Call of the North (21): Napapiiri, the Arctic Circus

July 30

I’m at a terrace in the center of Rovaniemi, surrounded by talkative Finns. I am wearing shorts and a Tshirt. It’s 9pm, sunny and warm on the Arctic Circle.

The first impression in the Rovaniemi railway station were the probably American boy in flipflops. Dude, you’re on the Arctic Circle!!

Out in the street, though, I realized that the kid was not far from the truth: It was pleasant outside, and it was barely 8am. (excellent conditions in the 12.5 hours train from Helsinki, managed to sleep pretty well)

The most expensive overnight stay on the trip so far, the City hotel is a decent 3-star. I had found it thru booking.com; hostelworld.com didnt have anything free! Or rather a poor database – there are more hostels in Rovaniemi than you would think from their site.

After checking in, I go straight to the tourist office, to ask for help with the next accomodation, and start with the standard question: “where do i find a public phone”?

“There are no public phones in Finland.”

After a confusion pause, it rings a bell, and I unwillingly mutter “damn those mobile phone guys”. “I’m sorry?” she asks. Before I can say “nothing, nothing” with a little embarrassment, she says “yes, these Nokia people, what can you do”. So she heard. Still, she is very friendly and calls up a hostel (from her… mobile phone) to find accomodation for me. Which she finds.

Happy, I hurry to catch the bus, which I obviously miss, which gives me time to change into shorts and T-shirt. Well, it’s already 11am and it is… warm outside!

I reach Santa Claus’ Village around half past noon. S.C.V. is the main touristic attraction here. It is said that Santa lives somewhere in the North, in Lapland, on the Arctic Circle. Well, this is Lapland, and this is the Arctic Circle.

Napapiiri, în Finnish.

I took a few moments to take it in, made a few calls and sent SMSez marking the moment, got used to the idea of the 25 degrees Celsius I was feeling, and then had a look around the village. First, the building

which hosts

Santa’s Office

I could have gone in to meet him, but I heard a kid crying inside and got scared away. Looked at the countless souvenirs and jinglebells instead.

And this was just the souvenirstart. The whole village is full of them. Some are pretty cool – unfortunately (or fortunately), my luggage is not suited for much shopping on this trip, so I move on to Santa’s Post Office

which receives apparently around 500000 letters per year, and a staff (elves, of course) help him out to answer almost half. Probably, to kids who have been behaving that year.

There is only one other functional “objective” in summer, the husky camp. Around 200m from the center. So I go, nobody at the gate. I open, get in – nobody. Just a tied up tired sad sick dog. I see/hear others further on, barking. There’s a cabin, a small bench and a TV on. No human around.

I go out and in and out and in again, hesitating… about the time I’m about to leave, I hear voices and stronger barking – the guide was returning with some tourists after a small tour. For 6 EUR I also did a small tour, on my own, in a large garden with cages hosting 40 dogs, huskies and some spitz, and a REINDEER.

You can play with them, but since I have a deep respect for the canine race, I just took a few pix.

This guy apparently played a part in a Lordi clip.

Now he was all chillin – well, rock star.

The reindeer

looked sleepy and clumsy, almost drunk. Nice antlers, though. Didn’t know that they were covered in fur

and only in autumn the fur comes down to leave the empty bone. Mating is done exclusively on the “antler principle”, correlated with “size matters”. The largest antlers get the girl. Period, no discussion. They apparently grow twice this size, and after the mating season fall off again, and in spring it starts all over.

At least I learned something. And it was not the only thing. Back in Rovaniemi, I went to the LP-recommended Arktikum museum

which was interesting, informative, interactive. Sami people have fantastic traditional costumes, I had no idea, thought they wd dress all in furs. Nope, only at the beginning, after cloth came to these areas they developed a spectacular dress. I learned more stuff, and saw a simulation of the northern lights. Cool.

I walked back, along the river

and ended up enjoying this cranberry juice at this pub terrace, on the small cobbled stoned street which is the center of Rovaniemi.

The sun is about to set. It is “only” 9pm – sign that autumn is coming. It’s almost august, nights start to grow again – the “white” ones are in june.

With this, the utmost northern point of the trip has been reached. 66°32’35” northern latitude. The place starting where, at summer solstice, the sun doesn’t set. I recommend a visit in winter, it must be an eerie landscape. 1m snow, all sorts of “safari” activities with much more energetic huskies.

That being said, starting tomorrow, it’s all back South…

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