How to plan a family trip to Rovaniemi, Lapland

In the next few posts we are going to let a friend of the website tell us about something quite magical that I’m sure many of you will want to do too: a family trip to Rovaniemi, Lapland, in the snowy winter to visit Santa Claus.

You already know Javier from when he came to visit me in Finland when I was an Erasmus student. He left us his diary in five parts with his favourite photos.

This time we are handing over the blog to him so that he can tell us how to prepare the family trip to Rovaniemi.

Javier takes it from here.

Family trip to Rovaniemi
Seeing Santa Claus through the eyes of your children: priceless.

Introduction

In this series of posts my intention is to tell you about my experience travelling with my family to Rovaniemi to visit Father Christmas and to do more sightseeing activities in the snow.

Those who are thinking about making this trip will be able to get some tips or recommendations that may be useful to you. Let’s get started!

Preparing for the family trip to Rovaniemi: what to wear and when to go

The first point to consider in preparation for this trip is to decide when to go.

We went to Rovaniemi during the Christmas holidays, 5 nights the days before and after the New Year in Finland.

At first I was worried about this choice. During this time the cold is intense and the light is scarce. I thought we would be the only crazy ones who dared to travel at that time, as Santa Claus can also be visited in the mild Finnish summer.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that, being Christmas, it is high season and Rovaniemi is crowded with tourists regardless of the light and cold. It is arguably the best time to go.

One caveat: travelling at this time of year can, with a bit of bad luck, temperatures fall down to -20 or -30 degrees Celsius. Thus, you should pack very cloths that will keep you warm. And do that in abundance.

Line of the Artic Circle in Rovaniemi
Javier, fully kitted out with all the clothes he needs in Rovaniemi.

What clothes should I take?

If you book your trip with a tour operator, they may be able to provide you with special snow overalls on arrival. You can pack much lighter at home, if that’s the case. However, these overalls are uncomfortable when you are indoors. The reason is that, if you want to take the top off, it will hang down your back.

This was not the case for us, as we booked all our reservations separately and on our own.

To survive in Lapland, ski clothes will suffice.

If you don’t already have them, you can buy the warmest trousers and jacket on offer. The idea is to also take thermal tights and a thermal vest. Dressing in layers is the best option so you don’t roast indoors. Thick socks of course are mandatory.

And Let’s not forget the most important: snow boots.

That will be the footwear you will never take off for several days. That is if you want to enjoy the snow without getting wet. Boots should be as waterproof as possible.

Weather in Rovaniemi and daylight hours

As for sunlight, if you check a weather website you will find that at that time the sun rises at 11am and sets at 1pm. That’s two hours of daylight!

If you want to know more about how many hours of daylight there are in different parts of Finland during the year, this is the post for you (in Spanish).

But in the end it didn’t turn out to be so terrible.

It is true that there is homologous daylight for only two hours, although you never get to see the sun because it doesn’t rise above the horizon. The name of this phenomena is Kaamos – the polar night.

A semi-frozen river
The sun threatens to rise but does not.

But the daylight hours were preceded and followed by two more hours of slow dawn and slow dusk. So there was some light from 9am to 3pm.

The other 18 hours it was pitch dark. The Finns have, though, taken care of everything. Every street is brightly lit and the snow acts as a mirror, so the night light in populated areas is brighter than we know it.

Nothing to worry in these regards – clothes and light -, then.

How to get to Rovaniemi from your country

Although this example focuses in Javier’s homeland – Spain – similar tips will surely apply to your country.

To fly there a stopover in Helsinki is unavoidable. Rovaniemi is mainly an airport for domestic flights.

Our flight was Madrid-Helsinki with a duration of about 4 hours and a half, and then Helsinki-Rovaniemi (1 hour and a half). As for the price, it varies depending, as always, on how far in advance you buy.

My advice is to put an alert in a flight aggregator such as Kayak and monitor the prices.

As you have been able to calculate, you will unavoidably spend a day going and a day coming back.

We flew with Finnair and the experience was horrible because of flight departure delays and endless queues to check Covid passports. If you are traveling in contageous season, check the entry requirements, as they can change over time.

Is it easy to travel with small children?

The answer is: it depends on the child. We, for example, had no problems at all. But you know your child best and you should plan accordingly.

Aeroplane flying
Taking off. Source (CC: by)

It was high season so I suppose that at other times the family trip to Rovaniemi would be more bearable.

How to pack your clothes

At this point I want to make the most important tip of all I am going to write here. It is very important that you divide your clothes between your hand luggage and your checked luggage.

Fortunately Finnair allows quite manageable hand luggage sizes (check the website before booking). It is a reality that some suitcases do get lost. This was our case.

We checked in two suitcases and one of them got lost in Helsinki. As we had planned for the worst, this was for us nothing more than a bit of stress on arrival to fill out a claim form and a taxi ride to the airport the next day. The suitcase arrived on the next morning flight, fortunately.

But imagine: what would have happened if someone had carried all their clothes in their lost suitcase in a country that doesn’t get above -1 degrees Celsius? Not something pleasant.

As for the volume of clothes, I took several leggings and thermal T-shirts. I took only one jacket and two ski trousers, though. For 5 nights I almost had one pair of trousers left over clean.

There’s so much snow that if you get a stain on them, they wipe themselves off. And you really sweat the tights, not the trousers. Still, a spare always comes in handy.

So much for this post about preparations. In the next post we’ll tell you what it’s like to go and meet Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, with a few useful tips for the whole family.


What would you add to Javier’s recommendations? Is Rovaniemi among the family destinations you would like to go to? Let us know in the comments.

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Finnish Beer: the strange classes and levels

I am spoiled in this aspect and I think many other people throughout Europe are as well. In most EU countries – that is, every country that isn’t a Nordic (or Scandinavian) country – beer and wine have low(er) taxes. Finland, on the other hand, is a bit different. And you will want to know how the Finnish Beer is different.

In some places like Berlin you can take your alcoholic beverage with you to the streets at any time and at every place.

There are shops everywhere – Spätkaufs or Spätis in short – open until late in the evenings that will attend to your craving for one more beer – or food or any other alcohol .

In them, you can get half a liter of quality German, Czeck or Polish beer for a little over 1€, and the shops are everywhere (some even have tiny terraces to sit down).

Alcoholic beverages in Finland

But anyone who has lived in a Nordic country knows that everything related to alcohol is different there. There is some kind of over-protectionism and paternalism from the state, the only one allowed to sell alcohol in their own shops if the alcohol % is higher than 5 per cent. That’s pretty much anything but beer.

In Finland this shop is called the Alko. In Sweden, Systembolaget.

Lapin Kulta: Finnish Beer
Lapin Kulta Beer: Class IV

This unique fact – that anything except beer is out of the average supermarket and to a special shop with not-so-cool opening hours (or prices) – forced beer companies to diversify.

There are many different types of beer in Finland (and Sweden). Beers that don’t exist in any other part of Europe. These beers are specially designed by beer companies to comply with the alcohol laws, and thus having their product sold in places other than Alko. They have to play with the beer chemistry to bring down the alcohol level that normal fermentation process gives. Let’s check what these companies have done.

The 5 types (or classes) of Finnish beers

Class I has between 0.0% (non alcoholic beer) and 2.8% of alcohol. You can sell this type of beer in pubs and supermarkets in Finland and those who want to sell it don’t need a license.

The Class II of beers has between 2.8% and 3.7% of alcohol. It is thus stronger and also available in pubs and supermarkets.

Class III is the most popular on Finnish beer type, with an alcoholic level between 3.7% and 4.6%. It is, once more, on the shelves of (yes, again) supermarkets and Pubs.


The III type of beer. Source (CC: by-nd)

Class IVA nonetheless can be sold in Pubs but not in supermarkets, just in the Alko shop. Its alcohol percentages varies between 4.7% and 5.2%.

Finally, Class IVB is the strongest and it has between 5.2% and 8.0% alcohol per volume. It can be bought at Bars, Pubs and the Alko.

My experience with this system of Finnish beer

We the Erasmus students in Finland used to go to the supermarkets for our beers, and thus we drank the Class III beer for a good price-quality ratio. At the end of our stay we had quite a few empty bottles laying around.

In pubs we used to show up at “happy hours” (instead of the “sad ones”) so we could get a pint of beer for 4€ instead of the usual 5 or 6. We left the strongest drinks, the spirits, for very special occasions due to their high price. It was too expensive to drink a Gin Tonic.

Nonetheless Finns can always go crafty and make themselves a Sahti beer, the traditional Finnish beer at home. Hard to make, but dignifying.

And that’s the list.

Which kind of beer do you buy in Finland, type-wise? And, in general, what’s your favorite brand? Among the Finnish ones, I am a Lapin Kulta kind of guy. Let us know on the comments which one you like. And enjoy responsibly!

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Tavastia Klubi: rock and metal concerts in Helsinki

Today’s post is a collaboration with our reader Elisabeth Queen (facebook | Youtube). She talks about one of her favorite spots to see live Rock and Metal music in Helsinki (specially on New year’s eve) the Tavastia Klubi and its former New year’s eve traditional festival.

Without further ado:

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A trip to Helsinki isn’t complete without a night at Tavastia Klubi (official page). It is also a must-see for any fan of Finnish rock and metal. But first, let us give you some history:


The entrance to the Tavastia Klubi, from the street Urho Kekkosen katu 4–6. Source (CC: by-sa)

Tavastia: from its beginnings to its status as a Helsinki icon

The Tavastia Club is a very popular rock music club founded in 1970 and it as been one of the main music venues in Finland ever since. With space for up to 700 people, it is located on the Urho Kekkosen Katu 4-6, and thus can be reached easily from the center of Helsinki by foot or train.

In 2010, to celebrate their 40 years – now 50! time travels fast -, Tavastia made a special exhibition with special objects of the concerts held there. For instance, you can see how on April 20th of 1966 Tom Waits (whose song “Big in Japan” was the idea for this blog’s name) played there. One can feel the pass of time when he finds out that the tickets cost the equivalent of 2,70 €. In the 70s artists like Dr. Feelgood or John Lee Hocker played there as well.

Tavastia thuough the decades

In the 80s the club was already established as a Finnish rock legend, and Finns could see in the Tavastia local bands that were going to be popular later on. The most important of them all, perhaps, was Hanoi Rocks. It was also the place to see international artists, such as Fabulous Thunderbirds, Nico, Dead Kennedys, The Pogues or Nick Cave.

Throughout the 90s and 2000s we could see in it the advancement of new Finnish rock and metal bands with great international success, like The 69 Eyes, Amorphis, Children of Bodom, Nightwish, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica, Tarot, The Rasmus, HIM, etc…. Also new international artists such as The Offspring, Anathema and Paradise Lost visited the club as their preferred location in their Finnish tour.

In 1994 a new club was founded in Tavastia’s cellar, called Semifinal Club. This club that specialized in bands that were just starting and bands that had a small following. The cellar can host 150 people.

Besides daily concerts in the Tavastia Club, it can also be rented for private events, parties, conferences or really any kind of event.

A concert night in Tavastia Klubi. Source (CC: by-sa)

Tavastia in Helsinki
The club is a popular place. Source (CC: by)

Helldone Festival: the end of the year festival in Tavastia

If people outside Finland know Tavastia it is mainly because of its end of the year festival. A festival that, unfortunately, doesn’t happen any more.

It was 25 years ago when HIM made their first show on New Year’s eve in Tavastia. That marked the beginning of a tradition that developed quickly into the Helldone Festival: the new year’s party at the club.

At the beginning, this festival started as a 3-day-event (from 29 to 31st of December) and later on it was added a new day (thus, from 28 to 31st of December). 2011 was a strange year because there was no festival, and at some point it also was celebrated in 3 cities of Finland (Oulu, Seinajöki y Tampere).

The tickets for this festival were usually sold out around September. I remember I tried year after year to get some tickets and the third time was the charm: I got them.

This festival attracted people from every corner of the world, and I believe the only Finnish people that are there are the people who worked at the venue. That’s how international it was. These people come from every corner of the world to the cold December in Helsinki just to see the concerts.

Besides HIM, who played every year, some other popular bands that have played in the Helldone Festival are Fields of the Nephilim, Paradise Lost, The 69 Eyes, Anathema, Cathedral and Children of Bodom.

HIM playing in Tavastia Klubi - Helldone festival
HIM played each year in the Helldone Festival. Source: Elisabeth.

People in the Tavastia
That’s how you live a night in the Tavastia Club. Source (CC: by-nd)

My experience in Tavastia and Helldone

Here come a few tips and “good to know” things about the club. The best places to see concerts at the Tavastia are either from the area above or below (remember this tip!). The sound and acoustics, and of course the environment, are really good. You get to enjoy the best of the Finnish rock and metal culture. Bar prices are about 8€ for a long drink and the wardrobe is 4€ per person.

Another good thing of the Tavastia is that there is no cover charge to get in unless there is a special concert, so you can see up and coming bands at no cost. On their website they announce the concerts and prices of the tickets.

Don’t raise your expectations too high: it is only a bar. Nonetheless the environment and feeling are unique. It holds that magic that made it famous and you know that there, in the stage, the best of the best of the Finnish rock and metal bands have played.

P.S. Next to the Tavastia Club entrance there is a huge record store. It comes in handy when you are queuing and you want to make the most of your time.

Record store in Helsinki
The Record Store next to Tavastia. You can wait to get in and window shop at the same time. Source (CC: by)

Have you been at Tavastia Club or to the Helldone Festival? Would you go then after reading Elisabeth’s experience? Let us know in the comments.

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The Finnish Armed forces abandon the Swastika as a symbol

Yes, that’s right. The Finnish armed forces used the swastika as a symbol up to 2020.

There was of course an explanation: they adopted it before the Nazi regime and for that reason they had never believed they had to change it. This reason seems insufficient to us in this blog. There is simply no reason to wear it today because they need to spend even more time clarifying why it is used than it is worth. Besides, and simply, whoever sees it makes a quick mental association that will somehow remain in the mind after that.

And it seems that the Finns have changed their minds too.

Finnish plane wearing the swastika. Source (CC: by)

The swastika in the Finnish armed forces

Let us give you a quick summary about the origins of the use of the swastika in Finland. The first airplane of Finland was given to the country by a Swedish count during the Finnish civil war. The swastika was the symbol on the plane’s wings, and the count used it as a charm of “good luck”. Since then it has been used on Finnish planes and tanks.

After the Nazi defeat in World War II, the Allies asked the Finns to stop using this symbol. And they did – except for one thing. The air force, although not wearing this symbol on planes anymore, continued to use it on their insignia. It can even be seen inside the Finnish presidential flag.

If you want to get a good look into the subject, something we recommend, check out this article with an informative video.

By the way, the name of the swastika in Finnish is Hakaristi.

Finland stops using the swastika on 2020

They didn’t make a big fuzz about removing the symbol from the insignias. They did it without telling anyone, as YLE news reports.

A senior Air Force official, Jari Mikkonen admitted that the symbol usually attracts negative and even angry reactions outside Finnish borders. Imagine what Germans or Israelis who are not versed in the reasons why they use this sinister symbol would think.

The presidential flag, in the middle row on the right, still has a variation of the symbol.

So, although some voices were in favour of keeping the tradition because it was not linked to the Nazi regime, the truth is that keeping the symbol did not help much abroad. The decision ended up falling on the side of removing the symbol completely. Something we definitely agree with.

Since they did it quietly and without a PR event, it seems that the Finnish Air Force preferred not to bring this up in the political debate and simply did it.

It is also worth noting that the symbol will remain present and with the usual modification (the “arms” are thinner) on the Finnish presidential flag, which we show you in the picture above (right column, center flag).

And there is a new Finnish Air Force symbol. From now on it will be a golden eagle within a circle of wings, and crowned. A better symbolism, for sure.

What is your opinion about this? How would you have gone about getting rid of the symbol?

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