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Happy birthday Finland!

Today Finland is turning 100 years and celebrated it by lighting up one of Finlands most iconic fell, Saana. All the way up north in the town of Kilpisjärvi stands 1029 meters above sea level a fell of which everyone in Finland knows. We went to see how it looks like and it was magnificent.

Exploring the harsh beauty of Kaldoaivi

This time we took Ulla, our alaskan malamute puppy to Kaldoaivi. Kaldoaivi is the largest wilderness area in Finland. It is not only the largest, but it is one of the northernmost wilderness areas as well.

During the winter the northernmost parts of Finland fall under the complete polar night, meaning that the Sun won’t rise neither set for months.

We wanted to experience the complete lack of light and did a 10 day ski trip to the desert of Kaldoaivi.

Our cabin was located by the beautiful lake Riekkojärvi, 20 kilometers from the nearest road. The cabin was modest, but it had everything a man needs – stoves for heating and cooking and the most comfortable mattresses one could imagine, or at least that’s how they felt after all that skiing.

Camping in such latitudes means you must be prepared for everything. The risks you take might as well be the last ones you are ever going to take, but make no mistake, it is worth the trouble.

During these 10 days we experienced arctic storms with wind speed over 30m/s and temperatures as low as -40 degrees celsius. We sure were a little worried about Ulla at first, but soon we learned that these arctic dogs feel right at home here.  Even though Ulla didn’t mind the weather, the rest of us had nothing to worry about in the warmness of our cabin.

We were surprised of the amount of light we still had even though the sun never climbed over the horizon. During these light hours we skiied and explored the fells close by, and when we didn’t feel like skiing we tried our luck with ice fishing. These little lakes in such remote locations may hold fish a fisherman can only dream of.

After the light hours the darkness took over. Or so we thought. The darkness isn’t quite the same here in the north. At first it seemed like it was going to get dark, but then the stars lit up and with the stars the nothern lights started dancing. The Auroras were amazing. I think snow was invented just to reflect the beuaty of auroras and moonlight back to universe, and just when you thought the lights were gone they came back and did they dance again and again.

Under these lights we slept and we wouldn’t care less for the rest of the world for these 10 days. Every once in a while someone woke up and threw another piece of firewood into the stove to keep the cabin warm during the endless night of the Arctic.

Winter fairy tale land – Koli

You don’t have to go all the way to Lapland to find beautiful winter landscapes. In North-Karelia you can find the most highest place of South-Finland. In the fell Koli you can find it’s peaks Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli. People believe that these peaks got their name’s from powerful ancient gods.

You can use snowshoes or ski’s to get to the top of Koli. There is also a hotel and Koli National Park‘s nature center in the top. After hiking in the hills you can get a cup of coffee for example in the nature center Ukko’s cafeteria.

When the sky is clear, you can see lake Pielinen from the Koli hills. When the sky is misty, you just have to enjoy the magical spruce forests with snow and hard rime that accumulates on tree branches.

Old forests look magical in winter time. Village under the hills can be without snow on the trees, but when you climb up to the fell, usually you can find beautiful trees with snow and ice on them.

Finnish artists, photographers and nature-lovers have been inspired with this heritage landscape for centuries. Usually people say, that you should go to the Koli, when the sky is clear and sunny. I think you should definitely visit Koli in a foggy day also.

When almost everything is white, you start to realize, that it’s not really white. It’s blue, it’s purple, it’s orange and colors are changing sometimes really fast. Some camera’s go crazy and it’s difficult to capture the real color of the forests. But who know’s, what’s real and what’s unreal?

Some part’s of the trails are without winter maintenance, but usually paths are walked open by people, so you can even go walking there just with your winter shoes. Don’t hesitate to ask advice’s from nature center’s helpful workers.

Walk in Kokkola’s legendary old town, Neristan

It’s Christmas time and I have returned to my old home town for family gathering. It’s the 23rd of December and the temperature is just below zero.

Rauma’s old town is known for it’s status as Unesco World heritage site. But Kokkola’s old town, Neristan, is just as stunning, an old wooden neighborhood with lots of romantic mood.

Old city hall and Christmas tree

Almost perfect square shaped city blocks, old style streets lights and beautiful wooden buildings take you back to 19th century. If you get lucky you don’t even see any cars parked on the streets!

Old wooden buildings with Christmas lights

The oldest wooden buildings are from the 17th century. Kokkola has two main languages. One is Finnish and the other Swedish. You can see the Swedish architecture’s influence in some of the buildings. Neristan is also Swedish and means downtown.

Restaurant in Neristan

Near water there is a small building with big windows and strange boat inside. It’s memorial for the skirmish of Halkokari: year 1854, when British navy raided Finland’s coast during Crimean war, they tried to burn down the harbour of Kokkola. This boat is the only known vessel that has ever been obtained as a spoil of war from the British navy.

Memorial of the skirmish of Halkokari

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

Torvisen maja – sanctuary for tired skiers in Luosto since 1957

On the north side of Luosto fell there is the cutest little coffee house, Torvisen maja. I highly recommend visiting the cafe, not only for its delicious freshly baked doughnuts and pies but also for the incredible atmosphere, oozing authenticity and olden days. 

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You can reach Torvisen maja by car, skis, bike, feet, you choose.

How to get there?

I ended up visiting Torvisen maja as a pit stop on my skiing trip in December. The cross-country skiing tracks around Luosto are fabulous and versatile, by the way. Luosto fell is part of Pyhä-Luosto National Park in eastern Lapland. If travelling from abroad, the nearest airport is Rovaniemi. There are busses from Rovaniemi, as well as from other directions. As for me, I left my cabin with skis 6 km away, skied pass Luosto “centre” and towards the north side of the largest fell. There, you cannot miss the place.

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The heart of the cafe is the fireplace. Maria, the hostess, says people love to watch the fire for ages.

Resting haven for 60 years

At doorstep you already start feeling it. The warmth of the fireplace and dim light of candles embrace you. There are colourful rugs as tablecloths and traditional decorations from the olden days. This cafe has served tired and hungry skiers and wanderers since 1957!

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This is the very first guest book from 1957. A freely translated quote from a guest: “Possibly this hut brings people one step closer to nature, of which we have become estranged with.” That was 60 years ago, what about now?

Torvisen maja was founded by Torvinen village association as a wilderness hostel. One could stop here on a hiking or skiing trip and get a cosy sleeping space from upstairs, for a small fee. During the decades the cottage has served also as an open wilderness hut, and for the past 30 years actively as a cafe.

And imagine, there is still no electricity nor running water. But just that is a big part of the charm.

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Exceptional atmosphere and versatile menu

Today the cafe keepers are Maria Heikkilä and Toni Vaarala. They are very open and welcoming to all visitors from near and far, they chat with customers and tell stories about the cottage’s past. Meanwhile there is a fresh pot of coffee brewing and dough waiting to be turned into doughnut, or “munkki” as we say, on gas stove. Positive feedback from customers has been nearly overwhelming (we Finns do not accept compliments easily).

Indeed, a senior skier sipping coffee in the next table states Torvisen maja is the most atmospheric cafe he has ever visited, and he has been to many.

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Decorations are old and traditional. I love the rugs as tablecloths.

Maria and Toni emphasise they have a menu that is different every day but always contains fresh and home made goods.

I had a hard time deciding on my order as this was the Menu du Jour:

– reindeer-lingonberry pie

– lingonberry-fudge pie

– warm doughnuts, “munkki”

– pancakes (savoury and sweet)

– salmon sandwich

– tasting plate including reindeer salami, bear paté, reindeer liver, salmon and whitefish roe

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In the end I had to go with traditional munkki and coffee, and boy was it delicious! I could ski here every day just for the munkki.

Torvisen maja is open from Autumn until late spring, however long there is snow to be skied. The busiest time for the cafe is from February skiing holidays onwards until Easter.

Torvisen maja on the map