From Tampere we continued our voyage further on the North, to our main destination: Lapland!
(just like in previous post in this one as well you can click on small photos to enlarge them. also you might need to refresh the page if you don’t see all of 27 clickable photos)
Our next stop was in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. I couldn’t believe but it supposed to be the biggest town in Europe (it lays on huge surface). I’d never thought so but it is what I’ve read somewhere. Anyhow many of Rovaniemi’s visitors come to cross the Arctic Circle, which lies 8km north of town. This has also become the “official” residence of Santa Claus, who lives in a tacky complex of tourist shops and ho-ho-hos most cheerfully as the euros roll in!
The town itself is quite uninteresting. After the complete destruction by the Germans in 1944, it was rebuilt from a plan by Alvar Aalto (the most famous Finnish architect) with the main streets radiating in the shape of reindeer antlers, something impossible to notice on the ground.
I had one interesting discussion with one guy in Rovaniemi’s church abut history of the town. Namely I knew that Germans lived there and they lived very happy lives with locals, namely Finns were German allies in the war against Russia. There are numerous objects in museum about that and I must say I was very surprised how lovely symbiosis between Nazis and Finns were in Rovaniemi. Eventually when Russians were unstoppable German (but also Finn!), residents on Rovaniemi decided to leave the town, and they set up the fire. Indeed almost entire town has been destroyed but that wasn’t result of combat or something similar, it was actually decision made by both Germans and Finns so that Russians find only ruins. But Russians never reached Rovaniemi (what a bummer). Therefore everything in the town is new.
The most interesting thing in Rovaniemi is one of the best themed museums I saw, Arktikum. Arktikum is absolutely breathtaking even from the first look: it has beautifully designed glass tunnel stretching out to the lake shore. It is one of the Finland’s best museums. Exhibition spaces include superb static and interactive displays focusing on Arctic flora and fauna, as well as on the peoples of Arctic Europe, Asia and North America. The level of information is very impressive; this is really a place to learn about the unique northern environments. There are also good displays of canoes, dwellings, fishing materials and costumes of various northern peoples, including very good exhibition on the Sami. There is also room devoted to the history of Rovaniemi itself. A scale mode shows the destruction wrought by the Axis retreat in 1944.
And Arktikum is pretty much all you have to see in Rovaniemi. Since it is so far north there were no nights and we were roaming through the streets in the center and we were the only ones. No locals, no open bars no anything. Only tourists equally confused by the empty streets, indeed it was close to midnight but it looked like it’s 5pm. So we basically waited to continue our journey and that time we used for some shopping.
Our next stop was Santa Claus village. As I said it is totally tourist trap but we were willingly jumping in it with smile on our face. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, I never did (I feel like a moron cause I’m writing this) but saying such thing there was worse than any blasphemy. Cynical I am I tried to spoil everything with asking about background of the village and I found out that everything there is private, it has an owner and will soon go on the stock market! However no one paid attention on those facts so I didn’t have too much choice and decided to pretend that Santa exists.
Gosh, nowhere else in Finland is there such an unadulterated shrine to commercialism. The Santa Claus Main Post Office is here, and it receives half a million letters each year from children all over the world. I must admit it looks absolutely lovely and in spite it was 1st August inside was everything Christmas-like. As tacky and trite as this may sound, it is all good fun and you can send a postcard home with an official Santa stamp (I really loved that!). Also for 7 euros you can arrange to receive a personal letter from Santa with a calendar which will be delivered at Christmas and I’ve done that. I told you that I couldn’t fight and decided willingly to jump in the trap).
In a nearby building is the home of Santa himself. To reach him you have to pass through the tempting shop and then enter in something like a cave with lava beneath your feet, enormous clock above your head, you can hear how the time is ticking out, the sound is actually more like from house of horror that from the Santa’s house; and as an icing on the cake comes that equally terrifying “Ho!Ho!Ho!” (no I didn’t have miserable childhood, actually it was quite opposite!). Therefore, you can meet Santa, shake his hand, he will ask you “Where are you from my friend” and then he’ll think how absolutely fabulous is that we are from Serbia (“no shit! What is so fantastic about it?”) and that he’ll come to visit us in December and until then we should behave good (“Hello!! I’m 30 years old, I can’t be good! And we aren’t celebrating Christmas in December!”). And then one dwarf will take a camera and make a memorabilia you’re suppose to worship; memorabilia that costs 30 euros! The price is however the same if five (or more) of us is on the photograph so of course we decided to fill the photo and pay 6 euros each. I guess there’s no need to mention that it is NOT allowed to take your own photograph. How very much in the spirit of Christmas!
The main thing here in Santa Village is actually the Arctic Circle, called Napapiiri in Suomi. The Arctic Circle is the southernmost line at which the midnight sun can be seen, at a latitude of roughly 66.5° north. From here and up on the north sun never sets in midsummer and never rises in midwinter. Even though the Arctic Circle can be crossed by road at several points in Lapland, the official Arctic Circle marker is right here, conveniently painted on the roadside – and built right on top of it is above mentioned the “official” Santa Claus Village. My friends and I were having great fun crossing the line painted on the asphalt (supposedly marking the circle. Supposedly because the Circle can actually shift several meters daily) in order to be awarded with Arctic Circle certificates (which cost 4.50 euros and which I paid).
Before I leave Rovaniemi I must mention amazing buffet we had in nearby hotel. I shamelessly admit that we eaten that bloody breakfast as if it’s our last one. We looked like we just escaped hunger in our own country but hey who wouldn’t: several types of cheese, hams, all sorts of vegetables, several types of breads just baked, fried bacon, and sausages, meatballs, pancakes, all sorts of fruits, apples, grapes, oranges, watermelons, melons, mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, yogurts (fruit and regular), zillion sorts of jams, muffins… oh and I believe there was part with “healthy food” (with cereals etc) but I didn’t go there. OK I had intention to skip it but I figure out it will be stupid so yes there was beans as well *blush* I still can’t believe I eaten beans for breakfast!
And so we leave Rovaniemi with full stomach to continue our journey in deep Lapland. Our next stop was Inari, capital of Sami people. Inari is small town which lays on the banks on Lake Inari (I think second largest in Finland) and is pace of another beautiful museum; Siida. The exhibition brings to life Sami origins, culture, traditions, lifestyle and present-day struggles. There is a timeline introduction to the history of the area and a superb, detailed display on the Arctic environment, flora and fauna. Outside is an open-air museum featuring Sami buildings, handicrafts and artifacts, including several dastardly traps for bears, foxes and wolves. Sadly we didn’t have much time for museum because we had to catch a boat to Ukko Island, sacred place for Sami people.
The island of Ukko is 300m long, 100m wide and no less than 30m high. The name of the island is Ukonsaari which means “Ukko’s Island” or “Old Man’s Island”. In Inari Lappish the island is called “Aijjih”, which means “Old Man” but also “thunder”. Aijjih, “Thunder”, was the most important pagan god of the Lapps and Ukonsaari Island was one of his shrines.
One of the last traces of the cult of Aijjih may have been the custom of throwing a coin or two into the water near the island while wishing for a favourable wind. On the island is a cave which we couldn’t enter (while my friend and I were searching for it and trust me if we were successful we would enter and don’t know what would Old Man say (or even worse, do) on that especially cause my friend was female and the island was forbidden ground for women). Before shrine cavern has been discovered, semicircle of reindeer antlers has been found which was exact as on some woodprints. Woodprint portrayed a man worshiping a “seita” (Lappish stone idol) surrounded by a pile of reindeer antlers. Aijjih was probably worshiped with similar rites.
Small excavation in the shrine cavern has discovered, aside from animal bones, a small silver ring adorned with filigree, most likely a fragment of an earring or brow ring. Similar rings have been found in eastern Russia, where they probably date to the first century A.D. The use of Ukko Island as a shrine may thus date back as much as a thousand years.
Ukko Island is one of Finland’s most important ancient monuments and is protected by law so every activities beside visit are forbidden.
I’m fascinated with Sami culture (something I knew nothing about before this trip and sadly I can’t say I know much even now. Why I didn’t bought some books about them I’ll never understand. It was late reaction😦 ) so I’ll write more about them.
According to stone carvings and archaeological evidence, this region was first settled soon after the last Ice Age around 10.000 years ago. The early inhabitants were nomadic people: hunters, fishers and food-gatherers, who migrated with the seasons. They hunted wild reindeer, fished and harvested berries in the summer months, and traded meat, clothing and handicrafts. I bought shaman drum (I just had to) and two mugs (kuksa) made of birch.
Early Sami society was based on siida, small groups comprising a number of families who controlled particular hunting and fishing grounds. Families lived in a traditional dwelling resembling the tepee or wigwam of native North Americans. It could be easily set up as a temporary shelter while following the migrating reindeer herds.
The natural environment was essential to the Sami existence: they worshiped the sun (father), earth (mother) and wind and believed all things in nature had a soul. The starts and constellations provided mythology – North Star, the brightest in the sky was the pillar of the World. The Sami believed in many gods and their link with the gods was through the shaman, the most important member of community. By beating a drum, the shaman could go into a trance and communicate with the gods. The drums featured in drawings depicting life, nature and gods, usually with the sun as the central image.
Traditional legends, rules of society and fairytales were handed down through generations by storytelling. A unique form of storytelling was the yoik, a chant in which the singer would use words, or imitate the sounds of animals and nature to describe experiences. You can buy CD with yoik accompanied by instruments.
Many Sami legends remain, including those of miracle-working witches who could fly and transform themselves into strange creatures. Conspicuous lakes or rocks became holly sites and the island of Ukko is precisely being best known of these.
And Ukko is really magical. It was very windy and cold day (Inari Lake is frozen 7 months in a year and when it’s not it’s very cold!) but it was worth of all troubles. Indeed there’s nothing more than nature but nature is breathtaking! And of course there is a history hidden it that beauty. Near Ukko island is another one which served as a graveyard. Namely in ancient time people believed that dad should rest I peace, far away from settlements. The idea has been abandoned when wild animals started to dig graves searching for bones.
We were sleeping in Kaamanen, small village some 30 km north from Inari. And there’s nothing much I should write about it. It’s a place full of bungalows on the lake shore. Of course it has sauna sop it was possible to run away from it straight into the lake. The nights were fascinating indeed, I mean there were no nights. I spoke with our hosts and they reminded they also have 6 month without day. I would really like to see that!
Oh I shouldn’t skip Sami fashion which is fantastic but horribly expensive. You can see part of it on the pictures me modeling (click to enlarge).
And this is something I wanted so badly but 300 euros was price way too high for a souvenir :
Next morning we continue our journey more on north, on the shore of Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean! We were hoping to see herds of reindeers on the road but we saw occasionally few examples (and since I was up on the floor in the bus I mad horrible photos, however I’ll take some from my fellow travelers). Day was cloudy and rainy from time to time.
We reached Ocean in Grense Jakobselv, NATO’s eastern most mainland-based surveillance of Russia. It was very strange feeling. The ocean was dark-grey with big waves and only you can hear was wind and occasionally some sea bird. I was standing on the shore expecting to hear voice of Dejan Đurović (Serbian readers will understand). I couldn’t believe I was there. Of course I had to enter the ocean; in Serbian official name for Arctic Ocean is Northern Icy Ocean and he so justified its name. The feeling was as if some mad dog is biting my feet! And my dear friends made me to go back into the ocean because „photograph wasn’t good“. Of course they were good! *grrr*
Later we visited Kirkenes, the biggest town in the area also famous for King Crabs safari. Suddenly the day was sunny but the wind was so strong and it was quite cold. However children were playing on the main square were was some entertainment park; and almost everyone wearing short sleeves! I couldn’t believe! It was some festival, they were celebrating something (i wouldn’t be surprised if the occasion was first sunny day of the year!). Some folks have found whale meat but as usual I was sightseeing and wasn’t interested in sitting in restaurants (or in this case under a tent). They said it’s lovely but when I heard the price I couldn’t believe. I mean I knew Norway ios horribly expensive country but I never expect it’s expensive that much! I went in a hotel in toilet and there I saw postcards and thought to send few so I asked do they have stamps and how much it is. The answer was 5 euros! I had to ask twice and the guy said in perfectly normal voice the same thing: 5 euros. For bloody postcard!!! Should I mention I didn’t send anything from there.
One group find out lamb roast and wanted to taste part from the ribs but the butcher didn’t want to give them that part so one of them sweared in Serbian. Butcher who was grizzly-sized man with grizzly-like face and with knife huge enough to kill grizzly said in cracked voice „What did you say?“ (in perfect Serbian!). He couldn’t believe his ears and of course he gave them discount and free drink. I don’t remember his name but I know he’s Muslim refugee from Bosnia and he couldn’t answer the question how on earth he ended there.
How strange this is; in Bosnia he would see enemy in us but there on far European North he almost didn’t burst in tears. And yes in some distant land, in foreign culture you forget all animosities and longing for someone who can understand you, who knows how you feel when people around you don’t catch the point of your joke. After such things you really wonder why all those suffering? Why war when you’ll find yourself hugging in tears your „enemy“?
We left Kirkenes and Norway and slowly start our way back home. We slept in Kaamanen and next morning continued journey to Oulu in the Gulf of Bothnia. We didn’t have too much time to spend there so we just walked for an hour or so. Oulu is lovely town with beautiful open marked which was full of people since it was sunny day. On the open marked there are many red wooden houses (like in Porvoo). Apartments are fantastic. Every two buildings have their own parks (closed by the fence) in between of the buildings. And if the building are on the bank of the channel, channel has been used by residents of that buildings. I saw water scooter „parked“ in a front of the building. How odd is that?
After relaxing little bit in Oulu we started our journey to Russia and magic St Petersburg, but about that in part 3…