10 Things You Never Knew About the North Pole
Say "North Pole" and most people think of Santa, but did you know that the region is a hotbed for international intrigue? Or that it has a special connection to the unicorn? Just in time for Christmas, here are 10 fun facts about the most mythical place on earth.
Santa's magical workshop isn't in the North Pole proper—but it is nearby
Shh! Don't tell the kids, but Santa's Workshop isn't really in the North Pole—it's in Finnish Lapland. You can visit Santa Claus Village in the Finnish town of Rovaniemi year round, send letters to and from his post office (they'll bear the official postmark of the Arctic Circle), and spend time exploring Santa Park, a series of Christmas-themed caves where you can meet jolly old St. Nick and his elves. You can even visit Santa's reindeer at the onsite Sirmakko Reindeer Family Farm. If Finnish Lapland seems a little out of reach, Santa also has a satellite workshop in the holiday-themed town of North Pole, Alaska where the streets have names like Kris Kringle, Mistletoe, Donner, and Blitzen.
If you would rather write to Santa than visit his workshops, the U.S. Postal Service will postmark letters from Santa Claus as long as they are received by December 10th each year. Simply mail your letters to North Pole Postmark Postmaster, 41-41 Postmark Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99530 with "Santa, North Pole" marked as the return address. If time is of the essence, you can always email Santa—he'll answer it right away. On Christmas Eve, use the Santa Tracker North Pole Command Center app ($1.99) to keep an eye on Santa's progress.
You can vacation there
While not exactly a budget destination, you can embark on your own Arctic adventure. Quark Expeditions offers a wide variety of cruising expeditions ranging from the Spitsbergen Explorer, an 11-day cruise around the Norwegian island (from $4,995 per person) to The Ultimate Arctic Adventure, which sails from Russia to the 90-degree north spot that represents the North Pole, visits Franz Josef Land, and tours the Arctic Ocean (from $23,995 per person). Go from June to mid-July to see the polar bears and walrus hunting in their own natural habitat, from mid-July to mid-August to see flowers and other arctic flora in bloom, or from mid-August to September as birds begin to migrate south.
There are hot springs up there
If you are in the frigid Arctic Circle, you'll need to find a way to warm up. Chena Hot Springs, located about an hour outside Fairbanks, AK, has a natural geothermal hot spring in a rock lake surrounded by nature. The hot springs are open from 7 a.m. to midnight, giving you plenty of time to soak and get a front row seat for the Aurora Borealis (best viewed between August and May). You can also stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort ($65 a night to room in a Mongolia-style yurt, or stay in a room at the resort for from $189 a night). A number of hot springs can also be found in Norway's Svalbard Islands, in Iceland (the Landmannalaugar Hot Springs is well-known), and in Russia—Scientific American profiled the hot springs in Oymyakon, Siberia, the coldest town on Earth.
There is a North Pole marathon every year
The North Pole Marathon bills itself as the World's Coolest Marathon, and with an average wind chill temperature of 22 degrees below zero, they'd be right. It's happened every year since 2002—in 2011 255 people from 38 nations around the world braved the conditions to compete in the 26.2-mile marathon race on top of a floating Arctic ice shelf. Competitors are transported to an international North Pole Camp on the polar ice shelf to start the race. And they layer up-thermal layers, windproof pants, gloves, two pairs of socks, and even goggles are necessary. The next North Pole Marathon takes place on April 9, 2013, and costs a pretty penny—about $15,561 for the entry fee that includes accommodations in Spitsbergen, Greenland, before and after the race, flights to and from the North Pole Camp, helicopter flights within the polar region, medals, and a commemorative DVD of the race. But the bragging rights are priceless.