The northern-most destination on my trip was Rovaniemi, a city in the remote Finnish Lapland. The arctic circle passes through the northern tip of the city, bisecting one of the region’s biggest attractions, Santa Village. I’ll save that for next post, though.
I arrived at my hostel around 6pm and met an amazing group of people. We chatted for an hour or so, before heading on a walk to a nearby observation tower, hoping to see the northern lights. (I’ll go ahead and preface, I did not see the Aurora during my trip. It was cloudy from the moment I set foot in Finland to the moment I left.)
The hike to the tower took us through a snow covered forest, illuminated by the light of the distant city bouncing off the clouds, off the snow, off the clouds and so on. The tower itself was perched atop a hill and covered in ice blown against it by the wind. The view was lovely, and would have been amazing if clouds hadn’t covered the lights that were dancing above our heads at the very moment.
We awoke the next morning for a hike by daylight. I know I’ve raved about Finnish urbanism in every post so far, but the fact that we could take a bus in the Arctic Circle from our hostel on the edge of town to the city center will never not impress me.
The trail itself was located in a nature preserve just outside the city center. Predominantly, it seemed to be dedicated to cross country skiing, with a number of trails reserved only for the skiers, but there were enough foot paths for us to get lost for about two hours.
After the hike, we returned to town for lunch. We were interested in traditional Lappish cuisine, but the only place open for lunch was far too expensive. Instead, we found a local burger place that had a reindeer burger. Yeah, it felt weird eating reindeer in the “Hometown of Santa Claus,” but reindeer herding is a multi-millennia-old tradition… and it was really good.
We went to Santa Village after lunch, but since I am saving that for the next post, I’ll skip to the next morning.
I really wanted to see the city museums, as they’d been recommended by several people. I awoke early, and hoped back on the bus heading to the Arktikum and the Forestry museum.
The former is a science and history museum dedicated to the identity and issues of Arctic peoples and nature. There were history exhibits on traditional Lappish dowry boxes, wars fought against Russia, the indigenous Sami people and the ways Arctic lifestyles have changed over the centuries. The science sections of the museum explored Arctic wildlife, the causes of the Northern Lights, and the research being done across Lapland today. In one of the rooms there was a dome you could lie down in with a projection of the Northern Lights on the ceiling. I think I caught the more… Imaginative part of the experience, though.
Speaking of, there was also a theater with an artsy and evocative film about the changing seasons of Lapland. It had some incredible shots of the Aurora, the memory of which will have to satisfy me for now, I suppose.
The forestry museum was hailed as being an amazingly interactive museum, and it was quite impressive. Forestry is one of the primary industries in Lapland, and it was nice to see a museum that recognized the industry’s importance but was also dedicated to exploring all the ways forests, forestry and climate health are interconnected. Most of the exhibits were dedicated to environmental issues, but you could also find a hunting game, sit in a massive logging machine, or drive said machine in a simulator.
I’m glad I went to Rovaniemi, even if I didn’t see the lights. I met neat people, can say I’ve set foot in the Arctic, and now know one of the most remote parts of Europe. I’d love to go back and try to see the lights again, though Sweden, Norway and Iceland are all also calling…