We decide to take in a few of the towns of central Finland on our way up to Lapland. Our first stop is Kupio, known as the home of Finland's biggest Smoke Sauna but our experience of the town is more like Finland's biggest ghost town on account of the Easter holiday .... we suspect. The city is empty and there are no people to be seen, just dozens of cold, grey 60's style buildings, lifeless shops, car less streets and a little slushy, brown snow hanging around on the sides of the roads and on the paths, that's about it. Pretty uninspired, we decide to drive on through and spend the night in Oulu a few hours North. We are pleasantly surprised as we begin to head upwards that the snow is thickening, within hours we are surrounded by a heavenly film of crisp white. We stop in a field to make our first proper snow man and to stomp around in this powdery, white, magic dust... our feet sinking right in until our legs are totally immersed and we are both totally bogged and have to squirm around on our tummies trying to get out whilst giggling hysterically like demented school girls. The ice eventually starts melting into our boots and our toes go numb, only then do we decide to head on. We arrive in town and experience our first hotel price, its €60 a night (after a €30 discount for my best poor backpacker routine) not too bad really considering all the warnings on the expensive involved in travelling Scandinavia. We awake in the morning and explore this quaint town. Its very lacking in people and therefore atmosphere, pretty much another ghost town, however unlike Kupio its a beautiful town with interesting architecture and a great city walk highlighting the sights. The main square...empty, the market stalls...missing, the cafes...closed and the main town market building, usually filled with fresh produce and seafood...deserted. We wander onto the port area with its many lovley wooden, traditional red shacks...also closed and empty but never the less still beautiful. Its suprisingly similar in layout to Boston, MAS *minus the signs of human existance. As we wonder down to the port we notice the one ship in the harbour, a huge sailing ship that looks like it too would be perfectly at home in Boston during the times of the war of independance and the Boston Tea Party, it is totally infused into the frozen ocean... we are amazed that the ocean could even freeze like that, with its currents and salt content, but Heikki has since advised us that its actually the Baltic Sea which is small, not very rough and is alot less salty than most oceans and thats why it freezes. We decide to head to the towns resident island to explore its normally sandy, now snowy shores and see more of this frozen ocean, 'popular for camping and swimming' the information sign says :Z. We walk through the car park covered in thick snow, then through a kids play area, the swings jutting out of the deep, white powder. Underneath the ground is covered in a pool of ice cold water which begins to fill our shoes but we trudge forward. We see a series of rocks peeping out of the white and realise it is the border of the beach front, directly ahead would be a short drop, a sandy beach and the lapping waves of the ocean... not today. We walk on, heading towards the light house at the end of the pier, upon arival we see the most amazing spectacle, white as far as the eye can see, the shore the ocean the sky... its impossible to see where one starts and the other finishes. We see a few black dots far off into the distance, they slowly seem to increasing in size. An hour or so later two heavily clothed figures pulling sleds with fishing equipment become clear on the horizon! Ice fishing miles out to sea! Getting more and more excited about the prospects of our trip and this amazing winter womderful we have only begun to uncover, we bundle back into the car and head further up the country to Rovaminei. We get in mid afternoon to find another deserted and quiet town, there are a few signs signaling to us that we are getting close to Lapland like 'Reindeer Safari's, enquire here' but today they are all closed and the town is on most accounts empty. We are not dishartented though, only 10 kms down the road we know there is a special freind waiting to see us and we should get a good nights sleep anyway... we want to look our best for Santa afterall.
We get up early, eager to experience the now world accepted home of Father Christmas and his helpers. We arrive to see a series of wooden red buildings. The first is Santas post office, a rip off $8 to send a post card home... or for a hefty €15 Santa will sent you one at Xmas. We explore the next four or so buildings to discover a series of over priced souveneer shops, bizarrly they have no jolly carols playing and very little Christmas cheer to spread, let alone any elves! Theres actually more festivity coming from any good shopping mall santa then what we experienced here! We head to Santas house and walk inside, free to visit but €40 for a pic with St Nic. We wait out turn then open the heavy wooden doors *everone sees Santa seperatley so you have to wait you turn like good little girls and boys. The atmosphere inside the workshop is bizzarre, we stand in the centre of what is supposed to symbolise a hot air balloon, strange at first glance as are we not in Santas house already? Stranger still is the morbid and dark atmosphere of the place, the only noise is the weird creaking of the 'balloon', its actually a bit freaky. We continue to wonder along. The next thing we encounter is a huge clock hand, the type in old grandfather clocks, perhpas symbolising that there is no time in here??? Again, its kind of freaky, no carols, no elves, no christmas cheer just the rythmic, rocking of the clock, tick. tock... tick, tock... When we arrive outisde Santas room I feel like I have stumbled into a weird, modern art museaum on Christmas rather then a place designed for kids so I peer in and spot Santa but dont approach... with the weird atmosphere in Santas house I'm guessing this guy will probably start he he heeing rather then ho ho hoeing! We decide to leave, skulking down the path, I look at Will and tell him that I dont even really even like Christmas anyway and that I think the whole thing is just a stupid way to get people to sp... you wouldnt belive it, but for the first time since we had been in Finnland, just there at that very moment... it started snowing. NOW TRY TELL ME SANTAS NOT REAL!!!!! :) We skip onwards, faith restored in the world! We find the marker and offically cross the Artic Circle... our Lapland adventure has begun.