The Arctic Circle moves by about 15m per year – I’m not sure when the sign was installed, but given that there is a whole tourist industry built around it, they are not going to bother moving it every year because of a small technicality are they?
We spent a couple of nights at Santa’s Village on the not-really Arctic Circle. Yes, Santa’s Village – open for souvenir shopping and visits to Santa all year round. I have been once before, many years ago, on a Christmas trip – we flew from the UK into Rovaniemi, spent a couple of hours doing wintry things like snowmobiling and reindeer sleigh rides, souvenir shopped, had a dinner of various reindeer dishes (I remember it all looking a bit grey, but tasting delicious) and then had a visit from Santa himself. It was very well done – it was snowing and the fat man appeared through the forest on a sleigh pulled by real reindeer. I was 18 and having to remind myself that it was all pretend. (Apologies to anyone reading who hasn’t worked that out for themselves yet.)
Santa’s Village today is a sizeable complex of log buildings, housing numerous shops which sell 99% tat and 1% interesting stuff – knives by Martinii, glass by Iittala, both Finnish classics. Staff in some of the souvenir shops are dressed as elves (yes, really) and Christmas carols are playing. I am a huge fan of Christmas and all things Christmassy, but it was a bit ridiculous even for me. In December, when it is cold and snowing and there are fires and lots of people everywhere though…..I’d love to come back.
The village is also home to Santa’s Post Office – every letter written to Santa from anywhere in the world ends up there. A small army of volunteers from the local philatelist society sorts the letters and then bundles up the envelopes which they sell to raise money for UNICEF. Of course, I had to have a bundle. They receive over half a million letters every year, with the UK topping the charts and it is interesting to read all the different addresses that are used – everything from the practical (Santa’s Post Office, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland) to the fanciful (Reindeer Street, Lapland, SAN TA1). All of them make it to the post office. The building is decorated with framed letters that they’ve received and there is even a box of baby dummies – apparently kids who are reluctant to give theirs up can be persuaded to when they think it is going to one of Santa’s baby reindeer. They receive hundreds each year!
It’s actually quite an interesting place to visit and even Mr Bah Humbug was persuaded to have a look (helped by the thought of spending ages looking at glass and knives afterwards). Cue arty sunset shot taken through new Aino Aalto (wife of famous Finnish architect) glasses, designed in 1932 and still in production 80 years later.
We crossed the actual Arctic Circle a couple of days ago (66°33’44” in 2012) – I was on the phone to D’s mum at the time, so missed the photo of the actual spot, but took one of our GPS just a bit up the road to prove that we’ve done it.
To reinforce the fact that we are now in the Arctic Circle, summer has come to a rather abrupt end. Just a few days and a few hundred kilometres ago, it was hot and sunny – it is now considerably colder (4°C this morning) and there is an actual Arctic wind. We are conserving gas as we can’t fill up again until we get to Sweden, so are hoping that it doesn’t get too much colder – we’re determined not to put the heating on. Let’s see how long that lasts! Lots of layers and a medicinal whiskey mac in the evenings seems to be doing the trick though.
We’ve also seen several reindeer – unlike the elk, which we haven’t seen despite several warning signs, they really are around. The chap below was nearly wiped out by the truck disappearing around the corner – only a rather panicked change of direction and quick reactions from the truck driver saved him.
The landscape is changing too – there are still a lot of trees, but they are more stunted than down south and the silver birch are already showing signs of autumn colour (yikes!). It is very exciting to be this far north, especially when you look at where we are on a world map so we were a little surprised to see one of those signposts with distances to various places in the world, which told us that we are still 2,600km from the North Pole. There is a lot more north to go!