Pravin Gandhi’s Travels – Footloose in Scandinavia Part II – Across the Arctic Circle
Part-1 of my post “Footloose in Scandinavia” described my journey over a Norwegian Fjord. (If you missed it, you can see it here: http://wp.me/pZiJ9-ip)
LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN
Above the Arctic Circle, the day gets longer and longer in the first half of the year till June 22 when there is daylight for 24 hours. Thereafter, the days get shorter and shorter, till December 22 when it is dark throughout the 24 hours of the day. I would be in the land of the midnight sun in November, close, but not close enough to witness the marvellous phenomenon of a 24-hour night.
I arrived at Stockholm in the morning on the night train from Oslo. Stockholm was cold, grey and depressing in the November morning. I remember going up a tower to see the 14 islands on which the city stands. I saw an old palace which, while quite ordinary, gave an interesting insight into the life and homes of the ancient Vikings. Returning to the railway station, thinking of going north to Trondheim in Norway, I chanced upon a train going up north to Narvik. Alright then, to Narvik ho! Unlike the journey from Oslo to Flam during which I made several friends, this time I was all alone in my cabin for the whole journey. Soon after leaving Stockholm, the landscape became a vast snowfield stretching as far as the eye could see. It was during this lonely monotonous journey that I realised that I would be crossing the Arctic Circle and that aroused great excitement and anticipation in me.
Next day, the train halted at a station called Kiruna. I was surprised, that smack in the centre of Sweden, plonked amidst the snowy landscape, there could be a thriving, busy town.
Out of Kiruna, we were back to square one, snow everywhere. But now, the excitement was there and very palpable.
Across the Arctic Circle!
Soon, the train passed by a wooden sign board plonked into the snow that read “YOU ARE CROSSING THE ARCTIC CIRCLE 63.5 degress N”. I was thrilled, I was close to the North Pole and still moving closer.
The route turned left (west) to re-enter Norway. We were in the midst of mountains now, and soon going to descend to the coast, like coming down the Khandala ghat to Mumbai by train. My Europe on $20 a day told me to look down the valley for a German submarine – that was sabotaged by Allied commandos during the World War II. Sure enough I saw it to my right, down in the valley at the head of a fjord. The battle at Narvik was one of the fiercest naval battles of WWII. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Narvik : there is a picture captioned “The wreck of the scuttled Bernd von Arnim in the Rombaksfjord” which looks like what I saw from the top from my train. There is also a picture of Narvik from the sea side.
Reached Narvik, 68 degress North, a terminus, a port town on the North Sea in Norway. The clock shows 13:45. I trudged to the local youth hostel. It was November, very fast. At 3 pm it was like a proper night.
I strolled around the town, picked up a milk carton and some bananas that would be my dinner. A couple of inmates at the local Youth Hostel were going to Finland, and some were discussing traveling further north into Lapland. I was excited, particularly at doing part of the journey on reindeer-led sled, but when I realised that the reindeer would be my food, I decided that Narvik was the closest I would get to the North Pole!.
Apart from the thrill of being on the other side of the Arctic Circle, there was nothing to do in the town, the gloom of winter and the oncoming 24 hour night may have already afflicted its people.
Please also see the page on my website http://www.pravingandhi.com/Travel/Norway.html
Next afternoon I took the train to Stockholm. There I transferred to another train taking me to Copenhagen which had become a focal point for my Scandinavian leg of travel.
Copenhagen is another story for another post. There are enough memories of the place and of some interesting people. It is people, experiences and situations that make traveling interesting, not the place and destination. I shall soon convert my travel blog into one on interesting people and stories during my Footloose Travels.