Yesss! Now is finally the time to talk about my Lapland trip from the New Year’s Eve, bound for 2018. Before I move on with the details though, I would like to introduce the ingredients first, which I hopefully will make a habit out of by adding to all my posts. Not to forget, this post can also be used as a 3-day itinerary for a basic Lapland trip.
What will your read?
+ Flight experience from Istanbul to Rovaniemi w Freebird Airlines
+ Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi
+ Snowmobile Safari
+ Santa’s Summer House/Seaside Office
+ Husky Tour
+ Hunting the Northern Lights at Night around Tornio
+ New Year’s Eve in two different countries – Finland, Sweden.
SANTA CLAUS VILLAGE, ROVANIEMI
I had been thinking of seeing the Northern Lights for a long time. To be honest, it wasn’t like I was super duper excited to see what it was all about, but it felt that it would be a cool experience in any case. To fulfill my dreams of a cool new year’s eve, it appeared that the only flight directly from Istanbul to Finnish Lapland, where you have higher chances of seeing the lights as well, belonged to a charter company called Freebird Airlines. They were only accepting people from certain tours to hop on though, so I got my tickets from Pronto Tour in Istanbul.
Our flight was at 10:15 in the morning, and frankly, from the time I stepped into Istanbul Ataturk Airport till I got out in Rovaniemi/Finland, everything went super smooth. On the way there, we also figured out that the crew of the flight -including the pilots- were supposed to spend all the time with us, and then fly back together as well. The plane was an Airbus A320, and it was like a very regular one without flight entertainment and whatnot. The food wasn’t the greatest as well, of course, but it was decent.
Time was around 2pm when we had cleared the customs, and started waiting inside the bus that would take us to Santa Claus Village, where we would cross the Arctic Circle line, get our certificates, and head to see the Real Santa. Santa Village has souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes(one of which is all made of ice), Santa’s House, Santa’s Post Office and so on. To tell you the truth, our tour guide wasn’t super helpful, so we had to figure it out all from what we had known in advance. The only downside to that was the time we had was very limited, and we didn’t know what was the best option to make the most out of it. Before coming there, I knew that I was supposed cross the Arctic Circle line, send postcards to some of my friends, and then have a picture with Santa Claus.
Passing the Arctic Circle and sending post cards(fifteen of them) took half an hour in total but the decision of having a picture with Santa appeared to be a real disaster. It isn’t just like you go and have a picture with him. Firstly, you have to get a paper from the guy standing right in front of the souvenir shop inside the two-storey house. I thought, ok that’s smart, this can’t take so long. It did, indeed. You are supposed to go through a queue of, say 300m. The passage way going up to Santa is pretty maze-like; there are pictures and fancy old-skool gadgets and whatnot around, so that you don’t know how long it will take, and keep getting excited. It took us around an hour to have a couple of pictures. Santa’s fellow asked where we were from and eventually they both started speaking Turkish. Yeah, of course this wasn’t so impressive. Having the picture takes around 2-3min each, and then there are the cashiers to pay up €40 for a usb with all the photos, or €30 for each of the prints. It’s a rip off of course, but we bought them anyway.
There are several other things that are pretty exciting around; a gorgeous snowman, a huge temperature gauge, the ice bar/restaurant if you have time. Last of all, the Arctic Circle line certificate, which shows that you crossed it. This crossing thing is just symbolic. They don’t come check whether you crossed it or not. The line is over there and you get your certificate either from the tour guide, or the information desk.
It was around 5:30pm when we left Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi for the night in Tornio; a small city to the south. Before we reached there though, tour guides informed us that we will need to do a stopover in Kemi, another city close to Tornio. That was to get our skiwear, which we were supposed to suit for the attractions of the day after.
We reached Tornio around 9pm, dropped our stuff and got out. Almost all the places were closing down, so frankly the best we could find was a Turkish Pizzeria called Utopia. Even they were closing down, and we took our pizzas to be eaten on a trash container. What an experience it was!
Anyway, it was a friday night, going to sleep, even though after pizza wasn’t the smartest choice. Actually it would be. We ended up going to a nightclub that was anything but nightclub nearby our hotel. It’s called Paradise. Loved the level of irony. This isn’t the first time that a nightclub name grabbed me from the scruff of the neck though. When I was studying in China, I visited a city called Chongqing, and as I was in my early 20’s, I headed to a nightclub, which I thought would be decent. The name was V.V.S.I., and I really wondered what it meant. I shouldn’t have. It all stood for “Very Very Slightly Included”; the peak of Google Translate, or Baidu, I presume.
Kemi trip for the Snowmobile Safari was to start off at noon, so we wanted to check the city out in the morning. Tornio has only one single, “lively” road, and that leads to a shopping mall called Rajalla(On the Border) Pa Gransen. The shopping mall is right on the border of Sweden; by the river that separates two countries. On the river side, it has a huge area, and every year on the New Year’s Eve, people of Sweden and Finland get together over there to kick the celebrations off. The nicest thing about this ritual is that there is an hour time difference between Tornio and Swedish city Haparanda(opposite side of the river), so you can enjoy a double country celebration, even though the celebrations on the Swedish side is a bit lame. After hanging out around to check out the shopping mall for a while, we crossed the bridge to see Haparanda. It’s very interesting that in a couple of steps you change country, currency, and the time zone. Profile of the people you see in Sweden is pretty much different as well.
We reached Kemi in the afternoon and got on our snowmobiles to do the safari and then see the Seaside Office of Santa Claus. The interesting thing about the safari isn’t the snowmobile itself actually. You can’t just get on the thing and ride through the Baltic Sea, enjoying a total freedom. All the bikes need to follow the guide in front, and you just do a short tour of an hour or two on the frozen sea. We stopped several times to make sure that everybody was following. It was very nice, but not super exciting, to be honest. After the safari, we ended up drinking marshmallow hot chocolate at the Seaside Office of Santa Claus for a short while. There are desserts and stuff to enjoy as well. Daylight is pretty short, as you can guess, so we headed back to Tornio to have dinner somewhere, and go hunt the Northern Lights; aka Aurora Borealis as we were supposed to.
To explain it briefly, the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis occur as a result of collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. These collisions can clearly be seen from the poles of both hemispheres, and the most popular locations on earth are Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. There is the geomagnetic index called Kp index to see whether you can see the auroras from where you are or not. It’s pretty much like weather forecast, and to see the thing the scale of 0-9 kp index need to show above Kp5 for a clear observation. The darker the area around you, the higher chances of catching the lights, so we went further up north out of the city to see it. Unfortunately though, the Kp index was around 2 when we were there, so only my photo camera could catch it. We waited around a couple of hours after midnight, had some blueberry tea, had pictures taken with a statue which I have no idea what it was, then went back to Tornio to have a couple of drinks in a pub, then pass out.
So this was the big day for the double major New Year’s Eve. We headed out around 10am to do a Husky Tour in Kemi. As you can see on the picture and the video supposedly below, There are four huskies that are pulling a sled. They separated us into groups of two to take turns on enjoying the ride sitting on the sled; unlucky of the turn was supposed to push the sled to help the dogs. It was an hour attraction, was fun.
The answer to that questions dates back to 3000 years ago. A nomadic tribe called Chukchi people, from Siberia, were looking for the ideal sled dog, that wouldn’t disappoint them in cold winter conditions. Their endurance, high tolerance to cold, being able to survive long winter conditions, made huskies the best fit. Moreover, their overcoat helps them stay insulated, as they run miles and miles without any food.
After this, we went to have food somewhere close by, where they offered deer meat, which apparently I wasn’t fund of. It wasn’t a very fancy place, neither the food was very good, but it was decent to be honest. Having done with taming our stomachs, we headed to ride the second sled, and this time we could all sit, as it was pulled by reindeers, much slower. This might have been the most pointless thing I ever did. Took like 5 to 10 minutes, under super dark circumstances.
We were back in Tornio in the evening. Some decided to give another shot for the Northern Lights hunt. I decided not to mess the New Year’s Eve, stayed in, took a couple of hours nap. Around 10pm, time was for the dinner at a place called Mustaparran Paamaja. This place is like the only good choice you have if you are spending the New Year’s Eve in Tornio. Food and the restaurant itself were both decent. Having finished two bottles of white wine, we found ourselves on the celebration area behind the shopping mall. Finnish side of the celebrations were fancy with bright fireworks, concert and whatnot. Swedish side, which I walked right after wasn’t that good to be honest. I didn’t know where the celebrations on that side was actually taking place, so wandered around like 40 minutes in Haparanda. At the end, some guy coming from the opposite side of the road yelled “Hey bro, where is the party!” seemingly he had wandered around for long, couldn’t find any partying sort of attraction. Having heard that, I gave up on searching and went back to the area around the river to see people rolling on the snow and the weak fireworks of Haparanda.
Having celebrated 2018 twice, the trip was pretty much over. The next day we just wandered around the city of Tornio again till noon, then took the bus back to Rovaniemi, to take the plane from where it was parked. Overall, it was a very interesting New Year’s Eve, even though it could have been better.
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