While my body can’t travel, my mind re-visits the special places of winters past. Like a sparkling jewel, I’m remembering the most magical place I’ve been – Lapland. North of the arctic circle, Finland’s incredible subarctic wilderness – a place of pure magic! Where the nature Gods conjure phenomena like the Aurora Polaris (polar or northern lights), a midnight sun and magnificent reindeer.
A couple of Christmas’s ago, I booked a Lapland holiday with flights to Kittilä and an apartment hotel facing the ski-slope in the mountain resort of Levi. The trip included some excursions and all the arctic clothing you needed. I was still with my ex at the time, unaware of his duplicity, so had booked for us both and spent all year paying monthly instalments until the day arrived to board the TUI flight. I wish I’d taken one of my dear friends, someone who really loves me, but alas that wasn’t the case, so I’ll ignore he was there as Lapland is too precious a memory for me to allow him to spoil it.
The flight was full of families with small excited children in reindeer antlers, I was just as excited in a sparkly Christmas jumper and woolly elf hat. Never take yourself too seriously if you want to be able to really enjoy life. These trips are booked up pretty much wholly by families for kids to visit Santa. I highly recommend going as an adult, there’s so much more to Lapland and the kids aren’t allowed to sit in the coach front seats – so you can rock up anytime and get the best seat and view for the excursions. I also had a hipflask tucked inside my ski jacket which was brilliant for those trips where we were standing around in the snow for a time – a number of parents gladly accepted my proffered hipflask, I think they may have not been using it to just warm up though. Sometimes the most amazing trips are wasted on the very young, wait until it’s something you can really enjoy and appreciate – like me at 49. I’d definitely go back on my own, it’s a safe place, full of magic and Christmas joy, it’d be ideal for solo travel.
I don’t think I ever stopped smiling the whole time I was there, the air tingles with something special – indescribable. The light, it’s other-worldly. The cold didn’t bother me, I actually had to take back the arctic suit the TUI guide gave me – it was too warm, I over-heated in it. At the time I’d been living on England’s north east coast and when you’re acclimatised to wet cold, dry arctic cold is comfortable in comparison. Or maybe it was just one of the few upsides of menopause. Ski jacket, jeans and snow boots were fine for me. Cold weather clothing I really love, the big woolly socks, furry boots, mittens, the Finnish raw wool and beautifully patterned hats with the ear flaps. The thermal underwear I’m not such a fan of, it’s so much to pull on and off. I was fascinated with the clothes warming cupboard in the apartment – what a brilliant idea! I asked a Finnish friend about them, it’s normal there apparently, a drying space for clothes. They have this super cool invention for dish drying too, a Astiankuivauskaappi. Nordic design – simply brilliant!
I’d chosen the apartment as it had a balcony opposite the mountain, that was supposed to be a good position for seeing the northern lights, or so the brochure said. My northern lights app would alert me when there was activity and I’d sit with my nose to the glass of the balcony door at all hours of the night and early morning – it was much like waiting to see Santa’s reindeer and sleigh fly over – it didn’t happen, but I still believed somewhere behind the inky sky and ski-field lights was a light magic show, if only I could look at the right time to catch it… as this didn’t happen it gives me a great excuse to go back to Lapland one day to complete this mission.
Another wonder of arctic temperatures, you can eat without gaining weight! (spoiler alert: this may not be factually correct, it’s just something I chose to believe without further investigation). Fabulous carby, cheesy plates of delicious joy like fondue, pizza and the local Lappish cuisine. Their food is connected to their land, I’m not a meat-eater and couldn’t touch reindeer meat though I do appreciate how the reindeer have provided the people of the region with many gifts, including the gift of life. Their berries, with pretty names like cloudberry, have healing qualities – including in their excellent skincare (bought at duty-free, really great stuff called Lumene). Leipajuusto is a soft cheese fried and garnished with berries, my mouth is watering at the memory of it!
I have many special memories of Lapland, the beauty of reindeer, the smell of smoke from the fireplace in a small dark hut while a shaman retold stories, the taste of warm cheese and berries, strong mulled wine, salty liquorice, playing pool in the local bar, freezing going for a wee in snow encased out-houses, handmade crafts, sleigh rides, walking in deep snow, the sound of ski’s cutting a path, friendly people and Christmas spirit all around.
The most special of all memories though was realising the dream of doing night husky mushing, in the middle of snowy nowhere. The dogs were much smaller and less fluffy than the pet husky’s I know. Strong and lean and frisky – like highly attuned race horses just itching to take off. They were the pride and joy and life’s work of their human. I was deeply touched by how much he clearly loved and cared for his pack of dogs. Though I’d have struggled to leave them in the care of a bunch of dumb tourists, I get to feed them and care for them costs a lot so it’s probably a necessary evil for him. He explained at length if we didn’t keep a careful eye on the dogs, as they may stop suddenly to pee, the sled could crash into the rear pair’s back legs, hurt them and leave them unable to ever mush again. He did make it clear, those dogs that had been in this position always had a home and good life regardless. The thought haunted me, so regardless of the impressive wilderness scenery, my eyes were firmly fixed on my dogs to protect them at all times. That didn’t stop me enjoying every single second though, it was exhilarating! The sound of their howls and the sled running over ice, the coldness coming through my gloves, the pitch-black sky and the brightest stars, the electricity of the dogs excitement mixed with my own.
These are memories that last a lifetime.
Thank you Lapland and thank you magnificent husky’s.