especially on Arctic research. I love that they have a Geology Walk, where the rocks in that region are displayed. So cool!
We also went around the city center, where most of the shops are. In the middle of the shops and pubs, Tromsø cathedral stood proud in its wooden glory. It is said to be one of the biggest wooden cathedrals, and is the northernmost Protestant Cathedral in the world.
My friend brought me to Polaria, where I got to know more about Arctic wildlife, travel and research. The building looks like a stack of books left in disarray after getting a book in the corner of the shelf.
We also went to Fjellheisen, where a cable car brought us up to Storteinen (421 m asl) so we could have a proper view of the city. It was my first time in a cable car! Not that it was a big deal or anything, I just realized before we stepped into the car I have never rode on one before. Anyway, up in Storteinen there was a quaint cafe, where I sipped hot chocolate and ate traditional Norwegian waffles while I enjoyed the majestic view of the island, the fjord, and the snow-capped peaks… I went out of the warm comfort of the cafe to take pictures and to have my picture taken (of course) in the shin-deep snow (I am not sure when I will get to walk in snow this deep again, so shin level is high enough for me).
We also passed by the Arctic Cathedral, a parish church (which technically does not make it a cathedral) built in 1965. It is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø because of its unique architecture. It is certainly one of the most uniquely designed churches I have ever seen.
I will survive******… To cap off my weekend holiday, I went with Glennda to Roger’s, a pub that transforms into a karaoke bar on Sundays and Tuesdays. I met a lot of Filipinas (where else can you meet a lot of them in one night? hehe) and we sang our hearts out. In my case, I sang my lungs out. I had a cold since before I came to Tromsø and the Arctic weather plus the night partying made it a lot worse. I barely had a speaking voice that night, but I still managed to sing two songs. My first song was Top of the World by the Carpenters, because I was in the Arctic and I felt it was apt :p My second song, I Will Survive, was the finale song that night! I did not let a little (a little?! I had to drink a lot of salabat–ginger tea and suck on a lot of Strepsils) cold bother my singing the finale song. It was a lot of fun belting out the notes (with a lot of difficulty, mind you. I was really hoarse that night) while the people were dancing to the music. When it all ended, I did survive (with no voice, though) and had two hours of sleep before catching my flight and coming back to reality.
Tromsø really made me sing, literally and figuratively.
*From a Window by the Beatles
**Let it snow, the popular Christmas song (’nuff said)
***I Love the Nightlife by Alicia Bridges
****Colors of the Wind from the Pocahontas soundtrack
*****Dora the Explorer theme song
******I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor