So, where did we leave off last time??? It seems like ages since we last said anything, so much has happened... hmmm, that's right - Santa's village!
We woke early and packed up our campsite so we could drop in and see jolly old saint nick before continuing south away from Lapland. When we got to Santa's village, we were confronted with dozens of gift shops and (disappointingly) no snow. I thought for sure they would have the snow makers on all year round to give it that christmasy feel. Bummer.
After a quick tour through the gift shops and the official arctic circle santa claus post office we found the hall of secrets, where apparently Santa hangs out in the off-season. It was sort of what I expect a disneyland ride would be like. We got a ticket and went through to meet the big guy. You couldn't get more authentic Santa than this - of course, he was the real deal. As you know Santa knows all, so of course he knew our names and where we had come from (possibly had something to do with registering when you enter, not sure). While one of his elf slaves took photos of us, we chatted about how he would have to use kangaroo's instead of reindeer if he lived in Australia. Oh how we laughed. Santa is a stand up character! After exiting Liz had to resist the urge to say, 'SANTA! I know him!' to any poor passing civilian.
After getting our fill of mid-year christmas cheer (christmas in July? the way of the future), we jumped back in the car and headed for Tornio on the Swedish/Finnish border to play a round of midnight golf between two countries. The course itself crosses the border 4 times over 18 holes. We got to the course just before the pro shop closed, hired some clubs and teed off for an evening of golf under the midnight sun.
It seems both Liz and I are a bit rusty, and managed to lose a ball each on the first hole! (there were quite a few water hazards). By the end of our round however, we had found more balls than we had lost. Great fun. We got talking to one of the locals who was telling us all about the golf marathons they have in the summertime. They start a tournament at 2am Saturday morning and will play 52 holes straight.
Next was the push to Kupio and the world's largest smoke sauna. The drive through Finland gave us a great mix of pine trees and lakes. Very picturesque, but not much else going on out there. We got to Kupio a day before the sauna opened (Tuesday and Thursday only), so had a relaxing day wandering around town and hanging out in our tent.The Mini Euro challenge 2009 has not been as competitive as we thought, some catching up was necessary.
The sauna itself was great. The temperature was controlled by throwing water onto hot coals - the more water, the hotter and more humid the air. It seemed to depend on the age of the guy in control of the water bucket as to how hot it got - the old boys love the heat! After about 10 minutes in the heat, the idea was to run outside and jump into the lake. Easier said than done for Liz, she made the mistake of checking the water temperature first with her foot. I made the mistake of jumping in without checking. Still, after heating up and cooling down a few times, we felt like we were old pros. Refreshing.
Next stop was a little nowhere town called Sonkajavari, the home of the world wife carrying contest. Sounds crazy? It is. The idea is to carry your wife (or someone else's) over a 200m course, through a water hazard and over several hurdles. The prize is not only the prestige and worldwide acclaim that goes hand in hand with such an event, but you also win your wife's weight in beer. What could be better!! There are a few restrictions, your wife needs to weigh at least 49kg, and has be be over 17 years old. thats about it though.
Watching the event is quite the experience. Unfortunately for us this year the weather was pretty terrible, but the entertainment value kept us going. On top of those going for the overall win with the best time, there was one couple entered going for the most beer. The 'wife' weighed in at a hefty 120kg, and the 'husband' looked as though he carried busses for a living. It was a big ask - he broke no records with time but he managed to finish the entire course. Top effort. I think we will be seeing more of this gentlemen in the world's strongest man contest.
We moved on from wacky sports to picturesque towns in the form of Porvoo. This place was quite the trade centre back in the day, and has an old town that has remained pretty much unchanged for 200 years. It also has the oldest department store in Europe. It was like walking through time (that was Liz's cheesy line when we walked the streets). Not bad for a small riverside town. It also made a handy base for us to explore Helsinki (only 45 minutes away).
We rolled lazily into Helsinki for an afternoon wandering around the marketplace by the harbour, the cafe-lined streets and the impressive churches and stately buildings. Not saying much here, but Helsinki is a cool place well worth a look should you get a chance. One of the stand out features was a church that had been build into solid rock in the middle of town. Impressive space.
We are now in Tallinn, Estonia, where we are enjoying free internet at our first hotel for the trip. We arrived late afternoon and decided to take a quick stroll around the old town (as it was of course raining!!). First impressions mean a lot, and this place has got personality! Just wandering in the rain around the walled city was amazing. We stopped for dinner at the Beer House (where else) which is the only restaurant in Tallinn with it's own micro-brewery. So, purely as a cultural experience, we had to try some of the local foods (fried cheese, game sausages) and of course, a few steins of the local brew. I am definately looking forward to exploring more tomorrow!!
From here we head to Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. As always thanks for reading and keep your finger on the pulse.