An Arctic Christmas


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December 25th 2011
Published: December 28th 2011
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Right, let me get all the negative things out of the way first. Our trip to the Arctic Circle, Hetta in northern Finland was a package holiday with Transun. It was the first for all of us (Adam, Myles, Scott and I) and the last. The flight was on ‘Strategic Air’, the service was hap-hazard and the inside a little old. Just before arriving and during some terrible weather the kids were allowed to sing/scream Christmas carols over the speaker system. Because we were a small party of adults we did manage to secure the exit seats, however they split us over two rows so Scott ended up sitting behind us. Then the most stupid thing happened. There were other people waiting in the hotel we were due to check in to so they had us wait at another hotel up the road. And wait we did, we waited for 2 ½ hours for no logical reason apart from some fear of ‘congestion’. We think there was something else going on and we were all pretty pissed by the time we did manage to check in and have the ‘welcome’ meeting. All the tour reps seemed to be running around like headless chickens, none of them were empowered to make any decisions and none of them knew what was happening. What was priceless was the welcome meeting when asked about the Northern Lights we were told they hadn’t been out for the last week so ‘good luck with that’. Basics weren’t known about meal times and what you could do in the wee town we were staying in. There was lots of waiting around, and it felt totally disorganised. After the arrival debacle our expectations of the trip were pretty low. Which worked in our favour and we were pleasantly surprised with the rest of the holiday. So, I now have that out of my system so on with the actual holiday!

We were right up in the northern part of Finland in Lapland and the day light hours were few and far between. The sun rose (but never above the horizon) around 10.30am and set around 2.30pm. We were lucky enough not to hit the freezing lows of around -30 and most of the days it was between 0 and -3 degrees and on our last day it was -17. I have no idea how we would have done everything we had in that type of temperature. On Christmas Eve we had a stroll around Hetta, which didn’t take very long. It is a tiny place with a church at one end and small ski field at the other. That afternoon we headed out to a Reindeer Farm. After much waiting around and a filler of lassoing a wooden reindeer and cooking a sausage in a tepee we had a short ride in a sleigh. The most amusing part was the Reindeer behind us keep trying to overtake us so Scott had the muzzle on his shoulder most of the time or antlers close to his face. At one point it whacked him on the head. The evening we went on a forest walk and stopped in a huge clearing. Right there in front of us was a beautiful green arch stretching across the sky. It was the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis in all its glory. We did a little celebration dance, mimicking the creepy dancing Santa we had come across in the local supermarket across the road from the hotel. The arch got stronger and stronger, the length was mind blowing. After being there a while we headed back closer to the hotel as the tour reps wanted to head back. They did offer to leave us however the lights on the trail had gone out so figured that was a bad idea. There was a wide open sports field close to the hotel and that is where we spent the next hour watching the lights dance and play. It streaked across the sky in rows and then started twisting around, plus we watched some of the classical ‘flames’ shoot into the sky. It was amazing to actually see it move around. It was a sensational experience and something we will never forget on Christmas Eve 2011.

Scott and I had the best Christmas sleep in ever, not up until 10 and we didn’t do anything until noon. Perfect. The Transun people had decided to postpone our snowmobile tour booked for that evening as so many other people had complained it had been scheduled in the middle of Christmas Dinner. Not the brightest scheduling ever. We weren’t consulted on this and as compensation Adam managed to negotiate free use of some X-country skis. So there we were in the Arctic Circle on Christmas Day trying our hand at cross country skiing along the powdery plains and by trees. Adam and Myles were a little more daring and tackled a ski-trail. Given Scott and I both took a tumbles on tiny rises it was best we stayed on the flats. Later that afternoon we part took in the usual Christmas past times of eating and drinking whist playing board games and watched the Queens message before going down to the much anticipated Christmas dinner. We had expected the worst given the food at the hotel we were staying at had been average, but we weren’t expecting a culinary experience on this trip. My options were limited so mainly had chips most evenings. But to our suprise Christmas was a real treat with a huge whole smoked trout, fresh salmon, pickled herring and some lovely cheeses. Of course there was the usual roast and chunks of ham. That evening we headed out to the field again however the evening wasn’t very clear so there was just a dull greenish haze in the distance.

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were up early on Boxing Day as we had a 9.15am start at the Husky Farm. The Huskies were fantastic excitable little creatures, especially the puppies. There were two types of dogs. The Siberian, they are the classical fluffy ones, and then the Alaskan which are sturdy looking with less fur. There were over 100 dogs on the farm and some of the names were pretty funny such as Obama, Mimosa, and Mr Miyegi. After a short briefing we were off. About 8 sleds were dogged up, with 6 dogs a piece, all yapping wildly. Scott was the driver with me in the sled and we set off at break neck pace as the sun was coming up over the horizon. It was a wonderful scene tearing into the sparse white wilderness. The dogs were great, plunging their heads into the snow every time we stopped and the little puppy always looking back expectantly and the two senior dogs up front getting into fights and nearly veering us off course. It was a really great experience. That evening we were out again on a snow mobile, not really my cuppa tea, but the boys absolutely loved it. I clung to the back of Scott as he burned around the flats and through the pine trees; we only tipped half way over once. This was better than some who managed to actually fall off the machines completely twice. The best part was stopping in a huge open space and enjoying a tremendous view of the Arctic sky dotted with stars, the Milky Way and the thin green haze of the Aurora. A sight I will never forget and it was the first time I kind of thought, ‘wow, I’m in the Arctic Circle!’ That evening we went out again to the field behind the hotel and enjoyed another display of the lights. Certainly not as bright or spectacular as Christmas Eve, but we saw some different shapes and moves.

On the final day we had to check out at 9am and our flight was at 4.30pm. So we headed off to the Nature Centre and did a short walk up to a look-out point as the sun was rising over the valley below. We enjoyed wonderful views over the surrounding area and there was no one around but us. The centre was great as well, really modern and some cool photos and displays. We then strolled back to the hotel in -17 degrees and our eyelashes iced up; very pretty! For some reason Transun took us to the airport (tin shed) 3hrs before the actual scheduled flight departure even though the flight left Gatwick 1hr late due to fog. Thank goodness for Kindles!

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