Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Saariselka, (Lapland) Finland - Playing in the Arctic Circle

Way up in northern Finland, approximately 185 miles ABOVE the Arctic Circle line, and about 30 miles from the Russian border, lies a small town named Saariselka in the region of Lapland. Saariselka is Europe's most northern resort town and is known for its large hilly landscapes and clean air. A five minute walk from the village center brings you away from the lights of the town and into the peace of the wilderness. The town itself has 300 permanent residents and even when there are many visitors, the town continues to hold a silent, peaceful, and serene feeling.

This is a region that has six weeks of uninterrupted sunlight in June and July, and six weeks of darkness in December and January. On our first day there the sun rose at 10:38am and set at 2:04pm for a grand total of 3 hours and 26 minutes of sunlight! The amount of sunlight quickly increases daily and by the end of January the region will be up to 5 hours and 35 minutes of sunlight.

The sun at high noon on 1/20/13.
The sunset at around 2pm
On a cloudy day it looks like this during the "daytime" around 11:30am

As most of you know, Jon and I love the cold weather and outdoor winter sports so we were in no way concerned about the cold that was awaiting us. As it turns out, they were having a "warm" week in Saariselka - the temperature ranged from 7 to 25 degrees F. Typically the temperatures are coldest during January and are normally between -20 and 14 degrees F, though a couple of years ago it got down to -63 degrees F! We packed our typical ski gear and many many layers! While walking around the town we took notice of the fresh crisp air and saw that snow covered every surface. It truly was a winter wonderland.

So bundled up she can't move!
Ashley, Kamalan, and Ava
Jon and me

We rented a log cabin with three bedrooms, which was plenty of space for all of us. The cabin was about a 10 minute walk to the "center" of town where there were many restaurants serving typical Finnish cuisine highlighting reindeer and salmon. We bought some local food at the supermarket to take back for lunches and a few dinners.

Our cabin

A sled to transport Ava around town

It also was used to transport our groceries!
Salmon Soup

Reindeer filet

Reindeer, salmon, mushrooms, and whitefish

Our first activity was a reindeer sleigh ride through woods of Lapland about 10 minutes from Saariselka. With two people per sleigh we slowly went through a path in the woods with the moon shining our way. The guide who led the reindeer is a member of the Sami people, a rich culture with an interesting history that stretches over the Norweigen, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland. If you're interested in reading more about this culture click here and it has plenty of information about this group of people who are trying to preserve their small community as much as they can. After our ride we were invited into a typical Sami "hut" and drank warm gooseberry juice next to the campfire. We also were fortunate to hear an old Sami song that was sung by our Sami guide.

Kam & Ashley

The next day Jon and I left for our second Arctic adventure - a husky safari! We were taken to a ranch where the barking of enthusiastic dogs welcomed us at the start. The head musher talked about the life and training of the Alaskan Huskies, which are better suited to run and pull longer distances than Siberian Huskies. Before leaving, we were given instructions on how to control the sleds, which we rode in pairs. For two hours the dogs ran and pulled us through the woods, up and down hills, and around tight curves. Whenever we would stop, the dogs would start barking and howling, anxious to get going again. After our rides we met our team of dogs and had a chance to look around the ranch. In total they have 106 huskies, all eager to run! We had such a good time with the dogs and sleds... we wish we could have brought Maya with us. She would have loved the snow and the fun of running and pulling (though we're not sure she'd be able to keep up).

A few excited dogs.

Jon was ready to lead!

On our ride through the woods

My turn to lead!
Our team
Jon with our lead dogs

A 2 week old puppy!
We were then led into a snow covered hut equipped with a fire-stove and set tables. We were welcomed with a mug of hot gooseberry juice and a large bowl of reindeer and vegetable stew. It was just what we needed to escape the cold and warm up.

Reindeer stew

When we arrived back at the cabin Jon and I had an hour and a half to relax before our next excursion, a search for the Northern Lights by snowmobile. With the moonlight flowing down we drove the snowmobiles through snow covered forests and over treeless fells, stopping a few times to look at the sky. We drove to an igloo site where we were given hot chocolate and grilled sausages. All in all we drove 25 miles and had an amazing experience on this adventure!

Kam & Jon warming up

Our snowmobiles, but no pictures of us on them :(

Inside the igloo

We got back to the cabin around 10:15 and opened up a bottle of wine to warm up. Since it was a fairly clear night the boys went out for a walk to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance for them. After being in the cold for eight hours and it being 12:30am I just could not bring myself to put on all of my layers and head out into the cold again.. and to be honest, I wasn't too positive that we would see the lights that night. That turned out to be a bad decision since the boys were successful in their search! After walking around for an hour and feeling defeated they looked to the sky and saw a faint green light. The clouds moved and this is what they captured:

The boys told us that what you see in the pictures are actually much brighter than what you see in the sky. The camera shutter needs to be open for 5-10 seconds in order to make the lights brighter. They are also not able to be captured on video camera since the shutter speed is too fast and the lights are not bright enough. So any videos that you see of the lights are actually pictures put together in a video format.

The Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are the result of collisions between charged particles released from the sun and the gaseous particles in Earth's atmosphere.  The color changes depending on the type of gas particles that are colliding. The pale green color, which is the most common, is caused by oxygen molecules 60 miles above the earth. They are only visible towards the poles (instead of near the equator) because Earth's magnetic field diverts the particles that way prior to collision with the atmosphere. The lights have to be active, the sky fairly clear, and the timing needs to be just right in order to see them, and the combination can be rare. I can't believe I missed it!

Besides our excursions we spent a lot of time walking and playing in the snow, sampling the Finnish cuisine, and spending time in front of the fireplace in the cabin drinking hot chocolate with peppermint liquor. We had such a great time in northern Finland and it was quite an adventure! This is definitely a trip that we can see repeating in the future!

At dinner the last night

Stay tuned for the addition of our dog sledding and snowmobile videos!


  1. WHAT A WONDERFUL TRIP! Your pictures make me feel like I was there too. Definitely a trip I would like to make.

  2. AMAZING is the first word that comes to my mind after reading this blog!! I have read all of your blogs, and I love every one of them, but honestly, for me, this blog is the best one yet! This place is absolutely beautiful! Yes, it's definitely peaceful, serene, quiet, but also very MAGICAL! I felt like it was a fairytale - how could a place like this actually exist?! It's hard to believe that people really do live there! The snow covered log cabin pics look like they could be on the front of a Christmas card! It must have been so cool (or should I say, COLD!) to stay in one! (I always wanted to stay in a log cabin! Very cozy!) OK, now I have a few questions about the food! What does gooseberry juice, reindeer filet and reindeer stew taste like? And the salmon soup looks so yummy! And those gorgeous dogs! The Alaskan Huskies are beautiful animals! (I thought of Maya right away when I saw the pics of the dogs!) It must have been so much fun to have the dogs pull you guys on the sled! What an unbelievable experience! And the reindeer sleigh ride - how cool was that?!!!! (That reindeer is huge! How come the pic was pink and purple?) And of course, the pics of the Northern Lights - all I can say is WOW!! A once in a lifetime experience and to be able to share it with very good friends is so wonderful! (By the way, Ava is absolutely adorable!) An absolutely fantastic blog!

  3. Wow what an incredible experience! That husky puppy is soooo cute!

  4. I. Just. Love. This. Post!!!!