Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beyond the Arctic Circle...

Last weekend we went to Lapland! It was definitely the most unique trip I have been on here and it was definitely the highlight of actually being here in Finland. It was so beautiful, it was kind of like Planet Earth in real life.

Day 1

We took an overnight train from Tampere to Rovaniemi and arrived there early in the morning. We (meaning about 45 students from our school) hopped on a coach bus that took us to a grocery store where we could buy some food for the next four days. And of course, it was freezing! And white everywhere. We got back on the bus and drove for about an hour until we officially crossed the Arctic Circle and ended up at Santa Claus Village! If you picture a 'winter wonderland,' that's pretty much what it looked like. There were lots of little adorable shops selling traditional Lapland crafts, and cute little cafes. We made a stop at the Santa Claus Main Post Office, haha, to mail some postcards officially from beyond the arctic. They get a special stamp, you know. :)

Santa Claus Post Office.

At Santa Claus Village! Winter wonderland!

It's official. :)

We spent a couple hours there and I wandered about taking photos and such, then we got back on the bus to head to our final destination, Korvala. Now, Korvala is not actually a town, but really just a settlement by one family that includes their personal home, a main building, and about ten little cottages looking over a beautiful frozen lake. The same family has run the place since 1889 and the main building is over 100 years old. When we arrived, Jaana (the wife) and one of her children helped give us the lay of the land and reminded us to wear warm hats because in the arctic your brain can freeze without you knowing. :)

I think we were all in awe of how nice Korvala was. It would be an amazing place to have a family vacation. The family who runs it was adorable and friendly and they all spoke excellent english, even the children. I shared a small cottage with Sebastian, Meg, Birte, and Nelly. Veronika signed up for the trip a little late, but she was just next door so she came to visit often. We got settled in our cottages and then went out to brave the cold and meet some husky dogs! The owners have at least 20 of their own huskies, but most of them are still puppies, so they don't "work." Jaana and Seppo (the husband) brought in some working huskies who could take us on some sleigh rides around the snowy forest. Unfortunately the sleigh kind of broke before it was my turn, but it was fun to watch anyway. We also met Hopsu, who is the family's dog. She is a young Lap Hound, and possibly the most adorable thing on earth. I wanted to take her home.

Hopsu! My favorite!!!

Our adorable little red cottage.

The huskies!

We were all even more in awe when we made it to dinner that evening. We had dinner in the main building, which is a gorgeous old house with handmade wooden tables and benches, candle light and the whole bit. Alfred, the oldest son (he might be 9), had the job of lighting all the candles before dinner. Seppo made us delicious homemade meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables along with a delicious salad. Best food I have had in months! For dessert we had warm lingonberry soup made with lingonberries that they picked in the forest surrounding the lake. Pretty cool. Also, delicious.

Lingonberry soup, yum.

After dinner we returned to the cabin for a few games of "Sorry" and some drinks before bed. I bought hot chocolate mix to the cottages and Meg bought some "Minttu" alchohol at the grocery store. Just add a little mint to the hot chocolate and it warms you right up! Yummm.

"Sorry!"- Game time

Day 2

Dawn over the lake at...9 am. Really!

We woke up in time to get some breakfast in the main building, also impressive and delicious, before heading out into the forest on a hike/skiing adventure. I couldn't ski because my travel insurance evidently doesn't cover skiing (thanks, mom!), so I wore snowshoes instead. This worked out better for me because 1) I can take photos while walking on snowshoes, and 2) The trails were pretty rough on the skiiers anyway. There are pathways in the forest behind the cottages so we made our way along the paths for about two and a half hours before returning to the lake at Korvala. I took so many photos on the hike, it's probably embarrassing, but everything was just so beautiful. You could be walking through the snowy forest and all of a sudden you would just happen upon this massive frozen lake covered in snow, or a stretch of little mini christmas trees as far as the eye can see.

Heading into the forest! Pretty!

In my snowshoes and ready to go!

Across the lake we go.

The girls.
Back at Korvala.

We were supposed to go on a long husky sleigh ride, but unfortunately the people cancelled because there wasn't enough snow on the paths. It's hard to believe because I think there was at least two feet of snow, but I guess it's too hard to control the dogs unless the snow is really deep. I was dissapointed about that, but what can you do? We ended up heading over to the dog pen in the afternoon to help Jaana take a few of the dogs for a walk. It was fun to see the dogs get all rigged up on the harnesses, but two of them were really nervous and whiny because it was their first time out. Veronika had a harness around her waist with two female dogs. Of course, she didn't really walk them, more like they pulled her as everyone ran.

Taking the doggies for a 'walk.'

Somewhere in there we attempted to ice-fish. It was rather boring and no one caught anything, but we did drill a hole in the ice.

After a few more games of "Sorry" we had another delicious dinner at the main building. It was Meg's birthday so we celebrated back at the cottage with a few drinks. Unfortunately for me, it turned into more than a few drinks after I went to bed at midnight (my bed was in the very small main room) and I was stuck awake until 3 am trying to drowned out the noise with my ipod. I hate not being able to go to sleep when you are so exhausted.

Day 3

We took the bus after breakfast to the Pyha ski resort about an hour away. A bunch of us didn't want to ski (very expensive and only one run), but we figured there would be other things to do there. Not really. We did see some wild Reindeer when we got off the bus, so that was pretty cool. Nelly and I stayed after the group moved on and took some photos. I think we probably got within ten feet of some of them. They are much smaller than I would have thought, but really exquisite creatures. I am really glad we saw some of them in the wild.

The beautiful wild Reindeer.

At the ski resort.

And...we finally make it up to the bar. Phew.

So because we didn't ski, our only option was to hike up the hill for about an hour to get to the bar in the middle of the run. We had a few more mint hot chocolates and just hung out. Eventually we got hungry so we headed over to the Ski Bistro for some Reindeer Burgers. Yum.
We didn't get back to Korvala until about dinner time, and we were surprised to find that our last dinner at Korvala would be....Reindeer! Haha. Reindeer Reindeer everywhere. Anyway, it was delicious as usual. We were all sad to know that we wouldn't be getting any more of Seppo's delicious meals.

Day 4

Last day in Korvala and I think all of us wanted to stay just a little bit longer. After breakfast we went over to the lake to see some more Reindeer! A Reindeer herder had brought about six Reindeer to give us sleigh rides. He was very nice and told us about each of the Reindeer and their personalities and such. We got to pet them and feed them and I got to take lots of photos. They really are beautiful. I didn't want to leave.

This is the King of the herd.

They are very gentle with humans.

This was a really shy teenaged Reindeer.

I think he was sneezing??

We decided to go say goodbye to all the dogs before we left on the bus at 2 pm. I was sad to leave them, it was fun to have them around to go see. I had to say goodbye to Hopsu, my favorite doggie, and that was very sad. She was just too cute! Eventually we packed up, said goodbye to the family, and hopped back on the bus to head back to Rovaniemi for a few hours before our train back to Tampere.

Saying goodbye to Hopsu. :(

Bye doggies!

I will miss them!

Unfortunately locking up our luggage was quite a hassle, but eventually we made it into the Rovaniemi city center to visit...wait for it...the northernmost McDonald's in the world! YES. haha. The inside was even decorated with all kinds of Lapland kitsch. Anyway, we all got some food in us and then wandered around the mall for a while before catching the train. Four a.m. came quickly and then we were back in Tampere.
The trip was so much fun. I wish I could go again. The family was so nice and the wilderness was so beautiful. If you ever go to Finland, you have to go there.

Santa says hello and be good. ;)

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