Hitchin’ again, hitchin’ again

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What goes north must eventually go back south, most unfortunately. I fell head over heels for our little log cabin and it pained me very much to hand the keys over the morning we checked out of it. We could not have asked for a better vacation than a cabin in Finland- it’s just right up the Warckens’ alley. We love cities and sightseeing as much as the next couple (well, we love them a little bit anyway), but to truly get away from a schedule and routine and other people and to get out into nature and relax and read and drink hot tea and glögi by a fire- now that’s a real vacation for us. That’s actually vacating our real lives where we go to work and eat and sleep and occasionally watch a movie. Screw the rest of this vacation- we’re going back to that cabin.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but we instead prepared to hitch a ride back to Rovaniemi. The Fell Centre is 6km off the main road, and instead of wait for a bus that would cost €5 each to take us, Greg had the genius idea to walk the road with our luggage and hope for a ride from one of the none cars that were traveling said road. I didn’t protest, as I thought it would be good for the blog to write about saving €10 by walking 6km in the snow, but after getting geared up and setting out it only took Greg about two minutes to realize what a dumb idea that was, and for us to go back to the lodge, disrobe, and wait 45 minutes for the bus to take us instead. 45 minutes. Greg was willing to walk 6km in the snow to save €10 and 45 minutes. Forget the fact it would take us much longer than that to walk it. Like I said, I didn’t protest, just went along until he made changing his mind his idea. Whenever he comes up with a silly idea like that, then later changes his mind, he always like to blame me for the silly idea in the first place. It’s a game we play.

We waited one hour and 25 cars before we were picked up by Mikko, a friendly trucker on his way home from trucking in Norway. He said he always picks up hitchers so he can practice his English, and his dad always picks up hitchers though he doesn’t speak a lick of English or Swedish (the second official language of Finland) and calls Mikko to translate where they’re trying to go. Isn’t that cute? Greg got to ride shotgun in that monstrous, but smooth Volvo truck while I sat on Mikko’s bed and didn’t nap once. We spoke of travel and Thailand, where Mikko was headed in a couple of weeks for the 7th or 8th time. Finnair offers direct flights from Helsinki to Bangkok, Phuket, and even Krabi. That just amazes me, but I guess these northerners need that easy access to warmer weather.

Joulutorttu, a Finnish Christmas treat.
Greg and Mikko.

We saw quite a few reindeer on the way down, some of which just stood in the road or ran right down it like those idiot moose in Canada. Little known fact: There are no wild reindeer in Finland- they’re all owned by reindeer farmers who let them roam free until it’s time for slaughter. (S)laughter. Mikko told us if a reindeer is hit and killed on the road the government compensates the farmer, and quite handsomely if it was a female as they have the potential of making lots of little reindeer babies. Don’t males too? Apparently a few years ago a taxi driver from Ivalo was busted after he tied up some of his own herd in the middle of the road then ran them over with his taxi.

As we passed the Arctic Circle I borrowed Mikko’s phone to call Kristina to beg a ride home, as no truck that big could go into any residential area ever. Kristina was kind enough to agree to meet us at the McDonald’s in town. What?! It was convenient! We bid farewell to Mikko and invited him to come stay with us in Montana anytime, then stood outside McD’s with our cardboard sign reading “Rovaniemi” to see if anyone would offer us a ride to the town we were already in. No one took the bait. K & M picked us up and took us with them to a local thrift store. Now there’s a place to buy souvenirs! I saw the same Christmas ornaments for €1 what they were selling at Santa Claus Village for €7. And postcards were 10 for €2,5 as opposed to €1 apiece. I bought some delightful Finnish Christmas cards and some delightful Finnish handkerchiefs which have gotten much use already. After a much-needed rest we all went out for some traditional Lappish fare at Restaurant Nili, a local joint. Kristina, Greg, and I all had reindeer, prepared two ways- Parloitua poron sisapaistia, yon yli haudutettua etuselkaa, savuperunaa seka vahvaa paistikastiketta, if you will. The roast would’ve been amazing with some potatoes and carrots in a crock pot, and the steak was fantastic- super lean and not at all gamey. He’s Greg, I’m Jamie; together we’re Gamie!

Our wonderful hosts!
Their mediocre guests!
We ain’t never eaten no fancy meal like that a’fore.
We were told to rub her claws for good luck. Apparently she didn’t rub herself enough.
In case there was any confusion.

After dinner Mike made us leipajuusto- bread cheese with sweet cream and cloud berries. DELIGHTFUL.

We just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Finland without going back to Santa Claus Village, so we hitched a ride with Mike on his way to work. I’m glad we did, as we spent a lot more time at Santa’s Post Office which was friggin’ fantastic. I was basically in tears the whole time we were there. It’s so exciting thinking about all those kids writing to Santa, and to imagine their hopes and dreams. In my mind all the letters are happy, with no sad requests whatsoever. At that post office, seeing those letters from around the world, I was again reminded how good we’ve got it now, and how good we had it growing up. When we were standing in line to meet Santa neither of us could even think of anything we even wanted, aside from health and happiness for our families. Greg finally decided on a football, and I thought I could use a basketball. We Warckens are simple folk.

Bark up or down?
Come on, USA! Where’s your Christmas spirit?!
If your children ever forget how extremely fortunate they are, perhaps a holiday trip to Sudan is in order.

Love all the different addresses.

Elves sorting all the letters. I want that job.
Birch bark. Classic.

 

 

Finland’s new stamp collection. Seriously.
Cottages at Santa Claus Village.
Christmas trees on all the porches!
People sure love sledding around here. If there’s not a hill handy they just make one.
Cake conquers the Arctic Circle.
One last walk around Rovaniemi.
No fake flowers, just candles.

 

Lordi Square.

If you’re unsure who Lordi is, feast your ears:

 

 

Did you know Angry Birds are Finnish?

We were both so sad to be leaving Finland and we had to remind ourselves there were still good times to be had on this trip. Before this trip neither of us had ever known anyone to go to Finland on vacation, and now we can’t imagine why. It’s like a secret little tucked away corner of Europe. Honestly I guess I shouldn’t be telling anyone about it. It’s cheap for Europe, it’s gorgeous, the people are friendly, everyone speaks English if you’re concerned about that. In fact, we can’t think of a single thing we didn’t like about Finland. We didn’t go into Finland with any expectations other than visiting a sauna, and we were both beyond pleasantly surprised. We’re already planning our next trip back.

 

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