Posts

5 things you didn’t know about Lapland

What do you know about Lapland? You’ve probably heard about Santa Claus, maybe you’ve even met him when you were little. And all his reindeer of course – they live in Lapland. In winter there is lots of snow and beautiful northern lights, yes. But what more do you know?

I want to tell you about Lapland the way I know it, the way I love it. Here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about Lapland!

1. Reindeer like to hang out on roads in summer

When travelling in real Lapland it’s almost certain that you see reindeer at some point. In summer there are lots of mosquitos, so reindeer want to enjoy a bit of summer breeze that keeps the mosquitos away. That’s why they spend quite a lot of time on open places like roads. When driving, be cautious: these animals often don’t know how to give way to cars.

When you see reindeer on road, you probably want to take a photo. Make sure that you stop your car only on a good, visible spot. Do not park around a corner – there might be a bus or a truck coming behind you!

2. Summer in Lapland quite often feels like a real summer

Summers in Lapland are not very long, but they are stunningly beautiful. The sun is above the horizon 24/7 and the flowers are blooming like crazy. When the sun shines, it can get really warm, which in Lapland usually means something between 20 and 25 degrees celcius. There are lots of lakes and rivers – enjoy the Finnish everyman’s right and go for a swim!

3. Driving in Lapland is a blast

In Lapland there are endless roads and small villages in every direction. Many tourists come here by car, but if you need to take a plane to get here, I recommend you rent a car. That way you can enjoy Lapland’s traffic-free roads and amazing views on your own without having to be an expert hiker. However, remember to fill the tank often enough: it can be a 100km drive to the next gas station!

This is what you see when driving by Teno river in Utsjoki.

4. You can fish with a fishing rod almost everywhere

Thanks to everyman’s right in Finland, everyone is allowed to fish almost everywhere using a fishing rod. You don’t need any permissions, all you need is a fishing rod, some worms and a place to fish. Worms are usually sold in markets and gas stations. When choosing a place to fish, just make sure you’re not on somebody’s yard. You have an endless list of places to choose from: Lapland if full of lakes and rivers!

If fishing even with a simple fishing rod is prohibited for some reason in some specific lake or pond, there is a plaque on the spot that tells you not to fish.

5. People still offer gifts to ancient holy places

In Lapland there are many natural formations that have been concidered as holy. There are many holy fells, but also rocks, trees and ponds. A holy natural formation like this is often called a seita. They have been offered gifts like fish heads and reindeer horn bits to keep them happy, so that they would provide the giftgiver with hunting of fishing luck. Many of these places still receive gifts, like coins.

Taatsin seita in Kittilä is one of the best-known holy rock formations in Lapland.

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!

reindeer5

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.

kittila2

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.

dsc_0603

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

pakkaskuvia-14

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