Arctic Circle – forests and a man-in-red

Thursday 10 to Friday 11 August

We slept well enough on the overnight train to Rovaniemi, although I had wobbly feet at the other end – I had got used to the rocking train. 

We arrived very early in Rovaniemi, and it seemed a very sleepy place. We found breakfast and then drove the 8km to the Arctic Circle to visit Santa. We were shown through a labyrinth of mirrors and garlands as Santa’s helpers greeted us and directed us onwards. Finally, we reached ‘the big cavern’ where we sat and chatted to the famous man-in-red, but I didn’t realise it was all recorded and for a small sum of €40 we could purchase the pictures & video, via an online link. All we brought away was a card with a code on it, valid for a year but must initially be used in 30 days. A story to tell any future grandchildren.

Of course, Santa spoke perfect English and knew all about Australia. He assured us his favourite breakfast was Vegemite on toast.

The girls at the Information Desk suggested a ten minute drive up the road to the Arctic Circle Hike near Vaattunkiköngäs. It was beautiful – streams and firs, flowers and fungi and mosquitos. Suitably protected with mosquito repellent, wet weather gear and cameras, we took off on the well signed route through gravel paths, muddy paths and duck walks (what we call board walks). We were impressed at the shelters, set up for a picnic or even an overnight stay on some of the longer trails.  They were equipped with fire places and loads of fire wood. We walked for 2 hours. And when we got back to our car the rain started. Torrential rain. How lucky were we? 

And the rain continued. It must be hard enough living here in winter when the definition of 66° 32’ 35” is that there is at least one night where the sun stays beneath the horizon. But a dull summer as well. That is how it has been in Northern Europe for us this year. 

The next day looked a little brighter. The tourist information had suggested an hour’s drive along the Kemijoki River to Autti where there is the 3.6km long Auttiköngäs nature trail along the tributary Auttijoki River.

Along the drive we finally came across a couple of reindeer, not that they were in any hurry as they sauntered along the road, challenging drivers to slow with patience.

The walk was well marked with orange dots on the trees. At the beginning of the walk there was a logging flume, a long slide made of wood that was used to slide logs down over the waterfall. 

I was amused at a couple of information signs advising dogs to use the wooden panels on one set of metal mesh steps and to detour around a route with stairs that their small paws couldn’t manage.

There were many lookout opportunities along the way, which slowed our progress and added to the pixels in our cameras.

We also found that once we descended to be close to the river and the ground was damp, we were on duckboards. Any tricky terrain over rocks had steps. We climbed past a group of rocks that had been the edge of a lake or inland sea and up to the lookout at Könkäänvaara where you could see the expansiveness of the forest. 

We finished our walk with a smoked salmon sandwich at the Pirttikahvila, a small summer cafe on the edge of the waterfall.

It was on the drive home that the rain started, again.

We browsed around Rovaniemi shops, dodging the rain. Of course there are multiple opportunities to send Santa a message – Santa post boxes in every shopping mall. 

And then it was back on the overnight train to return to Helsinki.