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Stranded in Rovaniemi

Posted by on July 7, 2011

When booking the train to Rovaniemi, to be honest, I’d expected a small village – a town at best, a random stopping point. What I forgot is that usually train tracks go somewhere for a reason, and indeed Rovaniemi is the capital of the Lapland area in northern Finland. And also, importantly, it is very close to the edge of the Arctic Circle, and is home to Santa Claus. In winter, it’s also a great location to come and see Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights – thus the name of my guesthouse (Borealis Guesthouse, for those of you too lazy to check my previous post).

Guesthouse Borealis

Guesthouse Borealis


Rovaniemi is on the banks of the river Kemijoki – the longest river in Finland. Pretty much razed to the ground in WW2, it was rebuilt as a city, and as such, most of the city is less than fifty years old – in much the same way Southampton in England had to rebuild. The capital of Finnish Lapland, it’s also quite a student city, with nearly 10,000 students living there.

I trekked down the hill into town to do some exploring. I found the bus station, from where I planned on bussing north-east the next day or so to Murmansk in Russia. I went and deciphered the board. What appeared to be days labelled in Finnish had buses to Murmansk via Ivalo. I started to get a bad feeling about this, but could do nothing then as no staff were around. I took a photo to check it later.

Kemijoki - the longest river in Finland

Kemijoki - the longest river in Finland


For the most part, central Rovaniemi is a grid, with quite a few pedestrian streets as well. Stopping in at the information center, I picked up a map and showed the girl working there the photo of the bus timetable. Apart from some of the other things next to it which she’d never seen before (also not normally a good sign), she could confirm – the buses only ran on Monday, Wedesday and Friday, at 8am.

It was now Friday afternoon.

I was stuck here until Monday.

Touristy, but it needed doing

Touristy, but it needed doing


Despondent and bemused, a strange state to be in, I kept exploring and found McDonalds – listed on Wikitravel as one of the sights of the town. I know! Normally fast food isn’t worth talking about, but this isn’t any ordinary McDonald’s. At time of writing, this is the northernmost McDonald’s in the entire world. Frustratingly I’ve been to Invercargill, where the southernmost one is, but I had Burger King there. Yep, pointless trivia there. Anyway, a quick combo and a photo and I was on my way.

The one food that I’d planned on having up here was Rudolph…err..I mean reindeer. I don’t name my food, honest. After checking around I’d located Nili, a restaurant both ‘cheap’ by Finland standard and with reindeer on the menu, traditional style. I decided to save it for the next day (a Saturday), and just get something from the supermarket today.

Edge of city center, Rovaniemi

Edge of city center, Rovaniemi


Checked back at the guesthouse; my room was ready and it was time to do some writing, and important planning – I had to work out how to get to Russia, and hitting the sack.

This proved harder than expected – the two nights I was here were the last two nights for weeks – from Sunday they’d have 24 hours of sun. Fortunately they come prepared for it and I found the heavy blind that can be pulled down – almost blackout style. We were down to less than an hour of actual night.

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3 Responses to Stranded in Rovaniemi

  1. Christina

    Haha, I had to chuckle when you said you went to MacDonald’s as a tourist attraction! I’ve been to the southernmost MacDonald’s on the planet, then, without even knowing! I gotta tell you, a coffee and a burger never tasted so good (after 10 days of camping in Fjordland). I never made it to Rovaniemi despite studying in Jyväskylä, which you probably went through by bus or train. I heard it’s pretty fun in the wintertime though!

    • Mark Mayo

      Hi Christina – yeah, it was cheesy but it had to be done 😉 Glad you made it to NZ, Fiordland is fantastic isn’t it?!

      I do agree, I’m so going to have to return to Lapland in winter – the postcards with snow photos and aurora photos looked spectacular!

  2. Jennifer

    Did you know that the streets of Rovaniemi are laid out in the shape of a reindeer’s head? And that McDonald’s is quite a popular attraction there! It was packed when I went.
    Jennifer recently posted..Five Tips for Viewing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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