Rovaniemi, Geocaching and Artikum

So here I am, once more back in Starbucks with my mint hot chocolate (non-alcoholic version!) and there’s Christmas music playing this time πŸ™‚

..back to Rovaniemi memories…

Leaving Santa Village, we headed into town for some lunch. Being the business capital of Lapland, the ‘big city’ I was interested to see what it would be like. Only a few buildings were left standing when Germans attacked during World War II so there is not the historic architecture that I’m used to seeing in England; it’s actually quite concrete looking in the centre with the impression that it’s in need of a facelift. I think it’s only natural to relate anywhere new to ‘home’ not to compare which is ‘better’ or ‘preferable’ but because everything is relative so there has to be a base point. I love Oulanka and the Ruka area so I like seeing more of what Finland has to offer to see whether it is those regions in particular or whether it’s the whole country. It also feels so much like home and I have the ‘could i live here’ thought going through my head alot so that may be more the reason I go a bit deep with my thinking…

Anyway, I’ve digressed..again πŸ™‚

As we arrived in town and headed towards a car park, we passed a McDonalds and i had to laugh – they get everywhere don’t they and it’s like a game when travelling; how long until you see the golden arches :D. It is also a very good benchmark when comparing the cost of living in a country..as is the Starbucks test! The answer on the later is not as much different to the UK as you’d think. Interestingly there was no Starbucks in Rovaniemi; not only because they also get everywhere but the Finns seem to love their coffee. Maybe there’s a considered effort not to open one…I shall google later. By way of other recognisable names, there was a Subway, H&M, Body Shop, Intersport (still going over there, where did they go in the UK?) and a Clas Olsen. I mention Clas Olsen because I’ve noticed (since I’ve been back) that a few stores of sprung up over here – it was like going into the part of Ikea (can I get away with mentioning that or are all Finns reading this now frowning..) where the useful smaller items are and also coming out with something you didn’t know you needed.

A few small arcades of shops including a couple of department stores, we wandered in and out – for once i didn’t buy any clothes (spent enough in Clas Olsen πŸ˜‰ ). It occurred to me how indoctrinated you get without realising it; in the UK I can list the quality shops and the cheaper shops (all IMHO of course) but without those names on the high street or recognisable brands on sale, I can’t gauge ‘fashions’ or the quality of clothing. I’d be left going on price, layout of the store, appearance of the staff – all reliable instincts but ones overlooked, or maybe subconsciously noted, when in familiar territory. I found it fascinating just to wander and look around. I concluded if I lived there I’d save alot of money on clothes but would have plenty of useful gadgets and storage boxes.

Last stop was for food and drink for that evening and breakfast. This was when I was introduced to the traditional Karelian Pies – I didn’t take a photo so here is a screen shot from good old Wikipedia –

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they look like a pasty with the crinkled edge and that ‘base’ is made from dark rye flour which is then filled with a rice pudding mixture. They are warmed up and spread with a mix of butter and boiled egg. You could put anything on them, ham or cheese, it’s different to anything we have here but very nice and I now have all the ingredients to try making some myself…which’ll be interesting! Maybe I’ll try it and do a blog on my attempts at Finnish cooking..

The next day we headed off for a bit of walking at the top of the hills overlooking the town. The ski jumps and chair lifts are all still there on Ounasvaara, to the west of the city, and provide extra height to some great vantage points and views across Rovaniemi.

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I was pleased to discover that geocaching is popular in Finland so we looked at the geocaching app on my phone to see if there were any nearby..and then spent a good hour or so geocaching whilst looking at the views and heading making our way back to the car. A couple of the caches were easy to find but i had to log a couple as not found – as you’ll see from the photo below, there are plenty in the area.

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There are also a surprising number to be found in the area around Basecamp Oulanka..although I struggled to find a few of them in the time allowed by a combination of myself and my phone’s battery life.

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For anyone who is yet to try geocaching, it is like a treasure hunt but using GPS and is a great way of exploring an area especially if you have children with you or want to provide different interest to an otherwise familiar area. Many cache’s have been set as part of a series which offer a pre-planned walking route with guidance on time and distance detailed. For more information or to get started, visit http://www.geocaching.com.

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This is my travel bug which I had taken with me to Finland so that I could drop it into a cache somewhere close to Basecamp Oulanka. The aim of my bug is to travel as much as possible and find its way around the world eventually. Everytime it’s logged I receive an email to let me know and I can look up where it is – my bug has passed through a few hands since I left it and is currently in a cache in the south of Finland πŸ™‚

The last part of our trip to Rovaniemi was a visit to Artikum, located on the edge of the Ounasjoki river. Museum’s aren’t top of my list of places to visit but this is said to be one of the best museums and science centres in Finland and I was interested to learn more about life in Lapland through the ages. I wasn’t disappointed, actually I was pleasantly surprised. For €12 there is alot to see – lots of displays, a number of them interactive, and all different in how they present the information. There’s even one where you can recline in darkness and watch an animation about the aurora borealis, that was almost too comfortable πŸ™‚ I thoroughly recommend a visit if you’re in the area as it has plenty to keep adults and children engaged. http://www.artikum.fi/EN should take you to the english translation of the site for more information.

Next up on the blog is my experience of the Finnish smoke sauna πŸ™‚

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Roadtrip to meet Santa Claus!

So here I am, back in the UK, back at work and life away from the relaxing wilderness at Basecamp Oulanka. It has turned colder here now and there are whisperings of ‘snow’ and ‘harsh winter’. I even looked into winter tyres the other day..if only our winters were that reliable! When you witness a plane landing on icy ground without sliding out of control and then sit comfortably on a coach driving at what feels like normal speed, it does make you wonder how we just grind to a halt over here, ‘snowed in’ and unable to go anywhere..the answer is in part due to only using summer tyres I’m sure..

Driving in Finland was easy on a number of levels. When I was planning my most recent trip (this could get complicated if i go back too much! :)) I was nervous about driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road as it had been a while. But that was me in England and having not really ventured outside of Basecamp when I was there in the winter. In England you don’t have time to think too much on the road; there’s traffic all around you, and if you sit at a roundabout working out where you need to go or waiting for the right gap, you soon get beeped at impatiently….or do I just spend too much time in rush hour commuter traffic?!? I needn’t have worried, there was hardly anything on the roads over there, even in Kuusamo! The flip side is that you need to think about roundabouts rather than being able to rely on flow of traffic to remind you to go anticlockwise…and yes, i did sit and wait at my first one until something came along to follow πŸ™‚ I ended up really enjoying driving in Finland, the lack of traffic on the roads make distances easy to cover, roads are well signposted and it doesn’t seem to be hard to get parked. Reindeer or Elk crossing the road are another matter! Interestingly if you hit a reindeer you have to report it as that is someone’s livestock. If you hit an elk then from what i understand you’ll be more concerned for yourself and your car..

On a more practical point, fuel is about the same price as it is here and the cheapest rental I found from Kuusamo Airport in September was circa €25 a day. Not as cheap as you may expect for overseas car travel but not so much more expensive in the way that people are led to believe Finland is. I will definitely be hiring a car and planning more road trips the next time I’m over in Spring or Summer.

So why am I woffling on about traffic and driving – well, the fast approaching festive period has me thinking back to our road trip to Rovaniemi and meeting Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as he is to me); I’ve just been doing the big build up.. πŸ˜€

Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland with population of circa 60,ooo people and official hometown of Santa Claus, is only about 205km from Basecamp and it’s a straightforward drive with some lovely scenery along the way.

First stop, Santa Claus. No messing around, i was excited. I’m too old to be but i couldn’t help it.

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Santa Claus Village, which crosses into the Arctic Circle, has the Santa Claus Post OfficeΒ  as well as a number of gift and refreshment shops..but even shopping could wait on this occasion..

Entering the building there’s a sign prohibiting photography beyond that point, a video camera watching you and an ominous door. Rather refreshingly, there was no charge – whether that changes during the winter season and busy Christmas period I don’t know, but there was nothing to suggest it’s any different.

Regressing further to become a shy child once more, i wasn’t going through on my own so the three of us went through together. You walk through something of an exhibition (photos of famous people who have visited and an explanation of how he gets round the world in one night), no doubt to provide distraction while you queue during busy periods, and then you’re in his house being beckoned through to meet him..

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Santa Claus is impressive – great shoes and stripey socks that I just kept staring at; childlike shyness needing something else to focus on. He is fluent in seven languages (handy!) and not one of them has a hint of the others when he speaks – there Santa was interchanging between English, Swedish and FinnishΒ  with ease and accuracy. We were in there a while, chatting about where we were from etc and having the official photos taken before it was time to move on. One thing was lacking however…Santa Claus did not ask what we wanted for Christmas 😦 ..maybe he really does know or maybe he just draws the line at engaging grown adults in conversations about how good they’ve behaved that year…

As you leave comes the money part and who isn’t going to want a photo of them with Santa! What? Just me that did then. I see. The prices weren’t that bad considering where you are and compared to how much it costs to meet Santa over here or go on a Santa Train etc.Β  There were a few packages and the one I went for was the most expensive (but still only about Β£30) which was the USB stick containing the official photos, video of the whole meeting and a few extras with the copyright for all so I could print as many as i wanted off (some of which are used in this so you can see the place looking pretty with snow). Then it’s time for the usual exit through the gift shop πŸ˜‰ I can’t say anything in the Office of Santa Clause gift shop, or any of the other shops on site, were noticeably more expensive than I saw things priced in Ruka or Kuusamo and they did sell everything…including the tacky end of the scale!

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This has become a rather long post so I’ll finish off Rovaniemi in Part Two..coming soon πŸ™‚

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