Nature conspires in such a deal, since the trip's 'sight', the midnight sun, fits perfectly with an after-work schedule. I was to see my midnight sun in Tromso, northern Norway, 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle. There, as in all parts in the circle, you do not just get a midnight sun, but 24-hour daylight for two months of the year (in Tromso, from around 20 May to 20 July).
Arriving at Heathrow, the trip scores straightaway: 9.30 on a summer's evening must be ideal airport time. Heathrow is cool and calm, allowing the sort of queue-less glide from check-in desk to bar to plane normally reserved for those carrying diplomatic bags.
Although ours is a standard, scheduled flight, about 20 of us are on the 'turn-around' package (fly to Tromso; stay for two hours; fly back) designed for a glimpse of the midnight sun. My fellow travellers stir memories of school outings. Pleasure is fine, the teacher would say, as long as it is instructive, too. Most of the turn-arounders seem to be on the side of instruction: grown-up back-packers with disposable incomes. Everybody appears very sensible, not at all the New Age types, watery-eyed at the prospect of meeting the midnight sun, I had imagined.
That role, to my surprise, falls to me. While still airborne, I am already communing with nature. The sun rises during the flight and from that point on the plane seems on a direct course for it. Or so you kid yourself if given to fantasy.
Approaching Tromso, there hardly appears to be enough solid ground for landing. The town is a collection of small islands and a fiord-indented strip of mainland. It is also (the locals like to tell you) the world's second largest municipality in area, albeit with only 52,000 inhabitants.
After a three-hour flight it is now 2am local time (one-hour ahead of BST) but we walk from the plane in broad daylight, the temperature a cool 6C. Through the airport in a matter of minutes, we turn-arounders are met by Kim, our guide, who settles us in a coach and whisks us a couple of miles downtown.
At first, I am thrown by conflicting messages. My eyes tell me it is day, and yet the streets are empty, the locals, understandably, asleep. The houses, wooden, in watery colours and with elegantly pitched roofs, might belong to an American prairie town. With, that is, modern, moneyed touches. Each house offers a choice of gleaming vehicle; Land Rover or hatchback, according to the weather. Driving through the streets is like passing through a large-scale Ideal Home exhibition.
Another touch of the American West is lent by the flagpoles in each garden. They are sporting new flags, says Kim, because King Harald has just visited to celebrate the town's bicentennial. Kim, who welcomes most of the turn-around trips from London, is a walking Tromso chronicle. He is particularly fond of 'the most northernmost' construction - Tromso having the most northernmost university, Chinese take-away, and so on. He adds some endearing biographical snippets, pointing out where his mother works, and telling us how he got on at the local school.
According to a tourist hand-out, Norway does not have towns, but 'developed countryside', and in Tromso there is certainly no clear division between town and country. Apparently, it is not unusual to see elk wandering down the main street. This time, all we see is a couple of youths, worse for drink, attempting to prop each other up. The town centres on the port and Wall Street (so-named because of a handful of banks), from where it is two minutes' drive to the foot of Mount Storsteinen.
A trip up the mountain is the centrepiece of the turn-around package, Kim ushers us into a creaking cable-car. 'Nobody's ever fallen out,' he reassures us and, ever the active host, proceeds to sing local bawdy songs, with translations.
The view from the top, just 1,200ft high, takes in the two islands on which most of the town lives. Although the backdrop of jagged, snow-capped mountains is suitably Arctic (to come so far and see no snow would be a shame), the town is remarkably lush, a result of the seasonal flood of light. The view is completed by the play of sun on the sound that separates the islands, leaving me, as hippies used to say, 'transported'.
After a wander on the mountain, we gather in the Mount bar. The package becomes a touch gimmicky as we are presented with polar certificates. Tromso, Gateway To The Arctic, from which Amundsen, among others, set off on expedition, is marking our achievement. But of what exactly? Staying up all night?
Those put off by such gimmicks, or resistant to being guided anywhere, can, of course, simply buy a return air ticket and fill in the two hours in Tromso as they please. However, the package does buy access to Mount Storsteinen; the chair-lift usually closes at 1.30am.
Certificates in hand, we drive back through the ghost town. Its architectural star is the Arctic Cathedral, a triangular structure made up of slabs of stone and huge stained-glass windows, and looking as if it were cut out of ice. On the streets there is still little movement, although the two people who are about manage to walk straight and are dressed for work, suggesting that there has been some imperceptible shift from night to morning. Kim, finally drained of stories, drops us at the airport and within a couple of minutes we are back on the plane.
The flight home is routine, although seldom have I seen faces as serene as those of the turn-arounders. Maybe the trip should be sold as a sort of all-night, all-over balm: see the midnight sun and feel your cares slip away. A doze and breakfast later, it is Heathrow again, still wonderfully quiet, and I am almost ready for a day's work - fired by solar power.
NSR Travel (071-930 6666) organises night-flight packages to Tromso on Mondays (until 25 July) and Thursdays (until 11 August) at pounds 199. SAS (071-734 4020) Monday/Thursday night flights continue until 29 August; pounds 180 plus pounds 5.60 airport tax.
(Photographs and map omitted)Reuse content