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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.

‘I’m most proud of Finnish nature as a Finn’ [Finland 100/Suomi 100]

As Finland is celebrating its 100 years of independence in 2017, I could not come up with a far more excellent idea than talking to Finnish people from different walks of life about the idea of Finnishness. The centenary year gives the Finns plenty of reasons to look back at the past and rejoice at all their glorious achievements. I wanted to listen to the stories of Finnish people in order to get an insight into what it means to be a Finn, the Finnish way of life and future hopes for this Nordic nation. As would be expected, not everybody will tell the same story but combining them together can produce a powerful Finnish narrative that comprehensively reflects what this north European nation is like.

Emilia Leppänen is a student. She studies in an upper secondary school for adults and is a fast food worker. Finnish nature is dear to her heart. She loves exploring forests and takes great pride in living in a society where men and women have equal rights.

Enjoy the interview!

Q. Tell us briefly who you are and what you do.
I’m Emilia Leppänen, a 23-year-old girl from Pudasjärvi in northern Finland. I live in Oulu and am studying in an upper secondary school for adults. Right now I’m also working in the fast food industry, until I know what I want to do in my life.
My next aim is to join the Finnish army in January next year, and I’ve been preparing myself for that for many years. In Finland, the military service is mandatory for men but for women, it’s voluntary.
I love being in forests. I usually go hiking and camping whenever possible. Ice hockey, and nearly every kind of sport, is my hobby.

Q. What makes a Finn a Finn? What does being a Finn mean to you?
I think being a Finn means having some kind of craziness, sisu and perseverance. It’s also having rights and responsibilities at the same time. I think the Finnish identity is a huge privilege for us, too.

Q. What are you most proud of as a Finn?
Our nature, absolutely! We have all four seasons, including cold, dark winter with a full load of snow and summer without any darkness when the sun is shining all day and night. We even have a law that ensures everybody has the right to go to forests, wander and pick berries. It’s called “jokamiehenoikeus” (everyman’s right).
I am proud of the Finnish society. It offers us free education, great healthcare and other facilities for a good life regardless of where we want to start.
As a woman, I also enjoy having equal rights in the society. For me, it’s something I take for granted so much that I can’t always even appreciate it enough!

Q. Finns often prefer isolation to social interaction. Does that mean Finnish people consciously want to live an isolated life by avoiding a vibrant social life? Or is it just the way of life that has been going on for generations?
It’s not that we live in full isolation. Maybe we just don’t make friends so quick and it takes time for us to trust people. However, when you get that trust, you will always have a good, unbroken friendship. We don’t need shallow small talk with every passer-by because that gives us nothing. So why should we do that, then? We get everything we need to fulfill our social needs from our real friends.

Q. In 1940, the New York Times said ‘sisu’ is a word that explains Finland. If sisu is such a key part of Finnish identity, then I would define Finns using three words that all start with the letter ‘S’ — sisu, sauna and silence. To what extent do you think my definition is correct?
That’s a stereotype but on the other hand, where do stereotypes come from? There has to be something true about stereotypes.
As for sisu, it’s something we all appreciate and try to have. So it isn’t just a stereotype. One of our prides is the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939–40. We won it just because our soldiers had enough sisu to bear with the bone-chilling cold and the despair caused by the overpowering enemy.
And silence — we love it! Why should I talk to a stranger if I really have nothing to say? Just be quiet and everyone appreciates it.

Q. Can you explain more, perhaps using examples, what it is like to be a Finn with sisu? Let’s say you have been unemployed for long or experiencing some insurmountable life challenges. So if you are a Finn who has sisu, what will be your course of action to overcome these challenges?
Just trust the future. We have this saying “älä jää tuleen makaamaan” which means you must not stay lying in fire. You have to act and strive to move forward. When you will feel like you have no more strength and are about to give up, sisu will give you more power to stay the course. So you accept the situation you have and do everything that you have to do. If you are unemployed and have sisu, find a job that may not have always been your dream job or start doing something else that gives you a feeling of satisfaction. But you never, never go down and give up!
We even have a law that ensures everybody has the right to go to forests, wander and pick berries. It’s called “jokamiehenoikeus” (everyman’s right).
Having sisu in a difficult situation is like disregarding what your mind and body say, and then going ahead despite exhaustion, desperation or thin chances of success.

Q. One way of describing sisu is the ability to persevere in the face of extreme adversities. Success, as we know, comes with hard work and great perseverance. Do you think having sisu increases your chance of success in life?
If you want to achieve something that is difficult to get, let’s say in your studies, then you have to study really hard and take good preparations. Maybe you have been trying to achieve it for the last five years and have not succeeded yet. But if you stop, you will never get it. So you have to keep on trying.
It’s the same when it comes to applying for the job that you really want but which seems impossible to get.
You can achieve a lot with your sisu but you have to understand that not everything that is happening to you is happening because you made it happen.

Q. Let’s add two more words beginning with ‘S’ — salmiakki and shyness. Salmiakki holds a special place in the heart of Finns, and Finns have been described as shy people. Interestingly, the Finnish word for Finland — Suomi — also begins with ‘S’. Tell us more!
Almost every Finn loves salmiakki! It’s my own favourite and I believe it wouldn’t be so crazy to foreigners if they start getting used to it since the beginning of their stay in Finland.

I don’t want to think that we Finns are shy. In Finland, you must not speak loudly or use a lot of gestures because Finnish people just don’t do that unless they’re drunk or messed up. That’s not our typical habit and that’s why it makes us feel uncomfortable. When foreigners do that, we feel uncertain and kind of lose our social skills and then become quiet. That’s not the same thing as being shy.

Courtesy: Emilia Leppänen

Q. Finland and other Nordic countries are regularly ranked among the world’s happiest nations. Why are the Finns so happy? What is your definition of happiness?
We have a great society and I think we have achieved a lot just because we pay our taxes. Foreigners may think it’s expensive to live in Finland but most of us are paying taxes with great pleasure. Thankfully, this system has given us so much. That’s the thing in the Nordic countries.
They say happiness is about having the chance to affect your own life and to feel safe. Well, taxes have made this country perfect for that.

Q. In contrast, we have an upsetting picture. Research says 1 in 10 Finns suffers from chronic loneliness. Also, depression is a big concern and suicide rate is high here. What’s your opinion on ‘Finnish happiness’ when you take these saddening issues into account?
That’s really sad, of course. We have a great mass of young people who don’t have jobs and that’s the biggest reason why we have this loneliness problem. When you live in a small place without job or hobbies, it’s hard to get friends. Then there are people who become marginalised because of depression, which stems from a broken childhood. The effect of war fought by our forefathers is still on and that’s one reason why the extent of alcohol problems is so grave in our society, for example. Alcoholism is passed down from parents to children, and thus is a vicious cycle which is hard to break.
Winter is also a big problem here. Our long, dark and cold winter can be hard to survive even if you love it. Kaamos, the polar night in English, affects us physically. We feel disconnected and exhausted. We even have a medical term for “seasonal affective disorder”, which is depression caused by the polar night.
All these can put a dent in our happiness.

Q. In 2010, Finland was named the best country in the world by American weekly magazine Newsweek. Also, World Economic Forum’s 2015 travel and tourism competitiveness report ranked Finland as ‘the safest place on earth’. What is your reaction to these rankings?
It makes me feel more and more proud, thankful and privileged to live in this country!

Q. If you were given the choice of living anywhere in the world, would you still live in Finland? If yes, why? If not, why?
Absolutely yes! I love this society, nature, climate and Finnish people. I am not saying one can’t be happier somewhere else but for me, all I have here is just perfect.

Courtesy: Emilia Leppänen

Q. Do you think Finland can benefit from the skills of foreigners?

From foreigners, we can learn communality and positive attitude. It wouldn’t be bad for us at all.

Q. What are the challenges of living in Finland? Also, what are the positive sides?
Like I said, societal indisposition, alcoholism and marginalisation are the biggest problems here. On the other hand, the positive sides are our great society, including healthcare and education, climate, nature, and sisu.

Q. Finland’s economy is not doing well in the recent years. In 2015, Alexander Stubb described Finland as ‘the sick man of Europe’. And in 2016, the European Commission said Finnish economy was among the worst in the EU. What’s your future hope for the Finnish economy?
I hope everything will get better in the coming days and I believe it. Since I do not know a lot about how to make our economy better, I’m not the best person to make comments. This is why I have to trust our politicians.

Q. How do you feel about the austerity measures taken by the present government? Finland has gained worldwide fame for its educational success but education budget has been heavily affected by these measures. Do you think it will mean a loss of quality of education?
Yes, I do. Education is the most important tool to build a great society and you’ll get nothing good by slashing education budget. Speaking of the austerity measures on education, there will be consequences down the road and it will be hard to fix the damage.

Q. Starting from January 2017, Finland, as part of a new 2-year basic income experiment, will give 560 euros a month to 2,000 unemployed people each. The objective of the trial is to see if it can increase employment and reduce poverty. What’s your opinion on this? Do you think it will finally be able to boost employment figures?
I think providing basic income will be a good idea. Without basic income, it can be more profitable to stay home under the protection of the welfare system than going to work. I think we will be able to avoid this problem by evaluating the results of this new trial. Then the unemployment problem may be reduced as well.

Q. Who is your national hero in Finland? Tell us more.
I can’t come up with just one name. All war veterans are my heroes.

Q. For a foreigner, it is difficult to befriend a Finn. If I’m a foreigner and I want to make a Finnish friend, is there any golden rule that I can follow?
One thing — give us space, physically and psychically. Some scientists have found that the Finns need about 30cm more personal space than other nationalities and you have to respect this. At the same time, we find it very impolite if we are interrupted when we speak. You should never start speaking if the other person is not done yet with what he has to say. Wait for your own turn and don’t interrupt.

I think being a Finn means having some kind of craziness, sisu and perseverance.
Also, it’s okay if there are silent moments during the conversation. I say the longer you can be in silence with a Finn, the better friendship you will develop. You have to be patient, and just give us time and space.

Q. What does Finnish independence mean to you? And what’s your wish for your country as it is celebrating its 100th year of independence? Is there any area where you think Finland can do much better?
To me, independence is having our own language, freedom, human rights and national pride, including respect for our veterans. I hope we’ll preserve these all, and will ensure that our economy and well-being are on a better track.

Q. Finland is a highly egalitarian society, with women enjoying equal rights and opportunities as men in all fields of life. Gender equality is deeply rooted in the Finnish society. What is it like to live as a woman in such a society?
Like I already said, equality is something I take for granted. I can’t imagine how bad it will be if equality does not exist. If there is no equality, I won’t be able to do many things only because I’m a woman.

Moreover, because I live in this egalitarian society, I can get the job and education I want. The law is the same for men and women. I’ve human dignity and I’m free. Nobody can possess me or treat me badly.

If you are a Finn, I’d love to hear your story and your ideas of Finnishness.

Your academic background, profession or other aspects of your life are not important at all for responding to my interview. If you are a Finn, I want to know what you have to say about Finnish society, life, culture and everything else that define Finland and Finnishness. Just throw me an e-mail at r2000.gp@gmail.com and I’ll be in touch ASAP. You can send me the answers to the interview questions by email, and I will publish your story on this blog. In other words, where you live does not matter — from north to south to east to west, wherever you are, I am here to hear.

This article was originally published here by Mahmudul Islam.

Ice fishing, cold and boring?

First of all, I have to say that don’t drink and ice fish. Seriously. Use proper safety gears and don’t fool around, or else you can die.

Finland is the promised land of associations. I personally belong to 5 different associations. One of my favorite ones is definitely WP. And no, it’s not white power, it’s Wanhat Parrat and it’s translated to English; Old Beards. Although some of us got really nice facial hair, it’s not about that. Basically our association is  for over 30-year-old men and the name relates from that.

Most people even in our association think that ice fishing is a really boring hobby. Just sitting out there in cold weather. Usually people think that the purpose of ice fishing is to get some fish. It may be for some people, but for us it’s just quality time to enjoy with friends and have a good time. We do have a little competition about who gets most fish (I won!), but it’s not so serious.

We have a tradition to get a little nip of alcohol when someone gets a fish. This year we had a place with over 50 cm (1,64 ft) of ice, and it’s quite a safe place to go ice fishing. But seriously, you should never drink and go walking on the ice.

Finnish people may look quite strange to foreign perspective. We don’t talk much, we don’t like closeness, we don’t smile so often. We don’t have any problems to go a 90℃ (194℉) degrees warm sauna, and after that we go swimming to a hole in a frozen lake. If it’s a warm day, we can take our clothes off and take all out of the sun. Even if it’s -10℃ (14℉) degrees outside. And we were not drunk.

Where does all this “craziness” come from? I think it’s from our history. When there is  -36℃= (-32℉) degrees cold outside and you have to go to toilet. You just have to do it. I did it once, and it was also fun. How crazy is that?

I think life isn’t about how many or how big fish you get. It’s about enjoying your life. Get some some crazy experiences, but do it safely.

Sounds of silence

Lapland is known for its pure air, vast wilderness and the fact you can escape all noise. Enjoy silence. When is the last time you could let go and float into meditative mode surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but the wind and occasional bird? I am lucky to live in Lapland but actually sitting still in the forest doing nothing is something I hardly ever do. I did now.

Road to nowhere

I spread out my map on the kitchen table and had a good look. I didn’t get much wiser by looking at it, so I closed my eyes and placed a finger randomly on the map. Ok, looks just as good as anywhere, I shall go somewhere there!

I packed snowshoes and drove off. I already felt good and relaxed, as there were absolutely no expectations. I wasn’t really aiming anywhere particular, no mission, no time limits or anyone else to look after. I realised I often get a bit anxious because of all the planning and gearing up hiking and skiing trips include.

The random road I chose went on and on and on. I even woke up a reindeer who was standing still in the middle of the quiet road, head drooping. Lazily he moved out of the way. At some point I just pulled over, put on my snowshoes and headed straight into the woods.

Sounds of snow

The snow was deep and fluffy. Even with snowshoes on I was knee deep in there. On each step there was mute fluffy part on the top, and a crunchy layer underneath. The crunchiness was due to hardened snow, as a week ago temperatures rose temporarily as high as +2 C. Snow feels and sounds different every day, depending on temperature now and in the past couple of weeks.

I kept on snowshoeing until I needed a break to catch my breath.

The Sun was setting as it always is midwinter. The sky looked like a trend colour catalogue from the 80’s. Beautiful lavender, purple, pink, peach and yellow pastel shades. I had to close my eyes as the ridiculously beautiful sky was filling my head and blocking other senses.

Silence isn’t silent

I could only hear the beating of my heart. So loud! After few minutes my body had recovered and I could listen properly. Annoyingly the first sound I recognised was a snow mobile going fast somewhere in the distance, probably on a lake I had passed by car. Here, in the wilderness, in the arms of Mother Nature, a motorised vehicle. Quite a turn off.

Ok. I kept standing still, no hurry.

A crow.

Wind catching the tree tops, making some branches to drop their snow load on the ground.

Nothing.

Standing still surrounded by trees is very calming. They are just there, wanting nothing from you.

A dog barking far away few times.

A little bird calling shortly, probably Siberian tit.

I noticed my breathing became deeper and slower. Indoors it’s often short and shallow. It’s not something I normally would pay attention to. But now I have time to observe. I also remembered to be grateful for the pure air. In Muonio where I live in Lapland, the air is actually the purest of all Europe.

Nothing.

Wind in the tree tops again.

Me singing, noticing there was a cool echo.

BEEP of my phone, receiving a message.

..And the moment was ruined.

Back home all relaxed

Hiking alone has its advantages. You don’t have to fill the space by talking non stop. You can concentrate on being very quiet, thinking nothing at all. For me this works better than any meditation. Also, if it is longer than a day trip, you have to keep your phone off to save the battery! In the wilderness, further from the roads, there is no network anyway.

I think I’m going to do this again – just head somewhere with no expectations, just to breath, listen and be.

Photos by Joona Kivinen, from another trip as I didn’t want any cameras on my retreat of silence.

cold hot fun

The real fun starts when it’s really cold

Winter in Finland brings all kind of opportunities. From winter sports to trying to catch the aurora borealis, it’s never really boring. When the temperature drops below -20C, I enjoy to go out with a thermos bottle of boiling tea or water. You’d think it’s to keep myself warm, right? Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

cold hot fun

Sunset vapor at -24C

That hot water will nearly insta-vaporize when it is thrown into the air.

When you attempt to do that, you can pour the hot water into a cup, so you have a few tries. Be sure you throw fast enough otherwise hot water could fall on you before it’s cooled down.

Vaporizing water in the cold air

Vaporizing water between trees

What else is in the photo is up to your imagination.

These holy fells are two billion years old – Pyhä area, Lapland

Pyhä area in Lapland is a row of beautiful fells. The name Pyhä means holy. They looked special in the eye of the ancient Sámi people, but also geologically these fells are something else: They’ve been around for two billion years. The round fells we see today are the roots of ancient high and mighty mountains. Come and see for yourself! But respect the sacred surroundings.

Noitatunturi, “the Witch Fell” is an old sacrificial place and the highest peak of Pyhä fells, reaching 540 m. Photo: Joona Kivinen

Sacred place for the Sámi people

The fells and the grand gorges between them look so unique that the ancient Forest Sámi people held the place sacred. There are several sacrificial and worship places, “seita”, in the area that you can visit. A seita can be a unique rock formation or special kind of a tree. It was believed that spirits and gods lived in such places.

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Isokuru is the deepest gorge in Finland, plunging down 220 meters. It is 1,5 km long.

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On the bottom, there are many stories from the past if you pay attention. For instance, in the summer you see wave figures in the rocks, reminding of the time this place was under water.

Geological wonderland

Besides being culturally important, the Pyhä fells are special regarding the whole history of our planet: They belong to the oldest mountains in the world!

The age of the Earth is 4,5 billion years. The age of the main rock type (quartzite) in Pyhä fells has been dated to 1,9-1,8 billion years. These round cuties of today used to be massive mountains, reaching 4 km in height! Kind of like the Alps look today. Except that the Alps are wearing nappies compared to the ancient Pyhä fells, as they are only around 55 million years old. The difference in age is so huge it is hard to grasp.

The ice ages have done their part in sculpting the area. Massive glacier, as high as 3 km, has gone back and forth with warming and cooling climate and has rubbed the sharpness off the fells. Melting water from the glacier has gone through the gorges, carving them deeper and deeper.

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These Pyhä fells have seen it all. Literally. They have been here for half of the Earth’s lifetime.

Enjoy the National Park

In Pyhä-Luosto National Park there are many marked nature trails for your enjoyment all year round: Up the fells, down to the gorges or out to the open wetland on duckboards.

Whether you are into ancient cultures, geology, extreme sports or blissful nature, Pyhä has it all.

It is December and the day light is short. You only have a couple of hours of light, before having to turn the headlamp on. Then again, at noon it is both sunrise and sunset at the same time so the sky is just breathtaking. Then darkness falls for another 20 or so hours. But you have plenty of time to enjoy the northern lights…

Pyhä Visitor Centre

Map

What are Santa’s reindeer like?

We know Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and the other reindeer pulling Santa’s Important Sleigh by name, but really nothing else. I went to find out what Santa’s reindeers are really like. They live all around Lapland, some in Torassieppi, Muonio.

reindeer1

Meet Rolle, one of Santa’s less famous reindeer. The antlers are pretty impressive! Rolle is always willing to work hard and he is very patient with humans (and elves). He stood still for the photo shoot like a real pro model. Did you know that reindeer see ultraviolet light! The world looks very different with Rolle’s eyes.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Rudolph, as he was resting and saving his energy for the Big Day. But there are big personalities amongst the others as well.

Antlers are a signal of fitness

The bigger the antlers, the better father material you are in the eyes of the ladies. Lads cannot cheat and grow ridiculously large antlers, however, as it is up to genes and fitness how large they grow. 

Unlike other deer, female reindeer have antlers too, although smaller ones. Most likely the function is to better defend their young.

reindeer2

Antlers grow at astonishing speed, as much as 2 cm per day! Reindeer antlers are the largest of all deers, relative to body size.

Reindeer shed their antlers once a year, males after the rutting (mating) season. Some hold on to their crown until Christmas, probably to show off when travelling with Santa. Others won’t get rid of them until spring! Big antlers are heavy to carry and not very handy in thick forest, so there is really no need to keep them after the ladies have seen them in Autumn. Females loose their antlers in the summer.

Reindeer are not fussy with food

The favourite food of reindeer is lichen. But in the forest during their summer holidays reindeer also munch mushrooms and plants. It has been counted that reindeer eat over 350 different species of plant! The strategy is to pile up weight as much as possible before the long winter.

reindeer3

In Torassieppi the elves feed the reindeer an armful of hay a day, plus some protein rich lichen and reindeer pellets. To keep them in shape.

In the winter they smell food under a thick layer of snow. They have a very good sense of smell, it is reindeer’s most import sense.

His name is Aaro. He can be a bit moody and doesn’t get along with everybody. Aaro tends to prefer female elves and co-operates well with them! He does like his caretaker Tommi (at the background), with whom he goes sledding often.

Extreme cold doesn’t bother

Reindeer can manage in extreme cold, in -50 degrees of Celsius.

My lungs hurt if I ski at full speed in -25 C. Reindeer warm cold air in the long nose before it enters lungs.

But the coolest (or warmest) trick is in the fur: They have a very thick underlayer of hair, and overcoat is made of stiff, hollow hair that traps air for insulation. Actually Santa’s reindeer could make their journey by swimming, as the air trapping fur works like a life vest!

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I personally often get cold feet even in my warmest shoes. Reindeer don’t care, even if the temperature in their feet goes near freezing point. They don’t get a frost bite as I would, thanks to a specialised circulation system, in addition to a super cool antifreeze liquid in their bone marrow. True story.

Need to stop for a wee

In Finnish we have a measurement poronkusema which means the distance a reindeer runs without urinating. It is 7-8 km in fact. Reindeer cannot run and pee, so when sledding, they must be stopped at certain intervals so they can use the bathroom. I noticed at least Rolle seemed to empty his bladder every time we stopped on our 3 km sledding trip, just in case. It is actually very dangerous for the reindeer if he can’t go in a long time.

So if you see something yellow on the snow next to your house on Christmas Day, you know what it is!

These guys are sharing a joke. Or they both just love sledding. One of the elves is practising with young Harmikas (1,5 years old), who is too young to participate in Santa’s crew just yet.

 

See reindeer at Harriniva Torassieppi village, Lapland

Map to Torassieppi

Pink skies and freezing cold: this is what’s going on in Lapland right now

The temperature dropped in a matter of days. First it was -5 degrees celsius, then -12, then -18*. Although it has snowed next to none so far, we can say that winter has taken over the vast commune of Kittilä in western Lapland.

kittila3

The river Ounasjoki froze overnight. Everything froze. Now you can hear what total silence sounds like.

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When it’s really cold, the eastern sky turns pink during the sunset. Until of course the sun no longer rises and the polar night begins in a few weeks.

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Even during the coldest of winter days one might get some visitors.

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Can you guess who’s there, behind all that snow?

 

 

*-5 degrees Celsius is equal to 23 degrees Fahrenheit,
-12°C = 10,4°F
-18°C = -0,4°F

Planning on visiting Finland? Here’s what you can expect!

Northern lights over West coast

Northern lights over West coast

When travelling around the world and talking to people about Finland, they have heard about polar bears and northern lights. Well, we do have northern lights but no polar bears. None. Except a few in zoos.

Those white bears live on the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean, but in Finland we have the Baltic Sea. Finland doesn’t have mountains either. We have only mountain roots. Keep reading; I’ll explain this later.

Baltic sea

The Baltic sea

Almost 72% of Finland is covered by forests. It’s quite easy to see; when landing at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the only things you’ll see are Helsinki city and forests. The landscape is quite flat, and a 20 or 30 metres difference in height already looks and feels like a mountain.

Cities in Finland are quite small and scattered with long distances in between. The Helsinki area has about 1 million people, but other cities fall behind significantly in population. And we don’t have skyscrapers. Sounds boring, right? Maybe not!

Finnish forests and lakes

Finnish forests and lakes

Ok, I have told you about things that are different here compared to the big world. What does Finland have to attract people here? Trendy Finnish design is one thing and food another, but I’m talking about nature. Lonely Planet just released a top ten list of the best countries to travel to in 2017 and Finland was the third.

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

Fishermen at river Tenojoki

As a Finn nature has always been close to my heart. Here is a few things that I think are special in Finland’s nature. I was born in a town called Kokkola which is next to the sea. Nature and forest literally started from my backyard. In the spring nature bloomed and I watched the birds sing and build their homes in nesting boxes I had built. In the summer, I enjoyed the long days –the whole night was one long sunset and sunrise. It was hard to say when one ended and the other began. Colorful autumns, then again, were perfect for long walks on the beach. The polar night is so magical in the winter that to get the best experience, I went to Lapland to see the Nordic magic.

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

Ice swimming in Lapland and magical polar night

The ice age ended about 10,000 years ago, but you can see its legacy right under your feet. Once, a few million years ago, we had mountain ranges like the Himalayas. Erosion has flattened the landscape, and the moving ice cover, which was many kilometres thick, flattened the ground even more. As I said before, we have mountain roots which you can see in Lapland as fells and hills. Even in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, there are smooth rocks sticking out of the ground that were polished by the ice.

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

Legacy of the Ice age: polished beach rocks

The coastline of Western Finland was under the sea just a few hundred years ago. Near the town of Vaasa, there is the Unesco world heritage site where you can witness this phenomenon. The land is rising from the sea about 1 centimeter per year.

Tampere city, on the other hand, was built on a monument of the ice age: the whole city lies on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, and there is the highest gravel ridge in the world called Pyynikki. It was formed by retreating glaciers at the end of the ice age.

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

Untouched wildernes of Lapland

I once read that “Finland lacks those dramatic must see attractions but is one big attraction itself”. Agreed. We don’t have the tallest buildings, greatest mountain ranges, highest waterfalls or even strangest wild life, but Finland is one big national park of the world, because of all the untouched land. Nowadays I live in Tampere city, but I still enjoy long walks in Pyynikki where I can see red squirrels living in peace with humans. And I’m only one hour away from Helvetinjärvi national park’s beautiful gorge lake which was formed by an earthquake millions of years ago.

Peaceful summer days

Peaceful summer days

I welcome you to the land of thousand lakes!

Amazing sunsets

Amazing sunsets

Here you can find more information about Finnish nature and national parks in English.

Juuvanrova – lovely free hut for a night

On top of fjell Juuvanrova in Muonio, Lapland, there is a cute pond in the middle of old pine trees, perfect silence and a charming little cabin waiting for you (or me).

A hidden little gem.

A hidden little gem.

In Finland there is this wonderful network of wilderness huts, ‘autiotupa’, free for trekkers and skiers to stay and rest for a night. The huts are fairly small and generally accommodate about 4 persons – but with general friendliness and empathy among fellow-trekkers you can be fairly confident you won’t have to spend the night outside. But you might have to endure a stranger snoring right next to you! Also, the custom is you only stay for one night or two at the most and don’t make it your personal cottage for a week.

Juuvanrova fjell is situated next to Olostunturi and Särkitunturi fjells, and is easily reached from the north side of the fjell, with just 5 km hike from the road. In the winter you can ski to Juuvanrova from any direction.

Short hike past wetlands and up the fjell

We parked on Luusunseläntie, a small road off Rovaniementie (road 79), about 7 km from Muonio towards Kittilä. There are signs to Juuvanrova from the tiny car park a couple of kilometers from the main road 79.

The hike to the cabin is 5 km and the path is well marked by orange triangles. First two kilometers take you through some wetland, waterproof hiking shoes are recommended. There are wooden duckboards across the wettest areas but careful – they are not in their best shape anymore.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

Mind the duckboards after rain! The bogs are pretty though.

After 2 km you reach an autiotupa Tammikämppä, also an open hut. It is situated by a lovely river with pure drinking water right next to you. If you feel tired or are in awe already – stay here and chill by a fire! Or walk across the bridge and continue for 3 km upwards to Juuvanrova.

The climb is not very steep and you can take breaks to admire the neighbouring fjells and lakes – it really is quite pretty! 

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Admiring the Pallas fjells in the distance.

Juuvanrova hut

There are sleeping places for 4 persons, but more can be fitted if you squeeze. We were just two persons and nobody else was there so felt pretty lucky. The rule of these open huts is that the last one to enter has the right to stay. The person who has come earlier has already rested and can move on.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

There is an area for fire outside the wilderness hut.

A lovely fireplace in the corner lights up the room and fire wood can be fetched from the wood shed. There is also an axe in the shed to make smaller firewood. But keep in mind the wood is there for everyone to enjoy, don’t burn them all. You can make coffee and cook with the pans found in the hut, the former user will have washed them properly for you to enjoy.

Juuvainside

We walked up here on a Friday evening in Autumn. We enjoyed the warmth and crackling of fire indoors, but also the crisp air and some Northern Lights outdoors. The following day we walked around the fjell, saw a sleepy reindeer, some eager and nosy Siberian Jays and heard Crows fighting about something. Then we walked back to the cabin for another night, as nobody else had come there.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Siberian Jays are very curious birds.

Drinking water

We boiled the water from the pond before drinking, just in case, but it is most likely very pure on its own. In general, it is recommended you only drink water that is running freely and not standing still. So creeks, streams and rivers of Lapland are pretty safe bets. Otherwise boil the water first to kill possible germs.

The open wilderness huts are marked on most maps along the hiking and skiing routes. They are maintained by Metsähallitus, a Finnish Administration of Forests.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

Woodshed full of wood is a happy sight for all wanderers.

The rule is you leave the hut the same way you find it – clean and nice. Empty and wash up all the pans and make some fire wood for the others. Pour the dirty water on the ground at proper distance from the pond. Consideration for others – that is the only way such a superb system keeps working!

This is a dry toilet. Don't forget to bring your own toilet paper.

This is a dry toilet. Don’t forget to bring your own toilet paper.

From Juuvanrova you can continue the trail down to Kuusikonmaa hut for about 5 km, and onwards all the way to Ylläs fjell if you like.

Juuvanrova wilderness hut on the map