The magic of Lapland

Lapland, beautiful magical Lapland… I’ve already travelled to quite a few countries during my life (quite a few, but not enough by far! There’s still so much more of the world to explore) but I can honestly say that no other country than Lapland has made such a big impression on me, and this in only 5 days. On our way home we hadn’t even crossed the Arctic Circle yet, and I was already wishing we could turn around and stay a bit longer. Together with a group of 30 Porvoo students we left on Wednesday the 27th of November, completely packed and prepared to spend the night (and most of the next day) in a bus on our way to Lapland. It was a long bus ride, but definitely worth it (though maybe next time I’d prefer taking a plane instead). The trip took us to a wildlife park, Santa’s village, Inari, The Arctic Ocean and Saariselkä. We returned on the 3rd of December, in the morning. Here are some of the most magical moments you can experience in Lapland, and some tips & tricks to help you along the way!

1. The Northern lights

This one everyone knows, and a lot of people do go to the North just to see this amazing phenomena. Yet you can’t really anticipate how you’ll feel when you do see them. Our group was incredibly lucky because we got to see the Northern lights every night. During a visit to a reindeer farm a Sami lady told us “You brought back the Northern lights, thank you for that”, apparently the groups who had come the week before didn’t get to see even the slightest shimmer! The third night we spent in Lapland we hit the absolute jackpot. The receptionist had told us that the Northern lights would start around 9, and how right she was! A bit before 9 they started to become visible. “NORTHERN LIGHTS!!” got shouted in to the common room, where we were just cleaning up after having dinner. Within seconds everyone was at the lake, eyes on the sky. It didn’t take long for me to feel that it was too crowded, and soon after I went, together with Claudia an Austrian exchange student, to find a quiet spot in the woods near the lake. Without flashlight, phone, or basically anything, we made our way in the dark through the woods (which was quite tricky, especially since you couldn’t even see where the ground stopped and the river started). The Northern lights were still active above our heads and after sitting down on a big rock for a while, they became increasingly active. Until then we had only seen the quiet glow of green, but now they were rippling like waves in the sky, extending far above us and covering the complete sky in hues of green and blue going in every direction. All we could do was cling on to each other, while breathlessly watching the sky, pointing and gasping every time it would ripple or suddenly show hues of red and purple. I had hoped to see the Northern lights, but never in my wildest dreams had I expected to see them this big and extended. It filled us with this feeling of love that felt too enormous for our bodies to contain (so we kept hugging and jumping up and down with giddy excitement). This is one moment I will never forget.

Tips: This is a difficult one, because it really depends on the weather (both earth and solar weather): you just have to be really lucky. However, the higher up north you go, the bigger your chances are. All I can really say is: Keep an eye on the sky ALL THE TIME. The best places to see the Northern lights are at lake edges, bigger clearings in the woods and hilltops – but the most important thing is to get away from lights. Light pollution from houses and roads can make them seem so much less bright than they actually are (or you might not see them at all even though they are there!).

2. Be active

When we booked the trip almost everyone booked the Husky safari, but only a few took the survival course or Sami day. Even though it was pricey, I partook in all these activities and I did not regret it for even one second. For almost every activity we had to be out and about quite early and, especially with the survival course, we were spending a lot of time outside. A lot more than I might’ve done had I filled in the days myself. Mornings were spent in the dark forest, waiting for the sun to light up the sky. Not the forest, the sun wasn’t reaching that far anymore, but just the sky itself was a beautiful sight. The survival course didn’t teach me as much survival tricks as I had expected in the first place, but the activities were a lot of fun to do and it was just so nice to spend a whole day outside in the woods, hanging out with new people. It also gave us a good overview of how the area surrounding the accommodations looked, making it easier to take a hike after sunset without being too scared to get lost. The Quinzee building was probably the activity I enjoyed most that day (except for getting stuck in a newly made tunnel that ran through an unfinished Quinzee; that was a bit uncomfortable. Especially when the others were more concerned with taking pictures of me being stuck than with pulling me out). Tip: you might want to make sure there’s enough space before you start crawling through!). The Sami day on the other hand, gave us a nice insight in how some of the Sami people lived and I absolutely adored the part where an older lady sang and made everyone else join it too. Aside from the activities being a lot of fun, I also felt like it brought me closer to a lot of people (both familiar faces and new faces alike).

Tip: You can easily book your trip to Lapland through agencies and you might be tempted to only take one activity (Like Husky safari) because let’s face it, it’s all quite expensive. But believe me, if it’s a trip you’re unlikely to make again anytime soon, it’ll be worth every single penny. You’ll find that you get to enjoy a lot more of Lapland than you otherwise would!

3.Campfire in the woods and the night sky

(picture by S. Huen)

(picture by A. Vaccaro)

Not too far from our hostel was a campfire place near a small lake in the woods. Complete with places to sit, and an outdoor toilet not too far away. On the last night of our stay we had a so called ‘sausage party’ there with everyone from the tour. I went there with two friends, leaving a while after everyone else had gone, forcing us to walk alone through the woods. It was a good thing that we already knew the way around so even though I’d usually be terrified in a forest in the dark, this time I was quite relaxed. The snow made the forest look a lot friendlier and definitely less dark than it would’ve been without. When looking up, a million little lights filled the sky, some flickering, some still (and some falling! You’d be surprised with how many shooting stars you can see if you watch the sky for even a little bit!). There was just something special about standing there, in the dark and the cold, all alone and quietly watching the stars above our heads. Once we arrived at the campfire they had one fire blazing fiercely already, while the other one was getting started. It didn’t take long for people to start frying sausages above the fire, and we ourselves took out our Marshmallows (which ended up being quite a hit). After a while a lot of people headed back for the sauna, but together with a small group of people we stayed behind at one of the fires. At one point we all started singing songs and then the campfire feeling was completed. On our way back to the accommodation we managed to see a bit of the Northern lights again as well. A prefect ending to our last night in Lapland.

Tips: I would recommend anyone going to Lapland to do this. It’s really an amazing experience to sit there in the cold near the fire, watching the night sky. Make sure to check with your accommodation if there is a similar place as I mentioned to make a fire and sit comfortably, without it you probably won’t be able to stay in the cold night for very long! Also don’t forget to dress up extra warm! I was wearing 2 woollen thermo pants+ thick ski-pants, thermo shirt, a hoodie, a fleece vest, a thick winter coat, extra thick mittens, snow boots, 2 pairs of woollen socks, a woollen hat and I still got cold feet! (Luckily I was pretty warm aside from that, but a lot of the people were getting quite cold).

4. Go sledding

On the last day of our trip we went to Saariselkä. They’d told us about a sledding slope, but they hadn’t mentioned it before the trip that it was 1 km long. We were dropped off at the bottom and after getting sledges from a nearby hotel, made our way up the mountain. The forest there was a lot more covered in snow compared to what we had seen in Inari and that, combined with the sun just slightly peeking over a mountain (our first rays of sunlight whilst being in Lapland!), it was just a magical sight. Like you could run into the woods and after a while you’d suddenly find yourself in Narnia – that kind of magical. The top of the hill/mountain gave us an amazing view of Saariselkä, with a pink coloured sky above it. Now, in the Netherlands we don’t really have hills or mountains like this. Our hills are usually more like oversized piles of which you’d reach the top in less than 5 minutes. My parents are crazy about mountains and often took us mountaineering. But I’d never sledged down a hill this steep, and I had certainly not sledged for a very very long time. But oh my, this slope was really something! Sharing the plastic sledge with one of our Finnish students, Hanna-Mari, we pushed off and down we went. Especially the second part of the slope was incredible! We were speeding down, getting snow practically everywhere while at the same time clinging onto each other and laughing hysterically when the ride got particularly bumpy (but enjoyable, nonetheless). Once down we had to remove the snow from our clothes, scarfs and faces, and my not-quite-waterproof mascara was running all down my face, accompanied by a foolish and satisfied grin. I wanted to go again.

Tips: If you’re in Saariselkä and want to go sledging from this awesome slope as well, but you don’t have a sledge, don’t fret! If you walk back into the direction of the village there is a big hotel on the right side of the road (with a parking lot in front of it) where they hand out sledges for free. They only require a deposit of 2 euro and upon returning the sledge you will get it back. Also, don’t put your feet down to brake too much, this will result not only in slowing you down but it will also completely cover you in snow.


There are many other moments that were also very magical during our trip aside from the ones I spoke about; but actually the one and only big magical moment was Lapland itself. Everything about the trip was amazing (well, maybe smashing a window and losing a key wasn’t, but hey! Every upside has its downside!). When we went to Lapland, I went with the idea of a “Once in a life time trip to probably never be repeated” but even before the end that idea had already transformed into an “I want to come back here – and soon!” kind of trip. Lapland now officially holds a special place in my heart, and I’m already looking forward to the day I can return.

ps. Yes, I’ve officially returned and catching up with blogs that I wrote ages ago but never posted!

The public library: a living room of Turku

As I had mentioned in my post about Zucchini, one of my best Friends was visiting me a couple of weeks ago. Together we took the train to Turku and there we were joined by our Swedish friend (Quite the international group!). We spent 3 days in Turku in total, Saturday morning until Monday evening. This was actually more than enough. I’ve started to become more and more aware of the fact that most of Finland really is, just made for summer visits; a lot of the interesting and fun things are closed down or finished before the end of August. Our stay in Turku, wasn’t unpleasant however. When in a good company, you don’t need a lot to keep away boredom. We spent a lot of our time walking around town, but the cold made us seek refuge wherever we could find it. One of the locations we stumbled up on, was the Turku Library, a place I had been wishing to visit anyway.

The new building in the front and the old library building in the back

You see, I have this obsession with books and anything that has even the smallest thing to do with books. Whenever I get to a new city I try to pay a visit to the library. I’ve visited quite some libraries on my travels because of this. some beautiful, others quite dull. But the one thing that I have seen in almost every library so far, is that unless it’s a super famous library (such as the Trinity College Library in Dublin, which has exhibitions of the Book of Kells and a very old library part called the long room which makes it a huge tourist attraction) the normal libraries in general are usually very quiet.

But not in Turku. Oh no, the Turku library was completely crowded! This was true when we visited on Sunday afternoon, as well as on Monday afternoon (A work day!). Never in my life have I seen a library so full of life and people, it was quite refreshing to see!

Because we entered the building from the café, the first thing we stumbled upon was the new paper hall. Filled with newspapers and tables were people were reading a newspaper, or typing away on their laptop. Quite the surprise! Especially when we found out that it was this crowded everywhere in the library. The Turku library consists of several different rooms and sections. On one side was the old building, with the general/normal library a floor above this was filled by the music and DVD collection(quite extensive!) and literature on music.

On the other side of the newspaper hall were the children’s and young adult books. Which was a lot bigger than any children’s section I’ve ever seen! Most of the books were obviously in Finnish or Swedish, but there was a huge section of books in other languages too, even in Dutch!

Despite usually preferring old looking libraries, the children’s part of the library was definitely my favourite. The library had put a lot of effort into the design and facilities of the children’s area. A Zeppelin hovering above steam-punk styled check-out machinery, a weird Lego like blob in the middle of the area, big windows, a reading pit, big blown up tires that you could sit in, and even small details, like glass tiles on the floor, showing a dolls house, fairy tales or the underground book sorting system where you could see carts with books passing underground. I could really see how this would speak to the imagination of children. Heck, even as an adult I loved walking around and exploring the place!

One of the things that melted my heart was this little girl sitting in one of the blown up tires reading a book out loud to herself. We sat down for a while, not too far away from her and at one point she ran off (on her socks) to get her parents to listen to the story she had been practising on her own.

The little girl reading her book

What I liked so much about this library is that it felt so incredibly welcoming. It was like all the locals had made this library into their living room, Turku’s living room, where anyone could come to work or read, or just relax for a bit. It’s quite an interesting concept, especially since so many people believe books and especially libraries, to be a thing of the past. Turku’s library showed me a way how a library could really become more than just books, it could become a community meeting place. We too, got to experience this feeling and ended up spending a lot more time in the library than originally expected!

My friend and I, reading in the window (A special thanks to Jessie for making this photo =) )

So yeah. This library completely changed my view on libraries and I hope to find more libraries like this across the world. What do you think? Have you ever been to the Turku library or any other library that you found particularly amazing? =)

Helsinki’s hidden vegetarian restaurant: Zucchini

Photo taken from http://libraloves.blogspot.fi/

Hidden on the Fabianinkatu 4 is Zucchini, a small local vegetarian lunchroom, where there is only 1 meal for everyone, served in an old-school lunchroom style and where strangers eat at shared tables. This was also my first restaurant when coming to Finland, the first, and so far the best. Even though the lunch menu doesn’t offer a lot (either you take the main course with or without the daily soup, or just the soup alone, the menu changes daily) it definitely has a certain charm, eating the very same meal as everyone else around you. On top of that, the restaurant is quite small and popular too, so this means that around noon it gets quite crowded and literally every chair will be taken. Sharing a table with strangers is definitely not something out of the ordinary here. Which amazed me even further; I never visited a restaurant where you shared a table. Picnic tables in the park, sure, but in a restaurant? Nope. To many Finnish people this might sound quite normal, after starting University here I found out that this is also how the lunch at the campus works (but then with 4 different choices instead of just 1). I never experienced anything like this back in the Netherlands, where all we eat during lunch is some slices of bread with something in between (like a slice of cheese or some peanut butter).

Before going to Zucchini I never expected it to be like this, so upon entering the small room, which at that point was quite crowded, we were in for a real surprise(and a bit doubtful too!) But the people behind the counter were incredibly helpful and explained everything clearly. 1 meal: 10 euros: water, bread and butter to your hearts contents, included.

my first meal there(the bread is amazing too)

my first meal there(the bread is amazing too)

After settling at a table, shared with a young couple, we finally got the taste. And what a taste it was! The main meal included 3 different dishes and a salad of some sort, all perfectly attuned to each other. Now I’m not a food expert, nor am I claiming to be one, but the food was delicious and definitely a good price for a restaurant meal in Helsinki!

The two rooms are tiny but very cosy and add even more to the atmosphere of the place. We loved it so much that we actually returned the next day for lunch again. The only downside of the restaurant would be their opening hours; it closes at 3. But it adds to the Finnish culture of eating warm during noon(something I’ve become accustomed to now as well).

Aside from meals they also have some salads, delicious looking pies and cakes that I have yet to try out. Next week, when I’ll be back in Helsinki again with my friend is who visiting from Belgium, I will definitely take her to Zucchini for lunch!

When going there, take a good look at the map, we were walking around for a bit before finally finding it!