diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 03, 2011

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Reykjavík, 11:50pm ...still daylight...
Reykjavík, 11:50pm

On my last full day in Reykjavik, something very peculiar happened. There were two sunsets. The first was at one minute past midnight, the second at one minute to. Almost twenty-four hours between the pair of them, so that's perfectly normal enough. But as Reykjavik's nights start drawing in, a couple of minutes is all it takes to shift tomorrow's sunset back into today.

Globally speaking, a sunset after midnight is a very rare beast. Reykjavik manages this feat for a fortnight each midsummer because Iceland's not in the timezone it truly ought to be. Given the island's longitude, it ought to be one hour behind Greenwich Mean Time, but instead chooses to stick to GMT all year round. The net result of this anomaly is that the sun is highest in the sky around 1:30pm, and lowest around 1:30am. Reykjavik's not quite in the Arctic Circle, it's a couple of degrees short, so at this time of year there are three hours a day when the sun dips beneath the horizon. With the middle of the night at 1:30am, that places sunset at approximately midnight and sunrise at roughly 3am. In late June, however strange it may seem, Reykjavik is the land of the Midnight Sunset.

It takes some getting used to, not getting dark. Even though sunset technically occurs around midnight, the solar disc never slips very far below the horizon and daylight never disappears. Reykjavik's sky fades a bit, for sure, but nothing that requires streetlights to switch on. You could carry on reading a book, or playing a game of football, or any outdoor activity through the night without ever having to pause. These aren't ideal conditions for getting to sleep, of course, so most Icelandic bedrooms come with blackout blinds to make shuteye a little easier. But the local vegetation loves it, with a compressed growing season allowing permanent photosynthesis.

There a downside, of course, which is a miserably small amount of daylight in the winter months. December's sunrise comes half an hour before noon, and the sun's set again by half past three in the afternoon. Still much better than you'd have to endure a few hundred miles further north within the Arctic Circle, but conditions gloomy enough to make SAD sufferers extremely sad.

I'm a sucker for diurnal peculiarity, so I was down on the shorefront to watch sunset number two. Stood at the end of Snorrabraut, the setting sun aligned perfectly with the gap between the harbour wall and the mountain opposite. The sky was almost completely clear, so I should have been able to watch the golden circle dip obliquely beneath the Atlantic waves, except there was one cloud located precisely on the western horizon so I got to watch it dip behind that instead. Still a total novelty, still magical, but not quite dusky perfection. [photo 23:50]

A few people had gathered by the waterside to watch the sunset, mostly I suspect tourists, but maybe a resident or two lured out by the rarity of a clear blue sky. They all vanished as soon as the sun hit the cloud, so come midnight I had the shorefront pretty much to myself. A group of local teenagers then crept down from the town to hurl pebbles into the bay, because that's Wednesday night excitement around here. But the main road behind was very quiet, even though it was still daylight, with the majority of Reykjavik long tucked up in bed. It's not special to them, but it was special to me. One last look back at the pinky-gold horizon [photo 00:10], then off to bed to try to get some sleep.

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