Arrival in Lapland

Trip Start Feb 08, 2009
Trip End Feb 16, 2009

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Flag of Finland  ,
Monday, February 9, 2009

No amount of snow that we've had in the UK could prepare us for the conditions on arrival in Finnish Lapland in early February.  Apart from a brief break in the cloud cover as we flew over Oslo, we'd seen nothing of the conditions on the ground since leaving a moderately snowy Gatwick at 4pm UK time.

Over the past two days I'd been listening to new reports and traffic updates telling of school snow days, poor road conditions and airport closures.  Bristol, Luton and, for a day, Gatwick all ground to a halt with the white stuff.  It made me feel quite apprehensive that we were due to be landing somewhere to the north of the Arctic circle in a few days time.

As the pilot announced our descent into Kittilä airport, I scanned the view from the window for any signs of the ground, and also above, hoping for a brief glimpse of the aurora, and saw nothing in both cases.  It wasn't until we were practically on the runway did any sign of the airport and the town come into view.  The runway was covered in ice and snow was drifting across the surface.  We disembarked from the aircraft into a snowstorm, which continued for at least the next 15 hours, and is still falling as I write.

Unlike the snow at home, the flakes are so fine that you barely notice them.  Instead of the big feathery flakes I'm used to these are tiny individual crystals that fall through the air.  When one sticks to the window glass, it reveals its hexagonal form.  These are the snowflakes that you make by folding and snipping paper in primary school.

The snow squeaks and creaks under your feet as you walk, and the snowballs that the children throw at each other explode into fine powder.  We find our coach for the transfer, which our rep cunningly doesn't tell us the duration of.  I make the journey time out to be around three and a quarter hours (longer than our flight), plus two stops en-route for our driver Ari (who tells us to call him 'sulo', Finnish for 'my darling') to de-ice the engine, using a shovel to knock the snow out of its compartment.

As we drive, we follow tree-lined roads with few signs of life.  Occasionally we pass small clusters of houses sitting near to the road, or a snowy junction leading off into the forest.  In one town, a neon lit thermometer on top of a petrol station proclaims -18ºC.  Lorna informs us that whilst the UK shivered last week at -8ºC, with 10 inches of snow, the temperature here plummeted to 38 below.  I can tell that this information is making Alexe question the wisdom of our choice in holiday destination.

Just after 2am local time we arrived in our destination.  Saariselkä lies about 250km north of the Arctic Circle, in the heart of Finnish Lapland.  After dropping off people staying in a hotel, the rest of the group are taken to the cabins.  The snow is past our ankles as we tramp along, reaching knee deep if we stray off the path, heaving, dragging and hauling out cases into our home for the next week.
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