December 7, 2019

Winter Wonderland – Part 1

The whole purpose of visiting Lapland, Finland was to see the aurora borealis which takes place at night. So, during the daytime we explored Inari/Ivalo region of Lapland and learned about the local history.

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View from Siida Museum

We spent our first full day at Siida – The National Museum of the Finnish Sami people learning about their culture, the role they played during the war, and surviving the harsh winters. To survive the harsh arctic winter, Sami people used all the resources available including reindeer stomach as storage.

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Frame of Kota tent – provides maxim enclosed space with minimum material

The food at the museum cafeteria was absolutely delicious! I never would have thought of making Salmon meatballs but they were just divine. We learned some very interesting things about the regions history and culture.

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Standing on a frozen lake

Sami people  would make artificial bird nets and place them on trees near water. Birds would think it’s an actual nest and lay eggs. Once there were a few eggs in the nest, the Sami people would take the eggs. People will think of such creative ways to get food with the least amount of efford.

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enjoying the snowfall but this weather is not good for aurora watching

After the museum we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some fresh fish and local liqueur made from cloudberry called Lakka. Initially, Lakka tasted great but soon it became too sweet and it barely had any alcohol. I guess liqueur just isn’t my thing but I had to try it.

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Faster to go across the frozen lake on snowmobile than to drive around it

Thankfully we had also gotten a 23 oz bottle of Koskenkorva Vodka with blueberry juniper flavor. It was one of the smoothest vodka I’ve ever tasted. I liked it so much we brought back a few bottles of it with us.

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Since this was our first day in Lapland, we were getting used to the cold and the driving. We enjoyed the snowfall from the comfort of our cabin and watched as a family of reindeer cross the frozen lake.

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The next morning we made breakfast at the cabin. We had picked up smoked reindeer meat from the grocery store so Gaurav put it in scrambled eggs. We had also gotten something called bread cheese (Juustoleipä) which is baked cheese. The flavors were mild and texture was a little spongy. I wasn’t too crazy about it but it’s traditionally served as a snack with coffee.

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The start of the hike

It was going to be a sunny day so we decided to attempt a 4 mile hike in the snow. After a filling breakfast, we bundled up and went on Juutua Trail hike. One of the coolest law in Finland is “everyman’s right” which says that everyone is permitted to access in nature regardless of who owns or controls the land/area.

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As long as we didn’t damage property, we could explore without worrying about trespassing

You can walk, ski, cycle, row, swim, or canoe in nature regardless of who owns the land as long as you don’t damage the property. Finland really is a socialist country. We didn’t have to worry about being shot for trespassing as long as we didn’t damage or litter.

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We parked at  the Siida museum parking lot and started our hike. The first part of the hike is next to a road and we saw some kids on their way to school. The path was wide enough for snowmobiles, strollers, and wheelchairs. In fact, snowmobiles have right of way during some parts of the hike.

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In winters, people usually travel on snowmobiles. It’s easier and faster to cross a frozen lake on snowmobiles than to drive around the lake. The hike was very quite and peaceful. During the whole hike we only came across 3 people and that was during the first half of the hike only. We took many breaks and hundreds of pictures.

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It was so beautiful and peaceful. Surprisingly, even though the temperature was well below freezing, it did not feel very cold. In fact, it feels colder in NYC in winter even when temperature is above freezing. I realized it’s all about the wind. Wind makes NYC feel so much colder than the arctic circle.

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There was absolutely no wind in Lapland so hiking in -10°C was fine. Along the hike there are a few shelters for people hiking or backpacking over night. These shelters were very sturdy and definitely fancier than anything I’ve come across in USA.

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These shelters are very sturdy

This hike leads to the famous Jäniskoski bridge which is about halfway point of the hike. This is the only place where I saw liquid water outside in Lapland. Everything else was frozen over and snowy. The bridge is beautiful and narrow. I doubt it’s wide enough for snowmobiles.

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The path becomes very narrow on the other side of the bridge

We spent at least 5 minutes standing around looking at the rapidly flowing river. Once you cross the bridge, the path becomes much narrower and more like a trail. Once we crossed the bridge, we didn’t see anyone else on the trail until we got back on the main road at the end.

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I was surprised how easily I was able to hike for so long in such cold temperature

It took us about 4 hours to finish the hike and that’s the longest time I’ve spent outside in -10C/14F temperatures but surprisingly it really didn’t feel too bad. In fact towards the end of the hike, I had to unzip my jacket because I felt a little warm. The only down side was that our phone and DSLR camera battery died much quicker than usual because of the cold weather.

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I never thought I would unzip my jacket and take off my beanie

By the end of the hike we were hungry. We ate lunch at a restaurant called PaPaNa. They had run out of bear meat and reindeer steak. Their kebab burger was delicious. We also got a reindeer salami and shrimp pizza. Those are toppings you don’t normally see on a menu and surprisingly it was really good.

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I ordered a drink on the rocks and the bartender gave it to me without ice. With a very straight face, he told me they had run out of ice. Just think about that for a while. A restaurant in the arctic circle had run out of ice! In March! My water bottle had ice crystals in them by the end of the hike and the restaurant had run out of ice.

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After lunch we went back to the grocery store to buy some cloudberries. I wanted to taste them and they are packed with vitamin C. We also wanted to get some more Koskenkorva vodka but it turns out only government stores can sell hard alcohol in Finland. We learned later that this is a remanent of Finland’s prohibition era.

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view from Jäniskoski bridge

We drove back to the cabin and there was low laying fog around the edges of the lake. It was a little eerie and cool at the same time. Just as we were admiring this unique phenomenon from the middle of the lake, we saw a herd of reindeer just stroll past our cabin and disappear into the fog on the other side of the lake. I tried to capture the fog but this is the best picture I managed to get.

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Read about the Aurora Borealis.

This just covers about half of our time in Lapland. Part 2 of this blog is coming soon about reindeer safari, our visit to ice bar and more. For more pictures about this first part of the trip click here.

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