NORTHERN LIGHTS AND FINLAND
By Terri Kunselman
OCTOBER 29, 2018
My husband Scott and I were recently blessed to be part of the maiden tour to Finland with one of my favorite tour companies, Collette. As hard as I tried, I could not find a good airfare out of St. Louis, so we drove to Chicago and caught a direct flight out of O’Hare. We flew into Helsinki, the capital of Finland. It’s a beautiful city with a blend of old world charm, beautiful architectural showpieces and pure air.
The country has gone through several government regimes and it shows in the dynamic differences in architectural design. It was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the 13th century until 1808 when Russia invaded and in 1809 Finland ceded to Russia. In 1917, Finland declared its independence in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
As we walked toward the harbor, a sea of colorful canopies spilled across the cobbled quayside. Vendors offering everything from farm fresh fruits and vegetables, souvenirs and local crafts to reindeer hides.
We took a tour bus and drove through the city to learn more history and admire the beautiful architecture. My favorite was the boldly modern “Church in the Rock” …the church at Temppeliaukio. It was designed in the early 1930’s, but construction didn’t begin until 1968. The interior was excavated and built directly into the surrounding granite. It has a copper roof, large skylight windows and amazing acoustics.
Later in the afternoon, we chose to go to the outlying town of Porvoo to catch a glimpse of 19th century daily life. Porvoo is one of six medieval towns in Finland A scenic drive along the Porvoo River along the southern coast of Finland brought us out to the country and this charming town. The town’s iconic red painted storage houses were traditionally used to store delicacies from foreign lands and are a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today this town is home to quaint shops, cafes and restaurants and a perfect place to stop and enjoy a local beverage.
Early the next morning, our transfer took us back to the airport to catch our flight north to Lapland in the Arctic circle. As we drove toward our resort, the sun was setting casting a beautiful glow through the trees. As we pulled into the resort, we passed Finnish log cabins, glass igloos and a combination accommodation of a glass igloo and log cabin. Our first night we checked into a Finnish log cabin. Each cabin has its own private fireplace, kitchenette and sauna. What a beautiful way to spend the night in the Arctic. This resort came about from the imagination of Jussi Eiramo. In 1973 he was on a fishing trip and stopped to camp, during the silence of camping, he felt like he should start a business. He started in a Teepee on the side of the road with a barbeque pit open to the elements serving coffee and reindeer stew. His vision for this resort has goes into every design detail and has morphed into one of the most famous resorts in Finland.
After a delightful dinner of reindeer stew, we boarded a bus and went in search of the magical, but elusive Northern Lights. As the sun went down, so did the temperature and the wind began to blow. We drove about 30 minutes out into the Lapland to an isolated area with absolutely no artificial light. We stepped off the bus and hopefully and patiently (well maybe not patiently) waited for the amazing phenomena to occur. The lights are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter into the earth’s atmosphere. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll get to witness the lights, but as we stood there admiring the millions and millions of stars dotting the black sky and the murky white river of the milky way, we began to notice a small green ribbon building. It slowly stretched across the sky like a billowing curtain. It was amazing. It would flair brightly then dim a bit and flair and dance again. Incredible!!
We returned to the lodge and enjoyed a glass of wine to celebrate and then back to our cabin to took full advantage of our private sauna to get ourselves warm.
The morning started with an adorable tour guide. Our very own elf, Aurora. She entertained us with delightful tales of Santa’s elves and his busy schedule getting ready for Christmas. We hiked over the river and through the woods to Santa’s cottage. We had a delightful visit with Santa and enjoyed the beautiful Christmas decorations of his cottage.
We continued our walk to visit with his Reindeer. Aurora had a basket of lichon (reindeer moss) that she gave us to tempt the reindeer to come closer. They’re very shy creatures but so very pretty. Although hesitant at first, our sweet reindeer friends eventually nibbled the lichon out of my hand.
Our evening was spent on a delightful horse and carriage ride exploring the remote areas of the resort. We bundled up under big blankets and set out in search of another sighting of the Northern Lights. We stopped along the way to warm ourselves at a bonfire and enjoy the local Lappish drink of warm berry juice. Looking into the distance, we were amazed to see the Lights build again. Slowly at first, a little like green smoke in the distance and before long it wafted across the sky and curled and flowed across the sky. We were all so amazed that we were blessed to see the Lights to nights in a row.
We awoke to a cooler morning and swirling snowflakes. The first snowfall of the season. It was beautiful watching it settle over the trees and land. After breakfast, we made our way to Husky village. Since we didn’t have enough snow on the ground to board a dog sled, we were the sleds. We took the dogs for a walk. They are so full of energy, very talkative and love attention. They were hooked to a harness and then hooked to us. Oh my, these dogs are strong, with lots of energy and they wanted to run. My sweet dog Varma always wanted to lead dog, so I spent a lot of time running.
The snow continued to fall and it was getting colder but it didn’t stop us from enjoying a fun outdoor adventure. We bundled up in snow suits and set out 4-wheelin’ in the Arctic. The snow, slippin’, slidin’, splashing through mud and water, hills and valleys, the beautiful outdoors. Spectacular!!
We had a delicious dinner of Arctic Char and spent some time in the Igloo bar for a few drinks to warm us up.
Our final night was spent in a Glass Igloo. Talk about a room with a view. It was another opportunity to view the lights, but instead we viewed a gentle snow fall. It was spectacular.
The next morning we had some time for a last walk around the resort to enjoy the beautiful landscape. You could hear the huskies in the distance barking for their breakfast. We caught an afternoon flight back to Helsinki and toasted our fabulous journey.
This was a trip of a lifetime. I was awe-stuck by the beauty and history of Finland and viewing the Northern Lights was a dream come true. If this is something you’d love to do too, please contact me and I’ll make this magical dream a reality for you too.