The travel went smooth, and after about 8 hours we arrived at -10°C amidst the snow.
The hostel we stayed in was actually a former hotel, and needed a check-in at another hotel. As it was early, everything was still closed, and there was nothing to do, thus as soon as the hour-hand hit 10, we entered the store to buy some food, and then waited at the bus stop (which was 20 minutes late. I think life up North is a bit slower) for a bus to Santa Claus village!
Santa Claus village is the place where Santa Claus lives, receives all mail and slows down time so he can deliver presents to all good children in one night. It is situated exactly at the arctic circle, meaning that here one day a year the sun never sets, and one day a year the sun doesn't rise. The more north you go the more of those strange days you have.
Santa Claus village looked all very nice and touristy, with many shops, short trips on (moose) and ice slides for high prices.
But the main thing to come to this place for is, of course, Santa Claus himself! He's all year round in this building to greet people. And so, we became friends with Santa Claus, who spoke fluently Dutch. Impressive!
An hour was more than enough here, so we headed quickly back to catch the hourly bus, and then visited the Arktikum, one of Finland's better known museums and the science museum, located next to it. It contains nice exhibitions on arctic nature and architecture, and looks out on the Kemijoki river from its iconic hall.
Since we were situated quite northern, we hoped to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
The week before the lights were very strong, and even visible in Helsinki and Tallinn!
Looking for a dark spot in the evening proved not so easy, and so I waded through thick snow ("hey, this looks like a good spot to cross!" -- my words before getting my feet really wet), we walked on the river, and ended near railways.
But to no avail, as the weather gods were not on our side, i.e. there were many clouds.
Better luck next day?
Also quite popular to do in Rovaniemi is to drive a husky lead sled. So in the early morning we consulted some agencies, but they were all fully booked, so we took the next best thing, and went for the Snowmobile Winterland Exploration. Ow yeah.
To kill the time until the Snowmobile Winterland Exploration, we headed for the non-commercial part of Rovaniemi, visited the church, walked the river (where some people were catching minuscule fish through the ice), and had a lunch (it's quite popular in Finland it seems, to have a fixed menu for cheap price at noon)
At one p.m., we were ready to explore the winter land!
First we got some good clothes and an introduction by our guide.
Then we were ready for some action!
It was an awesome experience, chasing over the river at 70 km/h, navigating through forest (hoping to spot some reindeers), and having a rest with some hot beverage at a mountain top (which was, many years ago when the water was still high and all mountains were islands, one of the first settlements around). The snowmobile was actually quite easy to ride (throttle and steering was sufficient), but harder to master as for example it was hard to get out of the rails from the preceding snowmobiles.
As we were at the source of reindeers, we also had to eat some. It was served with potato mash. The meat is tasty, and soft of taste, but I expected something more peculiar, as people had told me.
Again, we set out to hunt for the Northern Lights, but time was limited as we had a train to catch, and so the sun was still setting when we were on the lookout at the Arktikum, with nothing to see at all :(
And it dawned then that we had a train to catch, so we went back. We stumbled upon some girls who asked us for a good spot to see the lights. Maybe they found them.
Before, I had always used my student card, as it gives good reductions. But apparently, the zealous conductor pointed me to the fact that only Finnish student cards are valid on trains, and prompted me for a fee :( I still don't know why they don't check the student card when ordering tickets, especially when it's easy to see you are a foreigner.
Occasionaly peeking outside to maybe, very maybe spot some of the Aurora Borealis, we rolled out of Rovaniemi.
But, it didn't happen.
Weary, we entered Helsinki.