Saariselkä, Finland

Despite spending most evenings chasing the northern lights we still had a jam packed day schedule exploring the surrounding area. We were almost 200km north of the arctic circle and you could see the landscape and temperature changing as we drove further. We were based in Saariselka, our most Northernly point during our stay. It was a beautiful area, partly in the Urho Kekkonen National Park and everyday we witnessed some of the most stunning sky lines I’ve ever seen. The first morning we witnessed our lowest temperature yet at a bone chilling -27, this is by no means that cold for the Finnish but we all found it a bit of a shock to the system (especially me who was dressed in skinny jeans and minimal layers believing we were spending most of the day inside). Our first stop was the Inari Reindeer farm, where we were greeted by the lovely Jan-Eerik and his herd of reindeer. Whilst at the farm we learnt about the Sami culture and we shared a song from our own nations round the warm fire in the kotta. Standing up and singing is an incredible daunting thing to do and they even made me go first so I played it safe and thought that If I sang a song in Welsh they won't be able to tell how out of tune I sing. Unfortunately the only songs I can remember all the way through are 'head, shoulders,knees and toes' and the Welsh national anthem, I decided with the latter as it may seem a bit ridiculous to sing the first song! It was funny to hear everyone sing a song from their country though, not knowing at all what they were singing about but I felt as a group it somehow brought us closer together.  It is incredible how resourceful the people are and how they use the nature around them to survive. The reindeers are such an important part of the livelihood here and the basis of so many things.

Our second day in Saariselka we spent the morning snowshoeing through the forest to a nearby lake. The previous evening we had snowshoed up a fell in the pitch black so it was wonderful to see our surrounding whilst making our tracks through the snow. It can be quite hard work in the deep stuff even with the big wide snow shoes on but it was a great bit of exercise and we set off in the dark so wonderful to walk up the hill with the sky getting lighter. Once again the sky was a beautiful baby pink, but it changes so fast that just 30 minutes later it can look completely different. That is really one of the wonders of Finland, the sky. Before coming here I was worried about how much daylight there would be if the sun doesn't rise but its really not a problem. The light that you do get is so beautiful that you don’t mind ( its defiantly quality over quantity!) 

Once we reached the lake we were shown how to drill a hole in the ice using a big ice auger. The ice was about 5/6cm thick so it took some work, but we managed it in the end. We were handed what looked like a plastic child's rod to attempt to catch our lunch; with my lack of patience though I only lasted about 20 minutes - so no lunch for me!

On our third day we got a bit of VIP treatment as we were taken to a closed toboggan run on the Saariselka ski slope. It was another cold day but we were wrapped up and ready to race. The ski lift up to the top was bitterly cold but once again we were blown away by the glowing sky line and soon forgot about our freezing cheeks. I’ve been on many ski lifts in my time but the view from this particular one was one of my favourites. Finland is by no means mountainous like the alps, and it doesn't have dramatic snow covered rock faces instead it has beautiful smooth hills, bent trees by the heavy snow and everything has glittery crusted snow attached to it like its been crafted out of ice. We received a quick lesson on how to stop the sledges and then off we went. You are never too old to enjoy sledging down a hill, and with 3k of track ahead of us we were soon laughing our heads off as we all descended down the hill, always on the brink of being out of control. With the forever changing sky above our heads the team slid,crashed and tumbled our way down the slope chanting at the bottom to ‘go again’ like excitable 5 year olds. 

Our last day would be spent visiting our driver Justus’s place near Ivalo. Having moved to an island off the Lake Ukonjarvi with his wife Katharina a few years ago from Germany, it had been great, during the previous days, learning about his decision to move to Lapland and listening to him speak what sounded like fluent Finnish. As we walked over the lake, a few reindeers casually passed across too and we could instantly see the attraction of living somewhere like this. As with most of Lapland, the landscape is stunning, and the lake that circles their island is simply beautiful. We walked out to their ice hole to see if their was any fish in the net that we could smoke for our lunch the next day. My hopes were fairly low after our first experience of ice fishing but within seconds of pulling the net out we were greeted by a very ugly, slimy fish. A quick whack to the head and job done! 

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As the light began to fade we sat round the fire with a hot cup of gluggi and some biscuits, Justus and Katharina telling us about their Lappish lifestyle and about their time here so far. It’s not an easy way of life. Everything is a massive effort but I think its worth it. It makes you reassess all the things that you consider as ‘essential’ and realise perhaps they're not. Having not grown up in this sort of environment you have to learn a whole new set of skills, and with no one living particularly close to you, you have to just learn by doing. Just as the fire was burning out and we thought we’d be heading back the team had a surprise for K. Who, when asked what would miss most his answer was ‘The new star wars film’ was amazed to find a pile of tickets to the screening in a local cinema that evening. Not only would be watching it on its European release day, but we would be seeing it 2 days earlier than people in the UK… too my father and brothers disgust. Having not seen any of the previous Star Wars films I felt like a bit of a fraud as I placed my 3D glasses on in the small local cinema, that had the biggest queue anyone had seen is years. Despite not knowing the majority of what I assumed were previous characters, I really enjoyed the film and have even caught up on the previous films since seeing it.  It was a great end to another amazing week, and it felt completely surreal spending the morning ice fishing for lunch then sat in a theatre watching the latest blockbuster film but maybe it just shows that Lapland has everything you'd ever need!