The farther a traveler goes north in Finland the more captivating is the lure of going on to the Artic Circle and Lapland. Driving northeast from the Baltic coast and Kemi, Finland, where we had viewed the crown of the King of Finland in the gem museum, we could not resist heading toward the crown of the world globe and the province of Lapland and the city of Rovaniemi, the capital and the center of government for Lapland. The Sami people are native to this province and live throughout its upper regions with their herds of reindeer, migrating as they have for hundreds of years. We had hoped to find colorful red costumes, fur tents, and reindeer everywhere, but of course today this is not the case. We found instead a bustling modern city, which is one of the biggest tourist centers of the country with a number of nice hotels from which to choose. Since we were just between seasons for them–summer tourism would not start for two weeks and ski season ended about a month before our arrival–we chose the Rantasipi Pohjanhovi Hotel, a SNR Hotel, because it is located right on the banks of the Kemijoki River with great views from the hotel’s lovely rooms. We were an easy walk along the river to the major bridge spanning the Kemijoki, and we could not help feeling that we were back in Alaska beside the Yukon River as both rivers serve their regions of the world in a similar way. River Safaris can be arranged on the Kemijoki during the summer months.
We stretched our legs by walking around town along the water and into the center and stopped in the large Lutheran Church, which had been rebuilt in the 1950’s with help from Sweden and the US after being destroyed in World War II. A service was going on but a girl in front invited us to slip in. We sat reverently and enjoyed the Biblical art depictions, which had Sami people and wolves and ice mountains around Jesus, but the Christian symbols are universal and were the same as ours. The reverence and tone of the message, added to by the visuals of the surrounding brightly colored depictions, created a feeling of warm fellowship.
After our stroll along the river and through the center of town, we headed for dinner at Ravintola Poulukka (016-310-222) near our hotel that said “authentic Lapland food,” and what a find. The service by the lovely red-headed waitress was perfect and friendly. Every bite of the authentic food was delicious. One of us had reindeer filet in loganberry sauce, roasted Lappi potatoes, and fish soup (whitefish, salmon, potatoes, leeks, in cream sauce with dill….fabulous!) and their wonderful bread, coffee, and Charlotte rouse with berry sauce. Another of us had salmon stuffed with crayfish with a creamy dill sauce, and another the rack of reindeer in a wonderful cream dill sauce. It was all fabulous! We were the only diners except for a table of four Finnish couples. While they were having kaffe they broke out in song and sang in four part harmony for about 30 minutes. It was absolutely beautiful folk music, and they kept smiling at us. Finally, they sang “Love Me Tender” in English to draw us in overtly. We sang with them and everyone exchanged warm smiles and thank you’s…a wonderful experience and very authentic. We had read that music is a part of everyday life and everyone sings, especially in the North where it is daily normal entertainment. It was great!
We walked over to ladies’ night at the dance hall across the bridge and watched the local people dancing what appeared to be a cross between the polka and Western waltzing, all in small circles around a big circle. We had heard that Finns love to dance and go to places such as this on a regular basis. All ages of adult were represented here and everyone seemed to revel in being able to swirl around the dance floor.
We next spent an intriguing time at the Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi. The Arkitkum is housed in a beautifully unique building that is right on the Kemijoki River. This museum has all the Nordic facts about animals of the icy country and life of the native people compared to now. A fascinating place which is a must when you visit this area. Plan about a half day to read all the signs and learn the most, which is all about the top of the world and of interest to any nationality. The signs are in many languages and the displays are wonderful. Price is about $10 Euros.
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