A long-awaited expeditionary treat on Friday which, as is the case with all good things, required rising at an appallingly early hour (4.30 am!), and stumbling into the airport long before the sun had even thought about peeping over the horizon. A flight two thousand miles to the North (along with a great many excited children, and deafening carols over the intercom) -
- and we were back at last in LAPLAND!
This was the only day in the entire year when we could fly directly from Cork to Rovaniemi - any other time it would involve several flights and several airports, but because of the Visit Santa tours, we were able to do it in one leap. Had to book it a long time ago to be sure of seats - these trips are always fully sold out. Didn't avail of the organised arrangements once we arrived of course, but took off on our own with a hire car.
It was wonderful to be there again, although it looked very different to the spring under its thick white covering of snow. Just look at those two gigantic snowmen: they even have real buttons on their jackets - were they specially made?
You only get a couple of hours of daylight at this time of year so far north, and by the time we reached the Santa Village, it was already dark.
Can you see that blue line across the centre of the picture, below the house eaves and bisecting the Christmas tree? That's not a camera error, that's the line marking the Arctic Circle.
The children were having the time of their lives, sliding down an icy slope and then running round to do it all over again. Certainly the young Irish visitors might never have seen snow before, so this was a very special experience. The atmosphere was wonderful, and everybody seemed happy and festive. The Laplanders were so welcoming and courteous and even the gifts for sale were genuine and handcrafted and worth buying. They have really done this Christmas thing very well indeed.
This placid reindeer, waiting to take people on sleigh rides, was especially charming, and wished us a happy time. You can't see it, but he has a birchbark flask of hot glogg tucked behind that tree, and takes a nip from it every now and again. Well, how do you think Rudolf got his red nose? But it's OK, they use forest tracks, not main roads.
Sorry? Well of COURSE I met up with Lene. Could I have gone to Lapland and not met her? I'd have driven any distance if necessary, but in fact she came into Rovaniemi especially to meet me at this wonderful cafe where the cakes are delectable; we hugged, and talked for ages over coffee, exchanged all the news and discussed ideas and projects and notions.
Lene's ideas for developing a whole miniature world within a dolls' house, trying every possible craft in micro size, has caught my imagination so much that we were excitedly suggesting things to each other in rapid succession. It's the perfect notion, really - to try your hand at all the old traditional ways of working, but without needing an entire acreage of space in which to do it. It matched with some ideas I had of my own - tell you more about those in the next posting. Suffice it to say for now that Lene and I are going to have a lot of fun swapping experiences.
A quick visit to Lene's own LYS was of course essential; didn't intend to buy anything, but somehow this ball of Austermann Step in the irresistible turquoise and grey colourway reached out and clutched my hand; and then this big fat cake of soft grey natural roving coughed gently and said it would quite like to come home to Ireland with me too. I foresee felting fun with that.
Later in the evening, Richard and I drove north into the quieter lands beyond the lights of Santa's Village, hoping to see the Northern Lights. They, however, were keeping counsel elsewhere and didn't grace us with their beauty. But again, that is as it should be. They aren't there to be switched on like Christmas illuminations, but choose their own time and place. Sometime, if I am fortunate, I will see them. We did, though, see several wonderful shooting stars, which was magical out in that vast silence.
And then it was time to turn back to the airport and rejoin the crowds of children, many of them dragging their feet a little now, and clutching their furry reindeer toys closely as they shuffled to the waiting plane.
Even there, Lapland held charming surprises. This is Hanna, a guide waiting for her next group, passing the time crocheting a lovely shawl and cap for her sister's Christmas gift. She's working the Solomon's Knot pattern on the shawl and was delighted to show me her work. The Finns are proud of their crafting skills.
Here is my last glimpse of Lapland, with the fiery reindeer leaping into the night sky. Oh I didn't want to leave. But I'll be back.