Holiday: Finland

2024, Apr 01    

In what can only be considered a rare occurrence, I decided to partake in a holiday to try and see the northern lights (admittedly with some persuasion from my partner). Seeing the northern lights has always been a bucket-list entry of mine, and so no time like the present :-)

First things first, travelling to the north of Finland by aircraft will require the use of Finnair, which I can honestly say can cost as much as the holiday accommodation. Starting on a strong note, the flights in both directions were problematic. On the way out, my extra legroom seat turned out to be smaller than a bargain offering from Ryanair, while the flights back were delayed due to industrial action.

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At least the door didn't fall off...

Many hours later (and after a layover in Helsinki) it was arrival time, finally making it to Ivalo Airport. On route to the destination this is the most northern airport that can be reached. The joys of small airports are that they are quick to go through (at least on the way out).

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Wearing your usual shoes would be a mistake

After a not-so-short transfer from the airport and a drive through a minor snowstorm the hotel was finally in sight. In truth it was a picturesque drive at night with the occasional village lights in the distance / through the trees.

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A better view than the hotel reception (and very large)

The hotel had two types of accommodation to choose from, being that of a small glass igloo (with a communal shower etc) or a snow-covered lodge with half an igloo to the side. No surprise to anyone but the lodge was the clear winner.

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A very nice lodge, albeit with a bed like concrete
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Amusingly the igloo was more useful in the day than at night
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A beautiful lodge, but the heated glass not working was problematic

After settling into the accommodation (and realising my spine was about to be forced into weird and wonderful positions) it was time to check out the local facilities. First on the agenda was a sleigh ride pulled by local reindeer.

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Friendly, and you get to feed them

A tour of the site revealed an observation deck at the planetarium which gives a 360-degrees view of the area. You can also take food/drink with you to rest and enjoy the view (ideally when it isn't busy).

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Quite a view from up high, and a planetarium ticket lets you explore

Back at the hotel that evening another challenge arose, this time in the form of the hotel steps not being properly cleared / gritted. After nearly breaking my collarbone again (and watching other people do the same), it highlighted that not everything was as it should be, and in some cases was somewhat dangerous.

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Make no mistake, even the best ice/snow boots have no grip on this

Another day and time for some fun... Thanks to a family that argued with the staff, my partner and I had a private all-day session without paying three times the price. Through woodlands, across clearings, and even to the top of the ski slope (I kid you not), it was a great day with views I never thought I would see.

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A great time was had (even if I have my eyes closed)

With night approaching and two different apps stating that it might be the night for northern lights, it was time to settle in and wait. As luck would have it the aurora alarm inside the lodge triggered twice, and the second time was definitely worth stepping outside for.

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A sight worth seeing (though the camera does boost the effect)
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An animated view that is more brightness / colour accurate

Another morning begins and this time with a greeting from some of the local wildlife. The jury is out regarding if this is an arctic grouse, but either way seeing a few of them wandering around and making very unusual noises.

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Whatever they were, they were interesting to watch

Another day and another activity, this time visiting the planetarium. While the presentation was short it was still interesting to watch, and it does mean you are able to walk around the showcase distillery / rentable area. If you are a fan of stained glass / large open spaces then this is the place for you.

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An impressive array of stained glass (I see why people book this for weddings)

One morning later and this time greeted by a beautiful sky. In truth almost all days had a coloured sky that was great to look at / watch the clouds roll by. What a way to enjoy the first few hours before the incoming bruises...

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No camera trickery here, this is how it looked

If you are wondering about my snowboard skills, they are summed up in a single word: awful. While I did manage to make it down the slope a few times, the next picture sums up the experience nicely. That said, the more fun part was definitely the toboggan run. Being 2 kilometres in length and getting some serious speed, I can honestly say I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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Sums up the experience

Walking around the hotel grounds revealed an activity that wasn't tried, the husky sleigh. You can walk quite close to their compound / pens, and while they are beautiful to look at it, the closer you get the more you watch the behaviour change and realise that walking in the cages would be the last thing you do.

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Beautiful at a distance, but make no mistake, they will end you

One travel delay later and you find yourself on an icebreaker sailing into the sun. I wasn't expecting to do this (as it was another bucket-list experience) but delays are delays and you need to pass the time. While I didn't partake in the swimming (as the staff laughed when they measured my height), it was a great experience watching the boat smash through the ice (not to mention the sounds).

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Small chunks to begin with, the larger sheets come later
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A small ship, but very capable
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30 seconds before I became a photographer for multiple groups
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Fancy a swim in the ocean?

Throughout all of the holiday there was plenty of food, but in truth most of it wasn't worth writing about. Buffet food is as you would expect (in some cases with the staff agreeing), however the chefs tasting menu was definitely worth the cost. Trying it twice was amusing though as the second time the cheese board was enough for more than two people (and likely more than four). As you would expect you can get snacks from the hotel (at an eye-watering cost), however the nearest supermarket is 2 hours away (so bring your wallet / tissues for your tears).

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No matter how much you love cheese, this is too much after four courses

Overall, it was a great holiday with many great experiences / memories, though I will say the cost does leave a lot to be desired. As an example, doing the icebreaker was the better part of £1500 per person, with most of the cost being the travel cost to get to the ship (taxi's are incredibly expensive there).

P.s. for anyone thinking of going to Kakslauttanen, avoid the small igloos (lots of people complained about them throughout the stay), and prepare for a very hard / painful bed.