Do you recognize the feeling? The feeling that it is cold as ice outside? The feeling of coming home with the heat embracing your body? A feeling that cannot be described with words, but the feeling that everyone knows? That is exactly the feeling I got when I came back in the cottage in Saariselkä. This feeling can best be described using one of the most exciting and special natural phenomena I have ever witnessed.
During my student time in Finland, I had the opportunity to travel to Lapland. After traveling through the heart of Finland for over seven hours, we arrived in Saariselkä. In the south of Finland, it was barely freezing, but in Lapland, the temperature dropped to a stunning -28° degree, with a feeling temperature of -38° degrees. The cottage where Bjorn, Andrea and me stayed, was built on a roundabout with seven other cottages. In the middle of the roundabout was a big fireplace, which gave a primitive camping feeling to the whole thing. Besides that, we had to make a fire ourselves, which was challenging but totally worth it. After I unpacked my bags, we drank something near the camp fire, but when we arrived home, we fell asleep shortly after.
When my alarm clock rang the next day, it was still pitch black outside. At first, I was really surprised by this, and I asked myself if I put my alarm at the right time. I realized that at this time of year, the sun does not even come up. It stays dark for almost the whole day, except for some light in the afternoon. This gives a very weird feeling, because my whole biological clock is disrupted. Some hours later, we received a call from our tour guide Alex. That night, if we were lucky, the northern lights would be visible. It is known also known as the Aurora Borealis.
After we had decided to go outside, I realized it was cold as ice in this place. Now I know why they always say that it is recommended to dress in layers with such cold. Even with thermos clothing, three pairs of socks, several t-shirts and my skiing gear, it felt cold the moment I walked out of the door. However, according to many people, the northern lights are absolutely worth the wait. We walked towards an abandoned mountain, just outside of the village. This was known as the ideal place to see the northern lights in all its glory. It was quite the walk, but it proved to be a good way to get warm again.
The moment we arrived on top of the mountain, we were disappointed at first. The northern lights were barely visible and when they appeared, it was for a very short period. A good shot with the camera was impossible. We decided to wait for the phenomenon to appear again, but standing in this cold did not make it any better. Bjorn and I really started to feel the cold in our hands and feet.
Then, the northern lights appeared, so bright that it seemed like they lit up the whole mountain. In the meantime, I completely forgot about the cold. I remembered I still had my camera in my backpack, and I started setting it up to make a time-lapse of the phenomenon. The possibility to do something about the settings on my camera was long gone. The camera has become so cold, that the screen is not visible anymore. The only thing I could do was set it up and hope for the best.
Fifteen minutes, that is the time it eventually took before the northern lights completely disappeared for that night. The chance of the phenomenon returning were minimum, but I had taken my chance, at least with my own eyes. The journey from the mountain back to the cottage went much faster than the other way around. On top of the mountain, there was a company providing sledges. Walking up the mountain took us more than an hour, the journey down was over in a heartbeat, despite the fact that we started bouncing against each other with the sledges and fell off several times. Once I came down, I realized how cold I was. Because of the descent, I could barely feel my hands and feet.
When we opened the door, the warmth that embraced my body cannot be described with words. We lit up the fireplace, took a hot chocolate with cream and sat on the couch underneath a blanket. We started talking about the beauty of the phenomenon that we had seen that night, and at that moment, I realized something. I still had the camera in my backpack with which a tried capturing the northern lights. This was the first time I was able to see them, because of the malfunctioning screen due to the cold. I took the camera out of my backpack and connected it with to laptop. I was surprised that the camera was able to take some very good shots, despite the malfunction of the screen. Eventually, the pictures were worth the wait.
Do you also want to get out of your comfort zone and bring a visit to Lapland, then I have some tips for you! The best time of year to visit Lapland is wintertime. This gives a fairytale-like feeling to the place. Are you thinking of visiting Lapland, or are you going camping on places with comparable temperatures? Here are five handy tips:
- Layers, layers, layers. Wear as much layers as possible, because the temperature can drop to -30°.
- Keep your phone close to your body. Due to the cold, the screen can malfunction, which makes it hard to use. This is particularly inconvenient in case of emergency.
- Stay close to the villages without a guide. Due to the snow, everything looks alike. If you are walking the wrong way, you can get lost easily. Also, always take something to eat with you if you go for a walk.
- Make sure that different settings of your camera are on a shortcut. Due to the cold, the screen can malfunction, which makes it impossible to change settings. Having them on a shortcut allows you to have the right settings for the right picture moments.
- Specifically for Lapland, definitely take the husky-trip and ride a snowmobile. Those two things are must-do activities when visiting Lapland in winter.
So, get out of your comfort zone! Grab your bags, buy a plane ticket and treat yourself to a great trip to Saariselkä! Afraid of the cold? Don’t be, make sure to wear enough clothes, do some inspiring activities and enjoy all the beauty that Lapland has to offer. Still got some gaps in your planning schedule? Go to Santa Claus Village, where Santa Claus cannot wait to take a picture with you!