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Taking the Santa Claus Express

March 20, 2015

by Sarah Chandler in Train routes

Mysterious, ethereal, and famously remote: does the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, hover near the top of your travel bucket list? If it does, maybe it’s time to cross it off: this is predicted to be a perfect winter for sighting the magical solar winds named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn. While you can glimpse them from many places on earth––including Canada, the northern U.S., and Scotland––Scandinavia remains practically synonymous with the phenomenon.

While the Northern Lights frequently appear in Iceland, Norway and Sweden, it’s only in Finland where they occupy the same landscape as Santa Claus’ “official office” on the Arctic Circle. (Finns call him Joulupukki, but you’ll still recognize the iconic Father Christmas figure with the white beard and long red hat.) If you’ve always dreamed seeing the Northern Lights from a reindeer safari before bunking down in a thermal igloo, Lapland is your place.

Part of the mystique lies not simply in the otherworldly nature of the lights themselves––swirling green streaks that glow against the dark arctic sky––but in, well, the challenge of getting to Lapland. With sleeper trains running north from Finland’s capital city, that challenge is solved––yet the overnight journey, as the tracks plunge into the snowy darkness of the Arctic Circle, remains an utterly mysterious one.

When to Go?

The autumn and spring equinoxes––September 21 and March 21––frame the time window for aurora borealis. While it’s mostly you’ll spot the Northern Lights from late fall through very early spring, there’s no guarantee that they’ll appear on any given day. Plan on spending several days in the Arctic Circle to maximize your chances. The lucky––and the patient—are sometimes rewarded with nights in which the spectacle appears and reappears several times, returning to the starry stage for multiple encores.

The Santa Claus Express

The Train

Operated by Finnish Railways, the Santa Claus Express is not a cozy sleigh drawn by reindeer. But it’s the next best thing: a comfortably appointed double-decker train that delivers you to one of the most remote corners of Europe while you sleep. In the morning, sip coffee and check your wifi in the bistro car as the snow covered landscape rolls past. Sleeping compartment prices are surprisingly economical: double sleepers range from 31 to 43 Euros per person, with the more expensive compartments outfitted with private bathrooms.

Helsinki

The Route

While both follow essentially the same routes, the Santa Claus Express trains feature two options. The Pikajuna 265, which departs Helsinki Central Station in the early evening, stops in Rovaniemi the next morning before making its final stop in Kemijärvi just over an hour later, at 9 a.m. The Pikajuna 273 departs a bit later, leaving Helsinki just before 10 p.m. and arriving at Rovaniemi at 10:40 a.m.

After the night train departs Helsinki Central, it heads north towards Tampere, passing through many small towns that appear only as collections of glimmering lights. On the Pikajuna 273, you’ll arrive at Oulu around breakfast time—just before 8 a.m. If you can delay the anticipation of the Arctic Circle for another day, it’s worth stopping to check out.

Oulu

While Oulu’s most idiosyncratic claim to fame might be that it’s home to the Air Guitar World Championships, this university and tech town of around 200,000 is probably better known for being one of the northernmost cities in the world. In summer, its pleasures are obvious: explore the islands that make up the city on the impressive bike paths, then head to a café in Kappatori, the buzzing market square along the waterfront, to bask in the all-night sun.

In winter, Oulu is perhaps even more unique: by day, play in the snow or go sledding at Nallikari Winter Village. Those undaunted by Arctic temperatures adventurous can take a snowshoe safari or a stroll on the frozen walk on the frozen Gulf of Bothnia.

Santa Village

Arriving in the Arctic Circle

The first thing you’ll hear when you arrive in Rovaniemi, the unofficial capital of Lapland, is that it’s the hometown of Santa Claus, who “resides” at Santa Village. If you’re traveling with children, or want to impress you’re friends back home with a letter sent from Santa’s official post office, consider a visit.

Regardless of your ideological stance towards Santa, don’t miss an excursion to a reindeer farm or the Rauna Zoo, which showcases Arctic fauna such as polar bears. At least one day per year, the sun never rises over Rovaniemi; in addition to spotting the Northern Lights, it’s also a perfect place to see kaamos, the deep blue light on the snow that’s reflected from the winter sky.

The Rovaniemi rail station is within walking distance from the town center, where most lodging is located.

If a fetching mountain town with a decidedly retro vibe is more your speed––or you simply want to brag that you’ve hit the northernmost town in Finland––take the train about an hour past Rovaniemi to Kemijärvi. Here, the snowy peaks of this dramatic landscape are called fells, an Old Norse word for mountain. At Pyhä Fell skiers will find downhill with 9 chairlifts across 14 slopes; in addition to downhill skiing, Suomu Fell features over 70 km of cross country ski trails, some of which are lit for night skiing.

Source: Eurail

Full Of Christmas Cheers – The Snowball Snug At TwoRuba At Hilton London Tower Bridge

Full Of Christmas Cheers – The Snowball Snug At TwoRuba At Hilton London Tower Bridge

October 12, 2015

LONDON – When the weather outside is frightful, warm up from within and get into the seasonal spirit at TwoRuba’s Snowball Snug – the perfect place for that ever-necessary knees-up this festive season.

Hilton London Tower Bridge’s cocktail bar has taken its “Snug” and decked it out with a dance floor – illuminated with colour-changing panels – and a twinkling mirror ball for shimmying and shaking the night away. From £25 per person, groups of up to 25 can get seriously seasonal and relish the retro at TwoRuba’s Snowball Snug with a round of Christmas cocktails and a selection of festive rolls.

Sip from a new limited edition menu inspired by the Snug’s namesake cocktail – the Snowball. Promoted from the forgotten to the fashionable, this retro cocktail is guaranteed to deliver a serious hit of the festive spirit in each sip. Forget mundane mulled wine, sloe gin sips and tiresome toddies, there’s only one cocktail worth knocking back this Noël. A favourite of Nigella, the classic Advocaat cocktail has been given a festive facelift; from The Classic (with lemonade and lime), and The Lemon featuring vanilla vodka with lemon curd to The Cinnamon Snowball, with a generous dash of freshly-made cinnamon syrup and The Raspberry with a fruity fresh purée – there’s a Snowball to suit every taste.

The menu takes all your favourite flavours and puts them in a roll – the ‘Christmas Goose’ features sausage with duck liver pâté, the ‘Ho Ho Ho’ has traditional fare with smoked turkey, crackling, cranberry chutney and horseradish and the ‘Yule Log’ filled with halloumi, mushroom pâté and crispy onions.

Sure to get even the most serious and sour-faced Scrooge in the mingling mood, TwoRuba’s Snowball Snug is set to be the most ridiculously retro spot in central London for office parties, end of year drinks sessions and Yuletide get-togethers. To make a booking, please call email Clair on info@tworuba.com or T: 020 3002 4407.

There’s snow better place to get in the seasonal spirit this Christmas than TwoRuba.

About Hilton London Tower Bridge
Set against the backdrop of one of London’s best known historical landmarks, at the heart of the buzzing More London district, Hilton London Tower Bridge is a contemporary 4-star hotel ideally situated on the doorstep of the City.

About Hilton Hotels & Resorts

For nearly a century, Hilton Hotels & Resorts has been proudly welcoming the world’s travelers. With more than 550 hotels across six continents, Hilton Hotels & Resorts provides the foundation for memorable travel experiences and values every guest who walks through its doors. As the flagship brand of Hilton Worldwide, Hilton Hotels & Resorts continues to set the standard for hospitality, providing new product innovations and services to meet guests’ evolving needs. Hilton Hotels & Resorts is a part of the award-winning Hilton HHonors program. Hilton HHonors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to benefits including free standard Wi-Fi, as well as digital amenities that are available exclusively through the industry-leading Hilton HHonors app. Access the latest news at news.hilton.com and begin your journey at www.hilton.com or www.hilton.com/offers for the latest hotel specials.

Source: Hilton