Well, I’m back from the cold white Arctic Circle! It was an amazing, weird and very exhausting week, and I’ve got some great stories to tell.
Aside from a bit of Wikipedia-ing, I knew basically nothing about Lapland when I arrived in Finland. I knew even less about far northern Lapland and the Inari region where I spent most of last week. So I thought I’d kick off the next couple weeks of posts about Finland by illuminating a few surprising facts about the very tip-top of Finland:
It’s Not Always (That) Cold
I’m starting to think that you all wanted me to freeze, because the first question anyone has asked me about the trip is “how cold was it? The surprising/ semi-disappointing answer is: not really all that cold. The week I spent in Inari was freakishly warm for February, with temperatures hovering around 28F (-2C). I think the coldest it may have gotten was around 15 degrees.
Don’t get me wrong, it certainly CAN get cold up there. The week before I arrived it was -13F (-25C). The locals were quick to tell me proud tales of -22, -40 and even the odd year with -60 degree weather, when buses needed to stay constantly on and moving less their engines freeze.
In the summer time temperatures rise, sometimes as high as 85 (30) degrees! Basically, Laplanders need to be ready for anything.
The Trees are Really Old
Summer in lapland if a fleeting thing- the snow melts here in May and starts falling again in October, which means that the growing season is rather abbreviated. The trees here make up for their lack of stature it longevity: many of the snowy pine trees in the region are two or three hundred years old! The oldest known pine tree in Inari is 529 years old.
They Have Berries You’ve Never Even Heard Of
Aside from trees, berries are what grow best in this harsh land of little light. There are your typically blueberries, raspberries and cranberries, then there are some really obscure berries like lingonberries, cloudberries and crowberries.
They are all delicious. And, thanks to Finland’s “Everyman’s Right” you are allowed to pick any and all berries, wherever you find them!
Santa Lives Here (Actually a Couple of Em)
Finland has laid claim as the home of Santa Claus (I know we in the US always say Santa lives at the North Pole, but arctic circle is close enough I guess?). They’ve got the reindeer and the Christmas trees so why not right?
You can visit Santa at home in Rovaniemi, but I actually visited a second, competing Santa Claus in Saariselka. I was able to meet his reindeer, chat with the elves and actually step inside Santa’s home (very cozy, natch). Which Santa is real? Well my guy seemed pretty legit…
The Indigenous People are Called Sami
My mother was so excited that I was going to Lapland to meet the Lapps, which she had learned about in elementary school. Well, they aren’t called Lapps anymore, the correct term is the Sami people.
The Sami have inhabited the Arctic for at least 5000 years and can be found in Norway, Sweden, Finland and in Russia. A large amount of Finland’s Sami population lives in Inari, including the unique cultural group of the Inari Sami.
Today the Sami are mostly integrated with society and no longer live nomadically. They still maintain their unique language and culture, and even have their own parliament and radio stations. In Inari all the street signs are written in both Finnish and Sami.
It’s One of the Last Places You Can (Successfully) Pan For Gold
When I was a kid I attempted to pan for gold out in California and succeeded only in getting my shoes wet. Finland is the last country in Europe where there are actual professional gold prospectors (not miners) still working.
Not only is Inari home to the world’s only international gold panning museum you can attend the Gold Panning Finnish Open in July. Even better, they museum brings the sand indoors so you can practice panning without freezing your fingers off. I actualy found a fair bit!
Northern Lights Aren’t a Sure Thing
It’s on everybody’s mind, a major focus of winter tourism in the area, “Have you seen the Northern Lights yet?”
Inari is in the perfect position for the aurora borealis, and the locals tell me they seem them often. February is a good month for them too. However, even in the dead of winter, when the nights are long, there is no guarantee. You need clear skies, no clouds and even then you have to hit the electromagnetic jackpot just right.
Well you know me and the weather. Clouds all four nights I was in Lapland, which meant no hopes of seeing the magnificent light displays. I was oddly not as disappointed as I thought I would be. I still got to do a lot of really awesome stuff (more on this to come), and now I just have a good excuse to come back!
I visited Inari as a guest of Visit Finland and Northern Lapland Tourism.