After our bear adventure we need a little break to do some laundry and catch up on our sleep. We find a great camping, Karhunkainalo, at Hossa National Park. Despite the rainy weather, we also manage to squeeze a little hike on the Nature trail of the park and marvel at the great facilities that the park offers for BBQ or just to have a rest or take shelter.
Continuing our way North, we somehow cross the Arctic Circle (Latitude North 66o 33´) twice. Once unexpectedly somewhere along road 5, which we notice because of a giant ring wrapped around 3 poles standing next to the road. The second one, more formally, in Santa Klaus town in Rovaniemi.
Santa´s town itself is a bit disconcerting, maybe we should have come here in winter. Now it gives us more the impression of being a souvenir outlet, with kitschy restaurants serving the improvable reindeer pizza. We do not try it. Santa´s home luckily has that aura of mystery and anticipation that surrounds Him. We do not sit on his lap or pet his reindeer, but have a chance to write him a letter from the official post office.
For the rest Rovaniemi is the only town of a certain size that we have stepped into in quite a while, so we enjoy a very didactic visit to the Arktikum museum (www.arktikum.fi/en), where we learn much more about nature and life in these lappish latitudes, but also the issues they face with pollution, and climate change and the challenges to preserve the culture of the original inhabitants, the Samis. We also get a really nice cup of coffee and cake in one of the local cafes, which feels really civilised.
Somewhere along the road we find the little town of Sodankyla, which apart to be a good place to stop and stock up on food at the supermarket, has a little wooden church of beautiful startling simplicity that dates from the 17th century and hosts a mummy under the wooden floor. A little bit creepy to look through the little space between the wooden planks and see what is left of the hand, the skull and so on.
These days there’s no official sunset or sunrise, just an official solar midnight which is when the sun is at its lowest, but not quite behind the horizon. In sunny days, one can have a wonderful stroll at midnight, in perfect daylight. Or, why not, chase a herd of reindeer in your pijamas, since they show up in your camper van as you where going to bed. This is what we did, together with other visitors that were as thrilled and underdressed as us, in the Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park (Pallas side).
This is the evening previous to our conquer of peak Taivaskero, that even being a humble 809 meters high, is the highest in the area and from the top you get really nice views from the surroundings. Also we get a special treat, since a male reindeer escorts us for a good portion of the way up, while he casually nibbles on the lichens along the way.
Different, but also very enjoyable is the Saariselka Wilderness and Urho Kekkonen National Park, with an amazing amount of trails. We combine a few of them into one long hike and enjoy the nature, the solitude and the heat (bright sunshine and temperature up to 26 degrees centigrade). Short after we are back in Polaris having dinner, a thick mist covers the place and the temperature goes down to 10 degrees centigrade. This cold and steamy greyness continues the whole day after, so we decide to move on to our last significant stop in Finland, Inari.
Christian treats to an excellent 5 course dinner in restaurant Aanaar (http://www.hotelkultahovi.fi/english/navigation/hotel-kultahovi/restaurant-aanaar/), where we try local delicacies elevated to the next level of sophistication. Offering courses like fried lichens, birch leaf sorbet or liquorice ice cream smoked with pine niddles. Quite an experience to enjoy while looking through the window to the legendary Alakoski rapids and being surrounded by the photos of some of the most famous gold diggers that came to the area on the second half of the 19th century, full of hope and ambition.
Inari is the cultural center for the Sami in Finland, so we spend some time at SIIDA (http://www.siida.fi/contents), a museum that offers a great overview about their culture and adaptation to the environment.
The rest of our time in Inari we spend hiking in the fairy tale like forests in the surroundings and along the impressive river rapids. There’s no gold to be found, just gorgeous landscape.
Finland´s Top 3
Yes, Finland has great cutting edge design and remarkable contributions to technology advancements, but when one goes deep, the country is nature pure. Therefore my top 3 are
- Water. Present in abundance in multiple shapes. Be it salted at the Baltic sea. Crystalline in the glorious lakes, which are the magic mirrors where sunsets, forests, clouds and blue skies eternally contemplate their beauty. Wild in rivers that once hosted tones of gold and today the mighty salmon and trout. Shallow in swamps and marshes that are home to the nice arctic cotton and insects and birds. Or even the rain, even if all in all, we didn’t have so much of it while in Finland
- Fire. Always impressed by the shelters along the hiking routes or simply in parking areas, which are perfectly stacked with wood and an axe to cut more as needed and facilities to light a fire to warm up, get rid of the mosquitoes, cook something or simply enjoy looking at the flames
- Taiga. Great part of the country is the epitome of this boreal forest, with huge extensions covered with conifers and birches, mosquitoes in big quantities and of course gorgeous brown bears, the king of the taiga
- 80 – 80 – 80. We obviously drive a lot of kilometres. Luckily Finland´s road network is actually in fantastic shape! Ok, asphalt has not found its way to each and every secondary and third grade road but this can also not be expected in such big country with relatively little inhabitants. And then there is the stretch of unnerving road pretty much in the north, connecting east and west with the name national road 80. 80km of painful driving with a speed limit of 80 km/h in such a condition stretching “Polaris” and my nerves to the maximum. Also worth to mention that our route planning allowed the pleasure of driving the road twice – first from east to west and 2 days later from west to east!
- Mosquitoes. Wow – Juoni and others told us about the tiny little beasts and how annoying they can be and that there is NO WAY to escape them. So we prepared ourselves for the worst – equipped with mosquito spray and even mosquito nets for the head we went out into the wild… And? With some exceptions, by far not as many and as annoying as we expected. The mosquito head nets are still in the original packing. BUT once the lights are switched off in the van an you want to sleep, the little beasts get ready to attack! And in the van there annoying SSSSSSSSS sound like in Dolby Stereo Super Surround Sound (DSSSS)
- Wildlife. What can I say – wildlife in Finland is just AMAZING!!!! The highlight of our visit was for sure the bear watching, but other species are not far behind! The birds (even very difficult to capture in photo), the Huskies and last but not least the Reindeer. The later ones are not as visible as I would have expected, but once they are out they show themselves from their best side… Oh yes – before I forget, on our last day in Finland on the way to the camping even Mrs Moose crossed the street before disappearing in the bushes!