HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY FINLAND!!!
In honour of this historic day, today we shall go back a year to the last trip of 2016, when I spent a blissful three days in Rovaniemi, Lapland with my parents and aunt and uncles. Not necessarily your obvious first choice for travel company, but my family are suitably eccentric to be perfect travel mates. <3
My mother and her family used to live in Rovaniemi in the 1960s, so as well as enjoying a nice little cool holiday we also visited the old family haunts – the outside of their old block of flats, my grandfather’s old work place, the dodgy garage slope area the kids would slide down during winter and try and avoid hitting the garage door located at the bottom. I bought a pair of warm and long-needed winter boots from a quaint shoe shop just down the street from my mum’s old apartment. They were 50% off from a charming old man who didn’t know how to use a card machine, and I named them after my auntie R and uncle A.
We went to Rovaniemi by night train. I love night trains, I love them rocking you to sleep, I love all the little extra perks you get from it, like little VR water bottles and taking Instagram Boomarangs running through train corridors with your dad. After a comfortable, exciting sleep we arrived in Rovaniemi at around seven in the morning, over 800 kilometres to the north of our point of departure, Helsinki.
From the moment we stepped out onto the platform it felt like we were placed into a clichéful idyllic Lapland scenario, with snow-covered trees and suitably dim lights, with people in their chunky winter coats and Asian tourists taking excited selfies. This intricate candy floss dream melted slightly during our less atmospheric breakfast at the station cafeteria, packed with people and their luggage and their coats dripping what used to be snow in all directions.
The first day was spent wandering the cold but uncommonly-warm-for-Lapland streets (about -6 degrees) and admired the insane pink-hued sky. We walked along the frozen Kemijoki and over the Jätkänkynttilä (“Guy’s Candle”) bridge. I am still flabberghasted by how PERFECT everything was, absolutely stunning, eerily peaceful yet overwhelmingly gorgeous. I love Lapland. The sun was at its highest at about 1pm, and even then it barely reached the horizon before disappearing again.
The next day we visited Santa’s Village to find a famous Arctic Circle sign which features in numerous old pictures of my mum, auntie and grandmother. This area is also famous for the Arctic Circle Cabin, a wooden log house built in a week for a visit from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1950. This was a significant moment in history for the area, as it marked the beginning of a steady list of distinguished visitors to Lapland, paving a way for the soon-to-blossom tourism industry.
We also went to surreptitiously check if husky rides were realistic. My dad was very enthusiastic, my other relatives less so. When he was asking if others were interested, for a moment I was quite vague, but then remembered that even super intelligent fathers with a seemingly endless amount of confidence also need reassurance, so I actively voiced my enthusiasm. The prices were decent, and now that there were two eager husky riders, R and A joined us too.
It was brilliant. The four of us shared one sled, and we were whizzing around snowy, idyllic Lapland. The cherry on top was a post-ride romantic moment with a husky as we exchanged saliva during a final hug. My mum spent the next few days researching what deadly saliva-transmitted diseases huskies could transfer to human beings. (Okay mumsie, I exaggerate.)
The husky ride was pretty idyllic, but the temperatures were now nearing zero and it was basically a heat wave for Lappish humans and huskies alike. The huskies needed long breaks in between rides because they were so used to running in the minus tens and twenties, and they tired quickly after the rides. Bless them.
Despite all the previously mentioned weird and wonderful events, our third and final day in Rovaniemi was still the most memorable. We went to the nearby Ounasvaara hill despite weather forecasts of “horrible weather”. When I realised “horrible weather” meant “it is snowing”, I was thrilled.
We made our way through snow-covered landscapes, an utterly untouched bare wood-area, with deep snow drifts. I had this huge desire to just go jumping in the snow, but reasoned with myself that I was twenty-five, not five. This thought process lasted for a few minutes, until I gave in and went running into the snow. I spent a good twentyish minutes diving around in the snow, attempting to run but always falling down into the snow drifts. It was beyond fun, and it was one of those rare moments you felt completely and utterly, 100% happy.
We also climbed Ounasvaara itself, a popular downhill skiing area, which made me realise I really want to learn snowboarding or down-hill skiing. The views were foggy snow-covered forest on all sides – any attempted descriptive words do no justice to it.
Lunch was looking to be an anti-climax as we were headed towards a fast food snack bar linked to the Sports Institute with unfortunately familiar scents of fried fries and greasy burgers wafting through. This, too, however ended up being a refreshing and positive experience. I skipped kebabs and burgers and chips, and decided to embrace the soup lunch despite it being the novel, exotic flavour of smoked reindeer. But what amazing soup it was!
The final thoughts on this trip recorded in my diary:
“The feeling of getting off the night train from Rovaniemi with a crowd of people, heading through the packed morning Helsinki train station. Maybe others will look at us. “Ah, they’re the cool kids off the night train from Rovaniemi. Ah, so cool.” Yes, we cool. We from the night train from Rovaniemi.”
Finland, you are beautiful.
ONNEKSI OLKOON RAKAS SUOMI. <3