So, these aren't at all in the correct order of our trip, but these are the first pictures I went through, and rather than make you wait even longer for them, I figured I'd stick them up. This is Kemi, which is up pretty far north, but just south of the Arctic Circle, in the area known as Lapland.

We made it here after about 9 hours on a train. We got a sleeper cabin, though, and took the night train up, so it seemed to go by pretty quick. We had a pretty good scare in the morning. they were supposed to come by and wake us up in the morning about half an hour before we arrived in Kemi so that we could get up and get ready. Just as the train was stopping somewhere, we heard lots of knocking and shouting, so we jumped up, got dressed really quick and, since it was the right time according to the train schedule, jumped off the train. Shortly thereafter, the train pulled away, leaving us as the only people standing on a seemingly abandoned old train platform. It was only 7:30 in the morning, so it was really dark, and there were no signs or people or anything, just a really dark old warehouse with the windows all boarded up, and a few old railcars loaded with felled trees.

After lots of wandering around in the cold and the dark, we finally found the "Welcome to Kemi" sign in the picture, and we were so happy that we were actually in the right town!! The other pictures above show the warehouse and the small tan building off on the right of the second picture turns out to be the train station. Not terribly well marked, but we were so excited when we found it, as it gave us faith that we weren't terribly lost in the middle of nowhere. These pictures were taken on the day we were leaving, so there is much more light than there was when we were wandering around lost, so it looked much more bleak.

So, once we knew were close, we decided to walk off to explore the town and look for the Snow Castle! After a stop to have some coffee and breakfast, we trekked down to the ocean to find the castle and our hotel so that we could drop some stuff off. On the way we found some reindeer out on the ice, as well as some cool road signs out on the ice for the cross country ski trails.

As for why someone wrote Hell in really big letters out on the ice, we have no idea. So we found the Snow Castle, and from the outside it was initially very disappointing. We were still pretty strung out from thinking we were lost, and the castle didn't look very exciting. I had only been open for a couple days, and they were still working on building it, but still...

So we found a little tourist information place, which was also home to a super cool museum of rocks, minerals, crown jewels and diamonds. They had replicas of the 20 biggest diamonds ever found along with little stories about how they were found and what has happened to them over the years. There were also crown jewels from around europe, mostly replicas, although they do have the original Crown of Finland. Plus there were lots of sweet rocks from all over the world, which were apparently someone's private collection that he then donated to the town.

Crown Jewels:

Left - a replica of the Crown of England

Right - a replica of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (just kidding, it is really one of the Royal Apples of Denmark)

Far Right - The Royal Crown of Finland, made for the King, but never worn as he abdicated the throne after only 4 months.

So, then we finally wandered back over toward the Snow Castle, while also sort of looking for lunch at this cool restaurant down by Kemi Harbor. Turns out the cute little restaurant is only open in the summer, which was too bad, because it did seem like it would have been nice.

So it was finally off to the Snow Castle - and it is Amazing! Once inside, one of the first things we found were these little snowballs with hats. They look so cute, but they are really kind of creepy. There are little people ion there, and they follow you around a little, but they don't say anything. It's hard to describe, but they're weird.

So here are a bunch of pictures from in and around the snow castle. They've definitely put more effort into the inside than the outside at this point, but I think they are still doing a lot of work to make the outside cooler. The restaurant is impressive, with tables all carved out of ice, and fun ice sculptures everywhere. We were the only ones to eat dinner there that night, and two of only four people to stay in the hotel, which is the long room full of ice sculptures. While photographing inside the hotel, the cold along with the high humidity and long shutter speeds conspired to do some horrible things to the camera, and it took several hours sitting inside in the warmth to recover, so there aren't any pictures of our hotel room or a few other things, but hopefully you can get the idea of the place.

In the morning, we got a taxi over to a local hotel for a Sauna and a shower, then the sun came out for a little bit, so we went for a walk around town and found a park with some nice scenery for pictures. Overnight there had been some crazy frost, too. I have never seen frost this big.The crystals were huge and made the trees look like there had been a snow and ice storm overnight, but it was really just frost.

Then it was back onto the train for the 9 hour ride back to Helsinki. We took some pictures out the window of the train, but mostly just sat around all day.

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Posted 2-22-2006