Roger: Friday 18 December
The flight across the ditch to Sydney was uneventful; that is until I picked up my bag. It must have been fired at the edge of the carousel with great force, bending the pop up handle housing so the handle would not move. Air NZ has contracted out its baggage claims to Dnata. It should have been a very simple process of “as we can’t get the bag fixed by tomorrow when your flight leaves, go and buy a new one and we will reimburse you for the new bag”. The staff at Dnata were highly trained in “how to piss people off and be obstructive”. To cut a long story very short, after the best part of an hour on the phone to various people, most of whom didn’t have a clue, it got resolved.
Sylvia arrived up from Wodonga in the evening. We spent the night with long-time friends John and Lesley at Neutral Bay. John excelled with his pizza cooking skills while we had a great catch up over dinner.
Roger: Saturday 19 December
After a leisurely breakfast we drove to a bag shop at Mascot to replace my bag. John and Lesley bought a couple of new bags also as they too are heading to Lapland in a couple of weeks to do an ice driving course.
After checking in at Cathay we headed to Dnata, old bag and receipt for new one in hand. The staff at Dnata were in fine form. They must have just watched a customer service training video by “Fawlty Towers”! Another long story short I gave them the old bag and got folding off them for the new one.
Roger: Sunday 20 December
After nine hours to Hong Kong, a two and a half hour stop-over, and a further 11 hours in the air, we landed in Helsinki. It was around 6am and pitch black as we drove into the city. As we arrived in town and turned into Pohjoisesplanadi (the main street) we were taken aback by the amazing Xmas lighting display running through the park.
After a few hours’ sleep at the Hotel Indigo we took a stroll into town. It was 10.30am and with the shops not opening until noon there were lots of people around. Xmas markets have been set up in a local square selling all sorts of food and local goods. At Stockmans, a large retail store, people were gathered around with their kids looking at the Xmas window displays. At ten minutes before noon a large crowd gathered at the doors ready for the noon opening.
At one we went back to the hotel to meet Pekka, who with his son had driven in from the local countryside for a catch up. Pekka is a Warrant Officer in the local defense force. He is also one of the guys from the sauna experience here last year (read ‘Training in Europe’ for that one)> We had a good chat and a stroll around town. As it got dark around 4 Pekka headed off. Sunrise here today is 0923hrs; sunset 1512hrs.
After taking some photos of the lighting displays and enjoying a meal at a local Mexican place we headed back to the hotel for an early night.
Sylvia: Monday 21 December
I now better appreciate the impact that sunlight has on helping overcome jetlag. Up here where it is dark for most of the day and the daylight tends to be pretty thin and watery we are having quite a bit of difficulty adjusting to the new time zone…
We were awake bright and early and after a leisurely breakfast we caught a taxi to the airport for our one hour twenty minute flight to Rovaniemi. There had been no snow in Helsinki but up here everything is white. The temperature though is still very mild at -1’C and pretty clagged in.
We were met at the airport by Ina, our guide for the week, who drove us into Rovaniemi where we had lunch at a charming traditional Lappish restaurant. Gluggi (mulled wine) and a range of appetisers: blueberry herring (very salty), smoked salmon, reindeer pate, goat cheese and beetroot roulade etc, were followed by a delicious reindeer rack on parsnip puree and then cloudberry cheesecake. We were feeling pretty full after that!
Ina took us the 50-minute drive to our accommodation for the next few days, Beana Laponia, a brand new (opened two days ago), adults only lodge out in the middle of nowhere. The road system here is very good, despite being covered in snow they were not at all slippery. After looking around the lodge we settled in for another early night.