On the line of the Arctic Circle, in the far north of Finland, you can find the “Hometown of Santa Clause.” Rustic wooden buildings sit haphazardly among a wealth of twinkling white lights and a sea of white snow. Reindeer pull sleighs full of visitors in laps through the woods, while huskies yap nearby. Smoke and steam rise from the various steep-roofed buildings, perhaps from fires warming the lodges or the stove tops which prepare rich and comforting food.
Many shops fill the village’s entrance hall, selling everything from traditional Finnish crafts to globally-sourced holiday trinkets. You can sit down at one of the restaurants and have Santa’s own favorite cappuccino and his preferred dim-sum dinner. A post office is flooded with visitors who can leave letters directly for Santa, or use the polar post to send something to friends and family back home.
Of course, you can’t visit the village without seeing the man himself.
I visited Santa Village with all my friends from the hostel on my first day in Rovaniemi. I returned alone the next day to enjoy the atmosphere and have a nice Finnish dinner, though I didn’t yet know where. As it happened, one of the other hostel guests—a woman from Germany—had the same idea. She had heard of a little hut in the village that sold traditionally prepared salmon. We had to wait for almost an hour in the snow just to get half a table, but food was exquisite. We had glog to drink and an appetizer of grilled Finnish cheese with jam. The salmon itself had the richest flavor of any I’ve ever been served, and it tasted deeply of the open fire it had been grilled over.
That dinner was essentially the close on my trip. A lovely conclusion to my Finnish trip.
I spent the next day on a train back to Helsinki, a night there and then boarded a ferry the next morning, beginning over 48 hours on mass transit. It wasn’t… unbearable. In fact, it was kind of magical. We’re used to these sorts of things when it comes to flying, but watching the climate change from the train, bus and ferry windows as I journeyed from the Arctic circle to northern Italy was pretty wild. I left behind snow-covered pines for palms and glittering lakes, but more on that next time.