Seeing the Northern Lights was one of those experiences never to be forgotten, but as we didn't get back to the hotel until sometime after 3 a.m., it also meant not getting much sleep as we faced our last day in Finnish Lapland. It'd snowed during those few hours we were asleep, but the plows were busy at work clearing the streets as we walked from the Guesthouse Borealis to the Arktikum, one of Finland's best museums (according to Lonely Planet):
It didn't disappoint. The Arktikum is an ambitious museum that attempts to educate visitors about many aspects of life in Finland's north, from the culture of the indigenous Sámi people and the history of Rovaniemi to interactive displays on the region's fauna and flora, and for the most part it succeeds:
Another highlight of the Arktikum is its glass tunnel that stretches out from the museum's entrance to the frozen Ounasjoki, and a snowpack measured at 74 centimeters (30 inches):
Following a surprisingly good buffet lunch at the museum restaurant (featuring curry chicken and rice) and some further exploration of the displays, we exited the Arktikum and went next door to the Pilke Tiedekeskus, another museum. Housed in the basement of the Metsähallitus (Finnish Forest and Park Service), it's a collection of hands-on exhibits on Finnish forestry. Amber enjoyed all the environmentally-conscious interactive displays...:
...even the not-so-PC bear and moose hunt simulator (this is Finland, remember):
A pleasant surprise upstairs, where there was a display on modern Japanese arts and crafts from Yamaguchi 山口 and an opportunity to bring out my rusty, deteriorating 日本語:
Eventually the time came to say goodbye to Rovaniemi and return to Helsinki. We landed at the airport there in the midst of a raging snowstorm which managed to subside somewhat by the time we hauled our bags through the snow from the central train station to our previous accommodations, the Hellsten Helsinki Parliament. We were even given the same apartment. The view from the bedroom window:
A drawback to staying at apartment hotel and in a room with a kitchenette is that breakfast is left to your own devices. There is the Cafe Morocco across the street, however, which offers fried eggs on toast, pastries and coffee at a 10% discount for hotel guests:
As checkout wasn't until noon, the girls decided to relax in the room on Thursday morning, so I went for a walk. Just a few minutes on foot from the hotel is the Temppeliaukion Kirkko. This Lutheran church, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, was built in 1969 out of the solid rock that lies just below the ground (and in many places sticks out of it) in Helsinki. With its wood-and-stone interior (capped with a copper-stripped roof 24 meters in diameter), the Temppeliaukion church represents an idealized Finnish connection with nature, the antithesis of the ornate medieval cathedrals you usually expect to find in European cities. No wonder it's a popular tourist draw:
Just before noon, we checked out of the Hellsten Helsinki Parliament and took a taxi to the ferry terminal, where we boarded a Tallink Line ship for the two-hour trip from Helsinki to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The ferry pulled away from the Helsinki waterfront just after 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon:
The ride was largely uneventful, and we spent the time having lunch, then checking out the shops and supermarket on board. We also went outside onto the "sun" deck (notice the ferry headed in the opposite direction to Helsinki in the background):
About halfway through the voyage conditions started to deteriorate, and the ferry began to rock from side to side as it continued on its way to Tallinn:
Despite the short duration of the trip, there were people napping in the hallways, most likely long-distance truck drivers taking a break before the next legs of their long hauls:
It was snowing as we arrived in Tallinn, but it was only a short taxi ride from the ferry terminal to our next accommodations, the Old House Apartments, where we were given an apartment overlooking the Town Hall Square in the city's Old Town. After dropping off our things, we set out to explore our new surroundings.
To be continued...