So, this lovely little picture piece was in HuffPo travel a few weeks ago, and since I've actually been there and can confirm that it was magical, I thought you guys might be interested to see some pics from my journey to Santa Claus village and beyond!
This was on a travel break when I was studying abroad, the first week of November 2010. Here's a map showing where I went (it looks like the SANTA text got messed up but the red dot at the midway point is Rovaniemi):
I spent a few days in Helsinki, then boarded a night train (in sleeping car) for the 13-hour trip to Rovaniemi, which sits on the Arctic Circle and is considered the "gateway" to Finnish Lapland. That's also where Santa officially lives. (Some clowns will try to tell you that Santa is Canadian, but this is simply not true.)
Here's a cute little display in the Rovaniemi McDonald's, complete with a doll in traditional Sami costume and some festive Lapland antlers:
Alright, now on to Santa.
SANTA!!! This history of the Finnish word for Santa—Joulupukki—is actually quite interesting. It literally means "Yule Goat," and it derives from the pagan tradition of the yule buck (more info here). In modern times, Joulupukki dresses as a Santa Claus figure, but he used to be a man in a goat costume.
Here's me standing on the Arctic Circle marker! Apparently the marker is not exactly aligned to the actual latitude line, but it's a tourist trap, people.
And now, it's ME AND REAL SANTA. THE REAL SANTA. I MET HIM.
It was a line of about 10 toddlers and their parents and then me, an adult, just all by myself waiting to meet Santa. They do a little photo shoot and then afterwards—surprise!—of course you gotta buy the photos. Pro tip: Santa will charge you 50 Euro for a flash drive with the photos if you want digital files.
After Rovaniemi, I boarded a bus to go 5 hours north to Inari, which is a village that sits on lake Inari, a really huge lake in northern Finland near the border with Russia.
I COULD NOT stop snapping pics on the bus because it was so gorgeous. These pictures were taken OUT A MOVING BUS'S WINDOW:
Inari is kind of like a cultural capital for Finnish Sami—the native people of northern Europe who were traditionally reindeer herders and still are today (I saw several reindeer running free in my few days up there! Apparently there are no "wild" reindeer in Lapland anymore, but all of them are part of someone's herd. You can tell by cuttings in the ears whose animals they are).
The Siida museum of Sami culture is located in Inari, and it's worth a visit! You can buy Sami wares in different places there. Sort of like in the US and Canada with Native Americans, Sami crafts are protected and must be certified authentic to be marketed as Sami productions. I bought my family some small leather bracelets made with pieces of reindeer horn.
I stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast in Inari, which was one of only a few lodging options in the area. The place had a really awesome restaurant in it, where I dined on reindeer fillet with wild mushrooms and a cloudberry tart. Cloudberries are a fascinating little fruit that grow all along the Arctic latitudes in Europe, North America, and Asia. I sadly did not take any pics of these delicious foods!
Here are some cool examples of the Sami language (first on a road sign, second is in the Siida museum):
The top text on each line is Finnish and the bottom is Sami. I believe all signs in Lapland are required to be printed in both.
And, some final pics of Inari. This was the first week of November, so daylight was very scarce up there. This picture was taken around 12:00 noon:
In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed my boring vacation slideshow, and GO TO FINLAND (or the rest of Lapland)!!!