Rovaniemi Finland in Winter

Rovaniemi in winter was the highlight of our Nordic Trip.  Located just south of the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, Rovaniemi was everything we had hoped for.  In mid December, there is only just over two hours of actual daylight, although twilight ran from before 7:00am until 5:30pm.  Temperatures are usually well below freezing, but for our trip, only dropped as low as -10 degrees C.

Flying Helsinki to Rovaniemi

We flew Finnair into Rovaniemi, arriving around 4:30pm.  The baggage collection hall is a tourist attraction in itself, with its displays.  We hired one of the many taxis outside the airport and were at our hotel by 5:30. We stayed at the City Hotel, in the centre of town.  Hotels book out quickly in December, so get in early, we had trouble finding somewhere to stay.  We were lucky though, as this hotel was OK.  The rooms were small and in need refurbishment, but the breakfast was excellent as was the location.  Besides, we spent very little time in the hotel.

On the first evening, we went for a walk around town.  Remember to bring warm clothes as the temperature if often below minus 20 degrees C.  There had recently been a snow fall, so the town was very picturesque, with fresh snow covering everything.  All the streets were well-lit and we felt very safe walking around.  There were a few eating options, even the northern most MacDonald’s, if you really want a Big Mac.

Christmas Trees
Bikes in the Snow Rovaniemi

Our first morning was dog sledding with Bear Hill Husky.  We were picked up outside the hotel and driven by bus out of town.  They have a great set-up, and provide all the gear you need, even socks and boots, so that yours don’t get wet.  After a thorough safety talk, you get to meet your husky team.  You ride in pairs, with one driving and the other riding in the sled.  At the half way point, you swap, so that everyone gets to drive.  Driving is quite tiring, as you spend a lot of time running, or pushing the sled when it gets stuck.

We had a brilliant time, with all the fresh snow and the enthusiastic dogs and a great trail through the trees.  The guides made sure we were all safe and doing the right thing.  Several were on snow mobiles, so they could ride back and forth to check us all.

Dog Sledding Rovaniemi
Dog Sledding at Rovaniemi

After we finished and got changed, we had hot berry juice and biscuits, before being taken back into town.

We spent lunch time and a few hours until out next activity looking around Rovaniemi.  There really isn’t too much to see in town itself, as we came for the activities.

Late afternoon, we were picked up for our snow mobile trip.  Again, we were driven out of town and this time to the Santa Village, where they were based.  Again, we were given all the gear we would need as well as a safety brief on the snow mobiles.  Unlike the dog sled, we were a little disappointed with this one.  The track was along a road, and the snow was very corrugated and bumpy, to the point of being uncomfortable.  We had thought we were going off-road into fresh snow.  Even so, snow mobiling at night in sub-zero temperatures was an excellent experience.

Snow Mobiling at Night in Rovaniemi

Early the next morning we were picked up by a local reindeer farmer, and taken out to his property.  We had a 30 minutes ride on a reindeer sled, followed by ice fishing on a frozen lake.  We actually caught fish, although none of them were big enough to eat.  Quite an experience, drilling through the ice with an auger and dropping a fishing line in.  After the fishing, we had a bar-b-que on the lake of reindeer sausages.  The owner was very friendly and very happy to talk about his lifestyle, reindeer farming and heritage and was pleased we spent so much time there.

Traditional Arctic House in the Snow near Rovaniemi
Reindeer at Rovaniemi
Reindeer Sledding at Rovaniemi
Reindeer and Sleds at Rovaniemi
Ice Fishing on Frozen Lake Rovaniemi

In the afternoon, we were dropped back at the Santa Village to walk around ourselves.  This place is very popular at Christmas time, and is one of the main reasons some people go to Rovaniemi.  We thought it was very touristy, but still had a good look around a queued up to see Santa and had photos taken with him.  Whoever plays Santa does a great job, as he asks where you’re from and asks appropriate questions about your home country.  All good fun.

There is also an “official” Santa’s post office if you want to send cards or letters.  In the village is an official marking of the Arctic Circle, so you can take your picture standing in the Arctic.

 

One of Santa’s Elves
Santa’s House at Rovaniemi
The Arctic Circle at Santa’s Village Rovaniemi

Our last evening was spent at Arkitkum.  This museum has an excellent series of displays on the Arctic, from human exploration, pre-history, the Suomi people and wildlife.  There is also a section showing how much the town suffered during World War Two, with the German occupation.

Rovaniemi

We flew Finnair back to Helsinki and onward to Singapore.  A great airline, they provided excellent service and a fantastic experience.  From Singapore, we flew Qantas back to Sydney.

 

 

Stockholm Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm after a five-hour train trip from Oslo.  The trip was uneventful, and as WIFI was provided, wasn’t too boring.  The train had a café car, where you could buy food and drinks, so overall a pleasant journey that went surprisingly quickly.

On arrival at Stockholm Station, we caught a taxi to our hotel in Gamla Stan.  This is the old part of town in Stockholm.  We chose it as it has many attractions nearby, as well as the benefits of being in Gamla Stan itself, such as the atmosphere and restaurants. 

Our accommodation was the First Hotel Reisen, on the waterfront.  It is an older hotel, but the rooms were clean and warm and the location was excellent.  By the time we had checked in it was gone five in the afternoon and dark outside.  We ventured out for a walk, and went towards the city centre. 

In Berzelii Park, we found some amazing Christmas decorations.  There was a huge display of moose sculptures lit up for Christmas.  Many of the other streets were also decorated for the festive season, making the whole atmosphere very enjoyable. 

Christmas Moose Decoration in a Stockholm Park
Christmas Decorations in a Stockholm Street

After walking around for a few hours and finding something to eat at the many restaurants available, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was served on the ground floor of the hotel.  There was more than enough variety to satisfy us, and we all had a huge meal.  Ready to take on the day, we rugged up in warm clothes and headed out.

Stockholm Day 1

Our first stop was the ABBA museum.  There was an option to take public transport, but we decided that a walk would also give us the opportunity to see Stockholm’s streets and waterfront better.  Tickets for the museum had been pre-booked in Australia before we left.  This should have meant we just walked up to the check in machines and then started our tour.  However, we had also pre-booked audio guides and had to go back to the counter to pick these up, so probably didn’t save any time.  The museum is a cashless shop, so all purchases must be made with credit cards.  We knew this so it wasn’t a problem, but we heard some other people complaining about it.

The ABBA Museum

The tour is self-paced and takes you through the full history of ABBA the group as well as the individuals.  If you are an ABBA fan, this is a must see when in Stockholm.  As well as displays, there are interactive areas, where you can get up on stage and dance and sing with a holographic ABBA.  All of this is recorded for you to take with you when you leave.

ABBA

The gift shop is quite extensive, with anything ABBA for sale.

Not far from the ABBA Museum is the famous Vasa museum.  Another must see attraction.  The preserved ship is fully enclosed in its purpose-built building.  It is not until you go inside that you realise just how big the ship is and how amazing its recovery and preservation is.  As well as the ship itself, there is a full description of the recovery process as well as many artifacts from the wreck site.  We could get quite close to the ship and take some good photos, but in peak season, I would imagine that it would be very crowded.

The Vasa Sailing Ship

From Vasa, we walked to the Swedish History Museum.  This contains one of the world’s largest collections of Viking artefacts and medieval art.  Our first stop here was the café for lunch.  There was quite a reasonable range of food, and all of us managed to find something we liked.  After re-fuelling, we spent several hours walking around the fantastic displays.  The Viking section was particularly impressive.  If you are interested in the spread of Christianity in the early middle ages, there is a huge display of early Christian art, ranging from frescos to altars.

Rune Stone at the Historical Museum
Viking Axe at the Historical Museum
Viking Helmet at the Historical Museum

The gold room in the museum contains some of Sweden’s greatest treasures.  There is display after display of Viking crafted gold jewelry and objects.  It was simply magnificent.

Viking Gold at the Historical Museum

After dropping souvenirs off at the hotel, we walked around Gamla Stan in the evening.  There was a huge variety of places to eat and after a meal, we spent some time taking in the old narrow streets and buildings before returning to our hotel.  As it was December, everything was very festive, with a Christmas market set up in one of the squares.

Gamla Stan Stockholm

The next day, after another great breakfast at the First Hotel Reisen, we set off to explore Gamla Stan in the daylight.  Only a few minutes from our accommodation, was the Royal Palace, but being a Monday was closed, so we only had a look around the outside, meaning to look inside on Tuesday.  The next stop was Stockholm’s Cathedral.  It is quite small by international standards, but is still very nice inside and worth the visit.  Check out the statue of St George and the Dragon.

The Royal Palace Stockholm
Stockholm Cathedral Altar
Stockholm Cathedral
Stockholm Cathedral

Behind the Cathedral, and opposite the palace is a small Finnish Church.  Behind the church is Jarnpojken, a tiny but cute statue.  People rub it for good luck and leave a small donation.

Jarnpojken in Gamla Stan Stockholm

We spent most of the morning wandering around the old twisting streets and investigating the numerous shops there.

In the afternoon, we went on a site seeing cruise around Stockholm’s waterways.  They start from the wharf in front of Berzelii Park.  This would be a fantastic cruise in summer, but even in winter gave a great view of the city from a different perspective.  The boat wasn’t very full, so there were plenty of spare seats and no one was crowded.

There is a coin museum in Gamla Stan.  We noticed it as we looked for somewhere to have dinner.  We were not expecting much, but were very surprised how interesting it was, tracing the history of Swedish currency through the ages.

Coin Museum Gamla Stan Stockholm

For our final full day in Sweden, we had pre-booked a guided tour to Sigtuna and Uppsala.  We could probably have done this ourselves, but were not confident driving on the right side of the road in icy conditions, so took the easy way out.  It is possible to get public transport to Uppsala, but to see Sigtuna as well in the same day was not possible.

Stockholm to Uppsala

Sigtuna, founded in 980 is the oldest town in Sweden.  It has a very picturesque main street, with traditional wooden buildings.  We spent a while walking around the town and had a nice hot chocolate in one of the cafes.  The original town hall is also there, as well as the ruins of St Olaf’s church.  We visited because of its historical importance and to see the old main street and buildings.

Sigtuna Radhus
Sigtuna Main Street

Next stop was Gamla Uppsala, to see the Viking burial mounds.  Probably not as interesting as we expected.  Just several large mounds.  If the museum had been open it might have been more interesting, but it was closed.

Viking Burial Mounds at Gamla Uppsala

In Uppsala itself, we went to the Cathedral, the tallest in the Nordic countries.  It is a very impressive building from the outside and stunning inside.  The huge ceilings and the restored medieval frescoes are worth seeing.

Uppsala Cathedral
Uppsala Cathedral

On our return to Stockholm, we were just in time to enter the Royal Palace before it closed for the night.  As you expect, the rooms are all magnificent and full of painting and ornate furniture.  Make sure you go to the crown jewels on display.  More stunning jewelry.

Royal Palace Stockholm
Royal Palace Stockholm

After dinner, we went to the Nobel museum.  This was probably the most disappointing attraction we visited.  We found it very uninspiring and didn’t spend much time there.  If you are really into Nobel history and want to read through dry histories of the winners, you may find in interesting.

So what did we think of Stockholm?  Loved the history, especially Gamla Stan and the museums.  We would not go to Uppsala or Sigtuna again, given our short time frame and would have preferred more time in Stockholm.

 

 

 

Bar Beach Newcastle

Bar Beach at Newcastle is an excellent place for a relaxing half day.  It’s very easy to get to and has a nice large car park.  The ANZAC Memorial Walk   is to the north.  Dixon Park Beach, Merewether Beach and the Ocean Baths are to the south. They are all connected by a foot/bike path, or you can walk along the beach.

There is a coffee shop at Bar Beach, Swell at Bar Beach.  We usually buy a coffee and muffin here.  It is very popular, so on a busy day be prepared to wait for your order to be filled.  While you wait, relax and watch the surf.  There is plenty of undercover seating if it is too hot, or raining.  We chose to sit down near the beach and watch the waves roll in.

To the north of the beach is a rock platform and Susan Gilmore Beach.  This area is not accessible at high tide.  We walked over the rocks checking out the rock pools.  Be careful of the green slime, it can be a bit slippery.

waves breaking over rocks with water pools in the foreground at Bar Beach Newcastle
Rock Platform at Bar Beach
waves breaking over rocks with water pools in the foreground at Bar Beach Newcastle
Rock Platform at Bar Beach
waves breaking over rocks with water pools in the foreground at Bar Beach Newcastle
Rock Pools at Bar Beach
waves breaking over rocks with water pools in the foreground at Bar Beach Newcastle
Rock Platform at Bar Beach Newcastle NSW

The shells and rocks can also be quite sharp, so you might want to put some shoes back on when walking over them.  Be aware though that your shoes will get wet.

We walked back along the beach to Merewether Ocean Baths.  It’s about a 2km walk, but very relaxing on a nice day.  

ocean waves breaking onto Merewether Beach near Bar Beach Newcastle
Merewether Beach

As you walk back, so can see surfers having fun on the waves.  Out to sea you will see the coal ships waiting to come in to be filled, before sailing off.

surfer surfing at Dixon Park Beach with breaking waves and rocks near the beach
Surfing at Dixon Park Beach

We walked back to Bar Beach on the pathway above the beaches.  It’s very well laid out and there are also several places to stop for a meal or coffee along the way.

Merewether Beach Looking at Bar Beach with a sandy beach and ocean waves
Merewether Beach Looking at Bar Beach

We do this walk regularly, at least twice a month on weekends.  Always enjoyable and good exercise.