Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Santa wasn't home...

Rovaniemi is supposedly the place where Santa lives. I say supposedly as the Americans disagree. When we stopped at Santa's home in Rovaniemi though, we were welcomed by a sign that said he wasn't home but would be back 4 hours later… maybe he's got a part-time job or is just employed as a casual… He's a bit shy too as there's a big sign stating that he doesn't want to be photographed! The Americans claim Santa lives at Northpole in Alaska, while Northpole Alaska is below the Arctic Circle… It's all a bit weird this Santa business.

So far we have crossed the Arctic Circle twice in Alaska, then again in Norway, now at Rovaniemi in Finland and later-on crossed it again in Finland close to the Russian border on the same day. Five Arctic Circle crossings at 4 different locations and 3 different countries, all in one trip, that must be some kind of record. In Alaska there is a beautiful wooden sign and, when present, the tourist information officer will hand you a certificate, for free. All very much low-key… In Finland at Rovaniemi it's very much a commercial operation. Santa lives at the Arctic Circle and is surrounded by gift shops and restaurants. A certificate that you crossed the Arctic Circle will cost you here $6,30. I mention this because logically it would be the other way around, the US being commercial and all that.

Finland is also very much geared for the Russian tourists. Virtually everything is translated into Russian, which is odd as in general the Finns don't seem to like the Russians much. Russia is to me still communism and they all drive a Lada… not anymore judging by the Russian tourists visiting Finland. The Russians now drive big expensive and mostly black cars. Mafia, grosse mafia someone said earlier. We later heard that quite a few Russians have summerhouses in Finland, seeing it as a safer investment than a house in Russia...

We looked around at Rovaniemi, found Santa not home and a sign stating that it wasn't allowed to take pictures of him anyway when he was. The only thing that was open were the many giftshops. I got quite quickly bored with it all, to be honest. We took the photos at the Arctic Circle line and left again, going back north… Why north? Because Petri from Finland had told us to follow the eastern side of the country and from Rovaniemi there is no road going east (as far as we or the map knows). So we went a little north, then east and then south again. That also meant crossing the Arctic Circle again!

What had surprised me this morning was how many people live above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. In Alaska the settlements stop well below the Arctic Circle. In Norway, Sweden and Finland there are hundreds of towns above it. In Norway there are proper towns situated higher than Prudhoe Bay! I wondered what sort of effect it would have on people to live this far north? In general I had noticed that people are quite short here, with shorter legs in comparison to people that live further south. Maybe a genetical adaption to the colder climate? 
But I also wondered what sort of psychological effect it would have to live in long winters; and months of virtual or even complete darkness. What sort of people like to live there, I wondered. Surely not everyone likes the heat or the tropics, but this is the other extreme. Reindeer seem to enjoy it, god knows why as they don't have mosquito repellent… 

Pit toilet northern Finland style!
Cute looking toilet eh? Wait until you see what's inside!
As we went further east and getting closer to the Russian border, the landscape changed somewhat. The houses became 'friendlier' people tended their gardens and generally tried to make something of it. Further north it was all much simpler. The lakes and real Finland that Petri had promised started straight away! We found a great camping spot alongside one of the many lakes, free and complete with covered picnic tables! There was just enough breeze to keep the no-see-ums at bay too!