This was a day I was anxiously waiting for...the trip to the Arctic Circle! I've always been interested in geography and spent hours as a child playing with a globe. Years later when I learned there was a physical marker for the Arctic Circle, I knew I had to go there. So today was my special day!
Tuula picked us up at the apartment and we drove to Ella's apartment, where we met Hese. Ella's boyfriend Toni dog-sat the puppy for Tuula and Hese while we were gone. We had to take 2 cars because there were 6 of us on the trip to Rovaniemi--Tuula, Hese, Ella, Riina, Karl and me. The driving was split by the Finns and we rotated who sat in which car so we could talk with everyone. We stopped for a snack on the way up there at a truck stop type place.
The trip to Rovaniemi took about 3 hours. It's located about 220 km, or 140 miles northeast of Oulu. Rovaniemi is a small city in northern Finland and it is the capital of Lapland. It is also the home of Santa Claus, who lives at Santa Claus Village, a few miles north of Rovaniemi. Santa Claus Village is a popular tourist place. We saw license plates from Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Germany and Russia, to name a few. Note to those who may want to visit...before arriving at Santa Claus Village, you will pass Santa Park. Tuula says this is the fake Santa. ;-)
The Arctic Circle is marked by a heavy white line running through the Santa Claus Village. (And yes, I realize the Arctic circle 'moves' so this is not exactly the true geographical location, but I am trying to ignore that fact). ARCTIC CIRCLE is printed on the pavement in several languages and it is popular to have your photo taken.
We then entered the building where Santa was and entered a scene reminiscent of an attraction at Disney World--a path winding through various scenes. This one was dark and we joked about zombie elves jumping out to scare us because we got the haunted house vibe. When we finally made it to the door guarded by Santa's helper, we were only the third party in line. The young woman working as the gatekeeper was excellent in her job. She was great with the children and entertaining. Her English was excellent, and I'm guessing she can speak several other languages, too.
We were ushered in to Santa's chamber and Karl and I sat on either side of him. Riina's family filled in behind and beside us. Santa talked to us for several minutes and then we had our photo taken. This entire encounter was videotaped as well. Santa told us that they were having the coolest summer since 1962. The high temperature today was 17 C, or about 62 F.
After our encounter with Santa we walked around the Marimekko and iittala shops, then several of the little souvenir shops. I sent a couple of postcards too. I bought a certificate to commemorate my Arctic Circle visit, then we left the Village to find some lunch. We ended up in downtown Rovaniemi at a kebab, pizza, and burger restaurant. Five if us ordered pizza and Karl ordered a kebab wrap. Well, this place was all about super-sizing their portions. Karl's kebab wrap could've fed 3 or 4 people, and the rest of us each ended up with a personal 14" or maybe even 16" pizza. It was ridiculous. Plus the salad bar was included, but it isn't much like what Americans think of a salad bar. If I remember correctly the options here were vinegar slaw, green olives, fruit cocktail, and there were two other items... we had a salad bar at another Finnish restaurant and that one at least had lettuce, but was also minimal.
So after stuffing ourselves we drove to Oulu, stopping for packaged ice cream bars at the travel plaza after 1 1/2 hours of driving. Tuula's sister Tarja was expecting us for a light supper. Tarja visited us when Riina was living with us, so we'd met her before. When we got to the apartment, Aija and Viivi were there already. Toni, who lives in the adjacent apartment with Riina's sister, Ella, came over with the puppy. Tarja had made chicken, fish, and a nice tossed salad that really hit the spot. It was nice to see Tarja again, and we enjoyed chatting. We only stayed maybe an hour or so because we had to pack and get up early to leave for Stockholm. Ella took a photo of Riina, Karl and me before we left. It will appear in a later Flickr album when I get the photos from Riina and Karl. The photos from today are here.