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HPN Team
Comment by Fabien Reynaud on November 14, 2012 at 23:01

Norway 1995                     

My parents and I stopped at the Arctic Circle, during our Euro Trip back in summer 1995 on our way to visit a pen friend [at the time], who has become a close friend of mine ever since who lived in Bodø, Northern Norway. It was an absolutely incredible road trip.

One of our many great and fascinating stops during our trip must be the Polarsirkelen, or in English the Arctic Circle. It covers territory in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and Alaska.

The most exciting part of the day was the fact that we felt like we had gone through all 4 seasons in just few hours. It was certainly Summer, or should I say Norwegian summer; windy, some rain, and cool temperatures. (Nothing like the French Summer we are used to...).  I forgot to mention that the only accommodation we had was a tent.

We had a wonderful scenic drive to ourselves as the road was very quiet. Beautiful clear rivers, sensational waterfalls, well incredible scenery along the way. We followed it all the way to Mo I Rana, just south of the Arctic Circle, where it would have joined the fjord to the sea there.

Mo i Rana has a population of 25,000 and is the closest Norwegian town to Polarsirkelen. I don’t mean to be mean toward the people of Mo i Rana, but I must say that when we drove through it on a Saturday, there was nobody around. It first seemed like an abandoned town. 

 Driving up on the E6 (the main road north-south), we went across Polarsirkelen at 66°3342,5″, it felt like we had suddenly entered a lunar scene. All the scenery seemed unreal. Where the trees end, the tundra begins. Trees do not grow on the tundra because it is too cold. We were standing in the middle of a huge plain and surrounded by small rounded snowy hills. It was 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 and that day, the weather was extremely cold but sunny.

We reached our stopping spot at the Arctic Circle where there was a large souvenir shop with an exhibition covering art, marble, lots of interesting artifacts of the area from ancient times and life around the Arctic Circle and stuffed arctic animals; including Europe’s largest stuffed polar bear!! There is also an excellent movie theatre showing an interesting documentary about Northern Norway. You will find a post office selling postcards with a special Arctic Circle seal.

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 them was elk soup. As far as I can remember, it was very nice and very tasty and also 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… well, it was like a message on a wall saying “we were there, July’95” kind of thing ;-)

Even though we have only spent a couple of hours at the center, there’s much more to do. Popular activities that people enjoy around and north of Polarsirkelen include glacier walking, diving, island hopping, fishing, dog sledging, kayaking, and rafting, not to mention a variety of festivals :) It’s hard to explain, but there is definitely something very unique and special about northern Norway. The mystic land of the Trolls…

We left midafternoon and drove north reaching Bodø a couple of days later.

Comment by ann williams on November 16, 2012 at 13:24

I love Norway - been twice recently, the first was 6 years ago and I broke my ankle on Trollstigen and lengthened my holiday by a week and experience the Norwegian national health which was fab and then two years ago when we went to the north

HPN Team
Comment by Fabien Reynaud on November 16, 2012 at 14:29

Thanks Ann for your comment! Please feel free to add a blog from your travels anytime!

HPN Team
Comment by Fabien Reynaud on November 17, 2012 at 21:42

 SUHZOU, China

                             During our 16 day trip to China in October 2012, we spent a day in Suzhou, a major city located in the southeast of Jiangsu Province in Eastern China, around 100 km from Shanghai. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake.

We caught the 9.33am fast train from Shanghai. The journey was just over 1hour 30minutes. After spending a couple of days in Shanghai, it was nice to be in a much smaller city -Chinese standards of course- Suzhou has an urban population of over 4 million expanding to over 10 million in the administrative area.

Whisked at a speed of 307kph between cities built and those being built, we saw spanking new stations and infrastructure to support the burgeoning buildings rising like flightless birds from the land.
Any small hill stands ravaged, chopped and carved for stone, slate or any other mineral which could be extracted. The remnants of a former life flung over the land but locked into a centrifugal force around the new cities springing up at the rate of at least one a month the size of Paris, France or Houston, Texas. Old tenements, shikumen (traditional Chinese terrace houses), and hutong (narrow streets) demolished and swallowed in the quest for new.


Suzhou, the cradle of Wu culture, is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze Basin. Suzhou is known as the town of gardens and is one of the oldest cities in China; the city has over 2,500 years of rich history, and relics of the past are abundant to this day. The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China.

It has also been an important centre for China's silk industry. Suzhou’s appeal to tourists is now primarily in its gardens. Some of the gardens are well preserved and date from as long ago as the Ming Dynasty (14th-17th centuries). I visited one named The Humble Administrator’s Garden. The irony of visiting this space now is that while you can appreciate the calm, contemplative environment the garden creates, it is bustling with tourists like me who want to appreciate that wonderfully peaceful atmosphere, and take lots of pictures.

 The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. The Liú garden or Lingering Garden (even though we were too rushed to linger)   was our "choice of the day". The garden itself is divided into several smaller ones with a few pavilions and a small pond. I especially liked the bonsai trees and the small bamboo forest. Because it isn't big, you can easily walk the entire tour of the garden in less than an hour.

Again, I felt that exploring the common architecture and streetscape of Suzhou was infinitely more worthwhile than most of the designated tourist attractions.



Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" or "Venice of China". When the Grand Canal was completed, Suzhou found itself strategically located on a major trade route. In the course of the history of China, it has been a metropolis of industry and commerce on the south-eastern coast of China. From the thirteenth century, Suzhou was famous for its production of silk fabrics; it was the industrial center of the Yangtze Delta. In AD 1035, the temple of Confucius was founded by famed poet and writer Fan Zhongyan.

We took a boat trip on the Grand Canal. The trip was an eye opener in many ways.                                      The banks of the canal never used to be popular place to visit people used to use that area to wash their dirty clothes and empty their chamber pots. However, now the area is a lot cleaner and very popular with tourists. During my visit, I couldn’t detect much functional use for the canals anymore. No goods being transported, taxi services, or anything of the like. However there are now the tourist boats which run, and at several restaurants with their back to the canal, the water functions as the de facto men’s restroom. Suzhou is often referred to as the Venice of the East. And as we were going through the canal system I could see why they might name it this. We all enjoyed our river cruise, it was very nice. I think everyone in our group was buying all kinds of things from the traders on the boat. They were selling post cards, playing cards, hats... and all kinds of stuff. They just kept bringing out box after box of souvenirs to sell to the unsuspecting tourists to try and enhance their meagre incomes. We disembarked in a poor part of town that housed a multi-block marketplace in streets and alleys not more than 12 feet wide. There were countless stalls, carts, and little stores selling fruit, meats, shoes, household goods... everything. This was no tourist place -- no hawkers selling souvenirs, just locals selling to other locals. There were countless prepared foods for sale, only about half of which we could identify.

What I enjoyed most about Suzhou is that it is one of the few places you travel to in China which actually looks a lot like what most people’s perception of China would look like. It has that warm, fuzzy, old style, Social-Studies-textbook feeling that is noticeably absent in most other “ancient” Chinese cities. Suzhou is probably most famous for its gardens. They are all quite scenic, but at the same time very similar (think Chinese temples!).  

Again, I felt that exploring the common architecture and streetscape of Suzhou was infinitely more worthwhile than most of the designated tourist attractions.

Another highlight of the day in Suzhou was a rickshaw ride around the city. It was fairly nerve racking at some points, darting through the traffic in a rickshaw, heading towards oncoming traffic, narrowly missing cars and bikes coming at you when travelling not only in the back streets but the main thoroughfares too!. But it was also a fantastic ice breaker to know more about the individuals of our group we met a couple of days before. 46 British and 3 French tourists in 24 rickshaws in the streets of Suzhou don’t go smoothly and quietly, trust me! Great laugh!




Comment by Diana Brackley on November 22, 2012 at 21:16
What fantastic reading Fabien, I felt like I was actually there! There is no way I could ever compete with that so I'll just say that last week-end I went up to Birmingham to the NIA to see the Spanish riding horses of Vienna, with an added bonus of seeing the gold medalist winners of Dressage from the Olympics and also the paralympian dressage gold winner, was absolutely fantastic to watch their displays. Stayed in a pub B&B in Droitwich (name of which now escapes me - see how memorable that was ha ha). Then we saw what is called the Back to Back houses, these were built during the fast growing industrial revolution to accommodate the ever increasing population that was coming into Birmingham looking for work. The houses are literally built back to back and usually have a courtyard where washing, toilet (and I use that term very loosly) facilities are shared. Very interesting - so pleased the National Trust managed to save these houses which are bang right in the middle of Birmingham City Centre.

HPN Team
Comment by Fabien Reynaud on November 23, 2012 at 7:07

Hello Diana,  I am glad to see that you enjoyed my Suzhou blog. Thanks for your blog about Birmingham. So many places to visit on our planet, so little time for us to discover. Thanks again for sharing your experience and keep the blogs coming!

HPN Team
Comment by Fabien Reynaud on December 2, 2012 at 19:20

 Berlin,                                                                                           when west meets east                                                                   when the present meets the past.

November 2011


 Always been fascinating by Berlin since as far as I can remember, we decided to go and check it out for ourselves.

Berlin is a world city of culture, politics, media, and science. Its economy is primarily based on the service sector, encompassing a diverse range of creative industries, media corporations, and convention venues. Berlin also serves as a continental hub for air and rail transport, and is a popular tourist destination. Significant industries include IT, pharmaceuticals, biomedical engineering, biotechnology, electronics, traffic engineering, and renewable energy. Even though, Berlin seems to be like other European cities, it has always been a very intriguing place by nature due to her dark history.         

Let’s have a crash course in European history….

During World War II, large parts of Berlin were destroyed in the 1943–45 air raids and during the Battle of Berlin.                                                                                                                                               The victorious powers divided the city into four sectors, analogous to the occupation zones into which Germany was divided. The sectors of the Western Allies (the United States, the United Kingdom and France) formed West Berlin, while the Soviet sector formed East Berlin.

The founding of the two German states increased Cold War tensions. West Berlin was surrounded by East German territory and East Germany proclaimed East Berlin (described as "Berlin") as its capital, a move that was not recognized by the western powers. Although only half the size and population of West Berlin, East Berlin included most of the historic center of the city.

As a result of the political and economic tensions brought on by the Cold War, on 13 August 1961, East Germany began building of the Berlin Wall between East and West Berlin and similar barriers around West Berlin, and events escalated to a tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie on 27 October 1961. West Berlin was now de facto a part of West Germany with a unique legal status, while East Berlin was de facto a part of East Germany.

When the Berlin Wall was starting to be constructed it consisted mainly of barbed wire and armed guards. It did not take much time for the wall to be fortified. After it was done the wall was 107 km long and 4 m high in most places. It was constructed with a concrete wall with a concrete tube placed on top. On the East Berlin side was a lighted control area. Anyone who reached this area was shot on sight, without warning. This is where most people were caught. Then moving away from the control area toward East Berlin was a deep trench to prevent vehicles from breaking through the wall. In front of this was a patrol track that had attack dogs, bunkers, and guard towers. Finally there was a second, smaller wall. In total the wall cut through 192 streets.                                                                                            Even now, it is not difficult, however, for the attentive observer to notice that a geopolitical wall continues to divide the city. In the West, the scars of the Second World War, symbolized by the bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and the more recently reconstructed Reichstag – with its glass dome symbolizing transparent democracy, serve as a continual reminder of the stain of Nazism on German history. In the East, little trace remains of the Nazi influence, even though the past is now somewhat recalled in the recently rebuilt Rykestrasse synagogue in the city’s Jewish quarter.

I leaned against the Wall and an “aha” learning moment began… I began to realize the importance of freedom, how we take for granted our choices and actions; how man’s inhumanity is cruel and dangerous if focused for the good of a few, rather than the good of the many… I began to understand the importance of “moderation. To be true to myself can be harmful to others if I am truly selfish, being true to me. I must balance my needs with others. I became aware of the dynamic life balances of the many facets of the life process. I finally realized, life is not black and white. Life presents infinite shades of grey…

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