I have had the good fortune to travel all over the world—for both business and pleasure, not that those are mutually exclusive. This blog is about my unique experiences around the globe. It is not intended as a paean to the wonders of the locales themselves, as there already exist volumes that more than do justice to the magnificence of virtually every corner of this earth.  Here, I simply recount small, personal moments of surprise, embarrassment, stupidity, excitement, fear, heroics, and other stuff like that.

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Rovaniemi, Finland…December 1994. One of several travel routines that Sande and I established while we were living in London was an early December weekend in one of Europe’s wintry wonderlands. Someplace cold, cozy, snowy, and full of the Christmas spirit. This particular year, we decided on Lapland, the unofficial “hometown” of the jolly fat man in the bright red suit, and a place where, in early December, the days provide little more than a dusky gray light from maybe 10 in the morning to around 3 in the afternoon. Everything else is nighttime, in no uncertain terms. Laplanders have, of course, adapted well to these conditions—the prodigious consumption of alcohol and a virtual disregard for the clock being the pillars of their assimilation.

For geographic perspective, Roveniemi is just three miles from the Arctic Circle, and over 400 miles north of Helsinki, a city to which I traveled often during my London-based tenure, and before. In fact, my first trip to Helsinki was in 1991, the year before Sande and I relocated. One of my agency associates and I traveled there from Baltimore to meet with Nokia Communications, at the time one of the most dynamic multinational players in the mobile technology market, headquartered just outside Helsinki. It was a fascinating experience, noteworthy for the deadly serious characters we met at the meeting, the mouth-watering dinner of Bambi steaks we consumed that evening, the money I lost in one of the city’s casinos that night, the vodka I subsequently consumed because of the money I lost, the plane I missed the next morning because of the vodka I consumed, the business meeting I punted in London the next afternoon because of the plane I missed, and the fact that I felt like crap as I then scrambled to reconnect the dots of my binge-busted itinerary. But that’s a different “travel” story. Please pardon the riff.

Sande and I arrived in Rovaniemi on that December afternoon, keyed up to experience our first ever snowmobile excursion. We wanted to get a taste for it that evening before the next day’s long snowmobile trek over frozen lakes and through dense forests to Santa Claus Village, about eight miles away. Properly “wardrobed”—a process that essentially turned us into clones of the Michelin Man— we mounted our snow hogs and followed a guide sled into the darkness of the surrounding hills.  The winter sky bursting with stars above us, and with only our headlights to slice through the darkness below, the excursion was, for me, as exhilarating as a kid’s first sleigh ride down “the big hill.” For her part, Sande was more excited to reach our immediate destination—the Husky Farm, complete with four of the cutest Husky pups you’ll ever see.  The big-pawed puffballs were obviously happy to see us, too. We entered their pen and they went nuts over us in our Michelin Man suits; perhaps wondering if they’d one day grow up to be giant puffballs like us. It was a blast!

The next day’s trek to see Santa was an even bigger kick for me, what with the long snowmobile ride, the speed, incredible scenery, and the fact that, upon our arrival, we had truly been transported to a place intimate and magical. Santa Claus Village was just that—a tiny village of one-room log houses, each with smoking chimneys promising the warmth of crackling hearths inside. The house marked simply “Santa’s Workshop” was so warm and magical that that guy inside—the one with the rosy cheeks and the white beard in the red suit—just had to be the real deal.

And then there were the reindeer races! Sande and I were tucked into a doublewide sled and pulled up a steep hill by a giant-antlered reindeer. A handler led us to the very top where we were joined by a second reindeer complete with two equally clueless sled-sitters. Once both reindeer were in position, the handlers yelled something Finnish, at which point the reindeer literally hauled ass down the hill with us holding on for dear (no pun intended) life. An immediate adrenaline rush was quickly followed by abject fear, as we realized that there were no brakes on this runaway train. The wild ride got particularly hairy near the bottom, where the two racing reindeer made sharp left turns for the finish line, essentially whipping us around like we were on a turbo-charged carnival Tilt-a-Whirl, the sled kicking up spectacular sprays of ice and snow, and threatening to launch us into the forest like Hansel and Gretel dolls, before finally coming to an abrupt halt in a snow bank. Invigorating, to say the least!

It was all pretty special—snowmobile rides through the frozen tundra, Husky pups to die for, reindeer races to jangle our nerves, storybook winter scenery, and, of course, old Kris Kringle himself.

There’s just one more thing…that bit about the alcohol consumption and the disregard for the clock. When Sande and I arrived at our hotel that first afternoon, we were shown to a room that was a bit cramped and was located directly over the restaurant. I asked about an upgrade and was shown to a considerably larger room at the opposite end of the two-story hotel. We were all set…at least, we thought so until a little after midnight. At that point, tucked in our beds and doing our best storybook rendition of “a long winter’s nap,” there arose quite the clatter. When I jumped from our bed to see what was the matter, the floor was vibrating to the sounds of Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam. Surprise! The upgraded room I had so effectively negotiated was situated directly over a nightclub and, at 12:30, the night was just warming up. The next few hours were a mix of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Stone Temple Pilots, a rather large, unruly contingent of heavily lubricated Laplanders, and very little sleep. Hey, but at least we had a nice big room!

The next evening, after we returned from Santa Claus Village, I figured I’d relax in the sauna. Unfortunately, I neglected to factor in two important points. One, the Finns live in their saunas and, two, they like to drink and talk loud in them. Returning to our nice big room, no more relaxed than when I left it twenty minutes earlier, Sande had already uncorked the strategic answer to our second night of upstairs clubbing. She knows how to adapt, that girl! If I may paraphrase a great poem:

What happened below us on night two,

I don’t know.

But we slept like babies,

Thanks to Pinot Grigio and Merlot.


T H E  E N D

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