The Overnight Train To The North Pole
If you were to find yourself in streets of Helsinki in the midst of a Finnish winter, don’t be surprised by a shower of snow falling gently from the sky without a moment’s notice.
Following a successful thrift of (definitely) ugly Christmas sweaters and a tipsy game of Cards Against Humanity in a nearby pub, my friends and I were most certainly ready for our journey to the North Pole.
Helsinki is a futuristic city. Everywhere you look there are buildings to the sky and the locals are clad in straight-fitting coats and expensive-looking shoes. Just a couple of Aussies and a Kiwi with a funny accent, we certainly stood out like sore thumbs.
Clutching our newly purchased old sweaters and our backpacks that could barely zip closed, we hurried to the train station to escape the cold, shaking the icicles from our glove-covered fingers as we entered.
6:43pm and the carriage doors closed, and so began our 15-hour journey to Rovaniemi. Sure, a flight would be five times faster than the latter, but who has 250 euros to spare when you can sleep upright with the lights on all night?
A ticket on ‘The Santa Express’ will cost you just 35 euros and, though it may not be the most glamourous of commutes, a colourful collection of passengers from around the world will accompany you. A single mother from England with a newborn baby clutched to her chest. A set of Italian identical twins who exchange funny travel stories with you. An elderly man who doesn’t utter a word the entire ride.
Slowly, one by one, we each dozed off to the muted sounds of the newborn crying, tunes of Rex Orange County flooding our ears and eye masks decorating our faces. That night our dreams were filled with cookies and a jolly man in red, knowing that tomorrow we would begin living out our childhood fantasies of meeting Santa, feeding reindeer and riding with huskies.
And just like that, the following morning we awoke groggily, having travelled from end of Finland to the other. With the sound of the carriage doors opening, our feet were greeted by a thick layer of snow on the platform outside. As if the North Pole knew we had arrived, small snowflakes began to fall onto the tips of our noses and a feeling of utter disbelief overcame us.
A short bus ride took us to Santa Village, reigniting our inner five-year-old selves. Rows of small red cabins stood contently in the snow with dainty Christmas lights adorning their exteriors. My toes wiggled with excitement knowing one would be our home for the next few nights.
There is something magical about Finland.
There’s something about getting lost in the forest and feeling absolutely content. There’s something about the freezing wind hitting your face during a husky sled ride. There’s something about sausages over the fire in -11-degree weather.
There’s something about standing in the middle of a frozen lake with a Russian tour guide from Airbnb, watching the Northern Lights and crying because you cannot believe your luck that you are here and witnessing this phenomenon before you.
There’s just something about Finland.
Cover by Christiaan Huynen, inset by the author