Finally turning in, we were rocked to sleep by the train traveling through the dark and awoke some hours later in Rovaniemi. It was VERY early in the morning so we had a bit of a wait before things started to open. We stored our luggage at the train station, had some coffee and rolls at the connected cafe, and then grabbed a bus which took us to the very outskirts of the town. Rovaniemi sits right on the Arctic Circle and is home to Santa Claus, not the North Pole as you may have been led to believe.
In our excitement we exited the bus at the wrong stop - Santa Experience theme park in Joulukka which is literally next door- we grabbed a taxi and arrived at Santa's Village. The sky was just starting to lighten up and as we walked outside we saw our first snow of the season. Huge fat flakes fell in the village decorated with Christmas trees, snow men, and lights. It really was magical.
And touristy! Santa's Village is made up of numerous shops selling everything from magnets to fox fur coats. There were reindeer rides, a traditional Lapland teepee, sledding hills, firepits, etc. The reservations to see the big man himself are done on a timed basis and we had a while to wait. We decided to have lunch inside the main building. Delicious salmon soup for me and a reindeer burger for Dayne. The owner was really interesting and told us how his family had been in the reindeer industry for generations. He explained that farmers notch the ears of their herds so that they are identifiable. The chairs in his restaurant showed off the different styles of notches.
Next we visited Santa's Post Office which to date had received around 16 million letters from around the world. We bought some cards and sat down at tables stocked with pens to fill them out. Then you choose to mail your letters either on that day or you can place them in the special red mailbox where they will be held and delivered at Christmas, even if you are there in January. Crazy little elves!
Finally it was time to see Santa! We got in line and expected to see him as we were ushered through the huge doors. But instead we were led to a coat check room and instructed that we weren't to use our cameras as Santa doesn't like you taking free photos it turns out. Then we joined a huge queue that snaked through an almost erie multi-level building. It was kind of dark, meant to resemble the interior of a clock, with gears and wheels rotating and ticking. The walls were decorated with photos of famous, and not so famous, folks meeting St Nick.
After quite some time of inching through the building it was our turn. He welcomed us in both French and English (Santa speaks five languages fluently) and invited us to sit with him for a photo.
All Santa Village photos here