My absolute best holiday ever was in Finnish Lapland! Never mind the cold, I love snow and the experiences I had in just a short week felt like a whole month fully packed with sheer awesomeness. But before I get ahead of myself, I want to take you to a holiday in the cold. And trust me, you won't even feel it!
Way up North
Lapland is an officially acknowledged region stretching across four states in the North of Europe, namely Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and its indigenous population are the Sami. It is well known for its dark winters with little day light and never setting sun in summer times. Whatever time you go, it is beautiful in any weather. I can unrestrainedly vouch for winter, summer I still have to experience.
It certainly helps to love snow in order to appreciate Lapland to the fullest in winter. How the icicles are reflecting the faint sunlight and throw dancing streams of light onto the dense snow covers lying all around. How the frost seems to compete with the icy grey lichen, turning the bare trees into a spooky array of pointy branches. How everything suddenly turns dead quiet.
So wrap yoursel up nice and warm – thermal underwear together with a wind and waterproof jacket are a must – and head out for a hike through this winter wonderland. Snow shoes are a fun option and sometimes even necessary. Or you could strap on your skies.
Another way to walk about as well as a definite must on any trip is to be driven by reindeers or drive a husky sled yourself. To be honest, the former was rather anti-climactic with the view mainly consisting of the reindeer's behind or trees on either side dragging by at a very slow speed. The huskies, on the other hand, were wild. And I mean absolutely nuts. Nuts for racing.
Here's a little story for you. Picture me standing in front of a husky sled with the dogs going at each other and tearing at the seams, so hungry were they for their daily run. And me being clueless. True, I had had a short introduction as how to understand the waving signs for slowing down etc or how to use my whole body weight to make the dogs stop. Because there was no need to tell them to run.
I shouldn't have worried, though, because I was a natural. With ease did I manage to shift my weight in the turns and bring the whole pack to a halt. They didn't like it too much, but what am I to do with slowpokes in front of me? What I wasn't prepared for, however, was that my friend, which whom I switched halfway, wasn't as adapt at the sleigh.
In a turn or the path, the whole thing tumbled over and onto me, pushing me left arm into the snow, while the dogs raced forth unimpressed. Miraculously, they managed to turn the sled back over again. Unfortunately, we weren't in it and the dogs soon out of sight. What do you do in the middle of Lapland waving your hand in the communicated SOS motion and nobody appears since you're the last one in the troope?
Well, I picked up my belongings with my newly purple arm and luckily we didn't have to wait too long until a snow mobile came to our rescue. We hadn't booked a snow mobile ride so that was a bonus! A minus was that we were the laughing stock in the following snow hut campfire session, but as soon as the haunting melodies of the Sami filled the room this was forgotten.
Sami, Santa and Sauna
If you haven't heard a Sami song yet, you haven't heard music. Well, that's a bit over the top, but I will never forget the soft tunes that transported you into another sphere and into the stories they were telling, stories that didn't need words but sounds alone. If you want to check out a modern interpretation, I highly recommend Sofia Jannok. For a different take on hip hop and metal, there is also sami music to be discovered. I would say, these are for an acquired taste.
For everyone's taste that is Santa. Sitting there snugly in his greeting room by the fireplace with his trusty reindeers waiting outside and the elves busy in the post office, Santa Claus (or actually his brother) will greet you with a big smile stretching from chubby cheek to chubby cheek and small talk with you in your own language. He said I had been a good girl, just so you know!
If that made you all flushed and deliriously happy and you require some refreshment, don't worry, the Finns have come up with a great invention: sauna! Everybody knows sauna but what you might not know is that the Finns heat up as much as they can in the little hot huts and then dip stark naked in the next body of water. Whether that is the local lake or the Arctic Ocean is your choice. Both were a cosy 4 degrees Celsius when I was there.
Nothing is better after such a (healthy) shock to the system than to cuddle up with a hot tea and a yummy steaming dish. I tried traditional moose and was far from impressed. It reeked and was like rubber. Maybe the preparation was all wrong. However, I absolutely fell in love with the local porridge. It is a tyical breakfast dish and super creamy. Don't know what they did to the oat flakes to get there but top it wtih butter and it is pure heaven!
Now, is not time to go to bed! Whether you're staying in a log cabin or an ice hotel with fur keeping the cold of the ice blocks all around you at bay, you need to wrap up with even more layers (I usually wore 6 to 8!) and head out for the best show in the world: aurora borealis. The Northern Lights are absolutely spectacular and to get the best view, check out their prominent times beforehand. When I paid my visit, it was at 11pm, but I missed the major lights at 2am because I was unaware. Don't let that happen to you!
Funny story about the Northern Lights: I nearly missed them while I was standing there, directly looking at them! In fact, the lights were more like a wavering mist. Soft white and resembling the milky way, they were moving so slow, you thought they didn't move at all. And once I took a picture on a patient tripod, the lights were green all of a sudden in the photo! I only ever saw them with an actual slight green hue when we were heading back down in our bus and the lights were dancing us goodbye over the regional airport. I guess this meant I should come back. And I will!