From my research the night before I’d concluded out that the bus to Russia (at 8am Monday) had a distinct possibility of me missing it that early in the morning. I also worked out that it went via Ivalo, and there were buses to Ivalo more frequently. I figured it was worth spending a night in a different town, and I’d be able to pick up the bus from Ivalo on the Monday afternoon as it came through town. Perfect, in theory. I popped down to the bus station and grabbed a ticket after much gesticulating and hand-waving, really the most amusing way to do business for both parties involved.
I resolved today to get to the Arctic Circle and Santa’s Park today, so headed into town to look for the number eight bus. After some waiting and investigating, it appeared that the buses weren’t actually running. I soon found the reason – the military had taken over the town. But in a totally friendly ‘let’s show the town our cool stuff’ way. From bomb-disposal drones to artillery, handguns to rocket launchers, APCs to helicopters, they were all on show, with kids climbing on them, crashing jets in simulators and handling the guns in awe. Finally, they had a parade with all the vehicles and dozens of troops making their way through the town and over the bridge, complete with fly-overs. Nice.
Of course, this meant that I had no way to get to where I wanted. I knew the way, roughly, but it wasn’t close, so I asked a taxi driver. He was willing to take me for 18 Euros (one way). Very kind of him, but for 5km, thank you I’ll walk.
It turned out that 5km is from the edge of town, as I soon found more signs tellig me. I passed over the bridge, and fortunately there’s quite a good pedestrian path just off (and sheltered) from the highway. This did however, remove any chances I had of hitching. I kept going, through a small village, occasionally stopping people to ask for directions, until I came to Santa’s Park, just as it started to rain. I was in t-shirt and shorts, as it’d been warm in the morning, so it was with relief that I turned the corner to see…
“Closed”. But in Finnish.
So it turns out that what I really wanted was Santa’s Village, the friendly tourist hotspot where Santa hangs out when not delivering presents on Christmas Eve. Santa’s Park is more of a theme thing and only open a short time each year. Not including today. Santa’s Village was a further two kilometres down the road. And it was still raining, heavily now. I briefly considered waiting for a cab, before realising that that no taxis would be coming here as they would know it was closed. I continued to walk.
Finally I came to the center – right next to the Arctic Circle center as well. Officially, the Arctic Circle is a ring around the earth which experiences both at least one period of 24 hours of no sun, and one period of 24 hours of no night. While there’s an ‘official’ line marking this, it technically moves each year – which also means that every second souvenier tshirt has a different latitude written on it. Regardless, I got mine – at 12 Euros it was just about the cheapest thing I’d bought in Finland. I had also visited it on the last ‘day’ which would be less than 24 hours – tomorrow the sun would stop setting for weeks.
Next stop, right next door, was Santa’s Village. I’d dried off in the souvenir shops after amusing the staff who found I’d walked there, and after an initial attempt to visit Santa only to find that Santa was on a break, a handful of waiting people entered Santa’s House.
The entire interior is laid out with Santa-style Christmas-themed pictures, a giant pendulum that Santa uses to stop time on Earth on Christmas eve, and finally Santa’s room himself. You enter individually, mind full of things you want to say. All of those fly out of your head of course the moment you enter, and you dumbly pose for a photo while Santa – who speaks fantastic English – asks how on earth you got here from New Zealand. This from a guy with a reindeer-powered sleigh. Unfortunately there’s a large cost for photos with Santa, so there’s no photos of our meeting, but as an aside; Santa has free wifi – what a generous and jolly fellow.
All too soon it was over, and thankfully I found that the buses were now running again in the afternoon, and I hopped aboard back to Rovaniemi. I then headed into town to Nili for my dinner.
The restaurant itself was laid out like an old pioneer hall, with pots and pans and equipment around the walls. I was convinced into a beer, and then my meal. It started with a salmon paté appetiser, followed by salmon soup, which was very nice, and my hopes were high. However the main dish, which I’d come all this way to try – sauteed reindeer on mashed potato (the traditional method of serving it), was very dry, almost inedibly so. To make it worse, they’d used instant potato mash. Still, everything else was good, including the local Lapin Kulta beer, and I settled up and headed home.
Being a Saturday I’d considered trying to find some nightlife, but even the Irish pub in town just had 2 old guys sitting at the bar, and Guinness was 6 Euros a pint.
I booked my accommodation for Ivalo; after a lot of searching of prices in excess of 85 Euros, paid for the most expensive accomodation on my trip of 60-something Euros, in a hotel. Again, no hostels or otherwise existed in town. There was one in a town 25km away and for a few minutes I considered it, but it wasn’t going to be worth the hassle. I made a couple of Skype calls, and then went to bed for my last actual night for several days.
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