For the next month, I am joining in the fun over at BootsnAll and writing for the 30 Days of Indie Travel? Each day, they give you a prompt that you can interpret however creatively or practically as you want.
#15: CITY – What is your favorite (or least favorite) city and what do you love (or hate) about it?
It’s noon in Tromsø, Norway, and the milky twilight that teeters at the corners of this small city — caught between fjord and mountain — is as light as it’s going to get all day.
But it’s Christmastime, and the streets are saturated with shoppers carrying red bags with gold ribbons and cheerful carolers bundled in plump parkas and temporary stalls serving warm gløgg and hot soups, bread straight from the oven and, of all things, fresh fruits, locally grown in family greenhouses. Shops and restaurants and bars and each person you meet on the street are warm and welcoming, despite the damp, 10-degree winds that lick at our noses and seep into any open buttonhole.
Tromsø sits above the Arctic Circle, but people there don’t let the endless nights of winter or the endless days of summer get between them and a good time. Norwegians ski, snowshoe, snowmobile and ice-skate their way through the long winters, stopping only to make their way to the Mack Brewery (the northernmost brewery in the world) and it’s next-door bar Ølhallen to drink microbrews outside, because seriously, these people are not afraid of a little cold weather. In the summer, the residents can be found in the green hills and towering mountains and brisk seas that envelop the city, this time hiking, sailing, gardening, trail running, backpacking and, once again, drinking outside in the forever-sunshine.
The city is not only home to an ecclectic variety of restaurants, bars and clubs, but it also hosts numerous cultural festivals (including the No Siesta Fiesta — a celebration of everything Latin American — every February), several theaters, their International Film Festival and one of the most important electronica and techno culture festivals in Norway. Downtown, you can find the largest concentration of traditional wooden buildings north of Trondheim, many dating from the 1700s. The oldest operating cinema in the country, Verdensteatret, is also here, built in 1915, as well as Norway’s only wooden Cathedral (Tromsø Cathedral):
… and the Arctic Cathedral, which isn’t a cathedral at all:
If you get bored, you can always visit the Polar Museum, rated one of the worst museums in the world by Lonely Planet and, if I do say so myself, well worth the visit just for that. You can even see a diorama of a hunter clubbing a baby seal as it tries to escape. No joke, and no cameras allowed in that room. And then you can recuperate from the hilarity at Ølhallen with a drink (they might serve things other than beer, but I certainly didn’t see anyone drinking them, and they only serve beer in giant steins), but beware of the polar bear.
As the largest city in northern Norway, Tromsø is a cultural center, a foodie town (if you know where to go), a cruise ship destination (but don’t worry, they only get as far as the seafood restaurant on the dock), and surrounded by absolutely stunning natural scenery (when there is sun to see it). In addition to the most northerly brewery, there is the world’s most northerly university, botanical garden, planetarium, mosque, Premier League football team, and symphony orchestra. But so much of that pales in comparison to the number one reason why I love this city:
Tromsø is located in the Aurora Borealis zone and is considered one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights. And once you’ve seen them, you can’t stop thinking about about seeing them again.
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