Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Gateway

After I left Oulu, I took the train to Rovaniemi.  It's a city touted as the "gateway to Lapland."  Most of the guidebooks described it as "bleak."

I arrived in town about 6pm.  Hauled myself to the guesthouse where I was going to stay. I realized immediately that the streets where not going to be easy to navigate. The map I had made it guesswork to find anything.  I read later that the city designer (Alvar Aalto) planned the streets in the shape of a reindeer's head complete with antlers.  Fun concept; pain the neck for tourists.

My room was three blocks away from the train station, but I took a few wrong turns up the "antlers" before I found it.  I'm one of those travelers that needs a room that is clean, safe, quiet and has a shower somewhere in close vicinity.  Beyond that, I don't care.  This place was perfect (and the least expensive place I stayed on an otherwise rather expensive trip).

So, I dropped off my luggage in my room and set out walking around the city.The city seemed to be full of concrete  buildings. None of the style of Helsinki and none of the charm of Oulu. They did, however, have a quirky collection of moose sculpture. I came to a snotty conclusion that this city was in fact, bleak.

But then I was walking back to the guesthouse I was staying at and saw this sculpture up on a hill.  I decided to check it out.

Next to the sculpture was this long concrete wall.

And on the wall was the story of the city in photos. The first two pictures showed the city in the early 1940's.  You can see charming wood houses.

In October of 1944, at the end of World War II, retreating German forces received orders to destroy all buildings. I stood at that wall and looked at the photos for a long time. Stunning. I also felt more than a little guilty for being so snotty about the lack of architecture earlier in the day.


You may also remember that the 1952 summer Olympics were held in Helsinki.  The Finnish government requested that Rovaniemi do it's best to pull the city up from ruins in time for the games.  Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto developed the (earlier cursed) city plan and up a new city went.  I suddenly had a new respect for all things Rovaniemi.

And then I discovered one of the best museums that I have ever visited.  I bought an entrance ticket to the Arktikum thinking that I would spend a couple of hours inside.  4 hours later, they had to force me out of the building at closing.  I loved, loved, loved this museum.  I could have spent 3 more days there.

After getting kicked out of the museum, I was walking back to my hotel, when I spotted this building.  It was obviously an old log house.  The sign on the door said they sold local crafts.  It was closed for the day, but the next morning I got up and made a bee line here.


I chatted with the guy working in the store (while I bought out most of his inventory).  I asked him how the buildings on this spot had survived during WW II. He told me that they had been located out on the woods outside of town and had been relocated to this spot. He also told me he had relatives in the USA, and there was a moment of shock when he told me they were in a state named "Minnesota."  He thought I was joking when I told him that was where I lived.

And finally, the flowers of Rovaniemi.

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