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  1. Today's activity was centred on skiiing, one year to the day since our previous attempt. As with snowshoeing, we'd decided that we'd try it ourselves by renting our skis, rather than pay for a class. We weren't sure how well we'd remember what we did last time, but it was cheaper to rent the skis for the week rather than pay for a lesson and we liked the idea of doing it by ourselves rather than as part of a group. Clare knew that there was a beginners' course on the lake, so that's where we headed off to, once we'd worked out how to put on our shoes. If we'd been experienced skiers we could have joined a trail as soon as we stepped out the door but since we're not, we had to carry our skis with us the kilometre or more to the lake. No mean feat! Clare's skis were soon on and she was ready to go: This was about 11-ish, so the red tinge noticeable in the background is the sunrise: Slow and steady wins the race. It was slow going at first but we reached the end of the first leg: The skies were clearer today, so we could see the fens from where we were standing: Then it was time to come back. You can see that Clare had picked up a bit more confidence: Soon enough she'd made it back to the start: I soon found it relatively straightforward: My Fitbit wasn't happy, though, noticing the increase in heart rate and ordering me to relax! We did the same trip several more times. Clare became a lot more at ease with it, although stopping was still a bit nerve-wracking: Soon she felt happier: 'One more time' became 'one more time' several times, until we'd spent an hour and a half going backwards and forwards. After having done the final final leg and turned the corner, Clare rightly looked rather pleased with herself: We were considering resting for an hour and then coming back to do some more but as soon as we got home we realised how sore we were. The good news is, though, that since we've rented the skis for the week, we'll be back out in a couple of days' time to do some more
  2. 2019 started with a lie-in for me and Alfie because we were going husky-sledding, courtesy of my parents, who treated Alfie to this for Christmas. Clare didn't fancy being a driver, so instead set off snowshoeing in the woods, leaving us behind. There was fresh snow on the ground, which always gives a lovely crunch when you walk on it: For once, we didn't walk in the direction of the supermarket but instead took the opposite turn walking uphill to our bus stop. The scenery is just as pretty: We got there with plenty of time to spare, nearly half an hour before the bus was due. I remember from last time that it's not the easiest bus stop to find but we were there within minutes and awaiting 12:30. We ended up waiting longer; the bus arrived at 12:43, forty minutes after we did, but was still earlier than last year. We boarded and there was only a family of four there. I thought our luck was in! Not quite so. We drove to the main office whereupon the guide explained that we were picking up some more people and that we were free to use the toilet, get a drink and even pick up some equipment. He made a point of suggesting to me that I might quite like to borrow a jumpsuit to protect me from the cold. Clearly he's not aware that this is the man who forswears gloves and a jacket at minus 17 if he's required to do any form of exertion! Alfie asked me how long this was going to take. Theoretically, it shouldn't have taken any time at all; the information on the ticket stated that we would be picked up at 12:30 and that the event would start at 13:00. However, we didn't leave until 13:20, arriving at 13:50. It was a lovely journey, though. We were quickly welcomed off the coach and given our safety instructions. There really wasn't a lot for passengers to learn, other than sit down and keep your extremities within the sled: Drivers had a bit more to learn, including hand signals for stop, go and slow down, and how to brake: We were even further delayed because the safety instructions were being translated into Spanish. I grew a bit restless and had a peek at some typical Sami accommodation: The dogs were all tied up and ready to go: There are 160 dogs at the farm. Although they're there to work, they each have names and personalities. Some of them bark in excitement because they want to run, others are more restful and have a quick nap between tours, whilst still others pull at their leads to try to get the tour started earlier! We happened to have the first sled in line and were soon off with our team of six: Sometimes there are eight dogs in a team for when there are more people on the sled. The dogs might have liked to have another couple added to their number once we hit the uphill stretch! The dogs are partnered alongside the dog they live with. Usually the whole team are neighbours. If the team works well, the dogs are kept together but changes are made if required, such as if the dogs fight. It's rare but it can happen. Our own team was soon broken up because of a problem. It didn't involve fighting though: Ours was a team of five boys and a single, solitary female. Apparently a "heat team" had been out a couple of sessions before and it gave two or three of our males ideas about the female in our group, so she had to be removed and replaced! Soon we were off and running again. The dogs nearest the sleigh are wheel dogs. They tend to be males, since this position requires the most strength, the dogs taking weight on their shoulders. The dogs in the middle are the fastest. The first dogs are the leaders, the brains of the team, planning the route. Usually these are females. Don't worry about the cold and how much you would hate to be out in it. The dogs live outside and love Arctic conditions, tolerating up to minus 45 degrees. Optimum weather for running is minus 20. When they get hot, they just grab a mouthful of snow on the move to cool off: One of the few things you have to do as a driver is apply the brake when bends come up so that the dogs, in taking a corner at pace, don't end up swinging the sleigh off the track. The guide on the snowmobile gives you the hand signal to slow down, which you then relay to the people behind you: Before long, darkness had descended and the dogs led us home: Everything looked beautiful with the magnificent sky behind it: Our own dogs were too keen on grabbing a drink to want to play with us, so we went and said hello to some of the dogs who were already in place for the next tour. There were some really friendly dogs there! We then got a chance to warm up by a fire: Our guide served us some hot berry juice and gave us some information about the farm and the dogs there. She explained that the dogs don't eat in the morning because their guts might twist when they run. In the evening they get a kilo of raw meat and dog pellets. They work quite hard in the winter, running 20 to 30 kilometres a day. The season starts in early December until mid-April. In summer the dogs get to play outside because they don't do any running in the heat. Training for the new season starts in August. After that we got to meet the 13 puppies, born and raised there according to a strict breeding programme, where males are matched to females! Sometimes, however, there are surprise puppies. Otto, who is 14 and the oldest dog on site, used to escape by scaling a wall and then would open the door of the cells of the bitches in heat. You know what happened next. The puppies are kept as pups until they're one. They start training for a year and join a team at two, racing until they're ten. Old retired dogs typically live with the puppies, doing grandparenting. Sometimes they get a new home because there are people in the area who collect retired sled dogs. Once they get a taste of it, the puppies love running. The relative calm can quickly be broken by puppies chanting in unison once they catch sight of another team getting ready to head out! One final look at the farm with that wonderful combination of snow and sky, and then we were back on board our coach, returning home after a really fun day out!
  3. As we were walking back from the supermarket after doing the blog last night, we hit a new temperature record for this holiday - minus 28! It felt significantly warmer when we stepped out of the apartment this morning, and the thermometer in the village confirmed that it was a comparatively mild minus 14 We just caught a glimpse of the beautiful sunrise as we left the apartment and started walking towards the lake. Our plan for today was to give skiing a go on our own. We carried the (heavy!) skis as far as the sports shop, before getting changed into our ski boots and temporarily leaving our own boots behind in the shop. The advantage of doing it this way was that otherwise we'd have had to have walked all the way to the lake in the ski boots, skied, then carried the skis back to the apartment, changed into our actual boots, and carried the skis back to the shop. This way we could go skiing, then hand the skis back in and collect our own shoes once we'd finished Walking in the ski boots is actually really difficult because they don't have very good grips on them. Crossing the main road and walking through the supermarket carpark were particularly tricky, because the snow is quite compacted and slippy there, but we made it all in one piece and were soon on the lake, ready to begin. Alfie got off to a strong start I needed a bit of time to warm up Alfie was out-performing me and Tim so much that he was soon just a little black dot on the horizon! He may have managed a few more laps than we did We spent a bit of time catching our breath before setting off again. Once we'd skied to the far side of the lake, Alfie and Tim decided to practise their skills at skiing uphill... ...and downhill. Some attempts at going uphill were more successful than others Going downhill wasn't without challenges either! Once we were all thoroughly exhausted, we skied back across the lake, handed back our equipment and indulged in a large amount of pizza By the time we'd finished eating, it had started snowing outside. As we walked back towards the apartment, the snow got increasingly heavy, to the point where we couldn't even see the lake (it's normally visible in the distance here). By the time we got back to the apartment, it felt like a proper blizzard. There was lots of fresh powdery snow on the ground. We were able to walk through the untouched snow to the door of our apartment It was a fun end to what has been a great holiday. Tomorrow will be a long day of travelling, with our first at 10.50 from Kittila and then our second at 17.05 from Helsinki. Lapland is always a destination which involves a lot of travelling, but we definitely think it's worth the effort
  4. Nearly everybody does something to celebrate the New Year. But how many people get to do it on a lake? This was our plan for the night. It was snowing when we left the apartment: The flakes were tiny but there were a lot of them coming down! We already know the walk to the lake very well but it was even clearer tonight because the path had been lined with candles: We were some of the first people to arrive and so didn't have to queue to buy some warming drinks. These were apple juice which was heated with cinnamon, cloves and aniseed: There was still plenty of snow as we walked the short distance to the lake: And there we stood with our hot drinks until, all of a sudden, a fireworks display launched from the middle of the lake! There were all sorts of fireworks! There weren't too many people there and soon we all started to walk home. But not before recording a message:
  5. It felt very cold when we stepped out of the house this morning, and sure enough once we got to the village thermometer we found it was showing a temperature of minus 23. We were walking towards the frozen lake to try and find a snowshoeing path that we'd seen signposted while we were skiing in the woods the other day. On the way we passed a sign advertising ice swimming in the lake, but we decided to give that a miss and stick with our original plan of snowshoeing instead The lake looked beautiful again in the snow. We put our snowshoes on and then we were ready to set off. Tim's beard had already started to freeze I was looking rather cold too! As we set off across the lake, we could see a slightly pink glow in the sky, although the colours weren't as strong as they had been the other day. After a while we reached the far side of the lake and found the start of the trail, marked by blue poles. The path led us through the trees. The snow was pretty deep here... ...especially if you strayed off the path It was beautiful here, but extremely cold! Tim and Alfie decided that they were too cold and that they wanted to head back to the shopping centre to look for some souvenirs. I decided to carry on on my own and explore some more of the path. Once I was on my own, I may have got slightly carried away taking photos of trees again The further I went, the deeper the snow seemed to be. It definitely wasn't getting any warmer; if you look carefully in this photo you might be able to see the ice on my eyelashes, as well as my white hair The path became narrower... ...before leading up a snowy slope into the forest. Now I really was right between the trees. I was glad of the blue poles; without them it might have been difficult to tell where the path was going. The path continued along a little ridge for a while, but then started to lead quite steeply downhill. I decided I'd better turn back, because I might not get down the slope - or if I did, I might not get back up again I started making my way back towards the lake. It was coming up to 2pm now and so there was an orange glow in the sky... ...and a bit of pink over the big fell in the distance. I tried a sunset selfie As I emerged back out onto the lake, I was excited to see a herd of reindeer crossing the lake. They were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo. Once they'd moved off into the trees, I continued on my way and was over halfway across the lake when I saw a single solitary reindeer in the distance. He started getting closer. Was he going to walk towards me? Wow, he literally walked right past me! I've never been as close to a reindeer as this By this stage I was in danger of turning into an icicle, so I headed back towards the supermarket. Tim and Alfie had had a successful shopping trip and discovered that, while we'd been out, the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting minus 25; a record low for this holiday!
  6. I hadn't fancied joining Tim and Alfie at the huskies today, not being a huge fan of dogs. That meant I had to find something else to do instead. I decided to opt for snowshoeing, and re-do the trail which we had all done together on Sunday. It had been snowing all through the night and so as I left the apartment behind and made my way towards the woods, the ground was covered in fresh snow. When I got to the point where the path began, I could see that a machine had been along to flatten the snow down a bit, making it easier to walk on, but it still seemed a lot deeper than on Sunday. Time to put snowshoes on! I set off on the path through the trees It was very cloudy today so the colours in the sky weren't as impressive as they have been on other days, but it was still really lovely. The trees seemed even more laden down with snow than they had earlier in the week. We've been told before that they bounce back once the snow melts, but it looked like it was going to be harder for some than for others. Some looked like they were never going to bounce back at all! I had a go at taking a selfie with snowy trees, but it wasn't terribly successful I could actually have spent all day taking photos of trees Some of them were really huge... ...while others were barely poking up through the snow. By this point I felt like I must be getting close to the cafe. Sure enough, I soon got confirmation that I was getting to the icy part of the walk. I figured if I'd got across the ice once, I could do it again I managed it without any problems and was soon back on the snow. I passed the cafe without going in; it was starting to snow again, so I thought it seemed best to press on. The most exciting thing about the next bit of the path was that I was the first person to walk on the fresh snow It was such a beautiful walk. The path led past a stream, which wasn't completely frozen... ...and then under some more bent-over trees. I had another go at a selfie here Then I got to the downhill slope part of the walk. This actually seemed easier today, with more snow to dig the snowshoes into. After that, it was back up through the valley of trees... ...and back to the road. You can't really tell from the photos, but at this point there was a minor blizzard, with lots of snow falling and a rather strong wind. By the time I eventually got back to the apartment, I was rather cold It was a great walk though and wonderful to walk in the fresh snow
  7. If yesterday was all about snowshoeing, today was all about skiing! Tim and I had tried cross-country skiing in Lapland a couple of times before but it's very easy to forget everything you've learned from one year to the next, and this was going to be Alfie's first time on skis, so we'd booked a beginners' lesson for this morning. The good news was that the weather was a bit warmer today, and so it was only about minus 12 as we made our way to the starting point for the lesson. We had to carry our skis down to the frozen lake, which has the advantage of being completely flat, so is an excellent place for beginners to practise Although it was 10am, as you can see in the photos it was still quite dark and the street lights were still on. We soon got to the lake. As you can see in this photo, cross-country skiing is done within tracks which are carved into the snow by special machines. You place each of your skis in the tracks and then follow them wherever they lead. First of all we learned how to clip into our skis... ...and then we were ready to go... ...although we were temporarily distracted by the beautiful pink colour of the sky This time it was sunrise rather than sunset. The instructor told us to put just one ski on first of all and to practise gliding in one of the tracks. Whilst we practised, the sky turned an even deeper shade of red. Once we'd mastered one foot at a time, we progressed onto skis on both feet. The instructor was a bit mean and confiscated our ski poles so that we had to work on our balance! Alfie was a bit better at it than me The sunrise continued to be incredible as we practised going up and down the tracks on the lake. With practice I was maybe getting a bit better Eventually we were given our poles back and I felt a lot happier. There was just time to have a last look at the sunrise, before we skied right to the far end of the lake. From there we had to learn how to move uphill with our skis, which was rather hard work. You have to stick your feet outwards like a penguin and try very hard not to slip backwards as you take small steps up the slope. Once we'd managed this, we were off the lake and onto one of the ski tracks beyond it. The terrain here was a bit more uneven, but it was exciting as we were skiing through the trees. At this point only one more challenge remained; skiing down a very steep slope! It looked way too steep for me so I opted out, but Tim and Alfie both managed it Alfie got most of the way down before falling over (but managed to stand back up again straightaway, using a technique we'd been taught at the beginning of the class). Tim's attempt went a bit wrong when he managed to come out of the tracks and descended the hill very fast indeed, although he somehow succeeded in getting back into the tracks in the end and remained upright throughout. Unfortunately no videos of this! That concluded the lesson, so it was time to head back to the lake. We were all rather tired by this point, so headed back to the apartment for a much-needed rest. Later this evening we'll be setting off for the lake again, this time to celebrate New Year
  8. When we picked up our equipment from the rental shop yesterday, the man there warned us that today was going to be a cold day. Sure enough, when we got up and ventured outside this morning, we found it was very cold indeed! Minus 20 was a big change from yesterday, which had felt comparatively mild for Lapland. It was so cold that I could feel my eyelashes starting to freeze. Our plan for today was to go snowshoeing in the woods behind the village. There's a really good path which we've used in previous years and is perfect for snowshoes. First of all we had to walk along one of the side roads out of the village, just wearing our normal boots. Then when we got to the start of the path, it was time to put our snowshoes on Tim might not have felt cold, but we could already see his hair and moustache starting to freeze! The path leads through the snowy trees and is criss-crossed at different points by ski runs and tracks for snowmobiles. Most of the time we were just completely alone in the forest though As always, the hardest part about snowshoeing is getting the straps on the snowshoes attached tightly enough that they don't fall off. It's the sort of thing which is easy to do when you're sitting down inside, but really difficult when you're outside in the snow and your fingers are numb. We got there in the end though After a while the path leads down into a snowy valley. We were surrounded by enormous trees on both sides. And we could just see the bumps of smaller trees poking up through the snow. The sky wasn't quite as bright as yesterday, but there were still some beautiful colours in it. It didn't come out in the pictures, but we could actually see the moon in the distance as well. After pausing for a while to take some photos, we were off again! In this part of the forest there were some trees which were really laden down by snow. Although it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, we knew that we were now only a kilometre or so away from a cafe. That was good news, because we were now all starting to feel very cold. It wasn't just Tim's hair that was starting to freeze; mine was as well! The snow was deeper on this part of the walk, so we were glad that we had our snowshoes. There was just one final obstacle for us to cross before we could get inside in the warm for a bit 😮 I didn't like the look of that at all! We decided to send Tim across first to see whether it would bear his weight He got across without any problems, so Alfie went next and then I brought up the rear. The sign showed that we'd walked 4.8km from the village now. That meant that finally we were at the cafe and we could relax with a warm drink It was nice looking out at the snow from indoors for a while. We couldn't sit still for too long though, because we only had a couple of hours of daylight left to complete the rest of the walk and get back to the village. The return walk follows a slightly different route, which took us past some trees that were completely bowed over by the snow. It also required us to climb down quite a steep snowy slope. From there we rejoined the same path that we'd been on previously... ...and retraced our steps back to the road, where we paused to take off our snowshoes. It was starting to get dark by this point, so we'd just finished the walk on time. We found that while we'd been out the temperature had dropped even lower, hitting a very cold minus 23! All that remained was to get into the warm again for some very well-deserved pizza
  9. When we woke up this morning, we found that it had been snowing overnight, so there was lots of fresh powdery snow outside our apartment. It was still snowing a little bit by the time we finished breakfast and went outside, in fact. Our first task for today was to walk to the sports shop from which we were renting our snowshoes and skis, so we set off into the centre of the village. It was fun walking through the snow to the shop. It was slightly less fun when, having collected everything, we had to carry all the rather heavy equipment back through the snow to the apartment! Once we'd recovered from our exertions we set off once again, this time for a more leisurely stroll. There were people skiing past us as we made our way back to the centre of the village. Before long we caught a glimpse of the frozen lake in the distance. We'd been for a stroll down to the lake last night when we'd been taking advantage of the supermarket Wi-Fi to post our blog. It was different seeing it in the daylight though Part of the lake isn't completely frozen, where the local river flows into it. That part of the lake is completely fenced off with warning signs though, so there's no chance of you making a mistake in the dark! The partially frozen river is very pretty too, as Alfie and Tim found when they crossed the road for a closer look. We'd come to the far end of the village now (it's only small!) so we turned around and headed back towards the supermarket. The carpark outside the supermarket is home to this enormous reindeer... ...and from the far side of the car park, you can catch a glimpse of the local reindeer farm too. Some of the reindeer had huge antlers. A path leads down from behind the supermarket to the frozen lake. As you descend onto the lake, you can see the boathouses where people keep their boats in summer. And then all you can see is the enormous frozen lake itself, and some of the snowy fells in the background. There are a couple of paths to follow to walk across the lake. There are also a couple of ski runs, which are marked by red poles so that you don't stray onto them by mistake. As we made our way into the middle of the lake, we started to notice the unusual pink colours in the sky. The further we walked, the pinker it began to look... ...until suddenly it was very pink indeed! It was after 1pm by this point, so perhaps it was the beginning of sunset! It was beautiful anyway, and the most unusual colours we've ever seen in the sky in Lapland Tim was taking a picture of Alfie with the view... ...when I turned around and realised there were some reindeer walking across the lake! We were quite a long way away, so it was difficult to get a good photo, but they were definitely there. How exciting! As we finally got to the far edge of the lake, the sky looked increasingly dramatic. We followed a smaller path up into the trees on the other side of the lake for a while. This took us up past some cabins and to a small road... ...from where we had a view back down towards the lake. We couldn't really risk exploring any further in case it started to get dark, so we turned around to come back. Once we got back down to the lake, we could see that it was indeed starting to look like twilight. We did a bit of shopping at the supermarket and then headed back to the apartment just as darkness fell and the street lights started to come on again. We were quite tired by this point, having walked about six miles in the snow, but it was definitely worth it for the amazing views
  10. As soon as we got back from Lapland last January, we knew that we wanted to go again. Because the flights can be so expensive, we started looking at December 2018 prices straightaway and soon found an unexpectedly cheap option to fly to Helsinki with British Airways from Heathrow. There was a twist this year in that we also wanted to bring Tim's oldest nephew, Alfie, with us on the trip and so it was that less than a month after getting home from last year's holiday, we had already booked three return flights for this year. We managed to find reasonably-priced connecting flights from Helsinki to Kittila with Norwegian too, so we were all set to return to our favourite destination of Äkäslompolo. The thing which gave us the most trouble was finding accommodation. When we've booked in the past, apartments in Lapland have been quite flexible about the start and end dates for rentals. There seemed to have been a change this year, with the majority of accommodation only wanting to rent from Saturday to Saturday, at least for the Christmas week. We eventually managed to track down one solitary apartment which it was possible to let from a Friday to a Friday (which was what we needed to take advantage of the cheap flights we'd booked) and the good news was that it had room for three people. There was only one catch - it didn't have any Wi-Fi Could we survive an entire week without internet?! There were no other affordable options, so we decided we'd have to give it a go and hope that there would be some free Wi-Fi somewhere in the village of Äkäslompolo! Our flight from Heathrow to Helsinki was at 11am on Thursday, so we had a fairly civilised start to the holiday by our standards, not needing to leave home until 06.30. That was still early enough to avoid most of the traffic, so the drive down to Heathrow all went well and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast. Our flight took off almost exactly on time and three hours later we touched down in the Finnish capital. Finland is two hours ahead of the UK, so it was just after 4pm here and already almost dark! More surprising than the darkness was the fact that there was a little bit of snow on the ground in Helsinki. There had been lots of articles in the British newpapers over the past month about a lack of snow in Lapland, following an unseasonally warm and dry November, so it was a relief to see that the weather was getting back to normal. If it was cold and snowy as far south as Helsinki, then we should be guaranteed lots of snow in Äkäslompolo Our onward flight to Lapland wasn't until Friday, so we stayed overnight in a hotel a couple of kilometres away from the airport. There was a free shuttle bus to the hotel from outside the main terminal, which was nice and convenient. When we checked in we found the rooms were a little on the small side, but nevertheless fine for one night. The other good thing about the hotel was that it was less than a kilometre away from a large shopping centre complex, which we'd discovered when we were in Helsinki this time last year. As soon as we'd got settled into our rooms, we set off through the snow to find it. It really wasn't far and we found a restaurant where we were all able to have a burger and chips for around €15 each, which is a bargain by Helsinki standards We then headed back to the hotel for an early night, because we had an early start for our flight on Friday morning. Our flight from Helsinki to Kittila was at 08.45 and the free shuttle bus was coming to take us to the airport at 06.00. That meant we had to arrange to meet for breakfast at 05.15, which felt a little bit painful! The hotel had a good breakfast buffet though, even if it was a bit difficult to take full advantage of it so early in the morning. Once we got to the airport, we had to track down one of the self check-in machines to print our boarding passes and baggage labels. This was the point at which our holiday all started to go wrong last year, when we failed to attach the baggage labels to our suitcases securely enough, with the result that Tim's label fell off and his bag didn't make it to Lapland! We weren't going to make the same mistake this year, and Tim made sure that all three labels were 100% stuck before we went to the baggage drop-off desk to hand them over. The flight to Kittila took around 90 minutes and soon we were landing in the snow The pilot told us before we got off the plane that it was minus 13 outside. That didn't stop someone getting off just wearing a T-shirt though! We soon discovered that all our bags had made it to Kittila as well (yay!). It was only about 10.30 at this point and we weren't allowed to check into our accommodation in Äkäslompolo until 16.00, so we decided to strategically miss the 11am airport bus and have a drink in the airport cafe, catching the bus which was scheduled to meet the flight after ours instead. Tim and Alfie also used the time to get changed into all their proper thermals! The next bus departed shortly after midday. Like all airport buses in Nordic countries, this one is a little bit on the expensive side, and it cost almost €70 for us all to buy tickets. Those are returns though, so now we just need to not lose the tiny slip of paper they gave us before next week... Once we left the airport behind and started driving through the snowy countryside, the views were amazing. We definitely needn't have worried that there wasn't going to be enough snow Now that it was finally daylight, it was a clear sunny day and so we had some great views of the fells in the distance as the bus drove us towards Äkäslompolo. The driver dropped us off in the centre of the village just after 1pm and we headed to our favourite restaurant to get some food. Alfie and I had enormous ham and pineapple pizzas, while Tim had another burger. By the time we had done a bit of shopping in the nearby supermarket as well, it was after 14.30 and so we decided to try our luck at checking into the apartment a bit early. We didn't have to meet anyone for check-in, having already been sent the code for the key box outside the property, so with luck we might be able to sneak in at 15.00 without anyone noticing! As we set off towards the apartment, it was already starting to look a bit like twilight and it felt very, very cold. We passed one of the village's public thermometers, which confirmed that it was in fact minus 17! Luckily we didn't have too much further to go and our run of good luck continued when the key code I'd been given for the apartment actually worked (another huge improvement on last year, when we were locked out after the rental company sent us the wrong code!). The apartment is nice and comfy inside; almost identical to the ones that we have stayed in in previous years, except that it has a staircase to a separate floor with an additional bedroom for Alfie Most importantly it's extremely warm inside, so we have all been able to thaw out. There really is no internet, but we did discover earlier that there is a free Wi-Fi network at the supermarket. This may be the first time I'm keen to be included in all the holiday shopping trips and probably also the most excited Alfie has ever been at being taken to a supermarket
  11. All good things come to an end. That's the case for our latest visit to Lapland. It didn't get off to the most auspicious start, with my luggage staying in Helsinki and the apartment company giving us the wrong code for the keysafe (twice!) but that's all in the past and the week has been exceptional. I think we're getting this down to a fine art now. Since it was the last stroll we'd do for another year, we thought we'd head out in the evening for a stroll across the lake. (It will never not feel wrong typing that!) In contrast last night, we were the only ones out there on a cloudy night. Suddenly the sky changed to the west: A bright orange light appeared! It could've been sunrise: It would've needed several suns, though, because the same thing happened in other parts of the sky too: There was a hint of green between splashes of orange, though it was faint: Sometimes the intensity made it look like there was a searchlight: After admiring for a few minutes, we took one final glance and went home: We'll be up early tomorrow for a day of travelling. It's all worth it to come here, though. We're already making plans for next year!
  12. For our final day we decided that we wanted to have another go at cross-country skiing But first of all we had to sort out the logistics of how we were going to get all the equipment we'd rented back to the sports shop by the end of the day. After a bit of deliberation, we decided to walk to the shop and hand back the snowshoes and poles first, then walk back to the apartment and collect our skis. Tim asked the people in the sports shop whether we could leave our normal boots with them while we went skiing, and happily they agreed. The advantage of this was that it meant once we'd finished skiing, we could just go back to the sports shop and hand in the skis, ski poles and ski boots, then put our normal boots on to walk back to the apartment. The alternative would have been to walk back to the apartment in the ski boots, change into our normal boots and then walk all the way back to the sports shop again carrying the skis. Skis are quite heavy to carry (and it's about 1km from the apartment to the sports shop) so it was a definite bonus to avoid an extra trip. When we got down to the lake, we could immediately see that it was a lot cloudier than the previous day when we were skiing. It was still pretty though, even if we couldn't see any of the hills in the distance. We were soon clipped into our skis and ready to go. Tim was off... ...and I wasn't too far behind. It felt a bit easier than it did the other day. Or at least, I felt more balanced and less like I was going to fall over We stuck to the same flat bit of track on the lake, which is perfect for beginners Tim was managing to go a bit faster than me! Skiing is hard work and after a while we felt like having a break. While we were catching our breath, we tried another selfie Then we decided to do one more lap of the track before calling it a day. We went back to the ski shop, handed everything over and retrieved our normal boots. There was still some daylight left, so we went for a stroll around the village, past the supermarket in the direction we had explored the other night. As we were walking along, I suddenly caught sight of something moving in the trees on the opposite side of the road. It was a reindeer, just wandering around That's definitely a first for us! We continued along the path, to the point where the river flows into the lake. The water isn't completely frozen here. Tim went across to the other side of the road to look at the view in the opposite direction. It was really beautiful here too Before long we came to the end of the village and had to turn around and head back. It was starting to get dark now anyway and the street lights were coming on. We've had a really wonderful holiday in Lapland yet again, despite the fact that it didn't get off to the best start with the delay to Tim's suitcase last week Tomorrow will be a big day of travelling, as we have an internal flight from Kittilä to Helsinki in the morning, followed by a flight from Helsinki back to Gatwick in the afternoon. It will be tiring, but this is a destination that is definitely worth the travelling, and I have a feeling that we may be coming back again...!
  13. Our legs didn't feel up to skiing two days in a row, so we decided to revert to snowshoeing again today. We had really enjoyed the walk in the woods which we did on Saturday, but in places it had been quite difficult walking on such powdery snow in normal shoes, so we thought it would be fun to re-do the walk, but this time on snowshoes. We began walking along the side road which leads towards the path. We were carrying our snowshoes at this point, as the snow on the road wasn't very deep. When we got to the path, we stopped to put the snowshoes on. Putting them on is still the most difficult part, but we seem to be finally getting the hang of it now We managed to get all the straps pulled tightly enough that we only had to stop once to adjust mine during the whole walk, and they didn't fall off at all. You'll see from the picture that we had decided to bring the snowshoe poles with us today as well. Or rather, I had now realised that we actually had snowshoe poles Originally when Tim brought a pile of poles back from the shop I assumed they all related to the skis, but then realised belatedly that we had a set each to go with the snowshoes as well. That should make going up and downhill a lot easier Snowshoes on, and we were off. It was about minus 4 today and Tim was finding it a bit warm I was still happy I had all my winter gear on though, as we made our way through the forest and towards the little valley we'd walked through the other day. It was just as beautiful there today Quite a lot more snow had fallen overnight (we'd had to grit the path outside our apartment this morning) and so I think the path would have been really heavy-going in places with normal boots. With the snowshoes on we were speeding along though, especially once we got into a rhythm with the poles. Partway round, we decided to stop and try another selfie Then we were off once again... ...until we got to the little ski cafe which marks the halfway point of the walk. From there, we continued on the narrower path with lots of bent-over trees Some of them seemed to be even more bent over this time than last, and there were a couple of places where the trees were now so low we had to duck under them (which we definitely didn't have to do the other day). It was about 2pm by this point - and it hadn't been a particularly bright day in the first place - so we needed to walk briskly to get through the rest of the walk before darkness fell. The snowshoes definitely helped with that We soon came to the place where there is a steep downhill slope to negotiate. It was loads easier with the poles! Finally we were almost back at the road, where it would be time to take off the snowshoes again. We made it, just as the street lights were starting to turn on It was another really fun day in the snow
  14. We went out again just after 11pm last night, to see what was happening in Äkäslompolo for New Year. Although it had been quite a clear and sunny day, by evening the sky had clouded over once again and so there was no chance of seeing any northern lights. The village still looked very pretty though, with little candles placed in the snow at regular intervals to light up the path along the main road. We were walking towards the frozen lake, where last year there had been a big release of lanterns at midnight. We had no idea what might be happening this year! The lake is just beyond the supermarket carpark, and I'd had the impression that last year there had been a man there selling Glühwein (but that we couldn't buy any because we'd forgotten to bring any money out with us). We were better prepared this year, and when we arrived we found there was indeed a man in the carpark, but that what he was selling was hot berry juice with a shot of vodka in it. Not quite Glühwein, but I gave it a go anyway and it was quite nice We walked down to the lake, where there didn't appear to be a big organised display of anything this year, but lots of people individually either letting off lanterns or fireworks. Some people's fireworks weren't very impressive... ...but others were more successful. It felt quite surreal to be watching fireworks set off from a frozen lake. When it got to midnight, someone set off the best firework of all. It was a great start to the new year
  15. This afternoon I casually fired up Amikumu, an app for finding Esperanto speakers nearby. As it happens, I know a Finnish fella who speaks the language and I haven't seen him since 2004 ... and guess who our nearest neighbour happens to be? My mate, Pekka! He's moved from where he used to live, a town in the far north called Enontekiö (I've remembered the name from how it was enscribed on a pen he gave me) to Rovaniemi, which is the town that most people will have visited if they've been to "Lapland" but which is now no longer part of the Arctic Circle because that zone is shrinking. I contacted my buddy and explained that I know getting a message to meet up on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day 150 kilometres away with no notice would probably be tricky for a man with a family, but since we're coming back next year I could give him a bit of notice next time. He seemed happy with the idea! (I love Pekka but I'm going to have to have words with him about moving from Enontekiö before we had a chance to get that far north!) Clare and I decided to go for a stroll this evening, since we hadn't done a stroll in the darkness so far on this break. We stuck to doing what we know by walking in the direction of the supermarket, which meant we passed things which we already know: We hit upon the idea of walking a little further once we reached the supermarket. After all, we didn't know what lay beyond our self-imposed idea of the town limit and the weather was a comparatively mild minus 2. It didn't take more than a couple of minutes to spot what appeared to be a tower in the distance, so we headed towards it, across a river. We found an attractive display: The building with the bridge was a jewellery shop and the whole site was a caravan park: There was also a Christmas tree in the parking area:As is usual for car parks, there were piles of snow amassed:And then we headed home for a glass of wine. Tomorrow we'll be breaking out the skis!
  16. Today we decided to re-do one of our favourite walks from last year, in the woods outside Äkäslompolo. Given how cold it has been over the past few days, we got dressed up in our warmest clothes this morning, prepared to brave the Arctic conditions once again. I was wearing my new pink waterproof trousers As soon as we stepped outside though, we realised that.... it wasn't actually that cold The air didn't feel painful to breathe, even without a neck gaiter. Sure enough, when we got as far as the main thermometer in the village, we saw that today the temperature was a mere minus 2. You could definitely feel the difference! The path we were looking for starts from one of the side roads leading out of the village. Last year we got a bit lost when we were looking for it and managed to walk up a hill in the wrong direction, but this year we found the correct road without any problems. After a few minutes we turned off the road and onto the path, which starts out quite wide to begin with. As with yesterday, everywhere we looked we were surrounded by beautiful snowy trees After a while the path crosses a ski run and becomes more narrow, as it begins to lead through a little valley. It's really beautiful here, and again almost completely silent; we only met a handful of other people walking the whole time we were out. It wasn't snowing while we were out but it obviously had been overnight, because there was a fresh layer of powdery snow everywhere. It was quite difficult to walk in at times; we should probably have brought our snowshoes! It was a really magical place to walk though, even if it did feel like hard work at times The path leads towards a small restaurant hut for skiers, which is about 4km outside of Äkäslompolo. From here, the path circles round back towards the village again. This part of the path leads through a denser part of the forest and we saw lots of trees which were bent under the weight of the snow. Some of them definitely looked like they would be able to spring back once the snow melted.... ...whereas others looked like they had been snapped completely... ...and others we weren't completely sure. We carried on through the forest. Eventually the path goes down quite a steep snowy slope. Tim decided to take the running approach... ...whereas I went down more carefully After this, we were back on the same path as before, leading up through the valley. It was just as beautiful going in the opposite direction As we got closer to Äkäslompolo, we could see the light starting to change. It was after 2pm by this point and starting to get darker, so the photos almost looked like they had been taken in black and white. We were starving by the time we got back to the village and so we decided to go out for a meal. We both had pizza this time, and they were huge! All in all we've had another wonderful day in the snow
  17. Shortly after I finished blogging last night, our doorbell rang and there was a lady outside with Tim's missing suitcase He was very happy to be reunited with it. It turned out that the original baggage label had indeed fallen off, so I'm going to be extremely paranoid when using self-service baggage check-in desks in the future! When we woke up this morning we both felt more energetic than yesterday, so we decided to try out some snowshoeing. The snowshoe expedition which we'd been on last year now cost €68 whereas renting the snowshoes had only cost €50 for the length of our stay, so even if we only used them today we would save money We decided to start on the Äkäslompolo lake, where we knew from last year that there were definitely some snowshoe trails. Last year we went on this walk, but had to turn back when we got to a slope that was too steep to climb without snowshoes. This year we thought we should be able to do better The thermometer in the centre of the village showed -19 today, so it was a bit warmer than yesterday. It didn't really feel much warmer, but whereas yesterday had been quite bright and clear, today was very cloudy and it was starting to snow lightly. It didn't take long for Tim's beard to freeze again When we got to the lake, we strapped on our snowshoes. Strapping them on is actually the hardest part; the straps are quite stiff and it's difficult to pull them tight enough to keep your feet secured, especially when your fingers are going numb. We managed it in the end, and set off across the lake. Whereas yesterday we had been able to take photos of the fells in the distance, today we could hardly see across to the opposite side of the lake We made our way across the lake, towards the forest on the far side. I remembered from last year how beautiful the trees looked, all covered in snow. We could see occasional people skiing past on the some of the ski runs in the distance, but for most of the time we were completely on our own and when we stopped it was absolutely silent The air was so cold that it was almost painful to breathe, so I was very glad of my neck-gaiter We made our way through the forest, following the snowshoe trail. The path was marked with intermittent blue poles, which made it easier to follow. Some of the trees were completely bowed down by snow... ...and others were just so perfectly covered in snow that it was hard to see any tree at all In some places we saw animal tracks in the snow, though not sure what this one was. Eventually we got near to the place where we had turned back last year, when the path started to go quite steeply uphill. Equipped with our snowshoes, we managed the uphill no problem this year and were soon following a narrower path along a little hill. It was very pretty, although I had to pay attention not to trip over my own snowshoes What hadn't occurred to me in advance was that if we followed a path uphill, we'd have to go downhill again at some point. Sure enough, we soon came to a point where the path led downhill very steeply indeed (though you can't really see it in this picture, because everything is so white!) Tim managed to get down the slope but it was way too steep for me, even with snowshoes, so we had to turn around and return the way that we had come. That was fine though, because there were other snowshoe paths to explore The snow had started to intensify by this point, and we could no longer see all the trees quite as clearly. I did spot these little ones though, which were so small that the snow had covered all but their very tips. We were rather cold by this point, so we decided to call it a day. If you look very closely in this picture, you may be able to see that the little bit of hair poking out from under my hat is completely frozen We walked back across the lake and towards the warmth of the apartment. We've discovered that it has a special drying cupboard for wet clothes (it's a bit like a tumble dryer, but in a cupboard) so we have been making use of that this evening; our clothes were surprisingly wet after a few hours of being snowed on. It was a lovely day, and really good fun to be able to snowshoe on our own rather than in a group
  18. We had a slow start to the day today as my cold was making me feel a bit miserable. I stayed in bed for a while in the morning, while Tim went out to the sports shop to pick up the skis and snowshoes which we had arranged to rent. For the past two years when we've been to Lapland, we've taken part in some organised snowshoe walks and last year we had a cross country skiing lesson as well. This year we had decided that rather than spending money on the organised activities, we would be brave enough to rent our own equipment and strike out on our own I felt better by later in the morning, so after lunch we left the apartment and went for an exploratory walk. There was an enormous pile of snow in the carpark outside the apartment! We set off along the road into the centre of the village. It was quite a clear day, and once we'd walked along for a while, we were able to get our first glimpse of the frozen lake in the distance beyond the trees. Everywhere looked like a winter wonderland It felt incredibly cold outside and the bits of my face that were exposed felt like they were starting to freeze. It soon became clear why; the temperature was a cool minus 27 degrees I was clearly a little bit startled by the temperature Tim had managed to buy new gloves in the supermarket yesterday, but he hadn't been able to get a hat. We'd been hoping the bag was going to turn up and that we wouldn't need to buy a new one, but it became clear on this walk that his ears were going to freeze if we didn't buy one asap. We tried the sports shop first of all, but their cheapest hat seemed to be €30 and the majority were in the €40 - €50 range. Tim seemed to feel he'd rather lose his ears than pay that much for a hat, but happily we found another shop near to the supermarket which had a bargain bin outside it. We picked up this hat for €12.50 in the end In order to get to the frozen lake, you have to walk across the supermarket car park. The supermarket had decided to liven it up this year, with the addition of this enormous reindeer We followed the path towards the lake... ...and were soon rewarded with this beautiful view of the moon over the fells. It was a very clear day, so we were able to see in all directions... ...though despite the fact that it wasn't even 2pm yet, we could see that it was soon going to be getting dark. We couldn't head too far at this time of the day - plus Tim's beard had started to freeze - so we decided to go back to the supermarket to warm up and stock up on some supplies. When we got back home, we found that Tim had a missed call on his mobile from a Finnish number. We assumed it was to do with his suitcase, but they hadn't left a message and nobody picked up when he tried to call back. The good news is that a few hours later he got another call, from a lady at Kittila airport who said that the suitcase had been found and wanted to confirm the address it should be delivered to Fingers crossed it's going to arrive at some point this evening!
  19. We had so much fun in Lapland last year that we knew before we had even got home that we wanted to come again this year. We also knew that we wanted to maximise our time in the snow as much as possible, so back in January I started researching whether it would be possible to fly directly to Kittilä, which is the nearest airport to our favourite destination of Äkäslompolo. Researching flights to Kittilä turned out to be a very frustrating task, because there are hundreds of flights from the UK around Christmas time, including from airports close to where we live, but they are all charter flights for people going on Thompson holidays. The only airline which seemed to be selling direct scheduled flights from the UK to Kittilä was Monarch. I looked at their website longingly for a while, but the December 2017 prices were already exceptionally high (around £400 each) and we decided that we couldn't justify spending that kind of money. That turned out to be a great decision, given that Monarch has subsequently gone bust! I was convinced there must be a quicker way than flying to Helsinki and taking the overnight train though, and in the end we found that it was possible to fly from Gatwick to Helsinki and from Helsinki to Kittilä with Norwegian. The only catch was that both of those flights seemed to run every other day... and they don't both run on the same alternate days... so we would have to fly to Helsinki one day and get a second flight to Kittilä the next day. Also the flight to Helsinki was on Boxing Day, which felt like a strange day to fly. We deliberated over it for quite some time but it really did seem like the best option, so in the end I went ahead and booked. As Tim pointed out, flying on Boxing Day didn't mean that I needed to spend Christmas Day packing my suitcase; most of the things I needed for Lapland would be outdoor winter wear that I could pack in advance, as I definitely wouldn't be wearing them in the UK Flying from Gatwick on Boxing Day actually turned out to be a really good idea. Our flight was at 09.40, so we left home around 04.30 and beat all the shoppers for the Boxing Day sales, with the result that we were able to enjoy completely clear motorways. The airport itself didn't seem too busy, and our flight boarded and left pretty much on time. Amazing! We arrived in a chilly Helsinki just before 3pm. The majority of the flight had been too cloudy to see anything, but as we came down to land we were able to see a tiny sprinkling of snow on the countryside outside Helsinki. As our second flight from the airport was quite early the following morning, we weren't planning to go into the centre of Helsinki itself (the airport bus fare is quite expensive, and by 3pm it was almost getting dark anyway!) so we had booked to stay in the Holiday Inn at Helsinki airport. I'd chosen the hotel on the basis that it started serving breakfast from 5am and it had a free shuttle bus to and from the airport. There was no information about the timetable of the free shuttle bus online - or indeed any official information about where to catch it from - so we left the terminal building and began surveying the rows of bus stops outside. Luckily we found it quite easily and the bus seemed to run every 20 minutes or so, so we didn't have too long to wait. The Holiday Inn was only a couple of kilometres away and we were dropped off right outside it. Check-in was easy and we even got some free chocolates, which was a nice bonus We relaxed in the hotel for a while before going out to try and find somewhere to eat. My experience of eating in Holiday Inns previously is that their restaurants are quite expensive, so I had done some googling in advance and found out that there was an out-of-town shopping centre and entertainment complex about five minutes walk away, so we set off in search of that. The thermometer told us that it was minus 1 degrees outside and it began to snow slightly as we left the hotel and made our way towards the shopping centre. We found the building quite easily, but spend a while walking around it until we managed to find the way in. Once inside we found various restaurants and settled on an Italian one, which didn't seem too expensive by Helsinki standards. We each had a lasagne, which cost around €17, and stuck to drinking the free tap water We were in need of an early night after our early start for the flight to Helsinki. Another early start awaited us on Wednesday, as our flight to Kittilä was at 08.45. Although it was only an internal flight, we needed to check in our luggage again, so we wanted to make sure we were at the airport for 06.45. Counting backwards, that meant that we needed to catch the free shuttle bus at 06.20 and get up at 05.30. Breakfast at the hotel was quite plentiful, although it was so early that I didn't feel like I had the appetite to do it justice. We caught the correct bus and were at the airport well ahead of schedule. Check in had to be done via self service machines, which print the boarding passes as well as the labels for your luggage. I've always been rubbish at putting those labels on so Tim did both of them and then we made our way to the self service baggage drop point, where we had to scan the labels on the baggage and send the suitcases off down the conveyor belt. This is where things started to go wrong. Tim successfully sent off his bag, but when I went to lift mine up onto the belt I realised that my label had disappeared. Soem frantic looking around revealed that it had fallen off a few feet away. Tim tried attaching it again and this time managed to get more of the sticky stuff attached, but it was too late to do anything about his bag, which had already disappeared. We then tried scanning the label on my bag but got an error message from the machine saying that the bag was too big (despite the fact that it weighed 14kg and we had an allowance of 20kg). Tim eventually managed to get the attention of a member of the check in staff, who explained that the machine meant that the bag was too big (as in, too large) and not too heavy. This made zero sense because my bag is physically smaller than Tim's bag, which the machine had already happily accepted, but we went off to the oversized backage desk and successfully deposited my bag there. I was starting to feel a bit worried about whether we were ever going to see either bag again! Security went well at least (I even got through the scanning machine without taking my walking boots off!) and we found a nice quiet place with comfy armchairs to sit and wait for our flight. This one left remarkably on time as well, despite the fact that it had been snowing in Helsinki overnight and there was definitely a significant amount of snow waiting for us at our destination. We landed in Kittila on time at around 10.20, and stepped outside into the biting cold of minus 14 degrees. Wow. Kittilä is only a small airport, so it didn't take long for the luggage to start coming off the baggage track. Helsinki to Kittilä is not the sort of flight where people travel with hand baggage - most people were waiting for suitcases and skis - so there was a lot of baggage to unload, and it came down the conveyor in fits and starts. After about 15 minutes I was starting to get nervous that neither of our bags had arrived, but there were still other people waiting which was reassuring. Eventually we caught sight of my blue bag coming along the conveyor, and Tim ran off to retrieve it. Still no sign of his, but there was another group of people waiting as well. We waited and waited and waited. Eventually the baggage carousel was completely empty, but it still continued to run so we didn't completely lose hope... until it came to a complete stop. Oh dear. Tim went off with the other man to try and find a member of airport staff, and was eventually given a lost baggage form to fill in. Once completed, this form had to be deposited in a sort of post box, which didn't completely fill us with confidence; who knows when someone was going to come and open the postbox to follow up on it?! This all took some time and while I stood waiting, I caught sight of the airport bus to Äkäslompolo driving away. This wouldn't necessarily be a huge problem at any other airport, but we were in the Arctic, in a country where a taxi could potentially cost my life savings, and the airport bus doesn't have a timetable as such; it just turns up to meet scheduled flights and leaves when it judges everyone on the flight has collected their luggage. My mood as I contemplated this problem was not greatly improved by a man who walked into the baggage reclaim area dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts and, together with another man on a guitar, started playing what appeared to be Jingle Bells in Finnish. Was this some sort of weird Finnish stag do tradition? No, it turned out to be part of the welcoming party for a TUI flight that had just arrived from the UK! Once Tim had posted his form and we went through customs, we found the main hall of the airport full of TUI reps dressed as elves. We found a coffee shop and Tim bought us a drink while I checked the website for the airport bus. Luckily it turned out that there were three scheduled flights to Kittilä today; the one we had been on, one in the late evening and one which was due to arrive at 11.40. There would therefore be another bus, probably departing around midday. Phew! We also consulted the Norwegian website, to see whether there was anything else we could do about the lost baggage. It turns out that the politically correct term is "delayed" baggage Norwegian said that we needed to report the delayed baggage to a Norwegian representative at the airport and that they would give us a special reference number, which we could use to track the baggage and to make any claims on our insurance. This sounded good, but Kittilä is a really tiny airport and there were definitely no Norwegian representatives there. Tim tried a live chat on the Norwegian website but struggled to make them understand this problem, and in the end we realised that it was 11.50 and we needed to go outside to try and find the bus. Happily the bus was there and the driver let us get on board straight away A return ticket for two people set us back €54 (so I definitely need to make sure I don't lose the return portion!). The bus sat and waited at the airport for a while but ultimately it turned out that we were the only passengers. I'm not sure whether I was more surprised by this or the fact that Tim said the driver was reading the newspaper as he drove us along the snow-covered roads towards Äkäslompolo. It's around 50km between Kittilä and Äkäslompolo and the journey normally takes just over an hour, though it was a bit quicker today because we didn't have to stop at lots of different hotels for other passengers. It was around 1pm when the driver dropped us off outside the main shopping centre in the middle of the village. Our favourite restaurant that we ate in a lot the first year was open, so our first move was to go inside and get lunch. I had an absolutely enormous pizza, while Tim had a burger. Once again we drank the free tap water, so in total the meal only cost us €30. Our next stop was the supermarket, where we wanted to get both some supplies for the apartment and some replacement items for Tim. He had to spend more than he would have liked to, but did manage to pick up some new gloves, some underwear and a toothbrush. Luckily he was already wearing most of his warm weather clothes in anticipation of getting to Äkäslompolo, so we haven't had to buy even more expensive items like a coat and boots! It wasn't quite 3pm by this point and we weren't supposed to check into the apartment until 4pm, but we decided to try our luck with checking in early. There is no reception at the apartments and the keys are kept in little key safes outside the door. The company who owns the apartments are supposed to text you the number of your key safe a few days in advance, so I had been a bit stressed on Christmas Day when I realised I hadn't received mine. I emailed the company and got a response to say that they'd sent it to the incorrect phone number (they'd missed off the UK country code), but they didn't seem to resend it. Eventually after a frantic email last night, they sent me the key code via email. Let's say the email told me it was 1131. We got to the apartment and Tim dialled the number into the key box. Nothing happened; it was still most definitely locked. I started desperately searching for a phone number for the rental company and eventually found one, but my phone decided it didn't like the cold weather and died. Tim tried calling the number, but got no response. In the meantime, an elderly Finnish couple who were staying in the apartment next door arrived and tried to help us out, but we were hampered by the fact that they didn't speak a word of English. In the end they gave up and went indoors, while Tim set off on foot to find the office of the rental company, which was a short walk away near one of the main hotels in the village. I stood and waited, getting periodic visits from the elderly Finnish couple who kept coming outside, looking at me and saying things in Finnish It turns out that they were trying to ring the rental company for us as well. They eventually got through and were told that our key code was 6131. The man came outside and tried this in the key safe, but nothing happened; it still appeared to be locked. He and his wife started hitting it, perhaps thinking that it might be frozen shut, but all to no avail. While this commotion was going on, a big van pulled up in the car park outside and a representative of the rental company turned up, announcing that the code was indeed 6131. She tried it, and it didn't work for her either. Almost simultaneously, Tim arrived on foot, having made it to the office of the rental company and been told the code was 6131 as well. There were some heated exchanges in Finnish, and then the rental lady announced that the code was 7131. This one worked, and after thanking the Finnish couple as best we could, we were finally able to get inside the apartment Everything was as we expected when we got inside, except that the Internet isn't working properly and so I can't post the blog That's a problem to try and sort out tomorrow! All in all it's been quite an eventful day and not exactly what we'd planned for our arrival in Lapland (did I mention that I've acquired a sudden cold?!). Coming here for our third time, we thought that everything would be straightforward but I guess this is a reminder that there's always scope for things to go wrong when you travel. Here's hoping that tomorrow is going to be a better day!!
  20. Today was our final day in Lapland and I wanted to make the most of it by seeing as much snow as possible. We were feeling recovered from our cross-country skiing and snowshoeing expeditions now, so we were ready for a slightly longer walk. We'd found a beautiful path through the woods by accident when we were in Äkäslompolo this time last year, and so our aim for this morning was to try and track it down again. It felt pretty nippy when we stepped outside of the apartment, and one of the village thermometers confirmed that it was -14 We remembered that last year we had turned off one of the side roads out of the village and eventually come across a signposted walking trail, so we set off along what was definitely the right road. After 15 minutes or so we still hadn't seen a walking trail though, and the road seemed to be going suspiciously uphill. Eventually it turned into a dead end, which culminated in a little settlement of wooden houses. We definitely hadn't been here before, so we started retracing our steps back down the hill. Towards the bottom we realised that there was a turning for a side road which we should have taken earlier on. As soon as we started walking along that road, things started to look more familiar... ...and soon we had found the sign for the path we wanted The path starts off as a wide track through the woods. There was so much snow everywhere; this fallen tree was almost completely buried. After a while the path becomes slightly narrower and starts to lead through a little valley. It was really magical There were lots of beautiful trees along the way. Some were almost buried in the snow... ...and some were really bowed down under its weight. More fresh snow had fallen overnight and the further we went, the more tiring walking in the soft snow seemed to become. It was fantastic scenery to walk through though At one point we took a turning down a different path and found ourselves at the edge of a frozen lake. It was an amazing view but we could see running water in places so it definitely wasn't a lake to walk across. We retraced our steps back up to the main path. Around 2pm we arrived at the path's destination, which is a small restaurant hut at the crossroads of several ski trails. No time to go in though because we only had an hour of daylight left and nearly 4km left to get back to Äkäslompolo. Fortunately we were able to walk much quicker on the way back than on the way there as we weren't stopping so often to admire the snow There were still some fantastic views though, in particular when trees bent with snow formed arches over the path. At one point, one of the trees had bent over so low that it was almost blocking the path! One thing I'd forgotten from last year was that on the way back there is a point where the path suddenly takes a very sharp dive downhill. I may have needed some assistance in getting down this bit After that it was all plain sailing and we were soon back on the flatter path through the valley. It was definitely getting darker though, so there was no time to lose in getting back. Just after 3pm we made it back to the bright lights of the main road We were pretty tired and cold by this point so went to the local pizzeria to warm up with a meal. My pizza was huge in comparison to Tim's chicken wings! And as it was our final day we treated ourselves to an alcoholic drink (€6 for the cheapest beer and €10 for a glass of white wine!!!!). As we walked back to the apartment in the darkness, we could see that the temperature had now fallen to -15. Today's walk was a lovely end to what has been a really fantastic holiday. Lapland is a wonderful destination and Äkäslompolo in particular is a brilliant place to get away from it all and relax. Our only complaint is that the week seems to have gone too quickly; tomorrow we have a flight from the local Kittilä airport to Helsinki at 10.50 and then will be flying back from Helsinki to Gatwick later in the afternoon. We may already be discussing what would be the most cost effective way to fly here again next year
  21. All the activities of the past few days have been rather tiring, so we decided to have a more relaxing day today and go for a stroll around Äkäslompolo. As we stepped out of the apartment, we could tell that there had been fresh snowfall again overnight. Everywhere looked brilliantly white. This was the view as we stepped out onto the pavement outside the apartment. We followed the pavement along towards the centre of the village. We were heading towards Äkäslompolo's frozen lake. We could soon see it in the distance. On the way we passed a thermometer which announced that today's temperature was - 12. As we approached the lake, Tim caught sight of some animals in a nearby field. Reindeer! These are the first reindeer we have seen in Lapland so it was quite exciting, although we could smell them from a considerable distance away so I didn't regret not having booked a trip to the reindeer farm! We walked out onto the lake, which was completely frozen and criss-crossed by several cross-country skiing and snowshowing trails, same as last year. At least this year we realised that we were walking on a lake It was a nice clear day and so we had good views of some of the fells in the distance. We set off walking along one of the tracks; technically it was for snowshoeing, but it was possible to use it without snowshoes as well. Walking on the fresh snow was quite tiring though and I started to feel some sympathy for the huskies from the other day! The lake is deceptively large and it took us quite a long time to make it to the other side. Eventually we arrived at the far side and found ourselves in a little wooded area. The trees looked beautiful in the snow The further we went the deeper the snow seemed to be and the harder it became to walk through it. It was quite easy to accidentally step onto a bit of snow which was deeper than it looked. Ultimately we came to a hill slope which looked steeper than we were able to climb without snowshoes, so we turned around to retrace our steps back to the village. The views were just as wonderful in the opposite direction. As we crossed the lake again we could see that there wasn't much more daylight left. It was about 2pm, so we decided to go to our favourite restaurant from last year for a meal. It was now open, although the pizza oven was broken so I had to have a burger instead. We had a table by the window which looked out onto mounds and mounds of snow, on what I think is probably the restaurant's terrace during the summer. It was a nice end to a relaxing day
  22. We were pretty exhausted after our cross-country skiing session yesterday, but we wanted to venture outside one more time, to see what was happening for New Year in Äkäslompolo. We got a surprise when we stepped outside our own front door and saw that we had acquired our own New Year's decoration; a candlelit display made from blocks of ice. As we started walking along the road towards the centre of the village, we realised that the sides of the footpath had been decorated with hundreds of little candles, embedded in the snow. If you thought there was a slightly funny smear in the sky in that photo above then you would be right; as we walked along the road into town we got our first proper glimpse of the northern lights It was really difficult to capture them on camera, but they were beautiful. As we got closer towards the lake in Äkäslompolo we started to see some other strange lights floating through the sky; these looked more like fire balls! Then I remembered that I had read something online about a release of lanterns from the lake to celebrate New Year. Sure enough, when we arrived at the lake itself we could see a crowd of people releasing lanterns. This was instead of an official fireworks display and it went on for ages. The northern lights seemed to have faded away for a bit, but as the clock struck midnight they reappeared We had our own display which was far more exciting than fireworks! We couldn't have hoped for a better start to the new year
  23. Yesterday was an exciting day with the huskies, but today had the potential to be even more exciting because we were trying a completely new activity: cross-country skiing. This was one of those things which seemed like a really good idea at the time we booked it, but which I started having some doubts about when I woke up this morning. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Would we spend the entire session falling over?! The first step was to walk to the bus stop where we had been picked up for our husky trip yesterday. Fortunately the weather was a lot brighter this morning and without yesterday's combination of a blizzard and piles of fresh snow, we were able to reach the bus stop in a mere 10 minutes. It looked a bit different there today! At the appointed time a lady pulled up in a van to pick us up. She threw us slightly to start with by asking what our preferred language was; it turned out she spoke English, German, Swedish, French, Spanish and Italian. We assured her that English would be fine! She then began apologising profusely for the fact we would have to climb through the passenger side of the front of the van in order to get to the seats at the back, because the weather was so cold that the back doors of the van had frozen and couldn't be opened. It was a bit of a squeeze but we made it. We were astonished to learn that the temperature was around -18 degrees. There were four other people in our skiing group; a French couple and a German/American couple. We were all driven to the activity company's offices in the first instance so that we could be kitted out with our skis. We exchanged our normal boots for special ski boots and learned how to clip and unclip them from the skis themselves. And then we were off, walking towards the start of the ski trail. Carrying the skis turned out to be quite difficult - they were surprisingly heavy. Before long we arrived at the start of the ski trail and were given a demonstration of what to do. There was a relatively flat piece of ground here and to get used to the skis, first of all we had to clip on just one ski at a time and practise going up the track a little way, then turning round and coming back. Once we had mastered that, it was time to put both skis on. We were trying classic cross-country skiing, which meant that we were skiing along prepared tracks at the side of the path. If you look at the picture above, you should be able to see the tracks on the right hand side of the path. The clear area in the middle of the track is for skate skiing, which is more difficult. We managed to complete the practice without falling over, and so we were ready to set off on the proper trail. It felt very awkward to start with but the teacher assured us we would soon start to get the hang of it. And when we had time to look at them, the views were beautiful So far we had mastered going on the flat and going uphill, the latter being quite tiring because you have to take small quick steps (like jogging) so that you don't start to slip back down the slope you've just climbed. I could just about cope with this ... but then it was time to do our first bit of downhill! It may not look like much of a slope in the photo, but when you were standing at the top of it with a pair of skis it felt very steep indeed! With everything we had done so far it had been possible to halt and balance ourselves with the poles if it felt like we were slipping out of control, but once you are on a downhill bit the skis take over and there's nothing you can do until the ground flattens out and/or you fall over. I wasn't looking forward to this bit at all but the teacher was very encouraging and reassured me I had already got a lot further than some of the visitors from Japan and Singapore who she had been trying to teach recently. Phew, I made it - just about! After that we had a nice flat track to relax on for a bit. This was much better! We still had a couple of things to master though. First of all, going around corners! I didn't quite master this bit and fell over. Standing up again with the skis on your feet is a real challenge! After that we had a flat bit again, which was much easier. This was the calm before our final challenge, which was skiing down this underpass. The track which our skis had been sliding along gave out at this point and so we had to get down the slope in proper downhill-skiing style, pointing our feet together to slow down. I think more by luck than by any particular skill, I managed to make it down this bit in one piece. Phew! We had survived our lesson and managed to ski about three kilometres on one of the beginners' trails. It was time to go inside to warm up and celebrate with a coffee. What an exciting day! Skiing was scary at times and also very tiring, but definitely an exhilirating experience
  24. Today looked set to be the best day of the holiday, even though we only arrived in Äkäslompolo yesterday. Why? Because it was my favourite day last time we came — the day with the huskies! It's only possible on certain days and today happened to be the only chance we would have for the 10km session, so we booked it as the first thing we would do. I was really looking forward to seeing Hannibal again, the puppy I became friends with when we were here on New Year's Day. As is usual, we got off to a slow start. What's the rush when the sun doesn't think about appearing even slightly until about 10:00? We knew we were going to get picked up at 12:25 and we knew roughly where that would take place, namely a short distance away, so we were in no rush. During our casual, relaxed start to the day we eventually noticed through the window that there seemed to be some considerable snowfall. No, it's not that we're necessarily inattentive, just that it's so dark outside. But it soon became clear to us when we got outside that there was not only a snowfall, but a blizzard: A beautiful blizzard with some extremely large snowflakes: They had the effect of creating unspoiled virgin snow. Unfortunately for us, we needed to be the ones to put our feet through it without actually knowing where the path was usually, since we were moving in the opposite direction to our usual travel. That meant a tiring walk because there was no well-trodden route, and the odd moment of putting a foot wrong and ending up with snow around our thighs. We eventually arrived at our bus-stop. I accept that you'd be hard pressed to know! Twenty minutes after the time our bus was supposed to be there, we were still standing forlornly at the stop, wondering how long was a reasonable time to wait before trudging off or making a phone call. About 25 minutes later than expected, our bus arrived and a familiar face met us — it was Rita, who took us snowshoeing last year! There was no acknowledgment of being late and we didn't ask, just took our seats and sat back. There was one more stop after ours, a hotel holding people on their package tours. And then Rita made an announcement, that if anybody needed a jacket or trousers etc, they could let her know and we'd turn the bus round and pick some up from her office! Surely nobody was going to say yes, right? Who would be in Lapland without something like that? Tourists, that's who. We did the u-turn. At the point we arrived, the dogs were already in position and howling away, desperate to be off, so we had the quick introduction from Ben, the fella who carried this out last time. And then we met our six dogs. We were at the front of the queue and ready to set off. It wasn't long (about five seconds) before I carried out the husky equivalent of an emergency stop. Dog 3 had got his cable caught around his leg in attempting to swap positions with 4. He got his own way — he wanted the right-hand side and that's exactly how the staff member set him up, even though it didn't look quite right from where we were positioned. And soon enough we were off on the run. It wasn't easy for the dogs. As back at Äkäslompolo, there had been a blizzard where the dogs were, and the result was that there was lots of fresh snow which the sled was having to be pulled through. When we finished I noticed that so much snow had piled on to the brake that it was partially applied too, really making life difficult for our four-legged friends. They braved the still-falling snow, though, and did their best to make us move: They built up quite a pace even though most of the first half of the trek was uphill: We had the impression that number 5 was taking things a bit easy. He never seemed to give more than a casual trot, and 6 snapped at him a few times. Here he is having fun when we paused: As you can see here, whilst he's rolling about, poor 6 is having to cool down with mouthfuls of snow: We later realised that 5 wasn't being lazy. His cable was always taut so he was pulling perfectly. It's just that he was a lot stronger than 6 and so looked to be taking it easy in comparison, since they could both only run at the same pace. We set off again, the trees bent over under the weight of several inches of snow indicating just how much snow had fallen: No matter how tired they got, they still kept pulling, especially 1 and 2 at the front, who are in charge of steering: They hated resting, though. There were times when the panting was audible but within ten seconds of resting they were trying to pull us away again! We knew we were most of the way back and so thought we'd try to be very modern and take a selfie whilst the dogs pulled us along. And yes, I am indeed wearing short sleeves and no gloves in Lapland! Had I been able to, I'd have taken off the hat and neckgator too! Even though they'd run nearly 10km and had already done that much earlier too, they picked up speed when they knew they were within reach of home! And within minutes the sled was tied up and the dogs got their treats and cuddles: And we got to sit in a tent by a fire, drinking some hot berry juice and eating ginger biscuits: And after all the adventure had finished and we were suitably refreshed, Ben said the magic words: "Who wants to see the puppies?" This young lady begging to come out is Hannibal's sister. I think her name is Hurra and she's probably coming up to 18 months old now: And that was the end of the day, and people made their way to the coach. It was then that Ben grabbed me: "Do you want to see Hannibal?" And with my affirmation, he led me to the next batch of dogs who were hitched together and desperate to leave, and there was my buddy, one year on no longer a puppy but a big strong boy who earns his own living: And that was the end of a lovely day. Tomorrow we're going cross-country skiiing.
  25. We had such an amazing time in Lapland last winter that we knew we wanted to return. It's definitely not a cheap destination, but despite our best attempts, we hadn't managed to see the northern lights last year, and so that seemed like a good justification to plan another trip We wanted to replicate last year's travel plans, flying from Gatwick to Helsinki and travelling onwards from there to Äkäslompolo in the north via train. The only part of last year's holiday which we didn't want to repeat was the stress of nearly missing our flight out from Gatwick when I massively underestimated how many people would be on the roads on 27 December. Our flight on Tuesday was at 18.45 with airport parking booked from 16.00, so we decided to give ourselves what should have been a ridiculous amount of time for a journey Google said would take two hours, and leave home at 11.30. Unfortunately in our excitement at setting off we blindly followed the initial instructions of the Sat-Nav, realising too late that it had opted to take us down the M1. We had wanted to go down the M40, which would necessitate less time on the M25 later on, so had a moment of indecision while we weighed up the inconvenience of backtracking to find the M40 against the risk of getting stuck in horrific jams around London. Ultimately the M1 made the decision for us; as soon as we drove onto it we found it was virtually a car park already! We came off at the next junction and about halfway to the M40, Tim came up with the cunning plan of setting the Sat-Nav to avoid motorways altogether. This turned out to be a really good idea and we had a much more scenic and much less frustrating trip south than last year. With the exception of heavy traffic in some of the outer London suburbs, we hardly got stuck in any jams and arrived at the airport parking at 4pm on the dot Gatwick was nice and calm and we were flying with Norwegian, which is always a pleasant experience. The flight took around three hours, so the two hour time difference in Finland meant that it was about 23.45 when we landed in Helsinki. Everything had been going swimmingly well, but unfortunately there was a technical glitch with the baggage carousel (it mysteriously stopped halfway through unloading the bags from our flight, before starting up again nearly half an hour later), so we missed the airport buses I'd been hoping to get and ended up on the 00.40, which is the second last one of the day. Luckily at that time of night there was hardly any traffic, and by 01.15 we were arriving in central Helsinki. A big difference to last year was that there was no snow in Helsinki, but this was actually a positive because last year it was very slippery on the city streets. We made our way to the hotel (which fortunately has a 24-hour reception) with the aim of getting as much sleep as possible, while waking up on time to make the most of the breakfast buffet. It turned out breakfast was served until 09.30, so at 09.00 we were downstairs trying to get our money's worth. Everything in Finland is really expensive, especially with the Euro exchange rate being worse than last year, so we wanted to fill up. Luckily it was a good breakfast buffet with eggs and bacon, plus some pastries filled with rice. It sounds weird, but they were actually really nice This was our third time in Helsinki so we already had a good idea of the main sights. When we left the hotel, we walked in the direction of the sea first of all, and soon came across the familiar view of Helsinki's Orthodox cathedral. We strolled along the coast for a while... ...making the most of the limited daylight. Helsinki seems like a very green city, with lots of parks and expanses of water. We walked through one of the parks, which we had remembered as being pretty from when we visited Helsinki in summer 2013. The paths were a bit more difficult today though, completely covered by ice in places, so it was pretty slow going. Eventually we arrived at the Winter Garden, a large glasshouse on a slight slope above the city. There were some lovely views back towards where we'd walked from. Behind the Winter Garden is the Olympic Stadium, which hosted the Olympics in 1952. They seem to be doing some renovation works on it at the moment, so we skirted around it and started walking back through the park towards the main city, on the opposite side of the water this time. This part of the lake was frozen and we spotted a man standing out on the ice (he seemed to have made a hole to fish through!). The path was very slippery again, and so we copied what other people were doing and walked along the bike lane instead, which seemed to be better gritted. Fortunately there weren't many cyclists out and about! We were pretty cold by this point, so we found a nice coffee shop where we were able to sit for a while and thaw out. €16.60 enabled us to get a cup of coffee and chocolate cake each. Finnish prices definitely take some getting used to, but in fairness once you had bought the first cup of coffee you were allowed to get subsequent refills for only €1 more each. By the time we set foot outside again it was starting to look a bit twilighty already. While there was still daylight, we wanted to see the beautiful Lutheran cathedral in the city centre. There were some pretty Christmas decorations in the square too, so we decided we'd have to return once it was properly dark. We stocked up on some provisions for the train and found ourselves in the lovely Esplanadi park just as the Christmas decorations there were starting to light up. This display in the centre of the park is my favourite... ...especially the reindeer Darkness had fallen properly now and there were Christmas lights everywhere. We returned to the main square and found the cathedral beautifully illuminated. We were freezing again by this point so walked back in the direction of the train station to find a Nepalese restaurant that we'd eaten at last year and hadn't seemed too expensive. Happily it was still there and we were able to stretch out the meal a bit to make the most of the warmth. The food was filling and one nice thing about Finland is that you can always have free tap water with your meal, avoiding the expensive prices of drinks After a final stroll around we returned to the hotel, where the receptionist had kindly let us leave our suitcases behind the desk all day, saving what I think would have been €6 each for a locker at the train station. Our train to Kolari was due to depart at 20.52 and we were at the station in plenty of time. I was excited because we had a compartment on the upper deck of a double-decker carriage. We found it with no problem and settled in for the journey The compartment was really very nice, with proper duvets and pillows, plenty of sockets to charge things and our own ensuite bathroom. We departed Helsinki on time and within the first hour of the journey, we could start to see a sprinkling of snow through the window Tim may admittedly have drawn the short straw by getting the top bunk again, and unfortunately he got woken up fairly early in the morning by a loud snorer in the neighbouring compartment! By the time I had woken up and got dressed it was starting to get light outside and I had glimpses of the very snowy landscape outside through the window. Tim had been sitting in the train's dining car, where he'd discovered that the train was running about half an hour behind schedule. That was fine by us, as we weren't able to check into our apartment until 16.00 and so were in no hurry to arrive. The train had free Wi-Fi so we were able to check our position on Google Maps, and by 10.48 - which was our scheduled arrival time - we were still 70km from Kolari. We ultimately pulled into the station there just before midday, a full hour late. As we had got closer to Kolari, we had views of huge piles of logs by the side of the tracks, and we were passed by several trains which looked like they were transporting logs southwards. As we got off the train in Kolari, we were pleased to see that there was just as much snow as we remembered from last year Lots and lots of snow There isn't a lot at Kolari and it's definitely not the sort of place where you'd want to be stuck for long. Luckily the buses which were meeting the train seemed to be aware that it was running late, and the bus which we were planning to catch to the little village of Äkäslompolo arrived a few minutes after we did. It's an expensive bus journey - over €12 each for a ride of about half an hour - but we are just glad there is a bus at all in such a remote neighbourhood! We had a pretty journey through the snow, and the bus driver dropped us not far from the main supermarket in the centre of the village. Our plan had been to go to a nice restaurant that we'd eaten at several times last year and where they hadn't seemed to mind us taking a long time over a meal, but to our surprise we found that it appeared to be closed. We still had three hours to kill before we could get to the apartment and these aren't the sort of temperatures where you want to loiter outside for long, so we needed to find somewhere else. Luckily there was a pizza place on the opposite side of the main road, so we decided to give that a try. The menu was... interesting! I ultimately had a chicken and pepperoni pizza, which was nice, but several of the other pizzas on offer included reindeer meat and two of them also featured bear meat That aside, it was a nice restaurant and the pizzas were enormous, so we were legitimately able to spend an hour or so working our way through them. After lunch we did a bit of shopping at the supermarket and then decided to try our luck and see whether we could check into the apartment an hour early. It's a slightly complicated system which involves the owners texting you a code for a little black box which has the key for the apartment in it and last year we had some problems because they sent us the code for the box, but didn't tell us which number apartment we were in. This year it thankfully all worked smoothly and our luck was in, because when we arrived around 3pm we found the apartment was all ready and we were able to get inside straight away It's a basic apartment, but warm and comfortable which are the most important points! We settled in for a while, catching up on the blog and sorting out all our cold weather gear, ready for a stroll in the snow later this evening
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