Ski resorts in Lapland

I have visited several ski resorts in Lapland. As I live in Rovaniemi at the moment it is easy to jump into the car and drive for some hours and reach the beautiful ski resorts in the winter time.

I visited Saariselkä in the beginning of January. It really happened to be the first sunny day of the year in Saariselkä. After the kaamos, the dark period of the year, the sun gets up again around January 8th in Saariselkä. At the top of Kaunispää, the highest peak in Saariselkä they say the sun gets up three times behind three different fells every day in January. The sun is at that time so low and only up for some hours. The slopes for downhill skiing are mostly used during the spring months March and April. On the top of Kaunispää there is the longest sleigh slope in Finland. It is 1200 m:s long and starts from the top and ends near the center of Saariselkä village. Saariselkä is a dream location for cross-country skiing enthusiasts with a bustling nightlife and plenty of shopping opportunities. Saariselkä is normally the first ski resort in Lapland to open its cross-country skiing trails and its treeless fell highlands provide magnificent settings for viewing the Northern Lights.

The distance from Rovaniemi to Saariselkä is 250 km and the distance from Saariselkä Airport is 27 km.

The ski resort of Saariselkä has captured my interest because of the open, treeless fells. The shopping is not that interesting in this resort.

The ski resort of Levi, about 160 km from Rovaniemi, is more like a little city even if it is only a small village. There is always plenty going on in Levi. Levi is Finland’s  busiest ski resort. It offers not only snow fun, but also a superb nightlife. This pleasant alpine village is full of boutiques selling branded products intended for the whole family. In Levi is also one of Finland’s largest spa. The distance from Levi to Kittilä airport is only 17 km.

Levi offers slopes for downhill skiing, but also many tracks for cross country skiing.

Every time I visit Levi I also want to go to the top of the fell. There is the restaurant Tuikku with a marwellous view over at least 5 fells in the west of Lapland. Tuikku is very popular among the downhill skiing people. It is a place where they take a break and something to drink. And the slopes bring you all the way down to the village center.

A visit to the Husky Park

One of the tourist attractions of Lapland is a visit to a husky park and a husky sleigh drive.

Husky is a general name for a sled-type of dog used in northern regions, differentiated from other sled-dog types by their fast pulling style. They are an ever-changing cross-breed of the fastest dogs. Huskies are used in sled dog racing. In recent years, companies have been marketing tourist treks with dog sledges for adventure travellers in snow regions. In Lapland you can find husky parks in almost every touristic village.

When you arrive to the husky park the huskies are anxiously waiting for customers. Because they love to run! They can hardly wait for the run to start. The husky howls rather than barks.

The dogs are of different kinds. There are leaders and followers. In the first row are always the leader dogs. The owner of the husky park knows his dogs well and divide them into leaders and followers. The customers can sit in a sleigh behind the dogs and the driver stands on the back of the sleigh. The ride is very fast as the dogs are anxious to run. But in parks where there are several dog teams running it could also happen the dogs suddenly stop to smell the urins from other dogs. They quickly continue on order from the driver. The touristic drive is not that long, but if you get excited about dog rides you can of course also order longer drives.

After the ride you can get an introducion of the dogs’ lives from the guide of the park. And you can also visit the area where the dogs not running are resting. They like people and are also safe with children. Occasionally there are of course also puppies in the park. The owners plan the shedule for when to have puppies and when not.

Some huskies have blue eyes and some have brown eyes, but there are also dogs with one blue and one brown eye.

The animals of Ranua zoo in Lapland give me so much pleasure

I love the Lappish nature with lakes, swamps, rivers and forests, specially in winter time. And the animals of Lapland give me so much pleasure, both wild animals but also tame or half-tame animals. Readers of this blog have probably already noticed I also love to spend times in the Ranua zoo near Rovaniemi. I visit there several times a year and I never get disappointed. And so was this day’s (March 20th, 2017) visit also very successful.

Ranua zoo has a new and rare resident. A polar bear cub was born on November 25th 2016 and has spent about 3 months inside the den with its mother, Venus. And finally, last Monday, the door to the den was opened and the inhabitants could come out. I had the chance today, a week later, to visit the zoo.

At my arrival I could just see the back of Venus as she entered the den for a short feeding of the cub and their mid-day nap. So I went to see all the other animals first. When I returned to the cage of the female polar bear and her cub, they were still napping. But my waiting was rewarded as Venus suddenly put out her head and sniffed in the air to be sure there were no threats to the cub outside. After that the cub was also allowed to come out. And how adorable it was! It has no name yet. The zoo arrange a name competition for the male cub on the website and the name will be final in the end of the summer.

The father, Manasse, lives behind the wall and he was very interested in the smells that came from the other side through a crack in the wall.

So far the cub will go without a name. When it was born, the cub weighed around half a kilogram, but now it is already 10 kilograms.

In the nature the male polar bears are a threat to the cubs. They could kill cubs just to get the female polar bear rutting again. When the female bear has a cub, and that could last for about 2 years, she is not the least interested in the male polar bear. That is why Venus all the time sniffed in the air to find out if there were any threating male bears nearby. The mother bear was looking out for the cub all the time they spent outside the den. There were not so many visitors watching their show today, but in the morning as I arrived there were several buses with visitors. And children from a kindergarden were singing out loud to wake up the polar bears. But that did not work and they went disappointed back to the kindergarden again without seeing the polar bear cub. I do hope they have the chance to come back one day.

The staff of the zoo are very proud of this newcomer, and for good reason, as it is extremely rare for a polar bear to reproduce in captivity. Special focus has been put on monitoring the wellbeing of mother bear Venus. She has now given birth to two polar bear cubs in Ranua zoo. Five years ago her cub Ranzo was born and brought around 150,000 visitors to the zoo. Ranzo lives in an Austrian zoo at the moment.

During this day’s visit the cup and its mother enjoyed the sunny weather and the snow in the cage. The cub wanted to play with the mother and jumped towards her several times. It was so sweet!

The Ranua wildlife park is open daily 10 am to 4 pm. You can stay in the park after closing time. Until 6 pm, if you want.

After the successful show at the polar bear place I also checked the other animals of the wildlife park. Next to the polar bears was the quiet place of the brown bears. That was quiet because the brownbears are still hibernating. They could wake up any day now, though.

Then comes the cage of the wolves. They were out walking in the snow and seemed very content with their lives. And so did the dholes, the wolverines and the lynxes. Especially the lynxes seemed to have the feelings of the spring in their hearts. It would be nice if they could have small lynx babies soon. The wildlife park is expecting a musk ox calf to be born later in the spring. Last year the first musk ox calf was born in the wildlife park. Ranua zoo is the only place in Finland where you can see musk oxes and last year’s calf was the first in 9,000 years to be born in the region of Ranua. The beavers also have small cubs at the moment. But they were all sleeping today during my visit.

The village of Inari in Lapland

I have finally visited Inari/Aanaar, a village in the north-east of Finland. As I many times already have been visiting the north-west part of Finland, Kilpisjärvi, I have put up a goal to some day also visit the north-east part. That finally came true last weekend.

Why I have postponed the visit to Inari for so many years is due to lack of company, lack of courage to dare to drive the long way alone in winter time and so on, and so on. Suddenly I found out I do not need any company to go there and winter was coming to an end so the roads were really nice and dry to drive. Inari is situated about 330 km from Rovaniemi in the middle of the “head” of Finland.

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Inari (Inari Sami: Aanaar, Northern Sami: Anár, Skolt Sami: Aanar, Swedish: Enare, Russian: Инари) is Finland’s largest, most sparsely populated municipality, with four official languages, more than any other in the country. Its major sources of income are the lumber (timber) industry, nature maintenance and tourism.

The municipality of Inari has a population of 6,783 (30 June 2015). The population density is only 0.45 inhabitants per square kilometre.

I started early Sunday morning and on my way to Inari, along road nr 4, I stopped for a short photo session on the top of Saariselkä Kaunispää, 250 km from Rovaniemi. The weather was fantastic and as I already mentioned the roads were in very good shape. No need to be afraid the car would not pass through.

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The view from the view tower was absolutely astonning. I could see far north the fells in Finland and there was snow everywhere. There were still winter tourists in Saariselkä.

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I have visited Saariselkä before, but that was during the Kaamos period and it was hard to see in the darkness how the nature was shaped. I was lucky enough to see the auroras in the night that time.

After Saariselkä there is the village Ivalo/Avvil before you arrive to Enare. Ivalo has an airport. The church of Ivalo is a modern creation. The former Ivalo church was burnt down by the Germans during the World War II.

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After Ivalo the nature changed. The road became also more curvy; not so straight forward as the road Rovaniemi-Ivalo. Along the road I saw waters, sometimes on both sides of the road. There was of course ice on them now, but I can imagine how beautiful it must be in the summer time with the lakes and the forest.

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Road nr 4 leads you directly into the village center of Enare. On the right side you have the big Inarinjärvi lake. As I arrived I realized there was a happening going on on the ice near the shore. The final reindeer cup race was taking place. As I already had attended a reindeer cup competition this year I chose to drive directly to the Sami museum Siida.

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The Siida museum was one of my main reasons to visit Inari and it was still open for 3 hours this day, as I arrive around 1 o’clock pm.

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Inari is the center of Sámi culture in Finland and the museum Siida presents the Sámi culture in an interesting way. Siida means village in the Sámi language.

The Sámi Museum Siida is the national museum of the Sámi and a national special museum in Finland. Its main purpose is to support the identity and the cultural self-esteem of the Sámi.

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The Siida museum presents the nature of northern Lapland in a very interesting way, but my main interest was today the handcrafts of the Sámi people and their culture.

After my visit to Siida, I went back to see the final races of the reindeer cup. The winner this year was Pikalaaki reindeer driven by Hanna Mikkola from the Pintamo cooperative of reindeer herdsmen.

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In the night I accompanied an Aurora safari around Inari. The company Visit Inari could provide me with a memorable tour and a perfect guide, Pekka, who could also help me with some camera settings to get perfect northern light pictures. The excursion lasted for 3 hours and we could see the auroras almost all the time!

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The next morning I also attended an excursion for ice-fishing with the same company, Visit Inari. Even if I see myself as an experienced ice-fisher I still wanted to experience fishing on the huge Inarijärvi lake, too. The excursion went by snowmobiles to some spots on the lake where the guide Mika had heard we could perhaps catch some greylings. The weather was sunny and nice and the ice was almost snowfree. The driving went well and we finally ended up trying to get some greylings from the holes in the ice. Harmfully, we did not catch any fish this day. We also tried on a place known for its perches, but without any success. In the end of the excursion the guide prepared a light lunch for us in the wilderness.

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My return to Rovaniemi started with some snowfall, but as I drove south there was no more snowfall and everything went well. I am so glad I finally made this trip. I had the opportunity to see the nice village of Inari for myself. Inari is situated so beautifully on the shore of lake Inari and I am sure the village is absolutely fantastic also in summer time.

In summer time the tour companies offer hiking tours, boat tours and fishing expeditions or just boat cruises on the lake. Definitively worth trying. Inari is not only for winter experiences.

Comments or questions are welcome.

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Checking out the newcomers in Ranua zoo

Today was a sunny day and 4 degrees celsius here in Rovaniemi, and I decided to make a trip to the Ranua Wildlife Park. I have not visited there since last spring and there have been some changes I wanted to check up.

At the cashier I was told the brown bears were still awake; they had not started the hibernation yet. That was nice to find out, because I was prepared I was too late to see my favourites, the brown bears, this time.

The Otters were taking a nap as I passed by, and after that I saw there were small cubs in the Wild Boars fence. They were digging in the dirt and did not pay any attention to me.

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In the Polar bear fence the male polar bear Manasse was swimming alone around in his pool enjoying the sunny weather. But the amount of visitors certainly did not disturb him nor inspire him to do any tricks with his toys. We were only a handful of visitors this Tuesday afternoon. His female friend, Venus, was moved to a fence of her own and she uses to spend more and more time inside the den. The staff of the zoo is certainly hoping for good news near Christmas about the birth of small polar bear cubs. The behaviour of Venus is pointing in that direction. I caught a quick glimpse of Venus as she was outside the den catching some fresh air.

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In the Brown bear fence it was just silent; the only inhabitant in the first fence, Malla the female bear, was probably inside the den to make preparations for the hibernation. Some orange left-overs outside the door showed she has been out eating them this morning still.

As I approached the fence for Jemma, the younger female bear, the humming voice told me she was there. She still licks her paws and the stone she is lying on and at the same time she makes the humming voice; like a content cat, just as she did last spring at my visit. I suddenly just felt sad about her. She was there all alone and had nothing else to do but to lick her paws. No visitors, no staff members, no friends. If you sometimes think you are bored and alone, you know how Jemma was feeling this day. The staff of Ranua Wildlife park had been manufacturing some tools to play with for the bears so that they would not feel so bored, but today none of the bears was playing with them. I like the idea, though.

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I miss the old male brown bear, Palle-Jooseppi, who has been put to sleep last summer because of his suffering from pains in his bones and his age, 28 years. He wa once found in the forest as a cub alone and abandoned by his mother and has been living in Ranua zoo since then. But this summer it was time for him to move to the brown bears’ heaven. R.I.P. Palle-Jooseppi!

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After the brown bear fences there is a new bridge leading to a new area.

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In the new area live the newcomers, the dholes or the mountain wolves. There are six of them. The oldest of them are Lymy, 8 years and Viuhu 5 years. The four younger dholes are only 2 years old: Jekku, Velmu, Raiku and Kuje. They were spread all over the fence at my visit. The dholes which were overseeing the gray wolves in the fence next to them, were making some nice voices. They seemed a little nervous about the near precence of the gray wolves, but they will probably get used to them eventually.

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The dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a canid native to Central, South and Southeast Asia. Other English names for the species include Asiatic wild dog, Indian wild dog, whistling dog, red wolf and mountain wolf. It is genetically close to species within the genus Canis; like   wolves and dogs. 

The dhole is a highly social animal, living in large clans without rigid dominance hierarchies and containing multiple breeding females. I wish the dholes welcome to Ranua and I hope they will find it nice and comfy in the zoo, even if the circumstances of course are nothing like being out in the wild. The dholes are endangered animals in the areas where they live.  

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After the bored brown bears and the nervous dholes, it was nice to find the wolverine couple playing together and enjoying each others presence. There will certainly be some wolverine-babies next spring.

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Another new comer in the park is the female muskox. The lonely days for the male muskox are over and they also seemed to enjoy each other’s company as they stood there eating hay together. There are no quick movements among the muskoxen; slowly, slowly everything happens.

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In the end of my visit in the Ranua wildlife park I stopped by to check on the Otters again. They were awake now and were really fuzzing around in the pool and the areas around that. They really seemed to enjoy each other’s company; the two male otters Harri and Olli. I wish they could get a female otter’s company soon.

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My conclusion of my visit is: there is really a need for a male brown bear and a female otter in Ranua Wildlife park now. The two female bears are so bored and would certainly be cheered up by a newcomer.

In the Predator Center in Kuusamoone can also get acquainted with some of the large predators that are found in Finland. At the moment, there are several bears at the Center, the oldest of which was born in 1992. Vyoti is probably the best known of all the bears. Foxes and lynx also reside at the Center. The man, Sulo Karjalainen, is living closely together with the bears, and he tells the press there are hugs and kisses between him and the bears almost every day. I wonder if there would be any suitable male brown bear to bring to Ranua zoo, that could cheer up the lonely female bears. On the homepage of the Predator Center you can among other thing follow the bearcam live.

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If you know of any other available single male brown bear, I would suggest you to contact the Ranua Wildlife park.

 

A letter to Santa Claus

Do you know who gets most letters in the world? Santa Claus, of course! Santa Claus’ post office at the Arctic Circle receives letters every day the year around from children all over the world. The nearer Christmas it gets the more letters arrive to Santa. Last Christmas Santa received more than half a million letters from 200 different countries. With less than 70 days to Christmas, it is time for everyone to send their Christmas wishes to Santa Claus.

The Santa Claus Official Post Office is situated at the Arctic Circle approx. 8 km outside Rovaniemi center in Finnish Lapland. It is open every day all year around. There the elves help Santa to open the letters and sort them out by country and when the Christmas rush is over they help Santa to answer everyone’s letter, too.

 

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You can also send your Christmas cards to your friends from here. There are two post boxes where to put your cards; one for the nearest Christmas and one for the next Christmas,

Santa Claus’ Main Post Office—the only official Santa Claus’ post office—is part of the official network of Finland’s post office, Posti. From Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, you can find a wide assortment of Christmas products, souvenirs, gift items, stamps, postcards and other products related to the collection and study of stamps.

A memory like no other from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office is a real letter from Santa. Here you can order the letter from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office in Rovaniemi. The recipient will receive the letter just before Christmas!

Since 1985, Santa Claus has received approximately 17 million letters from almost 200 countries! You can also write a letter to Santa Claus! His address is:

Santa Claus
Santa Claus’ Main Post Office
Tähtikuja 1
96930 Arctic Circle, FINLAND

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Outside the Post Office you can find an interesting point from where you can find out the distances to different parts of the world from here.

 

 

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In Santa Claus Village the Post Office is flagged with the official flag for Santa Claus Post Office.

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Just before Christmas 2014 the official Posti of Finland relised a new stamp with the picture of Santa Claus looking out from Ounasvaara fell over the city of Rovaniemi. There is only a limited amount to buy of this stamp.

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Brown bear cub Jemma in Ranua zoo

Do you remember the little brown bear cub in Ranua zoo, that got abandoned by its mom in spring 2014 and had to be taken care of by the staff? Well, now she has grown a lot since then and finally in August 2014 she got her name, Jemma, too. Ranua zoo arranged a competition among the visitors to decide the name for the young cub.

There was no problem between the bear parents Jehu and Malla, but in spring 2014 when Malla and the new born bear cub came out from the den where the hibernation had taken place, the staff in the zoo soon found out Malla was not kind to the cub. They decided to protect the cub from violence from the mother and took the cub away from her. Some bear mothers really are so violent to their cubs that they could even kill the little cub. And that was something Ranua zoo definitively did not want to happen to this cub.

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A very sad incident is also, that Jehu one day decided to escape from the zoo and got out through the fence into the surrounding forest. The staff of Ranua zoo took the hard decicion to shoot Jehu at that place, because they did not got him back in and he was not considered safe for the surrounding inhabitants of Ranua. At the moment the brown bears in Ranua are Jemma, Malla and Palle-Jooseppi; all three in separate cages.

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Well, Jemma grew up being fed by the staff from bottles. She did not miss her mother and she really likes the audience coming to watch her playing. She has come up with some special sounds as she is licking her paw. Sounds like a kitten. In between she looks up to see if anyone notices her skills. So adorable!

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You can follow more happenings from Jemmas life from the FaceBook site of Ranua Wildlife park.

Lapland has one of the largest Giant’s kettles or Devil’s churns in Finland

Hiidenkirnut in Finnish known in English as Giant’s kettle, also known as Giant’s cauldrons, Devil’s churns or potholes.

These potholes were created around 10,000 years ago, on the fringes of the melting continental ice sheet, by powerful meltwater flows which eroded the rock. Rocks and stones were swept away by fast flowing meltwater gushing through tunnels at the base of the glacier. In the case of Sukulanrakka, the meltwater also swept away the soil covering the rocky outcrops. As powerful eddies developed in the meltwater tunnels, the boulders carried by the flood began to swirl. Under the power supplied by the water, the rocks and boulders drilled down to the rock face underneath, creating round potholes known as ‘devil’s churns.’ Most of the rock material carried along by the meltwater accumulated to form a ridge running in the direction of the tunnel.

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There are 14 ‘devil’s churns,’ or potholes, on the rocky slopes of Sukulanrakka close to the village of Rautiosaari, around 25 km from Rovaniemi city centre.

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These potholes were created around 10,000 years ago, on the fringes of the melting continental ice sheet, by powerful meltwater flows which eroded the rock. Rocks and stones were swept away by fast flowing meltwater gushing through tunnels at the base of the glacier. In the case of Sukulanrakka, the meltwater also swept away the soil covering the rocky outcrops. As powerful eddies developed in the meltwater tunnels, the boulders carried by the flood began to swirl. Under the power supplied by the water, the rocks and boulders drilled down to the rock face underneath, creating round potholes known as “devil’s churns”. Most of the rock material carried along by the meltwater accumulated to form a ridge running in the direction of the tunnel.

Due to their depth, three of these are counted among Finland’s largest potholes.  The largest, “Devil’s soup bowl” lies at the foot of the hill and has partly collapsed. It is 8 metres in diameter and 15 metres deep.

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Two other devil’s churns, the Big Demon’s hide and Bishop Hemming’s churn, with depths of 9 and 10 metres, are located on top of the rock face.

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Here are a couple of stones from the giant kettles. IMG_6395

 

You can visit the area on your own risk, but there are stairs to use when you move up and down the giant stony area.

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Three smaller churns in the area.

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A picture from once when the churns were emptied and cleaned. tyhjä kirnu

Here is a map of the area, where you can find the 14 devil’s churns.

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The devil’s churns at Sukulanrakka have been known to local people for centuries. Many folk-tales have been told about these mysterious pot holes and about a demon who lived in these parts long ago.

When the demon heard that a Swedish bishop and his entourage were coming to convert the local people living along the river Kemijoki from their pagan ways. he resolved to get rid of these unwelcome visitors once and for all. He collected a huge pile of rocks, stones and arrows, and waited in ambush in a deep hole he dug himself in the bare rock. In the bottom of this devil’s churn the demon also brewed up a noxious potion to use against the invaders

There was a bitter struggle, as can still be seen from the massive boulders known locally as devil’s boulders which lay strewn around the area to this day. But in spite of all his weapons and his evil spells, the demon was defeated, and fled westwards over the Kemijoki river.

The devil’s churns at Sukulanrakka were first investigated in depth in 1966 and 1967, when the debris that had accumulated in them over the millennia was cleared out with the help of local residents, under the supervision of Professor Veikko Okko of Helsinki University.

 

 

 

 

What to do on a rainy day in Rovaniemi – Arktikum and Korundi

Even if I seem to point out that the weather conditions in Rovaniemi are always nice, I have to admit there are days in the spring time when the sun is not shining….. A nice weather condition for me is sun shine, no hard wind and no rain. The temperature is not so important to me; I like really cold weather as well as warmer weather. The eight seasons of Lapland have all their own weather conditions; both good and bad. People born in Lapland tell me the weather in spring time, in May-June, are the worst with melting snow and rain; everything looks dirty. This winter I think the wind has been stronger than earlier years, with several stormy days and milder temperatures.

Days when you do not want to go skiing, on a hike or otherwise spend outdoor, can be museum visiting days. In Rovaniemi there are the Arktikum museum and the Culture Center Korundi with the Art Museum; both worth a visit.

The Arktikum is a museum as well as a science center. Arktikum opened to the public on 6 December 1992, the 75th anniversary of Finland’s independence. It was designed by Danish architect group Birch-Bonderup & Thorup-Waade. The crescent-shaped new annex was designed by Bonderup and Lehtipalo, and it was completed in autumn 1997.

Local natural materials have been used in the building: the floors are made from Perttaus granite – the hardest type available in Finland – and from lime-washed Lappish pine. The chairs are made from birch and reindeer hide.

The most visible part of the museum, its glass corridor, is 172 metres long. The tube serves as the “Gateway to the North”, as the entrance is at the southern end and guests head north when coming in. As you walk in the glass corridor, there are exhibitions behind doors on both side of the corridor as well as along the walls in the corridor.

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Two separate actors use at Arktikum: the Arctic Centre and the Regional Museum of Lapland.

The Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland is a national and international centre of expertise on Arctic issues. It conducts locally and regionally oriented research, the high standard of these researches is recognized internationally. The Arctic Centre also provides education on Arctic issues as well as disseminates knowledge about the region and related research.

The Arctic Centre exhibition “Arctic in Change” introduces the people and animals of the Arctic as well as details the ongoing changes that are affecting the region. The exhibition showcases the Arctic Centre’s research findings, which deal with issues like climate change and life today in the Arctic region. Some of the pictures are a bit scaring when you see what the climate change already has done to the earth and the nature.

The Regional Museum of Lapland is owned by the City of Rovaniemi. It was established in 1975 and together with the Rovaniemi Art Museum it forms the municipal museum function.

The Regional Museum of Lapland is an expert on Lappish culture, prehistory, history, building heritage and nature. The Museum produces content on the North for use in education, travel and its other cooperation networks. The Museum is also an active participant in research on questions related to these things.

The Regional Museum’s permanent exhibition “Northern Ways” leads guests into the history and culture of Finnish Lapland. The exhibition is a real experience that provides an introduction to the stories behind the houses of old Rovaniemi before the war as well as to popular beliefs and superstitions about the brown bear and the Eurasian elk.

Temporary exhibitions display different related topics about Northern and Arctic life. This spring there are temporary exhibitions about the Geres – the Sámi sled; how they were made and used in old days.

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The Geres were like small boats “floating” on the snow behind a running reindeer. The Sami had different types of sleds for different purposes. There was also regional variation in different areas of Lapland. A driving sled, a decorated church sled was used for important trips to the church or courting trips. Goods sleds or caravan sleds could be either with a backboard, then called a backboard sled, or without one which was more common. Backboard sleds were used mostly by theSkolt Sámi. Those sleds suited well for transporting smaller objects and on the annual migration trips, which the Sámi used to make. Small children and small animals, such as sheep, were transported in goods sleds.

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A lockable sled, or a lid sled, was bigger than the other sleds; it could be 2,5 metres long and had a convex wooden lid. The lockable sled was used for transporting the most valuable things, provisions, alcohol and the best clothes. A caravan sled could also have a loose lid that was fastened to the sled only when needed.

Sleds were treated with tar to make them more durable and to prevent the wood from rotting. The bottoms were tarred once a year. From the early 1900s people started to paint their driving sleds in bright colors and patterns.

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This year the Lapland war is exposed in many different ways all over Lapland (70 years after the peace) and the Regional Museum of Lapland arranges an exhibition called “Wir waren Freunde – We were friends” about Germans in Lapland during 1940-1944.

A beautiful exhibition is the one about the Nature Photographs of the Year. Arktikum presents the winner of the Nature Photographs of the Year Competition. The winner photograph is “Dance of the Seagulls” by Matti Pukki. All photos are amazing!

Dance of the seagulls

The Art Museum and the Cultural Centre Korundi is situated in the centre of Rovaniemi. Korundi is easy to find as it is situated in the massive former post bus depot, built of red bricks in 1933. This iconic building is one of the few historical buildings that had survived the Second World War in Rovaniemi.

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Rovaniemi Art Museum sets its main focus on Finnish contemporary art and Northern art. In its yearly exhibition program the museum introduces works from artists who either work in the North or are born there. The exhibition program also includes exhibitions from the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation Collection as well as some interesting insights into Finnish and international contemporary art.

On Art Thursdays Korundi is open from 11am to 8pm with free entrance to the art exhibitions from 6pm to 8pm.

So, earlier this winter I went one Thursday night to look at the exhibitions from Petri Eskelinen’s mechanical pieces of art. The embracing machine “Mechanics of Embrace” was very impressive. Could be in use on the yearly “Hugging Day” on January 21st. When you move the former arms of the machine, the machine embraces you with arms around your back. Nice.

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On the second floor there was the exhibition “Crazy Forest” with Finnish contemporary art; all of them with inspiration from the forest. Artists have always been inspired by forest. For Finns, forest is a very important part of nature. Our wintry forest is full of snow. Hares are white and so is Pekka Jylhä’s “Bearer of Light”. This piece of art made me laugh as I entered the exhibition.

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The Germans in Rovaniemi, the evacuation and the reconstruction

First a little background information. It is not easy to understand the different movements and how the enemies changed during an era of a few years. I am not trying to make an over all description of the war’s consequences here, but only to explain the efforts the local people of Lapland had to take caused by the steps taken during the Lapland War in 1944-1945.
World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the majority of the world’s nations—including all of the great powers. It was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.
During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939–1940 after the Soviet Union had attacked Finland; and in the Continuation War of 1941–1944, following Operation Barbarossa, in which Germany had invaded the Soviet Union. After fighting a major Soviet offensive in June/July 1944 to a standstill, Finland reached an armistice with the Soviet Union. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944–1945, when Finland fought against the retreating German forces in northern Finland.
German operations in Finland expanded further upon the outbreak of the Continuation War, to the extent that there were already as many as 64 command stations in Rovaniemi in January 1942, employing over 3,000 people, mainly Germans. It is estimated that some 6,000 German soldiers were stationed in the town at that time, plus the Austrians, Dutch, Estonians and Swedes, who were working for them. That was a big amount of foreigners considering that the town officially had 8,200 Finnish inhabitants, many of whom were at the front. Almost every village in the rural district had German depots and other types of German military activity. There were at least 200,000 German soldiers in Lapland during a time of four years, from 1940-1944.
The presence of the Germans in Rovaniemi had a considerable impact on the local economy, reflected in the form of a continuous shortage of labour, a doubling in wage levels compared with other parts of Finland. There were a continued rationing and a lack of accommodations, which similarly caused rents to double. The Germans for their part, sold liquor to the local people, which is one reason why Rovaniemi at that time had the worse crime statistics i Finland. The drinking caused drunkenness as well as thefts and other crimes among the inhabitants.

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Although the behavior and customs of the Germans departed from what the local people had been accustomed to, daily interaction established close personal relations not only between the military and civil leaders, but also at other levels. The population was in general well disposed towards these alien troops and the local people even came to like the Germans. Many of the local people would have learnt at least the rudiments of German language, and some far more. Although most of the local women were unenthusiastic about the Germans, and the German military leaders specifically forbade marriage with the Finns, some Finno-German offspring (=illegitimate child) were born. Women, who gave birth to a Finno-German child had unfortunately no good reputation and many of them chose to leave Finland together with the German soldiers and go to Germany. They dreamed of a family and a better life there, but it happened they returned disappointed after some years. The Finnish government questioned these women as if they had been German spies during the war, before they could return to their homestead. It happened some women even found out their German soldier already was married in Germany and had a family, and so they saw no possibility to stay without a job and someone to support them and had to return home to Finland.

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When the Germans took over responsibility for the northern front, the local men were transferred to the main Finnish forces of the Karelian Isthmus and other fronts, where a total of 377 of them eventually died in action.

Finlands War

When Finland signed an armistice with the Soviet Union, problems were immediately expected with regard to the withdrawal of the German troops from the country. With this in mind, orders were given on 7.9.1944 for the whole of Lapland to be evacuated. Transports from Rovaniemi began on 16.9. and were completed in 22.9; in a week’s time (!). Since people from the rest of Lapland were also passing southwards through Rovaniemi and the Germans were moving northwards at the same time, all roads and railway lines were unbelievably congested. In the course of one week a total of 20,000 people moved from Rovaniemi to northern Sweden and 4,500 south to Ostrobotnia in Finland. They usually took their horses and cows with them, but slaughtered most of the sheep and pigs before leaving. Only a few men remained encamped in the woods to see how things would turn out. Some men were taken as prisoners of the Germans when found.
One man, who stayed in Rovaniemi during the evacuation, was Johan Moilanen. He had worked at a saw mill in Rovaniemi before the war. He had earned enough money to buy a little wooden house in Rovaniemi, on Vartiokatu, and the family had moved there. then he worked on the newly built Children´s Home as a caretaker. He managed to stay in Rovaniemi during the destruction, even though everyone thought he was evacuated, and he survived and had also in a strange way managed to negotiate with the German Army leaders that they should not burn down the house of Johan Moilanen and the Children´s Home on Ounasvaara. And so these houses were preserved from the Germans´ demolish.
As the evacuation began in September 1944, people tried to take all their most valuable possessions with them, as no one knew, whether they would ever be able to return. The official restrictions were to take as little as possible, but people still carried enormous numbers of packages to the railway station. The last evacuation train left Rovaniemi on September 23rd 1944. Surprisingly lot of the packages found their way back to Rovaniemi also after the evacuation.

Evakuering
The largest armed engagement between the Germans and the Finns in the Rovaniemi area was at Taipaleenkylä on October 12-14th, when the Finns failed in their attempt to intercept the rear of the German forces and 60 Finns were killed in the operation. During the Lapland War as a whole 1,300 men were killed. Over 90 % of the buildings in the villages Rovaniemi, Savukoski, Inari and Enontekiö were destroyed.

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The German began to destroy the town to the ground on October 10th, first demolishing the manor house of Konttinen and finally burning down the church on October 16th. The Germans usually left the churches untouched when ravaging the villages of Lapland, but in Rovaniemi the last thing they did before they left was to set fire to the church. They also destroyed the churches of Kemijärvi, Enontekiö and Turtola. A regiment led by Lieutenant Colonel Wolf H. Halsti tried to intercept the Germans north of Korkalovaara on October 16th, but was too late.
Within a couple of days they had also left the area of Rovaniemi, at which point the first demobilized Finns from the front began to drift back to the ruins of their home villages. The people who returned immediately after the war had to live for some time in cellars and temporary huts and temporary buildings.
Rovaniemi had been an idyllic village with wooden houses still in autumn 1939. Five years later there were only ashes and ruins left of the buildings.
The Germans destroyed 548 houses, 96 private commercial buildings and nine public buildings in Rovaniemi. Slightly over a hundred buildings in Rovaniemi were not totally destructed, although many of them were damaged. Almost all schools in the rural district were also destroyed. The outbuildings were also destroyed, as were most of the roads and bridges. Most of the villages on the lower reaches of the River Kemijoki below the borough survived. In Lapland as many as 14,779 buildings were destroyed.
The first civilians returned in spring 1945, the granting of return permits having been delayed until the area had been cleared of land mines and other explosives. The borough of Rovaniemi was declared safe by the end of June and the rural district by the end of July, although explosives were still found in some places in the following years, and are still found now and then during constructing works.

About 200 civilians and 54 men working with mine eliminations in Lapland were killed by mines after the war. All the local people had arrived back by the end of September, apart from 279 who had died in the course of the strenuous journey into exile.
The sight which the returning inhabitants saw as they came to Rovaniemi was only ruins and ashes. Of the houses there were only the chimneys left. Rovaniemi was for some time called “The Chimney Cape”.

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It was decided in March 1945 that the town plan should be completely renewed, a task that was assigned to the celebrated architect Alvar Aalto.
Among the first new buildings were locals for the provincial administration, dwelling houses and a number of schools. The new church, built partly with help from Lutherans in America, was inaugurated on 20.8.1950, but the Ounaskoski and Suutarinkorva bridges, which were important for traffic passing through Rovaniemi, were only completed in 1951. As all the bridges over the Kemijoki River had been destroyed, a temporary trestle bridge was built over the rapids of Ounaskoski at the point where the Lumberjack’s Candle bridge stands today. Even the trains ran on tracks laid on the frozen River Ounasjoki for two winters. On October 13th 1944 a train full of ammunition exploded on the railway station of Rovaniemi and the fire spread to big parts of the city.

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You can learn more about the Lapland War and the Germans in Rovaniemi if you visit the Arktikum, the Provincial Museum of Lapland in Rovaniemi and the exhibition about the Lapland War. There will also be a temporary exhibition about the Germans´ presence in Lapland from 1940 until the Lapland War started. ”WIR WAREN FREUNDE – WE WERE FRIENDS” – The Encounters of Germans and Finns in Lapland during 1940-1944 –exhibition opens on the 27th of April 2015, 70 years since the Lapland War ended. The exhibition lasts until January 10th, 2016. With this exhibition Rovaniemi tries to exploit the sad memories of the Lapland War to attract more visitors to the city. Especially Germans are expected to be interested.

Finland and Lapland received gifts of clothing and food from the United States. Some American Quakers lived in Rovaniemi from Christmas 1945 onwards to make sure that the help reached its right destination. In addition, the Evangelical-Lutheran parishes in the United States assisted in the building of a new church to replace the one burnt down by the Germans.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President of the United States, visited Lapland on June 11th 1950 to witness the reconstruction work in person. In honor of the occasion, the governor Uuno Hannula and the mayor Lauri Kaijalainen, assisted by Jarl Sundqvist, forest manager of the Forest Company Kemi, had a log cabin built at the place where the Arctic Road crossed the Arctic Circle. This can be regarded as having laid the foundation for post-war tourism in Rovaniemi.

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The cabin provided for Eleanor Roosevelt soon became too small to cope with the number of visitors, and the Borough Council started to build a new Arctic Circle cottage. In 1984 this was again extended further to create a whole Santa Claus Village with shops and cafés and a post office. The Santa’s Official Post Office frank letters and cards with the Arctic Circle motif and you can visit Santa Claus himself every day of the year today.

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The Arctic fox

The Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus), also known as the white fox, polar fox, or snow fox, is a small fox native to the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and common throughout the Arctic tundra biome.
It is well adapted to living in cold environments. It has a deep thick fur which is brown-grey in summer and white in winter. Its body length ranges from 46 to 68 cm (18 to 27 in), with a generally rounded body shape to decrease the escape of body heat. The Arctic fox lives in some of the most frigid extremes on the planet but does not start to shiver until the temperature drops to −70 °C (−94 °F). Among its adaptations for survival in the cold is its dense, multi-layered, pelage which provides excellent insulation, a system of counter-current heat exchange in the circulation within the paws to keep core temperature, and a good supply of body fat.

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The Arctic fox eats any small creatures it can find, including lemmings, voles, ringed seal pups, fish, waterfowl, and seabirds. It will also eat carrion, berries, seaweed, insects, and other small invertebrates. The Arctic fox has such keen hearing that it can find exactly where a small animal is moving under the snow. When it has located its prey, it pounces and punches through the snow to catch its victim. Arctic foxes form monogamous pairs during the breeding season and they will stay together to raise their young in complex underground dens. Occasionally, other family members may assist in raising their young.
Metsähallitus (The National Forestry Office of Finland) is responsible for conservation, management and monitoring species on the areas which it manages. In addition, Metsähallitus has the national responsibility of promoting conservation and organizing monitoring of certain threatened species.
At the moment Metsähallitus has extended responsibility for two animals in Finland, and those are the Arctic fox and the Saimaa ringed seal (Phoca hispida saimensis).
Metsähallitus is a state enterprise that administers more than 12 million hectares of state-owned land and water areas. Metsähallitus has the challenging responsibility of managing and using these areas in a way that benefits Finnish society to the greatest extent possible. In Lapland there are large areas that belong to the Metsähallitus responsibility areas.
Metsähallitus has been making researches regarding the Arctic fox since the end of the twentieth century and sadly to say, this year Metsähallitus did not find any activities in nests from Arctic fox in the Finnish Lapland. In fact the last time a nest from Arctic fox with puppies was found in Finland was in 1996 in Utsjoki in the very far north of Finland. The Arctic fox lives in the Norwegian fells on the other side of the Finnish border. In 2014 Metsähallitus checked on 213 nests from Arctic fox, but they did not find any marks of recent activity in them. Metsähallitus has registered 334 old nests from Arctic Fox of which 100 are in such bad shape they are not checked every year anymore.
Species of the Arctic fox were seen in Enontekiö and Utsjoki during last winter. About 100 years ago the Arctic fox was common in these areas, but has decreased dramatically since then. The reason for this has not really been found out.
WWF (World Wildlife Fund) works to make sure fragile ecosystems are supported and protected. They mitigate the effects of climate change to make sure the survival of the Arctic fox and other species.Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Warming temperatures are linked to many changes in the Arctic, including reduced sea ice, melting permafrost and rising sea levels and that could be one of the reasons the Arctic fox is moving north to the other side of the border from Finnish Lapland.
The Arctic fox can be seen in the Ranua Wildlife Park, Ranua Zoo.

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The brown bears in Ranua Wildlife Park love attention

After the hibernation the brown bears of Ranua Wildlife park just love to meet the visitors and get attention from people. On days with only a few visitors they are just bored. I went to the park early in the morning and made a round to the brown bears to check on how Jemma, the brown bear cub, among others is doing after the hibernation. She was just fine, sucking her paws and making a strange noise, like from a content cat. I was the only visitor at the cage and I could very well listen to her “humming”. But no other action was made from her side as long as I stayed there.

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After a short break at the hootchie with some fried sausages and sandwiches, I returned to the brown bear area. The igloo bar was not open, even if a sign at the entrance says it is open daily 11-15.00…

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At this time some groups of tourists had arrived to the park. They were also looking at the brown bears. Apparently the guide had told them to loudly applaud the bears and get their attention, as this had the effect on the bears they started to play and make funny movements. I joined one group and got the chance to see how the bears acted i front of a group and could compare it to how they acted when I was alone.

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Jemma’s mother, Malla, has learned to keep her back-paws and show it to the crowd. She got reworded for that with an apple or a carrot from the nice guide in the group. She continues showing her skills on and on until the guide tells her, this is enough, see you again tomorrow! I could see the bears very acquainted with this guide and she also told her group she used to visit here since she was 15 years old and now, as a guide, she returns regularly three times a week to see the animals.

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Next to Malla was also “the old man himself”, Palle-Jooseppi, the brown bear, almost 30 years old already. He was found in the wood abandoned as a little baby bear and brought to the zoo. He is a bit lazy and like to relax a lot, but he does not say no to an apple or two. He woke up on the call from the guide and took the position. He caught all the apples right in his mouth. And the tourists applauded his skills. He listens to the guide and rises his paws when asked to.

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Malla and Palle-Jooseppi live together in the same cage. It is a very large area. At the moment they do not seem to be interested in one another at all and spend time far away from each other. But hopefully the interest will wake up and they will make some baby bears next winter. Malla gave birth to little Jemma last winter, but unfortunately she abandoned the cub as they got out from the den together. For security reasons the staff then took the cub from its mother and placed it alone in a separate cage. A grown up mummy bear could even kill her cub if she does not like it.
Jemma’s father Jehu managed to escape from the zoo last winter and the staff did not see any other options, but to shoot him. He could become dangerous to the surrounding inhabitants of Ranua. And so, little Jemma spends time alone in the cage without a mother or a father. No wonder she has developed this habit sucking her paws and making the noise. The same noise is made by the cubs as the mother bear suckle them in the den. I feel so sad for Jemma.
Well, Jemma is used to people and wants their attention. She stood up in front of the group and danced and got rewarded with apples and carrots. That made her day, but also the tourists were overwhelmed.

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After that I did a short check on the other animals.

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As I drove back home to Rovaniemi, along the road the birches were “screaming”, “help us, oh Mighty Sun, to be released from this burden of snow!” “Send your warm rays and melt the snow around our crowns so we can stand up again!”
I love winter and snow, but spring is also a lovely time of the year, when nature wakes up again and birds return to the north from their resorts in the south during the coldest time of the year.

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Wir waren Freunde – exhibition at Arktikum museum

In the autumn of 1940, soldiers speaking foreign languages began to be seen at railway stations in Lapland and along the highway leading north to the Arctic Ocean. The local people looked in wonder at handsome German soldiers who appeared in their home regions and gradually began to take buildings and sport grounds into use. This marked the beginning of a four-year period of coexistence between Finns and Germans, which ended dramatically with the destruction of Lapland in the autumn of 1944 when the Germans withdraw from Finland and burned almost all buildings in Lapland behind them.

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This year Finland and especially Lapland celebrates 70 years since the Lapland War ended and the museum Arktikum has put together a nice little exhibition about the Germans in Lapland between 1940-1944. The exhibition is on show at Arktikum until January 10, 2016.

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From the day I came to Rovaniemi I have always heard about the Germans and their impact on Rovaniemi and Lapland because they almost completely burned Rovaniemi down when they left. I never found “the old Rovaniemi” as you usually find in every town. That is because there is no old Rovaniemi; the buildings are all built after 1945.

I little by little learned the history of how the Finns were forced to drive the Germans out of Finland by order from the Soviet Union. This was one of the conditions there would finally be peace between Finland and the Soviet Union after WWII. This started the Lapland War between Finland and Germany. I understood the Finns actually did not want to fight the Germans and the operation did take longer than Soviet Union had demanded, but Finland got the peace. But Lapland was to pay the price as the angry leaving Germans lit everything on fire. The Lapland War lasted between September 28, 1944 and April 27, 1945.

There were some 220 000 Germans in Lapland, about 6 000 of them in Rovaniemi area between 1940 and 1944. That is almost as many as the local population of Lapland in those days. (Today we say there are 200 000 people and 200 000 reindeer in Lapland). The amount of Germans were divided into 4 000 officers, 22 000 non-commissioned officers, 113 000 army soldiers, 21 000 SS soldiers and 30 000 air force soldiers.

As I visited the exhibition I finally got the answer why the Germans were here in the first place, which my history lessons at school had forgotten to mention….

In September 1940, Finland and Sweden signed transit agreements with Germany permitting troops and material required by the Germans occupying Northern

Norway to pass through their territory. As a result, the railways and roads of the north were filled with German troops and munitions in growing numbers. A wide range of active contacts that last for several years evolved in the region between the Finns and the Germans.

The second Wold War (WWII) was going on in Europe. Finnish-German military cooperation made North Finland a war zone for Germany troops from 1941 to 1944, but Finnish Lapland was not occupied by the Germans.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Three days later, Finnish towns were bombed by Soviet aircraft, and Finland now considered itself to be in the Continuation War against Soviet Union, fighting alongside Germany. The headquarters of the Finnish Army, under Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim gave the war zone of North Finland over to the Germans, with the Sixth Division of the Finnish Army under German command. There were two German army corps in Finnish territory; one in Petsamo and the other in the Salla region. Their supreme command was originally in Oslo in Norway, but the headquarters of the 20th Gebirgsarmee founded in January 1942, was located in Rovaniemi. The army’s task was to defend North Finland, attack Murmansk and cut off the railway leading south from Murmansk.

The Finns in Lapland considered the Germans to be handsome, had good bearing and sang cheerfully. In Rovaniemi the soldiers were enthusiastic to look after their appearance and one reason for that, was that barbers in Finland were women, unlike back home in Germany, where the barbers were only men.

By the autumn of 1941, there were over 630  German accommodation- and storehouse barracks in the Rovaniemi area. The various services of German information and cultural institutions such as theater, bookstore, artists’ residence and radio station in Rovaniemi were also enjoyed by local residents. In particular, the cultural facility know as “Haus der Kameradschaft”, completed in 1943, was an impressive building with 350 seats and a large stage. Finnish and German entertainers performed there, and the most popular events were screenings of films and concerts. The Germans would often give free tickets to their Finnish neighbors and friends.

 

The Germans in Lapland provided work for the Finns, too. Approximately 12 000 Finns were employed in the Province of Lapland by the Germans by February 1944. It also turned out that the Germans paid considerably higher wages than Finnish employers and many workers moved from one work site to another in search of better pay. Women were offered employment working as nurses, clerical staff, washerwoman, cleaners and casual laborers. Young people also had an opportunity to earn good wages at German work sites.

The Germans had a lot of professional skills that were not to be found in the outlying regions of Lapland. There were doctors, dentists or veterinarians among the Germans. I have read the interesting book in Finnish written by doctor Emil Conzelmann about his work in Rovaniemi during these years (Tohtori Conzelmannin sotavuodet Lapissa). The Germans also carried out a great deal of electrical and repair work for local people. (Which however they destroyed as they left Rovaniemi.)

Any Finn with the slightest knowledge of German was asked to be an interpreter.

The arrival of the German troops marked the beginning of a boom period for retailers in Lapland. Shops in Finland offered goods that were not easily found in Germany in those days, such as radio receivers, fur coats, women’s underwear and wristwatches. You can easily understand there was a boom in business as the amount of inhabitants grew by 100%. The Germans had Finnish money and they bought a lot of things.

Finnish women and German soldiers could come into contact with each other in many different situations. German soldiers on leave held small soireés and parties in their barracks. During the war, these were of course a welcome change and entertainment for everyone. According to newspapers, some thirty Finnish-German weddings took place between 1940 and 1944. According to estimates, some 250 Finnish women followed their German loved ones to their new country in the last stages of the war and afterwards. A sad story is about the woman, who had to return back to Finland again, after she was not found suitable to marry a German. She did not have the Arian look, that was considered ideal at that time in Germany.

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The exhibition tells about love stories between German men and Finnish women. You can spend a long time there reading love letters. In a chest there is something connected to the German period in every drawer for you to find out. There is also a desk with interesting documents and newspapers from the period.

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It is estimated that there are less than a thousand people in Finland who were born out-of-wedlock to Germans. Between 1943 and 1945, 264 children were born out of marriage in the township of Rovaniemi The children of Germans were a banned subject of conversation for many years, and even the mothers did not want to tell their children of what had happened.

 

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The Germans were friendly to children in Rovaniemi and could often give them sweets, chocolate and bread. As the soldiers had to spend a long time in a foreign country away from home they missed their families and children. The Germans also held Christmas parties and gave Christmas presents for young Finnish children. In smaller villages all the children and their mothers were invited, while in larger communities only poor families were invited.

Finns showed their hospitality by inviting Germans to the sauna, and it was impolite to turn down such an invitation. The Germans gradually learned that the sauna was not a health risk and they began to enjoy it. For Germans, the first time in the sauna was often a memorable event. They even started to call themselves “Saunisten”.

There are many stories about Generaloberst Dietl, the commander of the 20th Mountain Army during the invasion of Norway. He was regarded as pleasant and also described as a friend of Finland with a sense of humor. He required his troops to be friendly to Finns and also set a good example in this respect.

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After 1945 bitterness among the Finns against the former “comrades-in-arms” that was caused by the Lapland War led to decades of suspicion of all German things. Returning soldiers, who came to visit their brides and children left in Finland, were victims of repeated vandalism and German tourists would hear catcalls.

In Norvajärvi in Rovaniemi German organizations financed the building of a mausoleum in 1963 at the cemetery for the German war dead. On the opening day of the cemetery, local communists staged a demonstration with over 300 participants. Public opinion, however, seemed to take the view that the last resting place of the dead must be respected: “You can’t hate dead bodies”.

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If you visit this exhibition you will also learn there is an app you can get from AppStore or GooglePlay called “Kuvat eläväksi”. If you download that (it is for free; found under “Lapin maakuntamuseo”) to your iPad or IPhone you can, by pointing the camera function on the device towards the pictures marked with a red ring, get the picture alive and the person on the picture starts to tell you a story based on memories and stories from that time. Unfortunately only in Finnish for now. But it was quite surprising to see the people in the picture start moving. There are three such pictures in the exhibition. Ask the staff for help, if you do not get it to work.

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Seidas – where Sámis used to offer sacrifices

Seidas are holy places (Bálvvosbáiki) related to ancient Sámi culture. There are mentions in writing about the Sámi people worshipping trees and rocks dates back to the 16th century. Seida worship became less and less important and were even destroyed when Christianity spread in the 17th and 18th centuries. These places of worship were believed to be the home of Gods, spirits and elf folk. Seidas were often made of wood or stone. Seida rocks are typically individual, unusually shaped or coloured natural rocks. Most seida rocks in Lapland are noticeable landmarks and clearly stand out in their environment. They are found on shores of rivers, on the slopes of the fells and near paths where Sámis used to walk with their reindeer. In lake Inari there is an island, Ukko, which is also a seida for sami.

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Old Sámi religion was based on an animistic ideology, according to which everything in the nature has a spirit. In the hopes of favourable conditions, people offered sacrifices to the nature-dwelling spirits. The most important deity was Ukko, Äijih. The Finnish word Ukko derives from the word referring to thunder, ukkonen (like Torus, Thor). Ukko’s wife was Akka (Ákku or grandmother in Sámi). Other important Gods included the sun, i.e., Päivä (“Day”), as well as the moon, wind and water Gods. In pre-Christian Sámi culture, there was no term referring to religion. The seidas, deities and their worship were a natural part of people’s everyday life.

People used to visit seidas to honor the nature, but specially if health difficulties or other problems occurred.

puuseitaWooden seidas have appeared mostly in wooded areas, on the shores of good fishing waters. They have often been shaped by cutting the lower branches of trees or lifting a block of wood or a tree stump into an imposing position. At times, people carved features of human faces or figures in the wooden seidas.

Also fells, hills, steep cliffs, unusual gorges and saivo lakes could have served as holy places. There are many place names in the North referring to the holiness of the place and its possible use as a place of worship. Fishing seidas were usually located by waterways, sometimes even in the water. The seidas located on fells and hills have been used by deer hunters and reindeer owners.

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Every village (siida) in Lapland and several families also had their own seidas. A seida dedicated to the God Ukko stood behind many Lapp “kota” huts. The most important sacrificial ceremonies were related to turning points in the annual cycle. like midsummer or autumn, as well as the traditional rites in people´s lives, such as childbirth.

When a man set out to go deer hunting or fishing, he promised a share of his catch to the seida to ensure hunting and fishing luck. When he returned to the seida he offered the best parts as thanks; like bones, horns, fish or pieces of fish. The offerings were also meant to keep the seida in good mood. Sometimes the seida was even given spirits, tobacco, iron or money.

puuseita 2Some Sámi people think you should be ware of seidas and other sacred places, because of the curse, illness and enchantment that could be transported over to visiting people. Seidas also demand gifts from the visitors and you should not go near the place if you do not bring what the seida wants.

Many seidas have been forgotten over time, but several holy places have become important attractions of cultural and historical significance, and their history is kept alive in stories and legends.

Here you find information about a few seidas and mysterious Saivo lakes in Lapland, if you dare to visit them.

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Ice-fishing expedition to the Upper-North of Lapland, in 2014

Yesterday I returned from my yearly ice-fishing expedition to the North. This expedition has been the final of my ice-fishing season for many years. This year the expedition did not differ a lot from last year’s. We visited the same backwater on the same river as last year. You can take part in my story from last year’s expedition here.

We had beautiful spring weather all the time, a bit windy a couple of days, but sunshine every day. We spent 5 days ice-fishing. Thank to Protection 50+ my skin is not as tanned as it was last year. Thank to eye-drops my eyes did not ace in the evenings as much as last year, either. So, overall a very good expedition. We did not get so much fish, though. After five days of fishing we ended up with 50 fishes to bring home. We had greyling, whitefish and pikes. Even if we promised each other not to bring any pikes home this year, we ended up with 3 quite small and good-looking pikes. I remember last year’s 3 kilo pike we left on the ice in the evening for the foxes to take care of.

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I always have a little problem to see the difference between a smaller greyling and a smaller whitefish the first day, because this is the only days during the year I can fish greyling and I use to forget how it looks like. The biggest difference is in the fin on the back. The back-fin on a greyling is much bigger than on a whitefish. As the fish are bigger the problem disappear and you can easily see the difference. The upper fish is a whitefish and the other is a greyling.

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We stayed the nights as usual in the adorable cottage village of Ropinpirtti. Always friendly Terttu has always the small, unpretentious cabins in perfect condition. It is always a pleasure to return there to the cottages situated in between many fells of Lapland. We always laugh at the boot up in the tree….It has been there for at least 7 years now.

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We never spend much time inside the cabins because we are out ice-fishing 9-12 hours per day and only return in the evenings to fix something to eat and go to sleep. So we did this year, too. There was daylight for 15 hours already up in the north, and one night at 22:30 o’clock I caught this amazing sunset on picture.

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The snow and ice conditions in the “arm” of Finland were hard this year. The snow was about 70 cm thick and the ice 90 cm. But on the ice there were hardly no snow. From where we park our car we went about half a kilometer down to the river by skis and we could go above all the snow because of the hard crusty snow, but the sticks could go through the snow occasionally and the fact occurred to you; it was really deep snow. My ring on the stick broke one day and I was able to measure the depth of the snow that way. It was over half of the length of the stick…The power auger was a must to make holes in the ice. The 110 cm long auger barely could make the holes.

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But after the first day’s opening of the holes it did not really freeze during the nights, because the temperature was above 0 almost all the time.

Suddenly some reindeer occurred on the ice and went over the border to Sweden. The river Könkämäeno is marking the border between Finland and Sweden and we also crossed the border many, many times. After a while three Sámi people on snowmobiles turned up and asked if we had seen any reindeer, and so they went after the reindeer. I could not help wondering how valuable the reindeer were, as I saw the three rapid, modern snowmobiles they used to go after just three small reindeer…

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I did not catch fish all the time out there on the ice. Sometimes I watched the fish through the holes, as I also did last year. And sometimes I walked around on the river and I also watched the rapids which are on both sides of the backwater. This year the rapids were more ice-free as they were the same time last year. I saw a couple of the nice little black and white dipper (Cinclus cinclus) and also some mallards (Anas platyrhynchos).

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I did get some very nice fish, though. Just to mention some; the biggest whitefish was 890 g and I also got three pikes.

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The fish is most active in the morning and in the evening and at those times they are easiest to catch, but there are also active, shorter times in between when you also get some fish. But there will always be some dead time when it is suitable to have a break and fry some sausages by the fire. One of our expedition days we always visit the village of Kilpisjärvi near by and go and eat some delicious food at Kilpisjärven Retkeilykeskus’ buffet table. This year we went there out of curiosity to see how it looked like a year like this when there has been more snow than usual. Yes, there was still much snow, even if the roads were snow-free. From the daily paper I could also read there was still 146 cm of snow and 93 cm of ice during Easter last week in Kilpisjärvi. Kilpisjärvi is the last outpost of Finland just before the Norwegian border. You can also read about Kilpisjärvi in one of my earlier posts.

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So, after five successful days we put all the stuff into the car and headed towards Rovaniemi again along the Northern Lights Route, 450 km.

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Winter swimming

These days, on March 20-23, the Winter Swimming World Championship is held in Rovaniemi with 1,244 swimmers from 34 countries. There has been huge preparations on the shore of river Kemijoki in the city center of Rovaniemi for several weeks already. The Finns are keen on winter swimming, so this event suits very well to take part in Finland this year.

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In the ice on river Kemijoki there has been made a hole, 25 meters long with 9 lanes. The last few nights have been really cold with temperatures around -22 degrees Celsius (-7,6 F), and to keep the hole from freezing there have been pumps working days and nights. Around the “swimming stadium” pupils from the University of Lapland, the Faculty of Art and Design, have created sculptures fitting into the atmosphere of the Championships.

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This snowman was constantly surrounded by excited visitors of the games, who wanted photos taken together with him for memories to bring home with them. It was hard to get a picture of him without any people. The mascot of Ranua zoo, Jonne the Polar bear, was of course also visiting this event and anyone, who wanted a hug from him, got one.

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To get from the city center to the “swim stadium” you have to either walk the 850 meters along the Lumberjack Candle bridge, or take the snowmobile taxi arranged by Lapland safaris, that was driving non-stop between the city center and the stadium.

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Today on the first day of the competitions the Endurance swim 450 meters for men and women took place. Here are the starting lists for those, who are interested. The swimmers were aged 50-69 years. A lot of brave people, if you ask me! To go into the ice-cold water with only your swimsuit on and then swim 450 meters is really an effort and it tests your body’s tolerance to 100 %. Except for the swimsuit swimmers must wear something on their head, either a swimming cap or a woolen or other warm hat.

The competitors undressed by the pool and climbed into the water. Diving was prohibited.

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During the first run one of the competitors had a heart attack and divers had to bring him up from the water and they gave him first aid and an ambulance took him to the hospital for a check up. After this dramatic start the competition went on smoothly and swimmers who felt they wanted to end their run because they were not feeling well, were greeted by the audience and thanked with applauds for they braveness. No-one had to feel like a looser if he or she could not finish the run. All competitors are really experienced winter swimmers and all are winners and we all have our better or worse days.

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After the race the swimmers could immediately go into the sauna or to the hot tubs near the pool. There were a lot of staff helping the swimmers to get a warm blanket and their shoes on. Many of the competitors really did not matter about the cold outside, even though the audience were trying to keep warm by jumping up and down. This day’s amazing sun-shine did help the audience to keep warm, though.

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The area around the stadium has activities, product presentations and shopping possibilities as well as restaurant services and tourist information. The competitions continue tomorrow. The weather forecast are unfortunately not as good as they were today. Anyway, I think the arrangements around the IX Winter Swimming World Championship are really successful so far.

 

Rovaniemi

Detailed 5 day forecast

Nature paths in winter time

Before I arrived in Lapland I thought of nature paths as something you do in summer time or at least during snow-free times. But that thinking I had to change as I have found the nature paths near Rovaniemi also accessible in winter time, preferably maybe in early spring, when there still is a lot of snow, but the sun is shining from a clear-blue sky. The period of daylight is too short in midwinter to do any longer hiking tours in the nature.

People in Rovaniemi use to walk nature paths during winter, so the duckboard way is easy to find, but on the other hand, if the ground is frozen, you do not even have to walk along the duckboards, because the risk of stepping into water is non-existent. If you go walking outside the paths you could preferably use snowshoes, which is very popular, too.

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My favorite area of nature paths near Rovaniemi is the Arctic Circle hiking area, the Vaattunkiköngäs-Vikajärvi area. These paths I use to hike in summer as well as in winter time. To sit by the log fire enjoying your picnic and fry your sausages together with friends or alone surrounded by white nature and possibly in early spring you could hear some birds voices. The winter time in the forest of Lapland is otherwise a silent period. But in early spring the first migratory birds return again after they have spent the coldest period of winter in some warmer climates. I like this early spring period because it is easy to separate a bird’s song from others. Later in spring the forest is so full of voices, so you hardly could separate one bird from another. Just take your time and let the sun warm up your frozen face and open your ears to all the fantastic voices of spring! I also use to admire the different formations from the snow you can find if they are untouched. There is always the possibility to stop by a lake and do some ice-fishing during your hike if you have the equipment with  you in your backpacker. At the Arctic Circle area I on the other hand would not recommend any ice-fishing, because there is no lake, but a river with rapids and that is never safe to enter in spring time.  .

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strömstareInstead you could try to get a glimpse of the cute little bird, the White-throated Dipper, that lives by the rapids in Lapland and even goes diving into the open rapid water in winter time. In spring time you can possibly also listen to its drilling song if you manage to separate it from the voice of the rapid, of course.

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At the Korouoma canyon area people use to walk the paths often also during winter because of the possibilities to do ice-climbing on the frozen waterfalls. The frozen waterfalls in Korouoma are the biggest in Finland. Ice climbing possibilities in Posio are provided by Stella Polaris Lapland and Bliss Adventure. Trained professional guides make sure that your ice climbing experience is safe, fun and unforgettable! Please note that you are not supposed to try to go climbing the frozen waterfalls on your own, if you don’t have the special equipment and experience required for individual climbing. But, anyway, you can always admire the huge frozen waterfalls, and I must say, that is enough for me.

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The Saariselkä area in the north-east of Lapland is also a popular resort for hikers that offers excellent possibilities for day-trips throughout the year. During summer visitors can hike along hiking trails and nature trail of varying demand or even cycle. In winter the area boasts 250 km of maintained ski trails and such as nature trails are excellent places for trekking in snow shoes. A vast variety of services can be found at the Saariselkä tourist resort during all seasons.

 

It happens a lot in Ranua zoo in winter time

News about a new-born brown bear cub was told from Ranua zoo in the beginning of March. As predicted last spring, the brown bear Malla gave birth on January 8th, 2014. She stayed in her den for the hibernation period and breast-feeding the new-born female cub until March 31st, when the door was opened for her to come out. The zoo had put up cameras in the den so the birth late in the evening of January 8th could be seen by the staff in the next morning. This video is shown to all visitors to Ranua zoo as they arrive in the ticket office these days.

On March 31st Malla and the cub came out through the door and the cub met the world outside the den for the first time. The surrounding was all snow and the cub seemed a little anxious and it made a lot of voices. The video of the little cub can be seen here. Malla and her cub were kept in a smaller fence while the male bears Jehu and Palle-Jooseppi were out in a bigger fence. Malla also wanted out to the bigger fence and as she was let out there it happened she was stressed of the situation and abandoned her cub and run out and did not show any interest towards the cub any more. She acted even aggressively towards her cub and the staff at the zoo found it best to take the cub from her, for the safety of the cub. So at the moment the cub is fed by the staff of the zoo and will not be brought back to the mum any more. The mother will not recognize her own cub anymore and she will act aggressively towards a stranger. A name competition will be arranged on the home page of Ranua wildlife park to find a name for the little female bear. If everything works out fine, the cub can probably be seen in the zoo in the beginning of summer. These abandoning behaviors happened either because Malla was an unexperienced mother or due to other stress factors. In the nature she could even kill her cub, but that is now prevented by the decision to take the cub from her. Let us see how this will work out.

The father Jehu has woken up from the hibernation already and was anxiously waiting outside the den for Malla and the cub to come out to him***.

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It is amazing how tiny a brown bear cub is at birth. You may think a big bear could give birth to a much bigger cub, but the newborn is really tiny and spends many weeks on mummy’s stomach, where it gets breast-fed, and kept warm in the warm fur of mummy. In the blog from Ranua zoo you can see for yourself the amazing video from the birth of the brown bear cub and also how it has grown during the first month. It is impossible to decide the sex of the cub until it comes out from the den.

In the wolverine fence you also find only the father Rasputin running around. The female wolverine Batsi has actually also given birth to two tiny wolverine cubs and is spending time with them inside an underground den breast-feeding. The wolverine cubs were born during the weekend on March 8-9 and were caught by a camera. The cubs weight around 100 g each. In the nature the wolverine gives birth inside a cavern made of snow. Last time there were wolverine cubs in Ranua was over 10 years ago, in 2003, so this is a very special moment and predicts a busy summer with a lot of interested visitors for the wildlife park.

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Another thing that happens in the near future at Ranua zoo is that the two years old polar bear Ranzo is going to leave the zoo and move to the zoo Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria, in the beginning of May. In the zoo Schönbrunn they are building a new Polar bear world, Franz Josef Land, which will open in April. Ranzo will meet an adorable Polar bear girl, Lynn, also 2 years old, and they will hopefully be parents next year. Ranzo’s move to Vienna is quite natural, as his grandmother, Vienna, was born there. So he returns to his roots, so to say. Still Ranzo is happily unknown of his coming destiny playing with his toys in Ranua zoo.

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This picture is of Ranzo and his mother last spring. IMG_1828

At the moment Ranzo is alone in his fence, while his mother Venus has moved over to his father Manasse’s fence and they are enjoying each others’ company at the moment. New polar bear cubs are of course expected next winter from these meetings. You can look at a video from their meetings also from the blog.

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*** Unfortunately the brown bear Jehu found a way out from his fence to the freedom in the end of April 2014. The staff of the zoo has a special security plan for incidences like this regarding brown bears’, polar bears’ and muskoxes’ escapes and the only thing was to shoot the Jehu bear, to avoid danger to people outside the zoo. The brown bear Jehu never met the new cub.

 

Ranua zoo in winter

On a sunny day in winter a visit to Ranua zoo is really worth the effort. There are active arctic animals playing in the snow, not the least the polar bears, the wolverines, the wild boars, the wolves and the lynxes, which all are active winter animals. The snow makes it easy to find the animals; they have fewer possibilities to hide in a white surrounding. They seem to enjoy the sun in winter as much as we do.

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The brown bears are having their hibernating period and are sleeping. About two years ago there was a warm and sunny spring and the brown bears woke up on March 1st and started to play in the snow. Usually they wake up in the end of March. There is still snow on the ground in the end of March. This year I am very excited waiting for news about whether the brown bear Malla has given birth during the winter hibernation. The zoo is keeping an eye on the den where the brown bears are sleeping. Small brown bear cubs would really be a reason to visit the zoo again.

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The zoo has plans to put together the two polar bear adults again if there could be more polar bear cubs. The very popular polar bear cub Ranzo, born in December 2011, is already a grown up and will probably be moved to another zoo in the near future. Ranua zoo simply does not have fences enough for many adult polar bears. Wild animals, like bears, are not very satisfied to share fences with others. There have been some disputes between bears in the earlier years, which have led to even one of the bear’s death, and this the zoo definitively does not want to happen.

You can get a whole new viewpoint to the animals by participating in the animal feeding shows, such as, by watching carnivores being fed. If you are lucky, you might get to feed animals yourself, instructed and monitored by the animal keepers. During the winter, between 17.2.2014 -9.3.2014 and 18.4.2014 – 21.4.2014, animal feeding shows are arranged daily. Check out the times on the home page. I do hope they will soon update it with this year’s dates….

There is also possible to stay overnight near the zoo, in the holiday village Gulo Gulo or at the caravan area. Check the homepage for more information.

In Finland there are three zoos open during winter time; Ranua zoo, Ähtäri zoo in the middle of Finland and Korkeasaari zoo in Helsinki.

 

The end of the Polar night and Travel Fair 2014

Today, on January 17th, the Polar night or Kaamos is over in Finland for this time. In the northernmost village of Finland, in Nuorgam, the sun rose above the horizon today for about one minute at 12.04, local time. The temperature in Nuorgam is at the moment -33 C; you could say the sun is not yet warming up at all….

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In Rovaniemi we have -23 C and I just returned from a nice, refreshing walk in the snowy environment with a clear sky full of stars above our heads. No sights of northern lights, though.

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At the same time Finland is planning for the next tourist season, spring and summer 2014. The travel fair Matka 2014 in Fair Center in Helsinki on 17-19.1.2014, is the biggest travel fair in Northern Europe. In the domestic part of the fair the local places to visit are represented, but there is also a part of the fair for foreign targets. With exhibitors from over 80 countries there is a lot to see! You can also vote for the best excursion place of 2014. You can of course choose between several places in Lapland, too. To vote, go to the site: www.goexpo.fi.

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VisitRovaniemi, the tourist board of Rovaniemi, takes of course part in the fair as usual. You could visit the stand number 7K51 and learn about the new plans for the coming seasons. SantaPark and Joulukka are of course also represented there and they also want to present their new spa and sauna facilities, Metsäkyly, where you can get experiences from original Finnish sauna, get treatments, jump into an ice-cold lake and learn all about sauna traditions in Finland. Check out the homepage to learn more.

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