Sunday, March 1, 2009

It Looks Like Home!

That is what we said as soon as our bus pulled away from the Rovaniemi airport en route to our hotel. More specifically, it looked just like Northern New Brunswick. Northern Finland is where we spent last week, frolicking in the snow. The social committee at Gilles’ work has a travel agency that offers about a dozen trips a year at competitive prices. When we saw the trip to Finland, we jumped on it. We were surprised that we missed winter last year, so thought a week in the great white north would fill the void. People in the South of France think this winter season has been great because the Pyrenees actually have snow, but if they think that wet, slushy snow, zero degree temperatures, and over-crowded ski hills is winter, they don’t know what they are missing.

So we retrieved our winter clothing out of storage, and headed north: Arctic Circle north. We were part of a group of 26 people: 24 French, and 2 Canadians. All meals and activities were planned. We took part in many different cold-weather activities, several for the first time. We went cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and on several skidoo trips. We went ice fishing, but did not catch anything. We fed, were pulled on a sled by, and ate reindeer. They are really small and slow (not sure what Santa was thinking!). We spent a night in an ice hotel and went on two dog-sled outings (more on those later). And, we visited Santa’s house. According to Europeans, he lives at the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, not the North Pole. But I am not sure that they can be trusted because only Gilles and I could name his reindeer. Regardless, Santa has his own post office there and charges 25 euros to have a picture taken with him. He is probably using the funds to upgrade to a dog-sled team (much faster than reindeer!).

It was funny traveling with the French. They marveled at things that are different than in France: double-paned glass in windows, houses made of wood, no shutters on windows. They were amazed with my winter boots because of their rubber exterior. And the food just didn’t quite cut it. I don’t think they could travel anywhere in the world and be truly happy with the food. The stewed rhubarb wasn’t cooked enough, we were served too much warm berry juice, and I overheard the following complaints: “they are serving potatoes again!”, “they call this bread?”, and “I can’t believe they are serving cucumbers and tomatoes!”. The latter statement shows how much the French are seasonal eaters. They do not eat cucumbers and tomatoes in the winter because they do not grow then. They are not used to northern climates with a growing season of two-three months, requiring that most fruit and vegetables are imported the majority of the year.

We did have a wonderful time in Finland. I will write more about the ice hotel and dog-sledding experiences later.

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