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Laponia ,trips and adventures with Santa Claus !

December 16, 2013

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A winter trip to the Finnish Lapland is an encounter with nature that offers unbelievable opportunities for adventure to the countries of southern Europe. The snow, the silence, the Northern Lights, Santa Claus … everything comes together to provide you with a unique experience.

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As winter comes to the last solitary lands of Europe, the night and the silence take charge of the world. Days are short in the Finnish Lapland at this time of the year and the light, the landscape…everything leads us to believe that we are in a country far away, where the majestic nature slumbers, while still ruling over life. Silence is ubiquitous; to such an extent that the way it feels like is unthinkable elsewhere in the world or even in this very region during the summer. The snow covers absolutely everything: meadows and forests, roads and houses, like the Earth growing a new skin. All things that do not clear up quickly can stay hidden for many months, and it seems that this is what happens with the sounds of nature. The silence is deep, tangible, and the entire world stops.

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In the weeks before the winter solstice there is almost no light in the Finnish Lapland, which is getting ready for the long night like all northern Scandinavia. But it is in these dark days when the sky can be illuminated by the mysterious fires of the Aurora Borealis, the ghostly lights that dance across the horizon. And little by little, day by day, the night becomes shorter and the light begins to shine again, revealing a bright winter landscape.

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Either way, a winter trip to the Finnish Lapland is an immersion in silence and snow, when they settle in a natural environment that is almost untouched. It is the opportunity to feel like an explorer, to live the chronicle of nature, imagining for a moment that you are reliving the adventures narrated by Jack London or the Arctic explorers. It is the opportunity to experience adventures that would be difficult to enjoy in other countries.

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A frozen sea

The trip could start in Kemi, a place that offers the possibility of a unique experience. We find ourselves here on the northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia, in an important seaport. But the sea is white, solid and you can walk on it. The top layer is frozen. There are few places in this world where one can find so easily the opportunity to hop on an icebreaker and enter, even if only for a few hours, in a natural environment that is usually seen as restricted to the human being.

The Sampo runs several times a week from the nearby port of Ajos, which is about 10 miles away, and begins its journey in a place from where it seems impossible to navigate. But it is only the top layer of water that is frozen – one, two or three meters -, and the icebreaker makes its way through it. But the experience is not over yet. At one point the boat stops and one can get off and walk across the frozen sea. The more dauntless will be able to do something they probably had never dreamed of: dive into those icy waters and wade among the ice blocks. All you need is a special suit and a little bit of taste for new experiences – the first is provided by the crew, while the second should be provided by the traveller.

Either before or after this experience, one must visit the Kemi snow castle. This is a structure that is built every year, starting from Christmas, and that is doomed to disappear a few months later. But, in the mean time, one can have the illusion of being in a magical, strange space in which the lights (which are, of course, low-power LEDs that barely heat up) play a very important role. You can stroll along the crenellated towers, walk past the walls and wander around unique, ephemeral rooms. You can eat at the restaurant, have a drink at the bar, spend a night in the hotel or get married in the chapel. This castle has alternatives for everyone.

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This is when the time comes to go deeper into the Finnish Lapland, into the vast and lonely areas, into the gigantic forests. It is actually the last natural place on the European continent where the trace of human presence is minimal. Nevertheless, this does not mean these are unknown or unexplored places, as they form the cultural landscape of the Sami and their predecessors since millions of years ago. In winter, life almost stops. The birds have migrated south a long time ago. In late December, when the day does not seem to exist and the sun peeks only a few hours over the horizon, the landscape appears in black and white, with the trunks of the pines, firs and birches highlighted by the whiteness of the snow, and there is just a slight pink light that floats over the covered sky. At the end of the winter, when the days begin to lengthen, the joy of blue skies bursts out and everything seems to glow in the pure, fresh air.

The last nomads

Near to the very line of the Arctic Circle we discover the town of Rovaniemi, the capital of the Finnish Lapland and the best place to start from if you want to explore the entire region. Rovaniemi is a city with a tragic history – it was completely destroyed during the Second World War –, but it has managed to overcome its difficulties. It was rebuilt under the supervision of Alvar Aalto, the most important Finnish architect, who is also the author of several buildings in the city. If we were in another place, then the great museum of Artika would be the most important thing to visit, since it contains priceless information about the Sami culture and the arctic natural environment, but in Rovaniemi we can find other two attractions that are almost unrivalled.

Actually, both places are within a few miles away, and the signal indicating the detour on the highway is hard to resist: it points to the Arctic Circle and to Santa Claus’ Village. Yes, it is here where Santa Claus greets his visitors, and not just in the days before Christmas but throughout the entire year. Joulupukki, which is how Santa Claus is called in Finland, chats with visitors, but also receives thousands of letters from children around the world who express their desires and dreams, either regarding the gifts they are waiting for or regarding the world they live in. A selection of inspiring letters is displayed in the post office, where highly prized postmarks can also be found

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In this area we can also find Santamus, also known as the Experience of the Arctic Circle. It is an opportunity to learn and experience a bit of the Sami culture if you cannot keep travelling any more around the area. The Sami – which are commonly known as Lapps, although they do not like this name – occupy this northern region of Europe from time immemorial, and their territory is divided between Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. The Sami are the last nomads of Europe, as some still follow the reindeer in their annual migrations. The unifying element of the Sami culture today is reindeer breeding, but this pursuit is rather new, dating from a few centuries ago. Before this, they were hunters, gatherers and fishermen.

The language of nature

Traditional Sami religion was based on the manner in which a society of hunters related to nature, which rules over these regions in a particular way. It is somehow alive, just like spirits, who are as real as people or animals. Each place has a name, a history and a meaning. The Sami lived following this religion, which was part of their social order. In the old Sami language there was no word for defining war, but instead ninety different words to describe snow.

Rovaniemi is a good place to start your adventure of exploring the natural environment. Whether you choose the cross-country skiing tours, the dog or reindeer sled, snowmobile or snowshoeing, the alternatives are many and they are all very well organized. You just need to choose the one you like – long or short, lasting either a couple of hours or a three-day-long one –, since any of them will be an open door to an inordinate natural world, unimaginable in the age-old, overly populated south of Europe.

Some say that the sleigh is humanity’s oldest vehicle, even prior to the wheel. One should experience the sleigh ride, even if only for a short while. The good part is that travel conditions are not like those of the early explorers; therefore we are able to enjoy only the highlights of Doctor Zhivago. You have to experience the silence of the forest, the hiss of the runners gliding over the snow, the barking of the dogs (and also the smell of their urine, which prevails in this environment lacking all flavours), the wind in your face… In some of the long runs, the expedition stops in front of a chalet or a traditional eating place to grab a coffee or lunch consisting of salmon and dried reindeer meat. A fire will be made in the snow if the weather is good. This is an ancient, vital scene, and you will feel like being part of something that humans experienced thousands of years ago in the very same way. This is a time for telling stories or for being silent, but still in constant dialogue with oneself.

Snow routes

Snowmobile tours are very different. Driving is accompanied by noise, and the trip is faster and it covers longer distances. If you pass through a frozen lake it will feel like flying over a flat world. In this case, the experience can be complete if you go fishing. You have to cut out a hole in the mass of ice by using a giant brace, just like in the comics, throw the line with the fishing bait and trust your luck.

The route continues towards Kittila, another major service centre of the Finnish Lapland. This is, for many, the place that allows them to enjoy skiing and snowboarding in Levi. And all other snow activities as well.

Here, in the quiet, dark winter, you can easily feel a pagan breeze floating though the air. Especially when the sky is illuminated by the northern lights, one of the most beautiful and fascinating natural phenomena in the world. It seems that the sky is on fire, that the light vibrates while dancing in the night. Sometimes it resembles a flame, or a curtain of light, or a nocturnal rainbow. The Sami have always seen it as an expression of sacred forces, something so powerful that it could only be watched through a brass ring. A wonder that sometimes appears in the sky in the cold nights of the boreal world.

In the house of Santa Claus

For a child there might be no other trip as wonderful as that of visiting the House of Santa Claus. They might not be particularly interested to know what lies beyond Napapijri – as the Arctic Circle is called in Finnish, but however, this is where the character that makes them happy lives. The Villa is located about eight kilometres from Rovaniemi and it is the main destination for the children. This illusion is not only about sitting on the lap of Santa Claus, but also about the entire world that surrounds it: the reindeer, the houses with pointed towers, the ice slides, the sleighs...

Actually Santa Claus is not native of Rovaniemi, but of Korvatunturi, a remote place in the mountains further north, from where he listened to children’s wishes through a mountain with the shape of an ear. When moving to Rovaniemi he became in charge of a Post Office and a toy factory. .

. Santa Claus receives every year more than 700,000 letters, and he always responds to those that request it and write him early enough to receive the answer before Christmas. And Besides that, Santa is always up-to-date: now he has his own TV channel that can be watched on www.santatelevision.com .fuente ; ClickDreams.com

Rudol El Reno

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