Friday, May 11, 2007

Across Arctic Circle into Lappland

360 degrees of birch

First stop for the day is the veterinary surgery (hint: asking for "animal doctor" is less confusing for locals who might think it's a pet-store) where we get Bondi fixed up with necessary worm tablets prior to crossing into Norway, which requires tapeworm medication within 7 days prior. That's all notated in his pet passport, and one less thing to worry about over the next few days.

I've decided to make a push as far north within Finland as possible, over 650km to Inari. I know there are places to stay there, and I can check road conditions for the direct route to Kirkenes.
Most of the morning journey is uneventful, but thankfully I've updated my GPS device's MP3 library with some more audiobooks, so I have Stephen Fry's "The Hippopotamus" to entertain me, interwoven with some of the Kalnins symphonies I bought in Riga.

Looking at the GPs display, with spots of blue, the Finnish lakescape reminds me of nothing so much as rain spots spattered on my windscreen.

Around Pudasjärvi, the landscape does start to change more perceptibly. The birch is thinning out, being replaced by fir, and now there are drifts of snow by the road. Getting out as these start to appear, I see that the channels by the road are filled with long white chunks of frozen snow, some spring growth poking through, but gradually retracting and appearing to lift at the edges as though it were a 20m long mushroom.

Not much later, and it's our first frozen lake. The next big stop is Rovaniemi, perched on the rim of the Arctic Circle, and I think, a good place to call ahead for accommodation in Inari.
Rovaniemi, in these cold wet conditions, appears to be not too different to Kajaani, although I have much less trouble remembering its name. Not too concerned to explore any differences, I just follow the [i] signs, and then get distracted by a much more appealing sign for a cafe with espresso and free wifi.

Kauppayhtiö (the cafe) is a godsend on a day like this: the coffee is excellent, the ambience eccentrically friendly - I'm belated reminded of several Seattle cafes - and I quickly locate the hotel I need. I telephone, "a room tonight for you and your dog, no problem, when are you getting here?" The deal is done.

On the edge of town I'm tempted to take Bondi to visit an ersatz Santa in his village but decide not to at the last moment, and while finding my way back to the highway pass some other realm of Santadom marking the Arctic Circle. Inside everyone wants to greet and talk about Bondi, from the stores' staff to a Romanian journalist (wearing an Sydney 2000 Olympic shirt "I've covered the Tamworth Country Music Festival" and his daughter" to the people at the Arctic Circle "Information Desk". I think an hour evaporates there without much difficulty, but everyone is so nice that it hardly matters.

I've got at least 3 hours of road still ahead. Stephen Fry is alternated with some Sibelius. At one of the towns along the way, I stop in at a LIDL for some fruit and dogfood. Its stark aisles are a small town's recreation alley for bored teens thumbing through booby magazines and laughing at the sound of sweets rattling in their bags.

First views of (Lake) Inarijärvi
The 40km run from Ivalo to Inari (IN/uh/ree) is spectactularly, soul-nourishingly beautiful. The lake Inarijärvi is frozen over, all thousand-square km of it, dotted with thousands of ice-locked islands.

Reindeer (by and on the road)

Reaching Hotel Inarin Kultahovi, I impulsively elect to stay 2 nights, a decision later supported by viewing the hotel restaurant's excellent menu.

My room looks over the fast-flowing river behind the hotel, reminding me of a similar view from a cabin on our last winter visit to Whistler, Canada 5 years ago.

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