Archive for December, 2015

Lapland Adventures - Santa!

Lapland Adventures – Santa!

The part of the Finland that we visited was in Kaaresuvanto, which is in a narrow northern arm of the country that borders both Sweden and the coast of Norway. In fact the ‘town’ spans a river into Sweden where it name changes to Karesuando (famed for knives apparently). Any way you slice it, it’s up there as in 180 miles north of the Arctic circle up there!
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As previously mentioned in Snow & Huskies, there is only about three hours of ‘daylight’ at this time of year but that is a brief window of perpetual dawn/dusk. Whilst the landscape is stark the skies are magic.

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This region is also home to the Sami people also known as Lapps, a nomadic indigenous peoples whose territory spans Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.  As fascinating as their culture is, we didn’t delve too much into that side of things on this visit. No, this was serious British Santa holiday geared for kids with a non-stop soundtrack to Love Actually. The upside is that now we have a reason to revisit, perhaps in a different season.

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What little light there was, painted some impressive views during the daytime and we even got to see the beginning of the Northern Lights one evening at the Lodge. This image is looking across the river from Finland to Sweden.

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This is the very photogenic (and oft photographed) northern most church in Sweden built in 1816. It is the defining building of the area for both the Swedish and Finnish areas.

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Other than our Lodge, on our side of the river there were three buildings that made up the town. One for locals,

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one for tourists,

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and a pub that we dare not enter.

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But again, we where here for the outdoors and to see Santa so we spent the entire next day doing just that. When you arrived at the day’s destination, you were greeted by a line of light torches that guided you through the woods.

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Until you arrived at the Northern Lights Lodge.  It was just a nice place to pop into warm up, get a drink or use the facilities but everything else here was outside.

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Of which we wasted no time in doing as we rode the mini snowmobiles,

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dare devil-style for my daughter,

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and savoured the setting.

There was tobogganing, ice hockey, snow mobiles for young and old and generally everything you would want for a cracking snow day.

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Finally, it was time to go find Santa. We were packed into a wooden sleigh lined with reindeer skins and were then covered in blankets.  We were pulled by a snow mobile for about 15 minutes through the woods as we all sang Sleigh Bells at the top of our lungs.

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But deep into the woods we came to a stop, and everything became very hushed.  Our driver went to warm himself,

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whilst we were introduced to our next mode of transportation.  Real, live, (very ornery) reindeer that were to take us even deeper into the woods to find Santa.

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There are few moments in life that actually take your breath away, but this was one of them for sure. We packed the kids into on of the sleighs (who looked very cute), and then ourselves into the other (definitely not so cute).

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About 10 minutes later we pulled up to a wooden house with an outdoor fire and tapers leading to the door.  The elves ran out and greeted the kids by name (who were completely gob-smacked) and knocked on the door.

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And inside next to a roaring fire was the man himself.  He knew all about Niamh’s broken wrist and foot and even knew that Ronan had just received his Bronze award for good behaviour.  The cameras were acting up due to the freezing temperatures but mama stifling tears behind the lens didn’t help either!

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It was everything we hoped for and more.  The setting, the activities, the adventures was all worth every bit.  After several hours of all this outdoor fun, we returned to a huge festive meal and a disco for the kids.

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We had a few hours to do some elective activities such as ice-fishing or reindeer herding the next day, but my group had reached its limit and just enjoyed the area around the Lodge.  Soon it was time to say goodbye to our snowy retreat and head back to the land of the driving rain.

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But the memories will last for a lot longer, and they are all very happy (and very appreciative) ones!

I can’t quite believe we still have actual Christmas to celebrate, but for my wee family this one is for the record books!

 

Merry Christmas!!!!!!!

 

Lapland Adventures - Snow & Huskies

Lapland Adventures – Snow & Huskies

Have you ever arrived at an airport at 7:30 am on a pitch black rainy December morning and all you see are smiles? Particularly odd when you consider the prospect of a sun holiday does not await. No, in this queue there was an abundance of garish Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, because we were off to the North Pole in Lapland to see the big man himself!

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Pure excitement does not describe and the adults were maybe more excited than the kids. There were babes in arms, under-ten’s galore and a few multi-generational families for lucky grandparents in the know.

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Upon entering the aircraft, you were greeted by a crew of gorgeous Finnish women each sporting the requisite Santa hat.

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Even the plane itself had been decorated with large holiday themed decals.

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I felt inclined by instinct to roll my eyes but I couldn’t, instead I fought back a few renegade tears that snuck out. It was all just too fabulous.

 

Even the most jaded Scrooge could not be moved to delight as the plane took off in a gusty rain storm to the ecstatic squeals of the nervous but excited passengers, 75% of which are between three and nine years old.  No doubt for many it is their first ever plane journey. There was even  Christmas music once we are at cruising altitude. After a few hours we began our decent through the clouds.  Another round of happy shouting ignited with my favourite declaration of, “Just look at all those Christmas Trees” when greeted with the Finnish landscape.

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When we arrived in Finland it was only 12.30 our time but 3.30 Finnish time which meant it was completely dark.  You only get about three hours of ‘daylight’ at this time of year but that only adds to the sense you are somewhere very remote, very cold and very snowy.

 

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A cosy coach ride takes you to your destination in just under 45 minutes.

 

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For me it was hard to tell if it was just super 70s-tastic or just very Finnish but it was clean and warm and fabulous.

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In the main lodge there are two huge common rooms, one being the dining room with a bar and lounge, and the other being the group events/ kids room with lots of couches and movies on hand all day.

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Once you are settled into your rooms and have gone through your welcome speech, you are sent through a lovely lit walk through the woods.

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To where you get suited and booted – quite literally.  The temperature was between -12 C and -30 C and most Brits just don’t have that kind of gear laying about.

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The meals were simple but hearty and the kids enjoyed their first visit from Santa’s elves after dinner for some songs and to distribute some reindeer dust.

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When morning light finally arrives about 10.30 am you are treated to a breathtaking landscape.

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It was much flatter than I expected but a beautiful winter wonderland nonetheless.  Ok, it kind felt like you had stepped into an Ikea catalogue.

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And speaking of which, have you ever wondered why Ikea lights were so flipping dim? Well, when seen in the context of proper Nordic blackness they actually shine like solar flares!

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Anyway, we were here to enjoy the outside and the first day was all about the huskies and sledding. Now this was one of my bucket list items so I was beside myself with excitement.

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Aside from the cold, your senses are then challenged by sound as the noise from the dog teams is just unbelievable!  Three sleds each with ten dogs all barking  insanely into what is otherwise a pristinely quiet landscape can knock your sock off!

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The dogs strained anxiously in anticipation of us slow moving humans to get our act in gear and hop aboard the sleds.

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Each family is taken in turn, but there is a traditional Sami tent with fire inside for a warm up while you wait.  They even serve you hot Glogge, the local spiced black current drink.

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These were cruising sleds versus racing ones, and could have easily fit about eight people on each.

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Someone in particular was in her element, a future Iditarod contender for sure!

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Amazingly, the second the dogs begin to run they go silent. In an instant you are racing away with only the rush of the runners in the snow beneath you.  I could easily see how this could become addictive.

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So, our Arctic adventure was properly under way and we were having a great time.  Little did we realise how much more spectacular the next day would be as we went in search for Santa himself!

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