Christmas 1996
Dec 23 -28

Our Travel Experience

The story of how we ended up here for Christmas is a long one. However, after Tara saw this destination in a tour brochure, we were heading there. How could we pass up Santa Claus, Elves, Reindeer Sledding, Dog Sledding and Snowmobiling? We couldn't.

This was a good trip -but it was not the trip we expected to take at all. First, we wanted to go to South Africa, but all economy seats were already sold out by when Tara started booking things. Then, we decided on Israel, however after reading in the news that tanks had been mobilized in Jerusalem after tourists were killed at the wailing wall, we made a rule: NO going to a place where tanks have been mobilized. So, we thought about going to the Red Sea. There was some problem with that plan also.

Finally, after much frustration, Seth suggested that we take the path of least resistance & go someplace cold. It was easy to book and it all fell together nicely. Copenhagen was the first stop and Rovanemi was the second. But, first, we had to get from Copenhagen to Rovanemi via Stockholm and Helsinki. For a few weeks before we left, Virgin radio had been broadcasting in the morning from Rovanemi. So, we were excited to go.

We arrived in Rovanemi late at night and took to bus to the Hotel Polar where we were staying. We checked in really late and ended up in a room with two single beds. Tara tried to get us a room with one big bed, but failed. We've found that the late night check-in staff at most hotels speak only their native language. No big problem, we pushed the beds together and had a nice long rest.

The next day, the thing we were most surprised by was the quality of light. It never, ever got to be full daylight. All day long, for the four hours it was light out for... the day had a kind-of twilight quality to it. From our hotel window, we could see a tour operator - Arctic Safaris. Tara couldn't wait to see what activities we could do today. The activity turned out to be snowmobiling. We went to the store and go all suited up. We needed to be all suited up. It was so cold outside! We started out by going along the river and then we turned up into the woods. The path we took through the woods was made by the guy leading our group. So, no one had come the exact way we were going. That was really neat. Sometimes someone would get stuck and their snowmobile would have to be pulled out of the snowdrift it had sunk into. Seth (being one of the bigger guys in the group) was always asked to help pull the snowmobile out. Sometimes, Seth would step off to help and he would immediately sink upto his thighs in snow! On the way back, we again road along the river. It was fun for both of us to hang behind the group and then go really fast to catch up.

After snowmobiling, we walked around town for a while. This might not have been the smartest thing to do since the temperature was -24 degrees Celsius. It's a good thing we don't know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit when it's below zero!

The hotel was having a special dinner for Christmas Eve. Plus, Santa Claus was coming to visit. We quickly put together cards for each other so that Santa could hand them out to us. The dinner was a big buffet dinner that actually didn't have anything exceptionally tasty on it. But, the most interesting thing about dinner was that we heard American voices at the tables all around us. We couldn't imagine what all these other Americans were doing at the Hotel Polar in Rovanemi, Finland for Christmas. We were in the elevator with a little American girl and asked her where she was from. Her answer of "first Cleveland and then Brussels" didn't help much until we asked someone else later. The man we asked explained that all the Americans were with the Brussels American Club and that for the past few years, they'd been coming to the Hotel Polar for Christmas. So, it now made sense.

Santa Claus and his two elves came after dinner. The elves did a little dance for us and then Santa handed out the presents. We were glad we'd put cards together for each other. Before Santa left, there was a photo op outside with the Elves and his reindeer. Too bad some of our photos didn't turn out. When we looked at them afterwards, we realized that we should have held our breath whenever taking a photo. It was so cold outside that our breathe had frozen and created a cloud in front of most of our outside photos.

After Santa left, we went back inside and sat at the bar. This is when we met Bob and Eileen! They were in the American Club group from Brussels. We started talking about funny expat stories and ended up talking for a long time. We found out that Bob had the exact same camera and Seth. We head about how the telephone company in Brussels actually didn't actually have a telephone number -- but how you always had to go into an office to ask a question. It was a fun evening.
For Christmas Day, we had a big trip planned since we joined a tour that took us reindeer sledding, had us participate in an arctic circle crossing ceremony, fed us lunch and took us to Santa's Christmas Village. The reindeer sledding wasn't as fun as Tara had hoped. We just go to go around a little circular track at the reindeer farm. Even so, it was fun to be so close to so many reindeer. We were even able to pet some! The arctic crossing ceremony was also at the reindeer farm. It was inside a hut that was nice and warm thankfully. 

Driving to lunch on Christmas day, Tara thought Rovanemi looked alot like where she grew up. The construction of the houses was very similar - all wood. Plus, the width of the roads and the density of houses was exactly like the subdivision outside of Chicago that Tara grew up in. After lunch, we headed to Santa's Christmas Village to see Santa! In Europe, there is a big debate about where Santa truly comes from (and it's NOT the North Pole). Santa comes from Lapland. But, is that Lapland in Finland or in Norway. Personally, since his Christmas Village is in Finland, we'll join the believers who say Santa comes from Finnish Lapland. 

Sitting on Santa's lap was fun. Santa spoke about six languages, so we had a nice little conversation about what we wanted for Christmas, got our photo taken and then headed into the rest of Santa's Village. We bought a reindeer ornament for our yearly Christmas ornament and some postcards. At the post office, we wrote out postcards to our families and ourselves and got them specially postmarked as it was Christmas. We also signed up for ourselves to receive a letter from Santa next year. It was a fun, full day and I think we ended up getting take-away pizza for dinner! 
The next day, we were off snowmobiling again. Plus, we were going dog sledding! The trip on the snowmobiles to the dogsled place was really neat. Even though it was mid-day, the sun was just rising over the frozen lake we were snowmobiling on. We were riding on a lake and then through forested areas where the tree branches had inches and inches of snow piled on them. From one point up ontop of a hill, all that you could see in any direction were snow-covered trees. It was gorgeous.

Going dog sledding was alot of fun. When we arrived, there was plenty of time to play with the dogs. Something Seth was very keen to do! He said hello to any many dogs as possible. Next, we were all given instructions in how to work the dog sled. Seth had to stand up and steer while Tara got to sit on the seat. We heard that the dogs were often hard to stop once they go going, so the heavier person had to be the one standing and steering. Once we got started, the dogs ran REALLY fast. We were sledding along a frozen lake, so there were no obstructions. Tara remember them running and without breaking stride, stretching down to get a mouthful of snow. At one point,  a person on the sled ahead of us dropped their glove and Seth did need to practice his steering skills. This was a good adventure! On the way back to town, we were snowmobiling over a hill and go to look back down along the snow-covered river we'd just been sledding on. Kool!

That night, we went to a local theater performance outside. It was sortof like the high school plays Seth and I remember being in! Tara was happy to find a fire to warm herself by.

One night, we went to a restaurant down the road and across from the pizza parlor. It was interesting talking to the waiter about what it meant to live in Finland and speak Finnish as a native language. Another night, we saw Bob again at the bar, but Eileen wasn't feeling well, so the three of us sat and talked. Who would have thought that after meeting each other in a bar in Finland, we'd become good friends!

And then, our Christmas at the Arctic Circle was over and it was onto stop #3 - Stockholm. But, before arriving in Stockholm, we again connected through Helsinki.

Photo Album

Tara by the bridge

Seth & Tara snowmobiling

The -24C sign

Father Christmas

Tara and the reindeer. Seth and the reindeer (with Tara breathing)

Photo taken by Bob and Eileen

Snowmobiling Christmas Day - frozen faces.

Seth on sled

Tara outside of hut

Seth at arctic circle sign 

Christmas Village

Christmas Decorations above bed with Tara

Dec. 26th
Dog sledding

Seth with dog 

Seth on sled

Untouched wilderness & Seth

Full day and Tara on river/lake

Tara dancing on stage 

Tara by fire

Seth outside of hotel

Finnair plane

Category Rating Comments
Overall Experience 9 A perfect place to spend Christmas!! 
Ease of Journey 4 Our layover in Helsinki was a bit long since the weather was COLD 
Accommodation 6 The Hotel Polar did start to grow on us, but it wasn't as nice as we were expecting since it's rated as one of the best hotels in town. Plus we had to sleep in separate beds. 
Activities 8 snowmobiling, dog sledding, reindeer sledding, visiting santa, crossing the arctic circle - not your everyday activities!! 
Coolness 10 It was very interesting for us to learn that to European children, Santa comes from Finish Lapland & not the North Pole. Our trip was timed perfectly also, since Virgin Radio was broadcasting from Lapland before we left! 
Travel Experience

Tourist Info

When: Christmas 1996
Tourist Office: Finland
Web Sites:
Airline: SAS to and from Helsinki. Finnair between Helsinki and Rovanemi
Travel Times London -> Copenhagen -> Helsinki -> Rovanemi -> Helsinki -> Stockholm -> Oslo ... Bergen -> London
Hotel: Hotel Polar