Finnair aircrew are... different to normal aircrew. Finnaircrew give cabin briefings casually, somewhat improvised and filled with footnotes about Finland.
[I] hope you see a reindeer. Maybe have some reindeer soup. Cute. They provided a nice distraction from May, who was either eating or doing gymnastics around the cabin.
Your holiday in Finland began with a bus ride through a winter-white forest to Äkäslompolo village: 67.6° North and -36°C. It was spectacularly beautiful, unreasonably cold and had reindeer (which you almost hit with the bus). The bus driver with a Russian * accent dropped you at the apartment and you hurried inside.
The apartment was big, warm and friendly. It sat alone in the forest (excluding its adjoined twin) and looked out towards a frozen snow-covered lake. It was quiet, spacious and stocked with 1 kg salt and six lost socks. Stocks (not socks) needed replenishing so you put on gloves (thick ones) and went for a walk.
The roads were sealed under a packed layer of white snow, but thanks to the low temperature were neither icy nor slippery. Your eyes needed some time to adjust to the extreme contrast of white everywhere broken only by the occasional protruding tree sprig. The walk to the shops took 20 minutes. There was a giant reindeer there.
Finnish supermarkets have too many types of milk. That made buying just normal milk hard. Similarly, finding a product without a picture of a reindeer on it was near impossible. Reindeer beer, reindeer jerky, reindeer sausages, reindeer fur hats and reindeer sightseeing guidebooks were in abundance. Also Fosters Radler beer (lemonade mix). From where a Finish supermarket found Fosters Radler was unclear. You didn't even know it existed.
Next outing was on skis with Steffen and began by landing flat on your back three meters from the front door. Good start to a skiing holiday.
Fat Bikes & Sparkly Snow
It's a funny concept for you — someone from a warm country — to go to Finland in winter on holiday. Finland's beautiful scenery notwithstanding, why does anyone go somewhere so cold for fun? Also, when did snowy places' tourism offices decide riding bikes with fat tyres on snow was a thing? No idea.
The snow around the lake was pretty and sparkled in the sunlight. Sparklyness and stickiness must be related low temperature phenomenon, because your skis didn't slide much. On the hard-packed surfaces your skis worked; elsewhere it was a pain. You followed some such surfaces to a reindeer park in the middle of the forest, then took the path less travelled (through waist-deep snow) back to the track. May was asleep when you got back.
The ladies went out for a lap around the lake, then you did another quick round by yourself before dinner. Day 2: successful.
Finnish Sauna & Northern Lights
In Swiss baby shops there is a trend to up-sell fit parents on prams adaptable for sport. You can buy them with disk brakes and go rollerblading together. You can buy them with skis and go cross county skiing together. You can buy them with heavy-duty suspension to go mountain biking together. You have that last one, but you're not planning to take May down Uetliberg just yet; you've already broken one bike doing that.
The ski rental shop in Äkäslompolo offered baby sleds you can pull behind yourself while skiing. In theory, it's a wonderful way to have fun together. In reality, kids being squeezed into thick snow-suits and shoved into insulated sleds are less than enthusiastic about it. May complied and fell asleep after 300 meters sledding with Meike.
You took over and had a go while Kirsten and Meike went for a round. The snow was still not especially slippery, and it became quickly obvious walking was faster. You went back home and played with the sled indoors.
That afternoon you went glove shopping. Deep-minus temperatures made your fingers cold to the point of numbness, followed by nauseating pain and ended with worrying-numbness again. You found a very warm (and very expensive) pair of multi-layer leather gloves.
That afternoon the troops returned from shopping dismayed, having misplaced their salami and yoghurt supplies. You skied another quick round and picked up some more, returning with hands so warm that you needed to air them to stop overheating / sweating. You new gloves worked well. Too well.
After dark the northern lights appeared! Everyone lost their shit (you did anyway) and ran outside with cameras and tripods to capture the green wiggly squiggles in the sky. You were not dressed appropriately: standing outside above the arctic circle in a single layer (t-shirt) was chilly.
The in-house Finish sauna thawed you out again after sub-zero sky gazing. It was small but comfortable, and had a little window from which you could see... more northern lights! Back outside you ran — with even less clothing than last time — and snapped away at the sky. Finland is fun.
The missing salami was found behind some shoes inside the house.
Reindeer Beer & Snow
Two athletic rounds of cross country skiing a day made the group a ravenous bunch — highly adept at stripping fridges and pantries bare. You enjoyed exploring the funny Finish supermarkets so off you skied for more supplies.
Your second round went the wiggly way between the houses around the north end of the lake, back over the hill through the forest and across the ice to the shops. The shopping list was long and you bag was deep, but standing at the register with a full trolley made you regret your enthusiasm. It contained:
- 2 kg flower
- 4 reindeer beers
- 1 L milk
- 1 kg yoghurt
- 1 kg sugar
- 12 reindeer sausages
- 12 eggs
- 4 kg potatoes
- Big tomatoes
- Small tomatoes
- Iceberg lettuce
- Sour cream
Your 40 L bag extended to its maximum height and using your Tetris skills juuust fit everything. Waking in ski boots was hard. Skiing felt like an extreme(ly stupid) sport. You resolved your idiotic instability to a careful shuffle at a medium pace. End result: sore shoulders and a full fridge. Treatment: Finish sauna and a cold shower.
Bloody Face & Broken Poles
To your delight, the left over reindeer sausages were fried up and served for breakfast. Paired with a big handmade oven-fresh bread it was a luxurious start to the day.
You hit up the shops and scoped out the Moomin merchandise. Much like anything with a kangaroo or koala makes things Auzzie, Moomin makes things Finish. Moment books — sure. Moomin toys — ok. Moomin ice spikes — less so (possibly made-up but believable). You bought some minty Mintoo liquor and smacked yourself in the face with your camera. The camera was harder than your face. It was a blood mess.
Today's adventure was up Kukas (480 m) — the highest point in the area. You and Meike skated through the forest up a steady incline, passing classic skiers on the way. It was surprisingly hard considering it looked almost flat. It was a steady slog into ever-whitening -30°C surroundings; the further up the hill you went, the whiter and colder everything became. About half way up the forest thinned, opening to blue sky above. Blobby white spires were all that remained of the trees, now completely caked in icy snow. It was surreal.
At the top you had a panoramic view in all directions. It was breathtaking — not that you had much breath left at that point; the last part had been as steep as a typical downhill slope. They way back down was entertaining. Keeping your speed under control was the biggest challenge. Some tried to snow plough while others blasted down the hill with their hands tucked under opposite elbows for warmth (poles pointing forward). The latter ended badly when one forward-pointing poles caught the ground, leading to a shattered carbon fibre pole and a kick in the guts. It was a very cool adventure, bruises notwithstanding.
Sledding, Shopping, Salmon, Spinach, Skiing & Saunas
After wrapping everyone in what felt like twenty layers of winter clothing, you coaxed May into the sled and went for a walk to the shops. There you picked up a new pair of skiing poles for Meike and 1.255 kg salmon for dinner. May slept for most of it. Easy kid.
The group took turns skiing while kids either slept or played in and about the house. You did two rounds, both times leaving wearing all your layers and feeling chilly, returning gloveless in a t-shirt and glowing hot. Temperature management seems to be a skill to learn.
That night you served the salmon with spinach. May shovelled it in, making a nice green mess of herself. You hit the sauna again and found more lost socks. Normal day in Finland.
Cold & Sticky Things
Kirsten wanted a bash at the big hill, so as soon as the temperature rose above -20°C you two skied off. The super-low temperature had left the snow too cold to form a micro melted layer under ski-pressure, which braked about the same as skating on grass. Push on — feel the burn!
Luckily you were the first skaters up the hill. The pristine surface, fantasy-like forest setting and sunny weather were perfect conditions for skiing (ignoring the sticky snow for now). You took off your gloves and took a photo. The 35 mm Zeiss all-metal lens was cold. Your fingers stuck to it. Damn cold sticky things.
You did the loop around the back side of the mountain. The alternative was back was the cross country skiing equivalent of a roller coaster: steep accelerations, undulating humps, banked curves and fast enough to be a bit scary. Kirsten flew off a corner into soft snow. Looked fun. Near the house you met Meike pulling May in the sled, asleep, so took her home for a nap.
That evening you knocked off all remaining supplies: reindeer pate with spaghetti, big cake with whipped cream, reindeer beer, etc. It was too much and gave you a tummy ache. Following a sauna and snow bath the northern lights made another appearance, then twice again before bed. Pretty.
Early Bus & Flight
The 03:30 bus pick-up time in the dark at -32°C was a bit rough. It was softened slightly by some wispy green aurora lights, even while your fingers had stuck to things again (camera lens, door knob).
The airport had nowhere to post your stack of postcards. Luckily the lady at the gate offered to post them for you after her shift — how nice! They even made it several weeks later. May danced in the cabin for most of the flight, and there was a pretty sunrise to see.
Holiday summary: cold, cool and chilled. Many reindeer, much snow. Would come again.