“Get your motor running / Head out on the highway…
A month ago now I returned from talviloma (winter holiday) spent 130km (80 miles) North of the Arctic Circle and higher above sea level than the top of the Näsinneula tower in Tampere. We stayed in a little mökki (cottage) in Sirkka, 2km from the centre of Levi ski resort in Lapland.
We journeyed there by car, a journey of over 1000km. We stopped overnight in Liminka (just south of Oulu) and made a stop at Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle just outside Rovaniemi to meet joulupukki (Santa).
The Journey North
Remembered thoughts from the journey:
Wow, Espoo really is the most un-lovely place in Finland!
Please let it stay light a bit longer, I love looking at the scenery.
It’s magic watching the sunset and then the light gradually fading from the sky.
Bright lights of Lahti! But boo can’t spot the ski jumping slope from the motorway!
Rallikaupunki! Nice to see you again, Jyväskylä, even if we’re just going around you!
Waking after falling asleep (don’t worry I wasn’t driving!) to see a white arctic hare dart across the road.
Watching lights appear on the horizon in the pitch black and seeming to take ages to get any closer due to the long, straight road.
Liminka-Oulu-Rovaniemi-Santa Claus Village-Kittilä-Levi
Moi Oulu! One day I will get to spend more time with you!
The smell from the paper mills.
Being charmed by the little wooden houses and barns scattered about the countryside south of Rovaniemi, thinking they must be quite old. Driver turns to me: “Do you know about lappisota [Lapland war, Finland vs. Germany at end of WWII]? Well, the Germans burnt everything here, all of Rovaniemi too. The Lapps joke about the German tourists: ‘don’t let them have the matches!’”
Seeing Rovaniemi for first time with knowledge that all buildings post-war and thinking: yeah, it looks it! The bits you see from the road are ugly!
Being excited to drive through Kittilä thinking: we really are far North now!
Suddenly arriving in Levi and laughing because it was exactly how I imagined it to be with the Alpine style buildings!
Santa Claus Village
I was given the choice: would I rather go to the Artikum (Museum of Arctic Life) in Rovaniemi or go to Santa Claus Village? Of course I thought it’s got to be more fun to see Santa and I’m on holiday, let’s go for the fun option!
Now,you might think Santa Claus Village sounds like a tourist nightmare but go there on an afternoon in late March and it’s quiet and peaceful! Also, we all agreed, it was very tastefully done, “The Finns don’t do tacky” as my companions commented. I thought what this sort of thing would be like if it was in UK (memories of the infamous New Forest ‘Crapland’ sprung to mind!).
First we visited Santa’s Post Office. It functions as a regular Suomiposti Post Office but the draw is your post gets stamped with a special ‘Arctic Circle’ postmark – very cool! Also they will hold your post and send it out so it arrives for Christmas 2011.
We had kahvi and muffins in the restaurant and they were delicious. Then it was time to visit Santa. The great thing: the whole experience is totally free. You walk into a room which looks like a set from Doctor Who the idea being you’re inside Korvatunturi Mountain where the Finns say Santa lives (this mountain actually about 300km away to the North East on the Russian border but we’ll ignore geography for now) and inside the mountain is a giant clock controlling the turning of the Earth. Lining the walls are photos of Santa meeting VIPs including Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb, American TV-show host and Finnophile Conan O’Brien and Eurovision winners Lordi.
We had our audience with Santa who spoke both Finnish and English (and a few other languages I expect!) and one of his elves took studio-quality photos of us. On the way out we had the option to buy 5 4′x6′ prints for 30e. There is also a souvenir shop selling Santa Claus Village merchandise (OK, perhaps there was a little tackiness here ). There was no real ‘hard sell’ of the photos so you could have the whole experience for free if you didn’t want a souvenir. As for me my photo now has pride of place in my room next to the reindeer antlers I got given by a reindeer herder in Simo (but that’s another story ).
Cross Country Skiing
After one quick cross country skiing lesson during our stop in Liminka – where the Finnish 3 yr old I was with went racing off down the track and I struggled along! – it was time for my first full day of cross country skiing on a track a few km from Levi. Baby came too in a sled attached by harness to mum / dad and slept for most of the trip!
I took to cross country skiing quickly and although the first slope down onto the frozen lake was a little scary (I let out a girly scream whilst overdoing it with a ski-jumper type crouch to make it down in one piece) I thought I did very well for a first timer and only fell once when going down a slope (falling over doesn’t hurt anyway!).
We took it fairly easy and skied about 2km to a hut where we had pancakes with cloudberry jam then skied back. Getting up hills proved a little challenging for me and I’m sure I looked a mess getting up them but I did it! I was sad to take my skis off, I felt like I could have kept going for hours!
Again this was first time ever trying alpine / downhill skiing. The boots took a bit of getting used to – being so tight fitting and painful and hard to walk in! The first thing I learnt was how to stop by ploughing the skis in an ‘A’ shape and then how to turn. Then it was time to grab the button lift and hit the slope. I should confess at this point that I was on the gentlest, easiest slope Levi has to offer but that was enough for me! There were a number of unaccompanied 4, 5 and 6 yr olds taking the lift and skiing down or using the ski cross track next to the slope, they had no fear!
Again I was pleased how well I did and how much I enjoyed it (after initially being quite scared and unsure!) When you get over the fear and get the hang of it it’s a great feeling of speed and freedom – my teacher predicted I’d love the speed and he was right! I’d love to go skiing again but now it will have to wait until next winter! I’d say to anyone else who never got to ski as a child – try it! It’s never too late!
After all that skiing it was time to relax at Levitunturi Spa right in the centre of Levi. We used the swimming pool complex which was really impressive. I was excited to try the Turkish baths and Birch wood sauna but was a bit disappointed. the Birch wood sauna was very nice with fairy lights and tree trunks but not hot enough for me! Same with the ‘Turkish bath’ which was just a steam room again not hot enough! I actually enjoyed the big, communal sauna in the changing room more! But I was lucky enough to have them both to myself.
I tried all the different pools including the cold plunge pool at 6 degrees celcius! That was invigorating! I used the hot and cold water troughs which are supposed to improve circulation to your feet – not sure on that! Maybe they did! I also swam in the outdoor pool surrounded by snow with the air temp about plus 2 degrees. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the highlight of my visit was sitting outside in the hot tub soaking up the sunny and snowy surroundings. It was really one of those ‘I love my life’ moments!
Coming up in Part 2 (to be published asap):
Levi Husky Park
Levi Arctic Horse Race