Enter The Land Of Melancholic Beauty

Perhaps not as striking and immediate as the Alps, nor as intimidating as the gorges of Norway, Finland can definitely be a strange beast to fathom, but there is great beauty here, beauty that is not found anywhere else on the planet.

In fact, besides those famous Lapland photos of aurora borealis and snow bent pines, small cottages and midsummer nights, it might appear to you that Finland is nothing but an endless stretch of mottled blues and greens. And while it’s true, it’s also so much more: It’s all about the details, and less about the scale. It is the silence, the sudden rush of leaves, the seasonal shift, the whole enthralling ambiance of the north.

A moment of stillness just before the sun takes the plunge.

While other countries often give me this continuous feeling of awe, bombarding my senses with towering mountains, quaint seaside vistas or gently rolling hills, nothing can really beat the magic of the moment I’ve felt herein. It’s a feeling hard to describe, with seemingly melancholy surroundings of little remark. It’s one of those deeply personal experiences everyone must figure out for themselves.

“Surely we have leagues upon leagues of lonely woods and scores of glimmering rural lakes, but to truly feel the magic – you only need to pick out any neck of the woods and let yourself be spellbound.”

Now, you might say that I’m perhaps a little bit biased, that everyone thinks just so about their country, but bear with me here. Although I have a great sense of home, my true country is nature, unhindered and unconfined by any border.

Imagine yourself somewhere there by the rocky coast, under those shadowy trees, enjoying the purity and silence.

For me the most memorable moments are those of discovery after a long day’s hike when you find that perfect spot in the wilderness. Be it in a dark wood by the deep green stream, or a solitary free-for-all cabin in the midst of winter. The peace that follows. The campfire by which you might find yourself contemplating the simple fact of being alive, or just warm yourself with the kuksa full of coffee.

Wilderness huts such as this one are scattered all around Finland for anyone to use as a temporary shelter.

Come summer and those mornings when you wake up to a concerto of early birds and the misty light of dawn. There is something ancient and shamanistic about it really, some deeper unconscious connection between the man and the wild, so often lost in this time and age.

What do you think? Why not come and explore it for yourself. The arboreal land of bear, elk and deer welcomes you!

Reindeers, while keeping their distance, are often quite curious about the wandering folk.

A stormfront chasing across the marsh with thunder in its wake.

Finland is all about stark contrasts and attraction of the opposites.

Amidst all those browns and greens, it’s spectacular to see a heather in bloom against the morning rise.

My Finland

I have been living here in Finland for close to 7 years now, after coming to Finland in 2011 in search of new adventures. I fell in love with the arctic and a local Finnish woman and have never left. While Enontekiö and Kilpisjärvi are my home and base for my guiding business, I have been lucky enough to live and visit a large number of places throughout Finland. Below is a summary of my Finland, in 5 photos. Enjoy!

These are the fells of Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park in the middle of autumn. This was taken the old fashioned way, out the window of a 2 seater aeroplane, piloted by my wife’s Uncle. The park has everything Lapland has to offer in one location, open fell tops, forests, marshes and lakes. As one of the national parks certified guides it was great to be able to see one of my workplaces from the air.

Kilpisjärvi, located in the arm of Finland, on the border of Sweden and Norway, is my home. There is nowhere else in Finland which offers the same mountainous landscapes. It’s a fantastic place for viewing the northern lights, and in winter you can ski or snowshoe pretty much anywhere you like. This shot is taken under Saana Fell looking over Lake Kilpisjärvi towards the Norwegian mountains.

At the other end of the country is Teijo National Park. It’s only a couple of hours from Helsinki, close to Turku and has around 80km of hiking trails. I was sleeping in of the laavu’s (a lean-to-shelter) in the park and was woken by the sun at around 4:30am to find myself shrouded in mist. This was one of the last photos I shot before the mist cleared. Misty mornings are common in Finland, particularly in autumn as the temperatures start to cool.

For me, this shot is winter. It’s one of the reasons I never went back to NZ. The temperature at the time was -42 C, the air was crisp and froze on the back of my camera every time I took a breath. When I looked through the viewfinder, my nose would freeze to the screen. Both our cars wouldn’t start and while most people stayed indoors, I was out exploring on snowshoes for a good couple of hours. I may not have been born in the north but I often feel as if I was meant to be.

I also love forests, which is a good thing as Finland is a land of forests, with seventy five percent of the country covered by them.  In the middle of summer, when everything is lush and green, that’s when they are at their best. This image was shot at Koli National Park back in 2015. The views from the top of the of the park are amazing, but it was the lushness of the forest which stood out for me.

The magical landscape of Koli is the most Finnish view ever

People say that what you can see from the top of Ukko-Koli hill is the most famous view in Finland.

You can find this breathtaking place in the easternmost part of Finland, in Koli national park in Lieksa.

Many artists used to come here at the end of 1800’s and early 1900’s to immortalize this spectacular natural landscape. Nowadays widely known and highly esteemed Finnish artist Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937) spent a lot of time in Koli, wandering around and searching for new spots to sit down and create new paintings. And, boy, did he find them! He was a master to describe Koli’s surrounding by paints.

This is where Eero Järnefelt made a painting called Metsälampi (Forest pond).

Today tourists from all over the world come to visit Koli to see these places that are well-known from Järnefelt’s works. Yesterday’s art became today’s advertisement.

You can climb up Ukko-Koli hill, which is the most visited place in Koli. On the highest point you can admire Lake Pielinen right there under your nose. All those green islands and endless blue water under the blue sky and white clouds… That has to be the most Finnish view there is.

There is also an observation tower called Räsävaara nearby Koli village. If you dare to climb up, the view from up there is really stunning!

From the tower you are able to see all around Koli: the Koli hill queue, Lake Pielinen and other smaller lakes and ponds. I think that this really is Finland’s most beautiful national landscape!

MAP.

Read more about Koli here and Koli National Park here.

Sky-Sailing above the Lakeland

I’ve always been afraid of heights. So, when a friend asked me if I would like to fly in a hot air balloon, I immediately said yes. I wanted to face my fears and have an unforgettable experience. Right after that I tried to forget what I just had promised.

After a few weeks it was time to face the fears. First the pilot gave us a short presentation of what was to come. Then he released a helium balloon to show the local wind direction, and decided the route in such a way that we would avoid the nearby great lakes. It would be a shame if the wind calmed over a big lake and the balloon would run out of gas.

The take off place was an old sports field 12 kilometers away. The first thing to do was preparing the basket. Then the hot air balloon was spread on the ground. First it was filled with cold air and when it was full, the pilot started to heat the air with a gas burner.

Soon the balloon was high in the air and the basket scarcely touched the ground. It was time to climb aboard. Now I was nervous, but just for a moment. Soon the balloon was high in the air and instead of thrill my mind was ecstatic.

Landscape was truly beautiful in the light of the setting summer sun. There was a green carpet of forests as far as it was possible to see.

Here and there I could see a blue lake shining like a jewel, hills rising and fields glowing in all shades of green.

The air was calm because the balloon had the same speed as the wind. It was absolutely quiet. The silence was broken only by our conversation, and occasionally the sound of the burner. The only sound from the ground was dogs barking.

Above a lake the pilot dropped the balloon as low as possible, and we could see our reflection on the calm water. The sight was unreal, beautiful and memorable. It was good moment to enjoy a glass of a sparkling wine. Then we rose again and travelled smoothly forward.

After an hour it was time to start preparing for the landing. As the balloon goes to the wind, landing takes place in a suitable open area. The balloon touched some treetops and finally it hit the ground with a small bump. The flight was successfully passed. This time fortune favored, because we hit the ground only 300 meters away from the planned spot. Such accuracy is very unusual.

We helped to pack the balloon, after which each of us received a diploma and a testimony to commemorate the memorable experience. It was not scary at all to be in the air. I had seen and experienced familiar landscapes in a completely different way than ever before. That was just great!

These 7 summits in Finland are easy to reach and will take your breath away!

Climbing on top of a fell is something you’ll never forget. Physically it can feel exhausting – prepare to sweat. However, with each step you’ll notice that the view behind your back is getting more and more amazing. When finally on top, you can not believe how beautiful the view is.

Here are my personal favorites that are relatively easy to reach and their beauty is mind boggling.

Saana, Kilpisjärvi

Saana is one of the most legendary fells in Finland. To get to the top you’ll have to hike about 4 kilometers back and forth, including Finland’s longest stairs. The view on the top is spectacular – and so is the cold wind. At the feet of Saana you’ll find Kilpisjärvi Visitor Centre and for example a hotel and some restaurants. Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Saana

Pyhä-Nattanen, Sodankylä

This is an ancient holy place of the sámi people who are the only indigenous people in the European Union. On top of Pyhä-Nattanen there are strange rock formations called “Tors” named after the Scandinavian god of thunder Thor. To get there you need to hike a 7 km circle trail. Pyhä-Nattanen is in the Sompio Strict Nature Reserve, which means that you have to stay on the official trail at all times. Read more in English here. MAP.

Tors on top of Pyhä-Nattanen

Olos, Muonio

Olos is a cute little fell near to the Swedish border. It is a ski resort with hotels and restaurants and stuff, but you can still experience the serenity of the Finnish nature when hiking on top of Olos. The hike to the top is not long: only about 1,5 kilometers from the hotel. I recommend wearing snowshoes in winter! Read more in English here. MAP.

On top of Olos. Levi fell is in the horizon.

Pallas, Muonio

Oh my, the Pallas fells will surely steal your heart. In the beautiful national park of Pallas-Yllästunturi, the round summits of Pallas are one of the most popular place to visit. To get to the top I recommend that you hike the 9-kilometer-long circle trail called Taivaskeron kierros. At the feet of Pallas you’ll find a hotel and a visitor centre. Read more in English here. MAP.

If you love reindeer, Pallas is the place for you.

Oratunturi, Sodankylä

When driving from Kemijärvi to Sodankylä or vice versa, Oratunturi is a must see. With only a 2 km hike you’ll reach the top of this quite underestimated fell. The trail is well marked with red, wooden crosses (it’s actually a snowmobile trail). The view from the top is unreal! You’ll also find a lean-to shelter with firewood and everything next to the top. To find out more contact the Sodankylä Tourist InformationMAP.

View from the top of Oratunturi fell.

Luosto, Sodankylä

The Pyhä-Luosto national park is very easy to reach and has lots to offer. In winter this place is amazing for snowshoeing and aurora watching. The hike to the top of Ukko-Luosto is about 2 km long. When visiting Luosto, check out this beautiful little café with no electricity or running water: Torvisen maja. Read more about Pyhä-Luosto national park in English here. MAP.

View from the top of Ukko-Luosto. Pyhä fell is in the horizon.

Levi, Kittilä

And finally, if you’re not into hiking but still wanna see some breathtaking views, there’s always Levi waiting for you. On top of Levi there’s a parking lot and even a café. It is not common in Finland that a road leads to a top of a fell, but Levi is an exception. This place is a very popular ski resort, so be prepared for lots of tourists especially in winter. In the feet of Levi there is a village with many kinds of tourist attractions such as snowmobile safaris, hotels, restaurants and so on. There’s even a cabin lift that will take you to the top if you don’t have a car! Read more about Levi here. MAP.

Polar night on top of Levi fell. Pallas is in the horizon.

Please remember that weather can change very quickly in Lapland. Also, the trails to the tops of the fells can be very steep and rocky. Always make sure that you have proper hiking shoes and hiking clothes and a map before you go for a hike – even if the hike is going to be a short one. If you don’t know what you should wear, contact the local tourist information and tell them where you’re heading to ask for their advice.

Must see! The Secret Jewel in the Crown of Helsinki – Rhododendron Park of Haaga

If you are in Helsinki in the beginning of June, you really need to go to Haaga. Or if we are honest, it is worth to come and watch from a distance.  Rhododendron park of Haaga is just unbelievable.

I still remember when I found this place for the first time. When approaching the park I felt a pleasant scent that kept intensifying with each step.  When I was in the park, I thought: “People do not believe that in Finland we could have such parks”.

I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was like another world. I do not remember ever seeing anything like it. The place was filled by so much beauty that I was overwhelmed. In every direction my eyes could see huge rhododendron bushes blooming all at the same time.

The park was built when the University of Helsinki plant breeding science department crossed rhododendron varieties in the 1970s.  Now the place is a secret jewel in the crown of Helsinki. The park is also internationally unique. As many as eight acres of the area has nowadays nearly 3,000 rhododendron species. Beside rhododendrons, there are a whole bunch of azaleas in the park. Most of the bushes is 2–5 meters high.

You really need to see this park. Pictures show just a small part of the beauty when coniferous forest greenery is painted with new purple, white and pink shades.

If you want to experience all this, you need to have a perfect timing. Rhododendrons bloom for a short time, usually in the first two weeks of June.

You can on a criss-crossing the park paths and boardwalks through the rhohos and have a close view. The park also has viewing platforms from which you can admire the floral splendor also from above.

What?
Astonishingly wonderful 8 hectare park full of rhododendrons

When?

Usually the best time is two first weeks of June

Where?
Laajasuontie 37. 200 meters from Huopalahti station between the roads Paatsamatie and Eliel Saarisen tie.

The Water Is Back!

After taking many photos throughout the winter here in Finland, it’s nice to finally see some liquid water again. It’s quite amazing to see the transitions in nature as the seasons change, and I really recommend visiting Finland within the next few months as the weather warms up. The spring/summer season is really nice here, as it’s often warm and the forests become amazingly green and lush.

Below are some photos that I’ve taken recently, right after the lakes have thawed or are busy thawing.

The water slowly starts to show as the weather warms up.

The remains of some ice float on a lake as the weather continues to rise.

Only a bit of snow remains along the shore.

The last lonely piece of ice sits on a lake at sunset.

The sun sets over a recently thawed lake in Joensuu. No more ice or snow!

Have a great summer everyone!

FINNISH WINTER COTTAGE (Welcome To Finland #3)

By Timo Wilderness.

We made a trip to a hideout cottage to Northern Finland near Lapland. All the traditional joys like cross-country skiing, sauna and ice swimming included. The whole thing was ridiculously stereotypical Finland. And so beautiful.

MORE WTF:
WTF#1 NORTHERN LIGHTS
WTF#2 NATIONAL PARK NUUKSIO

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One trip, three countries – Winter trekking from Kilpisjärvi

We arrived to Kilpisjärvi on Monday evening. We parked our car and started skiing across the lake. The sun was just going behind the hills and the weather felt a bit colder than we had expected.

When we came to Kolttalahti, we started to look for a place to camp. Near Swedish border we found it: a little hill with a magnificent view to all the three countries that meet here: Finland, Sweden and Norway (map).

Not a minute too soon we started putting up the tent and minding the dogs. With freezing fingers and toes we made it. The cooker made tent nice and warmish as we made dinner, but still I needed to wear down jacket and down skirt when we ate.

We saw northern lights red and green and yellow dancing in the sky like never before. It was going to be an extremely cold night. My two sleeping bags were not warm enough. I was feeling cold, especially my toes. My husband made hot water bottles for my feet. When that was not enough, he let me sleep in his sleeping bag. Then I was okay, but he was cold.

We didn’t get much sleep that night. The temperature was -28°C. Somehow we made it through the night and faced very cold and very beautiful Tuesday morning. Happy to see the mountains and to hear the perfect silence, but worried about the cold feet we started skiing towards Norway. We agreed that if we don’t feel warm soon, we have to turn back and seek shelter in a cabin.

After five minutes of skiing we knew we can make it. The blood started circulating and the warm feeling filled toes and fingers. To Gappohytta it is!

And what a trail it was. Up and down and up and down. We really needed to sweat to get the pulkkas up those hills. Even one of them made me feel I used all the power I had. And then there was an other and an other one… I never knew I could do it so many times. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the snow was sparkling and the Barras montaintop was watching over us all day as if we were the only people on Earth.

When reached Gappohytta in the afternoon, I was flat. The last bit of uphill was almost too much for me. It was such a relief to step inside a cozy hut and to know we would sleep safe and warm tonight.

In the evening we made short skiing trip around the cottage to see all the different shades of pink the setting sun painted on the mountains and hills. There was no-one else in Gappohytta, just us two and our dogs. That night we went early to bed and slept well.

Wednesday morning there were some clouds in the sky. Maybe the weather was getting warmer. Eating breakfast we made plans. Tuesday had been exhausting. Should we turn back now? We were tempted to go to Pältsa stuga in Sweden, but was it too far? Can we make it back to Kilpisjärvi from there, if the weather changes? At home we had said to our boys that we will be back to Kilpisjärvi on Thursday or Friday, so we did have an extra day in reserve.

We decided to give it a try. We packed our pulkkas, put on the belt, connected the dog and started skiing to Pältsa. Boy I’m glad we did! It turned out to be an easy day.

In two hours we reached the cabin, where the hostess welcomed us to the pet room and promised to warm the sauna in the evening. We were her only guests – no-one else here so early in March.

To my relief there was a marked 20 km track straight from the cabin to Kilpisjärvi. And there had been two snow scooters driving it that same day. The track went over the hills with a huge amount of climbing. We knew we had a challenging day ahead of us, so it was nice to just read and relax on the afternoon.

Also for the dogs it was good to have time to rest. Miilu had some snow cuts in her front pawns. I put medicine and boots on. She didn’t touch them, so the cuts started healing really well, as the dogs enjoyed sleeping in the cabin.

Thursday morning was cloudy. We started climbing up the highland well prepared, rested and packed so, that we can quickly make a camp up there, if necessary. It was difficult to tell from the weather if it is going to clear or turn in to a storm. We also had an extra days food with us, both for us and for the dogs.

Without the dogs this heavy trail would have taken us all day, but with them only 4-5 hours. So steep were the hills and so many of them there was. I could only admire my dear dog Miilu. I don’t understand how does she have the strength to pull up the walls all day. Finding the track in the snow, she really is my Togo.

But what a place, and what a weather it was up there! The sun started to shine, it was warm, no wind – just the white hills ending in white clouds – As hard as it was, we were in heaven.

We had lunch on a top, where we could see the place we camped on Monday ant the mountains we skied to on Tuesday. That moment had it all. The dogs resting behind a stone, us standing silent on the top. It was a farewell to the mountains before going down and back to normal life. This time it was more difficult than ever.

Article by Anu Suomalainen. This article was originally published on Wander woman blog.

The hidden romantic side of Helsinki

Helsinki is like any other capital of Europe. Busy busy people, places to eat and drink, a lot to see and much to do. But there is also a calm and romantic side that is hidden near city Centre.

Many people know Suomenlinna fortress, but there is also another place for a wanderer. Vanhankaupunginlahti (Old town’s bay) area has a romantic mood: idyllic walking paths near water, museum of technology, history and beautiful nature. About 1 kilometer south from Vanhankaupunginlahti there is Lammassaari (Sheep island) where you can do birdwatching and enjoy sunny days near the sea.

Western rapids of Vantaajoki (dam)

In my opinion the most romantic place is Vanhankaupunginkoski (Old town’s rapids) where the river Vantaanjoki meets the sea. Old brick houses tell the story of the neighborhood. The City of Helsinki was founded there in 1550 by King Gustav I of Sweden as Finland was under Swedish rule.

Dam in evening light

The river is divided into Eastern and Western parts and the western part has a dam. The old power station dam is beautiful in evening light. I recommend visiting there in your next stop to Helsinki.

Eastern rapids of Vantaanjoki

Map (Old town’s rapids)