Finland/Sweden 3/13/2023

Monday 3/13/2023 - Ice Floating, Santa Claus Village

We had our luggage ready to be collected by the bell staff for 7 a.m. We had to leave them outside on our deck because they were having trouble with master keys for the cabins. So we left the luggage and headed over to breakfast while they collected it.

We enjoyed the breakfast buffet: scrambled eggs, sausage, cottage cheese, waffle, pancakes, cheese, coffee, and berry juice. We left the hotel at 8 o'clock for our day of adventure which would eventually bring us to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland.

From 9:20-9:50 we stopped at a small restaurant in Lohiniva for "munkki" Finnish donuts. They are named after the Finnish word for "monk" because they resemble a monk's bald spot. We also had oj, hot chocolate, and coffee. They certainly keep us well-fed here!

Then we continued our drive south to a lakeside wilderness camp at Lake Joutolampi (still above the arctic circle). It was Abercrombie & Kent's "Design Your Day", where we had our choice of several arctic activities run by an outfitter called Safartica: snowshoeing, ice fishing, or ice floating. You could do any or all of the activities, as they all took place on the same frozen lake. We chose something we had bever tried before: ice floating. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to don survival suits and float in a swimming-pool-sized hole which had been cut in a frozen lake deep in the Finnish forest.

We went into a building and they handed out survival suits. Most of the people in the group wanted to at least give the ice floating a try. They gave us a safety demo. They said that sometimes the suits develop holes, and that they would give you an alternate suit if that happened. This scared a couple of people (who tend to have a harder time dealing with the cold) to drop out of the activity before it even started. They decided to ice fish instead.

Some of the suits had built in five-fingered gloves. Mine had lobster claw-like mitten hands: all fingers together and a separate thumb. This meant that once I had the suit over my arms/hands, I could not fasten it together (via a zipper up the front and velcro around the chin) without assistance. The legs on my suit were too long, so I had to be careful not to trip as I walked.

Once we were suited up, they taught us how to enter the water via a ladder. The suits were so buoyant that it took no effort at all to float on our backs. You could feel a slightly cold sensation, but overall it was quite comfortable and relaxing. The water temperature was around 28 degrees, and the air temperature was around 5 degrees. But the sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day. We felt like we were in savasana at the end of a yoga class.

When Craig was standing on the ladder entering the water, he could feel that he must have a hole in his suit because one of his feet was getting wet. But as Craig lay back in the water, he noticed that the part of his suit that had the hole was actually now above the water line, so he didn't bother to ask for a new suit. He didn't want to waste the amount of time that it would take to change. My suit was intact and I didn’t get wet at all.

Before we knew it, everyone else in the group had gotten out of the water except for the two of us. I eventually got out, and Craig was the last man standing! The guides couldn’t believe it - he had been in the water for 75 minutes, when they had thought that the previous record was around 45. They jokingly asked if he wanted a job next season. I think he would have stayed in there longer if we didn’t have to go to lunch! Everyone else was already eating, no matter which activity they had chosen. Despite having already eaten twice this morning, we were ravenous. The body obviously expends a lot of calories keeping warm in the icy water.

As Craig got changed out of his suit, he informed the staff about the small leak. They marked the leak on the suit (and on a little tag with a picture of the suit on it) to get it repaired.

Lunch was served in a kota (a Sámi teepee-like structure) and included soup, salmon, sausages, and flatbread cooked over a fire. The salmon was actually attached to a wooden board and then leaned up against the fire to cook. It was all delicious and we had seconds! It was an amazing adventure!

After ice floating, we drove further south to Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, and, arguably more importantly, the official home of Santa Claus!

But before visiting the big man, we checked in to the Arctic Treehouse Hotel. Once again, there was a main building which housed check-in and the restaurant, and satellite cabins surrounding it. Some of them are a bit of an uphill walk from the main building, so they offer car service to drive you to/from your cabin. We were in cabin 34, directly across the road from Cindy and Kevin's cabin, so we shared a ride with them.

The cabin was small but cozy and warm, decorated with nordic style, and with huge windows. There was a box of custom fancy chocolates waiting for us. The "treehouse" name of the resort comes from the small loft bed which would have been a perfect hideout for kids. We were even tempted to sleep up there ourselves rather than in the main beds. We quickly got settled and then met Gosia and the other folks who wanted to go on the optional trip to Santa Claus Village at the bus.

Rovaniemi was destroyed in WWII. Eleanor Roosevelt came with UNICEF and they built a wooden lumberjack cabin for her to stay in. Other people then asked to stay there which is how they decided that the area could be used for tourism. Santa was traditionally believed to be from Lapland, so they expanded on the idea and created a whole Santa Claus Village here.

It was a very short bus ride from the hotel to the home of the man himself, Santa Claus. The Arctic Circle runs right through Santa Claus Village, and we took some pictures. Our first stop was Santa's office. You can tell that we were here during the off-season, as the hallways were twisting and turning and obviously built to hold many more people than were here today. (Half a million people visit Santa here annually). A sign informed us that it is 286 days until Christmas.

There were photos of world leaders and celebrities with Santa adorning the walls. One photo was conspicuously absent and was just a blank spot on the wall. Maybe someone who had been photographed with Santa was too naughty to now be on display!

When it was our turn, an elf guided Craig and me in to sit next to Santa. Santa asked about our time in Finland and was quite friendly. It was an honor to get to meet him. Meeting Santa was free, but you can't take your own photos. We couldn't resist, so we purchased the official photograph and video that was taken. The price was a little steep, but how often do you get to meet the real Santa Claus in his home for a change?

Afterwards we explored the village a bit more, taking in some gift shops and buying a Christmas ornament to commemorate our visit. We wandered around and saw some of the other buildings, like Santa's own on-premise post office, which deals with all of the letters to and from Santa.

Santa Claus Village closes at 5 p.m., so at that time we reconvened at the bus and took the short ride back to the Arctic Treehouse Hotel. We went straight to the Rakas restaurant/lounge in the main building and joined Humberto and Max around the fire. Craig had a Rakas local pale ale and AIHKI Lapland Dark Lager, and I had Somersby Pear Cider. We chatted with Humberto and Max until they went to dinner, and we chatted with Katie and Carey when they came to pick up a to-go dinner.

We get breakfast in the room twice at this hotel at no additional charge, so we filled out the breakfast menu with what we wanted and handed it in at the reception desk. We were not hungry for dinner, so we just enjoyed the fire until we were ready to go back to the room. Craig asked if he could bring a drink back to the room. They said that someone would have to drive the beer to our room. So we assumed that we would be driven back along with the beer. But wires got crossed, and one driver drove us to the cabin and as soon as I was unlocking the door another driver showed up with the beer.

Humberto and Max told us that Eugene Levy did ice floating and stayed at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel in the premiere episode of his new Apple TV series "The Reluctant Traveler." We watched the episode when we got home (the first episode is available for free online even if you don't have a subscription) and were amazed by just how many of the same experiences he had! Now if only we had known about the vodka tasting opportunity at the hotel...

Lake Joutolampi

Arctic Treehouse Hotel
In our survival suits

In our survival suits

Steph (foreground) ice floating

Steph (foreground) ice floating

Craig is the last man standing

Craig is the last man standing

Salmon lunch in the kota

Salmon lunch in the kota

Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi

Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi

Eleanor Roosevelt Cabin, established 1950

Eleanor Roosevelt Cabin, established 1950

Official photo with Santa

Official photo with Santa

See all photos from March 13

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