A series of unfortunate events happened during my journey to Finland which included going through security three times for one flight, due to no one else’s fault but my own, the carrying of a tripod to capture the northern lights which were not seen and circling above NYC for over an hour due to terribly in-climate weather. Once I got passed the unfortunate events and traveled nearly 24 hours including three flights and several layovers, I had my feet on Finnish soil and everything fell into place.
I landed in Helsinki around 5:30pm local time after flying from Detroit to New York, switching airports in New York, New York to Amsterdam with a three hour layover and finally onto Helsinki. People often ask if jet lag ever affects me, but I always say no. I am generally trying to maximize my time on the ground so I force my body to go to sleep and wake up when I tell it to as opposed to when it wants to. I don’t recommend this method of surviving jet lag!
Upon landing I waited for a friend arriving from Paris and once he arrived we took a local bus to the home of my Finnish friend, Suvi. She made dinner reservations for us at a place called Cafe Talo which was absolutely amazing.
Cafe Talo is part dive bar, part pub if you judge this book by its cover. Similar to pubs in London, we had to order our food and drink at the counter. With the help of Suvi and an English menu we all choose what we were going to eat and headed to the counter to order it. I went with the Organic Lamb Neck which was served with root vegetables, mashed potatoes and a perfect red wine sauce. The lamb was the best meal that I had all weekend and at 18 Euro it was well priced.
The bartender who took our order was very kind and not only helped us with our choices for dinner, but he also gave me the story behind various traditional drinks. I decided to go with Glögg sans the usual raisins and almonds.
After we finished dinner we took a short and late night tour of Helsinki. We hopped on a tram and Suvi pointed out major sites to us. We also had cocktails at a bar called Why Join the Navy When You Can Be a Pirate. Yes that is the entire name. It is located in the city center and was packed so it must be a Finish hot spot!
I rarely get excited for trips nowadays, but this was different. The buildup was insane. I was like a child anticipating Christmas, literally. I woke up very early after four short hours of sleep and headed to the bus stop for my early flight to Rovaniemi which is the capital of Finland’s famed Lapland – the northern most region of the country. The flight was only an hour, but upon landing we realized that it was completely different than Helsinki. The landscape had completely changed. We swapped Helsinki’s cold urban center for vast stretches of woods, colder temperatures and snow! Once we landed in “Santa’s Hometown Airport” and secured a rental car (I suggest you rent a car if you visit Lapland), we were on our way. Everywhere you turn you there were perfect images of winter.
Our first stop was the famed Santa’s Village which is much more exciting for small children, but I was very excited. Of course I don’t believe in Santa, but the fact that they go all out for Santa up here made me pretend, if only for an hour. Santa was ok; multilingual, but slightly creepy, like all santas. Another exciting feature of Santa’s Village was the marker of the Arctic Circle line of latitude. In Rovaniemi we were at the sounthern most point of the Arctic Circle!!! Can you tell that I am a geography geek?
An hour’s drive south of Rovaniemi was Ranua, a small town where we would spend our two nights in the north. We stayed at Gulo Gulo Holiday village which was affordable, modern and cozy.
In the evening we went snowshoeing and it was much more difficult and much less fun than we (at least Veronica and I) had imagined. Luckily they provided us super warm boots, snowsuits and mittens that were much warmer than what we brought. They have got the whole survival in the cold thing down pat. Our guides Tomi and Roslyn were fun and told us a bit about life in northern Finland. The snowshoeing through the dark woods lasted about 30 minutes though I have a feeling that if Veronica and I complained a bit less it would’ve been much longer.
After trekking through the woods we came back to what is called a “Lotte house” which is a small wooden shelter that is built buy the government of Finland. They have them throughout rural parts of the country to ensure that passersby can build a fire and take a break from the freezing temps. Our guides built a fire over which they heated berry juice and we roasted the marshmallows that Veronica stashed in her bag. We used the chocolate and gingerbread cookies they gave us to make makeshift smores. Mmmmmm
If you are in Finland or anywhere in the northern part of the globe, you MUST do a husky ride! We set out around 10:30am for the hour long drive to the husky farm (is that what it’s called?). When we arrived the daughter of the owner was waiting near the street in anticipation of our arrival. Because it was low season we were the only ride for the day. Not only were his children anxious but the dogs were quite anxious as well. How many dogs you ask, 80! As soon as we got out of the car we could hear them wailing.
After quick instructions we headed to the sled and the drivers and passengers took their places. David was kind enough to drive our sled first and we switched halfway through. The dog sled ride is truly one of the most memorable vacation memories that I have ever had. Even though it was blisteringly cold it was super fun.
By Sunday evening we knew that the Northern Lights had eluded us, but at 2 am we still decided to hop in the car and drive around. We were rewarded with an arctic fox spotting as well as an appreciation for the silence and solace of Lapland. We parked the car on the side of the road, turned off all of the lights, wound down the windows and enjoyed the peace. I highly recommend a midnight excursion.
We headed back to Rovaniemi and enjoyed a sunrise (1030-11am) drive to the airport. Enjoying Finland is about enjoying the scenery and solace that it provides. The kindness of the people is an added bonus!