Finland

Baby it’s cold outside!  Drawn by the allure of the Northern Lights as well as our love and familiarity with the frigid winter, this time we’ve set out to the Arctic Circle.  It’s actually a “bucket list” destination that we share with allot of our Minnesota friends back home – though admittedly they are much more rugged and outdoorsy than we are.  So when we stumbled upon Kakslauttanen in northern Finland there was no question – this was the perfect resort for us nature and comfort-loving Northerners 🙂

Our first night was something out of a dream, as we arrived to a hearty home-cooked three course meal served in a cozy rustic lodge, then escorted our luggage via toboggan over the frozen river to our glass igloo.  Enveloped by the magical pine trees and blanketed by stars, we gazed into the sky from the comfort of the heated glass igloo and listened to dreamy tunes all night.  It was an absolutely spectacular night, one which we will never forget!

The next day the sun greeted us early and we explored the area on cross country skis.  Now, as a Minnesotan, I’ve dabbled in most Nordic sports, and recall a few frigid, miserable x-country skiing excursions through my childhood.  Perhaps a sign that I’m aging, but our trip was delightful, fun and amazing exercise!  There are over 200km of trails throughout the Inari and Sodankylä municipality, as well as Urho Kekkonen national park, and every few km’s there are local cafes, warming huts, and fire pits.  We stopped at one such cafe called Tievaupa and enjoyed a delicious, doughy Finnish pancake with berry jam during our trek.

That evening we went in search of the lights on a reindeer safari.  Yes – reindeer are wild in this neck of the woods, we saw quite a few roaming around!  They also seem curious and tame, and the night was absolutely clear with a stunning full moon.  We snuggled together on our sleigh and gazed up in anticipation to no avail – the lights didn’t make an appearance.  Still, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the astounding vastness of Lapland, and afterwards thawed out in our own personal sauna, part of our rustic log-cabin tucked into the woods.

Our last day we were husky mushers!  The dogs were so energetic when we arrived, howling and jumping and tangling themselves in their leads.  Each sleigh had one “musher” who drove from the back of the sleigh, and space for a guest sitting in the sleigh.  As soon as the dogs were released, we were off!  It was amazing fun to glide (and at times bounce) through the woods, and the dogs really love running.  Its easy to tell as they fall in line and bound over the sparkling snow.  They stop for nothing (and apparently I’m barely heavy enough on the break to get them to stop!), leaning over to eat snow for a drink or take a wizz(or a #2) as they run (tip – wear the protective overalls!).  By the time we got back they were well-exercised and very sweet.  We also got to meet the future huskies, some adorable puppies who were both energetic and shy as they learn to socialize, which is an important skill for sleigh dogs.

The dogs are Alaskan huskies, which isn’t actually a “breed” but more-so a northern working dog.  Centuries ago they were used as the Sami’s only form of transportation, including to haul heavy cargo, so they needed to be strong and have thick coats to survive the long, cold winter.  These days as technology has replaced the transportation, now they are used more for racing and therefore have been bred with faster dogs, like the pointer.  Our team had six dogs – the two in the front are the smartest, most experienced older dogs which lead the way, the two in the back are the strongest to pull the weight of the sleigh, and the two in the middle are the “troublemakers” which have the easiest job – and we could clearly see these traits in our team! 🙂

That evening was our last in Lapland, and, determined to see the lights, we settled into the glass tee-pee with a bottle of red and some tunes, and set my camera up towards the stars…. and waited…. and waited…. now you often hear that one must be patient when seeking the lights, and it turns out that this time our patience had truly been tried, as the lights made no appearances at Kakslauttanen during our trip 😦   Oh well, at least it gives us something to look forward to in the future!

We had a long layover in Helsinki on our way back, so we hopped on the Finn Air citybus and grabbed a fancy smørrebrød and wienerbrød for dinner at the Karl Fazer cafe in the city center.  The cafe was a perfect fit for the chocolate lover in me, as Carl Fazer has been the Finnish major chocolatier for almost one hundred years.  It’s pretty cool to see the amalgamation of all the Nordic languages and cultures in Helsinki – Finnish, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian.  It’s a nice city with a clever street tram and multiple impressive churches, including the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral built as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia in the mid 19th century.  We finished up our mini-tour just in time, as tiny snow dipping dots started to pelt down from the thick clouds hovering over the city, and we darted back to the citybus en route to London!

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