ARCTIC ROAD TRIP: TO SANTA AND BEYOND – KEVIN (FRANCE)
After living in Estonia for five years, I have finally made the step to hit the road and reach the arctic circle – which, after all, isn’t so far away from Tartu.
A while ago, some of my hometown friends booked a flight to Estonia to come and celebrate my birthday in what they thought was the « Grand North ». I had to figure something out, and organise an interesting trip. It had to be something they would remember forever. In fact, it was my birthday and my friend Paul’s birthday as well, so I had to come up with something cool, something grandiose.
I first thought of heading toward the Estonian islands – but I quickly realized that Lapland was a reasonable alternative. I made a couple of calls, and realized that it would be cheaper to rent a car than to take a train or book a flight. Car rentals are cheap in Estonia and a road trip is anyway more fun.
So, here’s how it went.
We spent the very first evening in Tallinn, where we got our car and had a good rest before D-Day. We took the opportunity to try the Olde Hansa restaurant’s rough but warm atmosphere, where we enjoyed Bear meat and the Home Beer from their menu.
The city of Tallinn is a complex of historic buildings, tiny streets and tonnes of small restaurants.
On the very next day, we travelled to Helsinki by ship and started our 9 hours long ride. It was a memorable journey that took us through the frozen Finnish nature, its lakes, forests and landscapes. It was truly breath-taking. The road quality in Finland is superb. Though the temperatures fell below -20° C, there was nothing to worry about. The whole journey is about following one single road – a totally straight, never ending road – called the E75. Speed limits are strict, restricting our speed to 80km/h most of the time. Finnish authorities are quite strict with speeding.
Even though the road was long, the trip was amazing. At every stop we made, we were surrounded by beautiful, frozen nature.
One cool gas station had an observation tower facing Sweden which gave us a beautiful view of the frozen sea. You can see how majestic the landscapes are on the pictures above.
Later on that evening, we saw what we thought was the reflection of Oulu’s night life in the sky. Our next destination. Surprisingly it was a wonder of nature, our first Aurora Borealis. So we stopped the car and had a break outside, in the middle of nowhere, just looking up to the stars and witnessing the beauty of the Northern Lights.
It is quite hard to capture the beauty of Northern Lights just with a phone.
It was only a few hours later that we arrived in the small Viking city of Oulu to have a rest and keep warm for the night. We went on a stroll through the city, but the weather conditions were quite severe, nearly reaching -25° C. And we had to rest.
The first bus stops were filled with snow, so you can imagine that it was quite hectic an arrival.
After a good night of sleep, we travelled onwards to the last step before the Arctic circle: the city of Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, which houses about 30 000 inhabitants, lots of tourists and of course an igloo in the city centre. We stayed in a really tidy apartment, and I taught my friends what Sauna was about.
As soon as we woke up, we took to the road once more and drove the last 6km to the arctic circle. Here, we got to meet Santa Claus. Here’s a picture of the crew, and the Ol’ Santa. It was a wonderful Experience.
Santa is a nice guy. He asked Irisha for a Belarusian Dance, and told me how he liked Estonian Vana Tallinn. In all, it was a fun experience. Anyway, I now have accomplished something really special – shaking hand with Santa.
A couple of hundred metres further, we finally reached the arctic circle – We had made it to our destination.
Later during the day we visited a Husky farm, where we booked a ride with Huskies. I do not really recommend to visit the farm, it made us a little sad to see all these dogs barking all day, hoping to get out of their cages. (They are treated well)
However, something cool to do, is the Husky Ride. It is quite expensive, and short. But truly, it is worth the shot. For 40 euros, you get to enjoy a 2km journey through the middle of beautiful Finnish landscapes. It is an extremely cold 10 to 15 minute ride.
We spent the rest of the day hanging around the village, which is pretty much an amusement park focused on Santa’s life. One funny thing to do there is to visit the post office – it’s the official post office of Santa, they collect and gather all Christmas letters sent by kids from all around the globe.
We spent another night in Rovaniemi to celebrate my birthday, went out and discovered the local night life, enjoyed great food and met some other tourists.
On the next day, we had to head back to Oulu to prepare for our return to Estonia. As the distance between Oulu and Rovaniemi is only 300km, we thought that we could have a little stop at a reindeer farm. We booked a tour of the place, at the price of 50 euros per person.
During the summer, the 200 reindeers of the family are free, and get tracked by GPS. In the winter they come back to the farm, where they get food to survive. Most of them aren’t docile – they tend to be really wild, and approach humans only for food, and during the winter. Nevertheless, the farmer knew them all by name.
Every year dozens of them die because of local predators such as bears, wolves or wolverines.
After a good half an hour of freezing with the reindeers, we drove a couple of hundred metres with the sledge, after which we had coffees and local pastries while chatting with the farmers. They told us everything about the harsh life in Lapland. They were amazing people.
This little break in a frozen heaven was the last step of our journey before it was time to hit the road again and return to Estonia.
Kevin Chavanne (France)
MA in Democracy and Governance