Reflections of Winter – Snowshoeing

I don’t usually go away in the winter but had read that 2013 was going to be good for seeing the Northern Lights so I had a look at trips which would offer that opportunity. My attention was drawn to those offered by Exodus which also had a variety of winter activities over the course of a week. The Finnish Wilderness Week, staying at Basecamp Oulanka, was decided upon as I would have a chance to build an igloo and sleep in it too, there was cross country skiing which I fancied trying, a day at the local ski resort so I could try snowboarding again without committing to a whole week and also the option of doing some ice climbing. It ticked alot of boxes!

The first activity of the week was snowshoeing..the word conjured up visions of tennis rackets strapped to my feet and for once I hadn’t googled to see the reality. I don’t even know where the image came from, maybe it was the description in books I read when young.

The day starts with equipment being issued – a red plastic flipper for the right and one for the left plus a set of poles each – and off we went, down to the lake, first for the fun of putting a snowshoe on without falling over and then to fling ourselves around with a game of frisbee! Warmed up, a few more names learnt and now comfortable enough in a snowshoe to be happily walking, we venture off in our guided groups to explore part of the Oulanka National Park.

We are told to lean forward and use the claw under our toes when going uphill, with the poles helping provide balance and leverage. Going downhill we bend our knees and face the direction we’re going, letting our arms, and poles, hang loosely by our sides. Our guides make it sound so easy but it’s only a lack of confidence, bit of fear maybe, that makes it otherwise – it is afterall, just walking on snow 🙂

Through the wilderness we go uphill and down, stopping to hug a tree in a lovely setting overlooking the river…yes, I did just say we hugged a tree…why it is done I do not know but we go along with it, giggling to hide the embarassment whilst all the while looking aound to see if we’re really going to do this or will someone speak up and risk offending our Finnish hosts in declining to do something so silly..

Once we have had our snowshoe introduction, we are able to use them in our free time and after a warming soup lunch a few of us set out again, this time to find our way to Juuma the nearby village which can be reached by following the Little Bear Trail to its official start.

Finland 010

That was when the urge to do a snow angel became too much and we all launched ourselves back into the soft deep snow – getting back up again with snowshoes on required a bit of team work 😮

The next opportunity to take out the snowshoes came on the weekend when we had a whole day free and we decided to go with the recommendation of snowshoeing the Little Bear Trail. With a packed lunch and thermos of hot water, we headed off at around 10am, heading towards Jyrävä after Myllykoski to ensure the 250 steps near Kallioportti were tackled upwards! Despite being covered in a thick blanket of snow, the variation in the stunning landscape was clear to see – the trail following the river sometimes from above and sometimes running alongside.

At one of the wilderness huts halfway round we took advantage of the chance to sit and shelter from the cold while we cracked open our packed lunches and supped much needed hot chocolate from our kupilka cup. We were enjoying this. No one else around, the silence disturbed only by the sounds of our snowshoes…or an ‘ooo that’s lovely’ as someone spotted another ideal photo opportunity 🙂

The steps werent nearly as bad as we had expected – head down, find a slow steady rhythym and up you go – and we arrived back at Basecamp around 3pm, nicely tired, refreshed and satisfied with some great photos…just in time for a sauna and pear cider before dinner 🙂

Standard

Roadtrip to meet Santa Claus!

So here I am, back in the UK, back at work and life away from the relaxing wilderness at Basecamp Oulanka. It has turned colder here now and there are whisperings of ‘snow’ and ‘harsh winter’. I even looked into winter tyres the other day..if only our winters were that reliable! When you witness a plane landing on icy ground without sliding out of control and then sit comfortably on a coach driving at what feels like normal speed, it does make you wonder how we just grind to a halt over here, ‘snowed in’ and unable to go anywhere..the answer is in part due to only using summer tyres I’m sure..

Driving in Finland was easy on a number of levels. When I was planning my most recent trip (this could get complicated if i go back too much! :)) I was nervous about driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road as it had been a while. But that was me in England and having not really ventured outside of Basecamp when I was there in the winter. In England you don’t have time to think too much on the road; there’s traffic all around you, and if you sit at a roundabout working out where you need to go or waiting for the right gap, you soon get beeped at impatiently….or do I just spend too much time in rush hour commuter traffic?!? I needn’t have worried, there was hardly anything on the roads over there, even in Kuusamo! The flip side is that you need to think about roundabouts rather than being able to rely on flow of traffic to remind you to go anticlockwise…and yes, i did sit and wait at my first one until something came along to follow 🙂 I ended up really enjoying driving in Finland, the lack of traffic on the roads make distances easy to cover, roads are well signposted and it doesn’t seem to be hard to get parked. Reindeer or Elk crossing the road are another matter! Interestingly if you hit a reindeer you have to report it as that is someone’s livestock. If you hit an elk then from what i understand you’ll be more concerned for yourself and your car..

On a more practical point, fuel is about the same price as it is here and the cheapest rental I found from Kuusamo Airport in September was circa €25 a day. Not as cheap as you may expect for overseas car travel but not so much more expensive in the way that people are led to believe Finland is. I will definitely be hiring a car and planning more road trips the next time I’m over in Spring or Summer.

So why am I woffling on about traffic and driving – well, the fast approaching festive period has me thinking back to our road trip to Rovaniemi and meeting Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as he is to me); I’ve just been doing the big build up.. 😀

Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland with population of circa 60,ooo people and official hometown of Santa Claus, is only about 205km from Basecamp and it’s a straightforward drive with some lovely scenery along the way.

First stop, Santa Claus. No messing around, i was excited. I’m too old to be but i couldn’t help it.

20131029-185438.jpg

Santa Claus Village, which crosses into the Arctic Circle, has the Santa Claus Post Office  as well as a number of gift and refreshment shops..but even shopping could wait on this occasion..

Entering the building there’s a sign prohibiting photography beyond that point, a video camera watching you and an ominous door. Rather refreshingly, there was no charge – whether that changes during the winter season and busy Christmas period I don’t know, but there was nothing to suggest it’s any different.

Regressing further to become a shy child once more, i wasn’t going through on my own so the three of us went through together. You walk through something of an exhibition (photos of famous people who have visited and an explanation of how he gets round the world in one night), no doubt to provide distraction while you queue during busy periods, and then you’re in his house being beckoned through to meet him..

9_1080

Santa Claus is impressive – great shoes and stripey socks that I just kept staring at; childlike shyness needing something else to focus on. He is fluent in seven languages (handy!) and not one of them has a hint of the others when he speaks – there Santa was interchanging between English, Swedish and Finnish  with ease and accuracy. We were in there a while, chatting about where we were from etc and having the official photos taken before it was time to move on. One thing was lacking however…Santa Claus did not ask what we wanted for Christmas 😦 ..maybe he really does know or maybe he just draws the line at engaging grown adults in conversations about how good they’ve behaved that year…

As you leave comes the money part and who isn’t going to want a photo of them with Santa! What? Just me that did then. I see. The prices weren’t that bad considering where you are and compared to how much it costs to meet Santa over here or go on a Santa Train etc.  There were a few packages and the one I went for was the most expensive (but still only about £30) which was the USB stick containing the official photos, video of the whole meeting and a few extras with the copyright for all so I could print as many as i wanted off (some of which are used in this so you can see the place looking pretty with snow). Then it’s time for the usual exit through the gift shop 😉 I can’t say anything in the Office of Santa Clause gift shop, or any of the other shops on site, were noticeably more expensive than I saw things priced in Ruka or Kuusamo and they did sell everything…including the tacky end of the scale!

12_1600x1200

1_1600x1200

This has become a rather long post so I’ll finish off Rovaniemi in Part Two..coming soon 🙂

Standard