Magazine Features in this issue:
The window-side thermostat dropped to minus 25 Fahrenheit as the
morning snowstorm tapered off. I zipped up my fourth layer, strapped on
my snow boots, shook off my hangover and headed to the lobby of the
incredible Radisson Blu Polar Hotel, Spitsbergen. There I met Jonas, my
guide and key to survival in the endless white terrain of the Norwegian
Svalbard Islands, an isolated expanse of earth and ice the size of
Ireland on the periphery of the North Pole.
As we mounted our snow scooters and bid farewell to the 16
kilometers of paved road, I could not help but marvel at the
intimidating tiers of snow, fascinated by how, even in the dead of
winter, life carries on at this polar extreme.
For the 2,572 brave souls residing in these remote islands far
north of the Arctic Circle, daily life in the land of the polar bear is
an exhilarating adventure. Scientific research, tourism and escapism
entice transient populations, drawn to the extremes of existence:
climate, seasons, solitude and silence.
The robust personalities who live in this Discovery Channel
wonderland embrace individuality and the Norwegian mainland's highly
progressive views. Openly gay seal hunters and hotel receptionists
alike can freely post their photos and sexual preferences on Gaysir,
the national gay networking site (gaysir.no), obligingly entertaining
the thousands of tourists who lose themselves in their Arctic
We rode past the last musher camp, the handsome huskies loudly
acknowledging our presence. Just the day before, these cuddly
canines had whisked me through Spitsbergen's valleys. Jonas loaded his
rifle, required protection against potential polar bear attacks. He
triple-checked the GPS and completed a final inspection of our
supplies. We were now entering the wild North Pole.
The mighty zoom of the snow scooter pulsated through my entire
body as we gained speed. My heart raced as we pushed deeper into this
unknown land, surrounded by 360 degrees of stark white. My vision
blurred from the ice crystals forming on my eyelids, while my breath
froze in the crevices of my ski mask. The dim March light reflected
against the permafrost, delicately painting the colorless vista. The
world of humankind seemed galaxies away. Sexuality felt irrelevant.
We paused three hours into our journey, inhaling the fundamentals
of life, at one with Mother Nature. We observed the majesty of the
Svalbard reindeer, a bovid that bears more resemblance to a creature
from Star Wars than its cousin Rudolph. I looked around curiously for
Arctic foxes and perhaps a polar bear, but again lost myself in the
stark panoramas. The beauty brought me to tears.
I returned from my rebirth that evening and shared my experiences
with friendly locals at the Radisson's bar, Barentz Pub, coincidentally
the most popular watering hole in town. The rugged gents empathized
with my epiphany. We bonded over numerous Arctic Mack beers, somehow
transitioning from a discourse on Norway's liberalism to my
Scandinavian sexual escapades.
STORIES YOU TELL
I was more than eager to share my excitement over the stunning
redheaded military boys I had met the weekend prior. However, I was a
bit leery about giving all the gay gory details to these beautiful
strangers. My new friends knew all about Tromso -- gateway to the
Svalbard Islands, it's the largest metropolis north of the Arctic
Circle and has a sophistication that rivals major cities -- but they
did not know how their fellow countrymen had entertained my wildest
Prince Harry fantasies, less than 72 hours before.
When I boarded the empty bus from Narvik to Tromso, I had no idea
we would stop at two military bases along the northern Norwegian
coastline to pick up a busload of army boys headed in the same
direction for a weekend of partying. Still in uniform and carrying
their weekend rucksacks, the fair-haired, lightly freckled, blue-eyed
soldiers boarded the bus, like Bel Ami clones entering an unsuspecting
"bait bus." I salivated over the milky skin and the universal "guy"
interactions, while noticing a few wandering eyes during the journey.
Four hours later I had made a new friend, Eirik, who chatted with
me while impatiently waiting for the bus lavatory. We exchanged
numbers and decided to meet later to indulge in Tromso nightlife,
accompanied by two of his mates. They were all jealous of my posh crash
pad at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Tromso - but I was not ready to invite
them to spend the night. At least, not yet.
Given a student population of 10,000 and a large military
presence, it's no surprise to find more than 1,000 of Tromso's 67,000
residents cruising the web on sites like Gaysir and Gaydar. In fact,
Tromso's relentlessly progressive vibe means gays don't need their own
clubs. No bar in Tromso is gay per se; but none are straight, either.
Most of the guys I hit up online were headed to Verdensteatret, the
1916 cinema transformed into a nightclub in the city's glorious
shopping district. I had a back-up plan if things didn't work out with
my harem of Prince Harrys.
The gingers and I began our night early at Perez, an uninspiring
hole in the wall with a capacity of 35 and a significant gay presence,
good enough for two drinks but definitely not more. We then walked down
to Verdensteatret, which was already packed at 11:30. The mix of
American pop, Scandinavian rock and Latin beats intoxicated the young,
energetic crowd, who were clearly living it up this Saturday night. It
was pure entertainment watching the gays and straights pick each other
out in the crowd and nervously approach the opposite or same sex,
depending on inclination.
An hour later, serendipity led us to the city's self-proclaimed
official fag hag. Frighteningly mesmerizing, like Medusa, with her
tattooed eye brows, surgically raised cheekbones, Meg Ryan lips and
bright red Bree Vandeecamp hair, Gjertrud lives in a nearby flat with
four gay boys and knows everything about everyone in Tromso. She took
great pride in giving our waning gaydar a rest and answering possible
doubts about our prospective hookups.
Gjertrud soon dragged us to her favorite places, beginning with
the trendy and tasteful Strut, and ending at Arthur, a gritty, butch
rock bar, which ironically served the best girly cocktails in town. At
4am, she invited her many gay friends back to her flat for a guaranteed
scandalous party. When things got messy and out of control, Eirik and I
left his friends behind and retreated to the Radisson, igniting my
first ring of fire in the Arctic Circle.
As I digressed deeper into my story, I noticed two of my Svalbard
comrades had grown mildly uncomfortable, yet they were too politically
correct to stop me mid-sentence. I also realized their friend had
become noticeably aroused. I did not want to draw attention and
embarrass him, so I toned the XXX talk down to PG-13 and broached a
different topic all Norwegians enjoy: Sweden.
While the Norway-Sweden rivalry exists mostly in jest these days,
both nationalities exhibit a slight superiority complex over their
neighbors. However, neither side debates the crown jewel of Scandinavia
-- the magnificent city of Stockholm.
Though recognized for its diversity, Stockholm's purebred
neo-Vikings rule the city -- tall and muscular in stature, well
endowed, with large, piercing eyes, meticulously defined jaw lines,
full red lips and baby soft yet thick locks of blond hair. The stylish
Ken dolls seem to grace every corner of the regal city, giving new
meaning to gay Stockholm's slogan, "Take a liking to a Viking."
Stockholm is by far the most pristine of all Scandinavian cities; on
every corner there's another fairy tale setting and another Prince
While I thoroughly enjoyed my winter visit, I still preferred my
experience of the city's glory the spring prior. Spring's the time when
the layers come off in tandem with the rise of the perpetual sun. From
May to September, you can watch the gladiators jogging over the bridges
that connect the vast archipelago and lose yourself in long ambles
through the gingerbread streets of Gamla Stan (Stockholm's Old Town).
By day, visitors and locals are spoiled for choice, with charming boat
rides through the archipelago, countless picnic spots around the
"European Green Capital" and visits to the city's first-class
attractions: the Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace), the Vasamuseet (Royal
Warship), the open-air Skansen Museum, the National Museum of Art and
my personal favorite, Carl Milles' sculpture opus, Millesgarden.
Come early evening, the horny he-wolf is drawn to the banks of
the Riddarfjrden for cocktails and copious eye-candy at a waterfront
bar/caf called Mlarpaviljongen. Making up for the time lost in
winter, the Stockholm party rages seven nights a week for three months
on either side of summer solstice, with insane Sundays aboard the MS
Patricia, fierce Wednesdays at the palatial F12/Ficks, extended weekend
chats and chill time at Zipper Lounge and Torget, and
electronic/house/go-go boy throw-down at Libra on Saturdays or the
hard-core leather alternative, SLM Stockholm.
Another hour into our travel talk, my Spitsbergen pals and I called it
a night, and I retreated alone to my warm den and five-star creature
comforts. We never exchanged names, but I was confident we would run
into each other again the next evening.
The outdoor thermostat was up to a scalding minus 10. As I peered
out the window, I reflected on the first two weeks of my Scandinavian
sojourn and realized that -- as a traveler, an explorer, a sexual gay
man and a dreamer -- I was indeed on the trip of a lifetime.
FINDING GAY LIFE
Zipper Lounge Norrlandsgatan 23, zippersthlm.com
F12/Ficks Fredsgatan 12, f12.se
Libra Kolingsborg, librasthlm.com
SLM Stockholm Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 18, slmstockholm.se
Patricia Slussen, patricia.st
Torget Mlartorget 13, Old Town, torgetbaren.com
Mlarpaviljongen Norr Mlarstrand, malarpaviljongen.se
Arthur Storgata 57
Perez Skippergata 6
Verdensteatret Storgata 93b, verdensteatret.no
Strut Gronnegata 81, utelivsbyen.no