More like WINland!! Sorry, I’ll get my coat. Which is nice and dry in this fantastic heated cupboard near the door.
By some weird and wonderful twists of fate from Summer/Autumn 2012 I ended up travelling to Finland in December for a New Year holiday. Quite out of the blue, and, for me, scary, I wanted to go for the company, a chance to do something unusual (New Year celebrations are almost always a huge anticlimax, I find) and to see a new and exciting place.
As I’ve said (now several times) before, I’m not well-travelled and I get really anxious when big trips are coming up, especially if they involve flights. Fortunately, not a single thing went wrong on this one! So hopefully I’ll be less worried next time. One flight-related amazing thing was that Norwegian now has Wi-Fi in-flight!! Internets on the plane! It’s the future.
So, upon landing in Oulu to meet new friends on Boxing Day, the first thing to notice is that there’s snow everywhere! Which is brilliant, I love snow, and we don’t get nearly enough of it here in the south of England. Snow is one of the few things that still brings a childish kind of joy to me. Still, after two flights and an early morning, that was not the time for messing about in it.
The next day we started our road trip up to Levi, a resort up in the Arctic circle in Lapland, where we’d rented a Levikarpalo cabin (pictured on the site!). As I said, loads of snow around, so at first it was a bit scary being driven around on a layer of the stuff, but after a while it was fine, even going at full pelt up the motorway when you couldn’t see the lines and only little red poles sticking out of the side verge told you where the ditch started.
Stopping for lunch was fun, Prisma has a most excellent logo! I don’t usually eat fast food but being hungry and on holiday I went for a ryebread-encased treat in Hesburger. I liked it so much I had a similar thing on the way back. Good job they don’t do them here, I’d get fat.
I noticed a couple of things on the trip, aside from generally marvelling at all the snowy pretties. The houses, where there were any in their little clusters, have ladders up to the rooves so the snow can be cleared to stop them caving in.
There were also very nice, tasteful christmas lights here and there in a tree, bush or around a window – usually all in each string of one colour, often blue, white, red or green, and sparingly. The effect with all the snow around was lovely; a refreshing change from the glaring, tacky stuff we tend to see here.
Upon arrival, just after driving through the nearest town Kittilä, we were greeted with the lovely sight of the Levi world cup slope all lit up in the dark. Very festive and magical and exciting.
Based on the pictures and description of the cabin, we were expecting our bit to be quite small. On the contrary, we spent a while just running around it generally going “squeeee!” because it was really big and shiny, particularly with the shower room/sauna, kitchen and comfy lounge.
Now, one of the best ways to chill out has to be getting naked to shower with some people you just met the previous evening/that morning, then sitting around chatting in the sauna. We even went outside in our towels and one of them rolled in the snow – I wasn’t quite that brave, but we ran back inside to warm up again and all was well. Time for celebratory bubbles!
On our first day we went to hire snowshoes and took the gondola up the hill (to the right of the slope in the picture above) and had a trek around. My hand nearly fell off from the cold but I had to take pictures because it was an amazing landscape up there. So many layers of snow covering the ground, the trees, the ski lifts and powerlines and cabins.
Our mapbearer led us to one cabin that really just looked like an iced cake even upon closer inspection. But off came the snowhoes, we went inside and… a fire! Lovely. Picnic stuff was unpacked, sausages for warming over the fire (with the toasting forks dangling around the sides of the room) and hot juice from the thermos.
All over the wooden walls people had scribbled their names, dates, relationships 4 eva and so on with charcoal. After that nice interlude, we started to make our way down the mountain. Eek!
The moon was an amazing shade of red as the sun set (probably at about 3pm, having come up around 10:30). We trudged down, I wondered how much snow there actually was, as I saw the tops of trees poking out sometimes and got a bit worried about sinking (which I did a bit once or twice).
Apart from getting very hot from all the layers and weird exertion, it was loads of fun, especially when trees decided to throw some more snow at us from above. I was glad to sit down in the bar afterwards though!
Our host did a most excellent job of calling a husky park and negotiating a special trip for us; we were driven there, given a snowsuit, boots and gloves and had a fantastic outing feeling like it was just the 4 of us out there (with 1 sled between 2) – it may well have been.
My passenger/driver demonstrating the vehicle
The dogs were as noisy as I was expecting, they get so excited before running. After a slightly terrifying tutorial about how to stand, lean, break and switch drivers, we set off across the frozen lake covered in a thick layer of snow. It was at least -24°C that day and the cold air on the only part of my face that was exposed was indeed cold. The coldest it got the whole time we were there. It’s quite strange to feel your eyes getting covered in ice crystals as you breathe. But I grinned under my scarf thingy the entire time.
All we could hear was the sled going along and occasionally our snowmobile guide dude, who was blocking the other paths so the dogs took us the right way. They’re silent while they’re working. We swapped passenger/driver halfway around 3.5km out. The snowscape was quite surreal and amazing through the forest. 7km was the perfect time – enough to take it in and enjoy driving and riding, but not so much that we got bored or froze!
The lovely people then took us to a cabin where we got a sausage to cook and hot tea/coffee/juice options to warm up. The walls had memorabilia from their races and some old equipment like wooden snowshoes and skis. All very nice – then a lady came in and asked if we’d like to meet the puppies? YES!
I love dogs anyway so this was a highlight for me. The Alaskan malamutes were so sweet, long one of my favourite breeds anyway, I had a cuddle with one through the fence and it cuddled me right back. D’aww. Very well-timed as a coachload of tourists turned up just as we were leaving.
Other fun stuff we got up to included going out for dinner; I had some king crab! Having watched documentaries about how they’re fished, I had to go for that, and it was indeed tasty. More of a Norway thing but hey – new foods. We were also treated to some elk stew by our excellent host, as her dad’s hunting party had recently got one and she brought some meat along. The salted salmon was also yummy. On New Year’s Eve we had raclette for dinner, which was fun.
We needed some good food after the day’s activities; I actually strapped myself to some skis and slid around for a bit; cross-country ones, that is. Knackering stuff! Much respect to my friends who enter into races on those things. Then 4 of us trekked up behind the cabin to a small hill, filled some black sacks with snow at the top and slid down it a few times. Obligatory snow-angel, flailing around in the white stuff, kicking trees and so on. Looking out the window now as it’s snowing in London a bit – not quite the same!!
To bring in 2013, obviously we had some alcohol – if you’re flagging a bit and it’s still early, try Bailey’s in your coffee. You could also add some Minttu, which is 50% and (obviously) minty. Very tasty! We also partook in the New Year tradition of molybdomancy, or Bleigiessen as I’m more familiar with it – you may be too if you’ve been to the Wellcome Trust building on Euston Road. We melted some metal horseshoes in a ladel and poured them into a bucket of water, then had a look to see what our ‘predictions’ were… I’ve decided mine looks like Schnappi, though I’m not sure what that means. Trip to Germany?
On the drive back we had to avoid some reindeer trotting along the road, I saw a guy ice fishing (was planning to have a go but they were charging for the lake nearest us and we had a drill but not rods, so meh!) and watched my fellow passengers sleep a lot.
I loved how quiet everyone was! In a supermarket, out in the little market centre, on the bus – if people talked, they kept their voices down, no louder than necessary. An occasional child shouts to their group, but no unruly kids either. Perfect for me, I’m generally quiet and get quite pissed off with people shouting to their friend who’s right next to them!
We became fond of the Finnish mustard, it’s tasty. Also this juicey version of mulled wine called glögg. Even better with a splash of spiced rum added! It was also quite surprising to go from -24 to +1 in a couple of days, I expected it to be hoving around -20 the whole time. Oh and apologies to the Finns for our terrible singing – but it’s their fault for bringing SingStar…
Scandis really, really love the Moomins. And Angry Birds (as Rovio is a Finnish company). So lots of kids had Angry Birds-themed ski gear, and we spotted loads of Moomin jumpers in the airports. Partner who is something of a linguist was also surprised that Finnish does bear minimal resemblance to German and English sometimes, having anticipated understanding/connecting nothing at all!
Edit: Forgot a couple of things. Some of my friends complain about how fast I walk - well, you should try being there, they outran us!! It’s to keep warm, y’know. You should try it. Also, our radio station of choice was quite entertaining. A few blasts from the past, stuff like Maya – It’s All ‘Bout The Money (all ’bout the dumdumdududidum…).
I’ve thought for a long time that I might like to retire to Canada or somewhere similarly chilly, and this holiday has certainly given me some proof to base that view on. Unfortunately we missed the northern lights this time, but that’s just a good reason to go back – hopefully to see some of Norway next time, and Sweden someday too