To the north

Friday, December 1st 2006

On my first trip to Finland I hadn't seen anything of Tampere beyond the train station. Arriving back there three years later was like a bizarre and intense déjà vu experience. As I had last time, I struggled for a while with ticket machines that unfortunately only display Swedish and Finnish text. I thought I could work out how to buy a ticket in Swedish, but was not quite confident enough to actually put my card in the machine and so I decided to buy a ticket on the train instead.

With a couple of hours to kill, I went for a walk around Tampere. It was late on a Friday night and things were pretty raucous. My guide book described Tampere as 'the Manchester of Finland', and just like northern girls back home, Finnish girls were wearing amazingly few clothes given the near-freezing temperatures. I walked up the main street beyond the centre, through a park, down to the river and then back into town, found a take-away pizza shop and took a giant vegetarian pizza back to the station.

My train arrived just after 1am. I got on board and sought out a conductor, but none seemed to be around. The train pulled out of the station and set off on its amazing journey north, and after a while a conductor appeared and sold me a sleeper ticket. I was sharing a compartment with a fisherman called Mikko, who kept on cursing himself for speaking terrible English though we were having a perfectly good conversation. He was quite drunk, and offered me some of his Finnish vodka, which he said was the best in the world. But I had to leave him to it, and I went to the restaurant car for a late night snack. When I came back, Mikko was snoring heavily.

I slept pretty well, and when I woke up at 9am we were in the far north of Finland, in an endless scene of forests and lakes, under a dark blue sky with just a hint of daylight in it. There was a bit of snow on the ground but barely any cover. Mikko said that in 20 years he had only known such good December weather a couple of times before. I got up and went for a coffee in the restaurant car, and spent the next couple of hours watching the sunrise set the sky on fire. Twilight seemed to last for ever and the Sun didn't actually rise until well past 10am. In full daylight the boggy landscape looked a little bit more prosaic, and before long we were in the grim industrial outskirts of Rovaniemi, the capital of Lappland. It was 11am and I was three miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Finland 2006 | In The Arctic »