Lapping up Lapland (and the Northern Lights!)

Cheesy title--check! Now imagine a nordic wonderland. The snow is deep as your waist, powdery and dry. The flakes fall in symmetrical prisms, each with six distinct prongs, just as children draw snowflakes.  The pines are pulled up straight to the sky like lamp-poles, caps of snow draping off each one. A cabin is hidden in the woods, and as you approach, the doors open. The floors are warm, and the smell of soup is in the air.


This was nearly our exact experience at Jávri Lodge, a small boutique hotel that was our home for half a week in Finland. Just 20 minutes from our first stop in snowglobe-style cabins, the contrast in size and therefore, detail, was incredible. 


The hotel was laid out just like a home, with a fireplace-lit living room, encircled by the snow-filled forest.  And the owner, Juha, was always around to answer questions and laugh with guests. Beyond charming!


In true Finnish style, there were two saunas, with windows facing the forest. We watched the snow slope off the trees as the birds hopped, and, a few times, ran into the snow to join them.


An avid cross country skier, Juha outfitted us several times with nordic skis, the trails passing right from where these photos were taken. A big surprise for me was how much I loved the cross country skiing. We'd tried it at Kakslauttenen on snowy trails, but Javri's skis were much faster, and one afternoon, I took a few tumbles. But overall, the soothing rhythm of the skiing without the fear of downhill skiing, for me, was a revelation--one of the first forms of exercise I enjoyed. (Thanks to my mother-in-law for the phone photos!)


Here's a little shoddy look inside Javri from my iPhone; the design was pristine and truly spotless, so this doesn't do it justice. Sleek lines intersecting with the coziness of logs. It was my ideal place.


Our rooms faced the frozen lake from where this was taken, and I'd love to visit in summertime when the foliage is full and the berries the Finns so revere are budding.


The lodge included locally-sources meals (truly! cloudberries, reindeer and lake fish) and activities each day, getting us out into the pristine forest air the Finns so protect. It was from there that we went on a husky-led safari across frozen lakes, and left many afternoons to slide through the cross country tracks into the national park, Urho Kekkosen, whose land abutted the lodge's.


We rented modern snow shoes one day, and while walking on trails was a waste and quite taxing, when we got into the meter-deep snow, we lifted up and the lightness was exhilarating. Here you can clearly tell the difference from my phone's camera--photo of Walk on the left!

I loved this look over the ravine; the itty people made it feel like a miniature winter village I was peaking into.


Another activity that I mention just for memory is that we tried the longest tobogganing slope in Europe--over a kilometer long! The Finns were all so proud of us, but for inexperienced sledders (cough, Walker) it ended with a lot of snow down the coat. I found it wildly fun, and taking a ski lift with a sled instead of skis was such a relief for a novice skier like myself.


Another day, Walker and I went snowmobiling, guided by the lodge's activities guide, Janne. He warned us at the beginning that many people overturned their mobile, so I was legitimately scared. Luckily, we were alone, so could go at our own pace. It was on the snowmobile, which we took turns driving, that we were able to get the deepest into the forest.


Janne carried Walker's camera in his backpack and we'd stop occasionally when I could yell or squeeze Walker hard enough so he could feel that the light was what I wanted to save, and stop the snowmobile.


Our timing was excellent as the sun dipped down, coating the snow with a thin coat of gold as it did.


These picturesque markers are reindeer fences; Janne told us all the reindeer in the country are owned by families. They can wander fairly far, but there are still fences marking boundaries. Reindeer are a big source of income for the people of Lapland, and they use every part of the animal, which we experienced in rugs and carpaccios.


At one point when Walker was taking photos, Janne told me to . . .


lean back into the powder. He convinced me, but I didn't go far. So he said to stand on the seat of the parked snowmobile and jump! That's some deep snow! He said often it's 7 feet, so twice as deep as this.

The best part was that as my fingers started to lose feeling and we sped toward the lodge, I knew a warm sauna awaited.


(and iPhone photos as it was too hot and steamy for the full camera).

Our very first night, we had booked a Northern Lights tour, at the suggestion of the hotel. It was a biting cold night, but clear, and Tomi and Janne, the lodge's activity guides, were in high spirits. After days of straight snowfall, I was feeling a bit dubious--quite dubious--but tried to be encouraged by their enthusiasm. You're in luck, they said, KP index is good. (While I'm on it, it took me a while to figure out what this was, but it basically predicts how low or far south the lights might extend. Where we were, so far north, anything above 2 would work. For reference, this night was showing a KP index of 4 out of a max 5.)


Tomi, drove us about 20-30 minutes from the lodge to a rough-hewn cabin sitting by a frozen lake. The snow was fresh and deep, but had a pathway dug through it, lit with candles. We stood outside about 30 minutes waiting and watching, and I went into the fire-lit cabin to warm up a bit. I ducked in and out, trudging through the snow back to the open viewing area and then saw a faint hint, right at the horizon, of green. Or was it cloud? Tomi told us it was starting. But it remained such a small smudge that I went back to the cabin to warm, the temperatures near -20F. About 10 minutes later, my mother in law and I heard the men exclaiming and walked back out. And there it was again, a bit clearer, a bit greener. 


Over the next 30 minutes, the lights came down in full force. They shimmied and vibrated over us, the movements like the shape of curtains pulling back, rippling.


To the naked eye, they were a bit dimmer than photos show, but the vastness and movements took our breath away. That and the air temperature.


The evening was dark, but the photos look so light partly from filters and partly because it was nearly a full moon. We were amazed that even with the moon so intense, we could see the lights.


At first, we would turn one direction and watch the show, but as the night progressed, they filled half the sky and it was hard even to see it all at once. Tomi told us that the best sightings were often from 11 to 1am, and as we drove home, we could still see the green swipes across the sky.


Another activity we quite enjoyed was the reindeer sleigh safari. We arrived at the farm, and met a local Sami family--in the process learning about the Sami culture (which extends along the north from Norway to Russia still, including its own language with many dialects.) The Sami people tamed the reindeer to pull the sleighs, but were clear with us that the deer were still wild animals. No touching allowed, and our guide demonstrated how to keep our hands in the sleigh. Look how cozy my in-laws look!

Once the sleigh started to move, it was certainly not the exhilaration we'd felt on the dog sleds, but rather a slow, grating across the snow.


The scenery was lovely, but the best part was certainly our reindeer, who kept forgetting he was pulling us and constantly slowed to grab mouthfuls of snow along the way. Literally, the entire ride, our reindeer gulped snow.


He'd get jerked by the reins and walk a few steps before wandering off in the other direction for more bites.

The whole thing was so endearing that it made the slowness of the journey a bit more bearable. 

That said, the forest and lakes were picturesque as always. But the speed made us understand the appeal of why someone would want reindeer to fly.


When we arrived back at the farm, we got to feed moss to the reindeer, whose eyes bulged out of their head with excitement.


Walker told me later he wished he would've fed them, but alas, he was too busy preserving the memories for us. Sorry, hub--all the fun for me!


At the end, again we got warm drinks around a fire, a bit of Sami history and our reindeer licenses!


Our excursions through the forest make me dream even now, in the spring sun of New York, of a return. We absolutely could not believe how beautiful Javri was, and enjoyed seeing the landscape from so many modes of transport. All in all, such a joy to experience Lapland and the welcome of the people.