What an incredible experience: the snow castle of Kemi in Northern Finland. I visited this unique gem in early February.
This unique castle made of snow and ice, is the biggest snow fort in the world and gets rebuilt every winter. The first snow castle in Kemi in 1996, drew on average 300 000 visitors.
The area covered by the castle has varied from 13 000 to over 20 000 square meters. The highest towers have been over 20 meters high and the longest walls are over 1000 meters long, and the castle has had up to three stories.
Despite its varying configurations, the snow castle has a few recurring elements: a capel a restaurant, and a hotel.
A Unique Dining Experience
Visit The Snow Restaurant for a unique dining experience, with ice tables and seats covered with reindeer fur to keep you warm in this – 5 degrees Celsius setting.
The Snow Hotel
Why not stay the night and live as the Eskimos did back in the day?
This hotel offers you a choice of double rooms and a honeymoon suite, all of which are decorated by local artists using local materials.
For most people, a trip to northern Norway, Finland, or Sweden means viewing the famous northern lights, but these Scandinavia countries have so much more on offer than just their spectacular light shows. They house Europe’s northernmost indigenous people and showcase snow-filled landscapes dotted with reindeer.
The Sami people (formally known as Lapps or Laplanders) have dated back to as early as 98 A.D. They can still be today found inhabiting
the northern regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. It is suggested that the term Lapp in Scandinavian languages refers to “a patch of cloth for mending” which could possibly be descriptive of the Sami’s traditional “gakti” clothing.
Traditionally these Sami people have pursued a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing (amongst the Norwegian Sea Sami) and reindeer herding (amongst the mountain Sami).
Despite having been previously discriminated against by these European countries, the Sami people are the only individuals that today can legally herd reindeer due to their cultural lineage. Just over 2800 Samis are considered reindeer nomads for herding on a full-time basis.
Historically, reindeer provided the Sami with a means of transport, a source of food, and fur to keep warm from the bitterly cold weather of the Arctic. Today, it is their main source of income.
To make up for past suppression, the authorities of Norway, Sweden, and Finland now make an effort to promote Sami culture and language. Many Sami artifacts can be found in local museums around these neighboring countries.
Day and evening tours to see the Sami are also on offer. Daytime trips provide you with scenic views of the wild mountains, while on the evening trips, you will be served a traditional hot Sami meal, enjoy Sami storytelling, view cultural artifacts, and take part in the traditional Sami song of junk. Later, go reindeer sledding under the northern lights.
Unlike any other deer species, both the male and female reindeer have antlers. Males lose their antlers in winter or spring, but females shed theirs in the summer. Reindeer antlers grow back in a few months.
#4 Reindeers are adapted to the cold weather
Their fur traps air providing them with excellent insulation. It also keeps them buoyant in the water while migrating across rivers and lakes.
Their noses warm the air they breathe before it enters their lungs keeping their mucous membranes moist.
Sami tents, commonly known as Lavvu, are temporary dwellings used by the Sami people. It is designed similarly to a Native American tipi but is less vertical and more stable in high winds. It consists of three or more forked poles and several straight poles. The forked poles have a two-stem fork at the top end and are interlocked so that they form a tripod. Upon the assembly of the forked poles, the straight poles are laid in a circular fashion.
Inside the lavvu, there is a fireplace in the middle used for heating. The smoke escapes through the smoke hole in the top of the lavvu that is usually left open. Occasionally a rough blanket is wrapped around the smoke hole to make the opening smaller, but not to the point where smoke would be prevented from escaping. In order to prevent smoke from building up inside, proper air circulation is maintained by leaving an opening between the ground and the cover, or leaving the door slightly open. Keeping the fire hot enough to let the heated smoke rise through the smoke hole is necessary.
Traditionally, there was a smaller door in the back of the lavvu, opposite the front door, called the bear door. This was used for ceremonial purposes, such as removing the dead (not appropriately out of the front door) and similar functions.
I impulsively rang up my sister and excitedly told her that I was postponing Christmas and heading to the North Pole early in 2016.
“I am spending the season with THE official Santa Clause, his elves, and his reindeer. I am trading in a sunny South African Christmas for a white-filled landscape with lit-up Christmas trees dusted in white snowflakes. I am flying to the Arctic Circle – Lapland to be precise and spending time at the Santa Clause Village in Rovaniemi, Finland. I am going to feel this Christmas spirit again”. She laughed.
No exaggeration. This is exactly how it happened. 2 weeks before my departure date I booked my ticket on Cheap Flights before anyone can convince me otherwise. Once I set my mind to something it’s very seldom anyone can change it.
My late dad had this fun obsession with Christmas. He would go out of his way each year to make Christmas magical for his 3 children, with so much happiness, joy, and excitement. It was a time of year for him when people displayed kindness, and were more generous. A time when people believed in magic and were encouraged to dream. A time of celebration with those loved ones around you. A time to bring out that inner child within yourself. For as long as I can remember – It was his favorite day of the year. He never lost that joy.
His birthday was coming up in Jan, and the anniversary of his death was in early Feb, so I decided to do something to celebrate his life over that period and feel that joy again. He would be proud!
It’s been 4 years since I felt such happiness towards my favorite season. And each year I try my hardest to celebrate and feel what I have felt before, but tragedy strikes just when I am in the process of building up that excitement and I end up feeling overwhelmed with heartache and negative emotions.
It happened again this year.
By the way . . . my birthday is on Christmas too.
So instead of complaining about the Christmas I had, I thought I would revisit one of my favorite “postponed” Christmas memories in Rovaniemi early on this year that I hadn’t blogged about yet.
A snow globe and postcard experience
I flew straight into Rovaniemi from Iceland and was greeted by a beautiful Finnish winter wonderland. Shortly after receiving my rental car, I headed straight to Santa Clause’s Village a few minutes away. I was so excited to find my inner child and get lost in the wonder of the holidays. And of course – to meet the ONE AND ONLY Santa Clause and his reindeer.
I had butterflies in my stomach. There was no doubt in my mind that I had been good all year so I knew Santa would welcome me with open arms. His workshop looked like the most elaborate toy-making factory! Elves hard at work greeted me whilst I hurried along the path to see Santa, singing under my breath “Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I am telling you why; Santa Clause is coming to town…. ” Oh! The excitement!
I felt nothing but pure, sincere happiness. Santa greeted me by name and knew that I was from South Africa. I couldn’t help but give him a hug with a big cheesy grin plastered all over my face.
He is everything I had always imagined. He was kind and generous and I felt such warmth from him that it was hard not to feel loved. I sat with him for 20 minutes and spoke in depth with him about my photography goals, the reason I had come to visit – to honor my dad, and spoke about my wish for 2016. To end it happy, in love, with a companion by my side. To have someone I could create new Christmas memories with. I promised him that I would be good all year in the hope that he would grant me this wish.
I left him with peace in my heart and hope for my future.
Standing on the Arctic Circle Line
Another dream came true – I stepped on the Arctic Circle line. I always wanted to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to stand on the most northerly part of the five major circles of latitude that marks the maps of the Earth.
A winter wonderland filled with unique holiday activities
The rest of the village was beautiful and filled with so many amazing things to do. You can enjoy traditional Lapland cuisine, pick up the best Christmas souvenirs, take a reindeer sled ride, visit the snow hotel, enjoy a snowmobile safari, have a drink in the ice bar, and even send a postcard home straight from the North Pole. And I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the activities you can do.
Whilst commercialized over the years, the village still has that authentic Christmas charm that will leave you in awe and wonder. I will definitely be back one day with my own children. Imagine a child’s excitement if an adult can enjoy it this much.
If you would like to postpone Christmas as I did – I highly recommend booking a trip to Rovaniemi, Finland. Santa’s Village is located 8km outside of the city center in a town called Napappiri. If you don’t want to rent a car you can hop on bus no . 8 from the city center for a few euros or grab a taxi for around €20-25.
I am sitting in my office in complete solitude with sadness in my heart reflecting back on my past year of heartache.
I started off my year on a positive note in search of myself again, after 2015 left me battered and bruised. I booked a few plane tickets to Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, in my determination to make 2016 count.
As kids, we always want to grow up, but what other adults don’t tell you is how tough life gets the older you are. You endure and push through really tough and challenging years, and each new year you enter with renewed hope for the future. You grew as a person through every mountain you climbed over and through every storm you faced. You promised yourself that the lessons you have learned will not repeat themselves in the new year, and develop new goals and visions for your future. Happiness doesn’t have to be something that is short-lived. It doesn’t have to be something that in the blink of an eye it is all gone. It doesn’t have to be something that comes quickly and leaves just as quickly. Each year gets harder and harder to find that happiness.
In January, I had no idea that my trip to Scandinavia would become my personal metaphor for change and personal development. I embarked on my personal journey along a road filled with many twists and turns, extreme weather conditions that caused a sudden change in direction, road works along the way that ground my journey to a halt. This trip reminded me of one of my favorite sayings – If you don’t know where you are going – any road will take you there. It couldn’t ring more true now looking back. This metaphor was a constant to every trip that followed – A road trip to KZN and Mpumalanga, Morocco, the Drakensberg, and the Kruger National Park. Through these journeys, I grew as a person.
16 days in Scandinavia was amazing. I challenged my own boundaries and did something that I thought I could never do. Rented a car, and traveled through extreme weather conditions. I had never driven on the right-hand side of the road before, or the right-hand side of the car, let alone in snow storms, often throughout the night chasing the northern lights. I did it because I believed I could. There were times in this journey when I lost my way, despite never having carried a map along with me. I knew where I wanted to go 90% of the time, and I knew that I would quickly find my way. Sometimes life is like that, we don’t get a map for this thing called life, but we travel on the journey in the hope that it will take us where we are meant to be. We let go of all the fear within us, and we just live and enjoy the ride as best as we know how.
There were times, I lost control of my rental by quickly breaking during snow storms. I spun 360 degrees before my car came to a standstill. The feeling of the loss of control overwhelmed me. Life does that to you – it throws life-changing experiences at you that push you to a standstill – you lose control during those moments, and are forced to push through – not always in the best ways – but in ways that you know how. You don’t stand still for very long, you gain control of your car again, and keep traveling along your journey. Each time making you more and more cautious.
In Norway, I made the simple mistake of not checking the weather forecast – and it could have cost me my life.
I missed a 100m avalanche by 8 minutes driving through the mountains en route to Sommarøy islands. I just made it through the road, before the snow came crashing down covering my route. It reminded me to be conscious of the decisions I make in my life, and to be careful who I let on this journey with me. Some people will drag through that avalanche.
I wasn’t able to make it back that way – the road stayed closed for 2 days. This is the strategy I develop when dealing with life problems. I go into solitude and my road will stay closed for as long as it takes for the snow to melt – for those wounds to heal – for me to heal from life’s betrayals. During this time, I undergo road works myself. Road works serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things. Holes in the road are filled up from the core, smoothed, and covered with a layer of tar. All the tiny gaps that remain are patched up. The development of the road paves the way for the future and for all those to cross its path.
2016 was a year of that for me. Life got me down 366 days this year. 2016 left me with no time to patch up those wounds.
The death occurred in abundance for me. I lost those dear to me, my “people”, my support structures, my rocks, my mentors. I am funeral hoped for the most part. Others in my life were my biggest critics and turned their backs on me when I needed it the most. Friends and family. I went through a year of drug rehab with someone close to me, after he tried to commit suicide with a drug overdose. I was emotionally abused in a relationship that I was lucky it was short-lived. I forgave my mother, only to have history repeat itself. My staff caused havoc in my business which resulted in my decision to continue as a one-man show. I moved 4 times this year. I landed up in the hospital twice, with a heart attack and stroke scare. Before I could turn 32, I suffered internal bleeding and severe bloating again for the 3rd time this year. My body can’t take all this stress. And I went through another breakup – this time with someone I really cared about. The instability and uncertainty of my ever-changing environment are unsettling.
I put my faith in other people so unselfishly, wore my heart on my sleeve, and forgave time and time again to not be appreciated, to not receive love. If there was one gift I could have wished for this year is to feel the presence of love close to me. A kind of love that is so unconditional, that helps you grow.
On this last day of 2016, I am doing roadwork on myself. Finding the strength within me to keep pushing forward into a new year with a renewed mindset along with those that have chosen to stay by my side. Despite all the “holes” that developed this year – there were a lot of people that I met along my journey, that have played their part in making me whole again. I am forever grateful.
It’s important for me to be okay, my career depends on it, and all my faithful fans depend on it. I depend on it.
Looking back I started my year with this beautiful waterfall, and ironically my last relationship ended recently with a waterfall in the Sabie area. He didn’t want to visit a waterfall, but I did. I wanted to go because it formed the foundation of my 2016, I traveled the world for these marvels. And would have liked to have ended it with just one more.
Symbolically water represents Life, Motion, Renewal, Blessing, Intuition, Reflection, Subconscious, Purification, and Transformation. Maybe water and all of its compound forms are a representation of where I am now in my life. Maybe I am being reminded of all the personal growth I achieved, and I am close to where I am supposed to be.
Similarly, snow has played a huge role in my life all year. Eastern cultures use the color of the snow-white to represent mourning and death. Deep and falling snow is particularly used to represent hardships or death. Melting snow can be used to symbolize a new beginning or the end of hardships.