Ravaniemi: the Lappish capital (and giant pizza)

tree-lined river bank at Rovaniemi

It was sad to say goodbye to the beautiful resort of Levi, but we had to begin our epic journey back to London, which started with a three hour bus ride down to the capital of Lapland (and the home of Santa), Rovaniemi. We had booked our accommodation at a YMCA-like place called ‘Santasport‘, the name being one of the chief reasons we chose to stay there (that, and the disco bowling). Santasport was actually about 3 miles out of Rovaniemi, so we caught a cab there and checked in, only to be sent to the new building (and by new, I mean brand, spanking new…we may have been the first to stay in those rooms!); the rooms were beautiful, clean, big and modern. It was an absolute bargain at €45 each per night.

With the Santasport brochures promising such activities as rock-climbing, cross country skiing and ice skating, we were excited to explore the centre and try some new things, but as we tried to do each activity, it slowly became apparent that the brochure should have included a lot of fine print. The cross country skiing hire shop was a few miles away with no public transport option, the ice skating rink was only open to members and to rock climb you needed to show your climbing certificate. So with few options remaining, we decided to spend the afternoon in the pool facilities, which was actually pretty awesome. As well as using the hot tub and jet massagers, we tried the suggested cold pool treatment (supposedly good for curing all sorts of ailments); 20 seconds in 6ºC, in case you’re curious, is painfully cold!

In the evening we headed up to the Santasport ‘restaurant’, only to discover that it is not really a restaurant but rather a breakfast cafeteria. The only place within walking distance was a pizzeria 10 minutes away, so we trudged through the snow, past the lone hockey player on the local ice rink (it was very Mighty Ducks-esque) and to the nondescript pizza place, the name of which I have forgotten (but if you’re ever in Rovaniemi, it’s the pizza place near Santasport, and it’s well worth a visit). Most of us ordered a small pizza, not really being too hungry, and a few ordered a medium, which we assumed would be an average 9 inch size. Oh, how wrong we were! The small came out at around 12 inches…and this was the medium:

photo courtesy of Teneille Sorgiovanni

We were all very grateful we didn’t order the large! We ate what we could and headed back to Santasport for a couple of rounds of disco bowling, which was incredibly fun and totally un-Finnish, but we didn’t care – sometimes you just need a night of pizza, beer and bowling, no matter where you are in the world (and hey, having a reindeer pizza made it slightly cultural…right?!)

The following morning, half of our group went to visit Santa Claus Village to meet Santa and have a ride on a reindeer-led sleigh. We, however, chose to be incredibly lazy and sleep in until almost midday, which was blissful! We caught a cab back into Rovaniemi and decided to take a walk to the river, despite the blisteringly cold weather, to photograph the sunset. We are so incredibly glad we did, as this was the view that awaited us:

a church on the way to the river

snow-covered train

a view of the river in Rovaniemi

Unfortunately, with temperatures plummeting to -24ºC, we couldn’t stay outside for long. In such extreme cold, anything that’s exposed freezes: eyelashes, stray bits of hair, tears, the scarf that’s covering your face to supposedly keep you warm etc…so we made our way to the local Coffee House (not sure if it’s a Finnish chain as I can’t understand the website; all I know is they make darned good mochas!) to thaw out:

proof that we survived this ridiculous temperature!

trying to stay covered and warm

Before we knew it, we had to make our way back to the Rovaniemi train station to catch our overnight train to Helsinki, and away from frozen Lapland…

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