The Joys of the Arctic Circle

The scenery this far north gets more barren and wild the farther we travel with the Hurtigruten, but it has its own rugged charm.

Far north

Some of the towns we’ve stopped in seem like frontier outposts. We turned around in Kirkenes, where we went on an excursion to the Russian border, and our guide informed us that Kirkenes will soon be the center of the world — there is so much work and the unemployment rate is so low (1.7%) that soon everyone will want to go there. 51 nationalities live in complete peace with each other. In short, it’s utopia, even if that’s impossible. Nice to know that the locals love their city so much.

On the border

We have also finally dared to get our swimsuits on and enjoyed the hot tub last night, still above the Arctic Circle. Getting in and out was less than pleasant, and today I’m sniffling and sneezing, but it was lovely lying in the bubbling hot water with the arctic breeze cooling my face.

The high point of the last few days, however, has been the Northern Lights. Yes, we have seen them, not once, not twice, but three times. It’s a myth that they can only been seen in winter — all that’s necessary is night, at least partly clear skies, and a location in the far north. The first time we saw them, it was a completely cloudless night, so we stayed up until midnight and went on deck to see the stars, a whole sky full of them. Then on the horizon I saw what looked like a plume of white smoke, but streaked up and down. As we watched, it expanded into an arch like a rainbow across the night sky, but wider and white, with just a hint of blue. Once the arch was complete, it began to recede again.

Three nights later, we got our second dose of the Aurora Borealis. The lights were mostly white once again, but this time they filled the night behind our ship. Strips of light all around us grew and arched up into the sky until we were standing under what seemed like a dome of light. Spectacular, amazing, all those words just aren’t enough to capture the beauty of the sight.

Then last night, we were already ready for bed, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker in our room that the Northern Lights were visible in the sky over Tromsø. We hadn’t been expecting anything, since it had been cloudy much of the day. We dressed again quickly and went up. If anything, it was even more impressive than those before. There were clouds in the sky, but in the breaks between them were shimmering, dancing lights in shades of green and white. They rippled across the night sky above Tromsø, shifting and transforming into all kinds of fantasy shapes, now a question mark, now a face, now a snake. It was all I could do to keep from clapping my hands in glee. It probably would have been even more stunning without the clouds, but the shadows they cast in from of the northern lights contributed to the beauty of the whole specatcle in its own way. The clouds just above the horizon looked like fantastic mountains of shadow thrown into contrast by the glittering green lights beyond.

I feel very, very lucky right now.

Since we turned around at Kirkenes, our stops have been shorter and less frequent, and I’m actually getting some writing done after all, 500 words two days ago, and 800 yesterday. Once I see what I can get down with the medieval level of Fragments of Legend all plotted out, I’ll try to reformulate some writing goals for the rest of the year.

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