Travel in Finland and Norway: Visit Santa’s Village and Swim in the Arctic Ocean

I recently completed a 7-day tour of Lapland with Time Travels Ltd. The company offers budget-friendly tours of the Arctic, making it possible for anyone, and especially students, to celebrate Christmas in a true winter wonderland. ❄️ ❤️39317586112_62997c2f82_z

Day one began at 8pm, with an overnight bus journey from Helsinki to the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. 27570150229_97d1b02f07_zThere were 110 people on our tour, split between two buses, but the buses were spacious, with USB chargers, and free WiFi. 24485865377_f799fda96c_zWe also made stops every 3-4 hours, to pick up snacks and use the facilities.

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snowy views from the bus

Bathrooms in Finland are quite unique. Each individual stall has its own sink, with soap and paper towel. Pretty cool!38639234764_5d7d6ea9d2_zI could definitely tell it was a student tour during one of our bathroom stops around 10pm. When we stopped, I immediately thought, “This is a good chance for me to brush my teeth.” At the same time, I heard someone in the back shout, “Nice, I’m going to go buy some beers!” Hah! 🤣 I guess my priorities have changed with age. 🍺 ➡️🛌27571147979_b533181788Anyway, before arriving in Rovaniemi, we made a brief stop at the Rauna Zoo.39346774361_9ebffd524b_zWalking in a winter wonderland. 🙂
39346772471_e4ca77df7a_zThe Rauna Zoo is contributing to conservation efforts, by protecting endangered local animals, such as the wolverine, mink and polar bear.

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They’re also involved in a breeding program, and this mother bear just had a polar bear cub last year. 🙂

The zoo also had a nice brunch buffet, with meatballs, mashed potatoes, and a lingonberry relish.38639083124_b98cdef9d9_zFrom there, we also made a grocery stop to stock up on food. Since the tour is budget-friendly, visitors have the option to cook their own meals. The local grocery store, K-Market, seemed to me like a Finnish Walmart. They have lots of hearty rye breads, hard cheese, and seafood. Also, I found many items in a tube, including fish paste.🐟🤔

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T: local spiced ale, dried reindeer chips, firewood licorice; B: fish paste in a tube (I don’t even think you could prank someone with this as a toothpaste swap, since the smell of fish is so strong! 🤣), American dressing in a tube, raspberry licorice

Anyway, at this point, we had finally made our way to Rovaniemi. The area is famous around the world, especially this time of year, since it’s home to Santa’s Village.27570150069_0acee28fc4_zVisitors come from around the world to meet Santa, and millions send letters to his village each year. 🎅🏻 Meeting Santa was seriously like getting into a VIP club, except in this case, the elves were the bouncers! Hah! I put myself on the list to meet Santa at 2:45, and was given a ticket to come back an hour later. Now don’t feel silly visiting Santa, since people were there of all ages! Of course, I’ll never divulge what I wished for when I met him, or else it won’t come true! 🎁

Side note: You can also take a photo with Santa for about 40 USD, which I felt was quite steep, so I decided to take a FREE selfie with a Santa statue instead. 😜

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L: Santa selfie; R: ticket to visit Santa and the elf bouncer

Also, to fill my time while I waited for Mr. Claus, I wandered the picturesque Santa Claus Village. 😍 🎄38469502925_7314b3c224_zI browsed the heaps of souvenir shops, stood on the Arctic Circle, saw Christmas lights by a beautiful bonfire, and even mailed a postcard back home.

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L: elf souvenirs; M: postcard and children writing letters home; R: Santa’s mailbox
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standing on the Arctic Circle
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Christmas lights and bonfire at Santa’s Village

After visiting Santa, we made our way to Vasatokka, which would be our home base for the next four nights.

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Vasatokka at night

The Vasatokka Youth Center has a range of accommodation. I chose the budget dorms, but there’s an option to upgrade to log cabins as well.

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Vasatokka Youth Center dorm room and common area

Side note on what to wear:
It is pretty frigid in Lapland, and there are limited hours of daylight to explore. Luckily, the hostel rents out warm coats, mittens, hats, jackets, and boots for a reasonable price. 🙂
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Anyway, the next day was Christmas Eve, and we drove up to BugøynesNorway, to jump in the Arctic Ocean! 👙❄️

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snowy dock in Bugøynes, Norway

It was potentially a Christmas nightmare, considering we started our trip by running into a reindeer! 😲 Luckily, it was a Christmas miracle, and he survived without a scratch. 😌 Anyway, after three hours of driving we arrived in Bugøynes, Norway, where we headed straight for a Finnish sauna.39346675681_d35014f8aa_zThe sauna is an important part of Scandinavian culture, and most homes have their own sauna inside. Someone described the sauna as being the heart of the home, since people can really communicate there without distraction. Outside of the sauna, there are many distractions, like phones and electronics. But in the sauna, you are compelled to speak to one another. In most saunas, people go nude, which also helps you relate to another on a different level. Regardless of your size, everyone is accepted as equal. It was quite a beautiful description.39350315221_a684a381e8Anyway, the plan was to spend 10-15 minutes in the sauna before running down to the Arctic Ocean. The hardest part is reaching the water, since the air temperature is -15, and there’s a slippery downward trail to the beach.

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frozen branches in Arctic Norway

I honestly had no intention of swimming, but felt like I was motivated to go by my group! You know the crazy saying, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” Apparently, I would! Hah! 🤣 Anyway, I have absolutely zero regrets. The experience was such a rush of adrenaline. It really makes you feel alive! Before I knew it, I was also back in the sauna to warm up. Here’s a small clip for you to enjoy!

After the icy dip, we popped into the neighboring cafe for a festive cup of glögi, a warm, spiced grape drink. We also got a badge as proof that we completed the Arctic jump.39346675851_db8fa43323_zAfter such a long morning, we stopped in at the local bistro to refuel. We were able to try haddock fish soup, which was steamed right before serving. It was super fresh, and not very fishy. It also came with rye bread and butter, tea, and ginger snap cookies.25478033348_ede9c33414_z

Fun fact: The town of Bugøynes has 200 inhabitants. They survive off the king crab industry, which is highly lucrative, considering they can sell them for roughly 30 dollars per pound, making a large, 15-pound king crab about 450 dollars! 🦀 💲

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The life of a fisherman can be very physically draining though, and apparently one of the local fishermen even lost his finger to one of these crabs! 😲

Anyway, by this time, it was 3pm, and the sun had already set, so we made our way back to Vasatokka. 25478033478_853748aedd_zAs a benefit of these extended nighttime hours, we were lucky enough to spot the northern lights!38640184034_1952b8357d_zIt’s interesting that the sky looks mostly black to the human eye, since people aren’t able to perceive the faint colors of the Aurora Borealis. That being said, the colors really shine with a long-exposure DSLR shot. A phone camera is usually not sufficient, and the picture will still look black. Funny enough, someone shared the “northern lights” photo they took from their phone. Obviously they had to edit with a wee bit of photo shop. 🤣

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the Northern Lights look black on a standard phone camera, so you’ll have to do some serious Photoshop to get those bright colors! 🤣🤣

Anyway, there are still plenty more activities involved in this Lapland tour. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then! 😀

Getting there:

To get to Helsinki from Barcelona, I flew with Vueling Airlines. To get from the Helsinki airport to the city center, I took the railway, which cost 5.50 Euro. It’s important to note that the ticket machine only accepts credit cards, and not cash.38469339085_de005f0f12_zAlso, on day one, while I waited for my tour to begin in Helsinki, I did a bit of sightseeing. Helsinki is quite small, and easy to walk around in a few hours.38639234594_662424a30d_z38639234654_3aa416a16d_zMy first stop was the National Museum, which has free admission on Friday afternoons.
BeFunky Collage5I saw some beautiful displays of traditional Finnish homes, and fine Finnish porcelain.38469339115_53651d70a4_zFinland is also quite obsessed with this Moomin figure, which is linked to a popular Scandinavian book series. I saw Moomin not only at the museum, but at many of the boutique gift shops.

38469339105_c1c209908f_zI also stopped at the Uspenski Cathedral and the Helsinki Cathedral, where they had a lovely Christmas concert.

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Uspenski Cathedral
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Helsinki Cathedral

My last stop was at the local holiday market, where they had hot drinks and local snacks.38639083064_e7f966f2df_z

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local market carousel and the Helsinki Cathedral

 

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