Written by am on 08.03.2018 at 16:34.
An invisible line runs through Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Iceland - the Arctic Circle. North of it, the midnight sun never sets during the summer months, while in the dark polar nights in winter the sun never rises.
However, at the end of September, when we were traveling through Finland, we were in a period when the sun was rising and setting at about the same time as in Central Europe. Most importantly, staying north of the Arctic Circle increased the likelihood of observing the Northern Lights in the sky. A natural spectacle, of which we were hoping to be lucky enough to experience.
Passing the gate to the North
The capital of Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi, lies on the Arctic Circle and is considered as the gateway to the polar region. On AirBnB we found a little apartment in the city for a reasonable rate and decided to stay for three nights.
Rovaniemi was completely destroyed by the Germans at the end of World War II. Based on the plan of three architects, the town was afterwards rebuild from scratch. The layout of the newly established city was inspired by a reindeer antler. About the history of the city, but also about the living conditions of humans, animals and plants in the arctic climate, we learned in the museum "Arktikum". With its impressive glass vault that is already visible from afar and that points northwards like a giant finger, the museum building is an architectural attraction of the city.
Less spectacular was the "Lordi-square" in the city center, named after the heavy metal band of the same name, who won the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest despite of - or perhaps because of - their extraordinary stage costumes. The singer and founder of the band was born in Rovaniemi.
Santa Clause is in Town
Rovaniemi is also considered to be the official seat of the chamber of Santa Claus, who allegedly lives at the Arctic Circle. A few kilometers north of the city one can find the "Santa Claus Village" where Santa Claus himself can be encountered. We were curious and decided to pay him a visit.
When we arrived there, unfortunately our fears had been confirmed: at this time of the year (no snow!) it was just an uncomely amusement park with souvenir shops in which all sorts of Christmas junk was sold at extortionate prices.
"Meet the real Santa" dazzled above one of the log cabins. "Well, since we're already here, we should take the opportunity," we agreed, and entered "Santa's Workshop." But given the disproportionately high costs of a meeting including a photo with the "real" Santa Claus we quickly changed our mind and left the building without any magical experience.
At the official Santa Claus post office on the site, every year around 250,000 letters from children from all over the world arrive. If the parents were so conscientious and had enclosed a stamped envelope to the kid’s writing, Santa will also respond.
The onward journey from Rovaniemi through Finnish Lapland felt very special. We had crossed the Arctic Circle and on the first few miles on the road I recalled that, geographically seen, we were now residing in arctic territory.
Even before I was able to finish this thought, the G was braked abruptly. "Reindeer!" the driver excitedly screamed and pulled over. I reached for the camera and enthusiastically made the first photos of some reindeer crossing the street.
On the trip so far, we had passed many traffic signs warning against reindeer (and moose) and finally, we saw them with our own eyes. They were standing in front of us, unimpressed of our presence, and calmly continued their way as some cars behind us started honking. Alright, now we could confirm: yes, there are reindeer in Lapland. Indeed, plenty of them, as we would soon discover on our continuing journey. While the first sightings made us nervously grasping the camera, we soon got used to observing these wonderful animals on Finnish roads or at the edge of forests.
Reindeer herding is closely linked to the culture of the Sami, the only indigenous people within the European Union. The Sami live in the northern regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden as well as in parts of northeastern Russia. In Finland, the Sami population consists of about 9,000 inhabitants.
In Inari, a town on the lake of the same name, we visited the Sámi cultural center "Sajos". There, also the Sami Parliament (Sámediggi) is accommodated, which represents the interests of the people and is committed to the preservation of their endangered language and culture.
Lapland in late September was like a sea of earthy hues. The coloring of the fall foliage, called "ruska" by the Finns, is a phenomenon that dips the northern landscape into rich brown, yellow and red tones. The blueberries in the forest were also ripe and we could not resist to nibble them directly from the mossy forest floor.
The last kilometers in Finland were very lonesome, the landscape became barren. The ruska in the northern part was already over, and the few existing trees had thrown off all leaves. We felt that it was time to get to Norway before the winter with all its severity would be at the doorstep.