April 13, 2024

Nudging the Arctic

A story about a quirky milestone in the beautiful Finnish Lapland.

We went to Rovaniemi, the capital of the largest and northernmost Finnish region, and I was tasked to look up what to do there during our two-day stay. Upon a quick online search, I found that there are plenty of trails around and that the city is the official hometown of Santa Claus. They have it as a registered trademark, so official it is. Anyway, I found the most popular attraction here appears to be a theme park where, among others, one can say hi to Santa, and get a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle. The latter sparked my curiosity — not the piece of paper one can spend money on, but the fact that Rovaniemi is roughly eight kilometers south of the Arctic Polar Circle. I had never been this far up north before, so the plan was suddenly getting clear.

First thing first: we started with a walk to get an impression of Rovaniemi. The city had a pleasant feel, and it was easy to navigate on foot; however, the streets didn't quite captivate us. Perhaps a layer of snow glistening under the streetlamps would enhance their charm, but now, we opted to rather make the most of the outskirts.

Lordi Square in central Rovaniemi.

While hills are relatively rare in Finland, they have plenty around here, and the map revealed that three of them should feature observation towers. That would do! To get there, we needed to pass the confluence of two good-sized rivers, Kemijoki and Ounasjoki, its tributary. Seeing the city from the waterfront portrayed it already in a better light and the vistas hinted at the natural wealth to be seen here.

Crossing the bridge towards the Syväsenvaara Fell, the first hill we wanted to scale, then rewarded us with trails through dense woods with blueberry carpets; like this:

At higher altitudes, large granite boulders joined the party to decorate the uneven terrain.

And it wasn't just the flora; like in the other places we saw in Finland, the trees here were home to plenty of endearing residents, adding icing to the unit.

Once I might make a dedicated blog post to Finish squirrels. Stay tuned...

We timed our ascent well; out of the ten minutes of sunshine the day had to offer, most came just as we reached the tower!

We saw a cool outlook over Rovaniemi, complemented by a bird of prey circling close by.

Later, the nearby army base provided another flying spectacle.

Finally, we also saw the Ounasvaara Ridge with the second tower of the day.

Tottorakka tower, out next waypoint.

On the way downhill, I couldn't stop thinking how cool this place would be with a bike.

Clearly, I was not the only one with these thoughts here. We crossed a few fun-looking MTB trails when we ascended the second hill. And so, instead of wildlife and fighter jets, I spotted mountain bikers from the second tower. Truth be told, I was a bit jealous. But in reality, no complaints — admiring the vast forested lands around felt pretty great even without a bike. And I had a plan for tomorrow...

On the way to the third tower, we got rained at, yet it didn't spoil the fascinating rugged genius loci of the area. Just look at this:

The last tower of the day offered yet a different angle on the surroundings — this time, giving a closer look at the city soaked in the wet, grey sky.

So, we descended back to the rivers and crossed a bridge back to downtown.

The night fell shortly, and with the Jätkänkynttiläsilta Bridge illuminated, it presented the city's most vibrant color scheme to us.

Jätkänkynttiläsilta Bridge in Rovaniemi from 1989.

Jätkänkynttiläsilta Bridge. I don't know how to properly pronounce that either.

The next morning, we went to a shop by two girls who combined their passion for bikes and beekeeping: Beebike. One can get bikes there, or their own honey. I am a fan!

Equipped with wheels, we set off to the northern edge of the city and beyond. Rovaniemi carried on the trend of great cycling infrastructure we experienced in other Finnish cities; amazing bike paths made this part of the journey a piece of cake.

Finding top-notch bike lanes in Finland is as frequent as finding cute squirrels there.

Once we left the city, we left the asphalt too. We could have stayed on the pavement and gotten to Santa's Village, where a fancy marker notes the polar circle; that wasn't the plan, though.

Instead, we followed a dirt road up to Santavaara, or “Sand Hill” in English, which is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the area. When we neared the summit, the dense forest unveiled large rocky plateaus offering cycling excitement.

Up on the hill, we found spectacular views over the Ounasjoki River.

After the delightful stop, we took another road further north to prolong our little adventure — while here, might as well bag the circle. Yes, it is a bit silly; but if even small achievements bring childlike joy, why not embrace them? It reminded me how I extended my hike just to reach 4,000 meters of elevation above the sea, and that was fun. The satisfaction of pushing boundaries and expanding horizons does not need to be an Amundsen-like epic.

Here in the woods, there was no fancy marker. Rather, there were these terrific views, and we had them all for ourselves.

Much better, in my opinion.

If you liked this post, you can find my other articles in the Blog Archives. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories


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