In search of the Northern Lights, snow and wilderness, we boarded a ferry to head over to Finland. I have to admit, I was pretty excited for the ferry; I have never been on a cruise or anything like that before, so staying a night on a ship was a new experience for me.
Researching the best options was quite an exercise. You can either get the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki or Turku, and a one-way ticket was more than it was to get a return cruise ticket. We did a bit of research into if it was possible to book a return ticket and just jump off at the dock to save the money. Nothing online really helped us; Tyral was in communication with someone in a couch surfing forum who helped us a bit. We thought ‘screw it’ and rolled the dice and booked the return ticket for 36 euro for the two of us. We thought, worse comes to worse we get a return trip on a cruise with a story at the end.
We arrived at the dock at 6pm for our night’s buoyage. Sitting playing cards waiting to board, we nodded appreciation to the only other person under the age of 50 in our sights. He was defiantly a back packer, complete with hippy pants, long hair and bongo drums. We contemplated going over for a chat, but were later thankful for our decision when he got searched for drugs and taken away after a dog thought his bag suspicious… Never to be seen again. We clearly looked a little out of place to the boarder control as well, who hung around us asking weird questions and giving us the look of ‘we know you have something…’
After our third check with the drug dog, and disappointing the head security guard for not having another bust, we boarded the ship and set our sights on Finland, a country neither of us knew anything about.
The ferry was like a floating retirement village, full of old goose dressed in their best with bright shades of lipstick, roaming around in gangs of 3 or 4 making their way between pokies and the bar. Most of them seemed like they knew what they were doing, as soon as we boarded everyone rushed to their rooms to dump their bags then where straight to the casino. Tyral and I felt like the youngest people aboard, apart from a group of Finnish girls, everyone was at least 50 plus.
We sat in our small cabin, low enough down on the ship to be neighbours with Leonardo DeCaprio, made the most of the duty free liquor on board and decided to see what this ship had to offer. We headed out a little tipsy to the bar, expecting to find some sort of night life, instead there was a small group of traveling dancers, and a band playing covers. We sat and watched the off work dancers, having fun on the empty dance floor, until we decided it was time to give it a crack ourselves.
Somehow the night ended quite late, and we only managed to get a few hours sleep before the ship docked and we had to sneak off into Finland. It turns out, getting off mid way on a cruise is actually really easy. We literally just walked straight off.
So we had made it, hung over, tired and grumpy, but we were in Finland. I had found a host on couch surfing, an exchange student from Germany, whom we stayed with for two nights. Knowing absolutely nothing about Turku, we were basically just using it as a base to get up north of Finland, however we enjoyed the small town so we extended our stay another night. The town is really small, old but beautiful. We were welcomed with a surprising large amount of snow, much to our pleasure. We spent our first day walking the city, checking op-shops for warmer jackets and playing in the snow. Our second day we went for a walk around the island Ruissalo Runsala, a beautiful natural park surrounded by frozen water. The sun was shining and it distracted us away from the cold enough to spend the whole day hiking and taking photos.
Leaving Turku, we wanted to head north but for some silly reason you have to head back down to the capital Helsinki, before heading north, and so we did. Until 12am we sat in the bus station playing cards and drinking soup from our thermos until the time came to get our bus. The ride was 14 hours long, but over night so we could get a semi-decent awkward sleep before arriving in Rovaniemi.
Here we were greeted with even more snow, and even colder temperatures. Luckily, or so we thought, the temperature was only negative 3 and not the usual negative 35 it had been the previous week. I say so we thought, because in order to see the Northern Lights, it can’t be cloudy and snowy and they usually only appear in freezing temperatures. Although I really wanted to see the lights, I wasn’t too disappointed we missed that kind of weather…
We stayed with a couch surfing couple here, who where also hosting another couple from England. Together the six of us went for a night hike up through the forest to a small outdoor cabin to light a fire and have a BBQ. I wasn’t dressed for this kind of adventure, decked in short gumboots and thin jacket, I was soon frozen to the core. It didn’t help the fire never took off, and we ate smoked haloumi and cold sausages for dinner. Ignoring those things, it was a great experience. It was a beautiful setting, and having a fire in the middle of the snow was something neither of us had ever experienced.
This is how cold i was…
The main tourist attraction that brings tourists from all over the world (mostly China) is the ‘real’ Saint Nick. If anyone knows me, should know I’m a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas, so this wasn’t the top of my list of things to do in Europe. Still, I sucked it up and us, along with the English couple, headed to the Artic Circle to meet the real deal of Santa’s. After checking out a Reindeer and doing a quick lap of his ‘home’ we headed in so Tyral could clear up an old grudge with Saint Nick. When Tyral was 11 he woke up early on Christmas Day, eager as most children are to unwrap his presents. He wasn’t expecting to unwrap a Hanson CD, and held the grudge towards Santa ever since.
We never got to sit on Santa’s lap, but sitting next to him we told him a little about ourselves (wasn’t he supposed to know all this, Tyral questioned) and finally Tyral got to confront him about the CD. At first response Tyral was told to ‘look in the mirror’, which Tyral wasn’t happy with this response so asked again, and finally got the real answer: it was a prank. So there you have it, Santa is a prankster. Relived and happy, we could finally leave Rovaniemi, with the weight that had been so heavy on Tyral’s shoulders for all those years gone, and make our way North to the Lapland.
Buses in Finland are the most overpriced expense I have come across yet, and I lived in Scandinavia for six months. One way, one person, you will pay up to 50 euros. We where defiantly not doing that, so it was time to dust off the card board and stick out the thumb and hitch hike our way through the Arctic Circle.