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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lapland: New Year's Eve North of the Arctic Circle

December 2012 / January 2013

Day 1:

The first flight,from Paris to Helsinki, is uneventful, though 40 minutes late.  There are lots of Chinese on this flight, and I am wondering why are they all going to Finland for New Year's Eve. The mystery is resolved as soon as we land. Of course. There is a connecting flight to Beijing.

We have 3 hours to kill at the not very exciting Helsinki airport. We have a really long dinner at an American sports bar, then set out to find some seats in the terminal. There seem to be only a couple of seats per gate, which is ridiculous, so people (including us) take over a closed restaurant.

Again 40 minutes delayed, and we finally take off for Ivalo, Finland's northernmost airport. But not before embarrassing ourselves by taking pictures of Brownie the teddy bear. Starting with this trip, Brownie will be traveling with us and will be posting his own blog posts for schoolchildren to read. We get a lot of stares taking pictures of Brownie. Hope this gets less embarrassing after a while!
Brownie waiting for the flight to Ivalo, at Helsinki Airport
After about 1.5 hours we land at Ivalo Airport. We are now north of the Arctic Circle! The pilot announces that it's -5 C (23 F). I feel a bit disappointed. That doesn't seem cold enough. Was it really worth coming all the way here?
Ivalo Airport
But as soon as my feet hit the tarmac my disappointment fades. There is thick snow cover all around us and it is snowing heavily. It's beautiful.  And the -5 C seems cold enough. We were smart to put warm hats, scarves and gloves in our carry-ons, as now we need to walk in the snowstorm to the small terminal building.
On the tarmac of  Ivalo Airport
We board a bus and set out for the approximately 45 minute ride to Hotel Kakslauttanen. Anywhere else these conditions would be classified as a blizzard and traffic would halt to a stop, or would just crawl ahead cautiously. Not here. We are blazing 90 km/h (56 mph) on the icy road. The bus driver seems so cool about it. I hope he knows something I don't know, like that the bus has special tires.

It was almost 11 pm by the time we landed and the roads are quite deserted. The couple of cars we do see are all small passenger cars, not one single 4x4. Given the condition of the road, and the fact that this must be the situation for a couple of months every year, the lack of off-road vehicles surprises me.
Driving from Ivalo Airport to Kakslauttanen Hotel
We drive through sparsely populated areas. In the dark it seems like we are surrounded by nothing but forest. Though later (in daylight) we will discover that we did pass a small town called Saariselka.

By the time we reach Hotel Kakslauttanen it's almost midnight. A hotel employee boards the bus, and divides us into two groups. Those who's cabins are closer to reception must get off the bus and check-in at reception. The rest of us get to stay on the bus, which will take us to our cabins. I feel lucky to be in the latter group, but that feeling is soon gone. The bus does not drop us at the cabin, but rather at the turnoff to the cabin. So we end up having to lug our heavy suitcases through the deep snow. If we would have been simply dropped off at reception we would have to walk 1 minute more, yes. On the other hand then we could have used the sleighs they have there to pull the suitcases into the cabin much more comfortably. So, at the end, getting a ride on the bus "to the cabin" made things less convenient.

Seeing the price of Hotel Kakslauttanen (it's priced as a nice resort), one might be surprised that we are forced to carry our heavy luggage through the snow in the middle of the night. Luckily we did our research on this hotel before we booked, so we know that here if you want pretty much ANY service, you need to pay extra. Having the luggage taken to/from the cabin costs 7 Euros (which I would gladly pay tonight, but there seems to be no one to do it).
Entrance of  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Main building of  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Main building of Hotel Kakslauttanen
Our log cabin is nice and toasty and very charming. The other cabins are far enough, so that we feel like we are in the woods, all alone. There is no TV and no telephone. At the same time there are heated floors in the bathrooms. There is even a small kitchenette, though, going with the theme of "nothing for free here", not even a tea-bag to be found. The beds are very comfortable, but I am still jetlagged from a previous trip so I have great difficulty falling asleep.
Our log cabin at Hotel Kakslauttanen
The living room of our cabin at Hotel Kakslauttanen
The main bedroom of our cabin at Hotel Kakslauttanen
Modern bathroom in our cabin at Hotel Kakslauttanen
Day 2 (New Year's Eve):

I slept only about 5 hours, so I am grumpy when I wake up around 8. It doesn't help that it's pitch black outside. Or that I have to dress in so many layers.

The breakfast buffet is quite simple, with the coffee and juice so diluted that they are barely drinkable. At 10 am we are supposed to leave on a husky safari but, without any explanation, it gets pushed to 10:50. I am a bit annoyed, as we could have slept one hour longer. But I quickly get over it. We just hang out outside in the snow, enjoying the wonderfully fresh air. The thermometer in front of the reception building could go down to -40 C (-40 F), which apparently happens every winter. Today it's only -5 C (23 F), not bad.
Thermometer in front of main building, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Tradtitional Sami clothes on display, Hotel Kakslauttanen main building
The husky farm is close to the hotel. As soon as we enter we hear the deafening barking and howling. Huskies are a noisy bunch! They give us some thermal overalls, then we get an explanation on how to drive the sledges. My husband is a bit surprised, as I failed to mention to him in advance that we are supposed to drive. Luckily we will be following a snow mobile and the huskies are smart enough to stay on the path with the least snow, so the driving is really just a question of regulating the speed. All we need to remember are the hand signals for let's go, slow down and stop.
Driving instructions, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Driving instructions, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
These are the smaller Alaskan huskies, not the larger Siberian ones, and they are absolutely eager to go. They simply love to run. Some of the dogs, not in use right now, are running around and around their dog houses, literally creating a deep circle in the snow.
Huskies ready to go, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Huskies ready to go, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
I am surprised to see that the huskies live in small stone dog houses. Surely it must be cold for them! They of course like cold. In fact today's temperature is too high for them. They would be more comfortable pulling the sleigh if it would be -10 to -25 C (14 to -13 F).
Husky houses,  husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Husky sitting on it's house,  husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
By now the "sun has come up". What that means this time of the year is that instead of pitch black night it's grey evening light. So we can see around us. But, of course, all my pictures have a grey tint.

The ride is beautiful! We even see some reindeer in the distance. A couple of times I get worried about the sleigh turning over, and going downhill is a bit unnerving (I am mostly worried that the sleigh will catch up with the dogs and crush them), but other than that it's a wonderfully enjoyable ride.
Husky safari,  husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Reindeer in the distance,  husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
If there is any unexpected unpleasantness, it is the fact that the huskies seem to be suffering from excess gas. We have a puppy at home, so I am sort of used to this. But sitting in the sleigh, our faces exactly at the level of husky behinds, the smell comes at us full force. From our vantage point we can also clearly see that huskies can pee and poo while running, which I find impressive.
View from the sleigh, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
My husband has been the driver until now, standing on the back of the sleigh, periodically jumping on the breaks. The most tiring aspect of it being that uphill he has to help the huskies by pushing the sleigh. At half time we are supposed to switch, but I chicken out.  I stay bundled up in the sleigh while he continues on the back. I am very glad that the temperature is so relatively mild. My daughter and I are both quite comfortable, though by the end of the 2 hour ride I can't feel my toes. Taking pictures is also a bit painful, when my gloveless fingers touch the cold metal of the camera.

At some point one of the dogs, from another sledge, gets picked up and carried on the snowmobile the rest of the way. We feel terrible, thinking it got hurt. But the staff explain that the dog is simply too young and doesn't know his limits. He was running and pulling enthusiastically until he got too exhausted and simply wanted to lie down. So he gets a lift on the snowmobile.
Huskies resting after the ride, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Husky resting after the ride, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Back on the husky farm we say goodbye to the dogs and take lots of pictures. We are ushered into a little cabin, where we are served hot apple juice (heated on the open fire) and the staff answers any questions we have about the dogs. Then there is one more surprise. A visit to the husky nursery, full of noisy, energetic 6 month old puppies.
The cabin where we take our hot drinks, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Drinks heated on the open fire, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Six month old husky puppy, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Six month old husky puppy, husky farm close to  Hotel Kakslauttanen
We leave the husky farm around 2 pm and it's already getting darker. In the hotel we discover that the only choices for lunch are one type of soup and two types of sandwiches. Luckily they are quite tasty.

By the time we return to our cabin it's 3 pm and it's pitch black. We spend some time outside, playing in the deep snow, and taking more pictures of Brownie (luckily nobody is around to see us). Then it's inside for a little nap. It's New Year's Eve, so we will be staying up late tonight.
Brownie in front of our cabin, 3 pm light conditions, Hotel Kakslauttanen
I am quite stressed out about the dress code for the evening. When I noticed on the hotel website that they require nice dress for the New Year's Eve dinner I called them. What do they mean by nice? The lady on the phone explained that I should dress the same way I would dress for a New Year's Eve celebration where I live. I live in Paris. Are you kidding me? Do I really need a dress and high heels? That's not the sort of packing I was expecting, but OK, in the suitcase they go. To further confuse things, I know that at midnight we will go outside to watch fireworks. How am I not going to freeze to death?

We have been here almost 24 hours now and, based on the atmosphere of the place and the way everyone is dressed, I decide that dressing up for tonight is a ridiculous idea. But then up it goes on the notice board, in capital letters, asking us to please dress nicely. Aaaagh. I reach an inner compromise. Skirt OK. But with boots so that I can get through the snow from the cabin to the restaurant. I end up being dressed a sort of middle way, not the most casual and not the most elegant in the room. And most importantly, I am quiet comfortable.

There are two seatings for dinner, one at 7 pm and one at 9 pm. We opt for the second one. There are some people arguing with the staff, as some guests from 7 are still eating, so there are no tables to sit at. It is by now becoming quite a common occurrence,  frustrated hotel guests. I think the problem is that the hotel charges resort-level prices for what is definitely not resort-level service. I think there are many people who feel, at this price range the least one could expect is a table to sit at. The staff is friendly here, but there is something inefficient and unprofessional about the way things are running. So there seems to be a constant flow of grumpy customers at the reception desk.

Anyway, we get a good table, so we are happy. There is a buffet and the food is very tasty.  I try, among other things, moose steak, reindeer tongue and cold smoked reindeer, all taste excellent. I also try lingonberry sauce, which is a bit like cranberry sauce, but too bitter for my taste. For dessert I have cloudberry cake. It's delicious. I am very pleased, I like to try new things. And prior to tonight I didn't even know that these sorts of berries existed.
New Year's Eve dinner, Hotel Kakslauttanen restaurant
My New Year's Eve dinner including moose steak, reindeer tongue and lingonberry sauce, Hotel Kakslauttanen restaurant
Cloudberry cake, Hotel Kakslauttanen restaurant
After dinner there is traditional fortune telling. Small horseshoes are melted in the fireplace, then dumped into a bucket of cold water. From the resulting shape the future is predicted. My 9 year old's future (sailing boat shaped): she will sail to many places and have money. Not bad.
Melting horse shoes in the fireplace, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Predicting the future, Hotel Kakslauttanen
"You will sail to many places and have money", Hotel Kakslauttanen
We decide that we have done enough to respect the dress code of the evening, and we rush back to the cabin to change to our usual warm, layered outfits. Midnight is approaching, so we pick up our complimentary champagne (or soda) glasses from reception, and stand outside waiting for the fireworks. Given that by now I have a certain opinion of the money saving ways of the hotel's management, I don't expect much. But I am wrong. The fireworks are spectacular. What a wonderful way to welcome 2013!

After midnight we make snow angels, have a snowball fight and are simply silly running around rolling in the snow. Then we start building a snowman, but it's getting late. We will have to finish it during the day.
New Year's Eve fireworks, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Day 3 (New Year's Day):

Naturally we sleep in. As soon as I step out of the cabin I can hear the huskies barking and howling in the distance.

Breakfast is a bit of a zoo, because of course everyone woke up late, and now there aren't  enough tables in the restaurant to seat so many people. It doesn't help that a bunch of tables were set aside, already prepared for lunch. Someone at reception decides that it is OK for people to have breakfast at these tables, but they forget to tell the waitress, so there are arguments and unpleasantness. We are not affected, but I do feel sorry for the hotel guests involved. I have stayed in many many hotels before, and have never seen so much dissatisfaction. Perhaps they are simply understaffed? The staff looks constantly stressed out, one of them actually declaring: "I can't take this anymore". I understand that this is their high season, but still.

After breakfast we walk around the hotel grounds in relative daylight. We are following the hotel map, but in the deep snow it's hard to distinguish things. So we don't find the "traditional house" marked on the map. I think we find the smoke sauna though. Saunas are such an integral part of Finnish life, and smoke saunas are the most traditional ones. So I am excited to find out that the hotel boasts the world's largest smoke sauna. I would really like to try it, including the dip afterwords in the nearby ice-hole. Unfortunately, heating up a smoke sauna is a lengthy process, so they don't do it unless they have a group of people requesting it. I am disappointed. No traditional smoke sauna for me this time. I will just have to do with the much less traditional electric version in our cabin.
World's largest smoke sauna, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Grounds of Hotel Kakslauttanen
Grounds of Hotel Kakslauttanen
Hotel Kakslauttanen is also called "Igloo Village" and some people refer to it as "ice hotel". The reason: every winter igloos, a snow restaurant, an ice bar, an ice gallery and even a snow chapel are built on the hotel grounds. We cross a little bridge to check these out, but the weather is too mild, so none of these have been built yet. That's quite disappointing, but we can't really argue with mother nature.  It seems that there is a bit of cheating going on in building these though, as we get to see the pre-made "skeletons" of the structures. So, it seems, they are not really built from scratch every year, but rather they simply cover the already existing frames with snow and ice.
Igloo frames, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Igloo frame, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Interior of igloo frame, Hotel Kakslauttanen
We continue walking around, it's so beautiful here! We set out to find what is marked as "Temple of Nordic Lights" on the hotel map. It turns out to be just a bell in a little wooden structure. I wonder what it is for. I imagine that perhaps they use this bell to let hotel guests know when the Northern Lights are visible?
Grounds of  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Temple of Nordic Lights, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Grounds of Hotel Kakslauttanen
For lunch we are now down to the choice of one type of sandwich and one type of soup. To be fair, though the choice is very limited, the food is actually very tasty.

In addition to the ice igloos, the hotel also has a number of (heated) glass igloos, for the less adventurous guests.  Since the ice igloos are not built yet, the glass versions are a nice alternative for spending the night.

After lunch we pick up the keys and walk to our glass igloo. It's 3:30 pm and by now it's almost completely dark. There are not many lights around and even those are directed down, toward the ground. Though it makes it harder to walk, it also minimizes light pollution, so we really feel like we are in nature.
Glass igloo,  Hotel Kakslauttanen
Grounds of Hotel Kakslauttanen
Grounds of Hotel Kakslauttanen
After hanging out a little bit in the glass igloo we head back to our log cabin. I am feeling very  grateful that we decided to keep the cabin for tonight, as frankly, spending the reminder of the afternoon in the igloo would be a bit boring.  It was a decision we made at home, when we made our reservation. The concept of having to check out from our cabin, put all our things in storage (only an overnight bag should go to the igloo), be without any room until the afternoon when we can check in to the igloo, then go through something similar the next day when, in the afternoon we can get our cabin back.... this whole process just seems completely ridiculous to me. So we double booked and double paid, by having both the igloo and the cabin for the same night. The only other alternative I could have imagined would be to keep the igloo night for the last night. But we still would have had to go through some of the hassle above. The fact that the hotel does not let the guests keep their cabin on their igloo night for free is, in my opinion, another symptom of a place run strictly based on a balance sheet, with complete disregard to customer service. Surely some sort of package could be worked out where, without having to double pay for a night, the guests could avoid the hassle of checking out-in-out-in and having to pack and put everything in storage.

Anyway, we have our cabin, where we spend the rest of the day, reading in the cozy living room. We also finally finish our snowman, who ends up being a snow-princess instead (the nontraditional shape is due to snow which refuses to stick).
Our snow princess,  Hotel Kakslauttanen
After dinner we pack an overnight bag (everything else stays blissfully unpacked in the cabin), and head over to the glass igloo to sleep. It's snowing, but for the first time we see stars in the sky. Maybe there is hope for a nice view from the glass igloo after all?

No, there is no nice view, and definitely no Aurora Borealis. But it's a special experience anyway. I feel so strangely exposed in this glass bubble. The toilet has tainted windows, but the rest of the igloo is completely see-through. For a little privacy there is a low curtain running around the bottom, but really the only way not to be seen from the outside is by turning off the lights.
Glass igloo, Hotel Kakslauttanen
The interior of the glass igloo normally contains two beds, placed in the middle to afford the best view. They can be raised with a push of a button to a seating position,which is very nice.  Of course my husband and my beds have been pushed to the sides, to make space for our daughter' bed. And there isn't much of a view tonight. But we open the little curtain and enjoy it anyway. Staring out of our little glass bubble at the snow covered world around us.
Interior of glass igloo, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Interior of glass igloo, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Interior of glass igloo, Hotel Kakslauttanen
Day 4:

Even though the beds in the glass igloo are comfortable and it's nice and warm inside (perhaps even too warm), I didn't sleep as well as usually. I think it must have been the idea of sleeping in a glass bubble which kept waking me up. I gazed up to the sky a couple of times during the night, but needless to say, no Northern Lights.

After breakfast it's off to a 2 hour reindeer safari. We are picked up in the hotel by Penti, a Sami reindeer herder. He is dressed in traditional Sami clothes, originally worn by his father about 50 years ago. At -4 C (25 F) it's relatively warm today, so he is not wearing his extra layers, like reindeer skin pants. He made his reindeer skin boots himself, and on cold days he stuffs them with grass for extra insulation. But my guess is that he only wears these clothes for the tourists' benefit. As you can see on the picture, he is a good sport about posing with Brownie.
Sami reindeer herder posing with Brownie, Lapland
Reindeer skin boots, Lapland
On the way to his farm, about 20 km (13 miles) from the hotel, he points out houses where other reindeer herders live, always also mentioning the size of the person's herd. We also discuss the weather, which is apparently mild this winter. The coldest it got this year was -30 C (-22 F), even though most winters it goes down to -40 C (-40 F).  The coldest temperature he remembers was about -52 C (-62 F).
Reindeer herder's house, Lapland
Reindeer farm, Lapland
We pick up a German couple at another hotel, then arrive to his reindeer farm. The sleighs are already prepared, one reindeer in front of each. They are tied together and Penti will be in the first one, so, unlike with the huskies, we don't need to drive. Just as well, because the reindeer seem to be a bit less behaved than the dogs. Also, they don't really like to be touched,  which we find out when our daughter tries to caress one of them.
Sami reindeer herder with reindeer, Lapland
Because the temperature is so mild, we opt not to wear the thermal overalls Penti offers us. We are already dressed quite warmly and in the sleighs we sit on reindeer skin, and are covered by a blanket. Normally each sleigh has only one adult, but my daughter and I are sharing. We get the sleigh just behind Penti's, my husband is behind us. His reindeer is a bit bizarre. For some reason he prefers to walk next to our sleigh, rather than behind it. So, for most of the ride, I have pointy reindeer antlers dangling next to my eyes. It's a bit unnerving. But other than that, the ride is absolutely beautiful and relaxing.
Reindeer safari, Lapland
Reindeer safari, Lapland
Reindeer safari, Lapland
Reindeer safari, Lapland
This guy was threatening my eyes with his antlers the entire time, reindeer safari, Lapland
Back by the house we are invited into a traditional tipi which Penti and his friends built in a couple of days. These sorts of tipis are usually only slept in during the June marking of the young reindeer. The June timing somehow has to do with the reindeer herd trying to escape the many mosquitoes around, but I am not sure how this works.

When not marking reindeer, Penti lives in his house, which looks like a perfectly modern and comfortable house (from the outside anyway), except for the fact that he heats it with wood, as he finds electricity too expensive.

Inside the tipi there is a fire and it strongly smells of smoke. We drink hot tea and make pancakes over the fire, and he explains about the Sami reindeer herder way of life, which is slowly but surely disappearing. His village has only about 20 people, which includes Penti's brother with his large family. Many young people move to the south of Finland, because here it's hard to find a job. Penti himself, though obviously proud of his Sami heritage, wouldn't mind moving. His dream is to retire to southern Europe, somewhere where it's sunny and warm all the time. Who could blame him?
Tipi, Lapland
Making pancakes inside a tipi, Lapland
Penti sings two traditional Sami songs for us, which he accompanies by a drum, made of (what else) reindeer skin.
Sami drum made of reindeer skin, Lapland
Sami drums made of reindeer skin, Lapland
When we get back to the cabin there is a surprise hiding behind our snow princess...a snow bunny!
Snow bunny,  Hotel Kakslauttanen
I am getting tired of having the same sandwich for lunch every day, so today I opt for the ham soup. It's pretty good, I especially like the flat little potato pastries it is served with. (though I think the hotel's naming of the soup+bread+potato pastry combination as a "lunch buffet" is slightly ambitious).

After a snowball fight I fire up the sauna in our cabin. OK, maybe "fire up" is not the right word to use, as it is the electric version, so all I need to do is turn a switch.  Though it's not the authentic smoke sauna experience I was hoping for, after the long hours spent outside it still feels pretty good.
Sauna at our cabin,  Hotel Kakslauttanen
With dinner I finally try something I have been eyeing for days, a drink called "reindeer piss". I was going to order it a couple of days ago, but, seeing the Russian waitress' horrified face I asked: "Is it bad?" Her reply: "It tastes horrible". So I have been putting off trying it until now. It comes in the traditional Sami wooden cup called kuksa. It's not THAT horrible. Actually, it tastes exactly like one would expect given the list of ingredients: warm meat bouillon and vodka. I can see the purpose of such drink in this climate. As soon as I take a couple of sips I can feel a heat wave rushing through my body. But no, I can't finish the whole thing.
"Reindeer piss" in kuksa, Hotel Kakslauttanen
The night looks so different tonight, so much darker. But I guess to hope for the Aurora Borealis would be too much. It's still too warm and too overcast.

Day 5:

All three of us are feeling sleepy and irritable today. The lack of daylight must be getting to us.  We load our suitcases on a sleigh and pull them to the storage room, behind the reception building.

After breakfast and checkout we take a taxi (which arrives exactly in 10 minutes, as promised) to the nearby town of Saariselka. The taxi driver explains that the town has only about 300 permanent inhabitants, but during ski season there are thousands.  There seem to be a lot of Russians, and all the Japanese who were on our flight from Helsinki seem to have come to this ski resort as well.

It's not a terribly exciting town, but it's pleasant, and, in addition to the many hotels, it has a nice number of shops and restaurants. We walk along the town's main street, do some souvenir shopping, then choose a restaurant for lunch. At this point my standards are quite low, I just want a place which offers things other than soup and sandwich. We end up at Kieppi, which turns out to be a good choice. I have a really tasty pepper steak and a  lovely blueberry sorbet. They even have two types of espressos to choose from, which seems like such a luxury after drinking the horrible coffee at our hotel for days.
Town center, Saariselka
Town center, Saariselka
Souvenir shop at Saariselka
Ski resort,  Saariselka
Traditional Sami clothes as decoration in a shopping center, Saariselka
Around 2:30 pm it's getting dark, and we take a taxi back to the hotel. As we already checked out we hang out at the hotel bar with all the other guests in the same situation. Our daughter is a bit disappointed that we can't play in the snow, but we have packed away all our waterproof clothes.

At exactly 4:30 pm (people are punctual here!) we board the bus to the airport. The check-in at the small Ivalo airport is quite efficient, but there is a surprisingly long line at security. Then we sit at a cafe, admiring the moose skulls on the wall. That's a first for me. Never seen a decoration like this at any other airport terminal.
Ivalo Airport decoration
Ivalo Airport decoration
There is no connection tonight from Helsinki, so we overnight at the airport hotel. We have already visited this city on a previous trip, so we feel no urge to do any sightseeing here.

It's a good time to reflect on the trip. It was warmer than expected, which was both a curse and a blessing. All the outdoor activities were probably more enjoyable in this mild weather, at the same time was it the real arctic experience without feeling too cold? Also, the lack of low temperatures meant no ice igloos, restaurants and bars, and let's not forget that we haven't seen any Northern Lights.

The place was also less off the beaten track than I expected. There were definitely more children tourists than I would have thought. In some sense, if we take away the constant darkness, reindeer and huskies, we could have been in a ski resort anywhere in Europe. Perhaps if it would have been - 40 C (-40 F)  then I would have felt more that I was in fact 250 km  (155 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.

I am still very glad we came. And I am glad we stayed in Hotel Kakslauttanen, though that is the part I have the most mixed feelings about. Beautiful, comfortable yet connected to nature, it's a charming and seductive place. But customer service leaves a lot to be desired. Don't get me wrong, the rustic outdoorsy charm is wonderful and even expected, together with some inconveniences it entails. Having to walk on snowed in, badly lit paths on the hotel grounds just makes us feel closer to nature. But the hotel is simply too expensive to have such a poor selection of food, not enough tables to accommodate everyone at mealtimes, or to charge extra for cleaning the cabins. Not to mention the friendly but constantly overwhelmed staff.

Day 6:

Shortly after takeoff from Helsinki, as we rise over the clouds, we see a blue sky - daylight!


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you :-)