Lazing in Lapland

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July 3rd 2015
Published: July 3rd 2015
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Monday 29 June

It seemed only yesterday that my father told me that I was going to be an uncle (at the tender age of 13). Today is my eldest nephew’s 30th birthday which makes me feel old, and probably my sister feel ancient. Hope you had a great day Chris!

This morning I headed out on foot to the Information Centre. It was probably only about 2.5 km from the cabin but it was nearly all uphill. However they had good quality free wi-fi so I was able to catch up on emails and blogs as well as find out if there was anything interesting to do. Meanwhile Heather and Zachary headed into town via the medical centre. Heather’s leg has improved greatly but probably needs a repeat course of penicillin.

Being summer there is not a lot going on but there is one company advertising excursions. The most interesting of these looks to be a day trip to Norway so I determined to find out more about this later. We met up in the café in town and did some shopping at the supermarket (prices here are not much different from Helsinki and the most of Europe except that meat is extremely expensive). We also had ice-cream for the first time in a few days. Heather has to go back to see the doctor at 2:20 so we went back to the cabin then Zachary watched Horton Hears a Who (he fell asleep watching it yesterday). This is my favourite Dr Seuss book and the movie is very good.

Heather got back and the leg needs a bit more of an aggressive course of treatment. So she had an oral antibiotic and a cream to take for the next 10 days. Hopefully that will sort it out. It was quite a bit more expensive here than in Denmark - €142 all up, but we’ll get that back from travel insurance.

Zachary and I went out to play some football (Steve – that’s the game with the round ball played in 200 countries requiring a high level of skill and athleticism as opposed to the one with the oval ball played in 20 countries requiring men to jump on and grab each other’s genitalia) while Heather prepared a traditional Finnish meal of tacos. Much to my surprise Zachary enjoyed this so that was a success.

Got Zachary to sleep around 8:30 and I managed to build a pile of bedding up in front of his window to make it a bit darker in there. Then we watched a movie. 11pm and still broad daylight. It’s a bit odd going to bed when it looks like the middle of the day…

Tomorrow, if the weather is good and the enthusiasm levels are high enough, we’ll hire bicycles and cycle round the area (we won’t go to Kolari as it requires going up the steep hill I walked up today). We can get either a seat or a trailer for Zachary. We’ll also find out about the Norway trip.

Tuesday 30 June:

Well, the weather was certainly good but the enthusiasm levels weren’t so high so we decided just to go for a decent walk instead.

We headed for another lake called Kesänkijärvi. The language here is hard to get a grip of so it is just as well nearly everyone speaks English. The Suomi (Finnish) language seems to have developed quite independently from others. Apparently there is some vague similarity with Hungarian. Some of the names actually are similar to Māori ones with their vowel and syllable structure but that is just coincidence. Anyway, we walked mostly along the roads and it was about 3km until we got to the edge. The path round the lake was good, going through some very NZ like forest, and we were hopeful of seeing some wildlife. The lake is long and skinny and when we got to the end point there was a pier on which we could have our lunch. It occurred to me that it was quite likely that we were the first people in the history of mankind to eat marmite and cheese sandwiches at this spot so we’ll claim that piece of history. Not as impressive or significant as playing golf on the moon I realise but nonetheless a world first for the Roggeveens and New Zealand unless someone else can prove otherwise.

The lake itself was very nice. Beautiful, clear water which looked good enough to swim in (apart from the bugs and the temperature). We saw some very little fish in the shallows and there were signs of larger fish further out.

We continued round the other side of the lake where the vegetation was a bit sparser but there were some very nice running streams. We didn’t see any actual reindeer but we did come across a number of clumps of reindeer fur where they had been moulting. Further along there was also reindeer poo. However they no doubt make themselves scarce when people are approaching. There are also wolves and bears in the vicinity but they are rarely seen. Bears may get to within 5 – 10 km of the town. As it is we don’t have any great desire to see a wolf or a bear in the wild anyway.

We then finished the loop by heading back to the cabin – a total walk of around 10 km which was a good effort for all involved.

After Mexican last night it is Italian tonight with Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu. We’ll go out for dinner on Friday – both the restaurants in town have reindeer options on the menu. After dinner Zachary went to bed on time and Heather and I watched a movie.

We weren’t that thrilled with the accommodation in Helsinki and the fact that I was overcharged and they now refuse to refund the overcharge (although they admit it) doesn’t really endear me to them. So one of my jobs in town tomorrow will be to see if we can find something better at a similar cost. I also need to get our transport back to the airport sorted.

I found out more about the Norway trip and it sounds pretty good so we have booked that for Thursday. It’s a full day – we’ll be picked up about 8am and dropped off about 10pm.

Wednesday 1 July:

Zachary awake at 5:30am and Heather couldn’t convince him it wasn’t wake up time (due to the bright sunshine) so they watched some tv.

After breakfast we headed into town to do the jobs we needed. Just as we got to town there were two reindeer by the road so we managed to get some photos. We swapped our DVDs and got our ride to the airport booked. We have been very impressed with the staff at the resort reception – they have been extremely helpful.

Next job was recycling – you feed recyclables into a machine and you get refunds for them depending on what they are. It then prints out a ticket which you cash in or use as credit at the supermarket. When you buy bottles and cans from the supermarket it says on your docket the price of the bottle / can separately so you know how much you get back. Very good system. I think it would also be good to have “charity drops” as well where people can put their recyclables and the value of them gets donated to a specific charity.

After that we went to the café and got online. The hostel in Helsinki had emailed me to say they now would deduct the overcharge off the bill of our next stay. I did look for an apartment style accommodation in Helsinki but the only ones available that I could find at a sensible price had no cooking facility so we’ll stick with the hostel.

Then a bit of shopping. The ice-cream stand which had been hitherto closed was open so we had something from there and then back to the cabin. After some stories Zachary watched a couple of his new DVDs and I did some writing before dinner.

Looking forward to our trip to Norway tomorrow.

Thursday 2 July:

We were picked up at 8am by our driver / guide Ilkka in the mini-bus and we were the only ones on the trip so that gave us the advantage of having a bit more flexibility in terms of stops etc.

We were going to head pretty much directly north, going a tiny bit west also so that we were hugging the Swedish border. On the first leg the landscape didn’t change much and we only saw one reindeer and something else dart across the road in front of us. We weren’t sure what it was but Ilkka thought it most likely a mink. We stopped after about an hour at the settlement of Muonio for a bathroom and refreshment break. I was surprised to see a Thai restaurant there. Why would Laplanders want to eat Thai? Do they get a lot of tourists from Thailand?

Anyway the next leg was the big one – 200km to Kilpisjärvi. Now the landscape began to change. The dense concentration of pines began to thin out and then pines were replaced by birch trees before getting to an area where there were no trees at all. There were a large number of lakes which were very still and glassy. We also followed a river for some time and this river is the border between Finland and Sweden. About 80 km north of Muonio we passed through a village in which half was in Finland and half was in Sweden. The mystery of the Thai restaurant was solved as we passed by fields which, a bit later in the summer, will be full of cloudberries. Ilkka mentioned that many Thai people come to Lapland for berry-picking season. We also learned that most of the reindeer we see running wild are actually owned by people. They have ear-tags to identify them and twice a year they are rounded up into special areas and identified. They are given food as necessary and people sell them or butcher them as they want. In the summer months when there is plenty of food available in the wild they run free. When they are rounded up they see which young reindeer are following which older ones to work out offspring and they too become the property of the mother’s owner.

We reached Kilpisjärvi which has an annual average daily temperature of negative 2.6 degrees but today it was very warm, probably around 19. Here we are nearly 70 degrees north of the equator. To put that in perspective, Invercargill is about 46 degrees south. The sun sets in early November and rises again late in February – although apparently you can catch a glimpse of the sun on January 17 (this date cannot be a coincidence surely!) The population here is about 100 but as there is only one road heading north into Norway / south into Finland it gets quite a bit of through traffic so, a bit like Äkäslompolo it is well equipped for amenities. We didn’t stay long as the weather forecast was for rain later and Ilkka wanted to get us to the seaside while the weather was good. So we headed across the Norwegian border (such as it is) and were held up for a few minutes by roadworks. I suggested to Ilkka he tell the person with the stop sign he had the prime minister of New Zealand in the bus so that we could get through. He didn’t feel that this would hold much sway in Norway. A couple of minutes later there was a police checkpoint. They wanted to know where we came from and what we were planning to do in Norway. Having established we were not dodgy he let us carry on.

The landscape now became more like the South Island in terms of the shapes of mountains (craggy, rather than rounded tops) and fjords and lakes. We headed for Skibotn which is an old trading post and here we went to the beach and had our lunch. The beach was rocky and at the end of a long fjord which goes into the Arctic Ocean. While there were the similarities with NZ, the main difference was that the mountains and the snow went right down to the edge of the water. It was very pretty and well worth seeing. Lunch was Lappish bread with salmon and cheese (we had brought our own rolls as well for Zachary and for later on) followed by Finland’s best chocolate. After a decent amount of time exploring the beach, it was time to start making our way back. We crossed back into Finland and stopped at a café for hot chocolate. There was a play area which was good for Zachary and they had lots of old photos of the area on display. Just after we left the café I saw a herd of around 50 reindeer (or they may have been elk) grazing in a forested area near the road – certainly the biggest concentration of them we have seen. A little after that was the Fell Lapland Nature Centre. Just as we arrived the mini-bus starting losing power. Ilkka dropped us off and headed back to Kilpisjärvi (about 2 km) to go to the petrol station / garage to see what the problem was. He came back soon after and we went back to Kilpisjärvi with him as someone was meeting him there to hopefully fix the problem. Just across the road was the local school, which unfortunately burned down a couple of months ago. However the playground was intact, including a trampoline, so that kept Zachary occupied and allowed him to burn off some energy. Ilkka called after 20 minutes or so. The problem was that the battery wasn’t charging and it needed a part but we had to get that further south (by the village that Sweden and Finland share) so the electrics were disabled to make sure we made it there. This was a bit inconvenient as it started to rain and neither the lights nor wipers could be used. However we made it there no problem and we got out as they needed to lift the bus up – a process Zachary found very interesting. We waited, battling the extremely large mozzies, and I wandered down the road a bit to take a photo of Sweden. One more stop on the way home for a cup of tea and Ilkka dropped us back at our cabin at just before 9pm.

This was a very enjoyable day. It did involve a lot of time in the vehicle but we enjoyed watching the scenery and how it changed. Ilkka told us a lot about the area and we learned a lot. We also got to see (and dip our hands in) the Arctic Ocean. Tomorrow is our last full day in Lapland. We’ll have a quiet morning before heading into town via round the lake in the afternoon to have dinner.

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4th July 2015

Football and all that...
Hi Ed Val and I are off to Taranaki in an hour or so, so a quick email. Thanks for your advice about what Football is. ( or isn't ) most helpful. Speaking of Rugby...I presume you know my beloved Highlanders won last night ! A fantastic result. Let's just say my winnings from last night from friends and family are stacking up. Enough of this trash talk. The scenery and wildlife sounds amazing on your travels. Amazing memories being formed already eh. I trust Heathers leg continues to improve. Keep safe. Cheers Steve
5th July 2015

Super 15
Sorry Steve that was not a fantastic result but a complete travesty ...(see Helsinki Blog). Hope the sun is shining in Taranaki (seems unlikely) but regardless of that you have a great week. Cheers Ed

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