The Arctic Circle

Trip Start May 28, 2008
Trip End Aug 26, 2008

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Flag of Finland  , Lapland,
Thursday, July 24, 2008

The "night train" from Helsinki to Roveniemi could just as easily be included on the daytime schedule in summer. The days are getting longer and longer, and there wasn't much night on this train so we all needed our sleep masks to catch naps before arriving just 8 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

I've made an effort in most of the countries we've visited to wear pants and not shorts, like the locals do, despite being too hot. I am usually too warm to begin with, so now that I've arrived in Lapland, the northern region of Finland, I was unable to resist and am happily wearing shorts and a T-shirt while most around us have jackets or at least windbreakers. Cool at last!!!

We've almost reached the northern end of the European rail system, so the first order of business in Lapland is to secure bus tickets for the remaining 12 hour trip into the arctic to reach the North Cape - Nordkapp, Norway, which is the very top of continental Europe.

I have written down the name of the bus company, stops, and schedule... so all I need now is to figure out how to find tickets in this town sometime within the next three hours. The railway station is small, but there is a ticket office so I'll ask there. Most of the people I've met in Finland speak excellent English, but I still approach with a cautious Hello before trying to go further with English conversation.

"Hello" I venture

"Hello"comes the comforting reply.

Presenting schedule, "Where can I buy tickets for this bus?"


"Yes. Bus."


"Yes. I want to buy tickets for the bus."


"Yes, bus."




At this point Laura is trying to keep the kids from laughing hysterically and I'm unsure of how to move the conversation forward to a new word.

"Yes, bus... but where?"




A bystander offers her interpretation: "I think he means you can buy on the bus."

Clearly exasperated with my utter failure to grasp his clear meaning, the Bus man snatches my notes again for review. He tells me that the bus leaves here, at the corner of the building. I knew this part already, so I excuse myself and leave feeling confused. I also know it stops at the town bus station, and decide that is a better place to look for a ticket.

After exploring the small bus terminal, we discover that the snack counter cashier also has ticketing machines and we feel much better having prepaid roundtrip tickets to Nordkapp in hand.

The Artikum museum here provided us with a nice introduction to life in the Arctic, including the flora, fauna, nations, weather, and indigenous people. This modern museum has excellent displays on how life works in the arctic, as well as the history of Roveniemi (which was destroyed in World War II). Initially, the Finns fought alongside the Germans against the Soviets after the Soviets attacked over territorial disputes. Later, after making peace the Soviets the Finns agreed to drive out the German army. Roveniemi was completely burned and the roads were mined during the Axis retreat from Lapland. The town has been completely rebuilt since then.

The trip over the Arctic Circle was notable as we passed by Santa's village. Despite what you may have heard, Santa actually lives just outside Rovaniemi, right on the Arctic Circle, and welcomes hordes of visitors (and their Euros) to his workshop, elf school, gift shops, and restaurants every single day of the year. No charge to see Santa, of course. Most of the world's mail addressed to Santa arrives here at his personal post office.

The Arctic Circle is the northern latitude above which the sun will not rise and will not set for at least one day every year. We are here after the longest days, but it is still summer and the days are still very long. Well, the days are continuous. There is no nightfall, only a very brief dusk in the middle of the "night".

The first things one notices in Lapland are the forests, lakes, streams, rivers, and endless arctic beauty. The next thing is the Reindeer... lots of Reindeer. These majestic animals with the big fuzzy antlers are all over Finland... a quarter million of them! They don't care about cars, roads, buses, horns, or other man-made nuisances so the herds just wander down the middle of the road and it is up to drivers to avoid one of the 4,000+ collisions that happen each year. They appear wild, but they all live in semi-domesticated herds under the watchful eyes of the Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland, who maintain the herding traditions to this day.

Of course, we were impressed with the Reindeer in the wild but the Finns seem equally impressed with them on a plate. Reindeer is on the menu everywhere... reindeer pizza, reindeer fillets, reindeer stew... even reindeer ravioli!

We also needed sleep masks in an attempt to get a little sleep on the 12 hour ride to Nordkapp since we will arrive shortly before midnight and the sun will be up the whole way. I'm still enjoying the arctic in shorts and T-shirt, but we'll see how long I can last when we reach the 71st parallel!

- Demian
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