Beyond the Artic Circle: Finnish Lapland (14th-19th March)

I read once that “the journey not the arrival matters” (T. S. Eliot, Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948), so I tried to keep it in mind on the way to the “Erasmus promised land”. What I explain next is a thrilling account of our journey to one of the coldest places on earth: the Finnish Lapland.

Day 1 (Thursday 14th): Crossing Sweden

I went to the trip as a monitor, together with Romain, so the first task was to hand the train tickets. A big group of people (41) from different places, with different ideas, but all with the same wish in mind: to see the aurora borealis (aka Northern Lights). The first train brought us to Stockholm in less than one hour (16.41-17.35), where we took the train that would lead us to Luleå, 900 kilometres north of Stockholm. Once we settled into the train, with a good mood and lots of jokes about the lack of water (water wasn’t drinkable on the train and they provided a small carton package instead), the cinema sessions and the card and/or drinking games started in the different cabins. It was an attempt to get tired enough for sleeping on a bed that would never stop moving until 08.58. 15 hours later we were at Luleå. Lucky guys those who could sleep, which was not my case, since I woke up in almost every stop that the night train made.

Day 2 (Friday 15th): First contact with Lapland

The bus took us right after leaving the train and would lead us to Finland, exactly to a road shopping area in Tornio. The brunch stop lasted around one hour (one more if we take into account that our clocks went one hour forward, according to the Finnish time zone). There was still one more stop, at a second shopping area in Rovaniemi, where I hardly could eat a hamburger (eternally grateful to the slowest burger workers I’ve ever had in front of me) and buy some groceries in the 5 minutes left. However, nothing really mattered at that moment because we were only one hour and a half far away from Korvala, our destination. The excitement reached its highest point when we got there, at 16.50, after 24 hours travelling.

A short speech of Jaana gave us a “warm” welcome to Korvala. It is a family run location that has several cottages and can host 50 people. After that we were taken on a short Husky Dog Sled Ride, which was a lot of fun.

3 - Short Husky Sled Ride

The dinner, at 19.00, was fantastic (great meatballs!) and later on I went for a walk to the forest with some people, where we could observe the most starry sky I’ve ever seen. Back at the common room in the “sauna cottage”, we build a fire and tried sauna in the Nordic way: sauna (optional: beer), wear your shocks for walking outside on snow/ice and, once you are on the frozen lake, get in the water, swim for a while and go again to sauna after taking a shower. Simply amazing! The feeling after swimming in the lake it’s undescribable, but you feel so good that you want to repeat over and over. The party started in cottage 10 (the biggest one) and, although the Northern Lights seemed not to come that night, I decided to go for a walk with Sergio and Joaquin seeking to see them. Our persistence made us seeing some lights moving in the sky, so we run to the middle of the lake and, it was clear, they were the Northern Lights. We started shouting the two magic words to tell the rest what they were up in the sky; however, only Marta believed us and came to join us. Here it is the proof:

4 - NL First night

Day 3 (Saturday 16th): Tasting Lapland

Waking up was not easy (I had went to bed at 4), but the reward was to enjoy showing the previous picture to of all of those who had thought that we didn’t see the Northern Lights. The breakfast, at 9.00, was very nice every day; nothing was missing. Right after it I rented a snowsuit to feel warmer as well as Ferrari member or petrol station worker 🙂 It was worth for only 10 €.

5 - Ferrari team

Later, the Husky Ride and the Snow Mobile Safari started, but before my turn I tried cross-country ski for the first time and it was actually fun. At 13.00 I started my 5 km Husky Ride and it was an unique experience in an unbeatable environment: lush forest full of snow and sun shining sun. The speed was not that much since we had 4 dogs instead of the 6 that the leader had, but driving the sled was wonderful.

6 - Husky Ride

Afterwards, we leart how to fish in a frozen lake. Obviously the first step is to make a hole in the layer of ice (it was more than 50 cm thick); that’s the most tiring step. The rest is about waiting and, if no fish come, the recommendable thing is to make a new hole and so on. By the moment when my hunger started overcoming my patience I went to the cottage to have a warm lunch (this meal was not included any day).

7 - Phising

At 16.30 we started a short Reindeer Ride in a sled and Paul and I unfortunately took the slowest reindeer. There was no way to make him go faster. We also got a short explanation about their lifes and we learnt that all of them has an owner; there is not a single reindeer that does not belong to anyone and for that they have a sign on their ears.

8 - Reindeer Ride

Before dinner Joaquin and I looked up on the Internet how to properly configure the settings of the camera in order to catch better the Northern Lights. Then, we enjoyed salmon with smashed potatoes, accompanied by a great sallad. I had a rest prior to sauna and when I was swimming in the lake, I suddenly saw that we got lucky one more night and the Northern Lights were up in the sky and I experienced the probably coldest minute of my life pondering with Malte about this nature phenomenon. That night the NL were brighter, but they were gone earlier, so we built a bonfire in the fire place close to the lake. We laughed a lot and enjoyed a cold night around the fire, having also an improvised BBQ with pizza and sausages at the end. After extinghising the bonfire, I went to check the temperature and it was -37ºC (we reached -38ºC according to the electronic thermometer they had).

9 - NL Second night

Day 4 (Sunday 17th): Trip to Pyhä

We took the bus after breakfast and at 11 we arrived at Pyhä-Luosto National Park, where we enjoyed an amazing morning and afternoon walking. The best part was the walking the trail until the frozen waterfall . It’s closed sometimes due to the risk of avalanches. It was a really good day and we had a lot of fun, especially  filming our descents with sled in slow motion and descending the stairs, or should I say toboggan? There was also time for getting buried in snow to imitate the polar bears in a homemade documentary. The weather was perfect as the rest of the days: cold and sunny, without a single cloud.

11 - Pyhä waterfall

The most awaited dinner arrived: reindeer meat. It was good, very tasty. The dessert, as in previous days, was excellent. While we were eating, we heard that the chances of seeing the NL again were pretty high and indeed we saw them right after dinner. It was incredible. While other days we had needed to look to the North, that night they were above our heads. Well, in fact, they were all over the sky. Meanwhile, excited guys everywhere. It’s difficult to find the appropiate to describe our feelings at that time, but I could approximate a little bit by saying that we were extremely happy all the time, open-mouthed for some moments and flabbergasted at some other moments. It was an immense show of coloured lights in movement; white, green, pink… Simply awesome 🙂 At this point I want to thank especially Joaquín and Malte too for their patience configuring the cameras with -30ºC to take such an amazing bunch of pictures (I still don’t know how Joaquín could stand the cold for various minites without gloves). Evert’s tripod also came in handy, so we tried to pay homage to him, but it was a big failure.

12 - NL Third night

The last sauna night (I swam six times in the lake, as per usual) and the party began after, but nothing else mattered. We saw the most intense Northern Lights we could have imagined and that was what we had been dreaming since long time ago.

13 - Lake after sauna

Day 5 (Monday 18th): Goodbay to Korvala and way back

Breakfast, payments, giving rented stuff back, saying goodbay to the family that runs the bussiness, which treated us fantastically, and heading to Santa Claus village. This place is located right in the beginning of the Artic Circle. We were there from 12.00 until 14.00 taking pictures (among others, a group picture with Santa Claus), walking around and sending some postcards. There are a lot of letters  coming form many different countries every year, all of them are stored in a small post office.

14 - Visit to Santa Claus

After this visit, we went to Tornio by bus, where we could buy some groceries for the way back. Then, we headed to Luleå. There we have some time to walk until the church. At 18.00 we got on the train and we wouldn’t leave it until 9.20 of the next day in Stockholm. Luckily I slept like a log.

Day 6 (Tuesday 19th): Finish of the Lapland adventure

Our trip was over, so the train back home was the place to start realizing how lucky we had been. We went beyond the Artic Circle, where not many people have the chance to go, and we doubtless enjoyed one of the best experiences of our lifes.

Categories: During Erasmus, Spring semester | Leave a comment

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