My wife Mirja and I traveled to Finland last month. Here’s the last in a series.
And so we’ve come to Saariselkä, Finnish Lapland, and we see that it’s possible to live inside the Arctic Circle. It takes a little more work, bundling up and all, and you need a plan before you go outside. There’s no idle standing around out there.
But there are even a few advantages. Dragging your groceries behind you over the ice on a little plastic sled called a pulkka is easier than carrying them. There’s a word for the way you walk: köpöttää. It means to walk with tiny steps, like you do to keep your balance on the icy sidewalk.
Plus, other humans live here, too, and they seem to get along just fine. Infrastructure’s good, all the transport is in big, heavy, late model SUVs. There isn’t the choice of goods you might like, but we have that problem in our little town of 600 in Appalachia, too.
Once I would have thought “selling time shares in Lapland” was a punch line, but now we have a friend who does just that. And much to my surprise, a completely full 757 flew us back down to Helsinki (and a full Airbus flew us up) and they were doing three planes from Saariselkä to Helsinki the day we flew back.
In fact, the local folk of Finnish Lapland are entirely swallowed up by the tourist onslaught they’ve created. There are 13,500 hotel, lodge, igloo and rental apartment beds around Saariselkä. And the goal is 4.5 times the number of visitors by 2020.
Kuukkeli was the only grocery in walking distance. It’s part of a chain, and a bit of a dry goods and souvenir store, too. You could buy the usual Finnish dark breads and sausages and ready to eat heat-and-serve paistos, casseroles made of beets or mushrooms or potatoes and ham. And tins of moose, bear, elk and reindeer.
A word of advice: Just capitulate on the reindeer thing. Do not try to resist.
In Saariselkä you can buy reindeer burgers, cold smoked reindeer, reindeer steak, reindeer sausages, reindeer meat pie, smoked reindeer flatbread (Kuukkeli says in high season it sells 250 a day), reindeer pizza (chopped smoked reindeer, blue cheese and pineapple), reindeer quiche, reindeer soup, smoked reindeer roll, croissants with chopped cold smoked reindeer, reindeer paninis and warm reindeer sandwiches.
The single hardest thing is getting out of bed in the morning. Even though we’d go to bed at night at a normal time, more than a week after arriving in Finland (so there was no jet lag excuse), we’d still wake up in the dark to find that it was 1:00 p.m.
And that can be unfortunate if you mean to make something of the day, since the light is gone by the 3:00’s. The last bus from the ski fell to the village ran at 3:40. There was no more light. But maybe that’s why when I was out after 11:00 at night chasing the revontulet, the Northern Lights, so were others, romping up and down the hills in Saariselkä, all bundled and round like the Michelin man.
And at just 200 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle, it’s not as long an Arctic night as places farther north like Svalbard or Barrow. In fact, the sun only stays below the horizon for about a month at this latitude. By the second week of January they’ll have an hour of sunshine. At the end of May the sun will rise before 2:00 a.m. and the next time it sets, they say, will be at 2:00 a.m. on 20 July.