Do you want to experience an enchanting winter holiday in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, where the northern lights cover the sky?
I Have visited numerous cities, but only a few have excited me as much as this fairy-tale city covered in ice. As the plane descends, below there are lakes of ice, snow-covered trees, and tiny houses… I can see a long bridge connecting the city to Ounasvaara: Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge. Later, I learn that in the summer, people swim with reindeer in the river that flows under the bridge. But in this season, the river is a huge mass of ice!
We rush to leave the airport and set out on our journey. As I walk outside, the cold literally hits my face. I have never experienced such cold weather before. I have no idea how I am going to cope with the cold, but the snow gives me a sense of happiness.
Anukka from the tourism office “Visit Rovaniemi” will be meeting us at the hotel. We decide to take a taxi and go straight there. Handing us our route program, Anukka begins to give us information about the city. Although it is only three in the afternoon, it is already dark outside. We dress up well and set off; our first stop is the Arktikum Science Museum. Anukka introduces us to our Dutch guide who will be taking us around the museum. A soon as we enter, the glass ceiling attracts our attention -it is even possible to see the Northern Lights from here.
The museum is divided into several sections: the history of Rovaniemi, scientific information regarding the Poles, a simulation room where you can experience the northern lights, objects from the daily life of the Sami culture. As our time is limited, we tour the museum in a hurry. There are many sections that will also attract children’s attention here -the wax statues of animals that live in the region are particularly interesting. When I am in the simulation room, I think how exciting it must be to see the real thing. We will be setting out in a few hours and I am excited just thinking about it!
We say goodbye to Anukka and head to the Arctic Restaurant. With its decoration of refined materials from Scandinavian nature, the restaurant offers its guests Finnish cuisine. The salmon in Rovaniemi is delicious! They also use venison in many dishes -you must try the venison hamburgers! It is possible to find fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries frequently in sweets, and hot and cold drinks. If you visit Rovaniemi, I recommend that you taste these drinks, and also take some home.
We are going to the Beyond Arctic Office to see the Northern Lights. As soon as we walk in the office, our guide hands us a bag containing three headlamps, three thermoses full of blueberry tea, and long skewers for cooking over a fire. We are wearing puffy jumpsuits and boots, and look like tourists lost on their journey to the moon. I am surprised that our guide gives us extra pairs of gloves since we were already wearing a pair. “The temperature can fall as low as minus 30 degrees. Dress up well.”
We travel an hour north of the city. Our guide stops the vehicle and puts on his coat -here we go! Everyone in the group will be seeing the northern lights for the first time…
We walk through the forest. We have to wear our headlamps, but there is a full moon that is so big and bright that it lights up the entire forest. We set up the tripods by digging into the snow and fix our cameras on top. Now comes the most difficult part: waiting. After around 15-20 minutes, a green light appears in the distance. According to Finnish mythology, the northern lights are the light produced from a fox walking on the Earth. This “fox” is roaming around above us from one side to the other.
The lights, which I had only seen in videos and photographs until now, are in front of me. For a few minutes, I am absorbed in the moment, unable to think about anything else. There is no sound at all in the forest, the silence is captivating.
After a few minutes, we travel a little further to protect ourselves from the cold. We park the vehicle beside a huge frozen river. There is a campsite beside the river. We enter a tent, which we have seen frequently in Rovaniemi, made of wood, with an open front and protected with leather. Now it’s time to enjoy the lights! After I learn how to cook sausages over a fire without burning them from a couple from Rome, I also warm up my nose that is bright red from the cold. I am beside a frozen river in minus 30 degrees. I am here with people from many different cities. Rovaniemi begins to captivate me even more.
The next day, our guide from Bearhill Husky picks us up from the hotel lobby. It is eight in the morning, but it is still pitch-dark. I ask everyone, “Are you used to the cold, isn’t it difficult living in the dark?” Almost everybody gives the same answer: “Rovaniemi is so stunning, I wouldn’t even think of living anywhere else.” The people of Rovaniemi are cheerful and good-humored; when I’m with them, I don’t feel the cold.
After seeing the northern lights, a safari with huskies is one of the things that excites me the most. We head to a tiny wooden house on a husky farm covered in snow. There is a fireplace inside, and a huge Christmas tree decorated with lights. We have to dress up well again for the safari. We put on thick jumpsuits over our jackets and don our wooly hats. Daylight has just begun to appear. The dogs are waiting for us at the sleds. After a short briefing, our guide asks, “Are you ready?” Five or six dogs pull the sleds, which carry two people. As the dogs run at full speed, they sometimes eat snow to balance their body temperatures.
On completion of our 15-20 kilometer tour, we enter a tent with a fireplace, drink hot blackberry tea, and as we eat ginger cookies, we are briefed about the dogs. I am surprised to hear that every dog is trained according to its own character in the farms that are home to Siberian and Alaskan huskies. While some really feel the cold, others like to roam around on their own. Some of the huskies wear woolen booties because their skin is sensitive. Some huskies prefer to sleep alone, while others always sleep with their companions. Each of the dogs has a name, and their own passport. In the meantime, two newcomers from Alaska are becoming acquainted with their new companions.
After the husky safari, we return to the city. We plan to swim in a frozen Wilderness Lake.
Not everyone appears to be that enthusiastic about jumping into a frozen lake, but I want to experience everything here. As I get ready, wearing a thick jumpsuit that will not sink in the lake, Pınar, one of the members of our group changes her mind and decides to accompany me. We jump into the lake accompanied by our guide. As my ears are submerged in the water, there is total silence. It is difficult to feel the cold; the frozen ice touches my hands. I float on my back in the water. When we get out of the lake, we take off our jumpsuits and go into a huge tent. We roast marshmallows over a fire and drink coffee. Even freezing in cold water is pleasant if you warm up like this afterwards.
In the evening we plan to go to the Lapland Hotel, which has many branches in Finland. There is a glass terrace at the hotel where you can watch the northern lights. Sales Manager Mikael Rissanen joins us for dinner where we experience the delicious flavors of Finnish cuisine accompanied by pleasant chat. Our menu tonight is different organic fruit juices served with each dish, cream salmon soup and grilled salmon served with boiled vegetables, and a chocolate brownie decorated with blueberries. Everything we ate in Finland was served on plain plates garnished with edible flowers and fruits. In the city center, you can visit NİLİ, where you can taste Finnish cuisine; Himo that offers flavors from the Far East; and Tsar for Russian cuisine.
As a person accustomed to a warm climate, I never even touched the vitamins and cold medication I had with me. In just two days, I got used to the cold here.
Out last stop is Santa Claus Village that is known as the home of Santa Claus and located on the Arctic Circle. The village situated in the Santa Claus Forest has small wooden huts, a restaurant made of ice, glass igloo hotels, and a huge snowman. We are on our way to the Santa Claus Office to see Santa Claus. It resembles Hogwarts here. An elf welcomes us and takes us past a huge clock whose time is slowed down so Santa Claus can deliver his presents, and to a corridor full of gifts waiting to be distributed to children all over the world. We are allowed to look through the keyhole of the closed doors. Inside, you can see a elf wrapping gifts and a reindeer… Eventually we reach Santa Claus and take photos.
We leave Santa Claus Office and go to the Santa Claus Post Office where there are letters written by children from across the globe. Each of us purchases a card to post to ourselves. When we receive them, it will be another reason for us to remember Rovaniemi.
There are exactly 14,000 reindeer in Rovaniemi. In some regions, their population is even more than that of humans. As every reindeer belongs to a farm, these are not hunted. I am surprised once again to learn that the owners can recognize their own reindeer from among thousands. Of course the marks on their ears make this easier, but even recognizing their ears requires certain skills.
Riding sleighs with Santa Claus’ reindeer is one of the favorite activities here. You can pay according to the distance, board the sleigh and observe the scenery on the way.
One of the places in the village that interested me the most was the Snowman World Ice Restaurant. The restaurant made of ice is rebuilt every year during the coldest season. Eating in a restaurant made of ice on tables with huge chandeliers is a unique experience.
There are many shops where you can find souvenirs before you leave Santa Claus Village. There is also the Martiini shop, the famous Finnish knife brand, Santa’s chocolate house, and Marimekko, where you can find various household objects.
Rovaniemi, the homeland of the northern lights, reindeer ,and the lovely huskies, welcomes visitors for exciting activities including sledding, swimming, and fishing on ice that cannot be found anywhere else.