Winter Wonders

If you had a snowy Christmas this year, you may think (or even wish) that winter is over and done with. You might well be right of course, especially if you stay in the UK. On the other hand, if , like me, you love the snow and if you and the kids are still wondering what to do during the half-term holiday in February, a trip up north with the family might be just the ticket.

Tromso Sami hut.JPGHead for the Artic

In 2007, we spent five weeks backpacking around Norway, Sweden and Finland, and much of it north of the Arctic Circle.  Of course I’m not talking North Pole here – you don’t really need to travel that far to get a sense of what it’s like to live life in the freezer. The Arctic Circle is not that difficult to reach and the region has a huge amount to offer. We’re talking deep snow, glistening ice, igloos and snow mobilesreindeer treks and husky sledging: how many kids would object to that?

Rovaniemi Husky1.JPGIt’s dog’s life

Husky dogs are truly amazing and a visit to a husky farm is not to be missed. The one we visited was home to about 80 dogs and puppies. The older ones were already in serious training, not just for the winter season but also for the championships husky racing, which are hugely popular events.

Did you know that….

70% of all leaders of husky packs are female dogs. Apparently they communicate better, and are the best team leaders. Male husky dogs on the other hand, will just run hell for leather and wear themselves out…. 🙂

The best husky teams are made up of a healthy mix of female and male dogs, old and young ones.

These days, huskies are often a mix of husky and pointer, but the traditional breed is the Siberian Husky. They are natural-born runners, although their trainer explained that they are not necessarily fast runners – they are just very strong and can literally go the distance.They are also very clever: however exhausted they might be after a long day’s run, they won’t rest until they have eaten and drunk enough. For them it is the difference between life or death.

800px-Polarlicht_2.jpgHunting for the Northern Lights…

While husky dogs may well be a good enough reason to visit the Arctic, for me the most important reason for visiting this time of year would be the chance to see the Northern Lights. Our visit to the Arctic was in summer time, and we benefited from virtual 24-hour daylight as a result.  It did mean that we missed the Northern Lights, which can only be seen from about October through to Easter.

The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) are caused by millions of sun particles, which during explosions on the sun are thrown out into space. The particles are full of electricity and eventually crash into our atmosphere about 100 km above the earth’s crust.

Did you know that….
The Northern Lights will only show up if the nights are exceptionally clear and frosty.
The month of February is your best bet, as it is statistically proven to be the best time for seeing the Northern Lights. Not bad, if you’re planning a February half-term holiday… 🙂
As they do, they hit the earth’s magnetic field and are guided by that magnestism to either the north or the south pole. They then collide with gasses in the atmosphere, which triggers their spectacular display of light streaks across the sky. Ever since visiting the Arctic, we have wanted to return there at this time of the year, but we’ve not yet managed to fulfil that dream. Perhaps next year – we live in hope…. 🙂

An Igloo with a difference….

300px-Icehotel-se-29.JPGOnce you’ve made it to the Arctic, where better to stay than the famous Ice Hotel– visited by anybody who is somebody. Yes, it does come at a cost, but it’s fun to dream and maybe even once in your life ‘splash out’… 🙂 And let’s face it, the Ice Hotel is not just any old hotel – it is a real work of art, and one that is re-designed and rebuilt every autumn – a life cycle of constant renewal.

A group of artists, snow builders, architects and designers get together each year to work on a brand-new Ice Hotel – the previous one having melted in the spring and summer sun. Everything in the hotel, floors, walls, beds, tables and chairs, is sculpted out of ice. There is even an ice church for weddings and every bedroom is individually designed. So what does it feel like, to sleep on a bed of ice? Well, a little cold by all accounts – the temperature inside is never below -8°C and never above -5°C, while outside the temperature can drop to -30°C. Brrrr. Thermal underwear is seriously recommended… 🙂

jokkmokk_350.jpgThe Sami Wintermarket

Not far from the Ice Hotel, lies the town of Jokkmokk, considered to be the capital of the Sami People, and the very best place to learn all about the warm and wonderful Sami culture. The Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk is well worth a visit and will take you through the history and culture of the region we used to call Lapland.

husky sledging.jpg

If you travel early enough in February, make sure you visit the Jokkmokk Sami Market, which this year celebrates its 406th anniversary. The market covers everything including food, art, culture, music and theatre performances and story telling. You can visit a Sami igloo, travel by husky sled or snow mobiles and much more. The possibilities are endless.

A bit of planning

Organising a trip like this is all part of the fun and really not that complicated. Several budget airlines will get you to Stockholm at low cost, and from there there are super-comfortable, fast sleeper trains that will whizz you up to the Arctic in no less than a 16-hour overnight journey. A long journey, that is true, but Sweden is a big country. And in any case, the journey itself is at least as important as the destination…. 🙂

If you feel inspired – book some tickets and let me know, so I can feel both proud and jealous… 🙂
The photograph above of husky sledging was taken by James T Lowe who has a great series of photographs of the Northern Lights as well as other subjects. Please feel free to check out his photographs on Flickr by clicking here.
Annemieke Waite is a freelance travel writer, specialising in travel for families and young people to EU destinations.

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  1. Aleida Brinkman
    Posted January 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    This interesting Arctic story I just read in my comfortable central heated home but would’t mind going of to explore myself it any time !

  2. Alison Paton
    Posted January 26, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    Great post – just want to go now of course!

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