21 March 2007

The Great White North

I'm coming to you a few dozens miles south of the Arctic Circle in Kemi, Finland. I spent the last few days in Rovaniemi, town right on that line of latitude. To give you a better idea of how high in latitude that was think of it like this: I was farther north than most of the state of Alaska.

Tallin, Estonia surpassed my expectations. The jewel of the city is its well-preserved regal historic center. The charm of this old town would set even the heart of even the coldest person ablaze in flames. While in the city I also paid a visit to one of the Estonian saunas and received what could be the most memorable experience of the whole trip. I must wait until I have time to properly share that story with you though.

From Tallin I took a ferry to Helsinki, Finland, where I expected to spend a few days. However, as the ship entered the ice choked waters of harbor my desire to see the Arctic grew irresistible. I decided to forgoe Helsinki altogether and continue on to the North with an overnight train. A winter wonderland greeted me as I awoke on the train the next morning.

Surprisingly the weather around town was not too inhospitable. The temperature hung around the freezing point, and only a couple feet of snow remained on the ground. People told me time and time again how unusual it is; they did not even receive permanent snow cover until December.

On my second day in Rovaniemi, this southern boy tried his hand, or feet rather, at downhill skiing for the first time. My initial speedy advancement in the learning process impressed my instructor, and she questioned me about my interests in order to find a connection. Then it came time to learn turning, which took a little longer for me to get down. Eventually I did make it to the real slopes. I always knew skiing must be fun, but now I better understand how people can spend thousands each year for a week of it in the Rockies.

Walking back from ski area I decide to take a trail through the woods. A little ways into the forest I rounded one bend and there before me stood two wild reindeer. I stood in silence for a few mintues and watched them dig through the snow for food before they noticed me and darted off through the trees.

Returning to town, I too felt the need to search for food and ate some of those reindeers' brethren for dinner. I must say that Rudolph with a side of lingon berries tastes pretty good.

Yesterday offered more winter fun activities.

To start things off in the morning, I went to the 'official' Santa Village at the Arctic Circle. It fit my imagination perfectly, that is if I was eight years old. The tourist spectacle alone was worth the bus ride. I even spoke with bearded man himself, in English and German.

In the afternoon I went with a Russian guide to a reindeer farm to see how the workers raise the animals. The owner of the ranch took on me a ride through the forest in areindeer pulled sleigh. He spoke no English, so the only sounds were those of the sleigh's runners gliding over the snow, the silence of the forest, and the occassional reindeer snort.

At night another guide, this one French, took me snowshoeing through some of the forest north of town and we kept our eyes directed toward the sky in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. Very unfortunately, the Lights never appeared. The sun and its radiation must have not been in cooperation with us for the evening. However, the guide's fire cooked crepes with cloudberry jam helped make up for it.

This morning in Kemi I visited this season's famous ice castle and hotel that sits on the Bay of Bothnia. The early warming has caused the outside to melt past its prime, but impressively the staff keeps the inside around -5 degrees celsius.

Tonight I will take a bus over into to Sweden and continue south toward Hamburg, Germany. Believe it or not, there I will meet my parents for a few days. Together we will travel to a small town outside of Frankfurt supposedly from where my distant paternal ancestors originated. With any luck we will find a small church in this town where our family crest, if it exists, reportedly rests on a wall. I will feel a bit like Indian Jones.

After that my parents will go to London, but I will head to France. I will visit some friends in Angers, see Mont St. Michel, and of course spend a nice chunk of time in Paris.

The finish line of the Odyssey is within sight. Then again, when standing at the top of the world what isn't?

No comments: