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A Fortnight in Finland: From Snowy Sights to the Northern Lights

A Wanderer’s Guide to A Winter Wanderland

By emPublished 12 months ago 9 min read
Top Story - May 2023
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Image by author: Me and Ben trying to blend in with our surroundings so we didn’t have to come home

Space and time are intimately entwined. I read up on this — on spacetime — a lot during my time in the snow-dipped space of Yllas, northern Finland. Two of the four books I took with me for my 14-day stay; Space, 10 Things You Should Know and Time, 10 Things You Should Know enlightened me on exactly how one influences — exists because of — the other.

The full extent of that statement became vividly apparent to me whilst I was out in this domesticated wilderness. Every new space I ventured into, I arrived there at such a velocity — powered by my infinite excitement and the fact that I needed to keep my limbs kinetic in order to conquer those subzero temperatures — that time seemed to just… stop. So much so, I half assumed that after two weeks here, my flights home would drop me into the heart of a futuristic England, 80 years ahead of when I left, like a befuddled Matthew McConaughey returning to his now-older-than-him, elderly daughter in the Christopher Nolan movie, Interstellar.

But it turned out I hadn’t propelled myself through time (though I was technically 2 hours into the future due to the time difference) — I was just caught up in it. Mesmerised by it. Entranced. Desperately grasping onto the moment and trying to freeze it in the -20 degree temperatures that I was immersed in so that I could live inside of it forever. Two weeks certainly wasn’t enough time there. But it was more than enough to set up our temporary home in a cabin named after their local cloudberry flower, “Hillankukka,” and explore spaces high and low, far and frozen.

Though we couldn’t have done any such thing until we’d spent 14 hours traversing over 900km from Helsinki to Kolari on our overnight sleeper train.

Image by author: Hillankukka 1

Now, before I elaborate more on our overnight experience, here’s a brief conditional test to determine how your experience, should you wish to try it, might unfold:

1. Does your room have a private loo?

  • If yes, congratulations! You’ll have a great time
  • If no, please continue to question 2.

2. Is your room within close proximity (i.e, next door to) the shared toilet?

  • If no, congratulations! You’ll have a cracking time.
  • If yes, please continue to question 3.

3. Is the toilet door the loudest, most slammable object this side of the observable universe?

  • If no, congratulations! You’ll have a stellar time!
  • If yes, sorry. You’ll be awoken every time a passenger passes fluids, the sheer anticipation of the door slamming upon their exit making your entire body tense, eyes squint, in wait. Oh and the likelihood is your neighbour will have a child that likes to wail for half an hour at 2am. Have fun though!

This isn’t to say that I’m not over the moon about the experience — it’s been a bucket list item of mine since I was old enough to contemplate the existential and metaphorical nature of buckets — it’s just that, whilst we chugged along beneath the light of the moon and several dozen blaring platform lights (there is no more peculiar feeling than turning over in your sleep at 3am, fluttering your eyes open and seeing a strange foreign fellow stood outside your window on an unfamiliar train platform, lit up by artificial lighting, peering in and waiting to board) we had quite the experience. Which, after an hour’s drive to the airport, 3 hours of waiting (what? I like to arrive early) and 2 hours 50 of flight time, was quite the exhausting experience.

Image by author and author's boyfriend: inside our VR train cabim

Still. 14 hours later, we arrived. Almost.

Following a hand-delivered, pre-ordered Scandinavian breakfast (porridge, orange juice and a strong as Heaven coffee), we exited our one-night home and fully immersed ourselves for the first time in the bitterly beautiful northern Finnish air. It was literally breathtaking. Geared up in thermals, salopettes, beanies, neck gators, gloves, coats, fleeces and socks knitted by my boyfriend’s mom (Ben and I had on two pairs each), we were sweating by the time we got on the coach.

Image by author: view of Destination Lapland in Akaslompolo

Then, a 40-minute drive later, we arrived. Almost.

A northern Irish man awaited us. Equipped with a pink sledge, Colin — our cabin’s neighbour — escorted us to our place of residence, filling us with tantalising tales of the two weeks he’d already been there for.

Finally, a 6-minute snowy stroll later, we arrived. No really, we did.

We’d made it from Manchester to Helsinki to Kolari to Akaslompolo, in which our Kelo log-built home called us home.

Image by author: taken inside Pizzeria Via Tribunali

Now, this isn’t a personal diary regarding our arctic adventures (though I certainly scrawled one into the logbook left in the cabin. 13 pages, all in all. Almost a full one for every day of the trip). Nor is it a catalogue of recommended activities. Nor is it even a linear story, despite beginning this with the beginnings of our trip. This is a literary photograph of the place. One intended to be framed above the fireplace for you to gaze at when the sounds of passing ambulances and drunk guys at the bus stop and neighbours moving furniture at 3am gets too tiresome. This is for the times when the sky is grey, the rain is drizzly and it’s cold out, sure, not -20 but a wetter, somehow more bitter 1 degree and there are emails awaiting and bins to be taken out and empty fridges and emptier pockets of time passing in those everyday moments when we forget that life exists beyond the barriers of 9 to 5 and those office walls and the same old buses. This article is a snapshot of a world that is out there, right inside our own world, a little closer to the North Pole and a world away from what we know. This is a reminder of snow. Of solar flares caught in the atmosphere. Of reindeer as common as sheep. Of frozen nostril hairs and skies that are every colour of pastel blue, all at once.

So let me remind you of what’s out there.

Image by author: a 3pm quarter moon

First off, a selection of analogies to help thicken the mental imagery of the physical imagery of where we stayed:

  • The snow was as deep as a 3am text conversation between slightly tipsy 17-year-olds falling in love
  • If you couldn’t see the HD crescent moon above you, so crisp you could see its cosmic cold sores, then you’d have honestly thought you were walking on the moon, yourself.
  • Everything was white, like Mary’s sexual status kind of white, and the contrast between the dark greens of the Lappish trees poking out beneath the snow blankets they each wore made me wonder if this was what it would be like to stand inside a sheet of paper, trees like ink dotted all around in intentional patterns and were we to zoom back out, we’d see that they’d say something. A story. In Finnish.

Image by author of boyfriend: a snow-shoe wearing Ben

Yet, even the most heart-stopping sights of FinLAND couldn’t quite compare to FinAIR (no, not the airline). Because there, up in the night sky, was this almost metaphysical view (because it truly blew your mind). The Aurora Borealis — or the Rory Bory, which we decided to name it. For those unfamiliar, the aurora is a solar effect that turns our atmosphere into a visual northern light show. When charged particles sent out from a passing solar flare get trapped in the upper layers of the Earth, they interact with our very own particles that reside up there. In doing so, various shades of greens and pinks, reds and oranges dance across a clear night sky, leaving us to stand there, like grains of coffee inside a cosmic mug watching as the milky way is poured in swirls and streams above our heads. Pretty cool. It was pretty bloody cool.

Image by Ben: the Rory Bo in all his glory

But Finland, like any of us, is more than just its appearance. Beneath her glimmering white skin lies a rich history (did you know Finland hosted The Wife Carrying World Championship?), a quirky culture (did you know it’s not custom to tip in Finland? But it is custom to have a weekly sauna) and just an innate sense of safety. You meet people there that you will likely never see again and yet, in those minutes or moments shared, they’re like family. They recommend food and feed you facts about local wildlife and laugh at your endearingly obvious Britishness and then poof! They’re gone. Expect for the little Finnish fragments of them that live forever inside your thawing heart.

Image by author: she speaks for herself, doesn't she?

This place sure felt like home for a while. A cabin in the woods has never been less frightening (you’d see approaching murders reflecting off the moonlit snow a mile off!). In 14 days we walked 112 miles, but I think the Proclaimers and myself are in agreement: I’d walk 500 miles if it meant returning to Akas again, today. And another 500 more exploring it all.

We made memories here that will Yllast forever.

So. As a conclusion to this article, I want to end with an extension of my perspective of the place. Because although Akaslompolo’s beauty is objective and unrivalled, it’s important to understand what it means to other people so that other other people can determine what it might mean to them. I’m simply validating my thesis by asking my travel companions — my soulmate, Ben, for the full two weeks and his mom, Liz, for the latter 9 days — what they thought of our home here.

And what they said could fill several articles in and of themselves. So instead, I said,

“Describe this place in a handful of words. Thank you, love you, kiitos.” Here’s what lay in their hands:

  • Isolated — in a good way. Like a tree far from a fire.
  • Fresh — like air, like toothpaste, like clean bedding.
  • Clean — even Lichen grows there, and we all know Lichen is very picky about its levels of air pollution.
  • Magical — we hate a cliche, but we love a completely accurate descriptor.
  • Separated from real life, like a fictional realm, like living in the literal crisp white pages of the book.
  • Sisu — a Finnish word that roughly translated means “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.” Finland is one bad b*tch.

Image by author of Ben: picture perfect

They aren’t wrong. Akaslompolo is like a bed left inside a room with the window open all night: cold, but soft. Startling, but comfortable. Steals your breath and engulfs you whole. We’ve never felt as well rested (and simultaneously exhausted. Walking on snow is NOT like walking on a regular pavement) as we did there.

So I’ll say kiitos, Finland, once again — and forever. I tilt my woolly hat your way, in awe and mighty respect. Though you’re the wilderness, I’ve never known such luxury, and I cannot wait to leave my footprints across your snowy skin someday soon. In all those negative temperatures, we found only positive adventures. It really was magical. There’s snow doubt about it.

Okay, okay. I’m Finnished now.

couples travel
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About the Creator

em

I’m a writer, a storyteller, a lunatic. I imagine in a parallel universe I might be a caricaturist or a botanist or somewhere asleep on the moon — but here, I am a writer, turning moments into multiverses and making homes out of them.

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Comments (15)

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  • Eva A.Constantin9 months ago

    This was very well written and hilarious to read. Definitely lived vicariously through you with this one, haha!

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  • NPC11 months ago

    Have you been back in other seasons, like the spring or mid-summer? I think that would fascinating, too! :)

  • Delightful, both in pun & in description.

  • Chisi limi12 months ago

    love it

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  • Levi king 12 months ago

    Finland looks so beautiful you seem very adventurous..may I just add I have never seen snow 😂

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  • Doina Bozman12 months ago

    That's Amazing!

  • Chloe Gilholy12 months ago

    I want to go to Finland one day.

  • Farhan Mirza 12 months ago

    how it feels when u do so much hard work and no one reads ur work

  • Haris Himath12 months ago

    Nice!

  • Donna Renee12 months ago

    Your writing is awesome AND hysterical which I very much appreciate! Rory Bory 🤣🤣🤣

  • Awesome Article 😉❤️📝Great Storytelling❗

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