One of my most adventurous trips to date was to Finnish Lapland. Lapland is a vast region spanning northern parts of Finland, Russia, Sweden and Norway inside the Arctic Circle. The landscape here is too flat to be dramatic but it’s a beauteous barren, monochrome tundra expanse.
|There are more reindeer than people in Lapland!|
We arrived in Rovaniemi, the unofficial capital of Finnish Lapland, 800 km from Helsinki. The Second World War devastated this city as the Germans razed it to the ground as part of their ‘scorched earth’ policy. It was re-built by Alvar Aalto, a famous architect of Finland to resemble a reindeer’s head and antlers.
|A white on white world|
To really enjoy the extreme temperatures here, you have to be in the right gear...Our local tour company, A la carte Lapland and Jari, our local host, dressed us up in Arctic gear- thermal zip-up overalls, thick socks, sturdy snow boots, balaclava, muffler and padded gloves. We felt like men on the moon, initially but soon got used to it!
We visited The Artikum, a modernistic, arched glass atrium housing a science centre and museum built into the banks of the Ounasjoli River. We learned a lot about how the early settlers survived in these harsh climates with few amenities, by fishing, building, and floating logs on the river.
|Reindeer ready for a ride|
That evening, we met a traditional Sami reindeer herder dressed in his red and royal blue tunic called Gatki, with embroidered designs, hat with streamers and reindeer boots. He took us inside a traditional tepee called the Kota, open to the sky, with a fire to keep us snug and tells us about Sami customs and beliefs.
|A traditional Sami|
The reindeer ride was of course not in the sky like Santa... but over terra firma! We tried to vainly control these active creatures as they sped ahead.
|On a Squidoo|
For some activity, we went on snowmobiles called squidoos, which look like lawnmowers on ice with powerful and noisy engines. I opted to be a pillion rider with a tough Lappi and that was a bad idea as he raced past the others through the barren landscape with me clinging for dear life.
We tried our hand at ice fishing and tobogganing and also visited an amethyst mine under the snow covered ground. Even got to dig for my own piece of amethyst...
|Drilling a hole for ice fishing|
A visit to a husky farm is mandatory in Lapland. To me they looked more like wolves from whom they have evolved. We met Marek, their trainer who told us that they eat a kilo of food every day! A husky driven sled ride was on the cards... I choose the easy option to sit protected by reindeer pelts, and my partner has to stand behind balancing on runners, controlling all the dog power!
|Marek with his husky|
|Santa Claus Village|
The Santa Claus village, 8 km north of Rovaniemi, has tourist arrivals round the year from Britain..and it’s a great tourist draw card. An affable, portly Santa with a twinkle in his eye greeted us with a, “Namaste!” We even had our photos taken with him. There were many attractive shops in an arcade for some retail therapy-fleece rugs and a cheesy reindeer mobile was what I succumbed to.
|Elf at the Post Office|
The piece de résistance of the Santa Claus village was the Post Office where all the letters sent by kids to addresses like North Pole, Arctic Circle, etc are directed! Enthusiastic red and green costumed elves sort out the letters diligently and reply to those with return addresses.
|Inside the log cabin|
Last on the list was the traditional log wood smoke sauna experience - a huge stove with large amounts of burning hot rocks on top where water is sprinkled often to increase the humidity! The scene of action- a 150 year old rustic lumberjack’s cabin in the middle of the wilderness.