Crisp white snow, crackling fires, long nights that call for coziness, a good cuddle-around-the-hearth feeling is what my impression was of Rovaniemi and I discovered this and much more. We had booked on the net with Lapland Safaris and everything, from warm overalls to adventure and sightseeing, was taken care of. Later I realized there was really no need to have carried so much of winter wear (not even thermals).
The best part of Rovaniemi, aside from meeting the Big Man himself, was undoubtedly the reindeer. Though slow rides, they are a lot of fun. Sample this: Hold on to a rope and let the reindeer pull you on skis. Interestingly, Reindeer herding in Finland became organised as far back as the 1700’s and the animal is a source of food, clothing, shelter and inspiration from then on.
After a few seconds of starting, I could hear someone sing…Ah! It was me. The thought that I was driving on the Arctic sent pleasure up in my heart and my brains. The most astounding experience of my life, it was fun to drive through pristine snow covered trees with perfectly sculpted snow all around.
A vital part of every Finn’s essential nature and, as the saying goes, “The sauna is to Finns as wine is to the French”. The ritual is sauna, then roll around in the snow or dip in the frozen lake and repeat the process for as long as you like and I was surprised to see how the Finns beat themselves with the whisk of birch twigs and each other for that matter. “It’s great for blood circulation,” they say! Interestingly, nowadays, friends often sauna bathe together regardless of gender.
A sport Finns love is ice-fishing. Out of the lakes one has a fair chance for a good catch. It’s amazing to see people in their arctic clothing, staring into a little hole in the water that seems like an ice-fishing competition. I waited for over an hour to catch one but in vain!
Eight kilometres north of Rovaniemi is Korvatunturi, where Santa Claus officially lives year round at his Arctic Circle headquarters. It sure is a white fantasy land, constructed partially of snow buildings. Tall, narrow ice obelisks glowed blue and green, eerily illuminating the afternoon darkness. It’s great fun to drop off letters for your near and dear kids at the Santa Claus post office, where the merry Elves are busy but ever ready to help you out. Trust me it’s a great high to stand under the blue line marking the Arctic Circle and seeing Aurora Borealis in winter (in summers you can see the midnight sun!). Do not miss taking your picture with Santa, buying souvenirs and seeing exhibits.
Food and drinks
A must-try specialty here is the reindeer meat. You may have it stewed, broiled or sautéed in butter, splashed with lingonberry sauce; it’s so tender that recipes urge cooks not to be rough with it. Do not also miss the creamy morel soup and the cold smoked arctic char (a mixed taste of salmon and trout). The Finns raise their lids for the national drink of Karhu (fisherman’s candy) and Koskenkorva (vodka). Cloudberry cocktails, made with the more commonly known Lakka, work just as well too.
The duty free at the Helsinki airport is beyond compare. One can buy a variety of souvenirs, ranging from reindeer meat, reindeer horn handicrafts, clothes, accessories and Koskenkorva to the famed “Fazer” breads and chocolates. A must-buy is the “kuksa”, a traditional cup made out of wood by hollowing it out (make sure you buy the hand-made one though). If you have enough time on you, buy yourself a Spa treatment at the Airport ~ there’s nothing like watching planes take off and land while you get a massage done.
DID YOU KNOW?
Rovaniemi has 58,000 inhabitants and the area covers 8,016 sq km.
The lowest temperature ever measured is -47.5 degrees Celsius (-53 degrees Fahrenheit).
Book all your adventure activities through Lapland safaris from the net and their tagline says aptly, “Just come as you are, we take care of the rest!”
VISA and CURRENCY
Indians need a Schengen Visa to enter Finland. The currency is the Euro.