polarsirkelen: a visit to the arctic circle in norway

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By guest blogger Fabien Reynaud.

Having traveled all the way from eastern France, my parents and I stopped at the Arctic Circle during a trip some time ago on our way to visit a friend who lived in the town of Bodø in northern Norway. It was an absolutely incredible road trip. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Polarsirkelen, or in English, the Arctic Circle.

Having arrived at the Arctic Circle, one interesting texture of the day was the fact that we felt like we had gone through all four seasons in just few hours. It was indeed summer, but we were experiencing Norwegian summer: windy, some rain, and cool temperatures – nothing like the the French summers we were used to. To better enjoy the volatile weather, the only accommodation we had was a tent.

The road was perfectly quiet, and because of that we had this wonderful scenic drive all to ourselves. Beautiful clear rivers, sensational waterfalls – incredible scenery all along the way. We followed the road all the way to Mo I Rana, just south of the Arctic Circle.

Mo i Rana has a population of 25,000 and is the closest Norwegian town to the Polarsirkelen. Given the remote nature of Mo i Rana, it felt like an abandoned town.

Driving up on the E6 [the main road north-south], we crossed the Polarsirkelen at 66°33′42,5″ and it felt like we had suddenly entered a lunar landscape. The scenery was unreal. Where the trees ended, the tundra began. We were standing in the middle of a huge plain and surrounded by small rounded snowy hills. It was in fact the first time I saw and touched snow in July!

Polarsirkelen lies on Saltfjellet [literally “Salt Mountain”] and when you drive right over the circle, it is fairly flat. We were lucky that on the day we crossed the circle the weather was sunny, although extremely cold.

We reached the stopping spot at the Arctic Circle where there was a large souvenir shop with artifacts of the area from ancient times, exhibits of stuffed arctic animals, and Europe’s largest stuffed polar bear. There is also a movie theatre that shows a documentary about Northern Norway. There you can also find a post office selling postcards with a special Arctic Circle seal.

For the more adventurous types, you can go glacier walking, diving, island hopping, fishing, dog sledging, kayaking, and rafting in this area.

Around the center area, there are Russian and Yugoslavian war memorials from World War II. We had lunch at the cafeteria and tried some Norwegian delicacies, one of which was elk soup. As far as I can remember, it was very tasty and most importantly, warm.

All around the area, you can find hundreds of mysterious little piles of stone left by visitors. We built a tiny one just because… it was like a message on a wall saying “we were there.”

It is difficult to articulate all of the sensations one gets at the Arctic Circle, but there is definitely something very unique and special about northern Norway and the Polarsirkelen region. Perhaps this is why it is considered the mythical land of the Trolls…

Fabien is a French expat currently living in the United Kingdom.

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