Here in Russia we get a February break that is a week, and when given a whole week we travel, so we decided to go to Finland. While most people would head somewhere warm, we thought let’s chase the cold and head north to Lapland. We spent a day in Helsinki on the way to Ivalo, which is 68.6 N Latitude. We had booked a few nights in the famous Kakslauttanen Resort, the one with the glass igloos.
We opted not to go with the glass igloos and chose a cabin with a sauna and fireplace instead. This turned out to be a great decision as it let us lounge around and read or warm up after outdoor excursions. While in Lapland we went snowmobiling courtesy of Sara and Justin’s Christmas gift. It was a nice way to get into the wilderness and go up a couple of hills to get a view of the tundra. Caitlin chose not to drive and I managed not to freak her out with my driving. By the end of the snowmobiling we were both a bit cold and hungry and decided to have dinner on the earlier end of things.
After dinner we walked back to our cabin and noticed that the sky looked a little lighter than normal and thought it might be the start of the northern lights but really we had no idea. Regardless, we decided to to take a walk to help us digest the massive amount of reindeer we had eaten for dinner. We put all our layers on and started walking down the cross country ski trail. About 30 minutes down the trail we started to notice that the lightness had turned slightly green and was forming a gradual arch in the night sky. It was at this point that we realized that we were watching the northern lights. I snapped a couple of pictures and we took it all in. Thinking we had managed to witness the northern lights, we slowly started walking back along the path. We thought what we had seen was cool but not as spectacular as the pictures we had seen. Still, we counted ourselves lucky for having seen them at all. As we started heading back, they started to become more intense and fill more of the sky over us. It was at this point that we really started geeking out as we could see them dancing across the sky. It looked like an invisible hand drawing on the night sky. Caitlin started giggling and hopping up and down with excitement. It was very contagious and we both kept repeating, “I can’t believe this!” I continued to take pictures, very happy that I had lugged my tripod along, there was no way I was going to be able to stand still. Halfway through the amazing show Mother Nature was putting on I looked back and saw Caitlin lying in the middle of the trail looking up. Upon me noticing her, her immediate response was “My neck hurt, but I can’t stop watching.” I started to tease her, but about 3 seconds later I was also laying in the middle of a ski trail staring up at the sky. The whole “show” lasted about 30-40 minutes and then the sky clouded over enough that the light was visible but the colors were gone. The Aurora Borealis was awe inspiring and it was easy to understand how early people in the region would have come up with stories of gods.
The next day we went dog sledding. Caitlin and I recently did this in Russia, and Caitlin liked it enough that she wanted to try it again. The difference in Finland was that we got to drive the dogs for longer. The guides layered us up with more clothes than I thought were necessary (I was wrong) and then gave us directions on how to break and a reminder not to let go if the sled tipped. Caitlin drove most of the way and did so without tipping the sled or letting go (something I appreciated as the passenger). The dogs were less pleased with her driving however as she kept braking when all they wanted to do was keep running. They were strong enough that they left her arms sore the next day from having to pull back hard enough to make them stop. We definitely got a the turbo charged group of dogs. It was another chance to explore a little bit more of the area.
The last activity we did was taking a ride on a reindeer sleigh. Our guide was an older Sami gentleman who took us to his land and took us for a tour. He was so excited about showing us everything that he singlehandedly made the day awesome. The best part was that when he referred to the temperature it was not necessary to say negative, but he did say positive prior to temperatures in the summer. “It’s 15 today, but sometimes in the summer, it gets as hot as plus 20.” Speaks to the norms of the environment I suppose. The sleigh ride was nice and once again we got a super excited animal to pull us. Our reindeer keep trying to overpass the sledge ahead of us. Thankfully he was tied together so he couldn’t pass them or flip us by running off the trail. At the end we were treated to a cup of tea and a short song while he played his drum.
While Lapland was colder than Moscow and it seemed counter intuitive to take a vacation that did not escape the winter, it was nice to explore a remote part of the world and take advantage of the region of the world we live in.