Saturday, 26 January 2013

Finnish Winter Wonderland

After my forays into Scandinavia in the summer and autumn it was with a sense of great anticipation that on the day of my 26th birthday I travelled up to North East Finland in late January. My very helpful (and fun!) work colleague, Amy, was travelling with me and luckily had prepared me in advance for our adventure. I’m known in the office for not being hugely practical and ‘outdoorsy’ so Amy had helped to kit me out with all my cold weather clothing, including thermals, snow boots, head torches and other essentials that one needs when travelling here!

The first thing that struck me when we arrived was, of course, how cold it was - the kind of cold that I had never experienced before – cold that freezes your eyelashes and you can feel in your lungs. Over the course of our week here though, I discovered that given the right clothing you can easily be outside without feeling it too much, and you almost get used to the biting iciness that hits your face as soon as you head out the door. Unlike the UK, the cold is not at all damp and there was little wind chill when we were there so it was easy to get accustomed to once kitted out in your snow gear.

Our first port of call was Nellim. The last time I had been here was in the autumn so it was wonderful to see Lake Inari, previously viewed reflecting the trees in its shimmering surface, completely frozen and covered in a thick frosting of snow. After getting kitted up Amy and I headed down for a walk around, keeping an eye on the sky of course. We saw nothing but stars that night, but got to experience the deep snow in all its wonder and the pitch black, albeit cloudy, sky dotted with stars was fantastic.

The next day we got to go out on snowmobiles for the first time which was hugely exciting and one of the real highlights of the trip! We were taken out by Jouko, owner of Nellim who lead us to Muotka, the new accommodation they had just bought. I have to admit that I was a little nervous at first, but soon got the hang of it and found it to be great fun – there’s something remarkably exciting about whizzing across the snow. That evening we got to once more head off on snowmobiles out into darkness to one of the nearby Aurora Camps. Here we warmed ourselves by the fire and waited for the Lights to make an appearance. We had almost given up hope and were about to head back when a streak of green light split across the sky, shimmering and dancing against the inky black backdrop. It is something I’ll know I will remember for the rest of my life as it was a truly incredible feeling to gaze up at the Arctic sky and witness the Aurora in all her glory.

The next day we made our way to Menesjarvi, but first stopped off to spend a few hours with a Sámi Reindeer herder. This was a fantastic way to get to know how the Sámi people make their living and we had a lovely afternoon in the wilds. After being driven via snowmobile-pulled sleigh into the forest we came across the reindeers in their natural habitat where we had the chance to feed them . The best part was when the herder called them in and they seemingly appeared like magic through the trees, lured by the sight of the hay and the call of the herder. We then sat around the fire and got to ask questions about the life of a reindeer herder and chat about living in Lapland.

When we reached Hotel Korpikatano in the afternoon we were warmly greeted by the hosts Anne and Timo. Timo was kind enough to teach us all about photographing the Northern Lights and offered a great introduction to this phenomenon from someone who was born and raised in this part of the world. That evening Amy and I strapped on some snowshoes and made our way to the nearby frozen lake to practise our photography (and walking!) skills. I can’t say that I was particularly skilled at snowshoeing but it was great fun nonetheless.

The following day we arrived in Inari, the centre of Sámi Culture in the area. After visiting the fascinating Sámi Siida Museum, and then enjoying a reindeer pizza (delicious!) we spent the night at the Kultahovi Hotel in Inari where after dinner we sat in their lovely bar and restaurant area and chatted about our adventures! The following day was then spent in Saariselka where we snowmobiled for a few hours. It was just as much fun this time, despite a near miss with a sign post!

Our final destination was delightful Kakslauttanen where we spent the night in one of their glass igloos. A pretty remarkable end to a memorable and brilliant trip.

Dawn Rawlings