Travel to Santa Claus home
But, what and where is Lapland? This is a tough question. This territory, above the Artic circle is divided between Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. However, officially Lapland is where the Sami live. Generally, people refers to Lapland in Finland or Sweden, neither Norway or Russia refer to their territory under this name, and usually Lapland (or Laponian region) is the name used to the union of the Swedish and Finnish areas.
For the matter of this post, we should go to the north of Finland, in the Finnish Lapland. The capital is Rovaniemi, an iconic place in which the line of the Artic circle passes across. This is an area to start wild adventures, among thick forests and wooden houses (mökki) there is the highest mountain in the country, some of its fjords and one of the best places in Finland to see Northern lights and enjoy the amazing view of the sun at midnight.
This area is known for being Santa Claus hometown (Santa in Finnish is Joulupukki). The translation is quite confusing: “Joulu” means Christmas, all right, but “pukki” means, literally, deer or goat. Years ago, people was afraid of him and nobody knows when, eventually, he became the charming elder he is now. The tradition of Joulupukki is from the beginning of the 19th century, even most of the Finnish tradition was lost after the story of Santa Claus was Americanized.
Thousands of letters are sent to the postal code of this town with tones of Christmas whises. They are collected and arranged by Santa’s hard-working assistants, the elfs. Attention! The address is: Santa Claus, 96930 Polar Circle, Finland. When Santa Claus gets to people’s houses he asks "Onkos täällä kilttejä lapsia?" (There are well-behaved kids here?), and kids should answer a convincing yes to receive the gifts.
It’s not only Santa Claus who makes Rovaniemi one of the most visited places in Finland. Around his figure and Christmas traditions, Santa Claus village was built, about 8 kilometers northeast from Rovaniemi. This is a theme park to do some shopping, participate in gifts workshops or simply enjoy a great variety of activities.
You can also visit Joulukka, the place where elves prepare the trip for Santa Claus. You will find out how elves live, you’ll be able to help them bake ginger cookies with Christmas decoration and they will guide you to meet Santa Clause.
Do you want to see what is Santa Claus doing right now? Easy! Santa is so updated on new technologies and he has cameras streaming live his daily work. One camera is outside the office and the other is inside to watch how he gets ready for this special day.
A good option to go from Helsinki to Rovaniemi is taking the high-speed train, which takes only 10 hours. You’ll feel like the main character in the animation movie “Polar Express” who takes this train on Christmas Eve to meet Santa.
But, besides the visit to the land of Santa Clause, there are many other things to do while you are in Helsinki for your winter trip.
Even Finnish people use the sauna all the year, the contrast with the freezing cold outside is the best way to enjoy a hot sauna to get over the cold. Or, for those looking for unforgettable experiences, you should try avantouinti. What is that? There a clubs in Finland to practice ice swimming. They make a hole in the ice of a lake (the hole is called ‘avanto’) and they get in the freezing water after the sauna. They state it has beneficial effects for your health but be careful or you’ll get a cold.
The winter in Finland is the greatest time to take stunning nature photos. The snowy landscapes are unforgettable memories from your trip and the whole country is covered in white most of the winder. Take advantage to the opportunity of practicing winter sports too. Skiing or skating over iced lakes is such a unique experience.
Pictures by Tarja Ryhannen
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Your Own Street Restaurant For One Day
Eating in the street is all the rage. It is becoming more popular by the day and Restaurant Day, which emerged in Finland but is celebrated in various cities around the world, contributed to it in large measure. The event takes place every three months and is a magnificent expression of urban culture, as its origins lie in volunteering and citizens’ own initiative. Any person, or group of people, can open their own pop-up restaurant, an expression fast gaining currency – you choose a spot, set up your stall, impress, sell and dismantle it, all in a single day. It could be in a park, on a street corner, in a courtyard or even an apartment or office. What is the goal? To promote a culinary experience and, above all, to have a good time in community… and all for a modest price. One’s imagination is the limit!
Any individual or group of friends can come together for a few hours to prepare and offer one, two, three… five or up to ten different dishes. Sweet or savoury, whatever catches one’s fancy or, to be sure, whatever you can do best. The better the product you make, the more portions you sell and the more business you do. And, apart from the pleasure involved in the culinary experience, it goes without saying that nobody wants to lose money. You can even make money!
Restaurant Day is a veritable gastronomic experience for those who set up their own pop-up restaurant and also, apparently, for the thousands of potential customers who, in a matter of minutes, can savour dishes from the five continents. It is common to find youngsters selling Mexican dishes alongside another group making sushi, and a nearby family preparing a scrumptious paella, accompanied by various potato omelettes.
The driving force behind Restaurant Day is the Finn, Timo Santala, who decided to launch this initiative after a trip to Thailand, where street food is a common practice. It is also a way of cutting down on the bureaucratic red tape involved in opening a restaurant. The first Restaurant Day, or Ravintolapäivä, was held on 21 May 2011. Just 45 pop-up restaurants took part, distributed between thirteen towns in Finland. The second time around, the number registering for the event rose to 200. The last edition, held on 16 May 2015, saw the participation of nearly 2,500 restaurants in 34 countries. From Finland to Italy, Portugal, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Britain, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Belgium and the Netherlands. The fact is that people are taking a greater interest in the venture day by day, and becoming more open to preparing and tackling new cuisines and new flavours – restaurants serving foreign cuisines are always the most readily accepted everywhere!
In short, Restaurant Day is a great way for making people aware that they are the real citizens and owners of the towns they inhabit. The thinking behind this growing movement is that it is up to them to make the towns they live in a much better place. Despite attempts by administrations, particularly in Finland, to control the level of street-food hygiene and to levy taxes on the initiative, they were forced to back down due to the popularity of the event. Thus, the organisers have managed to maintain the civic spirit of the original proposal. It is therefore a great opportunity for anyone wishing to fulfil their dream of opening a restaurant, even if just for one day!
There is now even an app which enables you to find the nearest spot for a pop-up restaurant linked to theRavintolapäivä. The next stagings of this event are scheduled for 16 August and 21 November 2015, and Budapest will be one of the cities with greater participation of Europe.
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Text and images by Marc Carol and Jordi Casino (Barcelonahelsinki)
If there is any one thing that is quintessentially Finnish, it would have to be the sauna. For that reason, we recommend you pay one a visit if you should ever find yourself in Finland. Yrjönkadun Uimahallissa can be found in a beautiful art déco building of both historic and architectural value whose exterior has remained unchanged for decades but whose interior was fully renovated in 1997.
Until a short while ago, the use of bathing costumes in saunas was not allowed. However, that changed in 2001 and people can now decide whether they want to wear one or not, although men and women have to go on different days: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for men; and Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for women.
Prices: 30min./€20; 60min./€40; 90min./€60.
Opening times: Monday: 12:00-20:00; Tuesday-Saturday: 06:30-20:00; Sunday 09:00-20:00
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