Sunday, December 3rd 2006

I got back to Rovaniemi at about 10pm and picked my way slowly through the icy streets to the centre of town. The youth hostel was supposed to have a sauna so I got myself a room there. Weirdly, the hostel itself was unstaffed and I had to get keys and things from a hotel about 10 minutes walk away. That just made it an even greater disappointment when, after I'd pulled yet more muscles in avoiding falling over during the walk to the hostel, there turned out not to be a sauna. Not only that but there appeared to be no-one else in the hostel at all.

So, short of things to do, I went for a walk around town. If I couldn't have a sauna I was at least hoping I might see the northern lights, for the first time since I was in Iceland seven years ago. There were some breaks in the cloud and the moon was appearing occasionally so I thought I might have a chance. But it wasn't to be and I couldn't see anything that looked like even a hint of aurora. As I walked slowly back to the hostel, holding onto walls, trees and street signs and still only barely keeping my balance, groups of girls in high heels strode past me on their way out for Saturday night.

The next day I woke up at 9am to find it still almost dark. Once the sun had risen I got up and set out to explore. Rovaniemi is no beauty, but then it was completely destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War Two, as they retreated across northern Scandinavia. Apparently almost every town in northern Norway and Finland was razed to the ground, and it's incredible that anyone even returned to rebuild their homes, so I didn't mind the concrete wasteland too much.

I walked down to the Kemi River, not frozen here like it had been at Kemijärvi. Even at midday it was gloomy. A cold wind was blowing and it was beginning to drizzle. If it had been nicer I might have gone for a walk in the forest but it seemed more prudent to return to town and get a coffee. I spent a while warming up with a few espressos, chatting to friendly Finns and thinking I'd really like to come back here in the summer.

It was a Sunday and everything closed at about 4pm. My train back to Tampere wasn't leaving until 10pm, and it was now that I realised that finding something to do for six hours in a small town on the Arctic Circle on a Sunday evening in the middle of winter is basically impossible. I saw as much of Rovaniemi in the dark as anyone would ever want to, then had a long slow evening meal, then spent an hour walking back to the station.

Finally it was time to leave. I got the train back to Tampere, arriving at 6am. I had slept terribly on the train and got a bit more terrible sleep in the waiting room on Tampere station, waiting for the coffee shop to open. It began to rain heavily as I got the bus to the airport, and much as I'd enjoyed the trip I decided I was not going to come back to Finland before June at the earliest.

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