It was during the first days of spring. Those days when you can finally open the doors and get out the garden furniture, to enjoy sitting outside to catch those first rays of sun of the new summer season. Exactly on that day I got on board a plane to bring me back to the heart of winter. With the fresh spring still in my head I landed at Helsinki airport to catch another plane to get me to the Arctic Circle. Minimum temperature for Rovaniemi was forecasted to be -15°C that evening. Why had the conference organizers picked exactly this remote and cold location?
Those of you who know me, know that I don’t mind this destination at all! I love the Arctic and I was looking forward to spending a few days with the people that promote it. The winning venue for the first edition of the Social Media for Tourism Symposium in Europe could not have been more applicable for me. My thermals and down jacket in my luggage I happily reported my presence at the registration booth at Helsinki Airport, ready for another Arctic Adventure!
In addition to the great location, the #SoMeT14EU symposium had another first: A conference opening keynote at 30,000 feet, on a plane to the conference location. After a welcome glass of bubbles and a snack offered by Helsinki Airport, we boarded Finnair flight AY429 to Rovaniemi. The other passengers must have wondered what was going on, when the inflight video came on, while Finnair social media manager Aku Varamäki showed us the social media ’emergency’ procedure in the Airbus A319 aisle. See below a video report of this event. I am proud to feature in several scenes.
The symposium started on the plane. “In case of a social media emergency, our social media strategy can be found in the seat pocket in front of you…”
A beautiful afternoon descent into Rovaniemi Airport, flying over the frozen Gulf of Bothnia. Finnair certainly treated us to a great flight experience!
Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus. So the airport is the official airport of Santa Claus too! Not that he needs planes to fly… It is a nice gimmick, that attracts thousands of visitors to exactly this place in Lapland.
We stay at the Santa Claus hotel, right in the heart of the small city of Rovaniemi. From the hotel you have a nice view on the modern streets of city centre.
After dinner we walk through the city, visiting the new Angry Birds playground and walking along the banks of the mostly frozen Kemijoki River. The Jätkänkynttilä (Lumberjack Candle) Bridge is one of the most notable landmarks of the city.
At the end of the evening we see a very faint, but clearly visible Aurora to the far north, with the Arktikum nicely lit in the foreground.
The next morning the symposium takes off at the famous Arktikum building, which combines a great museum of the Arctic with a research centre and conference venue.
This is our break area, right at the end of the awesome glass atrium, with views over the Ounasjoki river to the north.
This blog won’t describe all speakers of the symposium, but of course the most famous Rovaniemi citizen pays us a visit.
The great people of Visit Rovaniemi explained us how they convinced their online fans to vote for Rovaniemi as the winning conference venue:
The second evening we make our way back to the dark Ounasjoki river side at Arktikum to hunt for Aurora Borealis. Despite the crisp clear sky the solar activity is too low to see any Northern Lights. We have a great star party though!
The days are cold, but super sunny and nice. Temperatures during the day reach a scorching 0°C and the snow slowly disappears. The locals celebrate what they consider nice spring days…
After a great symposium we are invited to visit the Napapiirin Porofarmi reindeer farm. Spring has also started here. The large reindeer herd was released back into the forest for summer just a few days earlier. Only a few reindeer remain at the farm.
In one of the typical Sami Kota huts at the farm we are introduced to some local habits and stories.
We drink some hot berry juice and get a traditional Sami chiropractic treatment with a reindeer antler.
We also have the opportunity to experience reindeer sleigh racing. Well, racing… Only when the herder takes the lead the animals get some speed. Photo credit: Shardee Fox (@shardeefox)
It is a lot of fun to speed over the short stretch of lake. The herder says these are the last reindeer sleigh trips of the season. The snow will melt soon.
Most of us have a less speedy experience, as the reindeer keep looking for food under the thin layers of snow and we don’t know the reindeer word for ‘Go!’.
Of course we are super proud of our well deserved genuine Lappish Drivers Licence. It is a fun gimmick, perhaps on the edge of tacky…
No ordinary restaurant indeed. Rovaniemi-born Matti Korva is a genuine entertainer. Together with his staff he treats us to a true dinner show, involving great food and wine, live music, a guided tour of his great B&B, language lessons, a dessert boat and some more surprises. The evening ends with a sound and light show about… us! A worthy end to our symposium. The next morning we leave the Arctic.
Practical information: Located on the Arctic Circle in northern Finland, Rovaniemi is the traveller’s gateway to the Arctic (I used that title for another blog post last year). Several airlines connect Rovaniemi to the rest of the world, most frequently by Finnair through Helsinki. Rovaniemi is not only the tourism capital of Finnish Lapland, it is also a student town, as well as the government hub of the region. It advertises itself as the largest city in the world, as Rovaniemi municipality covers a huge area. Its roughly 60,000 inhabitants makes it a small city to most international standards. As the centre of the region Rovaniemi has several nice restaurants and bars, as well as several attractions. Santa Claus Village is the main tourist attraction, followed by Arktikum. Winter is the main tourist season, supported by several specialized tour operators organizing typical Arctic winter activities like snowmobiling, husky safaris, reindeer farm visits and Northern Lights trips.
Note: I travelled to Rovaniemi for the Social Media for Tourism Symposium (#SoMeT14EU), organized by Think! Social Media and local host Visit Rovaniemi in April 2014. I was invited as a speaker at this symposium. The reception at Helsinki Airport and the opening keynote on board Finnair flight AY429 were part of this symposium, as was the special conference package at Santas Hotel Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. The reindeer safari at the Poro Reindeer Farm was organized by local tour operator Safartica. Please note that my trip was not sponsored, just the conference itself was.