Winter Wonderland – Part 2

Lapland, Finland has so many options for winter activities. Days are shorter in winter and we wanted to be home early to rest a little so we could stay up all night watching Auroras.

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such a magnificent and delicious animal

I couldn’t visit the Arctic circle and not go on a reindeer Safari. We woke up early one morning and drove to Saariselka which was almost an hour and half away from our Airbnb. We signed up for a two hours long experience with Lapland Safaris.

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The landscape was so peaceful

Lapland Safaris gave us insulated overalls to put on top of our jackets, an extra layer of socks and proper winter shoes. Once everyone was layered up, we got into their van and they drove us to a reindeer farm.

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I just couldn’t stop admiring those antlers

These reindeers are semi wild so the guides told us to not get too close to them. Their antlers are very sharp. These reindeer can and will use them to hurt us if they feel threatened. They also don’t like loud noises or sudden movements around them.

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Antlers were heavier than I expected

At the end of winter, reindeer shed their antlers. We actually saw an antler that had fallen off recently and there was dried blood on it. The antlers also have fur on them which they shed.

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This was an amazing experience

After learning about the reindeer, we got seated in the Safari. They gave us an extra blanket to make sure we were warm and comfortable throughout the whole experience. Our “sleigh” was slowly pulled by reindeer through untouched wilderness. The ride was so peaceful and beautiful. It was.. magical.

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Entrance to the winter housing

After 45 minute of reindeer Safari we walked through a Sami village. The small village on display included summer and winter housing, meat storage, play ground for the kids, and more. Turns out the best time to dry reindeer meat is late winter or early spring because it’s still cold enough that the meat won’t go bad outside and enough daylight hours to dry the meat. Fun things I learn on vacation…

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Reindeer meat being dried

After spending about an hour and half outside, we went inside to warm up with some hot coffee, tea, and ginger cookies before ending the tour. The reindeer Safari truly felt magical. By the time we returned the extra layers, it was time for lunch. For more pictures of the reindeer safari, click here.

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Lunch at Teerenpesä Restaurant

We went to a restaurant called Teerenpesä. I wanted to try reindeer the traditional way. The combination of sauteed reindeer with mashed potatoes and ligonberry jam was so delicious. Just thinking about it right now makes me want to have some.

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Drinks at the ice bar

Since we he had driven to Saariselka, we decided to stock up on blueberry juniper vodka. We also saw a bottle of Jaloviinaa so we got it. We learned later it was cut Brandy which was okay. I’ve never really enjoyed brandy.

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Almost everything at the ice bar was made from ice

Once we were stocked up on alcohol for the rest of our stay I wanted to go to an ice bar. Northern Lights Village had an ice bar so that’s where we went next. We got there around 2 pm and the bar was completely empty. We were literally the only two people at the ice bar.

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The GIANT GoT ice chair

In fact we had to order or drinks at the regular bar and take them with us to the ice bar. Since we were the only ones there we had the place to ourselves. They also serve dinner at this ice bar and it’s very popular with tourists so if you plan on eating dinner, reservations are required.

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You need reservation for dinner at the ice bar

We stayed at the bar for a while taking pictures and just being amazed that everything in there was made from ice. The seats were covered in animal skin so that helped for a few minutes. But eventually our butts felt too cold and we had to get up and walk around. We weren’t interested in dinner because the drive back to our Airbnb was long. We wanted to get there before it got dark. After all, the main purpose was to watch Aurora and we had the best place possible for it.

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I guess this is where dinner service is held

Not surprisingly, it was actually colder inside the bar than it was outside so after about half an hour, we decided to go back to the normal, heated bar. I can’t imagine people spending a night at the ice hotels. I could barely stay at the ice bar for half an hour much less spend an entire night in a room made from ice AND sleep on a bed made from ice.

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So exciting to see such perfect snowflakes 😍

I’m definitely glad we went to the ice bar for the experience once but I wouldn’t want to do it again. We drove back to our Airbnb after we finished our drink and were warmed up. On the way back we stopped at PaPaNa for a reindeer burger. I ate reindeer almost every chance I got. It’s so delicious but the bar still didn’t have ice for our drinks. A bar in the Arctic circle running out of ice in winter will be a story I’ll tell for years to come.

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When the Auroras are EVERYWHERE

The next morning we slept in because we were up till 4 am watching the Auroras. Our Airbnb host had agreed to take us on a snowmobile ride for an additional fee. His rates were way cheaper than any other tour group. He took us one at a time for a ride around the nearby Kaamasjoki river.

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first time driving a snowmobile

It was a short ride but I felt like we were out for a very long time. Snowmobiles can go very fast and I feel so cold within minutes. Once we got back to the cabin, he let me drive the snowmobile around the lake. I drove very carefully and slowly at first. Then Kristian (our Airbnb host) told me to go faster because it’s more fun. My next round, I went much faster and it was so much fun. The faster I went, the easier it was to drive and turn.

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It was so much fun to drive it on the frozen lake

I felt less cold when I was driving the snowmobile than when I was sitting behind him. I think I liked driving it more than Gaurav. After I got done it was his turn to go. Every household has a few snowmobiles in Lapland because it’s a much easier way to get around in winter.

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Just happy

After the snowmobile ride, we spent the rest of the day in our Airbnb relaxing and enjoying the sauna. We’d spent last few night watching the Auroras and needed to catch up on sleep so we could stay awake again at night. The next day we slept in again since our husky ride with Kaamas Husky wasn’t until after lunch. Luckily the husky ride started behind the Kaamasen Kievari restaurant. So we ate more reindeer, salmon soup and sausage with fries first.

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Lunch at our usual restaurant, Kaamasen Kievari

There were 6 huskies per sled. Once we got there we had a quick tutorial about how to maneuver the sled. After the quick lesson on how to “drive” the sled, we were ready to get started. I sat in the sled and Gaurav was gonna control the huskies. Within seconds the huskies made a sharp turn and we both lost balance. We were thrown off the sled and huskies kept going.

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Getting instructions on how to “control” the huskies

The fall was so sudden and so hard that we were both very shaken. We realized things could have gone very badly very quickly and we were ready to walk away. The guide tried to talk us into not giving up but we were very scared and didn’t care if we lost $150.

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We are ready to ride the huskies (or so we think…)

So, as a last resort the guide (can’t remember his name) said he and his partner will control the sled and we can sit. We felt comfortable with that option. The down side was that now Gaurav and I were in different sleds. I tried taking to the person riding my sled but she was either very shy or wasn’t comfortable with English.

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The huskies were so cute

In either case, the conversation didn’t really go anywhere and I mostly sat there in silence for almost two hours. Gaurav, on the other hand, had a very chatty guy to talk to. They talked about life in Finland, military, politics, etc and had a great time. He even convinced Gaurav to try to drive the sled once more.

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That small cabin on the left was ours for a week

Gaurav had a great time while I thought husky ride was by far the most boring activity I’ve ever participated in ALL MY LIFE. Sitting through a two hour long quantum mechanics lecture would have been better. Instead, I was sitting on a cold, hard surface being pulled by dogs through bumpy, snowy terrain in arctic winter with no one to talk to. Two hours never felt so long and torturous.

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Reindeer tracks

At every bend around the river I hoped to God it was the end. Two long and painful hours later, my ass hurt and I was seriously worried about frost bite. For reindeer Safari, we had plenty of layers and we sat on a very soft blanket. That was an enjoyable experience. Husky ride was the exact opposite. It was TORTURE!

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Never again will I go on another husky ride. If you are considering going on a husky ride, I say save your money and do something else. Just sit at a bar drinking and looking out the window, go on a 4 mile hike through the snow, make a snow man, or take a nap. ANYTHING ELSE.

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Probably one of the smallest alcoholic drinks I’ve ever had

After this excruciatingly painful experience, all I wanted was to go inside, warm up, drink some vodka and try to forget the whole experience. I would have been better off just sitting in the restaurant waiting for Gaurav.

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Reindeer Fillet at Hotel Ivalo

Hotel Ivalo has a beautiful restaurant with great views and of course reindeer on their menu. So that’s where we had dinner. Their white fish was okay but the reindeer fillet was Devine. But then again, every reindeer meal we’ve had has been delicious. By now, we’ve also had various desserts with cloudberries. They are all ok. These berries are tart and I really don’t like anything tart.

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Cloudberry dessert

Our winter vacation was unfortunately coming to an end. On our last day in Lapland a family of reindeer came to say goodbye as they crossed the frozen lake. We had our last meal at Kaakmasen Kievari.

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this family of reindeer came to see us off

We went to Sajos, Sami cultural center but there wasn’t much to see for the general public. It’s Sami parliament and they give guided tours at noon but we missed it. Next, we drove to Petsamo monument. The monument was smaller than I’d expected and it was covered in snow.

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saying goodbye to our beautiful cabin

At this point we decided to return the car and go to the airport for our flight to Helsinki. So far, we did almost everything we wanted. The last thing I wanted to do was eat bear meat. I found a few places in Inari about they were either out of bear meat or closed.

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random picture at Inari airport

We only had one day in Helsinki so we spent it at The National Museum of Finland. We had Chinese buffet for lunch. Is great to eat Chinese food in different countries. It’s always different. For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Savotta because had bear meat. It was across from Senate square. The bear meat is very expensive and insanely gamey. I could barely eat half of it. I forced myself to eat a little bit of it just too I was full but never again will I order bear meat. Reindeer is a much better option.

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Bear meat 🤢

I didn’t want to leave Finland with bear meat as my last meal so the next day before our flight we got a pizza from Kannelmaen Pizzapalvelu with kebab, bacon, shrimp, onions and tomatoes as toppings. For more pictures from Finland trip, click here.

Why Finland and not Iceland? Click here to find out.

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