Postcards from the Arctic!

Postcards from the Arctic! Loading

Growing up in Mumbai, when I occasionally pondered on what it is I lived for the spontaneous answer would be, ‘I live for Christmas’! It’s the best and most uplifting time of the year and above all it’s not so hot. Manifestation works.

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I moved to Finland in the thick of winter last year and my first trip out of the city of Helsinki was to  Lapland — Santa’s home! I was as full of excitement as Santa’s elves on Christmas morning. Norwegian Airlines takes just 90 minutes from Helsinki to Ivalo, offering free internet connection en route.

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Ivalo is a village in the municipality of Inari, Lapland located on the Ivalo River, south of Lake Inari. It has a population of approx. 4000 and a small airport. Ivalo has a very popular resort named Saariselkä. Tourists visit every year for winter sports (downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, husky and reindeer sledge riding) and in the summer for activities like trekking and hiking in the Saariselkä fields, canoeing in Lapland rivers, mountain biking, panning for gold, fishing etc. Now that I’ve got that dry bit of Wikipedia reality out of the way, let’s move back to what seemed like fantasy to me.

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From the moment we hit the tarmac, it was magical. The airport having a short airstrip, the aircraft makes a landing on the airstrip and a quick turnaround towards the gates. The airport, though small, is highly efficient and passenger friendly, since it served a tourist destination. The moment you step off the plane and onto a carpet of snow you realize that you are now living your own chronicles (not that of Narnia!). No sooner had we taken the road, in a pre-booked rental from the airport, a little outside the main village we saw fellow travelers passing us in the opposite direction with their headlights blinking at us. I wondered what they were saying to us, and only later discovered realize that the signs were to make way/slow down for the “First Citizens of Lapland”– Reindeers.

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After the first tryst with the mystical, we checked out our fairytale cabin for the week and it was postcard perfect. Such self-serviced cabins can be rented in the area. It comes with all the modern amenities including a cozy fire place to sip on some hot cocoa after a relaxing sauna.  Did you know that the word “Sauna” is of Finnish origin and that sauna is an integral part of the culture here? It’s a social activity, not some necessary steam after a workout at the gym! There are sauna dos and don’ts (funny details at another time). In the winter, a sauna includes intervals of hot and cold, the cold comes from jumping into a nearby chilly lake or standing out in the snow.  Both call for some courage. We did not want to get out of this cozy cabin, but there was much more magic to discover in Santa’s Land.

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As if the cabin was not breath-taking enough, at these temperatures the sea freezes over offering a path for walks, snow mobiles and cross-country skiing. There is a place in Finland, where a path is declared open when the sea freezes and its safe enough for vehicles to pass. The government is not building a bridge in the area to safe guard the environment. Thank Heavens!

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Saariselkä boasts one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world – The Igloo Village. The rooms here are in the shape of an igloo with glass ceilings and on a clear night the feeling is of being covered in a blanket of stars! If lucky, one may experience the aurora borealis from the cozy indoors. We braved the cold and took the late night reindeer sleigh ride, literally dressed in overalls as thick as hazmat suits, in search of the borealis. The wondrous experience of the reindeers pulling our sleigh under a clear starry night sky was made even more memorable by a fleeting glimpse of green borealis. Ah, how nature can thaw and melt the heart even in the Artics!

ivalo6Ivalo, Saariselkä pays homage to Sylvia Petronella van der Moer, a Dutch journalist and adventurer, who imprinted her name in the memories of the gold prospectors in Lapland during the Gold rush of the early 1950s. The restaurant Petronella offers a gastronomic experience worth its weight in gold!

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There is so much on offer that it would need me to write a whole book to do justice! Coming from the Eastern part of the world the North mesmerizes by being picture perfect. So if skiing, snowboarding, skating is too much on a vacation, the pulk is highly recommended if you would wish to be child-like again on your next snowy vacation. As I sign off with images of Ivalo in the snowy sunset bright and crisp in my mind, Santa’s office in my neighborhood has a clock reminding me that there’s only 265 days till Christmas again!

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tulip is an aspiring photographer (#walkanddiscoverfinland), yoga practitioner and future entrepreneur, with an insatiable appetite for learning and a perpetual WIP. In the process of listing sailing and the finnish language as her superpowers. Currently, a shiny brick in the wall, seeking divine intervention! Tulip has recently married and moved to Helsinki, Finland – Europe.

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