I arrived in Rovaniemi on an overnight train ride that left Helsinki at 8pm the night before. After switching trains two hours into the trip, I rode the remaining eight hours to the border of the Arctic Circle. The train ride wasn’t so fun or comfortable; the lights stayed on the entire night while the train made frequent stops. It felt like we were going only 30 mph for half the night. Finally at 8am we came to a stop and I saw the sign for Rovaniemi and I knew our misery was over. The photos above are the first I took after getting off the train. At this hour it’s pitch black since the sun doesn’t officially rise until after 11am during the end of December.
The outskirts of Rovaniemi look pretty dead, and at times you feel like you’re the only person in the area for dozens of miles. The photo on the left is one of the famous bridges in the city that spans the frozen Kemijoki River. Built in 1989, it’s named the Lumberjack’s Candle Bridge. Further up the river along another bridge I even saw several snowmobilers riding across the ice. When I drove further north to my cabin I saw some occasional cars and even a city bus. I even saw three reindeer trekking along the side of the road. The leader had a bell tied to his neck so obviously someone owned him. I’m not sure how far the reindeer had to go or how he knew where he was going.
Downtown Rovaniemi actually has a lot of shopping, a mall or two, and even some fancy restaurants. I was surprised to find this Mexican restaurant that I ate at for lunch one day.I had recently ate Mexican food in the Netherlands, but it food was filled with carrots, peas, and other vegetables you’d never see in the US or Mexico. I was impressed that this place did a fairly good job and my food was actually spicy. After the long nasty train ride a good meal was exactly what I needed. On Christmas day half the restaurants were still open, but worst comes to worst you could always go to McDonald which is open 24 7. Until Murmansk Russia took the title, this McDonald’s right here had the recorder of being the most northern McDonald’s in the world.
On Christmas day when everything else was closed I was surprised to see some shops set up along the main strip. They mostly sold souvenirs like the goods made out of reindeer antlers on the left or other small items like this other shop on the right.
Since I had rented a car in Rovaniemi I had the freedom to explore the rest of the city. This church was a random place that caught my attention. It was around 9am by the time I reached it, but the darkness showed no signs of letting up. I later found out that this church was destroyed in World War II by the nazis along with most of Rovaniemi. It was rebuilt in 1950 along with its memorial photographed on the upper right. Below are two photos of the church cemetery. There was someone walking back and forth with a big crate of candles and lighting up each grave.
Although my trip to Rovaniemi was my first time ever going to the Arctic Circle, I’ve been far enough north or high enough in altitude in other places where it’s nothing but evergreens. I kind of disliked hiking in these types of woods since there isn’t a big variety of flora, but having everything covered in snow certainly changes that. Like those other forests, these had their evergreens covered in green moss as well. Since I had never been to woods like this in the winter this was my first time seeing them covered in ice and snow.
In these forests northeast of Rovaniemi is a Husky Farm. Here they breed both Siberian and Alaskan huskies to pull sleds. I learned that Siberian huskies are the typical type of dogs you visualize when you imagine sled dogs, but Alaskan huskies are more of a mixed breed that can vary greatly in appearance. Some of the Alaskan huskies even looked like normal dogs I’d see back home as pets. The Alaskan huskies are said to be faster in speed but the Siberian huskies are capable of longer distances. Above is a puppy who is about four months old with an adult to the right. Training begins after one year and the dogs are ran until they retire after about a decade of service.
Another fun activity that is available all over Rovaniemi is reindeer sledding. The reindeer I’ve been told aren’t the smallest animals and even a simple task like pulling a sled is like rocket science to some of them. When you have several reindeer pulling a sled only the experienced ones can lead the front, otherwise any other reindeer who is new will attempt to go off trail out into the woods. They are pretty harmless for the most part once they are tamed so you can get close and personal to most of them.
I took a reindeer ride for almost 20 minutes during the short daylight when it happened to snow. I had always wondered what reindeer ate during the middle of the winter when everything was covered in deep snow. During one of the breaks a reindeer I saw began to eat from one of the trees and another dug into the snow with his hooves until he found some green grass. Above is myself posing with a reindeers after the ride. I didn’t get any action shots while being pulled on the sled, but below are two shots from the forests we passed through.
One of the funnest activities I did was “Ice Karting about two hours north of Rovaniemi. Although it’s on the expensive side, it’s well worth it. The track is over ice that is cleaned off by a bulldozer after each race. The ice-karts themselves are normal go-karts but have some slight modifications done for the colder weather. The main modification was placing special tires on them. These tires have small metal knobs poking out of them that give you some traction over the ice. What makes this track so fun is you’re basically drifting around each turn you made. The trick is to understeer around a sharp corner then give the ice-kart some gas while turning hard. If you do that correctly then your rear wheels will slip and you’ll end up sliding until your facing straight ahead again. This takes some getting used to, but you’ll ride for 15 minutes in one direction, then take a break and return for another 15 minutes in the opposite direction. If you’re in Rovaniemi don’t miss out on this!