Travelogue: Finland – Helsinki & Rovaniemi, Home to Santa Claus

Helsinki, marks the start of my Scandinavian trip. We flew by Finnair cos the fare was on summer promotion. It was a midnight flight that was overbooked. The airline even emailed us to say we can offer to change our flights at the airport if we could. #seriously
The airplane used an old model, so tiny space and cannot-make-it toilet. Flight with crying babies are a nightmare, and given its a red eye flight, everyone would be in a bad mood if the crying didn’t stop. Food was manageable, they served dinner at like traditional 1am kind of timing and all I wanted was just to sleep, so I promptly knocked out after that

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Chicken with tomato sauce + tasteless potatoes, cold bun

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Breakfast – only one choice. I wouldn’t call it scrambled, it felt more like steamed egg to me, with sausages and wedges. I barely touched

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Glad it was a direct flight to Helsinki

Landed at Helsinki with bulk of the airplane transiting so the airport was rather empty past immigration. We cleared the immigration in 5 minutes and then went to find the luggage storage area located at the ground floor (P) at €6 per piece per day so that we can deposit the luggage and go sightseeing given we had an afternoon flight to catch to Rovaniemi

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The luggage counter at the ground floor, T2

We wanted to catch the bus to the city and also see if we could buy the sightseeing tram tickets at the airport but the tourist information counter told us he hasn’t heard of any sightseeing tram =X And we didn’t realise we could have just exit at T2 and the bus stop would just be right outside. In the end we walked all the way to T1..

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Walking to find the bus stop

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Catching the bus to the city was easy. There are 2 options: you can either choose to take the Finnair city bus at €6.20 or the HSL 615 bus at €5.50 and alight at the last stop. Well if you don’t know which is the last stop, just alight when everyone else alights. Ha

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And since the HSL bus was right there, we took it. You can purchase the ticket (in cash) from the driver upon boarding the bus

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And snow throughout the city

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The whole journey took about 40 minutes and it will drop you off at the Central station

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There, the trams! You can take route 2 and 3 and it will take you to all the attractions/landmarks

So we were thinking where we could buy the tickets from and we wandered into a random cafe in hoping to use their free wifi so that we wouldn’t be so lost. But hey, it turned out they serve pretty good pastries!

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Such a cozy place

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Hot Chocolate €4.20

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Cinnamon Roll €2.90

The friend wanted to try what Finland is famous for so we got the cinnamon roll. We thought it would be hard but it turned out crispy on the outside and soft inside. Though served cold, the light cinnamon and the dusted sugar provided a delicious balance

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Latte €2.50

I liked their latte. Even though a little light in flavour, but it has a rounded taste with flavour of milk and the subtle coffee beans

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Apple Muffin €4.30

The muffin here is really delicious. So soft, moist and infused with the beautiful apple taste

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And here’s breakfast for us!

Even though this was a random cafe we ventured in, but if you are in the area, I do recommend you to stop by for their pastries and coffee and perhaps try their other food as well

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Mikonkatu 13, Helsinki 00100

So the friendly staffs at the cafe told us we didn’t have to take the tram as the sights were all within walking distance and we could actually see more by walking (and save money)

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And armed with only a map cos in the end the wifi couldn’t connect, travelling goes back to basic

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This was really what we had to guide us through the city (We got it from the airport)

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And later on we got a even detailed map from the tourist information office

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We were glad we chose to walk since we chanced upon the city hall, presidential palace and sky wheel on the way to Uspenski Cathedral

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There was supposed to be a market square somewhere here but it feels like there isn’t anything (probably cos of the weather)

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Sky wheel in the far distance

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The Cathedral was beautiful even though we couldn’t go in

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We went to the Senate Square next where we bumped into a tourist who asked us for directions but he could only speak Italian and Russian so it was quite a funny conversation that we had with him. And the next nationality we had a conversation with was a Singaporean who was also flying into the Lapland region. Speaking of a small world

And we speed walked all the way to the Rock church cos we had to rush back to the airport for our flight

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You can’t tell that it’s a church from far unless you already knew what it was

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So pretty inside!

Quarried out of the natural bedrock, Temppelixaukio Church (or Rock Church) is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions. The interior walls are created naturally by the rock

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So we speed walked all the way back to the Central Station to catch the bus back to the airport. We took the Finnair bus (€6.30) which was actually faster

Helsinki makes a good transit stop, just to take a day out to the city for some sightseeing before catching the plane to elsewhere. And the city is really walkable with easy navigation. The roads are sparse, not too crowded so it makes exploring enjoyable. But since I had limited time there, I can’t say much of their food. But at least I think, it’s a city that is enough just to stop and go

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Collected our baggage and proceeded for check-in which is everything is do-it-yourself here, from the baggage tag printing to boarding passes to scanning your baggages and deposit them #sohightech

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By the end of this entire trip, we became so automated whenever we reached the airport

Lunched at a random cafe after immigration cos it seemed the most crowded.
Food was… okay… It’s cold sandwich and a very cheesy panini

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Chicken Sandwich €10.50

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Ham & Cheese Panini €9.50

The panini fared a little better just cos it was served warm. I don’t quite understand why people on the other side of the world like to have cold sandwiches, on cold days no less. Or maybe having hot food is an Asian thing

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They have all these vending machines at the airport that sells a lot of random things

So we reached our gate 5 mins past boarding time only to see ‘Final Call’ displayed on the screen and we were like huh? That’s fast! And to realise our seats were taken just cos the family wanted to seat together 😦 so I told the friend okay, next time we board earlier. But well, technically we could have say no to them and wanted the seats back but oh wells

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And we met with more crying kids onboard from take-off to landing. It felt like a crying symphony, oh gosh, it was a nightmare

The captain had a sense of humour though. He was asking for everyone’s attention on the traditional flight safety demonstration and would appreciate if we are all mentally present (LOL) you can just hear laughter on the plane

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Best thing onboard? Free wifi. Yes, wifi on the airplane. Damn awesome. Even though the wifi sometimes tend to lag

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Flight to Rovaniemi was short and there is only one baggage claim

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With cute animals

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Free airport transfer from Santa Claus Holiday Village

The staff collected us and dropped us to our cabin at Santa Claus Holiday Village which we would be staying for the next 2 nights!

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I’m glad they dropped us at the cabins before checking in at the reception cos dragging luggages through a pile of snow is a little challenging

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So cute

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And here’s home

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Sauna included

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So.. white

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And so we finally checked in, visited the Santa Claus exhibition which was just beside the reception and Santa seemed a little too excited to meet us. Lol. He even told us to visit his reindeers, and so we did

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Entrance to the reception. I thought these were a little strange

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Well, I’m not sure if kids will be excited at the exhibits before seeing Santa =X

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And stories on the evolution of Christmas trees

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Hello Santa!

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Mandatory Santa shot

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He gives you a sticker for being a good kid

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Trying to find the reindeer farm

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And so, we found his (one) lone reindeer, which looked kind of sad

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Anyways, we went back to prepare dinner since we had a Northern light tour later that evening, and tada!

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From Prima Taste – Curry chicken rice and Claypot rice, packed from Singapore

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Dinner with tea and coffee #solocal

Not sure if the setting is supposed to be romantic, but the candles make it seem like this is a meal for the dead. lol

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Curry Chicken Rice

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Claypot chicken rice 

Well it tasted like claypot rice just that the rice was too hard. But considering how we can manage to eat warm cheap rice with local flavours all the way at the other side of the world, I shall not complain. And this ready made meal is useful cos you can just microwave it and it’s done! No need for refrigeration!

So yeah, we booked the Northern light tour with Lapland Welcome since it was quite highly rated. The guide collected us and a few others and drove to their office so we can get warmer clothings before a 30 minute drive to a middle of nowhere

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The day I put on 20kg #thiswillbehowilook

I’m actually kind of thankful for the fugly jumpsuits cos they keep you really warm. So we stopped by a place for toilet break before we start our hike up a steep hill. And ohmygoodness, it was freaking tiring. I felt like I’m tired even before I started the hike. I was just panting all the way. I didn’t realise trekking in deep snow was so bloody difficult, and on top of that with heavy boots and all our barangs. The friend was faring worse than me, and she wanted to give up. lol

But anyways, the weather was bad that night even though the guide was being rather positive, so after a few hours in the cold, we retreated to the teepee for fire, hot drinks and sausages cos it was too cold

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Snow = Bad

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This was that we saw

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And the best we saw

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Hot chocolate never tasted this awesome

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And an array of food selection

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Grilling sausages

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And Finnish pancakes

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And cos everyone was doing their own thing, the guide decided to play a game with us by melting these in the fire and throwing it into a bucket of ice water

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And this, is our future #seriouslywhatnonsense

After observing mine for awhile, I saw a shadow of a man. My future =  a man?! Uh, okay, never mind

We concluded the night pretty quickly since this was going nowhere. We could see stars at a point of time but the sky was cloudy most of the time. And by the time it cleared and the snow stopped, the auroras were probably all gone. I don’t think the guide was very interactive and the Japs were talking among themselves so we spent most of the time talking to a friendly German. So by the time this tour ended, it was close to 1.30am.

Happily went for breakfast the next morning since it was part of the package and even though we were close to the end of breakfast service, we still managed to grab something to eat

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The spread

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Well I have to say breakfast was really decent

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Like really decent. And I fell in love with the popcorn biscuit, which I couldn’t find it anywhere in the supermarket (or maybe just cos I don’t know how it looked like) 😦 It was damn good

And so we wandered off the village since we had lots of time to kill before our snowmobile+dog sledding tour at 12pm. I think we basically covered the whole village in that few hours. Honestly, the place isn’t that big to start with

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Stepping into the arctic circle!

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And we found Singapore

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So we visited the famous Santa Claus (official) post office where we bought, wrote and sent some mandatory postcards

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It’s so Christmassy, like perpetually full year round

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Postcards/letters from around the world

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So yeah you can choose the postcards from a great selection, make payment at the cashier then post it into the letterbox

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They even had cute stamps to go along with it

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You can choose if you want to deliver for Christmas 2016

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Or just normal mail

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Snowing nonstop

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You can totally do a photoshoot here

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An attempt to capture the snowflakes

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And also my pretty nails 🙂

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We went back to the reindeer farm and found a perfectly dressed reindeer! And so we stood there watching the reindeer and people going for reindeers’ ride. Looking at the speed the reindeers were going, I felt like the reindeers were having a difficult time walking like the bones are going to break anytime soon

Anyways, we went to Wild Nordic office located just within the village where we got ready to suit up for our tour. Well, the tour was supposed to start at 12pm but a family of 4 were late by 15 minutes and so we spent more time just waiting for them to dress up

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Like F1 drivers. ha

And we went into a forest of never ending snow. It’s really snow everywhere you go. The whole journey took quite awhile before we stopped for a break, enjoyed the surrounding before we snowmobiled into a forest, which I got stuck in the snow and got scolded by the guide 😦 Felt so sad. I mean I didn’t want to get stuck in the snow too right…

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Thrill of a snowmobile

Went for a quick dog sledding next which we also visited the farm. The farm was just 10 minutes walk away and the huskies were so adorable!

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It is not easy to arrange a group of huskies cos you have to understand your dogs and their personalities. The leaders of the pack are females cos they are the smallest and the smartest, followed by the young huskies (for them to train) and finally the male huskies cos they are the strongest. The dogs just need 2-3 runs to familiarize themselves and listen to the instructions given by the sledder. They are like really smart!

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The heads of the pack

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The young ones – I had absolutely no idea what that one is doing

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And the energetic males at the end. I can totally tell how energetic he is and the friend had a ‘what am I doing with this weirdo’ kind of look. They were pretty funny

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Huskies around the farm! This one had a ‘do not disturb me’ look

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A sleepy husky

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Who decided to do a downward dog for me

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And this is my favourite

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So pretty. Okay, you have my heart

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And the friend who is an attention seeker

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Hilarious pair

Well this marks the end of the tour. And by then it was close to 4pm. Went back to the cabins to rest before heading out to the city for dinner and caught sunset along the way back to our cabins!

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So there is only one bus stop at the village and there is only one bus – number 8 (€3.90 per way). Yeps, this bus takes you to city which has really limited operational hours so for the benefit of you guys, here’s a photo of their schedule (even though it’s a little unclear)

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And we almost missed the bus stop. I was telling the friend if the bus had crossed the harbour, we would have been dead. Lol

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So this is how their city looks like

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Lifeless

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And what to do when you had time to kill? We visit their local supermarket which has loads of TV food and Japanese products #interesting

And since the only meal we had was breakfast in the morning, we were starving so we went earlier to the restaurant even though our reservation was at 6.30pm. Yes, reservation is recommended cos this place is really popular. I’m not sure if it’s made popular by tourists. Ha but apparently I think it’s one place that serves decent traditional Lappish cuisine

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Rather interesting decorations

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Mystical Blueberry Cocktail €7.20

I have no doubts this is definitely mystical. It somewhat tasted like cough syrup

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Sparkling Cloudberry Wine €10.50

And this was so sweet (and strong) we couldn’t even finish both our drinks

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Amuse Bouche

Salmon cream topped on crackers. It was pretty delicious, or maybe cos we were hungry

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Nili’s Boletus Kuksa €9.90

Penny bun mushrooms braised in creme fraiche

This is mushroom soup in a very creamy form

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Karsikko Fish Soup €12.80

Tomato soup flavoured with garlic and lovage, with salmon and zander

The soup was infused with deep tomato flavours, and I liked the taste of the smoked salmon, which was actually pretty good

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Traditional Sautéed Reindeer €22.60

Mashed potato with melted butter, pickled cucumbers and homemade lingonberry jam

 Traditional Lappish food, reindeer meat. I know many will judge for eating reindeer meat, just like (many) friends were appalled I ate a reindeer after I find them pitiful for dragging people on sleighs. lol. Honestly not the most aesthetically presented dish, but this tasted like beef. The mash potato with melted butter was smooth and sweet and the pickled cucumbers were way too sour

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Kangasniemi’s Hearty Steak (180g) €28.20

Served with thyme potatoes and Peltolan blue cheese sauce

Way too done than medium

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Saaga’s Mouthwatering Chocolate Cake €9.60

With crowberry sorbet and white chocolate muesli

I’m not very sure if their definition of mouthwatering = super dense and flour-like texture with the taste of chocolate so deep you feel like you will get a sore throat the next day but the icecream somewhat made the dish a little better. I was glad we were overstuffed so we only got one to share

I’m rather confused by lappish traditional cuisine cos to me, I thought the meal was at best average. But for those who are still interested to try, here’s the address

Restaurant Nili

Valtakatu 20, 96200 Rovaniemi, Finland

Anyway I’m not too sure if the operational hours of the buses are affected by the season but there are really limited hours. To our horror, we realised the last bus back to the holiday village was at 6.35pm and so the only option left was to take a cab. And the cab fare costs €22.50 for a ride less than 10 mins. Advice: eat at 5pm, so at least you know you have a bus back. I was joking I could take a cab to airport, and back home again with that price in Singapore

Had breakfast the next day before packing, chilling, exploring some more around the village and taking the plane to Stockholm

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The cinnamon pastry here is super good (and so are the popcorn biscuits), must try!

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The small Rovaniemi airport

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Our lunch

Like damn poor thing, eating chips for lunch. Lol

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Catching the sunset!

Had to transit at Helsinki before our flight to Stockholm so we have lots of them to kill

Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, home to the Santa Claus is like a snow-capped village (because of winter and snow). Everyday you wake up to never-ending snow. Like we will stand outside the cabins and see how deep our boots were in the snow. It seems magical at first, but after awhile you will be like can it stop snowing already? lol I think it is one place that will probably be most recommended to catch the lights in Finland given the location. Well, you can do other activities as well. Accessibility might be a little challenging but it is still a place to go. But maybe you may like to consider packing some food there to eat as well, just for the convenience =/

So here’s the wrap for Finland, come back to read on Sweden!