Our last few hours in Helsinki were used up walking around the city and buying Salmiakki (licorice) before our flight to Rovaniemi in the Finnish Lapland. We decided to get a taxi to the train station to avoid dragging our cases along cobblestone roads for ten minutes in the cold. This proved to be the wrong decision as we handed over €17 20 minutes later. When in Helsinki, just get an Uber. Illegal but worth it.
The flight in to Rovaniemi was beautiful and it was amazing to see snow-covered ground as we were landing. There is however more snow around in March than we first thought and we later found out that there is snow in Northern Finland for about six months of the year. Once we arrived we picked up our hire car and headed to our B&B in Vuotso, approximately 220km north. The drive was slow which was due to a combination of snow and driving on the right-hand side of the road.
During our first full day in Lapland we drove further north to Inari where we visited the Siida Centre. The Siida Centre is a cultural museum about Lapland and the region’s indigenous people, the Sami. There was a great exhibition there on what the area looks like at different times of the year. The snow doesn’t melt until June where the average temperature is about 10 degrees. This then plummets to -30 during the peak of Winter.
Later in the evening our B&B host lit the Sauna for us so we could do as the Fins do – sit in the sauna and then run out into the snow. There are about 2 million saunas in Finland which means that nearly every family in Finland has a sauna – even those living in apartments. Yes, you are supposed to sit in them naked and yes it’s a family affair 😮
This sauna was heated to about 80 – 85 degrees and runs off wood. Interesting fact, the B&B itself is heated completely from a wood furnace with the rooms in the house sitting a comfortable 20 degrees. After the sauna, we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed out to the fire pit which was built by the owner of the B&B and was very cosy with blankets and reindeer skins to sit on.
Our second day in Lapland took us to Kiilopää, a ski town next to the Urho Kekkonen National Park. The national park runs 100km wide to the border of Russia. For €16 each we hired out skiis for cross country skiing. This proved no small feat and 7km took us 3 hours. It turns out we are professional skiiers and only fell over a few times. The weather the whole time was snow, snow and more snow.
After an afternoon nap to recover from the skiing, we headed back out at 7pm to Saariselkä for a Reindeer Aurora Safari. From Saariselkä, our guide Timo drove us about 15 minutes out of town to his Reindeer farm. It was completely dark by now so we didn’t get any pictures of the reindeers. Timo had a team of five reindeer set up for our group, with each reindeer pulling a sleigh which fit two people in it. After a small accident involving our sleigh falling off the reindeer and running into a tree, we were pulled through the snow for about 15 minutes until the Northern Lights began to show. Unfortunately we didn’t have a tripod with us for the camera, and it was far too cold to hold the camera still enough to take many good photos. Surprisingly Ben’s mobile phone was able to capture the lights pretty well. The lights decided to turn off after only a few minutes so we continued to the campfire spot for a warm coffee. Here we stayed for about 1 hour and the weather for Mary became unbearably cold – even though we were wearing special snow suits. The pain in our toes was awful. Pain aside it was great to be able to tick the northern lights off our bucket list. The plan was to see the northern lights for our 5th wedding anniversary and technically it was the 24th March in Australia so mission accomplished.
In case you’re wondering we did run out into the snow after the sauna.