Dear Santa, could you please switch on the Northern Lights?

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October 22nd 2006
Published: October 22nd 2006
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I arrived in Helsinki on the ferry from Tallinn with a brand new Lonely Planet in hand, and ahead of schedule. It's not often a traveller has the opportunity for further exploration, and I was keen to make every post a winner. I'd intended to visit Helsinki for a brief stopover visit only, yet here I was with a week to explore the pristine countryside of Finland. But something was missing, what I needed was a plan! My first night in Helsinki at the Hostel Errottajanpuisto provided me with the solution, from where it was all systems go for a wonderful Nordic adventure. Luckily in my dorm room I met a friendly and helpful Finnish businessman, we also chatted with two travellers before hitting the town, where we stumbled upon a birthday party where we were made welcome in typical Finnish style. I should go north to Rovaniemi, my friend informed me, where the fabled Arctic Circle and the possiblility of witnessing the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) had quickly stirred the imaginings of my adventurous soul. The Arctic Circle is the southernmost point from where you can witness the midnight sun, and the Northern Lights are one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

And so it was the next night, dear reader, that I boarded an overnight train to Rovaniemi, the home of Eurovision monster metal band winners Lordi, and just eight kilometres from the Arctic Circle where Santa was also waiting at home with his reindeers. You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why! Enough of Santa already, let's get back to the travel tale. In the sleeper carriage I met a charming young Aussie with a passion that I easily recognised and quickly responded to, as the light of the adventurer was shining in his eyes. Why just go to the Arctic Circle when he knew of a wilderness hostel 23 kms north of Inari in the heart of Lapland, and the cultural home to the Sami people. After all, he argued persuasively, it was only a further 365kms north! Er, right-e-o, count me in... And so the great Aussie quest to see the Northern Lights in Lapland began. We visited tourist information where we benefited from the usual superb customer service, then I found myself running behind my intrepid mate with full packs on to the bus station, thinking strange thoughts about being in boot camp. But it was all good, my role was to give a running commentary on how many minutes we had to go, and we arrived a little flustered, but two minutes before the only bus for the day departed north into the Arctic wilderness. This adventure had a certain karma to it, and seemed like it was destined to happen. So northwards we travelled, through the sublime Arctic countryside and up to latitudes we could scarcely comprehend. If my mate had his way, we would have ended up at the Barents sea looking out to the icebergs of the Arctic, but tourist information clipped our wings somewhat, as the road was closed at this time of year.

We arrived at the hostel in the early evening as the sun set and the temperature continued to fall. The omens were good, it was to be a very cold night with clear skies and we were motivated in our quest. We walked a few kilometres up the road to the restaurant, where we met a Sami reindeer farmer who told us wonderful stories. He talked of driving home in the dark with the
Ski jump platorms, KuopioSki jump platorms, KuopioSki jump platorms, Kuopio

Used during the World Cup annually.
lights off while being guided by the northern lights, "Wow," said my mate, "Cool!" "No, it's cold" our Sami friend replied matter of fact. It may be amazing for us but he explained this was his everyday life. We walked back with a few beers and the temperature falling to -10 degrees, and agreed to take shifts checking the sky for the chance to witness a special gift from mother nature. Eventually I crashed after a late shift and set my alarm for 3:00am. As soon as I went outside I knew the sky was different, the night was still black to the south but looking north the sky was golden all the way down to the horizon. I hurried back and shook awake my Aussie mate. We walked outside side by side to the silent camaraderie of adventurers, there we were above the Arctic Circle and lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights, albeit not in their most dazzling colours but we were stoked! "We cracked it" I said quietly "for Oz." "Represent" came his equally calm reply.

The next morning we were tired but happy, and headed back on the return bus to the Santa Claus village on the Arctic circle. It was excellent to visit the old coot at his home, but I didn't really need to sit on his lap and get my photo taken ... that'll be 17€ thanks! However it did feel like christmas when I visited the toilets, because Santa ensured at least they were free! My mate said I'd lost that loving feeling for Santa, perhaps he's right true but it was a great village anyway. The post office has received over 11 million letters from 194 countries, you can just write to Santa at the Arctic Circle kids ... ho ho ho! We caught the overnight train after a few beers to conclude an awesome two day quest, and thanks for your company mate. I changed trains for Kuopio in the Lakeland, where my Finnish mate met me at the station, and kindly put me up in his apartment. We explored the sites of the town then did the Finnish thing, sauna at his apartment, then sitting out on the freezing balcony over a beer, then back into the sauna. Nudity is not an issue in the home country of the sauna. Then it was time to out to a friend's graduation party. The Finns I met were brilliant; charming and hospitable, and we ended up at a club to party on till the early hours.

Thanks to my friend for your hospitality, and to the Finnish people overall for their graciousness. The country is beautiful, is home to Santa, features the chance to witness the northern lights, and the midnight sun in summer. Finland also has a superb transportation network, great people and the charms of Helsinki thrown in. Come to think of it, basically all of you should be here now!

Those who are most worthy of love are never made happy by it." Dangerous Liaisons, the movie

As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now


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Backpacks on, ready to rumbleBackpacks on, ready to rumble
Backpacks on, ready to rumble

North, head north I say!

22nd October 2006

Way to go Tom! I'm just back from walking the Great wall of China, but it looks like you trumped me with the northern lights!
23rd October 2006

Arctic Cirle? Santa Claus? Northern Lights?
OK, I'm impressed!!!

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