IN A NUTSHELL – ROVANIEMI: LAPLAND, HUSKIES AND SANTA
The Laplands has always held a certain aura of mystique. With the Northern Lights, ice fishing, husky sleds and being the official home of Santa, how could you say no to the Wintery North?
Going into negative degree temperature for the first time in your life is quite the experience. After seeing snow fall for the first time in my life in Helsinki, I was hooked, addicted and wanting more. After being called the “snow worshipper” by a couchsurfing host, it was only fair that I lived up to that label and ventured up to the Finnish Laplands to get more of the white powder.
Exiting the plane was the real shocker. The temperature change was something that I had never felt before. Even though this was just the mid of November, the temperature was a cool -11°c. Suddenly the layers I had in Helsinki wasn’t enough. Apparently the rain in the previous few days had melted much of the snow in the city, now there were little clouds to keep the heat in. This meant a catch 22 in that the city was clear, but there was no snow and the temperature so cold that ice was an issue. As always, my timing for such things was flawless. #sarcasm Now, this is the first piece of advice I must give you for Lapland
Do not go to the Laplands during November!
This is so important that I had to add an exclamation mark there and make this bold. This is how serious it is… Avoid November because
Most of the winter activities have no started. So no snow safaris, or igloo building, no ice fishing tours till December.
The shortest days are in November, so be ready for the great depression. Sun comes up at 11am and goes back down at 1pm.
Historically, November is one of the worst months to see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights with little activity or incorrect conditions.
It’s quiet as hell. Some students are drawing close to their break, but most aren’t quite there yet to get onnit with you.
However, the low sun did mean that you could get some epic sunsets, even if it was before you’ve had lunch.
The people of Finland are all a pretty awkward bunch by our standards. They joke about the Finnish ways of isolation and independence, but the further north you go the more obvious this is true. People are shy and are scared of you if they are not drunk and if they are drunk, girls will rape you. Was it just the fact that I was exotic meat? Probably. I don’t remember seeing many people at all during my time there…the place was like a dead town.
I felt like Will Smith in I am Legend and probably looked like him compared to the pale blondes. I was loving it.
Finland is culturally the most interesting of the Scandinavian countries as they are the most…what’s the right word. Native?
Immigration looks really low compared to Norway or Sweden, so everyone there is proper Finnish especially this far north. Lots of blonde and blue eyed people everywhere you look. This is the equivalent of Outback Australia or Southland NZ, all the stereotypes with their stories about snowmobiling accidents, to skiing to work, being run down by an indigenous animal, hooking up with their cousins. This is what I meant by native.
However, I stayed with a bunch of exchange students, who were as confused by Finnish customs as I was.
Oh yea, speaking of people…this guy lives here.
The list of highlights for Rovaniemi is pretty damn lengthy. Because of how foreign and different everything was…and because of all the snow, I was like a little kid. Snowball throwing and ahhing and oooing over what were probably standard scenes in everyday Finland. But that’s why we travel isn’t it?
I knew my trip to the Lapland would be incomplete without some awesome huskies-sled action. Due to my November arrival, there were only two companies operating a short circuit. Let’s do it.
The huskies are awesome, but one thing that made things more awesome was the fact I did it solo. Less weight, six dogs = fast arse sled. One of the younger dogs decided I was a big fattie and stopped running half-way through. Even then, five dogs were more than enough pull for my 70kg frame.
So a hundred odd euros and about a hour later, I felt awesome but also somewhat unsatisfied.
I got to “drive” a pack of huskies around a circuit. “Drive” as in control the speed, but the dogs knew where they were going so steering was unnecessary. I wanted more, a full 3 day trip or something. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to go on a full on safari with them and build igloos to stay overnight and almost as jealous as what
Going solo meant that you didn’t have to tag them someone for controlling the sled, but as the “sled-master”, you are forbidden to take photos. So the only photos I have are from the tour guide who didn’t know how to use my camera.
SNOWMOBILE SEARCH FOR AURORA BOREALIS
One of the few other things that was happening in mid-November was a night time snowmobiling through the forest in search of the Northern Lights. It also happened to be the night that was the coldest during my stay in Rovaniemi with the temperature out in the woods -22°c and -18°c in the city. Due to the extreme cold, it was a brutal taste of how things can get in the wilderness. We had only the lights on our snowmobiles and the moonlight to get around.
With the rain that had fallen a few days prior and the sudden drop in temperature, the tracks were difficult to get around as much of the water had turned to ice with a thin layer of snow on top.
This was again, something I wished I could do over a week long safari trip of some sort. Just as, I was getting a good feel for the vehicle, it was time to head back. There was no activity for the Northern Lights this evening, but we did eat some food on a open fire beside a frozen lake. Here’s a photo taken at 25 sec exposure in pitch black conditions.
Saunas are part of Finnish life, you cannot experience Finland with getting naked in a sauna at some point. Due to promising to run around naked if the temperature dropped below 15°c, it just so happened that the day when this first happened was the day we got into the saunas.
Nothing can prepare you for that first touch of ice on your body after being in a boiling sauna
Although traditional you are suppose to go to saunas naked, I was with a big group of exchange students from all over Europe and none of us understood the Finnish customs. We did religiously have beer whilst in the saunas as per Finnish tradition. That was a great way to burn your lips on the edge of the can. Perhaps that combination is the only way to explain my semi-naked-towel-wearing elbow lever on a rubbish bin out in the -15°c temperature.
(KINDA) LOCAL ADVICE
Local advice this time comes from Mr. Bramme Veerecken. He was my couchsurfing host and an awesome future lawyer from Belgium. He comments
The terrace of a hotel on the skihill serves very nice to watch the aurora’s! Further [from] the various bonfire places near the river! And, mmm actually the whole place was a sweet spot.. If you leave Rovaniemi for 5 km, you are in the middle of nature and nowhere.
Let’s elaborate on that
The Skifield in Rovaniemi is called Ounasvaara.As you can see, although it is extremely close to the city center..it is so far in the wilderness that Google show it as blurred.
As the Northern Lights are best seen in area without much light pollution, this is an ideal location close to the center with lots of side activities to partake should you get too bored.
Although I missed out on a lot of activities, went at one of the worst times in the year, I found myself really my short stay in Rovaniemi. Staying with an awesome group of students, getting down with unique Finnish traditions and finally mastering the art of putting and taking off layers of clothing were all a great experience.
Throughout my whole trip, this was a clear highlight due to how different it was from anything else I had ever done before. The mystique of the Lapland still has me wondering what ifs.
With a longer list of things I want to do in the Lapland than before I arrived, this is a location that is likely to be re-visited.
This two articles are not only amazingly detailed but also contain ridiculous photography.
Skimba Lifestyle talk about everything I did in Rovaniemi but in more detail. You can find their article in Lapland in 48 Hours
Classe Touriste: By professional travelers and photographers, Debbie and David. Their breathtaking photography combined with their ability to gain access to incredibly unique locations make it perhaps the greatest travel blog in the world . This post on the Swedish Lapland takes you on their husky journey and makes me so so jealous.