It's a long time since we've been to Lapland! The last trip we had abroad before the pandemic was to Abisko and Kiruna in Swedish Lapland. Little did we know as we travelled back from there, via Narvik in Norway, that it would be three years before we were in this part of the world again.
Our past trips to Lapland have always been between Christmas and New Year, but this winter we decided to take advantage of my new and more flexible job to visit in January instead. The flights were a bit cheaper in January, without the demand that there is for visits to see Santa in December. We were keen to go back to Finnish Lapland this time around, but there weren't great flight options to the airport of Kittilä where we've flown previously. The cheapest flights were to the airport of Ivalo, which is even further north than we have been in Lapland before. A bit of research revealed that the nearest resort to Ivalo is the village of Saariselkä, and so that's where we booked to stay
Our journey began around 6am yesterday morning with a drive to Heathrow. All went smoothly, though the airport was a bit more crowded than I'd expected it to be in January and we had to queue to get in somewhere for breakfast. Our flight boarded promptly and the plane was surprisingly large, with two aisles separating three rows of three seats. I had a window seat, though we were submerged in clouds for pretty much the whole journey so there wasn't much to see. It was a nice plane though and we had screens on the backs of the seats in front of us. They showed us not only a map of where we were flying over...
...but also shots of the view from cameras mounted on the plane.
It was particularly exciting to watch the cameras as we came in to land.
There's a two-hour time difference between the UK and Finland, so it was after 3pm local time by the time we landed in Helsinki. The temperature in Helsinki was hovering around freezing; it looked like there had been some snow here fairly recently and that it was just in the process of being melted by rain. Our onward connection to Ivalo wasn't until around 8pm, so we had plenty of time to kill in the airport. Luckily it's a nice big airport, so we were able to get some food, find a shop to buy some breakfast for the following morning (because we'd be arriving in Saariselkä after the shop had closed!) and then settle down in a café near our gate. As we explored the airport we even found a Moomin café (particularly exciting as Tim has been working on page-setting books from the Moomins series in Esperanto).
Somewhere in the middle of this we had to pass from the international terminal we'd arrived into to a different part of the airport where domestic flights were departing from. This involved going through passport control, which was a slightly more stressful experience than I'd anticipated. The border guard spent some time staring at the Russian visa in my passport, then examining all my other passport stamps. He wanted to know how long I was going to be in Finland, where I was going, why I was here, what was the address of the accommodation I was staying at, was that the only place I was going to be staying... But eventually I was stamped in!
Everything went smoothly with the flight to Ivalo, although we were a bit later than expected taking off because we were waiting for cargo to be loaded into the plane. It was pitch black dark by this time so there wasn't much of a view on this flight either. By around 10pm we had landed in Ivalo and the pilot announced as we waited to disembark that we'd be able to see the Northern Lights as we came down the stairs from the plane We've never been so eager to get off a plane! When we did we couldn't initially see anything at all... but eventually we caught sight of a wisp of something in the sky behind the plane. The light looked more grey than green to be honest - and the camera on my phone couldn't capture it at all - but we definitely saw something. It was a promising start to the holiday!
I'm always a bit nervous waiting for our bags to come off the carousel after the year Tim's suitcase got lost between Helsinki and Kittilä, but we had no problems today. The airport in Ivalo is tiny and the bags were coming off the carousel almost as soon as we reached the baggage reclaim area. As we stepped out of the airport we saw the bus to Saariselkä straightaway and it wasn't even as expensive as I'd expected. The tickets cost EUR 13 each and we had a pleasant journey of about half an hour through the snow-covered countryside towards Saariselkä.
I was a little bit nervous about finding our accommodation in Saariselkä too, but that also went smoothly. We managed to get off at the correct bus stop, which was the first battle. Annoying, it was one of those set-ups where there isn't a key safe and instead you have to go to the office of the rental company to pick up the key. Luckily that was in a building that wasn't too far away from where the bus had dropped us and when we got there, the key code I'd been given to open the main door of the office worked. Inside we found an envelope with our keys and a map to the apartment. It was less than a kilometre away and we managed to find it without too much difficulty. Phew
When we got inside, we found that it was a really nice apartment.
It was actually bigger than I'd understood, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.
It's not standard in this part of Europe to provide towels and bedding for free. I'd had to specifically request them and we owe an extra EUR 20 to the rental company which we need to go and pay at some point this week. I was relieved to see that they had remembered to provide them, although less thrilled about having to get two separate duvets into duvet covers at 11pm at night!
Never mind, we got there in the end and went straight to bed to recover from what felt like a long day.
When we woke up this morning it was time to get out the snow boots
It had been too dark last night to see much of the area around where we were staying, so we were keen to explore.
This cabin is the one that we're staying in.
It's part of a little settlement, just off the main road.
There's a thermometer just outside the cabin and it suggested that today was going to be a cold day.
It certainly felt cold outside and I was glad of my neck gaiter.
We spotted that one of the streetlights near the cabin has got the most enormous icicle on it too!
We set off to explore some of the nearby scenery.
As we walked on a path alongside the main road, we caught sight of what seemed to be a car park for snowmobiles.
There were so many of them!
We walked alongside a little frozen stream...
...and got a view of the big fell outside the village where there are downhill ski slopes.
It was really beautiful...
...but quite cold!
Eventually we looped round into the village itself. We found the local church...
...and walked along the main street.
It looked like the Christmas lights were still up in places!
We found the local pub (poro is reindeer in Finnish).
It really is only a small village, but the views were absolutely fantastic
In the distance we could see snow-covered hills and so many trees.
This looked like it would have been a colourful fence if it wasn't covered in snow.
And this was the traffic island on the main road at the edge of the village.
We'd had the best of the daylight by this point so we located the local supermarket (which luckily was open on a Sunday!) and tracked down some supplies. It's actually quite a good supermarket - there's a much better selection of food that there was when we went to Abisko in Sweden - so we shouldn't be in danger of starving this week Then we headed back to our apartment to warm up for a while!
It's great to be able to come back to Lapland and enjoy the snow again