As today is Independence Day in Finland, all the posts, stories and pictures circulating the internet has got me reminiscing of my time in Finland. I thought now would be the perfect time, to write about my visit to this amazing country.
A while ago I visited Finnish Lapland, Saariselka to be exact. We landed at Kittila airport and immediately stepped out into the snow covered landscape. The 3 hour coach journey to Saariselka was just like driving through a Christmas postcard. I immediately fell in love with this place.
Our arrival in Saariselka was less than desirable, it was 2:30pm but pitch black, and we were pretty much abandoned on the side of the road, and pointed in the general direction of our log cabin. It was sub zero temperatures and we dragged our suitcases along through the deep snow, trying to find our log cabin. After numerous circles of the cabins, we eventually located our cabin, and were relieved to find respite from the cold.
It wasn’t the best of starts being abandoned but it was an experience I was far too familiar with! You just eventually learn to go with it and accept it as part of the travel experience.
The log cabin was traditionally decorated and we immediately lit the fire and warmed up. We then put on a few extra layers (it was even colder than we expected) and headed out to find a supermarket to stock up on some food.
It turns out, in the pitch black, and with everywhere covered in snow, it is extremely hard to navigate your way around. We got completely lost and ended up walking out of Saariselka without realising, we then had to double back in the freezing cold, just as a blizzard hit. We wandered along the main road this time, and eventually stumbled across the centre of Saariselka where, thankfully, there was a supermarket.
I love the first time you go to supermarket abroad, it always seems like a game of roulette, as you never know what you are actually buying. It can sometimes work well but other times, it can be a disaster!
We filled our trolly with lots of local food, mixed in with a few staples. We had a few unfortunate purchases it turned out, but in general, we hadn’t done too badly although, I have to say, my least favourite purchase was the cloudberry jam, turns out, I really do not like cloudberrys. It is an acquired taste shall we say.
We began the walk back, laden with our bags and noticed many people were pulling their shopping along on a sledge. We later discovered that sledges are available outside of shops etc for you to take to pull your shopping home on. This was a genius idea and made our shopping trips much easier. You just have to watch your sledge if you park it up outside a shop, in case someone else decides to take it! It is pretty much a sledge free for all!
Saariselka is a little Finnish town in Lapland, it has some gorgeous little shops, restaurants and an amazing little pub called Panimo. Before going to Finland I had been told not to expect much from the food but I was pleasantly surprised, and during my time there, I had some really delicious meals. I feel that this reputation is one that Finland does not deserve (except for cloudberrys, they should not be classed as edible!).
Panimo was this small local pub with it’s own in house brewery. It was constantly packed and served an amazing hot choclate and rum. The also serve ‘hot berry juice’ which I am not fully sure what it contains (I bet someone is going to tell me now that it contains cloudberrys!) but it was similar to a warm Vimto and very enjoyable. This same hot berry juice tends to be served when you take part in many of the activities available in the area.
My favourite activity whilst in Finland was husky sledging. I absolutely love animals and I was very excited to get up close to so many huskys. We were paired up on the sledge, with one person ‘mushing’ a.k.a driving the sledge, and the other sat in the sledge. You could then take turns part way round. The huskys were very enthusiastic and seemed to be in their element pulling the sledge along. They picked up so much speed, and it required a lot of discipline and strength to control them and the sleigh.
It was stunning being on the sledge, watching the snow capped mountains and trees flash by in a blur. The sun was a low, constant glow, guiding us along the snowy paths. I was sad when the journey came to an end and spent some time with the huskys afterwards. They were extremely friendly and keen for human interaction. I actually dropped my glove as I left and hadn’t realised. I heard this whimpering behind me and I turned around, and one of the huskys was pawing at my glove on the floor. Needless to say, I found it extremely hard to tear myself away from them.
I also earned my reindeer driving licence, something I am naturally extremely proud of. It is up there with my degree and everything! I mean, how many people have a reindeer driving licence? To be honest, I am not sure quite how valid the licence is, but I suppose I can still say I have one!
The reindeer safari was straight out of a Christmas film, being pulled by reindeer as you sit in a sleigh through the dark, starry night. It was magical. I also learnt how to lasso a reindeer (well a pair of reindeer antlers), the local Sami call it Suopunki, which I think is a pretty cool word, although my pronunciation was somewhat embarrassing!
Afterwards, we warmed up around a fire in a kota (traditional Sami tent) drinking a glass of hot berry juice and eating some homemade cake, whilst listening to tales about Sami life. I find learning about how people live around the world completely fascinating. The differences in how people live can be huge, and the challenges they face, make our problems seem so small. There is something amazing about how the Sami live their life and I hope the world does not change so much that their way of life becomes lost. Their struggles may be all too real but their sense of community and tradition are inspirational and worth fighting for.
I also had a go at snowmobiling but I am not sure it is for me. I was terrible at controlling it! It was a lot of fun, driving around the mountains, taking in the amazing views, but trying to control a snowmobile is a lot harder than you would think.
As a cautionary note, take very thick gloves and wear the snowsuit they give you. It is freezing on top of the mountains!
I also took part in a snowshoe walk. It is extremely hard to walk with what is essentially a tennis racket on each foot. You have to pretty much lift the entire leg with each step you take, and the snow is incredibly deep. I lost my balance a few times and at one point, ended up completely disappearing into the deep snow. Just my hand was visible and I had to be pulled back out! This would have been an ideal opportunity to see the northern lights, as the walk takes you out into the wilderness and away from the city lights but unfortunately, luck was not on our side, and seeing the northern lights remains high on my bucket list.
After a long day in Lapland, I would head home and use the sauna in the log cabin. Afterwards, I would roll in the snow as apparently, this is what the locals do. Well, I rolled in the snow once, and to be honest, it was not in the slightest bit enjoyable, and something I would not care to repeat any time soon, however, the daily sauna is definitely something I could get on board with!
One of my favourite nights whilst in Finland, was when we stayed in an igloo in Kakslauttanen. They have an area in the middle of nowhere, dotted with glass igloos. They reminded me of hobbit houses and had tiny doors that you had to bend down to get through. The inside of the igloos are temperature controlled, so you are nice and snug, whilst gazing up at the stars (or in our case clouds) above. In theory, this would be a perfect place to observe the northern lights, but as I said before, I had no such luck on this trip.
The igloos are small but cosy and the beds are remote control operated so you can change their angle depending on where you want to look. There is someone that goes around and clears the snow off the glass periodically throughout the night. One note though, as romantic as these may seem, the toilet is by no means private and you may leave knowing your partner far more than you would like!
I found Finland to be truly magical place, with some amazing scenery. I would love to go back in the summer months, as it is supposed to look entirely different without the snow. It was definitely one of the best trips I have been on, and it has left me with fond memories that will last a lifetime.