Merry Christmas all year round – Rovaniemi

24 12 2015

It is Christmas again! On this Christmas eve, I will like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Christmas is my favourite holiday season. It is not just the season for Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus but many non-Christians are also celebrating this festival of giving. One of the most loved characters in the world is of course our dear Santa Claus. I still remember that as a young kid, I would pester my parents to take me to the shopping malls to meet Santa. Not surprisingly, I was not alone. When Santa appeared, all the kids will be rushing to gather around him, telling him that we have been good children and worthy of a present from him 🙂

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It is well known that Santa’s hometown is very far north and rather inaccessible and hence the best place to see him is to visit his office in the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. So when I had the chance to take a little break, I decided to brave the cold weather and make my way all the way to Rovaniemi in Finland to fulfil my childhood Christmas fantasy. It is not really the most convenient places to visit as one would need to take a domestic flight from Helsinki up into the Arctic circle.

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The Christmas atmosphere started as soon as I landed in Rovaniemi. The whole airport is decorated with Christmas decorations and Santa Claus pictures and figurines can be seen at almost every corner. So you can imagine how Christmassy Santa Claus Village is. Apparently, this is THE PLACE where it is Christmas all year round! The little village has many beautiful buildings covered with Christmas lightings and snow.

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My first stop is Santa’s office. I was quite surprised that there was a long queue to meet him and those in the line are not just kids but many adults! I guess that we all want to re-live our childhood dreams to see Santa. When it was my turn to meet Santa, an elf came forward to me and asked if I have been good, to which I reassured him lol.  He gave me the thumbs up then escorted me into Santa’s office which is a large festive studio with a photographer elf. Santa was sitting on his comfortable arm chair. He graciously offered the seat beside him and I never forget those few moments when we chatted and took some photos. It was as if he has some magical powers which can remove all my worries and enthralled me with happiness. No words can describe the feeling and you just need to experience it yourself J

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The other attractions in the Santa Claus Village are the Santa Post Office where you can send a letter to anywhere globally and the letter would carry the special Santa Claus stamp. There are also rides that one that take like reindeer rides, dog sledging, snowmobile and more.

 

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Santa must have brought me luck. I did not know that there was an annual reindeer racing competition in Rovaniemi where reindeers will race against one another down a long snowy path pulling their owners in ski behind them to see who the fastest reindeer is to be pulling Santa’s sledge. I would say that the race was the most entertaining and unique one that I have ever seen, one that many others and I were willing to brave the really cold and windy weather.

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I have seen travel shows featuring snow hotels where the whole hotel is made of ice and snow and thus took the opportunity to visit the Arctic Snow Hotel, about 45 minutes’ drive from Rovaniemi city centre. It was really fascinating and gorgeous to see the entire hotel (an igloo) made of ice with the rooms, the beds, tables, chairs and even cups crafted out from ice. There is a nice ice chapel in hotel and it will really be cool (literally and figuratively) to say “I do” here! Guess what, as I stood out of the ice hotel, the whole sky was lighted with the mysterious and enchanting northern lights!! This was my second time seeing the lights, the first being in Iceland. I did made a northern lights trip up to Tromso the year before but the weather was so bad that I did not sight anything. This time round, I was crossing my fingers on whether I would be lucky to see one but was pleasantly surprise to see an amazing show due to extraordinary solar activities! Was this the work of Santa and his elves? 😛

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My stay in the Lapland was short but I would say that it was one of the most magical and exhilarating experiences for me. Like many adults, my belief in Santa diminished as the years go by. But does it really matter whether Santa is real? He has brought and will surely continue to bring joyfulness to everyone who believes in him. Well, it is the spirit of Christmas that really matters. This is the season to be merry, to share and to bring joy to all those around us. Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho!!!

Tips:

  • December is the peak season so if you would like cheaper air fares and accommodation, do visit during the off-peak season such as February. There is still snow and it is cool to have Christmas again just two months after Christmas J
  • There is no charge to visit Santa Claus Village but you need to pay if you will like to do some activities (e.g. reindeer ride, dog sledging, etc).
  • It is free to meet Santa. Photos will be taken and if you want them, you need to buy. Purchase is optional.
  • To get to the Santa Claus Village, you can take bus number 8. Check out the bus schedule as it does not run frequently.
  • You should spend some time in Helsinki which I have blog separately https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2016/07/31/helsinki-and-its-many-islands/
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Picturesque Bruges

30 12 2013

I am still (at this point of blogging) wondering whether December is the busiest period for travels from London to Singapore. I just couldn’t believe it that all the flights out from London to Singapore were fully booked and whatever flights left are ridiculously expensive!! Gosh… Interestingly, there were still plenty of flights out from Paris and at much (x2) cheaper price. Since Eurostar connects London to Paris so efficiently, why not fly out from Paris instead? It was a no-brainer. Oh and since I will be flying out from Paris and I have already been to Paris before, why not do a little “detour” to Bruges for some sightseeing before going to Paris? Hahaha the traveller just would not missed any opportunity to roam around! A true blessing in disguise. Best thing is that my cousin happened to be available and also keen to visit Bruges so I had a great travel partner this time round 🙂

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I  have heard so much great things about Bruges (or Brugge) and I was feeling a little afraid that it would be another tourist trap. Thank God, Bruges did live up to all the great reviews and my expectations. Often described as the “Venice of the North”, I would say that it is quite different from Venice in terms of architecture as well as the whole “feel” although the similarity would be both towns have lots of canals (though I would say Venice has more).

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The petite but picturesque town is just gorgeous. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its charming canals lined with quaint houses formed a “post-card perfect painting”. We strolled along the clobber stone streets of the little town, passing by the Old St-John’s Hospital which is below sea-level, the Minnewater (also known as the Lake of Love), the famous 13th century belfry which houses a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells, the Beguinage, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the Saint Salvator’s Cathedral, the Markt (aka Market Square), the Burg, etc. I felt as if I was transported back to the Middle Ages as most of Bruges city centre has preserved the architecture and “feel” of the past. Lovely little town with beautiful canals and graceful swarms. It was even better that this was the Christmas season and the markt has a Christmas market and an ice-skating rink!

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ice skating

Food:

1) Belgium is known for its mussels and typically most food will be served with fries. We had the Belgium mussels and Flemish beef stew, all served with fries. So I seriously have no idea why it’s called “French Fries” and not “Belgium Fries” lol. I also highly recommend one to try out the Belgium beer. I love the Christmas brew though guys may find it a little sweet (it is ale).

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2) I would say that I had the best waffle in my life. Oh well, I am not exaggerating. My cousin would be able to attest to the great bliss and satisfaction that was flashed across my face when I was eating the waffle. By the way, I intended to keep the waffle for my train ride to Paris as I just finished a heavy lunch (with yummy Belgium mussels) but couldn’t resist the temptation of the hot waffle topped with chocolate so I ate them right after my lunch lol. So it must really be good as I was so already full and yet could eat the whole waffle and found that heavenly! ;=P

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Shopping:

1) I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Belgium is well-known for its chocolates. You see chocolate shops almost everywhere. Do buy yourself some (or as much as you can carry back haha). You can then decide whether chocolates are angels or the devils 🙂

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2) You may also want to grab some ubiquitous lace which is a famous and nice souvenir.

Tips:

1) Bruges is just a short train ride (around 50 minutes) from Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Eurostar arrives at Brussels Midi station (also called Brussels-Zuid) and from there you can catch a connecting train to Bruges.

2) From Bruges train station, we decided to walk to the city centre (the Markt) as there are quite a number of sights lining from not too far from the train station to the Markt. Alternatively, there is a bus which runs from the train station to the Markt and costs 2 euros per trip.

3) The tourist information counter is just outside the train station. You can get free map of the town and also advice on what to see, where to go, how to go etc.

4) I have heard horror stories from friends who have been pickpocketed in Belgium (particularly in Brussels). My trip in Belgium has been pretty safe (thank God) and I would say that I didn’t have any unsafe feeling in Belgium as compared to other big cities like Rome. I would say the rule of thumb is to avoid dressing in a way that would shout “I am rich” and exercise the “traveller’s common sense and alert”.

5) Bruges is good for a full day trip or if you are a museum person, you can stay over a night.

6) Apparently, the city has a poor reputation in terms of its weather, with common damp and chilly weather. I was really lucky that the sun was bright and shining when I was there and the temperature was cool but comfortable 🙂

7) You could do a short stopover in Brussels to see the Grand Palace, Manneken Pis, Atomiun, etc. Based on expriences from various people, if you have at least 2.5 hours in between, it is possible to cover the important sights in Brussels.

8) Currency: Euro