Finnish touring

On Wednesday we decided to rent a car to look further afield. For only 80 euro for the day it was well worth it to have a look throughout the local area. Steve did a great job of driving while M provided snow driving advice.
Winter tyres are studded and the roads are well looked after. Although still covered in snow they have been groomed. They don’t appear to use salt or grit as I believe these don’t work once under a certain temperature anyway.
Steve invited the guy who dropped off the car to stay for a coffee and we all had a good yarn. He was able to provide us with some tips on places to go. So our first stop was the Snow Village.
The only thing about driving in Finland is that if you go past your turn off you have a drive a fairly long way to turn around. You can’t just chuck a u-turn in the middle of the road due to the snow banks. So after travelling quite a bit further past our turning we eventually managed to find a spot to spin around and make our way back to the Snow Village.

The Snow Village gets built every year when they take water from a local river to use for the ice and hire artisans to sculpt the blocks. It is basically two tunnels that run around in a circle. Off the tunnels are individual pods that are the hotel rooms. The tunnels are lit with coloured lights and each hotel room is uniquely themed. For example one had ice carved armchairs in front of an ice carved fireplace complete with dangling chandelier. The ice bar was pretty cool as was a complete ice chapel room. Note to self – wet reindeer skin smells like wet dog!

Next stop was the Husky dog farm (if only we could find it). After parking the car deep in a snow pile we hiked it down a road for about a kilometre before we figured that we were either lost or it was miles away. So we hoofed it back to the car. I think Steve thoroughly enjoyed getting the car out of the snow drift! About 4 kilometres down the road we came across the husky farm. We knew we had hit the right place when a tour bus was seen in the car park. You could hear the dogs barking from the road so we all eagerly walked towards the noise. Man, huskies are so beautiful but again, wet dog is a smell I am not too fond of. A number of tourists were already milling around and another bunch had left for their dog sled rides. We had a pat of the dogs and then the sleds started to return. The barking was incredible. The other dogs not involved in pulling the sleds were going nuts as they could hear the sleds coming well before we did and you could tell they just wanted to get out there and run!

By the time we left the husky farm it was dark so we were furiously looking for any sign of the Northern Lights. Later that night we picked a road that led into the national park where we knew it would be far darker. Steve noticed a hut just off the main road so we stopped to have a look. It turned out to be a walkers hut complete with fireplace and a shed load of wood, matches etc so we decided to camp out there for the night (or as long as possible as not everyone was too keen on staying all night). With a roaring fire, plenty of hot chocolate, snow for melting, chocolate for munching on and good company we holed up there until about 2.30am. The stars were spectacular but not a hint of the Aurora Borealis at all. During all the time there, not one car went past our little hideaway. What a magic night.

Velhon Kota

Day two of cross country skiing we headed to the Velhon Kota. Basically a kota is a hut. This one was a cafe in the forest which sounded like a great destination for a hot chocolate at the turn around point of a days skiing. At 7.5 kilometers it was a good distance given the skiing we had done the day before.

We just made it to the hut with 5 minutes to spare before closing time. The gentleman who owned the hut was keen for us to know we could stay and drink our hot chocolate while he was packing up.

The Finns although they appear quite standoffish are, we found, very friendly and keen to chat. They just prefer to get on with the job, in, out and then its time for a coffee and chat. Love it. So, we chatted to him for half an hour before we headed home as it was getting dark.

We weren’t too worried as we had our headlamps, extra warm clothing etc. One thing in this area, you may think you are isolated and then all of a sudden a snowmobile comes whizzing past through the trees, or you see car lights on a nearby road, or better yet, house lights twinkling from in-between the trees.

The kota is 20 years old and has no electricity. Inside everything was either lit by candles, kerosene lamps and the fireplace to keep it all toasty warm. The owner commutes to work each day on his snowmobile!

X Country Ski bunnies – Kesankijarvi lake

I have a new sport – Cross Country Skiing! Love, love, love it! The downhill skiing didn’t even get a look in even given that it was deserted most days. There is nothing like getting out into the forest with just your skis and the knowledge that to get anywhere its gotta be all you (and the occasional pleasure of a downhill section for a free ride).

Basically cross country skis are long, very skinny and have clips in the bindings that snap onto shoes that are similar to running shoes. You have long poles with a hook on the bottom and a foot (looks like an elks hoof) which assists when pushing off with the pole. You can either attempt to forge your own way across the snow or on the cross country tracks they have pre-cut that you follow along in on your skis. It is similar to a train and its tracks. This is classic cross country. There is also skating and telemark where the skis and boots are slightly different and you don’t use the pre-cut tracks. Only the front part of your shoe is attached to the ski so the remainder of your foot/heel is free to lift up and down in order to push off with. The arm opposite to the leg you are pushing off with is then used to push off on the pole to assist in providing forward momentum. Trying to work all this together takes a bit of time but once underway it becomes quite natural. The only thing I haven’t worked out is stopping or turning gracefully. Generally this was done by falling over as using the old snow plough usually saw me end up head first in the snow. I did manage to improve on going up hills and for the really steep hills, improved my herringbone technique.

We booked our skis for four days and did manage to get in some great trips. Day one was a tester around the Akaslompolo lake (currently fully frozen over). It was only a 3 kilometer trip around the lake but by the time we hit the cafe I was sweating bullets and ready to demolish a pizza. The last leg of the course had a bitter wind blowing through which meant significant wind chill and the need to continually stabilize yourself against the gusts.

After having recovered from the afternoon warm-up ski we did another trip that evening. This time heading out via the illuminated night track and into the woods. We were heading for a kota (fire hut) between a couple of the fells (hills). Taking our trusty new headlamps with us it turned out we didn’t really need them. The white snow reflected the fading light brilliantly. Then when it was dark (about 4pm by this time) we just continued following the white snowy path and let the cross country pre-groomed track keep us on course. The headlamps did come in handy when we got to cross roads so we could check the map and ensure we were heading in the right direction.

We ended up just at the tip of the Kesankijarvi lake where we stopped for a quick drink of water and chocolate. The water in Steve’s bag had frozen even with the insulation he had purchased for the tubing. Round trip of about 8 kilometers. I found it more comfortable and easier to control my body temperature skiing through the fell than out on the lake. The fells provided better cover from the wind and gave a consistent temperature so I managed to avoid overheating or sweating too much which thens becomes an issue when you start to cool down once stopped for any reason.

I have come to the thought that learning to ski at night is possibly a good thing. For one, there were some steep parts which I am sure I would have walked down had I seen them in daylight. At night they came up so quickly and appeared quite demure until you were speeding down them. Something has to be said for jumping into things “blind” sometimes.

Kiitos Finland

We have returned from Finland with all our fingers, toes and noses intact. The anticipated -30 degree temperatures alluded us while we were there as did the Aurora Borealis. So what did Finland hold for us? A log cabin in the woods, surrounded by thigh deep snow, a low of -14, incredibly peaceful surroundings and the joy of sharing this all with friends.

We flew into Kittila on Sunday evening to be picked up by a pre-arranged taxi. Our taxi driver (Anne) had taken the liberty of also collecting our cabin key from the local real estate agent as well. Great hospitality.

As I was determined NOT to do a typical British resort week away this meant things were a bit tougher to find out about when you are doing it off your own bat. Traditionally with the resort holidays everything is included, flights, transfers, accommodation and meals. This also means it can be triple, if not more, than what you can do by booking as an individual. More importantly it means you don’t have to be herded into the same town as every other traveler on the flight where the resorts are tailored to tourists.

I booked our log cabin in a town called Akaslompolo, resident population of 400, swelling to 20,000 during the summer time. Of the 12 cabins in our immediate vicinity, when we arrived we were the only ones there. Throughout the week 2 or 3 other groups arrived but they appeared to be Finnish families coming to ski for a few days before heading home again. Our cabin was bliss. Two downstairs twin rooms, a mezzainne floor with room for at least 5 people, fully equipped open plan kitchen/dining and living room with tv/dvd and fireplace. Plenty of storage, 2 toilets, shower, washing machine and an indoor electric sauna. As it was the low season we got a good price on it which, when sharing with mates, really makes for a cheaper time than through a travel company.

Town was about a 20 minute walk which was very pleasant as you are continually surrounded by a winter wonderland. We did hire a car for a day which was a brilliant idea in order to get out of town and see some more of the area. Without a car you are quite isolated and with few public transport options, taxis could become very expensive if you wanted to see more of the area.

Cross country ski tracks are in abundance and the illuminated track for night time skiing was only about 300 meters from us. This is lit until 10pm at night. We made some good use of this track on our ski days/nights.

Shopping was completed at Jounin Kauppa where there is also a pharmacy, dry cleaners, grog shop and cafe. Prices on many items are rather high especially alcohol so bringing duty free in would be the best idea if you are keen on having some tipple over the week. General food items like milk, pasta, sauces, bread, cheese were relatively priced but meat was very costly. Especially reindeer. This was upwards of 40 euro a kilo. You can pick up some fairly cheap sausages for the kota’s (fire huts) but in short expect that as with any country if the food is low cost it will most likely mean high fat or highly processed. I did notice the microwave meals were priced on par with the pound but if you can live for a week on that stuff I feel sorry for you. If we were to add up the cost of food bought while eating out over the week I might have a heart attack so I refuse to go there. To give you an example, one day on a ski trip we were out in the middle of nowhere and decided to cop the charge on 2 rolls, 2 chocolate bars and 2 hot drinks…17 euro! Seriously though, what do you expect when there is nothing else around for miles? This was our fault for not being prepared. The local cafe did do a great special on a pizza and large coke for 10 euro. Steve and I shared the pizza as it was far to big for one person.

Wifi was pretty much non existent in the area. There was an internet cafe (corner Tunturintie and Sivulantie) and wifi available at the cafe in the supermarket centre. 3 euro for an hour at the cafe.

I really want to capture some of the ski trips we did so I will do these individually but in all the trip was incredible with a large number of memories, ideas and impressions that will sit with me for a long time to come. Also, it was incredibly difficult to find out a lot about the place before we arrived so I really want to get some information down here to assist others in future. If you do have any questions please feel free to email me and I will try to help out.

In the meantime, a post would not be the same without a few pictures now would it.

Reindeer pizza – yum

Today is our last day in Finland and there has been very few internet connections available. A larger post will follow once we return home tomorrow. In the meantime, we have had an incredible week full of cross country skiing, snow, snow and more snow.
It hasn’t been as cold as we were hoping, today it is -18 but we were expecting -30 at the very least. No Northern lights as yet but not through lack of trying.
Anyway, I am back to my reindeer and blue cheese pizza for now. One great thing about the cold and all this exercise is no worries about the carbs. Excellent!

Winter is truly here

This week we have been in the grip of an Arctic freeze coming down from the north. Temperatures for the last week have rarely gone above freezing in Bristol. Up in Scotland they recorded -22 somewhere.

We really only had an overnight dump of snow but it was fantastic. However once the snow stops, the slush starts and when this becomes frozen, the problems start. The sidewalks are slick with ice. The street where we park our car is a sloping ice rink. Yesterday we went to check the car to see if it would start for Friday going to work. During the 5 minutes we were there two cars slid right past us and into the intersection. One hit another vehicle. It was a very bizarre sight, almost as if in slow motion. Thankfully no one was hurt. I called the council to get the road gritted but to no avail. I think only 2 accidents on a street is a low priority to them at the moment?

The up side to snow days are working from home (although as it is freezing at home during the day I am not quite convinced this was a real up side) and frolicking in the snow. Ok, that’s the best up side.

So, here are some photos of us frolicking with our flatmate, snowman building and of course snowball fights.

Movie: Sherlock Holmes

2009 has to be the first time in at least 12 years that we have not seen our traditional Boxing Day movie. We chose to visit Kerryn instead (do you feel special) 🙂

We did however catch it a couple of days later. Sherlock Holmes staying Robert Downey Jnr (Sherlock) and Jude Law (Watson). I am not sure if I should admit to this but I truly have NEVER read a Sherlock Holmes tale or even seen a tv or film movie version. I was more a Trixie Beldon/Nancy Drew reader.

If Guy Ritchie’s intention is to sell Sherlock to the new breed of viewers today then I personally think he is on to a winner. Sherlock was soooooo not of interest to me as a teenager. This one I could get into. Loved the continual profiling and the re-run situations where Sherlock runs through a sequence of events to get out of a pickle and then you see it in full action again. Very cool. I know the critics are booing it big time. Chumps.

It has got me interested in seeing some more of this Sherlock! 3.5 out of 5.