As you are all no doubt aware it is December. This is the time of year that houses are adorned with festive decorations and lights that brighten the long dark nights while little ones hang their stockings hoping that Father Christmas will fill them with goodies. I have always been a big fan of the festive season and since becoming a father the magic has only intensified, I share their excitement at the anticipation of the big man’s arrival. The only disappointment in recent years has been the lack of weather that befits the necessity to travel by a reindeer powered sleigh.
For well over a 100 years department stores, shopping malls and garden centres have created grottos (usually in the toy department) and employed men dressed as Santas to encourage parents to bring their children to see the big man and as a by-product spend money in their shop, usually on the toys that you have to pass on the way to the grotto. It is believed that we have James Edgar to thank for this tradition, a department store owner in Brockton, Massachusetts who is credited as the first to dress up as Santa, in 1890, to entertain the children of his customers. However we all know that the real Santa does not inhabit department stores, he lives in Lapland where, at this time of the year, he is preparing for his big day.
Therefore, if one wants to meet the ‘real’ Santa Claus then one must travel to Lapland. Four years ago Nanny Fran took her adopted grandchildren to Lapland for that very reason. We would have travelled with her, except that Lucinda was pregnant with Ezra and equally Éowyn and Amélie were both a little young, thus we thought it would have been a waste of money and a missed opportunity. We wanted to wait until all three would appreciate the trip. With 4.5 years between Éowyn and Ezra it was always going to be a balance of waiting until Ezra was old enough to appreciate it while hoping that Éowyn would be young enough to still believe. Ezra will be four in March and Éowyn has just turned eight, so it seemed to be the ideal time to book the trip.
As you can appreciate therefore this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, this has been in planning for the last four years and finances willing it was always going to be December 2016. Thus while visiting Nanny Fran in February during the half-term break we left the Baguettes at Funky Monkey’s with Nanny Fran and popped in to see a travel agent and arrange the trip. Regular readers may recall a surprise that I mentioned in this update, well now you know what it was. I also alluded to the trip in this post. But it was not only you, dear readers, that we kept this secret from: the Baguettes knew nothing of this surprise until the morning before our flight.
Let me take you back to February and the decision of where to go. As you no doubt know Lapland is the largest and northernmost region of Finland and the traditional home of Santa Claus. This latter fact has not been lost on the Finns and a tourist industry has thus sprung up. We booked our trip through Thompson who offer a variety of trips to a number of resorts. We decided that we didn’t want to do the ‘day trip’ as we thought it would be too tiring for the Baguettes, indeed too tiring for Lucinda and I! This meant that we had to stop over and as we have found in previous holiday bookings, there are precious few rooms that can sleep 5. However Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz were planning on coming too so it gave us a few more options.
We weighed the options and decided that if we are going to do this then we are going to do it right and we were not going scrimp on the trip. Therefore, when we saw that there was a lodge that slept 7 available in the forest surrounding one of the hotels in Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, then there was only a negotiation over the price and for me to put the deposit on the credit card for it was the perfect choice.
We kept the whole trip secret from the Baguettes and over the next 9 months or so we nearly let it slip only a couple of times so as December approached they still knew nothing of what we had got planned. The question thus raised itself on how and when we were going to tell them. Our flights were very early on a Sunday morning so it made sense to tell them on Saturday morning, to limit the excitement factor and encourage them to go to sleep early on Saturday night. Coincidentally we were going to see a pantomime on Saturday afternoon (you will have to wait for the pre-Christmas write up to wait for that nugget) and Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz were coming to see that too, so there was an excuse for them to be at Bagnall Manor this weekend. So, the ‘when’ was decided just the ‘how’. I came up with the idea to design a letter from the man himself inviting them to visit him in his Lapland home (I hope the big man doesn’t mind the forgery). With input from a number of people at work the final plan was realised: the letter was printed on heavy paper, rolled into a scroll and secured with the red ribbon and bell from a Lindt chocolate reindeer then left (along with the chocolate reindeer sans ribbon) in the fire place with snowy footprints leading them to the prize.
They awoke on Saturday morning none the wiser of what lay in store for them over the next week. As they entered the lounge they noticed the scrolls. Lucinda and I ramped up the excitement (I think we were more excited that the Baguettes) and made them sit on the sofa with the scrolls on their laps. Then we allowed them to open them and Éowyn read it aloud to the others.
Every year I choose a number of very special children to come and visit me in Lapland before I get too busy sorting all the presents for the boys and girls.
This year I would like you to join me at my workshop and have fun in the snow with my elves and reindeer.
Please bring some grown-ups.
I honestly think that they didn’t quite understand what was being offered here. There was no scream of excitement but a slow build up of what lay in store. However, there wasn’t much time for it to sink in as Amélie had a swimming lesson, Éowyn’s best friend was having a birthday party and then Nanny Fran and Auntie Liz were coming down and then it was off to the aforementioned pantomime in the afternoon. Just enough time for them to pack some toys and try and get some sleep.
We had to be at the airport for 0400 the next morning so we got up at 0230 to get ourselves and the Baguettes ready before heading around the M25 (and M23) for Gatwick airport. Valet parking was worth every penny as we dropped our cars off with the attendants outside the terminal. It was then we realised how popular this trip was. The queue to check in was huge, but thankfully moved quite quickly. It was going to be a full flight. So after a spot of breakfast we headed to the gate and begun our trip.
The fun started on the plane with one of Santa’s elves onboard who encourage the children to fill in the entertainment packs that they had. They also had to draw a picture and write down a joke. There was a Christmas sing-along of the old favourites: Frosty the Snowman, We wish you a Merry Christmas Jingle Bells, etc. So we were in a Christmassy mood when we landed on a snowy Rovaniemi runway.
When we landed the temperature was a chilly -17°C and there were light flurries of snow. Perfect! We walked across the apron to the terminal building to pass through customers and collect our luggage. The baggage carousel was adorned with Christmas scenes and as we waited for our luggage to arrive Santa had sent more Elves to meet us and guide us to the Christmas-related named coaches. Ours was Candy Cane and our Bus Elf was Nutcracker.
Once everyone was aboard we were given a précis of what to expect over the next few days and what was going to happen on our journey to our hotels. The first stop was to collect our warm winter clothing. Clothing elves would be able to guess our sizes from looking at us and they would give us woolly hats, scarves, socks, gloves, snow boots and the all important winter suit. So fully equipped we climbed back onboard the coach and were dropped off at our hotels.
Rovaniemi, we were informed is the largest city in Europe, it covers an area of over 8000 km² but only has a population of 62,000 so although we were driving through the city one never felt like we were driving through a densely populated urban area. Our hotel was last on the list (and thus would be the first one the list for the pick ups) and as we were dropped off we were told our pick up in the morning would be at 0900 and we had the afternoon to ourselves.
We carried our luggage out of the cold and snow into the reception and were disappointed to find that we couldn’t check in. After travelling for nigh on 12 hours and after 5 hours sleep we were knackered. We also had missed the talk by our Thompson rep so we bought some snacks and hot berry juice and warmed ourselves by the log fire. There was plenty of literature on Rovaniemi and the surrounding areas and a copy of Icebreaker, the 1983 James Bond novel written by John Gardner. On the cover was a note saying to turn to page 14. The well thumbed copy fell open at page 14 and the passage where James Bond is staying at hotel in Rovaniemi: the very hotel that we were standing in. So we were in illustrious, albeit fictitious, company.
The talk by the Thompson rep was a little disappointing. Nothing wrong with him per se but the talk gave us no more information that Nutcracker had given us on the coach ride over and seemed to be geared to selling afternoon safaris. Our trip was packed with events on the mornings (and the gala dinner on the last night) but afternoons were free time and thus was an opportunity to sell some more adventures, something that we were not interested in. So a little disappointed we left the talk, collected our key and made our way through the snow to our log cabin. It took a number of trips to get all the luggage there but the cabin was excellent. Two double bedrooms for the adults and a mezzanine level with three beds for the Baguettes. It had a fully equipped kitchen, a lounge with TV, a wet room with Sauna and clothes dryer and in the lounge the all important log fire. I could have moved in permanently!
As we were going to be in the log cabin for the next few days and it was self-catering we needed to procure some food. So we headed back to the hotel, bumped into our Thompson rep to get the low-down on the town and whether there would be a supermarket open on a Sunday evening. Lordi Square (after that Lordi!) was the centre of the shopping district and just North of there was a 24hr Supermarket over the road from, what was until 2013, the Northernmost McDonald’s. We ordered a taxi and headed into town. Knowing that the Baguettes would eat McDonald’s we decided that it would be the easy option and ordered our meals. Éowyn was disappointed saying it was the worst McDonald’s in the world because it didn’t have fish fingers, fillet-o-fish or milkshakes; first world problems!
After we filled our bellies we crossed the road and checked out our first Finnish supermarket. We filled our baskets with breakfast items and sandwich ingredients with a plan to get at least one warm meal out over the next few days. We headed back to what was going to be our home for the next few days with our bounty. Stepping back into the warmth of the lodge we realised how tired we were and it wasn’t long before we all turned in, knowing that we had to be up early (although not that early) for the first of our adventures.
You will have to wait for part two for those adventures but in the meantime please enjoy the photos below and the 650+ that are sitting on the Flickr pages.
Peace and Love