Hej hej everyone!
We have just arrived in Berlin and will be here until 29 January. We have had an epic few weeks exploring more of Scandinavia and where the vikings lived. After Iceland, I really wanted to find more winter and to be honest, I really wanted to do dog sledding. We were told by the Icelanders that dog sledding is a Finnish thing to do in Lapland. So even though it was quite a trek to get to Finland, we decided to make our way there.
We made a pit stop in Stockholm, Sweden for two days and one of those days was spent at the ABBA Museum! Oh yea! Mom was a big fan of theirs, and so I was exposed to ABBA from a young age and had their tunes etched in memory. The museum only opened in 2013 and let me tell you, it is a lot of fun for ABBA fans and non ABBA fans! The museum is more than just reading about the band, it is like a mini game centre. There are all these interactive stations, which with you ticket, your results are recorded and posted on the ABBA museum website (accessible only to you with your ticket number).
I had a blast, and I fell in love with all of the ABBA songs. As soon as we left the museum I got all their albums synced up on my Spotify playlist and geez, these guys wrote some really good songs!
Leppäjärvi and Enontekiö, Finland and sneaky drive to Kautokeino, Norway
Kev and I flew up to Kittilä, Finland to pick up our rental car and to drive two hours north to our Airbnb accommodation in the middle of nowhere. Their listing title was ‘Experience the Arctic Circle’. I know that I just wanted to get as north as possible because when are we ever going to get the chance to do this again? Kev was also very keen because it meant that we were going to have a better chance to see more northern lights! The drive was beautiful! It was snow, snow, snow everywhere! Blankets of white icing all over pine trees and large fells. It was quite a daunting drive for two Aussies who have only driven in Australia’s dry and warm conditions. Snow and ice was a new challenge.
Our hosts Elina and Gareth gave us the following tips:
1. Drive calmly and slowly (max speed 80km); and
2. If you see reindeer on the road, do not honk them, just slow down calmly and they will walk off.
Due to point one, Kev and I unanimously agreed that he should perhaps drive first.
When we arrived to our Airbnb accommodation our hosts, Elina and Gareth were so open and welcoming. Kev and I were a bit wired from the travel, two hours of cautious driving and overwhelmed by the beauty around us. It was about 3.30pm and it was already looking like 7pm so luckily for us, Gareth had started preparing dinner for us. Reindeer! As always, I was a little worried about eating such a cute animal, especially since we did encounter a few on our drive down, but Gareth put my mind at ease explaining that all the locals eat reindeer and from what I could tell, they are the equivalent of cow/beef in Australia (as in people own herds of them).
We were also greeted by all three of Elina and Gareth’s dogs! They were all so adorable and I could not contain my happiness having a furry friend near by again.
Our week in Lapland was truly a unique experience. On our first day out to the town to get some food it was a chilly -36 degrees celsius. This was quite an unusual and exciting experience for me. It was like very trip out of the house was an adventure! We had to wear so many layers to keep warm, and when you opened the door to go outside, a gush of frost or mist would enter the house. It was as if you were walking out into a huge freezer, except that outside was a lot colder than the usual freezer! One time when Kev ducked in to the toilet, I waited outside and just jumped up and down to keep myself warm. When Kev walked out he asked me ‘Did you roll around in snow?‘ I was confused and told him that I was just standing there for the few minutes he was inside. He then took a photo to show me what amused him.
This extreme cold continued to amuse and surprise us. I could not help but giggle every time I walked out to feel the moisture on my nostrils freeze instantly. My nose would all of a sudden go ‘crusty’. Haha!
On our second day, we secured a spot on a 20km husky sledding tour of Lapland! I was so, so, so very excited. There was only Kev and myself and two Frenchmen who were on the tour. We all were able to have a go at driving the sled and man, was it an adventure! Elina and Gareth gave us extra layers of socks, leg warmers and gave us two mittens (woollen ones and leather ones). Kev was given a heavy wool sweater to wear under his down jacket. We also hired boots as the awesome Gore-Tex ones that we had were not warm enough. The day started at -36 but when we arrived at the Husky farm we were told that it was -38 degrees. When we stepped out of the car, I saw a puppy and gasped in excitement, however, that gasp was my first breath in, and I ended up coughing as the dry, icy air tightened my chest and throat. (This sensation amused me too).
Sledding was just dazzling! We were able to catch a little bit of sun when we were out there. Our tour guides were loving it, saying that only a week ago there was absolutely no sun for months!
Here’s a video of our husky experience bravely taken by Kev!
My scary moment in the extreme cold
When we switched over, and I was in the passenger seat, I wanted to take some quick photos. I remember the tour guide saying at the beginning of the tour ‘Do not take off your gloves during the ride.‘ Usually I listen to such instructions, but this was once in a lifetime, and I wasn’t going to have my hands out for long. So I took some photos and a short video on my camera. But within a minute my hand got so cold I didn’t realise it turned completely numb. Like real numb. Dead numb. I started to really freak out. I couldn’t feel the camera in my hand, couldn’t even feel where my hand was located. I tried to put the camera in my pocket, but felt nothing. I then just tucked the phone in my lap and tried putting my mitten on. No luck. I was jabbing my hand in and out of whatever was tucked under the blanket. If my finger had gotten caught on something while jabbing it, I wouldn’t have felt it. It was gone. With the wind in your face and in your ears while in a moving vehicle, I had to focus on looking at my lap under the covers to find the mitten. When I did, I just shoved my hand in there and started shaking my shoulders, arms, legs… everything and anything to try and get the blood moving in my hand. For a good 10 minutes I went quiet. I just prayed that my hand was ok and I was regretting not listening to the guide’s instructions. After a while, I started feeling ‘ice’ in my mitten. I was a really mystified. How did I get ice in my mitten? It made no sense? I kept pumping my hand and then I realised that the ‘ice’ in my mitten were in fact the tips of my fingers rubbing agains my palms. Soon after that, my whole hand started to burn as if it was on fire. It was so hot that I tried not to squirm in my sled. After that, my hand was swollen and sore for the rest of the day and for the day after. Lesson learnt.
Experiencing the arctic
Sauna the Finnish way
We were 68 degrees North, 4 degrees higher than when we were in Reykjavik in Iceland! After our Husky ride Gareth and Elina prepared their indoor sauna for us to use to defrost. OH MY GOD! I never understood the power of the sauna until that day. We were warm enough throughout the day so that we could enjoy ourselves, but only when we sat in the heavy, heat of the sauna did we realise how cold we actually were. Everything felt so relaxed and we warmed up quickly. Once we were hot, we then made a quick dash through the laundry out to the backyard stark naked giggling and shrieking out swear words as our feet hit the snow and rolled around in the powdery stuff! When we returned back from the cold into the sauna, we had this cool tingle where all the snow made contact with our skin. It was a really invigorating sensation, and yes. It’s addictive. It is the Finnish way, and those Finnish are CRAZY! I can’t back down on a challenge, and doing an insane thing like rolling around in snow stark naked in -36 degrees, I can proudly say, I’ve done it!
Life is connected to nature
Seasons – The Finnish life style in the Lapland area is very closely connected to the seasons. This is something I quite liked about it. During the summer they pick wild berries, fish in the lakes and hunt the reindeer and freeze all of them for the winter. For the Finnish, these sub zero temperatures which are an adventure for me, is a walk in the park for them. It is normal to have layers upon layers. It is normal to have those cute knitted mittens, leg warmers and hats for men and women (in fact, they are the best kind of warm). A part of Finnish life is that in the winter, you must warm up your car by a cable a good 10 minutes before leaving. This small detail was something Kev and I never had to experience in Australia. Our rental car was pretty good for most days (not needing a cable to warm up like Elina and Gareth’s and most of the locals) but after the second day of -40 something, all three of our cars refused to turn on.
The sun – this becomes very important to those guys who live in the arctic circle. When we were there, the sun would rise at 10.00am and then set at around 3.00pm. This made everyone more tired due to less sun, and it affected me heaps… however, Kev surprisingly was more awake than usual. Hrmm?
The quiet – I’ve never been to a place where I hear nothing but my breath or my insane voice in my head speak. It is so quiet that at times it is a little confronting. There’s no wind, breeze or any movement in the air. There are no birds, there are no rustling as everything is covered in a heavy coat of snow. It’s really something. The closest thing I can think of is going diving, but even then, you can still hear clicking and scratching from the crustaceans.
Relying on neighbours – because you’re in the middle of nowhere, with only 80 people in the village, who else can you turn to when you run out of food and your car is frozen? That’s the lifestyle for those who live in the arctic circle. Houses have enough distance to offer complete privacy, but everyone knows everyone and are happy to check in on you to make sure you’re ok. Here are some snaps of our arctic life:
Driving to Kautokeino, Norway
When Gareth and Elina were able to get our car to start again, we decided to take a drive down the road. There was a Norwegian town that was a little over two hours down the street called Kautokeino. It was a small town, but it had a silversmith there which had an interesting studio. So with Kev’s encouragement (I had been too nervous to drive beforehand) I took the steering wheel and drove us across international borders! The driving wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of the left hand drive with changing gears with the right hand. The thing that was difficult was trying to keep on the right side of the street without going over the centre line as it was covered by snow, and in the afternoon on the way back, there was heavy fog making everything even more whiter. But it was ok. I completed the return trip! And while driving we came across heaps of reindeers!
Having a complete conversation in Finnish with…
Elina and Gareth’s dogs! Can you believe it? This was by far the coolest experience for me! Haha! By the 4th night at our Airbnb place, I was able to pick up a few cool Finnish words from hearing Elina and Gareth speak to their dogs Saku, Rolly and Myrsky.
One night when Myrsky (a beautiful Siberian Laikan x Bear Dog puppy, who is a reindeer killer… oh yes he is!) was inside, I surprised myself with this:
Me: Myrsky! Toole tan-ne!
Myrsky looks at me from the other side of the room, gets up and comes to me.
Me: Myrsky, Eestu!
Myrsky looks at me, processes what I’ve said and then sits.
Me: Hoover! Key-toss!!!! OH my god, the dog is teaching me Finnish!
I praise him with pats, rubs, hugs and excited vibes as I can’t believe that I am talking Finnish to a dog and he understands me! It’s a friggin miracle! Myrsky just laps up my well deserved affection.
I learnt other ‘useful’ doggy words:
Toole tun-ne = Come here
Eestu = sit
Hoover = good
Key-toss = Thank you
Eh-men = Go
Eh-men, eh-men, eh-men = Go Go Go! (This sounds really cute saying out loud)
Oo-loss – Out
Damn, there were two other words, but after two days of leaving Finland, I’ve already forgotten them. However, I was pleased to have picked up something of this very foreign language. Even if it is doggy language. I am sure I can use them practically one day…
Before we left, Elina and Gareth treated Kev and I to a movie night with popcorn and the oldie Top Gun! It was such a wonderful last night, and we were able to take a ‘family photo’ to remember our time there!
We had such a wonderful experience in Finland because of Elina and Gareth, and if anyone wants to give living in the middle of nowhere in the arctic circle a go, please visit these guys! You can see their Airbnb listing here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2060177
So Finland completes our Scandinavian trip. We have visited very country in Scandinavia which was a complete surprise because initially Kev and I had not even looked at any websites about Scandinavia. Looking back at what we have achieved amazes me and I am so happy that our travels have turned out the way they have. People may comment that our travel path is a little unusual jumping from Austria then up to Scandinavia, however, I like it like that. I like it that I have the freedom to choose where I want to go and when I want to go, even if it is a little unconventional, no one can take the experiences away from us.
On a final note, I have been inspired and I’ve written a bitter sweet song called Scandinavia. Have a look below!
P.S I had to sneak this photo in: