Finnish city near Arctic Circle , July 5, 6 - Andrew Fernando
We were now driving smoothly, towards North of Sweden, not spending much time on our way to Rovaniemi. We did not want to drive too long and get tired. We tried to keep our daily drive under 450 kilometres. We selected two busy towns with good hotel facilities as overnight stop overs. First one was Sundsvall. After Sundsvall, our next stop was Skelleftea. The driving distance was a little over 300 kilometres. Skelleftea is a nice town in Sweden with a population of about 32000 people. We selected Aurum hotel for our stop over. It was a very nice hotel with friendly staff. Our hotel rate included both breakfast and dinner.
There was free parking in the hotel grounds. We could walk in to the hotel restaurant any time and eat a piece of cake or make a good coffee on their coffee machine. There were free apples kept near the reception. The hotel also had a kids playing area and a kids pool.
We have been eating heavy breakfasts with Bacon, sausages, ham and salami etc. On top of that, we were having three or more cups of strong coffee. Without realising , we were taking too much salt and fat. We needed to have a healthy breakfast for a change. At the Aurum Hotel breakfast bar, we decided to have their cereals. Their cereals are made out of healthy seeds and fruits and very tasty. Their fruit juices are freshly prepared juices from fresh fruits.
In one of the earlier hotels, we had fruits coming from canned tins. In all the other hotels they had fresh cut fruit pieces.
Pineapple and Orange pieces came with the skin.
We only had one problem in the Aurum hotel. The hot water tap in the shower was stuck and could not be adjusted. We told that to the receptionist when we came down for dinner. She was a young girl, and she wanted to come to our room and have a look. She couldn’t fix it. You obviously needed a plumber to replace it. Anyway, the end result was that she moved us to a bigger and better room on the second floor.
The next day, Tuesday, the 5th of July, we resumed our drive towards Rovaniemi, about 380 kilometres from Skelleftea. We decided to have early breakfast and leave early. The weather forecast for the day was not good. The sky was overcast and gloomy and even before we started from the hotel , it started raining. In Sweden there are no road tolls. We knew we have to pay road tolls in Norway. There are no manual booths to pay tolls. You simply go through the toll gates. Your bill will automatically come to the owner of the registered vehicle, in our case to Hertz. We wanted to avoid this. We registered on line, giving our details and the car rental period. Bills will come to our email address which we can collect and pay with our credit card.
The freeway E4, on which we were driving, had one lane, with overtaking lanes appearing from time to time. You drive behind the slow vehicles and overtake them when there is an overtaking lane. Driving was easy, but overtaking slow long trucks in rainy weather was challenging. They sprayed water on your windscreen while overtaking. There was hardly anything to see, other than the pine forests and lakes. Once we passed a very long bridge.
We drove about 200 kilometres without stopping and took an exit to a small town called Kalix.
We found a small restaurant on the side of the road which looked interesting from outside and walked in. It was full of people. We were not sure what to order, but after looking at their menu we decided to order two Varm Ost. We expected them to be something warm. We were correct, we got two Burgers with cheese and ham. Later we found the girl at the counter could speak English.
We filled the car with diesel from the same town and resumed our journey. After another 50 kilometres, we passed a big town called Haparanda which is on the border of Sweden and Finland. Ninety minutes later, we were in Rovaniemi. It was still raining when we arrived at our hotel, called the Arctic Light hotel. I got out of the car and ran quickly to the reception leaving Mala in the car. The receptionist, a young man, checked me in quickly and told me where to park our car and also gave me an umbrella to go back to the car. When we parked the car and came to the reception, he was there to greet us. The rain has stopped briefly. He volunteered to go to our car and bring the bags to our room.
Out hotel, Arctic Light Hotel was the best hotel we have seen so far during our trip. The room was bigger and nicely decorated. It had a separate sitting area. The walls of our room were decorated with pictures of Sami People wearing their costumes. Sami people are the indigenous people of Finland and considered to be the original settlers of Finland.
Rovamieni is the Northern most city in Finland, You only have to travel another six kilometres to cross the Arctic Circle. We have planned to spend two nights in Rovaniemi. It is the capital of Lapland in northern Finland. It is recognised as the official home town of Santa Claus.
Rovaniemi is a very pretty town. It is at the confluence of the two rivers Kemjoki and Ounasjoki. Most of the city centre roads are paved with cement bricks. You can see many people either jogging or walking their dogs along the river bank. There are others who ride their bicycles. There are more bicycles than cars on the roads near the city centre. In Summer, Rovaniemi is like any other city full of people. In Winter, the buildings in the city are transformed into snow covered ice palaces. More tourists come to Rovaniemi in Winter than in Summer.
Weather in Rovaniemi is very unpredictable. One minute, you will see sun shine and the next minute, the sky opens up with a heavy rain.
On the 5th evening, when we arrived in Rovaniemi, we had to stay inside the hotel for about one hour. Then the rain stopped and we could walk along the busy shopping street, that was very close to our hotel. We were planning to have Rein deer steak, which is something you are expected to do, when you visit lapland. Then we saw an Indian Restaurant called Rang Mahal on the road. We have not eaten any spicy food for nearly two weeks. The temptation was too much to miss the chance of having rice and curry. We ended up having dinner in the Indian Restaurant.
On our second day in Rovaniemi, we went to visit Santa. Santa’s village is about eight kilometres from the city. It was very similar to the one we saw in Fairbanks, Alaska. They also have a Santa Claus Village and a live Santa. In the morning, we were talking to the girl at our hotel reception asking her about the best places to visit. She is the one who gave us directions to go to Santa’s village. I casually mentioned that we have seen another Santa in Alaska. She said the one in Alaska is a fake Santa. The one in Rovaniemi is the real Santa. We did not want to argue with her. I am sure Santa lives in both places. With his chariot, he can easily shuttle between the two places.
We visited Santa and took a photo with him. We told him about our two grand children Elinore and Morgan. We told him that they are waiting to see our photo with Santa.
Our hotel, Arctic Light Hotel was chosen the eleventh best new hotel on the planet by the Travel+ Leisure magazine. That makes it the best new hotel in Europe in 2016. It is always fully booked in Christmas time and in Summer. The Aurora suites on the top floor have large windows to allow guests to view Northern Lights from their beds.
We came back to our hotel in the evening and walked around the city streets doing a bit of shopping and then walked up to the river bank. They say the mid night sun can be observed from the iconic
Jatkankynttila Bridge. The sky was covered with rain clouds and we did not go out to see the Mid Night Sun. We may be able to see it in Alta.
There are Rein deer farms and Husky farms in Rovaniemi. We did not have the time to visit them. Reindeer farms and herding of reindeer can only be done by Sami People. Sami people have been doing it for generations. They mark the ears of Reindeer so that they can be identified and are released to roam about. It is said that the owners can recognise each and every one of their Reindeer by checking their ears. Reindeer is used for transport, but mainly for their meat.
We decided to taste Reindeer on our second day and went to the Nili Restaurant, next door to our hotel, for dinner. I ordered their special Reindeer stake while Mala order another Reindeer plate. It tasted very different to other meat we have eaten. The flesh was very soft and tender.
We left Rovaniemi on the Seventh morning for our next adventure. We are driving West, crossing the border again entering Sweden.