Scandinavia

DEAR SANTA

DEAR SANTA
Hello and a very big welcome to our very first travel blog, we hope you enjoy reading about our #traveladventuredreams and welcome you to look around our site and interact with us by using the comments box, or by clicking on the social media icons scattered around the site.  We know it’s still Summer, well…I say Summer loosely because here in Northern Ireland we don’t really get a Summer, we tend to get lots and lots and lots of rain; but we really wanted our first post to be about a very special trip, and our trip to the Santa Claus Holiday Village in Rovaniemi is it…so make yourself a cuppa, open a packet of choccie biscuits, sit back in a comfy chair and enjoy…Dear Santa.

THE CALM OF KAAMOS
Rovaniemi
is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and who are we to disagree.  Beautiful landscapes, magical light shows in the sky and of course, Santa Claus Holiday Village.  Whether you visit in Summer or Winter there’s lots to see and do, but for our post we’ll be concentrating on the accommodation, activities and dining at Santa Claus Holiday Village which is situated on the Arctic Circle, Finland.  During the Summer months, the Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon where the sun remains visible at all times, in the Winter months the opposite happens, the sun doesn’t rise at all.  This mystical period normally lasts for two months from the beginning of December to the end of January, locals refer to this as Kaamos, or the Polar Night.

DEAR SANTA….day 1
Who knew? Santa Claus has his own airport located just over a mile away (2km) from Santa Claus Holiday Village, no doubt the airport serves as a landing zone for Santa’s reindeer and sleigh at Christmas.

HOW DID WE GET THERE?
A very early start to catch the first Norwegian Air flight out from Gatwick Airport to Rovaniemi Airport, it’s a direct route and flight time is around three and a half hours.  We took ipads to keep Lily-Belle (age 7) and Matilda (age 2) occupied on the plane, we just downloaded a few movies to watch offline.  The flight seemed quicker than the three and a half hours and before we knew it we were descending, spectacular views from the aeroplane window of snow-covered tree tops and then a bump, touchdown, it was a super smooth landing by the Norwegian Air pilot, couldn’t fault it.  It’s around 9.20 when we collect our bags and make our way outside to where our free airport transfer bus to the Santa Claus Holiday Village awaits and as we expected, it’s cold….minus 18oC in fact….brrrrrr!  We load our bags/cases into the rear of the minibus, which is clad with a rather large picture of ‘the big man in the red suit’, before we climb on board ourselves, and it is toasty warm.  No time to get comfy though, the journey from the airport to Santa Claus Holiday Village lasts a mere 5 minutes.  The village itself is quite difficult to see on the approach as it sits slightly back from the quiet main road, it’s only when you pull into the car park and see the magnificent reception building do you really begin to sense the magic that awaits.

TIME TO CHECK IN
Upon arrival at Santa Claus Holiday Village, we enter the main building and head past a lit display of Santa and some ‘troll like’ creatures, we never thought to ask what their significance was but maybe next time we visit we will, we walk through a set of doors and head over to the reception desk, the shop, restaurant and entrance to Santa’s grotto are all accessible from this reception area.  At the reception desk we are greeted warmly by the receptionist and we are made aware that, due to our early morning arrival, we couldn’t check into our room until later that afternoon, a tiny bit of a hindrance but we were allowed to leave our luggage at the reception so we could go and explore Santa Claus Holiday Village.

MIDDAY DARKNESS
Although it was light outside, it’s around 11.15 by the time we dress the children in warm clothing, we could see that the light was fading fast, we took advantage of the free sledges that are available from the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception area, sit the children in, drag them along, easy peasy, and head towards the very large archway that leads to the accommodation.  In the day time it looks magnificent towering towards the sky, and at night, I say night but it’s actually dark from around 13.30; when the arch is lit up, it looks just as spectacular.

LET THE EXPLORING BEGIN
As we don’t have room keys yet, we veer left just before the arch and head towards a flickering flame that we see just a short distance away, it’s an outside firepit, perfect for thawing the ice that’s accumulated in my nose….gross, I know, but it’ll happen to you as well.  The firepit has a wonderful aroma of smokey pine and is situated right beside Santa Claus Reindeer pen.  The reindeer are tethered and ready to take us on a magical sleigh ride through the snowy forest, so we pay our money and climb on board the hand crafted sleighs, cover ourselves with a traditional reindeer hide rug and relax as the reindeer take us effortlessly over undulating hills and meander gently through the snow-covered pine trees…so peaceful and so beautiful.  The reindeer turned left sharply at one point and the 3rd sleigh tips over throwing the occupants into the soft snow, they laugh, we laugh, the guide laughs, no harm done and no one was injured.  We took this opportunity to get a few photos….DISASTER STRUCK….although we knew our phones (iphone 5s and samsung galaxy s6) and our camera (samsung mv900f) were fully charged, one by one they began switching themselves off?  Turn them on again, take a couple of pictures, bang…off they go again!!!  What on earth was going on? The reindeer guide advised us that the majority of phones and cameras won’t operate at such extreme minus temperatures, it’s currently -19oC, and even though the devices are all fully charged, they will give the impression that the battery is dead until they warm up again, but there’s hope, not for us but for you if you read this before visiting….apparently Sony phones and cameras are not affected due to the battery type that they use.  We spent the rest of the holiday with phones and cameras tucked deep into the warm crevices of our clothes, take them out, take a photo, then put them back again!  And so, the reindeer ride is a wonderful experience, and we highly recommend doing this activity either on your own, as a couple for a romantic trip, or as a family like we did….truly magical.

WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT, LIFE OR LUNCH?
After the reindeer sleigh ride we decide it’s time to warm up and head for a spot of lunch at the Santa Claus Holiday Village restaurant, I happened to mention to Lily-Belle that I was looking forward to eating a reindeer burger and you’d have thought I had just told her Santa Claus didn’t exist!  The look of disgust on her tiny little face will stay with me forever…in a funny way.  After receiving a lecture from her, the usual ‘daddy how could you, it’s a cute fluffy reindeer, what if it’s Rudolph, we’ve just been on a sleigh ride’ etc, I had to inform her that it was no different from eating a cow, lamb or pork back at home…..then I get the silent treatment, great!  In the end, and as I didn’t want to ruin the day, I opted for the buffet menu, a great selection of meats (including reindeer), veggies and local delicacies that I can’t quite remember the name of.  At the end of the day, it filled four hungry tummy’s and yaaaaaay, Lily-Belle is talking to me again ( I neglected to inform her of the reindeer I’d just eaten at the buffet).

One thing we noticed was that the restaurant at Santa Claus Holiday Village was very quiet,  almost empty, with just four families in attendance and that included The Callaghan Possy.  I have no doubt that the restaurant would get very busy during high season.

NO TIME FOR SHOPPING JUST YET
We have a quick look around the very large and well stocked shop and then head back to the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception to see if our chalet is available, and it is.  The receptionist offers us assistance to take the bags/cases to the chalet but we decline and head outside to make the short walk, and again, the sledges come in handy for transporting two tired little ladies across the snow.

HEY HO, HEY HO, OFF TO THE CHALET WE GO!
We head through the magnificent arch and turn right, our chalet is no more than 3 minutes from the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception, and in fact, everything in the village is just a short walk away from the main reception.  Santa Claus Holiday Village is very quiet at this time of year and didn’t seem overcrowded at any point.  There are two chalets with a decent size porch to each, the chalets share one communal entrance, chalet one to the left, chalet two (which is ours) to the right, this would be really handy if you were two families on holiday and wanted to stay close together, but….never once did we hear any noise from the other chalet (it was occupied by three ladies from China).  The chalet itself was warm upon entry and immediately we were thankful, it would have been a bit of a mare to walk into a cold room.

ROOM ENOUGH FOR TWO, OR FOUR
The room itself was spacious with a small kitchenette, something we took no use of at all as we opted to eat out each day, a table and chairs, large double bed and a sofa bed, a TV and…drum roll please…….drrrrrrrrrrrr, a fantastic sauna that we couldn’t wait to try out.  The room is typically Scandinavian in look, lots of pine and chandeliers made from reindeer antlers, I like it, the wife likes it and the girls like it.  Warm, cosy, comfy and clean, what more do we need?  Thumbs up for our Santa Claus Holiday Village chalet.

TIME TO VISIT THE GROTTO
The moment we tell the girls we are going to meet Santa in person, with a bit of a twist so allow me to enlighten you.  For the last five years we have had one of Santa’s elves visit our home at Christmas, her name is Jingles.  You may have heard of Elf on the Shelf, you may not, but this is it in a nutshell; an Elf comes all the way from the North Pole to stay with you and creates lots of mischief in your home over the Christmas holiday period, and at night the Elf returns to the North Pole through the magic portal to tell Santa if you’ve been naughty or nice.  Strict rules apply though….no touching the Elf or the Elf loses it’s magic and has to go back to the North Pole…..for ever!

A VERY IMPORTANT LETTER
The day before we left Northern Ireland for our Santa Claus Holiday Village Lapland adventure, Lynne and I told the girls that we had received a very important letter from Jingles the Elf, the letter advised us that Jingles was stuck at the North Pole as there wasn’t enough magic dust to work the Elf portal and we had to go and collect her…the girls were in disbelief but also thrilled, excited, and dare I say, screaming like demented banshees!

A CUNNING PLAN
So, back at Santa Claus Holiday Village and I made an excuse that I was going to the restaurant to book a table for our evening meal, when in fact I had actually arranged to go and chat to Santa Claus, so sneaky!  I have to say that I was just as excited as the girls at this point!  I approached the Grotto and waited for the Elves to invite me in.  A few minutes later the grotto door opened and I stood there in awe and amazement, there stood right in front of me was the ‘real’ Santa Claus, a giant of a man standing at well over 6ft tall, well built and a fantastic beard, oh yes, there was absolutely no doubt that the man in front of  was the ‘real’ Santa Claus alright.  We chatted for a while and I explained in great detail what I needed him to do.  I handed Santa our Elf, Jingles, and advised him that he would be getting a visit from Lily-Belle and Matilda within the hour, I handed him a photo of the girls so he knew exactly who they were and that when they arrived Santa Claus was to bring out Jingles with a bit of improvisation about Jingles, the North Pole, the sick Elves etc,  I also handed Santa two certificates to say the girls had been ‘nice’ all year and a personalised teddy each from Santa…the plan was set.  I head back to get the girls.

SEEING THE REAL SANTA
The girls head to the Grotto at the Santa Claus Holiday Village with their Christmas Gift Lists in hand, and a small bag of gifts for Santa.  The place is empty, we are the only ones there so no queue.  The girls keep asking if it’s the real Santa and of course we confirm that it is.  The Grotto door opens and there he is…Santa Claus, big red jumper, a very long beard, round spectacles, boots with the toes turned up, the whole shabbang.  Lily-Belle and Matilda crane their necks to look up at him.  Santa Claus greets them both by name and Lily-Belle looks at me in disbelief, her mouth wide open, Matilda, who’s only two, looks a little bit scared….but not for long, she soon warms to Santa’s soft voice and persuasive charm.  An invite to enter inside the Grotto and Santa Claus gives the girls a hug before asking them to sit next to him, video camera rolling, the girls are soooooo quiet, shell-shocked.  Santa Claus chats to them for a couple of minutes and reads their Christmas Gift Lists out aloud (in a muttered voice).

THE EXCITEMENT IS BUILDING
It is the moment Lynne and I have been waiting for the most…..Santa Claus pulls out Jingles from behind his seat, the smile on my face must have been like a crescent moon, my cheeks were aching, I was so happy for the girls.  Lily-Belle and Matilda were mesmerised.  We agreed that the girls could hold Jingles whilst they were at the North Pole as this wouldn’t affect her magic, they were thrilled.  Santa Claus stood and walked to the side of his chair, brought out two ‘nice’ certificates and two personalised teddy bears and handed the girls one of each.  With the push of a button, Matilda demonstrates her musical Christmas jumper.  Our plan could not have gone any better.  I stop the video camera and Santa Claus chats to the girls and tells them he can’t wait to visit Northern Ireland as we are always so generous with the cookies, milk and carrots.  We pose for a few photos….job done.  I have to say, Santa Claus was truly amazing, the best Santa Claus I have ever laid my eyes on, obviously, after all he is the REAL Santa Claus…we were so thankful to Santa Claus for playing along with our little plan.

TWO SANTA’S MEANS TWO PRESENTS
It’s time to bid goodbye to Santa Claus and the girls give him one last hug.  We head to the Elves photo booth to pay for and collect our photo, but wait, who’s that in the photograph? Two Santa’s…..ok, so one’s an impostor, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one.

HOW WE CAN TOP THAT
The rest of the day at Santa Claus Holiday Village is spent between sledging, eating, and looking out for the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights…no joy today, hopefully we’ll see them tomorrow.  We head back to the chalet for a sauna, and the girls are tucked up in bed, with their personalised teddy’s from Santa Claus, by 19.30, after all, it had been a very long day filled with more excitement than any child (or adult) could possibly handle, and to be honest, at one point, I thought the girls were going to implode with excitement!  Night night from The Callaghan Possy and Jingles the Elf.

DEAR SANTA….day 2
After a very good night sleep it’s time to get up, we have absolutely no concept of the time until we switch on the mobile phones, it’s 6.50, a nice early start to the day.  We get dressed into our snow clothes ensuring we wear lots of layers to trap in body heat.  Time for breakfast and so we make our way to the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception area, and again, we avail of the free sledges to drag the girls across the snow.  To get to the restaurant we have to walk through the gift shop, the smell is amazing, is that waffles?  Breakfast is the usual, cereals, sausage, a selection of breads and cheeses, beans, fruit, juice, tea, coffee and noodles…yes, you did read that right, noodles for breakfast!  The highlight of breakfast was making our own waffles, Lily-Belle loved this part of the breakfast, and the waffles tasted great as well.

SLIPPERY SLOPE TO SNOWMAN WORLD
Breakfast scoffed, we head back to our room to pack up our belongings.  The girls head over to the play park which is just a stones throw from our chalet so we can keep an eye on them.  We finish packing, take our bags/cases to the reception area as we have to be out of the chalet for a certain time, then we tell the girls it’s time to go to Snowman World for some slippery fun, just a two minute walk from the chalet, very handy.  The girls are really excited!  Surprisingly for us, to enter Snowman World you walk into a very large wooden building, we were expecting to just come across it in an outside area.  The building itself houses a small restaurant, and there’s also an informal area where you can grab a coffee and a bun, and simply chat.  We approach the counter and pay for our entry tickets to Snowman World, in return we receive a wristband each.  The wristband also gives us access to the Ice Bar and Restaurant, the Igloo Hotel (to have a look around), the magnificent ice sculptures and outside ice slides.  To our absolute amazement we have the place to ourselves…completely empty!  On entry the girls spot the indoor ice slide and make their way up the slippy steps.  Wheeeeeeeeeeee, they love it, up down, up down, up down, the indoor slide is a big hit with Lily-Belle and Matilda…..and also Mummy who can’t resist having a few go’s herself.  To our left we see two rather large Snowmen who appear to be inviting us into the Laplandia Ice Bar…don’t mind if we do!

PROPPING UP THE BAR
The camera seems to be holding out well today so I take a few photos of the burly door Snowmen and walk down the icy corridor to the Laplandia Ice Bar, and I have to say, it looks spectacular!  Bar…made of ice, stools…made of ice, sculptures…made of ice, shot glasses…made of ice, you get my drift; and a great relaxation area with large comfy cushions.  The girls head straight to the cushions and make themselves comfortable, Lynne and I prop up the bar and chat with the bearded barman, who we now know as Mikko Lantto.  What a character Mikko is, really friendly, loads of funny anecdotes and an endless supply of local knowledge, it turns out he’s also a very keen photographer.  As Lynne and I don’t really drink, we asked for something special to drink, maybe something the locals would take.  Mikko serves the wife and I something in a shot glass made of ice, he encourages us to down it in one (not forcefully) and I willingly oblige….by heck, I feel like I’m about to breath fire!  Lynne on the other hand, gags and swiftly passes the drink to me, oh well, waste not want not, down the hatch.  We still have no idea what we drank!  The girls opted for a non-alcoholic hot Glögi, which is the Finnish version of mulled wine.

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION
It was still very early in the Ice Hotel’s season so there’s lots of sculpting going on.  We had the privilege of watching the ice sculptors at work, and they are amazing, mini chainsaws used with absolute precision.  The ice carvings and the snow scenes that are carved into the walls are beautifully detailed; owls in flight, sleeping snowmen, reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh across the night sky, back-lit crescent moons.  Stunning artwork.  We take a walk down a beautifully sculpted corridor that has four chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and at the end of the corridor a room with a long tables and chairs, so I assume this will be the Ice Restaurant once complete, at the entrance to this room there is a large ice carving sculpture of the Lapland Witch, she stands proud with her dagger and shield.

SLEEPING IN YOUR BIRTHDAY SUIT IS NOT RECOMMENDED
I’m fairly certain that you can be guaranteed of a very special experience if you opt to stay overnight at the Ice Hotel.  The rooms are made entirely of snow and ice, with detailed carvings on the walls and coloured lighting to enhance the mood.  Unfortunately for us, the Ice Hotel wasn’t yet open for the season so we couldn’t avail of this special facility; but rest assured we will definitely return to tick this off our bucket list.  I’m led to believe that the temperature inside the ice room is a constant -1oC even when the outside temperature falls to -30oC, are you brave enough to sleep in your birthday suit?  New for the 2017 Winter season, the Ice hotel will be offering luxury in the form of Glass Resort Igloos, you can find further information online, this is definitely on our bucket list!

ONE LAST SLIPPERY SURPRISE
Time to head outside to where the snow slides are.  There is a long slide for the fearless teenagers and adults, and a smaller slide for the younger adventurers.  Lily-Belle collects a Tube Pro snow tube, otherwise know as a large inflatable rubber ring, and makes her way to the top of the large slide launching area, Matilda peers over the guard rail with a nervous anticipation…..whooooooosh, Lily-Belle flies past us like a warm shi…..ok, ok, I’ll keep it family friendly, like a rocket being launched into space…really fast!  Lily-Belle comes to us and her face is as white as the snow…..shouldn’t laugh but I can’t help it.  When asked did she want to go again, the answer, a resounding ‘no way, I don’t want to die on holiday’, too funny!  Rather than kill herself, Lily-Belle tries out the smaller slide, it’s much more child friendly so she is happy to stay and play a while longer.  Lynne takes Matilda down the smaller slide and she is also keen to go again, Matilda, not Lynne.

FR-FR-FR-FROZEN
There was an area set aside at the rear of the park for an ice rink, this was still under construction, but no doubt it’ll be a popular attraction once finished.  After about half an hour we were frozen, the outside temperature was a mind numbing -22oC, it was so cold it actually hurt to breath.  We decided that this would be a good time to try out our HotHands air activated hand warmers, a vigorous shake activates the hand warmers, pop them in the gloves and sorted, toasty fingers.  It’s around 12.00 when we head back inside to the warmth of the cafe, hot drinks and food all round.  The hand warmers are kept inside our gloves for when we head back outside.  Mikko and his colleague join us as they are on their break and we find out more about the Ice Hotel, local traditions, the Aurora Borealis and just general chat…this chap is a LEGEND!

ARE WE BARKING MAD?
Just after breakfast we booked a slot at 13.30 to go on a 2 hour Bearhill Husky tour, we’re beginning to think it’s a ‘barking mad’ idea as it’s so cold outside at -22oC, and we’ve been informed that the temperature is still dropping.  We chatted with a family who took the 2 hour husky ride and they said it wasn’t enjoyable as it was so bitterly cold, the wind-chill made it feel even colder!  The family had a son who was the same age as Matilda, just two years old and he cried for the whole 2 hour trip.  What to do?  We chatted with the guide and in the end opted for a 30 minute sled ride with the huskies.

DUCKING, DIVING, BOBBING, WEAVING
We are introduced to our guide Valentijn, who in turn introduces us to the huskies who will be taking us on our tour, they are adorable and really friendly, apart from one who is rather timid and shy’s away from my outstretched palm, not too worry.  The guide explained the dog was extremely timid and had only recently been introduced to this particular team of dogs, he assured us the dog would eventually integrate and become sociable.  I should say at this point that it was absolutely pitch black, I couldn’t see a thing, the only light we had was from the Valentjin’s headlamp and the odd distant street light.  Hands still warm, the HotHands are still working after nigh on 3 hours.  We get settled in to the sled and with a mush command from the guide, the dogs leap into life, yelping and raring to go.  The dogs weave along a narrow track with snow-covered pine trees each side, the route dimly lit only by the guides light.  It’s hard to describe but I’ll try…the air was filled with what I can only describe as crystals, not quite snowflakes but magical crystals hanging in the air, the guides headlamp made the crystals sparkle like fairy dust.  I believe this crystalisation occurs when moisture is in the air and the moisture begins to solidify before becoming a snowflake, but I’m no scientist, maybe Uncle Google has the answer.  After 30 minutes the dogs are back at the hut, and we’re glad. It’s the coldest we have felt since arriving.


WHAT TO DO NEXT

As we had cut the Husky sled ride down from 2 hours to just 30 minutes, we now had a little time spare.  Although we are all quite cold, except our hands as the HotHands are still working well, we know that know we don’t have much longer until we have to leave Santa Claus Holiday Village and catch the overnight Santa Claus Express train to Helsinki.  We decide to do one more activity…snowmobiling.  On our way over, Matilda falls sound asleep in the sledge so we drag her along behind us, much to the amusement of passers by.

YOU’RE ONLY AS FAST AS YOUR FEARS
At the Arctic Circle Snowmobile Park Lily-Belle puts on a helmet and is given a briefing about the short 30 minute tour.  Outside, little miss climbs on board a small snowmobile, she poses for a couple of photos and decides that her body is far too cold and asks if she can return inside, no problem, I wasn’t going to force her to do something she didn’t want to do.  I was expecting to lose the money we had paid but the guide very kindly allowed me to take Lily-Belle’s place on a full size machine, excellent!  There is no denying that I am a thrill seeker, an ex motorbike rider with absolutely no fear (except of cockroaches, hate them), I seriously couldn’t wait.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
The guide leads the way and we made our way into a forest with a decent covering of powdered snow.  As we weaved our way through the trees the guide increased his speed then looked over his shoulder to see if I was still there, and I was…right on his tail, no way would I let him shake me, then he does the same again, but I was still there, this was pretty much the pattern for the whole of the tour.  At the end of our session, the guide asked had I been on a snowmobile before, and I had, but many years ago in British Columbia, Canada, however I did explain about my love for motorbikes and all things speed.  I was beginning to feel the cold, I needed to go indoors, sit at a fire and a get a hot drink into me.  My body is cold but my hand warmers are still giving out great heat after being in my gloves for around 3 hours…I am impressed.

TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR
It’s just after 15.30 when we go for something to eat at Lapland Restaurant Kotahovi.  The restaurant itself is in a magnificent Lappish style wooden building with a huge 360 degree open fire smack-bang in the centre, the room is cosy with a very relaxed atmosphere, just perfect for thawing out after a very cold day.  Lily-Belle spots a piano in the corner and asks if she can play a tune, we check with the waitress first and it’s a yes.  Lily-Belle had only been playing the piano for 4 months..I hope she doesn’t scare the other guests off.  I bring up sheet music for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on my iphone, and Lily-Belle starts to tickle the ivories, a few bum notes but it’s easy to identify the song.  At least Lynne and I know we aren’t throwing our money away paying for piano lessons.

DO I EAT RUDOLPH WITH SALAD OR CHIPS
You may recall I wanted to eat reindeer the previous day and this caused Lily-Belle to have a meltdown, well today I wasn’t eating anything other than Rudolph, I wonder if ‘he’ comes with salad or chips?  We order food, I opt for reindeer, Lynne chose pork, and Lily-Belle and Matilda both chose chicken nuggets and mash.  The food arrived and the aroma coming up from the plates was tantalising, I for one couldn’t wait to tuck in.  Lily-Belle wasn’t overly impressed with my food choice, so I reminded her that she was eating a chicken…the exact same as the ones we used to have on the farm at home.  Point made, we all tuck in, but she still isn’t happy and gives me glancing ‘dirty’ looks every now and then.  Oh my giddy-aunt, the flavour of the reindeer is overwhelming, my tongue is dancing and every bite doesn’t fail to deliver.  Lynne isn’t really a big lover of pork, but surprisingly, she made a comment that the slow cooked pork dish was delicious, and the girls happily munched away on their nuggets.  Funnily enough, no one wanted to try my reindeer steak, all the more for me.

DEAR SANTA
The girls had Christmas cards to post home to Nana and Granda so we pay a visit to Joulupukin Pääposti, otherwise know as Santa’s Post office.  It’s a magnificent wooden building, and there are Elves everywhere.  Matilda spots a large plastic container with dummy’s (soothers, pacifiers etc) in and heads on over, I think she was looking for the one we took from her in October.  Lily-Belle and Matilda sat at a large table and reluctantly began to write another letter to Santa.  Meanwhile, here comes our sleeve trick, Lynne pulls out two identical letters to the ones that we had handed in to Santa the day before.  We scanned the originals before we left Northern Ireland, printed two of each (just in case something happened to one) and placed them at the top of the baskets that were waiting to be sorted by the Elves.  Lynne asked the girls to see if they could spot their own letters and pointed them in the general direction of the baskets where we had placed the impostor letters, and bingo…after a few minutes Lily-Belle finds her own letter and right beside hers is Matilda’s…what are the chances eh?  Lily-Belle did ask why the letter she had handed to Santa the day before was sitting in a sorting basket, but we had the answer ready.  The letters had to be filtered into ‘NAUGHTY and NICE’ piles so that they could be passed to the Elves who then scan them into a computer database so the child receives the right toy at Christmas.  Cunning, sly, devious….you bet!

CROSSING THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
I can only speak for myself here, but for as long as I care to remember, I have wanted to see the Northern Lights and cross the Arctic Circle, and I’m about to fulfil the first of these dreams.   We head into the centre of the Santa Claus Holiday Village to an area that is overlooked by a huge decorated Christmas tree, I reckon it’s around 24-25ft in height, and right beside there are four well lit pillars with a blue line overhead which marks the Arctic Circle.  After taking a few photos we all line up, a jump forward and we’ve done it, we’ve crossed the Arctic Circle line.  Many consider the Arctic Circle to be the border of hurry and stress, meaning that neither hurry or stress are meant to exist north of the line.  I’m not sure whether we initially crossed North to South or vice versa so we hop back over the line just to make sure we’ve covered all angles, who needs stress in their life, not I that’s for sure.

WHERE IS NEXT ON OUR TRAVEL LIST
The Santa Claus Holiday Village itself is beautiful and many of the pine trees are lit with twinkling icicles.  There is a monument displaying the current temperature and it’s -17oC…getting warmer?  Quite pleasant in comparison to the temperature earlier in the day.  Lily-Belle spots a huge wooden signpost with the names of cities around the world, New York, Singapore, Tokyo, Moscow and so on, the details of each place carved into the wood along with the distance.  We see London is only 2260km away, that’s where we’ll be heading tomorrow, but where to after that, who knows.

NICK NACKS AND LOLLIPOPS
Our time has come to leave Santa Claus Holiday Village and we have to get our taxi to Rovaniemi Train Station to catch the overnight Santa Claus Express to Helsinki.  We pre-booked the taxi for a 19.00 departure from Santa Claus Holiday Village.  Before we leave we dispose of our hand warmers which have no heat left in them, they lasted for between 6-7 hours so no complaints from us, we will definitely buy the HotHands brand again.   A quick visit to the shop to pick up a few nick-nacks and icicle shaped lollipops for our journey, the girls are happy.  The taxi arrives and we say goodbye to Inga, the owner of Santa Claus Holiday Village, and her co-worker.  We are all sad to be leaving but happy that wonderful memories had been made and that our Scandinavian adventure will continue on board the Santa Claus Express.

ALL ABOARD THE CHOO CHOO
The taxi from Santa Claus Holiday Village to Rovaniemi Train Station took a little over 10 minutes and cost us £12 or thereabouts.  The station is quite busy, no seats, so the girls get comfy on the floor.  The time is 20.00 and the train rolls in, and it’s huge!  A large green and white double decker train with carriages as far as the eye can see.  Lynne leads the was as we climb on board, we are slightly confused and can’t make head nor tail of where we should go, do we just pick an empty cabin?  Thankfully another passenger sees our perplexed faces, offers to help and shows us our carriage number and room number…both clearly visible on our ticket, do we feel stupid!  We are in the wrong carriage and have to get off the train, walk toward the front of the train and six carriages later we board again, we locate our room and it’s a tight squeeze for the four of us.  There’s two single beds, and a toilet/shower cubicle, very small indeed.  Places to the side of each bed for storing luggage, our bags/cases fit no bother at all.

WIND YOUR NECK IN
The girls get dressed into their pyjamas and we make our way to the restaurant carriage, a bite to eat, a drink and an hour later, Lynne and Matilda decide to call it a night.  Lily-Belle and I decide to sit on a while.  At the table next to us there’s a group of three lads, one of them is wearing a neck brace, and we engage in a conversation.  The chat is flowing freely and the fella with the neck brace, Sauli, tells us how he ended up wearing this contraption.  Sauli and his mates, Aki (grey cap) and Niki (yellow beanie) are ski instructors somewhere in Finland, not a million miles away from Rovaniemi I believe, and he had a fall on the slopes, or someone clattered into him, I can’t quite recall, but the medic in attendance places him in the brace and advises him to take himself to a hospital in Helsinki, so that’s where he was heading.  I can tell you that Sauli was in touch on facebook a few days later and he was given the all clear, just lots of bruising and rest prescribed.  Lily-Belle and I sat chatting with Sauli and his mates until the small hours (02:50) before they retire and head to bed, and Lily-Belle and I do the same.  Night night.

CHRISTMAS MARKET IN HELSINKI
It’s almost 8.15 when the Santa Claus Express rolls into Helsinki, somehow I was expecting it to be covered in snow like Rovaniemi, but far from it, not a single drop of snow.  We gather our belongings and head into the train station for breakfast, Burger King, not exactly nutritional but it’ll do for now.  Breakfast over, we find secure lockers to store our bags in while we go and visit the Helsinki Christmas Market.  The market is situated in Senate Square which is about a 15 minute walk from the train station.  As well as being home to over 100 Christmas Stalls, Senate Square is home to a huge statue of Tsar Alexander II and the magnificent Helsinki Cathedral, a stunning white building with intricate designs, including one of the largest collection of zinc sculptures anywhere in the world, the Twelve Apostles.  The cathedral was completed in 1852.

JUST A TAD EARLY
Helsinki Christmas Market boasts over 100 stalls on the internet, unfortunately there was just 18 stalls open, so we were quite disappointed.  It was still nice to see and sample some of the local produce and crafts.  We have since found out that the market begins setting up on the 3rd or 4th of December and normally takes a week to ten days to be in full operation, we arrived on the 7th December 2016.  There was a carousel in the centre of the market and guess what, completely free, you simply drop a donation into the box at the side of the entrance.  The girls enjoyed quite a few rides, more than 5 but definitely less than 20!  And yes, we contributed every time, I reckon I could have bought myself a carousel for the money I put in.

THE FINAL LEG
I’ll not bore you with the final leg of our trip, a flight from Helsinki to London then a flight from London to Belfast International, but we were back home on the 8th December 2016 and within a matter of days the Christmas decorations were up, as was our 12ft tree.

IT’S ‘SNOW’ JOKE
Did we omit to tell you that not one drop of snow fell during our trip, that’s right, not a single flake!  We were quite lucky in that a week before we arrived at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, they had a huge dump of snow, much more than they normally have at this time of year.  And, despite setting up the real-time Aurora Alert available at Santa Claus Holiday Village, nothing, not one text and not one single flicker in the night sky, we were absolutely gutted not to see the Northern Lights!  Lynne and I once saw the Northern Lights in Edinburgh whist out walking our beautiful Labrador, Angel (sadly no longer with us, she passed away on 29th June 2016 just a few weeks before her 14th birthday) and ever since we’ve been desperate to see the lights in full splendor.  Would our trip have been as enjoyable or as memorable without snow?  Personally I don’t think it would.  When you visit the North Pole, you expect to see snow, which we did.  Happy people.  Do we recommend you doing this trip, 100% yes!  Santa Claus Holiday Village should be on everyone’s bucket list whether young or old, it’s a wonderfully magical place and we are looking forward to returning in the not so distant future.  With a little bit of luck, and with Mikko as our guide, maybe next time we will see the beautiful Aurora Borealis.


Travel dates:
  5th December 2016 until 7th December 2016 (3 days, 2 nights)
Airlines used:  Norwegian Air and EasyJet
Return flight from Belfast-Gatwick-Belfast cost:  £155.00 (2 adults, 2 children)
Flight from Gatwick to Rovaniemi cost:  £286.40 (2 adults, 2 children)
Chalet cost:  £361.00 (booked using www.booking.com, 1 night with breakfast and dinner included)
1000 metre Reindeer sleigh ride cost:  £26.00 per adult, £21.00 per child
Snowman World cost:  £18.00 each and children under 3 are free
Snowmobile ride cost:  £45.00 for a child, minimum age 5, guided tour lasts 1/2 hour
Husky sled ride cost:  £36.00 per adult, £22.00 children aged 4-12, under 4 are free
Photos at Santa’s Grotto cost:  there are several packages available, we opted for the printed photo + usb stick with digital images + videos of Santa Claus Holiday Village and the Aurora Borealis – tbc
Taxi from Santa Claus Holiday Village to Rovaniemi Train Station cost:  £12.00
Santa Claus Express with overnight sleeper cabin:  £266.00 (2 adults, 2 children)
Inbound flight from Helsinki to Gatwick:  £146.20 (2 adults, 2 children)

tip: keep warm clothes, gloves and hats at the top of your case/bag to get dressed into once you land at Rovaniemi Airport.  We used Pro Packing Cubes which come in a variety of colours so we could quickly and easily identify which clothes belonged to which person.
bonus tip: take hand warmers, the simple shake ones work really well.  We used HotHands and this particular brand gave us around 6 hours of heat from each sachet, perfect for keeping little hands warm.

information, currency and prices are correct at time of post

Thank you to Marco and Inga Jääskö, Santa Claus, Santa Claus Holiday Village and Santa Claus Village for such a memorable trip.

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All views, opinions and experiences are that of The Callaghan Possy and are correct at time of publication.  Photos taken by Andrew Callaghan for use and distribution by Around The world In 18 Years.

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8 Comments

  • Reply
    sabretoothedchickenstour
    5th September 2017 at 13:39

    Informative and entertaining post. We are playing with the idea of heading to that region in December 2018? Love that you worked hard at creating some extra magic for your girls. I am sure it is something they will always remember, as will you. Loved tagging along on your holiday. Thanks for sharing <3

    • Reply
      aroundtheworldin18years
      5th September 2017 at 17:32

      Thank you. You should do it, I guarantee you would love it. We are planning on returning to Santa Claus Holiday Village in December 2018 and staying until the 1st week of January, we should try and hook up 🙂

  • Reply
    Gillian
    14th September 2017 at 10:27

    Love this! It might be sunny outside just now but I feel super Christmassy!! Well done the Callaghan posse!

    • Reply
      aroundtheworldin18years
      16th September 2017 at 17:36

      Thank you Gillian. We visited a local supermarket today and they had shelves stacked with Christmas items and….they were playing Christmas music, a little too early, it’s only mid September, we haven’t even had Halloween yet. The Callaghan Possy 🙂

  • Reply
    Santa Paul
    20th October 2017 at 12:56

    What a wonderful adventure! Love reading and viewing your blog – Santa Paul (official helper) – Canada!

    • Reply
      aroundtheworldin18years
      2nd January 2018 at 20:36

      Thank you Santa Paul, looking forward to visiting Canada in the not so distant future. We have already been to (before children came along) Banff, Lake Louise and a day trip to Panaroma, which is where we saw our first moose. Love your site, http://www.santapaulhillier.com/ – you look like an amazing Santa Claus.
      Happy New Year from The Callaghan Posse.

  • Reply
    Donna
    8th January 2018 at 11:58

    Absolutely loved reading your blog! Sounds like you really had an amazing time. I’m hoping to book for next year. Was hoping to go early December, but I would be gutted if there wasn’t any snow, so might need to leave it until later. I think I will definitely book santa Claus village now.

    • Reply
      aroundtheworldin18years
      8th January 2018 at 23:21

      Hi Donna, thanks for reading the blog. The problem with Lapland is that it’s so large, you can go to one place and have snow, travel a little further and get no snow, very hit and miss in December. To be guaranteed snow Lapland tourism say to visit late December onwards. SCHV is a great place, we loved it and we’re sure you will too 🙂

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