This post turned out to be very long. If I were you, I wouldn't read it. It is even so long, that I didn't proofread it. So, if you are to lazy to read it, just look at the pictures. They tell the story quite well. If you still want to read, off we go *soft harp playing scale as the scene changes*:
The largest trip, and surely the best and most important trip until now was the trip to Lapland. We went to Saariselkä in a mixed group of Germans and people from the Netherlands. The trip took six days, of which two were travel days. Going from Helsinki to Saariselkä with train and bus takes about twenty hours. But most of the time was in a train, so it was fine. The other four were the fun days.
We stayed there in a cottage, which is a very Finnish way to go on vacation. Most Finnish families have a cottage somewhere on the countryside where they go with their family or close friends for vacation. The cottage was built like a block houes. Just logs stacked on top of each other. That was enough to keep the cold outside. Sadly, I don't have a picture of that, but thanks to Google Street View, you can see it here.
On our way to Saariselkä, we stopped in Rovaniemi. There is the Santa Village, which turned out to be a giant tourist trap. Shops with expensive stuff all around. There's nothing really special about that place, don't go there.
The Santa Village should be called Santa Mall
On the first day in Saariselkä, we had no planned activities. So some of us went to the nearby skiing resort. That was really fun. Just one short blue slope, maybe one or two hundred meters long, was opened, so we had to stay there all the time. Sounds boring. But what happens when you get bored? Correct, you get creative. So I tried all kinds of new stuff, like going backwards or doing a twirl. I actually don't like going backwards that much, because it feels really scary, but in the end I just twirled down the slope. I had to be careful to not get dizzy.
We also walked up to the top of the hill with our stuff to have a longer slope with fresh deep powdery snow. That was really exhausting, but the slope was rewarding. Was my first time skiing in deep snow, and I think I fell one time. But it was fun. I went down next to the opened slope in the deep snow afterwards, wasn't that challenging anymore. There were some people building a slalom parcour on the slope, so we did that and measured time.
On the top of the hill. People are tired from walking up. We didn't walk slow.
Since it's getting dark pretty early in Saariselkä, they had floodlights for the slope. So we could drive until half past four or so. This was a really cool day, since we made the best out of the little thing we had.
On the second day, part of us first went on a tour with dog sleds. That is the most popular tourist attraction in Saariselkä. Indeed, it was touristy. Everything was on a fixed schedule, we were brought there by bus and nothing could go wrong. The activity was streamlined and trimmed for efficiency and customer happiness. It felt kinda strange, but the dogs were cool enough to make up for that.
Me and Lam with some sled dogs, which are a little confused by all the people touching them and making photos with them.
A sled dog is raised to pull a sled. The dogs are all huskies. The little dogs are put together with the ones too old to pull a sled first, so that the old ones teach the young ones how to behave. Then, when they are old enough, they let them run with the harness for a few hundred meters, always ensuring it is fun for them and stopping before it gets boring. This way, the dogs just love running.
They are totally wild when they get to pull a sled, eager to run, as if there is nothing better to do. They jump up and down and left and right, waiting for the break to be released. Actually, there is only a break in the sled, and you don't need to push it forward. They just start running as soon as you release the break. That's really cool.
In the dog sled
The driver stands on the back of the sled, using the feet to break. There is one passenger seat in the sled. We went around a short track for half an hour or so, the dogs always followed the sled in front of them, there was no means to steer. The first sled was driven by the dog keeper. I don't know if he steered, or the dogs just followed the path.
Even though the dogs are very wild when it comes to running, they are totally tame and nice to humans. Which is a good thing, because you have six of them chasing you all the time if you are not on the last sled. After getting off of my sled I was nearly run over by some dogs. They really don't stop if they don't necessarily have to.
In the evening of the second day part of us went to something called the "Aurora Snowmobile Safari". Of course, we didn't see the aurora during that thing. The weather was too bad. But we saw the aurora on other days on our own, so that was fine. And actually, I just did this to drive a snowmobile. I think I might wanna get a licence to drive that thing in austria or so.
Snowmobiles from behind while standing still
Our snowmobiles were limited to fourty kilometers per hour electronically. So the top speed was properly limited, the thing was still releasing full power while standing. And snowmobiles are really powerful. I never drove a motorcycle, but the acceleration can be compared I think. You also can do a wheely with snowmobiles.
The snowmobiles were really easy to drive, but they required some force to steer. But that wasn't that much of a problem, because they just followed the track of the snowmobile in front of them. Really boring. Just press the throttle and it goes. So I steered it out of the track so that it was driving freely. That was at least a little more fun. But still boring after a short time. The leader drove slow enough to always make it safe and easy to drive on the path.
To make it more interesting, I started to go slowly for a while to get some space in front. Then I gave full throttle and went around the corners a little faster than I should, which then started to be fun. We switched drivers three times, so I got the first and the third drive. During the second switch we took a break at a tipi and got some sausages and some kind of warm juice.
Sitting on a snowmobile. You can see the driver is me because of the glasses.
On the way back, we drove through a forest, offside of the official paths. That is legal in Finland, as long as you want to get to somewhere specific. So it is legal. My new goal was to go around the corners fast enough to make the snowmobile lift a foot. That worked quite good and produced some laughers of joy from me and my partner.
Back on the official paths, we had to drive zig-zag in sharp turns to make the thing tilt. Still, that worked quite well. The guy in front of me nearly drove into a path marker because he tilted too far. That was fun.
No snowmobile and no human was hurt during this safari.
Cross country skiing
On the third day, part of us had booked cross country skiing with spa. That was nothing you should do as a tourist thing, just lend the ski on your own and search for your own tracks. And maybe ask somebody to explain you how it works. It turned out to be endurance sport, so nothing you just do one time for fun. More like going for a run. Which is fun, but only if you do it on a regular basis, or to make sure you do endurance sport n times a week. But I just went with it.
We had about an hour to ski, I tried to go as far as I can and back. It was quite cool, but nothing interesting happened. I figured that skating is very hard and I rather stay with the classic technique.
That's the track you use when doing cross country skiing
Afterwards we got lunch and went to a spa. Lunch was good, spa was more for old people. So we started throwing balls at each other, which was actually fun for a short time. At some point the lifeguard told us to stop. The whirlpool was too cold and the mixed sauna was turned off, so we just left because we didn't want to split the group to go to sauna.
The place we stopped at for swimming. The three little red houses on the right are the womens changing room, the sauna and the mens changing room from right to left. The house in the middle was a souvenir shop.
On the fourth and last day, we went to some village in Norway to take a bath in the arctic sea. That was fucking cold. But fucking awesome. The village is called Bugøynes, and has about five hundred inhabitants. It's not important.
I was very lucky on that event. I went to the sea before going to sauna. I was motivated and energetic and wanted to jump into the sea. So my metabolism was working on a high level, and it was easy to go into the sea and didn't feel that cold.
Afterwards I went into the sauna, which was more like a warm and cozy but cramped living room than a sauna. Not because I was so cold, but because it just was. My metabolism reduced in there. So the second and third time I went into the sea, it was harder. Normally, when you go to sauna and then into the snow, the second time snow is much easier than the first time. With a cold sauna, it's the other way round.
Me inside the arctic see, sitting down to pretend I'm more inside. This was actually a fourth time I went in, and I really had enough of cold sauna at that point, so I didn't fully go in.
I decided to stop cold, because I didn't want to go into the overful sauna for a third time. My feet didn't have any sense of touch anymore, just pain. They felt frozen. Even after dressing up with my warm winter shoes and going back into the warm bus they still felt frozen. It took some time until they felt normal again and stopped hurting.
Aurora and End
Saariselkä is far enough north that the aurora is visible every night, as long as it is not cloudy and you are at a dark place. Getting to a dark place is pretty hard, because the snowy surrounding is always reflecting very much light. But if you got there, you can see it. On one evening, we went to an aurora watching place and were really lucky. The aurora was strong that night, and as we arrived at the place, an aurora storm started to appear. The aurora was moving fast around the sky, different pieces kept appearing and disappearing within a short timeframe.
The aurora storm, edited
The storm lasted a few minutes and then it was over. The aurora watching place had a light with a movement detector that automatically turned on, which is probably the dumbest thing you could place at an aurora watching place. We manipulated the detector to only stay on for thirty seconds. But then there was no storm anymore. Still the storm was bright enough to be visible even with the light.
Different parts of the group went out for more aurora watching on other days, and took some pictures. I went out on the last day, and I was finally able to differentiate between aurora and clouds. The strong aurora I saw in Helsinki in the first week was much stronger than the slow aurora that was visible all the time in Saariselkä, so I first thought the aurora was a cloud.
Everyday aurora, photographed from a hill, edited
I might turn a little bit Finnish in thinking that the aurora isn't that special. I guess it's a nice phenomenon. But it is too cold in the north for watching the aurora to be really pleasing. I don't know how I should feel about the aurora right now. The one over Helsinki was nicer than the one over Saariselkä.
Overall, I met some nice people on that trip and had much fun. In the evenings we went to the sauna in our cottage, played cards or went to a local pub. Saariselkä is the typical tourist village. It has about three hundred inhabitants, so during the season there are always more tourists than real inhabitants in the village. I don't envy the people for the short days and cold air, but I envy them for the ability to drive their snowmobiles half of the year.
Keskellä ei mitään, Lapissa, Suomessa