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Pole to Pole

Day 21: Ivalo to Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi, Finland 
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Sitting on the Finnish Santa's lap.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleAfter Finland, most of Santa's mail comes from Japan - a hundred thousand letters last year. The Big Man spent six weeks last summer touring Japan dressed up as Santa.

As if to underline the Japanese connection, we later see our couple from the Ivalo bus emerging purposefully from Santa's Grotto clutching a certificate.

A steady stream of state-of-the-art tourist buses from Germany are pulling in off the Arctic Highway, and though it's high summer they too expect to see Santa. This has thrown the Big Man into a bit of a state, as he has agreed to give me a personal audience while one of his colleague looks after the tourists.

'It will not be good for them to see two Santas,' he mutters.

But eventually all is well, and for the first time in forty-one years I get to sit on Santa's knee.

A short distance beyond the village is the town of Rovaniemi (Finnish pronunciation accents the first syllable only: 'Ro-vaniemi'). Flattened during the war, it was rebuilt by the famous Finnish architect Aalvar Aalto, who laid the roads out in the shape of a pair of reindeer horns.

'There are only 35,000 people here and they still get lost,' Kari remarks unpatriotically.

More importantly for us, Rovaniemi marks the northern limit of the Finnish railway system, and at 7.20 in the evening, with the sun about to set for the first time since we left the North Pole, we pull out of the station on the overnight train to Helsinki, finally turning our backs on the Arctic.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 21
  • Country/sea: Finland
  • Place: Rovaniemi
  • Book page no: 43

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