Monday, 21 May 2012


18th -19th May 2012

Rovaniemi is 5 miles south of the Arctic Circle which, as you should know, is at latitude 66º 32' North. I was only stopping here because one has to on the journey further north. The railway line ends here and the bus routes onwards don't operate until the next day. I decided to give myself a full day to look around nevertheless.

The train journey up here was again most comfortable and took about 10 hours from Helsinki. The double-decker train had a decent dining car ( left ) and even good WiFi which I used to catch up on a blog or two behind. It passed the time pleasantly enough.
Quite interesting to note the relatively flat countryside which consisted of much forest and lake. I was made aware that 86% of Finland is forest and lake. We passed a few parks in which I saw several people doing this extraordinary excercise which consists of walking with exaggerated strides using ski-poles to push yourself along. It looked like langlaufing without the skis. Weird!

Rovaniemi is most popular around the Christmas period because it seems to have appointed itself as the home of 'Santa Klaus' and has made a highly profitable business out of it too. There is a large airport nearby. Swarms of tourists ( and children ) come here to visit Santa Village, Santa Park and, even more curiously, Santa Technology Park which are all parts of a big 'theme park' just over the Arctic Circle about 6 miles north. There are 'authentic' colourfully dressed Laplander ( Saami, or Sami ) tribes-folk in local villages to flog you souvenirs,  hundreds of reindeers, huskies and sledges pulled by either, skidoo expeditions, lots of bloody jingle bells and of course the visit to see Santa. I suspect there is more than one. This Festive Fandango ( some might mention rip-off ) rather depends on Christmas and lots of snow, which they certainly get for most of the year. Right now it has all but melted and so the theme park looks somewhat deserted. No doubt Santa and many of his faithful Saami tribesfolk, and trusty elves, have decanted to their holiday isles and yachts in the Bahamas to enjoy their Christmas profits in sunny climes with hot and cold running flunkies and scantily clad hostesses. Not a lot of them in Lapland!

The only sight I had of all the winter goings on was at the local 'Arkticum' museum. I must say the Saami tribes folk do have some pretty garish outfits. I suppose to keep them warm and easy to spot out in the snowfields. They can't all work in Santa's theme parks.

The Saami tribes, and there are many dotted around northern Norway, Sweden and Finland depend on fishing, hunting and herding reindeer ( and tourists ) for their survival. They have their own tribal dialects and languages. They live in what look like wooden sided tepees. I never got to see any of these people or their villages. I suppose I might have done if I had gone to Mustique.

Left: Reindeer feature widely up here. They can live at incredibly low temperatures and can dig through the snow to eat moss. They are primarily used for pulling sleds and being eaten. Their horns make nice knife handles and their skins for clothing. On my journey north of here I passed the mostly deserted Santa theme parks and for some hours only saw one poxy reindeer. The infamous Lone Reindeer, I presume.
Left: These ones are stuffed.

Right: Later on, approaching Norway, we saw a few more. There were no vast herds of them sweeping across the tundra, that I noticed, but I don't suppose its the right season. Anyway, why should they be near a road when they have squillions of acres of open space elsewhere. They are probably kept under the watchful eye of the herders anyway.

The weather up in Rovaniemi was not bad; even sunny when I arrived, and a bit drizzly the next day. The most significant meteorological feature up here at this time of year is that it doesn't get dark at all. It is slightly disconcerting to wake up at 1.00am and look out on bright daylight. Left: Of course the opposite is true in winter when another attraction is the Northern Lights ( Aurora Borealis ). There was a demo of these lights in the museum where you lay down on a comfortable mattress in a warm dark circular cinema and the lights were played out above you. Saves freezing your gonads off out there on a winter's night at minus 35ºc.

Other animals which feature in these parts include elks, bears, arctic foxes, snowy owls and wolverines. On my travels I didn't see any of them. Just the Lone Reindeer ( and a few nondescript birds ).
The first meal I had in the town was a small dish of marinated raw reindeer meat with mushrooms and fried berries. Interesting taste and texture. Of course reindeer features on all the menus including reindeer burgers.

Left: The museum features a polar bear, but I'm sure they don't exist in Scandinavia, do they? Apart from this stuffed one and maybe a few in zoos of course.
Lots of other quite interesting features in the museum about ice, and the history of Rovaniemi.

Right: There were lots of these little people dotted around. I think they represent some fabled Lapland folk. They were rather charming in a funny sort of way. This one reminds me of someone and I daren't say who!

Left: Plus some notices displayed amongst them which were written in Finnish and English and contained some apt sayings. I have only bothered to learn two words of Finnish; "kiitos", which means "thank you" and "kipis" which means "cheers". The only other main language which resembles Finnish is that spoken by the Magyar people of Hungary. Both peoples emanated from the same area of central Asia, moved west and then split north and south.
It is an interesting language and sounds like nothing else around the area. So many words end in the letter 'i'. For example: hotelli, kioski, polisi, saami, taksi and, indeed, Helsinki to name but a few.
Continuing the M. Python theme "You're so near to Russia, So far from Japan, Quite a long way from Cairo, Lots of miles from Vietnam.....".
Onwards northwards... to Norway.


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