In this series I’ll be looking at places I’ve visited and what meaning they have had for me or my stories, what inspiration I’ve drawn from them or what strange link I have in my head between these places and some of my characters. I’ll be looking at Paris, Corfu, France (including the Pyrenees), Scotland, Lanzarote Lapland and more! So keep reading for some entertaining rambling and some lovely pictures! (And if you’re here from my Youtube video say Hi in the comments below.)
This week I’m going to talk about Lapland.
What I knew about the place?
To be honest nothing really. It had always been just a name I’d heard mentioned in stories or when people talked about their travels. From these I picked up some vague ideas, impressions of lots of snow and it being very cold, the aurora borealis and some people in blue and red clothes whose name I did know, maybe sledges and that was sort of it.
Turns out Lapland is is the largest and northernmost region of Finland. It has 8 national parks (Bothnian Bay, Lemmenjoki, Oulanka, Pallas-Yllästunturi, Pyhä-Luosto, Riisitunturi, Syöte and Urho Kekkonen National Park); is home to the Sami of Finland and has strong associations with Christmas (particularly for the UK).
Its association with winter and Christmas comes primarily from the abundance of Pines and Spruces covering the landscape and from the snow which can begin to fall as early as late August or early September and tends to cover the ground by late September-October time. The winters are long, lasting approximately seven months with permanent snow on the ground beginning around mid-October-end of November and covering the ground thickest in April.
The northernmost municipalities of Lapland form the Sami Domicile Area where most of the Sami of Finland live. The Sami are indiginous people to the area, making them one of the northernmost indigenous people living in Europe. They are best known for their semi-nomadic reindeer herding and their distinctive colourful clothing. In the Sami Domicile Area both provincial and Sami organisations exist in parallel with one another. This is done to help protect Sami culture and the area is protected by the Finnish constitution which states this region to be autonomous on issues relating to the Sami culture and language.
Lapland’s capital city is Rovaniemi which is situated only 4 miles south of the article circle. It’s a very unspoiled area, beautiful and natural and as such tourism is a large part of the industry of the city. A notable and noteworthy landmark is the Jätkänkynttilä bridge which I actually walked over a few times without realising it’s significance. I just thought it was a big bridge with some lights on the top never realising that it actually has an eternal flame burning in the top two pillars. The city also has the Rovaniemi Airport which is the official airport of Santa, the Santa Claus Village (actually on the Arctic Circle!) and Santa Park.
It is also possible to see the Aurora Borealis from here although sadly I didn’t get to see them.
What I thought when I was there?
So admissions time: this trip was in no way planned by me and I wasn’t enthusiastic to go (I hate the cold and going to the article circle sounded pretty damned cold!); it was also some sort of package deal for Christmas so tourism was a big part of it… and I don’t like touristy stuff. Sure, a bit out tourism is fine, a few stalls, some guidebooks that sort of thing but I hate anything where there is a theme to the trip. So I’ll be honest, I wasn’t actually looking forward to going!
With that admission in mind (and a small aside to tell you I was there over Christmas) you won’t be surprised to hear that I hated all the really touristy stuff.
Now, I don’t go into Grinch mode over Christmas but I’ve had some pretty naffy Christmases so I don’t go super-giddy over it either; however I will admit that I love the lights, I love the happy feeling, I love presents and feeding people nice things. That’s kind of my level for Christmas. I can even deal with the odd song or carol. But getting in at what felt like 3 am to be greeted by a woman in an elf costume, bundled onto a coach and then expected to sing Christmas carols?! Oh Hell no! I was so tired I curled up and just grumbled until it was over, ignoring the idiot cousin belting out tasteless versions of the carols and jingles next to me. By this point I was expecting it to be a case of all my worst concerns about the trip and more were to be confirmed; but I was shortly to be proven wrong.
I’ll admit that I liked most of the tip, I was even okay with some of the tourist stuff and the cheesy stuff. But what I really liked was, as always, the little things and the quiet stuff, the beauty around me.
I liked the people who were very friendly, including a bar man who, when I asked for Glögi with no alcohol (which they add as a shot), gave me the kids version no extra charge which included a plate full of ginger biscuits (which I was extremely happy about). I liked the food, especially the reindeer meatballs which were delicious. I loved Rovaniemi itself which seemed to both go on for miles and miles and also not be a city at all; it seemed to be made up of small villages surrounded by snow and forest because it was so spaced out and as such I never really felt like I was in a city at all.
I adored the forest and the snow! It’s was probably the most fun I have ever had in the snow in my life! I loved walking around at nighttime (although it was probably technically the daytime but the sun sets really early on in winter), watching the moon rise over the trees and seeing the snow glitter in the moonlight. It was strange having such short days but I love cold, crisp, clear nights in winter so I was happy.
As it was so cold even when you sat on the snow it didn’t melt! It also covered everything to the point where you couldn’t tell what was road and what was pavement most of the time! And the entire river in front of our hotel was frozen with a boat still sitting there!
I loved seeing the gigantic snowmen all around the city and found where someone had ‘parked’ their reindeer as well as getting to go to the northernmost McDonald’s (well the drive-through at least but hey, one for the books).
What impact did it leave on me/my characters? Did it inspire anything?
I can’t say that it directly influenced a character or a place but, much like the Pyrenees, it gave me direct experience of a cold, snowy environment and taught me that it has a very different feel to the cold and snow you get in the mountains. For example it being so cold the snow wouldn’t melt when you sat on it and the shortness of the days (like I mentioned before). It reinforced to me just how far sound can travel as I could be in the middle of the forest and hear a sound coming from miles away! All this is useful first hand experience to have when writing.
I’m really looking forward to writing more of my stories that happen in the north of the world so I can reminisces over the photos and feel inspired.
What do you think of Lapland? Would you go? Where are you the most inspired, at peace or motivated? Let me know in the comments below.