Memories from the Arctic Circle: The beautiful Aurora, Reindeers and Jolly Santa

Lapland lies within the Arctic Circle and occupies the northern part of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. The word “Lapp” is derived from the Scandinavians’ term for the indigenous Sami people, although the locals prefer to use “Sápmi” in their own language. Because of its long winter season, the area is generally under-populated and endowed with unblemished natural beauty that is great for snowy adventures. 

As winter waned and spring started in late March 2018, my wife and I joined a Lapland tour to Finland and Norway, our first trip to these countries, and visited jolly Santa Claus, zoomed on snowmobile, sleighed with the reindeers, took the huskie-drawn sled, and hunted for the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights.

Amazing adventure

Riding a snowmobile is like operating a motorcycle installed with steerable skis on the front and belt at the rear. Our group was led by professionals who briefed us on how to use the snowmobile to ensure that everyone would be safe and would have an unforgettable experience around the wonderful countryside.

Driving the snow mobile

After checking our driver’s licenses, my friend and I alternated on the wheel of our snowmobile and swiftly drove away from the nearby hotel grounds into the wooded area. Despite cautiously navigating the path, one of the snow mobiles overturned on a bend. Luckily, nobody was harmed and the group proceeded into our next activity.

Temporarily taking a break from that adrenaline rush, we walked a short distance to experience an opposite, slow and tranquil ride with the reindeers without Santa Claus. Reindeers are famous inhabitants of the area, and a reindeer-pulled sleigh is considered a traditional way to move around.

Huskies sledding

On another occasion, we went dog-sledding with the loveable huskies. As we reached the site, we could hear our furry friends barking excitedly, eagerly waiting to speedily pull us through the forest. After learning how to control the sled, we headed out with my wife as passenger and me as sled driver. During the hour-long glide through the cold, snow-covered wilderness, there was an instance when my foot slipped off the sled. Fortunately, I was able to recover and finished the course without injury. Truly, it was an exciting run.

But the most memorable experience was trying to witness the Aurora Borealis, among the Arctic’s most spectacular phenomena. For several nights, we hunted for the Northern Lights until we were able to catch it as it appeared atop the mountains across the Alta Museum.

Sleighing with reindeers_

Beautiful attractions

Lapland plays host to the Santa Claus’ official residence in Rovaniemi, Finland. Situated within latitude 66°33′07,″ we went to see old Santa in his Arctic Circle home, had lunch at the Laplandia igloo restaurant, and even had time to make our very own snowman.

We also had a chance to be introduced to the history and unique culture of the native Sami people when we visited the Sápmi Park and its Museum in Karasjok, Norway.

As an architect, I was impressed at the sight of the Northern Lights Cathedral. Located in Alta, Norway, the second northernmost city in the world with over 10,000 inhabitants, it was designed with a spiraling exterior and belfry, cladded with titanium sheets and lit up with the Aurora Borealis colors. Its extraordinary interior has an imposing 4.3-metre-tall bronze Christ sculpture at the back of the altar, is surrounded by LED light strips on oak wood, and has a pipe organ to the left of the sanctuary. Underneath the cathedral is a Borealis exhibition for guests to know more about the phenomena.

Northern Lights Cathedral at night

The Arctic capital Tromsø, also northern Norway’s largest city, hosts the Aerial Tramway Tromsø – Fjellheisen, undoubtedly the city’s most popular tourist destination. It runs up to the station 421 meters above sea level. From atop its outdoor terrace, we were able to enjoy the spectacular view of the snow-laden roofs in the city center, surrounded by the open seas.

If you are deciding on which place to visit for your revenge travel, consider Scandinavia for your next winter adventure.

References used included Where is Lapland? (tourstolapland.com), Northern Lights Cathedral (wikipedia.com), Tromsø – where your Arctic adventure begins (visittromso.no).

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Henry L. Yap is an architect, environmental planner, real estate practitioner and former professorial lecturer.

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