“Let the Chips Fall Where They May” Tour – Part III

Norway, Finland & Sweden – Part III – Rudolf or Bust

One thing became apparent as we crossed over into the land of the Finns … things were cheaper! Not necessarily cheap, mind you, but cheaper. We knew our stay in Finland was limited to maybe one day of driving through to Sweden, but we took advantage of this money saving opportunity and filled up on petrol … twice … just because we could. This decrease in price of go-go juice for our car also gave us the ability to buy not one, but two petrol station hot dogs with cola and potato salad. We were kings and living the good life now!

The northern regions of Finland kept us fascinated with their rugged beauty, just as Norway had done, but the horizon gradually began to flatten out, reindeer appeared from time to time along the roads, and lakes started to speckle the landscape. In an area covered by hundreds of lakes, one interesting mode of public transportation popped up that was new to our way of thinking – the small, single engine air plane taxi. There were signs here and there that almost seemed to be like taxi stands except with silhouettes of those types of aircraft with pontoons instead of wheels for landing on water (I’m sure there is a more technical name for them besides “air-planey pontoony floaty things”, but the name seems to escape me at present). But then we began wondering … how do you hail one of these? Do you have to call up a dispatch office or do you just flag one down from the sky with a brightly coloured banner? And what kind of price would you be expected to pay? Do the locals use them to get home after a night out drinking in the pubs? And do the pilots let you eat your kebab in the plane or is there a strictly no food policy? So many questions!

“Hello. Radio Air Taxi Service. How may I help you?”
“Hi, I need a taxi for two for a pick up at 37 Deer Dung Crossing. That’s on the corner of Moose Mess Lake and Turtle Head Grove.”
“One moment please … ” A click as you are put on hold, then the sounds of a Muzak version of Rock D.J. After a moment, the line clicks back over. “Green Cessna. 10 minutes.”

Unfortunately, our luck did not grace us with the answer to this quandary, and our grasp of the Finnish language (or lack of it) did not permit us to inquire with anyone that we might have had the chance to encounter.

Jonathan and I have always done our best to pick up a few words of the language for each country we visit. It is only fair. We are visitors, and we should respect the culture of the land we set foot on. But the Finnish language stumped us. That and Hungarian are the only languages so far that not a single word seems to stick in the brain. I don’t know what it is, just some sort of mental block, really. We tried our hardest, but to no avail. We reverted to body language and pointing … would have even tried drawing pictures if we had had any crayons.

Working in hostels around Europe, I have heard so many punters become irate when they find out that the local population isn’t fluent in English. We Americans are the worst for the most part. So many American college kids decide that it is the prime moment in their life to become exposed to other cultures before having to settle into the 9 to 5 grind, so they grab Daddy’s credit card, hop a flight to Europe, grab a rail pass and then bitch about how nothing is like it is in America.

“Hey, Todd … dude, remember that old guy we met in that small Romanian village in the mountains in the middle of nowhere? Remember how when I, like, asked him if he could point us in the direction of an ATM, he just look at us, like, ‘duh’? What an idiot! I mean, I was shouting at the dumbass at the top of my lungs and he just wasn’t getting it! Europe is supposed to be all cultural and shit, but this guy couldn’t even grasp fucking English, man! He probably was some illiterate inbred, you know, like that banjo playing Deliverance Georgia boy and the moose-humping Canadian lumberjack we met working at that hostel in Scotland.”

Anyway, we eventually made it to one of the big points of interest on our excursion that we had been planning to visit from the very beginning. Nordkapp was on that list; Lofoten way up there; crossing the Arctic Circle, too … but this was the mother of them all … the jewel in our sights … the place that you knew you could die happy after having been there. Yes, my dear readers, I am talking about the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi!

You know, all this time I had been told that Santa lived at the North Pole. I mean, that’s where I posted letters to as a kid! Well, I hope he has better postal service that we do here in Poland and that those letters were eventually forwarded to the new Finland address. I guess they weren’t as I never got all the Star Wars toys I begged for in my letters as a child. When and why did he move, anyway? Shouldn’t there have been a statement or something? Why didn’t we Americans know about this!!!

Press Release from Kris Kringle – “Due to global warming and the alarming amount of elves being eaten by starving polar bears which cannot cross ice flows in order to obtain their normal fare of seals and the such, Mr Kringle has decided to relocate to Rovaniemi, Finland. Why Finland, you may ask? After careful consideration of the surrounding countries within the Arctic Circle, Finland seemed the most logical. Russian Siberia did not have the infrastructure, and the Russian authorities considered Mr Kringle as a business oligarch; Norway was just too overpriced and, as everyone knows, is populated with trolls; Greenland turned out not to be so green; and Canada’s prime minister is quite busy at the moment reasserting their sovereignty in the area, so Mr Krigle thought it prudent to stay out of the way for the time being.”

Many American malls have an all-year Christmas ornament shop located upon their premises. I understand that many individuals wish it was Christmas every day of the year, but they apparently don’t shop at these stores as I have never seen a sole grace the interior of any of these places outside of the month of December. Maybe they are subsidised by Saint Nick and that is how the stay afloat. Santa Claus Village is pretty much a massively enlarged version of one of these with shops sprinkled everywhere selling kitsch holiday goods (snow shakers, decorative tree lights, Santa boxer shorts). And then there is Santa’s Office itself. In all honesty, I cannot tell you about this. You will have to head to the official Santa Claus Village website to see the awe inspiring photos and read more titbits like (and I quote):

“Santa’s friends often wonder how on earth they are going to convince their friends and relatives that they really have met Santa in person. The camera elves have a good solution to this problem – in a flash they provide you with a quality photo as a souvenir and proof of your visit.”

Why, you may ask? Well, as many hardships as we had endured, roads we had traversed, rabid reindeer we had narrowly escaped from, we failed to leap the final hurdle that would have enabled us to pour forth the pain in our souls upon the lap of Mr Claus … we arrived five minutes past closing time of his office. A resounding, guttural, heart-wrenching cry from the throats of two youthful human males could be heard echoing throughout Lapland that day; a cry that, if you listened closely enough, sounded vaguely like the words “son of a bitch!”

After a good cry to cleanse our spirits, Jonathan and I gathered up Balthy and Ed the Sock, took a few cheesy photos in front of the barred doors that led into Santa’s haven of bliss and packed ourselves back into the Rent-A-Wreck. We may have been shunned by the jolly ol’ fat man, but there was still some daylight left, and if we pushed hard enough, we could make it into Sweden before nightfall. Finland held no comfort for us any more. We were done. It was time to move on.