Hello and a very big WELCOME to our very first travel blog post. We sincerely hope you enjoy reading about our #traveladventuredreams and welcome you to have a look around our site. Please feel free to interact with us using the comments box at the bottom of each post. You may also connect-follow-like by clicking on the social media icons scattered around the site. So, without further ado…Dear Santa.
As I write this post, I’m looking out of our sunroom window watching the incessant rain as it trickles down the glass…it’s summer! I say summer, but in all honesty we don’t really get a summer here on the island of Ireland. The Emerald Isle tends to get lots of inclement weather. Stormy, windy, grey, dank and wet…very wet! Not wanting to dampen our spirits (or yours for that matter) with a post about our wet and muddy shenanigans across Ireland, we thought we would share a post about a very special trip to visit Santa Claus Holiday Village in Rovaniemi, Fininish Lapland.
So, make yourself a cuppa, grab a selection of snacks, sit back in a big comfy chair and enjoy…Dear Santa.
THE CALM OF KAAMOS
During the Scandinavian summer months, there is a natural phenomenon that occurs called the Midnight Sun. The sun remains entirely visible for 24 hours a day. In winter months, the complete opposite happens and the sun barely rises above the horizon, so the North Pole is plunged into an eerie darkness. This mystical period of darkness normally lasts for two months from the beginning of December until the end of January. Locals refer to this phenomenon as Kaamos, or the Polar Night; and it’s one of the best periods for spotting the spectacular Northern Lights.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN FINNISH LAPLAND
WHERE DOES SANTA CLAUS LIVE?
Come the month of December, children around the world begin to write and send off their Christmas Wish Lists to Santa Claus…Dear Santa! How does your letter get to Santa? Where does Santa Claus live? Well, without giving away too much, what I can tell you is that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole in a very special city called Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. With beautiful landscapes and dancing Aurora Borealis displays in the starry night sky, it’s easy to see why Santa Claus chose this region as his HQ and aptly named the area, Santa Claus Holiday Village.
FUN FACT: SANTA CLAUS IN FINNISH IS ‘JOULUPUKKI’ AND TRANSLATES TO CHRISTMAS GOAT
SENDING A CHRISTMAS LETTER TO SANTA CLAUS
Santa Claus has a vast army of elves working for him and even has his very own Post Office or ‘Postitoimisto’ as it’s know in Finnish Lapland.
When addressing your Christmas wish list letter to Santa Claus, you can do 1 of 3 things:
- address the letter to Santa Claus and post the letter to the OFFICIAL address at:
Santa Claus Main Post Office, Tähtikuja 1, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland…and don’t forget to add a stamp.
- post your letter to: Santa Claus, North Pole, Arctic Circle NPO1E EL4 and drop your letter into a post box in your home town, Santa will receive your letter…and remember to stick on a stamp.
- send your Christmas wish list up the chimney, this get’s the letter to Santa Claus much quicker but you need magical ‘Elf Dust‘. If you have a little elf dust to hand, add a sprinkle inside the envelope and pop the letter into the fire. Then…stand back and watch the magic happen as your letter fizzes and sparkles before disappearing up the chimney.
BUT….remember that you have to be on the NICE LIST to get gifts, children on the NAUGHTY LIST get coal!
GETTING TO THE NORTH POLE
Who knew? Santa Claus has his own airport located just over a mile away (2km) from Santa Claus Holiday Village in Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland. No doubt the airport serves as a landing zone for Santa’s reindeer and sleigh over the festive Christmas period. If you listen very carefully, you might hear Santa’s sleigh bells jingle as he departs and lands at the airport on ‘sleigh test’ days.
To get to the North Pole we had a very early 04:45 start to catch the first Norwegian Air flight out from Gatwick Airport to Rovaniemi Airport. A direct route with a flight time of around three and a half hours. It’s difficult keeping sleepy-grumpy-excited children calm on flights, so we took ipads to keep Lily-Belle (age 7) and Matilda (age 2) occupied on the plane. Download a few movies to watch offline and a few educational games to play. Don’t forget to pack headphones so as not to disturb your fellow passengers. Oh, and sweets for take-off and landing to help the ears.
The flight was calm and before we knew it we were below the clouds and descending. Spectacular views from the aeroplane window of snow-covered tree tops and then a bump, touchdown. A super smooth landing by the Norwegian Air pilot, couldn’t fault it. No sign of the ‘Big Man’ just yet but we were S U P E R E X C I T E D!
OUR SANTA CLAUS HOLIDAY VILLAGE ADVENTURE BEGINS
It was around 9.20 by the time we gathered our bags and made our way outside. A free airport transfer bus to the Santa Claus Holiday Village was waiting and as we expected, it was cold. The December temperature was a rather chilly -18°C….brrrrrr! And Daddy, (me) with a head like a billiard ball, stood in trainers, jeans and a t-shirt, yup, a t-shirt. Thankfully I don’t really feel the cold. The ladies couldn’t wait to get into the minibus to warm up.
The minibus was clad with a rather large picture of ‘the big man in the red suit’. Our bags and cases were loaded into the rear of the minibus, before we climbed on board ourselves. Although the minibus was toasty warm there was no time to get comfy. The journey time from Rovaniemi 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
Arriving at a snow-covered Santa Claus Holiday Village, excitedly and hurriedly we entered the main building. To our right a brightly lit display of Santa Claus and to our left ‘troll like’ creatures. We never thought to ask what the significance of the trolls was but maybe the next time we visit we will. Through a set of large wooden doors and over to the reception desk to check in.
Due to our very early morning arrival, we were unable to check into our room until later that afternoon. A tiny bit of a hindrance but we were allowed to leave our luggage at Reception so we could venture off and explore Santa Claus Village. Santa Claus Holiday Village and Santa Claus Village, although they are side by side; are both separate entities. The gift shop, restaurant and entrance to Santa’s grotto are all accessible from Santa Claus Holiday Village reception area.
Although it was light outside (around 11:15) by the time we dressed the children in warm clothing, the light had faded significantly. We took advantage of the free sledges available from the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception area. Sit the children in and drag them along, easy peasy. Just behind the Reception there’s a very large archway that leads to the accommodation chalets. In the day time the arch looks magnificent towering towards the sky. 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 didn’t have room keys, we veered the sleds left just before the Santa Claus Holiday Village arch and made our way towards a flickering flame that was a short distance away. The flickering flame was an outside fire-pit, perfect for thawing the ice that had accumulated in my nose. Gross I know, but it’ll happen to you as well. The fire-pit has a wonderful aroma of smokey pine and is situated right beside Santa Claus’ Reindeer pen. Reindeer are tethered and ready to take us on a magical sleigh ride through the snowy forest.
RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER
Our first activity…reindeer sleigh ride. On board the hand crafted sleighs we covered ourselves with a traditional reindeer hide rug. Such a relaxing ride as the reindeer took us effortlessly over undulating hills. As the reindeer didn’t have a red nose we assumed it wasn’t Rudolph. The reindeer meandered through the snow-covered pine trees…so peaceful and so beautiful. At one point the reindeer turned left sharply. Behind us we heard a shriek and the third sleigh tipped throwing the occupants into the deep soft snow. The discarded occupants laughed, we laughed, the guide didn’t laugh quite as much but no harm done and no one was injured.
We took this as an opportunity to grab a few photos….DISASTER STRUCK. Although we knew our phones (iphone 5s and samsung galaxy s6) and our camera (samsung mv900f) were fully charged, they began switching off? Turn them on again, take a couple of pictures, bang…off they’d go again!!! What on earth was going on? Was Santa Claus Holiday Village more mysterious and magical than we anticipated?
TAKING A CHANCE WITH TECHNOLOGY
The reindeer guide advised us that the majority of phones and cameras won’t operate at such extreme minus temperatures. It’s -19°C at Santa Claus Holiday Village, and even though the devices are all fully charged, they give the impression that the battery is dead until they warm up again. Thee’s hope, not for us, but for you; if you read this before visiting. Apparently Sony phones and cameras are not affected as much due to the battery type that they use. The rest of the holiday was spent with phones and cameras tucked deep into the warm crevices of our clothes, take them out, take a photo, then put them back again!
Back to the reindeer, we digressed a little there. The reindeer ride is a wonderful experience, and we highly recommend doing this activity. 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 was time to warm up and went for 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 Lily-Belle, 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 got the silent treatment, great!
COMPROMISING TO KEEP THE PEACE
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 was 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 even in December the restaurant at Santa Claus Holiday Village was very quiet, almost empty in fact. Just four families dining and one of those families was us, The Callaghan Posse. I have no doubt that the restaurant will probably be busier during high season.
NO TIME FOR SHOPPING JUST YET
A quick look around the well stocked shop and then back to the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception to see if our chalet was available, and it was. The receptionist offered us assistance to take the bags/cases to the chalet but we politely declined. Our chalet was just a short walk away, and again, the sledges came in handy for transporting two tired little ladies across the snow as well as our luggage.
THE GATEWAY TO HEAVEN
Through the magnificent arch and turn right, our chalet was no more than three minutes from the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception. In fact, everything in the Santa Claus Holiday Village is just a short walk away from the main reception. Santa Claus Holiday Village was very quiet considering it was the first week of December and didn’t seem overcrowded at any point during our stay. Nor did it feel commercialised…just magical!
HEY HO, HEY HO, OFF TO THE CHALET WE GO!
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 arrangement would be really handy if you were two families on holiday and wanted to stay close together. Never once did we hear any noise from the other chalet which was occupied by three ladies from China. The chalet itself was warm upon entry for which we were thankful. It would have been a bit of a ‘mare to walk into a cold room having been outside in minus-daft temperatures.
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…drrrrrrrr) a fantastic sauna that we couldn’t wait to try out. The room was typically Scandinavian in look, lots of pine and chandeliers made from reindeer antlers. Daddy liked it, Mummy liked it and the girls really liked it. Warm, cosy, comfy and clean, what more could we want or need? Thumbs up for our Santa Claus Holiday Village chalet.
TIME TO VISIT THE GROTTO
It’s the moment we tell the girls we are going to Santa Claus Holiday Village 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. The Elf 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, Mummy and I told the girls that we had received a very important letter from Jingles the Elf. The important elf letter informed us that Jingles was stuck at the North Pole. Apparently there wasn’t enough magic dust to work the Elf portal and we had to go to the North Pole and collect her…the girls were in disbelief but also thrilled, excited, and dare I say, screaming like demented banshees!
ALL HAIL THE REAL SANTA
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. In reality, I had actually arranged to go and chat to Santa Claus, I felt so naughty, so sneaky! I have to say that I was just as excited as the girls at this point! I approached Santa’s 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 me was the ‘real’ Santa Claus alright.
A VERY CUNNING PLAN
We chatted for a while and I explained in great detail what I needed Santa to do. I handed Santa a photo of the girls, Jingles (our elf), and advised him that he would be getting a visit from Lily-Belle and Matilda within the hour. I politely asked that when the girls arrived, Santa Claus was to bring out Jingles with a bit of improvisation about Jingles, the North Pole, the sick Elves, lack of magic portal dust 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 and I went back to get the girls.
SEEING THE REAL SANTA
The girls approached 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 was empty, we are the only visitors so no queue. The girls kept asking if it was the real Santa and of course we confirmed that he was. The Grotto door slowly opened and there he was…Santa Claus, big red jumper, a very long beard, round spectacles, boots with the toes turned up, the whole shabbang. Absolutely amazing and 100% convincing.
Lily-Belle and Matilda craned their necks to look up at Santa Claus. Santa greeted them both by name and Lily-Belle looked at me in disbelief, her mouth wide open. Matilda, who was only two, looked a little bit scared….but not for long, she soon warmed to Santa’s soft voice and persuasive charm. An invite to enter inside the Grotto and Santa Claus gave the girls a hug before asking them to sit next to him, The video camera was rolling and the girls were soooooo quiet, almost shell-shocked. Santa Claus chatted to them for a couple of minutes and read their Christmas Gift Lists out aloud (in a muttered voice).
THE EXCITEMENT IS BUILDING
It was the moment Mummy and I had been waiting for the most…..Santa Claus pulled 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 (almost teary) 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 and 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 demonstrated her musical Christmas jumper. Our plan could not have gone any better. I stopped the video camera and Santa Claus chatted to the girls. Santa told them he couldn’t wait to visit Northern Ireland as we are always so generous with the cookies, milk and carrots. We posed for a few photos and that was it, job done. I have to say, the Santa Claus Holiday Village 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 cunning little plan.
TWO SANTA’S MEANS TWO PRESENTS
The time to say goodbye to Santa Claus had come and the girls give him one last hug. Next stop was 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…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 was spent between sledging, eating, and looking out for the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. No dancing lights on day 1, so hopefully we would see them on day 2. We made our way back to the chalet for a sauna, and the girls were 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. To be honest, at one point, I thought the girls were going to implode with excitement! Night night from The Callaghan Posse and Jingles the Elf.
DEAR SANTA….day 2
After a very good night sleep it was time to rise for day 2 in Finnish Lapland. We had absolutely no concept of the time until we switched on the mobile phones. Second day began at 06:50 so a nice early start to cram in as much as possible. Our snow clothes are laid out ready with enough layers to trap in body heat and keep us warm. Time for breakfast at the restaurant beside the Santa Claus Holiday Village reception area. Once again, we availed of the free sledges to drag the girls across the snow.
WE WANT WARM WAFFLES
To get to the restaurant we had to walk through the Santa Claus Holiday Village gift shop, the smell was truly amazing…waffles? Breakfast was 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 in the Santa Claus Holiday Village 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. As the girls play, we finish packing. Daddy takes 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 Santa Claus Holiday Village chalet, very handy. The girls are really excited!
THE TICKET THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
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. Our entry tickets to Snowman World are purchased and in return we each receive a wristband. 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.
IF YOUR NAME’S NOT DOWN, YOU’RE NOT COMING IN
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!
ICE TO SEE YOU, TO SEE YOU, ICE
The camera seems to be holding out well today so we grab a few photos of the burly door Snowmen. A short 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.
PROPPING UP THE BAR
Mummy and I prop up the bar and chat with the bearded barman, who we now know as Mikko Lantto. What a character Mikko is. Mikko is really friendly, has loads of funny anecdotes and an endless supply of local knowledge. Turns out he’s also a very keen photographer and Aurora Borealis Hunter. As Mummy and I don’t really drink, we asked for something special to drink, maybe something the locals would take.
Mikko serves Mummy 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! Mummy 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. There’s also a beautifully sculpted corridor that has four chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. 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 fearless and 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. Rest assured we will definitely return to Santa Claus Holiday Village tick this off our bucket list. I’m led to believe that the temperature inside the ice room is a constant -1°C even when the outside temperature falls to -30°C, 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.
ONE LAST SLIPPERY SURPRISE
Time to head outside to the snow slides. There is a long slide for the fearless teenagers and adults, and a smaller slide for the younger adventurers. Lily-Belle collects a 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. Mummy takes Matilda down the smaller slide and she is also keen to go again, Matilda, not Mummyl.
There was an area set aside at the rear of the park for an ice rink. The area was still under construction, but no doubt it will be a popular attraction once finished. After about half an hour we were frozen, the outside temperature was a mind numbing -22°C, it was so cold it actually hurt to breath. Definitely 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 for hot drinks and hot food. 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 at Santa Claus Holiday Village, 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, -22°C and we’ve been informed that the temperature is still dropping! We got chatting 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? After a quick chat with the guide, our 2 hour trip was reduced to a 30 minute sled ride with the huskies.
WHAT A REALLY WUFF RIDE
Our guide is Valentijn, and he introduces us to the huskies who will be taking us on our tour. The husky dogs are adorable and really friendly. One husky is timid and shy’s away from my outstretched palm. Valentijn explained the dog had only recently been introduced to this particular team of dogs, and assured us the dog would eventually integrate and become sociable. I should say at this point that it was absolutely pitch black and visibility was almost zero. The only light we had was from Valentjin’s headlamp and the odd distant street light.
ON YOUR MARK, SET, GO
Hands are toasty warm, the HotHands are still working after nigh on 3 hours. We settled in to the sled and with a command from Valentijn, the dogs leap into life. Yelping, barking and raring to go. The dogs weave along a narrow track with snow-covered pine trees each side, a route dimly lit only by the guides light.
DANCING DIAMOND DUST
The air was filled with what I can only describe as crystals, not quite snowflakes, but magical crystals floating 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. I’m no scientist so maybe Uncle Google has the answer. We referred to these crystals as Diamond Dust. After 30 minutes the huskies have us 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 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. Surely we can squeeze in one more activity…snowmobiling. Matilda is beat and falls asleep in the sledge. Passers by are amused to see us dragging along a sleeping child in a sled.
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. The guide tries to ditch me on more than one occasion but I was going nowhere. This was pretty much the pattern for the whole of the snowmobile 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 passion 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 really 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 Mummy 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? I opt for reindeer, Mummy chose pork, and Lily-Belle and Matilda both selected 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 exceptional, my tongue is dancing and every bite doesn’t fail to deliver. Mummy 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.
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, Mummy 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.
Mummy 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 Aurora Borealis and cross the Arctic Circle, and today I’m about to fulfil the first of these dreams. There is a huge decorated Christmas tree in the centre of Santa Claus Holiday Village, I reckon it’s around 24-25ft in height, and right beside there are four well lit pillars with a blue line overhead, the blue line represents 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 from around the world. New York, Singapore, Tokyo, Moscow and so on, the details of each place carved into the wood along with the distance. London is a mere 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. Our next journey is the overnight Santa Claus Express to Helsinki. We had 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. Our air activated warmers lasted 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. 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 way as we climb on board but it’s fair to say 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 and offers to help. Our carriage 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. A short walk and six carriages later we board again,. Our room is located 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, Mummy and Matilda decide to call it a night. Lily-Belle and I decide to sit on a while. Sat beside us there’s a group of three lads and one of them is wearing a neck brace. A conversation is struck up. The chat is flowing freely and ‘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. Unfortunately Sauli had a fall on the slopes, or someone clattered into him, I can’t quite recall. The attending medic placed Sauli in the brace and advised him to take himself to a hospital in Helsinki, so that’s where he was heading.
Sauli was in touch on facebook a few days later and thankfully he was given the all clear. Just lots of bruising and a few days rest prescribed. Lily-Belle and I sat chatting with Sauli and his mates until the small hours. It’s 2:50 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 Helsinki to be covered in snow like Rovaniemi, but far from it, not a single drop of snow. Our belongings are gathered and we make our way 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 so we can 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 of over 100 stalls on the internet. Unfortunately only 18 stalls were open on the day of our visit, 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. The whole process takes a week to ten days to be in full operation. We arrived on the 7th December 2016 so they just hadn’t finished.
There was a carousel in the centre of the market which was free. All that is required is a small donation into the box each time you ride. 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 followed with a flight from London to Belfast International. We arrived back home on 8th December 2016 and within a matter of days, the Christmas decorations were up, as was our 10ft tree.
IT’S ‘SNOW’ JOKE
Did we omit to tell you that not one drop of snow fell during our trip, not a single flake! That doesn’t maen there was no snow on the ground! A week before we arrived at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, they had a huge dump of snow. Much more snow than they normally have at this time of the year. And, despite setting up the real-time Aurora Alert available at Santa Claus Holiday Village, nothing, not one text. There wasn’t a single flicker of colour in the night sky. We were absolutely gutted not to see the Northern Lights!
Mummy and I once saw the Northern Lights in Edinburgh whist out walking our beautiful Labrador, Angel. Sadly Angel is no longer with us, she passed away on 29th June 2016 just before her 14th birthday. Ever since that first glimpse in Edinburgh, we’ve been desperate to see the Aurora Borealis in full splendor.
ADDING MAGIC TO YOUR BUCKET LIST
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. The Santa Claus Holiday Village is a wonderfully magical place and we are looking forward to returning in the not so distant future. With a bit of luck and 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)
- 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.
- take hand warmers, the simple air-activated ones work really well. The HotHands brand gave us around 6 hours of heat from each sachet, perfect for keeping little hands warm.
Thank you to Marco and Inga Jääskö, Santa Claus, Santa Claus Holiday Village and Santa Claus Village for such a memorable trip.
LILY-BELLE SAYS (age 7):
My friends all say Santa isn’t real but I know that he is. Santa was so kind and he was really friendly. I couldn’t believe it when he called us by name, and asked about Northern Ireland. Santa even brought out Jingles and Bobbles (our elves). He knew everything about me! Snowman World was so much fun, whizzing down the slippy slide was cool. I loved the husky ride but it was very cold, and dark, so I couldn’t see much. I can’t wait to go back.
MATILDA SAYS (age 2):
Santa was my best friend and he gave me a hug and a toy. I liked being able to touch my elf Bobbles, because normally we can’t touch the elves in case they lose their magic. It’s really, really, really cold where Santa Clause lives.
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