Dashing through the Snow to see Santa
by Taylor Deer
Christmas is almost here and after an amazing week in Finland, my spirit is beaming and I am ready to begin the celebrations.
As I promised last week, I will be providing two fun blog posts during my amazing time in Lapland. This week, get into the Christmas spirit with me as we get to meet the real Santa Claus and enjoy a relaxing sleigh ride with Rudolph!
On Saturday, December 9, I departed from JFK in New York and took a relaxing flight straight to Finland’s capital, Helsinki, where I met up with my cousins. From there, we headed straight to Rovaniemi in Lapland where we stayed for the week. I have to admit that I was disappointed when I first landed in Helsinki. The first question I asked myself when the plane landed was “Where is the snow?!”. That all changed on our second flight when we landed in a winter wonderland! Normally, when most of us go on vacation, we are used to jet setting off to a warm destination where there are palm trees, so we were all so excited to get off the plane and begin our winter adventures in sparkling snow and dreamy pine trees.
One of the cool things about Rovaniemi’s airport is that it gets you in the Christmas spirit right when you land. The terminals were filled with Christmas lights and snowflakes and the baggage claim area had a snow village that reminded me of my nana’s Christmas village. It was cute and festive!
The ride from the airport to our hotel was around 15 minutes, which was nice! We stayed at the Arctic Light Hotel located in the heart of Rovaniemi city. The location of the hotel was perfect because it was in walking distance to some great restaurants, Rovaniemi’s Christmas market, a few cozy bars and shops. I also love how the hotel was perfectly decorated for the holiday and it even had lights (similar to the Northern Lights) shining on the building. My cozy room was located on the top floor and it featured sky windows that allowed me to possibly see the Northern Lights from bed. It was the perfect place to get a good night sleep.
I couldn’t believe I was in the Arctic Circle! As I mentioned in my blog post from Iceland, there is minimal daylight during the day in the Nordic wintertime. It started to get light around 11am and then it went back into darkness around 2pm. Don’t worry though, Finland makes up for their sunlight from May – August when there is daylight around the clock.
After we settled in, our first excursion was to see the big man himself – Santa Claus! Since you can’t physically travel to the actual North Pole since it is frozen ice over the Arctic Ocean, Lapland is the second closest place and that is where Santa has his workshop. 15 minutes from our hotel is Lapland’s famous Santa Park. Just as it says in the same, this place is literally an amusement park for all of those who “believe”!
When we arrived at Santa Park, it felt like my nana’s Christmas village came to life right in front of me. I remember always sitting in front of that village every December and fantasizing about one day being in there and when I arrived at Santa Park, my childhood dreams became reality. (It only took 20 years. LOL)
Santa Park is full of fun attractions; Christmas lights galore, snow hills and forts, a beautiful Christmas tree and so much more! We walked around, took pictures and then bought a plastic sled. One of the best parts about Santa Park is that no matter what age you are, you could act like a kid and no one will judge you. My cousin Alexie and I bought a hot pink sled and took it to the top of one of the snow-piled hills and had a blast sleigh riding down it. We shared some great laughs!
As we walked around, we found a cozy spot where there was a bonfire surrounded by pine trees and Christmas lights. It was a great place to warm up and relax from our sleighing fun.
Later on in the evening, we decided it was a good time to meet Santa since the crowds died down by then. If you decide to meet the big man earlier in the day, expect to wait on line for a while since that is the prime time families go with their little ones. We were able to walk right in with no lines whatsoever later at night. It was awesome!
As you walk to meet Santa, there is a whole North Pole exhibit set up. It was cool, but I could imagine it was even dreamier for a child. When we finally got to the room, we were greeted by Santa’s elves and then were able to go in to meet him. Just like big kids, we got excited when we got to talk to Santa. It was a fun 10 minutes!
In addition to meeting Santa and having fun outside, you can visit the Toy Factory Shopping Area, Elf School, Santa Park Magic Show, Magic Train, Elf Workshop, Angry Birds Activity Area and Mrs. Gingerbread Bakery. It is the perfect place to visit if you have young children or even if you are my age and are looking to relive your childhood!
After having fun at Santa Park, we made our way next door to Snowman World, which is literally considered “The Coolest Place on the Arctic Circle”. Every year, a group of people with different talents and skills work together to create a magical igloo that includes both a hotel, restaurant and bar with beautiful ice carvings and sculptures of snowmen and other intricate details to make for a unique and unforgettable experience. If you are visiting Lapland, I definitely recommend making your way here! The igloo melts at the end of Lapland’s winter season, which is usually late March into early April.
When we first entered the igloo, we were taken straight to the ice bar. I loved how we were able to get our own private experience so that we could create memories together. Since vodka is a staple in Finnish culture, our tour guide let us choose from a variety of flavors from Finland’s famous Finlandia bottles. Even though I am not the biggest vodka fan, I chose to try the mint flavor since it complements the winter season. What was cool about it was that it was served in an ice cup! We had to keep our gloves on because we could have gotten frostbite; that is how cold the cups were. I even got to drink next to Frosty, which made the entire experience even more amazing!
As we made our way deeper into the igloo, there was a fun ice slide that we could ride down. I had a blast and felt like a big kid! We had to make sure we did not touch anything in the igloo because the heat from our gloves and hands could’ve made the sculptures melt.
After our early dinner drink, we worked up an appetite and made our way to the glistening Ice Restaurant for our private dinner. When I made my way into the dining room, I was in awe at how beautiful it was. In fact, I was mostly in shock that I was actually eating my first Finnish dinner in an igloo with Swarovski crystal chandeliers hanging from the ice ceiling!
When we sat down, we were given fleece blankets to keep ourselves warm and were served glögi, a heated, spiced drink that has been enjoyed by the Finnish for years. You could even add a spiced liquor or vodka to your glögi as well. This drink was originally served to messengers and postmen who travelled on horseback or skies in the cold weather of Scandinavia.
As we enjoyed our glögi, we were also served delicious French red wine. One of the cool things I learned during my trip to Finland is that wine is not produced in the country. Our appetizer was a hearty king crab bisque served with delicious Finnish rye bread. It was amazing! The main course was a filling, but oh-so-good Arctic char, which is similar to salmon and found in Arctic and subarctic waters. The fish was served with a side of warm veggies. For dessert, we enjoyed a warm molten chocolate cake with hot chocolate. (The Finnish LOVE their chocolate cake!) Having dinner at the Ice Restaurant was the perfect way to end our first day in Lapland.
When we got back to the hotel, we were too tired from traveling to explore the nightlife, so we hung out and enjoyed laughs at our hotel’s bar. Since berries are a popular fruit in Finland, the hotel bar served delicious Finnish drinks made with them. Lingonberry, cloudberry, bilberry, raspberry and blueberry drinks made with egg yolk and whiskey were served to us. The thought of these drinks do not sound appetizing, but they were amazing! After spending some time at the bar, I was finally ready to go upstairs and enjoy an amazing night’s sleep in the most comfortable bed!
Another awesome reason why I LOVED the Arctic Light Hotel was because they had an amazing buffet breakfast every morning. There is nothing better than enjoying a fulfilling breakfast before starting a day full of adventures. I enjoyed the smoked salmon and Finnish donuts with blueberry juice on the side.
Reindeer Sleigh Riding
To continue our North Pole adventures, our exciting excursion for our second full day in Finland was sleigh riding with Rudolph and his reindeer friends. After breakfast, we traveled a half hour outside of the city to an area called Raanujärvi, where we were surrounded by beautiful Finnish nature. It was absolutely breathtaking!
Before I begin to share my memories sleigh riding with the reindeer, we did our adventures through Lapland Safaris, who provided us with a special winter suit that we would wear over our winter clothes to keep us warm as well as snow boots so that our feet wouldn’t freeze since we would be outside for a long period of time.
When we first arrived to the reindeer farm, there was a plastic reindeer. We were all given a rope to pretend like we were catching the reindeer like they used to do in the old days. It was a lot of fun and I was able to catch the plastic reindeer by the antlers, but it was sad to think that some people still do that to “real” reindeer.
Reindeer sleigh riding is a traditional way of traveling through snowy forests in Scandinavia. We were given a brief education about how to maneuver the sled the proper way so that the reindeer would be comfortable. We then hopped into the sled that had fleece blankets for us to keep warm as we traveled through the heart of the world’s best winter wonderland.
My cousin Alexie and I were in the same sled, which was awesome because we both know how to have fun together. At first, Alexie was steering, but we were able to switch off when our arms got tired. Our reindeer was definitely the older one out of the bunch, since we lost everyone within a few minutes of our adventure. They were way ahead of us, but I didn’t mind because it gave me more time to take in all of Lapland’s beauty around me.
About half way through our trip, there was a teepee with a campfire set up for us to enjoy lunch. Before we ate, we had to feed our reindeer first. Our guides gave us a mossy type of plant that is only found deep in the Lappish forests. This plant is filled with rich nutrients and the reindeer love it! I had a great time feeding my pretty reindeer!
After our reindeer ate their lunch, it was time for us to warm up by the fire and enjoy a Lappish meal. We were given a stick and pre-cooked sausage to stick in the fire. After a few minutes, we were ready to eat! Since we were in the middle of the forest and were “toughing” it out as if we were camping there, we were not given bread and condiments to eat with our sausage. Instead, we were given a napkin and ate the sausage by itself. It hit the spot though.
For dessert, our tour guide had pre-made batter that he brought along with a skillet. He had the batter over the fire and made delicious sugar crepes out of them and used homemade blueberry jam as a filling. It was delicious and the blueberry filling came straight from the blueberries that are found in the forest we were in. We were also given coffee to wash it down with. It was such a great experience!
During the second part of our sleigh riding adventure, we were able to switch reindeers. I ended up going on the sled with the fastest reindeer. It was a lot of fun going faster! We did have to stop a few times to wait for everyone else to catch up to us. Overall, this was truly a great experience.
When we were finished, we were able to see some of the other reindeer relaxing as well as the owner’s dog who was super excited to see us. I love animals!
Since our first two days in Finland were a blast, we couldn’t wait to continue the fun by snowmobiling at night. Even though I am a big winter sports person, I had never snowmobiled before. It has always been something I wanted to try, but never had the opportunity to do so.
We chose to do our snowmobiling adventure for two hours. Anyone with a driver’s license is able to drive the snowmobile, but I was more in the mood to stick on the back and enjoy the ride. Our guide took us through a similar forest that we went through earlier in the day on our sleigh riding adventure, but it was just as awesome and breathtaking to be in Finnish nature at night!
We drove through both smooth and bumpy paths and we even took a few turns into more narrow trails that took us deeper into the forest. We had a blast! In the middle of our adventure, there was another teepee that was similar to where we stopped earlier, where we enjoyed more sausage on a stick with bread and gingerbread cookies. It is amazing how silent it is in the middle of a Finnish forest. I feel like I never experienced that kind of “quiet” before in my life… even in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, Canada.
Not only was our snowmobiling excursion fun and exciting, it was also serene and peaceful. It was the perfect night!
Later on in the evening, I couldn’t wait to experience Rovaniemi’s nightlife for the first time. Throughout my travels, I have noticed that Northern Europe’s nightlife is much different than Southern Europe. In Northern European countries, there is more of a pub culture, whereas in Southern Europe, there is more of a nightclub scene. I have come to realize that pubs are more favorable in colder climates since you can get away with wearing warm and comfortable clothes. Rovaniemi had several warm and cozy pubs to enjoy a great drink with friends. The night took us to Oliver’s Corner, where we actually ran into a few people who worked at our hotel. I enjoyed my first Finnish craft beer and it was delicious. Overall, the first two days were a blast!
I hope you all enjoyed my first blog post on my amazing adventures in the Arctic. We have a great Finland package for you to book your next winter getaway! You and your family are sure to have a great time like I did with my cousins! Email me at Taylor@sitinmyseats.com or call us today to book your next adventure!
Kiitos (thank you) for reading my blog. Stay tuned for more Arctic fun (that includes the Northern Lights) next week!
Happy Travels and Happy Holidays!
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