This year, equipped with a visa and savings, I decided to trade the warmer climate of home for the sub-zero temperatures of the Finnish Lapland. Flying in to Helsinki just after Christmas, the treacherously icy roads and the biting wind had me wondering whether or not I would survive the journey further up north. But, I lived to tell the tale.
Although there is an overnight train aptly named the Santa Claus Express and flights up to Rovaniemi, as a solo traveller, I decided to join a student trek group which came with a bus ride up north. Heading in to Rovaniemi, the first thing to adapt to, was the fact that a “day” was only 3 hours long, with the sun rising at around 10:30 am and setting by 1:30 pm. Then came the cold, with an average of -10ºC; layering was more of a necessity than a fashion statement.
Despite that, Santa Claus’ hometown was a picture-perfect postcard, complete with a humongous Christmas tree that was decorated all year long. A tiny town, with a couple of touristy hotspots, including a Santa’s grotto, a post office where you can send postcards to Santa, and back home with an Arctic Circle postmark, and a reindeer farm.
Then came the fun part. Chasing the Northern Lights after midnight, an uncertainty at worst and sheer dumb luck, at best. Despite driving out for four nights, in search of the lights, we couldn’t see them. However, we got to see them only when a couple of us couldn’t sleep and went on a 3 am trekking expedition up a couple of hills to a watchtower in -21ºC weather. Whilst the night sky with the lights were pretty magical, it was slightly underwhelming since it looked like nothing more than a faint green rainbow with one’s naked eyes. Although it was one of those things that looked better in photos, it was one experience crossed off the bucket list.
We had a memorable New Year’s Eve, huddled around a bonfire in a snowy campsite, setting off our own fireworks. The cherry on top, however, was starting the year off by spending time with huskies in Lapland, and getting to drive a husky sleigh. A perfect start to a hopefully decent year, indeed!